Trip climbed out of the shuttle pod, right after the Captain. Nobody seemed to take notice, that he offered his hand to the ship's Science Officer and that she took it, allowing him to help her out of the hatch. They all were too busy being happy about finally setting foot on Earth again.
It had been a week since they had returned to Earth, this time in the correct time line. Everyone on board had been on the edge, circling in orbit for almost a week without being allowed to come planet-side, with two exceptions – Commander Tucker and former Subcommander T'Pol. Ever since Trip finally wrestled her age out of her, they had been dating. Fortunately nobody really noticed it, since the shared meals in the mess hall or their appearance together at movie night were a common sight to the crew.
What did change however was what happened once they were alone. Twice they had been spending the night together and each time they didn't really get much sleep. They had been good friends for over two years now, but even before they went to the Expanse for Trip it had been much more. Now that it was an 'official' courtship, he already dreamed of ways to pop the question.
Both took in the applause as Admiral Forrest greeted them. Captain Archer went to the rostrum an waited for the ovations to die down.
"I've been told that people are calling us heroes. When it comes to my crew, you won't get any argument from me. But I think it's important that we remember the heroes who aren't with us - the twenty seven crewmen who didn't make it back. Without their sacrifice, I wouldn't be standing here right now. None of us would. But I'm sure I speak on behalf of my entire crew when I say: It's good to be home."
Captain Archer strolled into a bar in civilian clothes. Seeing him enter, Captain Erika Hernandez excused herself from her current conversation partner and started to wiggle her way through the packed establishment.
"Scotch," Archer ordered.
"The bar's reserved for regular customers. Galactic heroes have to sit at a table," Erika purred as she finally had reached him.
"I heard about your promotion. Congratulations, Captain," Archer smiled back.
"Cheers," he toasted and drowned in her dark eyes, which he had missed so much.
"Cheers. So what was it like in the Expanse?"
"You'll be at the debriefing tomorrow, won't you? I wouldn't want to spoil any surprises. Besides, I've got more important questions. Seen any good movies while I was gone?"
"Another World War III epic. It swept all the awards. But you haven't missed much. Earth's been holding its breath for the past year, wondering if the Xindi were going to come back and finish the job. On the bright side, there've been more weddings and births than ever before."
"I don't see a ring," Archer noted.
"I'm married to Starfleet. Just like you."
"Think I can file for divorce?" Archer sighed.
"I don't think so," Erika answered and noticed for the first time how empty and sad his look had become.
This is going be the most boring weeks in my life, Trip thought to himself. The Captain had ordered 3 weeks of shore leave and had effectively thrown all people off the ship to keep them out of the hair of numerous engineering crews from Jupiter station, who were facing the monumental task of nailing the wrecked barge that had returned from the Expanse back together. Knowing the ship like the back of his hand, Trip failed to find a single explanation, why she was still in one piece anyways.
Visiting the parents wasn't an option. As soon as they were back in Earth range and in the right time line, he had received a truckload of backlog transmissions from his family, among the pile, a rather recent letter from his brother. This letter told about his last visit at the new parental home, describing how mom was still a sobbing nervous wreck and how dad had turned into a raging xenophobe, blinded by hatred stemming from the sheer overwhelming pain caused by losing his precious girl Lizzy to an unprovoked alien attack.
That was nothing Trip felt strong enough to face right now. It had been mere weeks since his own wounds had finally started to bleed. Less than a month had passed since he – with the help of a Vulcan, no less – had finally knocked down the wall of hate and anger that had held back his own tears of grief. He could not deal with his mother's pain and much less with an alien-hating father in a blind rage of ill-directed lust for revenge. It weighed heavily on his conscience to abandon his parents, when they probably needed him the most, but too much pain had been inflicted on him. He wasn't able to help with the burden of his folks; he was barely able to cope with his own.
Jon hadn't left any room for compromise. The order was for all personnel to leave the ship for three weeks and there was no exception to be granted for the ship's stranded Chief Engineer. Finally Trip had settled to take up Starfleet's offer for an officer's quarter down in San Francisco to sit out the 3 weeks. Bidding T'Pol farewell was the last and most important item on his mental check list before leaving Enterprise. The prospect of sitting around idly for three weeks, alone and pinning for his distant love, didn't exactly improve his mood.
T'Pol was everything but looking forward to this journey, but it was illogical to delay the inevitable any further. Captain Archers order was perfectly unambiguous – all crew is to take shore leave. Rather unwillingly she packed her bag without her mind really being on the task. Running on autopilot, she just threw into the duffel bag what happened to be in reach.
Only the constant stress of the Expanse mission had masked the dread that always befell her when she thought about returning to Vulcan. She had to 'face the music', as Commander Tucker was so fond of saying, and the orchestra would consist of her fellow Vulcans, who would undoubtedly continue to blame her for the destruction of the monastry at P'Jem, the failure on Coridan or her resignation from the Vulcan High Command, and loudest among them would be her own mother, the very person she was preparing to visit.
She had never understood how her father and her mother could live that long together. Mother was the exemplary Vulcan. Easily she had mastered even the advanced techniques of Kohlinaar, purging and suppressing all emotions. Her father had allowed his daughter and himself indulgence in curiosity and was known to smile sometimes, but only in a strictly private setting. But even then he had always been chastised by his wife. Father had lost his life in an accident that was more than suspicious, almost as suspicious as the illogically small effort that the High Command had invested to find the reasons behind it.
How would mother react to her emotional state now with Pa'nar syndrome and the lingering effects of Trellium-D abuse having damaged her neural pathways? Or how would the news be received, that her desired mate was a human? This journey, however undesirable, was inevitable, because due to her personal choices it could well be the last time she would see Vulcan. Commander Tucker, her tower of strength, despite his own pain, was surely leaving to visit his parental home. She struggled to suppress the mixture of disappointment and sadness that he wasn't with her to 'face the music'.
"Come in," T'Pol called without turning around after the door chime rang. Her acute sense of smell picked up the scent of her desired mate – Commander Tucker.
"Well, it looks like you're taking enough clothes to last a year," he small-talked – a telltale sign of insecurity.
"You wanted something?" she asked. To any outsider this would have sounded utterly rude and dismissive, but for someone who knew her, like Trip Tucker did, it was a sign that she was every bit as clueless about what to say, as he was. Both had dreaded this 'saying good bye' encounter.
"I told the Captain I wanted to stay aboard and supervise the refit, but he suggested I take a break. More like an order, actually. Problem is - I'm not sure where to go. Lizzie's gone; my home town doesn't exist anymore. Guess this is my home now."
"You could come with me," she offered, inwardly fighting the urge to throw herself into his arms for providing the clue to offer him the journey to Vulcan.
"To Vulcan?" he asked. No, show me the way to Amarillo, Einstein, he immediately ridiculed himself in his mind for asking such a stupid question. He knew very well that she was bound for Vulcan.
"The transport leaves at eleven hundred hours," T'Pol instructed.
"Where would I stay?"
"There's a guest room in my mother's home."
"Oh, your mom's house, huh? What does she know about me - about us?" he asked as it dawned on him, what that gesture really meant. His forced chuckle could not hide his nervousness.
"I've never mentioned you, " she reported truthfully, not realizing that she was headed straight into one of these situation where the honest and logical course of action resulted in hurting her desired mate.
"So you'd introduce me as?"
"Commander Charles Tucker the Third. You've told the Captain that you don't get to see as many alien cultures as you'd like. You've never been to Vulcan," T'Pol elaborated. She was completely oblivious that she, however unintended, had just stabbed him in the heart again. Admitting that she wanted him there because she wanted his company would have been so easy, but she routinely fell back into hiding her intentions behind contrived reasons and didn't even notice it.
"Eleven hundred hours, huh? I'd better start packing," he said and made a beeline for the door.
Only this woman could deliver good news with a slap in the face, Trip thought a bit rueful, but soon a smile took over as the happiness about going to Vulcan with his love glossed over her clumsy reasoning.
Captains Archer and Hernandez stepped onto the Bridge of Columbia, the last station of the tour that Erika had promised him the night before.
We've tied these stations directly in the primary EPS junction," Erika explained.
"I hope you don't mind if I steal some of these improvements."
"I won't say anything if you do me a small favor. My senior officer candidates. I'd like to get your opinion. You've served with a few of them," she said smiling and handed him a data chip.
"You might want to talk to someone about installing a lumbar support. You're going to spend a lot of hours in that chair," Archer suggested, pointing to the captain's chair.
"We've improved hull polarization by twelve percent. We'll be able to hang in a firefight a little longer."
"Ventral and dorsal torpedo launchers, pulsed phase cannons."
"Upgrades you recommended. What is it?" Erika asked, noticing Archers glum mood.
"I had an argument once with Captain Jefferies. He was one of the designers of the NX-Class."
"I'm aware of that."
"I told him I didn't want to be in command of a warship trying to make first contact with new species. Jefferies was right. We needed those weapons, and a hell of a lot more."
"There must have happened a lot more in the Expanse than is written in the reports," Erika whispered to herself after Archer had left.
Erika's mind worked overtime. She began to understand why her former boyfriend had become so cynical. The briefing was entering its third hour and Archer wasn't even halfway into the blood and gore of their mission.
"The asteroids were loaded with trellium ore. We think the Vulcans entered the field in order to mine it," Archer explained.
"Trellium?" asked Commander Williams
"It's an alloy that protects against spatial anomalies. Ships in the Expanse used it to insulate their hulls."
"Your log reflects that when you boarded the Seleya you found the crew in a delusional, violent state."
"They attacked us the minute we docked. The trellium had a toxic effect on the Vulcans. It damaged their neural pathways. They lost the ability to suppress their emotions."
"According to your log, the entire crew of the Seleya was killed when you triggered a reactor breach," Soval interrupted.
"The breach was an accident. We were trying to disable their power grid."
"As far as I can determine, you didn't try to save a single Vulcan crewman," Soval asked pointedly
"There was no point. They were too far gone." The Captain started to get visibly irritated by the condescending tone of the Vulcan Ambassador.
"Is that your medical opinion, Captain?" Soval returned.
"Phlox made that determination."
"Our specialists have examined the data you sent back. It's far from certain that the neurological damage was irreversible," Soval insisted.
"There was nothing we could do for them."
"T'Pol was exposed to the trellium. She recovered," Soval prodded further.
"I couldn't help them!" a clearly exasperated Captain repeated.
"There's no need to get emotional, Captain. You spent several hours in the ship's auxiliary control room. In that time, did you try to access the internal sensors, or download the computer database?" Soval continued.
"So in effect, we don't know what really happened aboard the Seleya," Soval resumed.
"What the hell does that mean?" Archer spat back in unrestrained anger.
"Because of this oversight, we'll never have a complete picture of the events that led to the ship's destruction."
"I just told you exactly what led to the ship's destruction," Archer replied angrily.
"Captain," Admiral Forrest interrupted to give Archer the chance to calm down. But that wound up the Captain even more. Of all people, Admiral Forrest was the one he counted on to be on his side.
"I'm not going to sit here and be accused of murdering those people."
"No one is accusing you of anything, Captain," Soval conciliated.
"Maybe that crew would still be alive if you'd been a little more helpful."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You did everything you could to sabotage our mission. I got more help from the Andorians than I ever got from the High Command," Archer spat.
That's enough, Captain," Forrest yelled as a last warning.
Archer raced to Soval's place and positioned himself directly in front of the perturbed Ambassador. "This planet would be a cloud of dust right now if we'd listened to you!"
"That's enough!" Forrest hollered. "Follow me into my office."
"How can you be taking his side?" Archer spat as they entered Forrest's office.
"I am not taking anyone's side. You were out of line."
"They don't lift a finger to help us and now I have to justify myself to that son of a bitch?"
"The debriefing's on hold, indefinitely. I want you to take some time off to clear your head," Forrest sighed in frustration.
"With all due respect, Admiral, I don't need a vacation."
"That's an order, Captain!" he yelled after the rapidly departing officer.
Captain Archer did a double take. He had come to say good bye to his First Officer. When T'Pol arrived at the airlock she was accompanied by the ship's Chief Engineer.
"You packed so much stuff that you needed Trip to help carrying it?" Archer asked with a chuckle.
"Uh... , that's my bag, Cap'n," Trip answered.
"You go together?" Archer asked wide-eyed.
"Yes, Captain. I invited Commander Tucker to come with me. He often said that he does not have the chance to visit enough alien cultures and given his ... regrettable history of away missions..." T'Pol explained.
"Hey!" Trip mock-complained.
"Have fun, you two," Archer laughed and patted Trip on the back.
Trip and T'Pol? Archer thought to himself once the pair was gone. Why didn't I notice?
Trip and T'Pol were in his cabin aboard the Vulcan transport T'Planit. Trip was restless and frustrated. Whenever he sat foot outside his cabin, he was getting strange looks from the crew members of the ship. The abysmal and bland Vulcan food, which had stood between starvation and survival for the last three days, did not help matters.
"So why are they all looking at me as if I have two heads?" Trip asked, pacing the small cabin back and forth. "Have they never seen a human before?"
"Most of them have," T'Pol answered and took his hand to lead him to the bunk. "But never in company of an unmarried Vulcan female."
"They better get used to it." Trip grumbled. "Although, if it was for me, you'd soon be a married Vulcan female."
"Was that a proposal?" T'Pol asked.
"Uh ... yeah, but I made a dog's breakfast of it," Trip admitted blushing. He knelt before her and took her hand and rephrased his question. "T'Pol of Vulcan, will you marry me?"
"Yes, I will." She answered.
It took Trip all of his strength to refrain from whooping and cheering. He knew that T'Pol would easily forgive this human expression of emotions, but they were on a Vulcan transport and the last thing Trip wanted, was to embarrass his – now – wife-to-be. Instead of screaming in delight, Trip decided to wrap her in a bear hug and kiss her senseless.
"Unfortunately," T'Pol said, breathing heavily when they broke the long kiss for a much needed load of oxygen. "Such proposal can only be made once. Your reaction to my acceptance was ... most agreeable."
"Don't need a proposal for that," Trip smiled and delivered another endless, passionate kiss.
"So what are the ground rules?" he asked after a while. They were sitting against the wall on his bunk.
"Yeah, how do I behave on Vulcan? Last thing I need is to embarrass you."
"You do not embarrass me. Your behavior was most honorable so far. If you refrain from touching me in public and avoid any verbal innuendos, your behavior is perfectly acceptable."
"And what's with your mom?"
"Until we have informed her that we are mates, it is inappropriate to touch me. Once our ... engagement is official, you may show your affection with a gesture called ozh'esta."
"The Vulcan equivalent of a human kiss," T'Pol explained and presented him two fingers. Trip mirrored her gesture.
"Wow, that's naughty," Trip joked.
"Since you are not a touch-telepath this gesture does not hold a great appeal for you," T'Pol admitted. "But I ask you to accept it as the only allowed gesture unless we are alone in a private setting. A human kiss would be grossly inappropriate even in view of my mother."
"Don't worry darlin', I'm fine with that." He said and sealed his promise with a kiss – they were alone after all.
The sky over the Vulcan landscape cast a red glow on the sand and rocks as the freshly engaged pair climbed the stairs to a remote estate outside the capital Shi'Kar. When they reached the gate, T'Pol opened it and motioned him to follow her.
"What about that volcano we saw on the way down, Mount Tar'ana?" he asked.
"Tar'hana," T'Pol answered, trying to fight the growing apprehension. At least she would have time to meditate before her mother came home from the academy.
"It still active?" Trip inquired further, noticing that she got increasingly nervous.
"There are frequent eruptions. We can schedule a tour of the crater, if you're interested."
"Volcanoes, ancient ruins, fire plains. I'm not sure where to start. So, this is where you grew up. It's not like I imagined." Trip took in the unusual, yet beautiful surroundings.
"Well, it's beautiful."
"Vulcans appreciate beauty," T'Pol returned with a hint of defiance.
"Well, I had no doubt about that. You always were a snazzy dresser," Trip admired her physique with a grin.
"Commander Tucker, I suggest..." she started to lecture, using his rank to emphasize the seriousness. Her impeding rant was cut short by the arrival of a Vulcan female resembling the appearance of a human woman in her 50's.
Considering that T'Pol's pushing 70 and doesn't even look 30, she could well be 150, Trip thought. Guess that'll be T'Mom.
"You didn't tell me you were bringing a guest," the woman said.
Well, hi to you, too, Trip thought and wondered why the woman appeared somewhat rude, even by Vulcan standards.
"Mother, you're home," T'Pol stated the obvious. Trip noticed that she started fidgeting.
"Obviously. It's agreeable to see you. You appear well," T'Les answered.
"I'm Charles Tucker. Pleased to meet you, ma'am," Trip introduced himself and performed the Ta'al after a reminding glance from T'Pol. The gesture was returned wordlessly.
"Why is he here?" T'Les asked in Vulcan.
"Commander Tucker is my colleague. He wanted to visit Vulcan," T'Pol explained in her native language.
"This is the first time you've brought a colleague home with you," T'Les wondered, still speaking in Vulcan.
"You both must be very tired after your journey," T'Les mentioned, now in English again. She motioned them to enter the living room.
"The guest room is on the south end of the house," T'Les indicated and Trip took the clue to leave. T'Pol found it hard to fight the anger about her mothers rude dismissal of their guest.
"It's not yet midday. Why aren't you at the Science Academy?" she asked.
"I'm no longer an instructor there. I wrote you a letter. Didn't Starfleet transmit it to your ship?"
"We had communication difficulties in the Expanse," T'Pol explained and sat down, while her mother walked to a chest of drawers.
"I don't know why you're surprised. This was planned years ago. There's more to life than one's profession. Perhaps you'll learn that one day. It seems that I'm not the only one who knew you were coming. You received this yesterday," T'Les lectured and handed T'Pol a letter.
"It's from Koss," T'Pol explained with barely hidden annoyance.
"Did you believe he had forgotten you? You're going to respond," her mother insisted.
"I have nothing to say to Koss," T'Pol denied defiantly.
"He's your fiancé," T'Les pushed, knowing full well that the betrothal had been broken three years ago, when T'Pol refused to return to Vulcan.
"Former fiancé," T'Pol corrected.
"That is a matter for debate. It would be wise for you to speak with him," T'Les returned matter-of-factly.
T'Pol left for her room without a further word.
He is more than a mere colleague, T'Les thought while trying to meditate. He is the reason for her refusal to bond with Koss. It is imperative that she stays on Vulcan and an immediate marriage to Koss is the only way to ensure that. I hope that Koss can convince her of our logic, when he visits tomorrow.
"I apologize for the inappropriate welcome that my mother has given you," T'Pol said as they walked up the small path to the crater of Mount Tar'hana. Shortly after the discussion with T'Les, T'Pol had left the house with Trip to avoid any further confrontation with her mother.
"Don't worry," Trip answered. "I'm not offended. She was probably just confused, considering that you never 'brought a colleague before'."
T'Pol stopped dead in her tracks. "You understood?" she asked wide-eyed.
"I'm completely useless at speaking with my accent 'n all, but I can read and understand Vulcan well enough," Trip explained.
"You never told me that you were learning Vulcan," T'Pol wondered.
"Well I'm still practicing with Hoshi. I wanted to tell and surprise you once I can can speak it without making an idiot of myself. So far I'm somewhat limited to writing and reading."
"I am impressed."
"Look, T'Pol, why did we run off? Are there problems because you brought me?"
"Yes and no," T'Pol confessed. "It is not a problem that you are here, but I believe my mother sensed that we are not just colleagues. She has also contacted Koss."
"Isn't that the guy who wanted to marry you?"
"Yes. He still demands marriage," T'Pol answered with her eyes cast firmly to the ground.
"Too bad for him. He's too late for that," Trip answered calmly as they continued their walk.
Trip awoke to the rhythmic sound of a gong. Who the hell makes such a noise in the middle of the night! he thought, still sleepy. A knock on the door interrupted his mental rant.
The door opened and revealed his early visitor to be T'Pol.
"Good morning," she offered.
"What time is it?"
"You're kidding," he groaned in disbelief about being woken up at such an unholy hour.
"We have to prepare the morning meal. As guests, it's expected of us," T'Pol explained.
"Ok, be there in a minute," Trip answered. T'Pol left.
"The nar'ru vines have bloomed early this year," T'Pol small-talked as they sat, eating the morning meal. She didn't even notice that she engaged in a completely human activity. Usually a meal on Vulcan was had in complete silence.
"I've had ample time to attend to them," T'Les answered.
"It sounds as if you're not enjoying retirement."
"You still haven't told me the reason for your visit," T'Les changed the topic. She had had enough of the inconsequential conversation.
"I didn't know one was necessary," T'Pol answered defiantly. She sensed the hostility in her mothers words. Inwardly she started to regret having come home at all. Her mother seemed intent to make all of her worries about not being welcome true.
"I thought perhaps you had decided to rejoin the High Command," T'Les explained. Her tone left no doubt that this was an expectation rather than a suggestion.
"I've been offered a commission with Starfleet. If I accept, it could be several years before I'm able to return home," T'Pol answered. Seeing how welcome she was in her own home, the decision to accept the Starfleet commission was an easy one to make.
Trip carefully avoided getting in between the hen-fight that evolved between mother and daughter. His mind worked overtime on finding a way to steer the conversation into a different direction or at least silence. He picked up a fruit and couldn't avoid making a face about its foul taste. T'Les noticed it.
"The gespar isn't fresh. My stasis unit needs to be replaced," T'Les offered in an almost apologetic tone. That was the chance Trip had been waiting for.
"Well, I'd be happy to take a look at it. If I can recalibrate a warp reactor, I ought to be able to handle a kitchen appliance," he offered, hoping that T'Les would concentrate on him for a moment, so T'Pol could calm herself.
"My daughter has always been fascinated by alien worlds. She was all too eager to finish her schooling and leave Vulcan," T'Les changed the topic. Trip wondered inwardly, how a mother could try to get so many digs in on her own daughter in front of a guest. Unfortunately T'Pol took the bait.
"As I recall, you encouraged me to leave," she said failing to keep the statement completely void of emotional display.
"A mother is expected to push her young out of the nest. At some point, they are supposed to return," T'Les replied and turned to Trip. "I'm told that on Earth a human child chooses their own path in life. They put their own wishes ahead of their family's."
Logic my ass, he thought. Couple of minutes ago she wanted a reason for T'Pol coming here and now she complains about her NOT coming home.
"That's true for the most part," he answered, hiding the rather cynical commenting he was doing in his mind.
"You've learned much from them, haven't you?" T'Les asked her daughter in thinly disguised disapproval.
"A Starfleet posting is no less important than one with the High Command. I'm sure Father would have approved," T'Pol answered in defiance
"Your father believed that our work should enrich Vulcan society," T'Les returned.
So that's your problem, ma'am, Trip thought in disgust.
"Earth is supposed to be our ally," T'Pol hissed through clenched teeth. Her control was thoroughly worn down by her mother's relentless provocations.
"What's happened to you?" T'Les asked, surprised by her daughters open display of emotions.
Guess Surak forgot to write down not to dress down one's children in front of a guest, Trip thought and found it hard to believe that he witnessed a mother meeting her only child just returning from a deadly mission.
"We shouldn't argue in front of a guest," T'Pol returned and almost clung to her cup.
The rest of the meal went in silence. Once they were finished, T'Les left for her morning meditation, while Trip and T'Pol began to clean up the table.
"Best you go and meditate as well," Trip said and offered her an Ozh'esta. "Your mother gave you quite a hard time and you need to calm down. You just give her more reasons to get her digs in if you lose control."
"Agreed," T'Pol returned and left for her room. Trip went to get his tools to start the repairs he had offered T'Les.
"I just want to thank you for letting me stay here," Trip offered. T'Les had returned from the garden and began to wash the fruit, while Trip continued his adjustments on a small field generator.
"Expressing gratitude is an Earth custom," T'Les returned.
"T'Pol says thank you all the time," Trip wondered
"I've noticed," T'Les answered in a less than admiring tone.
"T'Pol's lucky. It's nice to have a place to go home to," he explained with an undercurrent of sarcasm, considering the kind of welcome his girl had gotten.
"I know that you are romantically involved with my daughter. There's no logic in denying it. How long have you been attracted to her?" T'Les asked bluntly.
"I knew we had some kind of chemistry the first time we got into an argument. I never had fun arguing with anyone before. I got the impression T'Pol wasn't going to say anything to you," Trip explained with a slight blush. The straight approach of T'Les had caught him slightly off-guard.
"She didn't. I'm her mother," T'Les replied. Trip shook his head in disbelief and went over to reinsert the field generator into the stasis unit.
"You've repaired it?"
"The field generator just needed a little adjustment," he explained and leant on the wall. "As good as new."
"If you have the time, perhaps you could repair my food synthesizer," T'Les said. Her question was cut short by a knock on the door. "Would you mind?"
Trip went over and opened the door. A Vulcan male, about T'Pol's age, appeared in the door.
"Koss?" T'Les asked, feigning surprise.
"I need to speak with T'Pol."
T'Pol lead Koss out into the courtyard. She made no effort to hide her annoyance.
"I want to hear about your life aboard the human ship. You must have many fascinating stories," Koss opened. T'Pol was having none of that.
"Why are you here?"
"The answer should be obvious."
"You've received my letters. You know I'm not interested in marriage."
"The decision is not ours alone. My parents believe in the old traditions. For them, a betrothal cannot simply be dismissed," Koss lectured.
"You have the option of choosing another mate."
"I do not want another mate," Koss returned.
"You should be aware I've been ill recently."
"It could take some time for me to recover, assuming it's even possible," T'Pol suggested vaguely.
"I can help. My father is a man of influence. He knows the finest doctors in the province. I intend to go through with this," Koss dismissed her reasoning.
"What if I declare the kal-if-fee?"
"Is that what you want - a fight to the death? Perhaps your human friend would make a suitable challenger," Koss answered with a glimmer of amusement.
"You find this amusing?" T'Pol asked, her annoyance showing through her brittle control over her emotions.
"No. Call a challenger if you wish. I will do whatever is necessary," Koss stated firmly, not knowing that T'Pol was seriously considering the kal-if-fee, championing herself.
"It's best if you leave," she spat.
Standing in the gate, Koss turned around. "I may be able to help your mother."
"What do you mean?"
"My father could have her reinstated."
"She was asked to resign."
"Why?" T'Pol asked in confusion.
"I have said more than I should. If we were to marry, you would only have to live on Vulcan for one year. You could resume your career with Starfleet after that."
"Is that what you want, an absent wife?"
"I'd want you to be happy."
"You should go," T'Pol dismissed him.
"That was Koss," Trip stated the obvious after the Vulcan had left. T'Pol stood still in the courtyard.
"Yes," T'Pol sighed. "He wants to go through with the marriage. He insinuated that my mother's retirement was involuntary and that he can reverse her dismissal if I were to marry him."
"Let me get this straight," Trip said with furious anger boiling up in him. "He blackmails you? And your mother is going right along with that to get her job back?"
"We cannot make such allegations without knowing all the facts, but it appears likely that you are correct."
Trip started pacing the courtyard. "I read about Vulcan marriage in the database that Hoshi gave me. There was something called a 'passion fight' or something. It said that you as the female have the right to call a challenger. I'm prepared to fight for you."
"Trip," T'Pol said softly. "It is a fight to the death."
"We've been practicing Suus Manah for over two years, now," Trip insisted. "Unless he's a master at this stuff, I think I have a chance."
"Koss is an architect. He does not have a chance against you, even if the climate and his superior strength work in his favor."
"Well, so what's the problem then," Trip asked.
"I do not wish to become the reason for the death of someone," T'Pol answered. "Our best course of action is to leave before he comes back."
"That weird mission with the Captain," Trip remembered. "You went all bonkers about having killed someone. It's coming back, isn't it?"
"Yes," T'Pol admitted, casting her eyes downwards.
"No, T'Pol," Trip refused to follow her reasoning. "We're not running away. You would never be able to return to Vulcan. We do this by Vulcan traditions, not by tucking tails and running."
Trip started pacing the courtyard again, trying to find a solution.
"I think I have an idea. When will he want his answer?"
"Tomorrow at the same time," T'Les informed him, joining them in the courtyard.
"He'll get it then," Trip said with barely restrained anger and took T'Pol by the arm to lead her into the house.
T'Les watched them in disbelief. Her daughter had not protested the inappropriately intimate touch of her human guest.
"It's difficult to meditate with you standing there," T'Les sighed as she was roused from meditation by her daughter standing in the door and staring daggers at her.
"This retirement wasn't your choice," T'Pol half asked, half stated.
"That is not entirely accurate. I chose to retire rather than face dismissal. I was under investigation by the Security Ministry. They claimed I had taken restricted data from the Academy archives."
"No." T'Les said and looked away from T'Pol. As planned, Koss had told T'Pol about the nature of her 'retirement'.
"I don't understand."
"Their accusations were fabricated. I was told that if I left the Academy they would end the inquiry."
"Why would the Ministry do this?" T'Pol asked. She began to realize the true reasons. "Because of me. They blamed me for the incident at P'Jem."
"After the monastery was destroyed, the First Minister was dismissed. You have made many enemies here."
"They couldn't reach me on Enterprise, so they punished you. It's criminal. How could you let them do this?" T'Pol spat in an open display of anger.
"You've changed. Your emotions were always close to the surface, but you managed to suppress them. It is because of this Commander Tucker, is it not? He is the reason why you refuse to bond with Koss. Do you really believe that a human and a Vulcan can have a future together? Imagine the shame your children would endure, assuming that the two of you could have children."
"That wouldn't be your concern," T'Pol answered in a low, openly hostile voice and left the room.
"You know, if we have time when we get back to Earth, I'd like to show you some sights, return the favour," Trip said, admiring the spectacular view of the Vulcan fire planes with their giant statues.
"Everything okay?" he asked when T'Pol remained silent with a somewhat glum look.
"There's something I need to tell you. I've decided to marry Koss." T'Pol explained, unable to look him in the eyes.
"If I join his family, my mother will regain her position at the Academy. His father is a senior Minister with a great deal of influence."
"I don't get it. They are forcing you to do this, you told me yourself!"
"The decision was mine. My mother resigned because of my actions."
"You told me three years ago you didn't even love this guy. So you're just going to leave Starfleet, move back to Vulcan?"
"I've been negotiating with Koss's family."
"Negotiating?" Trip asked in wide-eyed disbelief.
"They've agreed we won't have to reside together, not right away. I'll remain on Enterprise for the time being."
"That's real generous of them."
"Trip, I have to do this for many reasons."
"And how am I supposed to take this?"