To The Degree That One Loves

By Jamieson

Rating: PG

Genres: romance

Keywords:

This story has been read by 607 people.
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Summary: Trip and T’Pol learn that if you want to go forward you must sometimes go back. Set some months after “Terra Prime.”

Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns all and I own nothing, not even the words, only the order in which they were placed. That said, the idea is mine – please do not repost this anywhere without my consent.

Author’s Note: This idea was sparked by another fanfic (forgive me, I cannot remember the title or author – if anyone can figure it out, please let me know so I can give credit where it is due) wherein Trip has a passing thought about a place he and T’Pol would likely never visit again. So, naturally, my muse fixated on what might happen if they did, and it all spiralled out of control after that.


 

The Vulcan sun was harsh and relentless, bowing him under its power as he fought to reach the top of the carved stone staircase. Glancing up wearily, a wave of relief washed over him as he realized he was nearly at his destination.

Despite that he was arguably in much better shape now than he had been following the ravages of the Expanse, he felt more exhausted and drained than the first time he had made this climb. The bag he carried weighed no more this time around, but it wasn’t what was slung over his shoulder that dragged him down. No, it was the baggage inside of him that threatened to consume him under the oppressive heat – the memories of pain, hopelessness, and defeat that he’d tried and failed to leave at the top of these stairs so many months before. But still he pushed on, determined not to concede to the ghosts of the past, and finally found himself at the top. Slumping heavily against the wall while he reigned in his breathing, thanking whoever designed the small overhang that provided a glorious modicum of shade, Trip glanced back down at his companion.

T’Pol had paused about two-thirds of the way up and was staring out over the rugged beauty of the Shi’Kahr countryside. Unlike him, she had no physical limitations that could account for her listless pace, it was purely mental – his memories of this place were painful, but he could sense that hers were downright haunting. He yearned to go to her, willing to brave the sun and the climb again without a thought if it meant he could comfort her, but he also knew that he could not. This was her summit, one she had to reach alone. No doubt sensing his concern, she turned her head and stared up, meeting his gaze. After a few long moments he nodded slowly in silent understanding and hefted his bag. As he slipped through the front entryway, he caught one last glimpse of her turning back to the striking landscape, knowing she would join him in her own time.

The courtyard was just as captivating as the first time he’d laid eyes on it, but that objective beauty was tinged with bitterness; the once-soothing sound of the bubbling fountain now carried a tune of sorrow.  This place was marred by the heartbreak that had mended but had never fully disappeared – like a faint scar blemishing an old wound, it lay forgotten until one looked too closely. He was looking now, and despite the promises he had made, all he could see was the past.

He screwed his eyes tightly and took a deep breath, letting the air out slowly in an abysmal attempt to relax and cast out the demons that preyed upon him. He allowed the bag to drop heavily to the stone underfoot and wearily made his way to a low bench in the shadow of the courtyard’s outer wall, noting idly that the area had been remarkably well-maintained in the absence of a permanent resident. He focused his efforts on shielding his own distressing memories as he waited, knowing they would hurt her even more. Not only did she have to contend with the very same, but he knew the sense of guilt she carried for those memories weighed her down far worse than any oppressive gravity. On top of everything, she also had to face the lingering presence in this place of a mother whose death remained raw in a year full of anguish. He could not allow her to take on his own pain and regret anymore than she already had.

He questioned his judgement in returning to this place. It had been by chance that he’d come – chance, and loyalty. Many of the crew had been granted shore leave when the captain had joined a pack of admirals on a diplomatic trip to Vulcan. T’Pol had been required to attend the first day only and wished to take the remaining time to properly see to her mother’s affairs, specifically those duties that could only be accomplished on a visit home. Sensing her apprehension, Trip had reluctantly offered to accompany her; the look of tenderness and gratitude on her face had been well worth the discomfort of the idea…or so he thought. He was seriously rethinking his decision, agonizing over the possibility that it could add even more complications to their still-fragile relationship.

T’Pol finally emerged through the entryway and he stood up to meet her. To anyone else the tightness of her features might be explained away as exertion, but he knew better. They locked eyes for a long moment, their psychic link betraying mutual discomfort. The support they sent to one another could not quite overtake the pain of remembrance, and they had yet to step foot inside. It was T’Pol who broke away first, moving toward the house with a deep, centering breath. Trip once again hefted his bag – which seemed to weigh three times more than it had mere minutes ago – and followed her through the doorway.

The same doorway he had once opened to admit the man who had very nearly cost them everything.

As he passed the dining benches in the main room he was assaulted with the memory of that first awkward meal, when T’Les’ disapproval had shone clear. He shook his head and pressed on determinedly. T’Pol had already moved beyond the guest room, but he could not help stopping to stare into the spartan quarters. He was compelled to entertain the demons who brought with them the heartbreak of the first tears he had shed there on that neatly-made bed. He glanced at the mirror where he had once done his damnedest to make himself presentable so he could watch her bind herself to someone else.

He knew it wasn’t right, he shouldn’t be struggling this much – it was painful, yes, but it was pain he had long learned to live with, had he not? The weight crushing down on him now was frustratingly inexplicable, and the more he fought to understand it the heavier it grew.

It was finally too much and he stumbled for an exit, any exit, to escape the cool confines of a house that was more stifling than the dry, scorching heat of the noonday sun. But he miscalculated, finding himself back in the courtyard. He was standing in that exact same spot, ripped back to a past where he could still feel the kiss she’d laid upon his cheek in farewell. Once again she was kneeling to accept her fate, and he was watching her do it.

He was letting her do it.

“Trip?”

He spun around to see T’Pol in the doorway. Even a stranger could discern the trepidation and heartache splashed across her face; that alone told him just how fragile her composure was. When added to the whispers he could feel from her across their growing connection, it was almost enough for him to ignore his own tumultuous state of mind.

Almost.

And that was the key, wasn’t it? He couldn’t ignore himself and they couldn’t ignore each other; that was why he felt himself spiralling out of control. Their bond was both a blessing and a curse, and in that moment he resented his engineer’s mind as it contemplated the irony of a positive feedback loop.

This had been a mistake, they should not have come here; they weren’t ready. Too many wounds had been inflicted upon both of them, by both of them – hers by action, his by inaction. They had been fine just days ago, well on their way to fixing and strengthening their relationship after so many kicks from the universe, but now it felt as if all their hard work was for nothing, things they thought they had beaten and buried had welled to the surface to wreak havoc once more. They should leave, return to the embassy or to the ship, to wherever, so long as they left this house….

No.

Suddenly, Trip felt angry – not at T’Pol, but at himself. No, they could not run away, they could not leave this house. This was where T’Pol grew up, the place that shaped her into the person he loved more than anything else. It had also been the home of the woman who, at the last moment and to the potential detriment of all her plans, had reluctantly urged him to tell her daughter how he felt.

No, it wasn’t right to try to take this place away from T’Pol. The memories here were painful, yes, but they could not – would not – destroy them. They were stronger than this, they had to be. They just needed to figure out a way to get past it, to start again in this place.

Suddenly, and with the subtlety of a warp core breach, he came to the realization that no, this house was not where it had all started, it had simply been where that beginning had manifested into cold, hard reality. A plan was spawned of this revelation – whether brilliant or preposterous, inspired or desperate, it was above all precarious…but it was all he had.

He covered the distance between them with renewed determination and cupped her face gently, kissing her reassuringly. “C’mon,” he said quietly, taking her hand and leading her away from the house, back out into the blistering sun.

~o~

They were quiet as they fled the house; T’Pol was almost afraid to speak. From the moment they had left the embassy for her mother’s home – her home – she had felt Trip’s mounting apprehension and dread as they approached the place where he had experienced one of the worst pains of his life. She knew that only two other heartbreaks could claim that title – the tragedy of his sister and that of her precious namesake – and both had been thrown at him by an angry universe, made personal only after the first strike. Not so in this place; what lurked here was brought about by her own hand, although perhaps not entirely her fault. She still felt a twinge of anger that he had not voiced his true feelings to her then; she would never know if that knowledge would have changed her decision.

That whisper of resentment, however, was easily overshadowed by the weight of guilt for putting not just him but the two of them through such turmoil, both during her short-lived marriage and what unfolded afterward. All those feelings churned along with the grief of her mother dying in her arms as she returned to the home she had not set foot in since the funeral. When she took her own emotions in combination with the tendrils he had not been entirely successful in shielding from her, concern had stayed her voice. She did not wish to broach the subject first lest his response prove even more painful than their current predicament; she was so far out of her element that she was almost paralyzed with apprehension.

And so she held her tongue as he directed her back into the rented ground transport, choosing to put her trust in him; it was all she had. He did not verbalize their destination but she deduced they were headed back to the embassy. In his hurry Trip had not seemed to spare a thought for their luggage, but it was just as well – she knew they could not stay away forever, although she was in agreement for the need of this immediate reprieve.

As they neared the turnoff that would take them back into the heart of Shi’Kahr, he suddenly reached over and took her hand in his, gripping tightly; she wasn’t sure whether he was providing reassurance or seeking it, but T’Pol would accept both gladly. When she looked over at him, however, her momentary relief was nearly washed away by the hard look he gave the road ahead. With an obvious but short-lived hesitation, Trip steered them down the turnoff…away from the city.

She was about to mention the wrong turn – his time on Vulcan had been brief and he had not bothered to switch the navigational display to English – but she paused, picking up on his determination through their connection; the supposed error had in fact been deliberate. Mixed with his determination was a hint of doubt, and she had the sense that it was doubt not of the route itself but of the decision to take it. He must have picked up on her confusion and alarm because he squeezed her hand, a calming gesture that had never failed to help put her at ease. She forced her body to relax as best it could against the seat, again choosing to place her trust in him above all else.

It was some time and several turns later when she began to suspect where he was taking them; that realization summarily dispersed what composure she had managed to scavenge together. Still she said nothing, hoping without much success that her suspicion was wrong, and it wasn’t long before her fears were confirmed.

He powered down the transport and turned to her. His eyes had a sadness to them that was achingly familiar, but she was gratified to see the tenderness that also resided there. There was pain, yes, but no malice as he stared intently at her. For whatever purpose he had brought them here, it was not to punish either one of them.

Trip brought their clasped hands to his mouth, kissing her knuckles softly. “Trust me.” She nodded without hesitation – that had never been in question. His jaw was still tensed, but his eyes brightened just a little. “Okay, let’s go.”

He released her hand long enough for them both to exit the vehicle and immediately took it back up as he led her toward the grand entryway hewn from the massive rock face that jutted defiantly from the earth. The physical contact between them helped to strengthen the connection they had to one another, and she found she needed his soothing presence more than ever – so much so that she dismissed any notions about adhering to Vulcan standards of public propriety almost immediately. As it was, the temple entrance to the monumental landmark was nearly devoid of patrons at this time of day, long after the foreign tours had departed and the remaining visitors had ensconced themselves deep inside the monastery. While a welcome coincidence, she doubted it would have made a difference - he needed to do whatever this was, she needed to do it with him, and they needed each other to see it through. They passed only two others as they made their way through the carved stone entrance, the smooth patina coating a testament to ageless pilgrimages.

The Fire Plains were accessed from a number of different chambers branching out from the main passageway, offering different views of the colossal stone idols that presided over the vast lakes of molten lava. When they had visited this place that first fateful time, T’Pol had purposefully chosen a chamber at the far end of the tourist facilities, one that afforded a more limited view and was thus often vacant of visitors; she’d bitterly planned for the privacy. It did not surprise her when, despite the lack of patrons elsewhere, Trip now led them to that very same spot.

They emerged from the cool tunnels and into the stone-baking heat that streamed down from the skies and bubbled up from the earth. Trip let go of her hand and walked forward, looking out over the rivers of liquid rock. He stood there silently for several minutes; from her vantage behind him, T’Pol could see the hunching of his shoulders. With frustration she noted that he was still attempting to shield as much of his psyche from her as he could, and so she could sense the turmoil in his mind but nothing of detail. She breathed deeply to center her own mind and fought the overwhelming urge to project calming thoughts to him. While she wanted nothing more than to ease his distress, instinctively she knew that whatever he was doing, it was his turn to do it alone. Her part, whatever that might be, would come eventually.

Sure enough, after a few minutes she sensed him calming and felt her own tension begin to melt away. His stray emotions gained a bit more weight in her mind, indicating a weakening in the barrier he’d erected around them; those emotions were still turbulent, but the tide was ebbing. Such was the nature of their bond that the calming of one aided the calming of the other, and they managed to cycle down their anxiety together to a more manageable level, both feeling more in control of their situation than they had since leaving the embassy that morning.

Sensing her opening, she took a hesitant step forward. “Trip?”

He looked back at her and she experienced mild surprise when she saw the ghost of a smile on his face. It was mostly contained in his eyes, and the hint of a tremble was present in the slight upturn of his lips, but it was a smile nonetheless, and it was accompanied by a feeling of warmth. He slowly bridged the gap between them and took one of her hands in his while the other reached up under her chin gently, lifting her lips to his.

The kiss was gentle and chaste, bringing with it a sense of love and reassurance between them that fed back into the other. When they pulled away their eyes met and held, a silent conversation that cocooned all the pain and guilt, sealing and hardening before being cast away. As one they came together again, their lips meeting with purpose. With rising ardour T’Pol reached out and wrapped her arms around him, fingers running through the short blond locks, while Trip rested his hands on her hips and slowly guided her backward until she came up against smooth rock. They held their embrace for a few long moments before Trip pulled away. As she opened her eyes, T’Pol remembered their public location…and once again had difficulty summoning up the energy to care.

“T’Pol,” he spoke softly after catching his breath. He moved his hands to either side of her face. “From now on, we start here.” She frowned in confusion, but he pressed on. “Everything else…we’ve never been here before, together. We wipe the slate clean, start again from this spot.”

His meaning, while convoluted, began to take shape, and she understood what he was offering them. She wanted to speak but her throat was tight, her tongue heavy and thick.

“This is where we went wrong, T’Pol,” he added softly. They both knew it wasn’t quite true, of course – their relationship had been fraught with mistakes and misunderstandings both before and after this place – but she could not deny that what had transpired here on their first visit was by far the most damning of obstacles.

They had truly believed they’d laid it to rest like they had everything else, even Terra Prime, but in hindsight such a sham was obvious. So relieved had they been when they finally found their way back to one another that they had ignored the lingering pain and resentment, each secretly terrified of the power of that singular event to bring their hard-won elation crashing down around them. And so it had been buried, but never dead. Like an insidious disease it had hidden in the shadows, bubbling up and seeping through like the lava fields before them, waiting for a single moment of vulnerability to punch through and wreak havoc.

It was erupting now, and all they could do was let it run its course. Already they could feel the pressure lessening, the haunting ghosts set free. A weight so constant it had long since stopped registering finally began to melt away as they at last acknowledged the depth of the wounds this place had caused. Exposed to the air, they could finally begin to heal.

“We have never gone wrong,” T’Pol said with finality, surprising them both. “We have made mistakes, acted illogically, and perhaps even faulted with logic,” her eyes never left the blue intensity of his own, but still she knew the corner of his mouth had quirked up just the slightest. “But nothing truly wrong could have brought us here now.”

The genuine smile spread slowly, finally encompassing his full features, and he brought his lips to her forehead, hands still cradling her face. They remained like that for a long time, both pairs of eyes shut as they basked in the flow of their bond returning to equilibrium. It almost seemed as if their connection was deeper now, more tangible and natural, no longer constricted by what lay unacknowledged between them.

“You know,” Trip began quietly, his lips ghosting over her skin as he spoke. “When I was a kid I had to write an essay on some old French author, François de…something or other, I can’t remember.” He chuckled lightly, sending pleasant reverberations through her body. “But one thing I do remember, some quote of his,” he took a deep breath, pausing a moment before forging ahead, “He once said, ‘One forgives to the degree that one loves.’”

He pulled back then, thumbs caressing her cheeks. As their eyes met, she noted that his were glassy and bright, the normally vibrant blue now almost glowing from the unshed tears that pooled there. Before she could worry that the smile had left his face to be replaced by a serious intensity, he continued, “I love you, T’Pol. With everything that I have, I love you.”

Even if she had words with which to respond, she had no capacity to voice them. He had said it before, but always in a light-hearted way and usually as he was departing – a strategy he had devised, she suspected, to remove any burden should she be unable to say it back. Never before had those words issued from his lips with such a quiet and abiding conviction, and never before had they been accompanied by the emotions she felt from him now. Whatever she had interpreted as his love for her in the past was a pale imitation to what enveloped her now. Whether new for him or simply released to her by the sudden flourishing of their bond, either way this breaking wave of emotion – of love – was threatening to consume her. And yet, she knew it wouldn’t; where she should have felt fear at such unbridled emotion, she felt only trust that he would keep her safe from harm.

Still at a loss of what to say, she pushed away from the wall and wrapped her arms around him tightly, remembering at the last second to be careful not to damage his ribs. After a moment’s hesitation – no doubt borne of surprise – he returned the hug fiercely, crushing her to him and resting his head atop hers. They were no strangers to physical contact; hand-holding, caresses, and kisses had become common in the privacy of their quarters, but any greater physical connection was usually relegated to more intimate encounters. Full-bodied hugs of simple comfort were rare, and never before had she been the one to initiate. The pure contentment and tranquility she was currently experiencing, however, had her rethinking such a grave oversight. She even found unexpected pleasure in the soft swaying motion that he currently imposed upon them.

As calm settled upon them, she became aware of…something, some sort of tentativeness that hovered uncertainly between them. Its presence flickered and she realized that he was trying his best to shield it from her. Not all of their barriers were down yet – there was still a lot of healing to do and it would take time and effort – but this one, whatever it was, called out to her, seemingly at odds with itself. Suddenly she realized she was feeling the battle between a subconscious desire and a conscious denial, a hope Trip was unwilling to acknowledge out of fear of disappointment.

She knew what that hope was, knew that it was out of respect for her that he would not give voice to it, and for that consideration alone she felt compelled to acknowledge it for him. Now that she had a true comparison to the depth of his feelings for her, she could gauge her own, and she found nothing wanting. She knew what she felt now, what she had been feeling for a long time without being overwhelmed or consumed.

Here she stood wrapped in the arms of her chosen human mate, overlooking the majestic turbulence of nature in what was arguably a public setting; the bond of love and friendship that linked them so intimately was owed directly to her own peoples’ heritage. Was there any logic in the refusal to give voice to what so obviously existed, what had long since been embraced rather than suppressed?

She knew not how long they stood there clinging to one another, but with a final squeeze he began to pull away. The smile was back but she was able to see – now that she knew it existed – the battle he waged in the depths of his eyes. “C’mon,” he said gently, taking her hand and turning away.

“I love you.”

The words were so quiet that even she had trouble determining if they had in fact been spoken at all, and she feared that if the wind had swallowed them she might not have the courage to breathe them again. She need not worry, though, because he immediately froze midstride, pausing almost comically before slowly turning back around. The grip he had on her hand was nearly crushing even to her superior strength, and what she sensed from him was too jumbled to provide any insights. His face, likewise, held no clues, so busy with emotion that it almost appeared to be devoid of them. She held no illusions as to the state of her own control as her eyes prickled and welled, lips all but trembling. She knew, objectively, that it was illogical to fear his reaction, but objectivity and logic had long since fled, and the longer he stared unmoving, the more apprehension filled the leftover void. She would not give in, though, and steeled herself, clamping her jaw tightly to quell the tremors and lifting her chin, standing by her claim in defiance of her upbringing.  

It must have sent the right message, for he loosened his grip on her hand and closed his eyes in unmistakable relief. All the tension in his body fled and his shoulders dropped, twin tears were released from the corners of his eyes when he opened them again, and his expression was heart-warming in its relief and joy. With the air of a man who had received all he could ever want and had nothing left to scramble for, he moved slowly but with purpose, catching her up in a deep, soul-searching kiss. She reciprocated in kind, feeling yet another weight fall away on this day of revelation and revival.

They were interrupted by a violent cry of the earth and a slight rumble in the ground as a geyser erupted down on the plains, spilling the blood of the planet high into the sky. Trip’s laughter was infectious and she finally felt her own features softening, moulding into that non-smile she reserved only to him. He reached out and gently swiped a thumb across her left cheekbone, catching the lone teardrop that only now registered.

They returned to the fiery fountain and she leaned back into his chest as they watched the apex of the torrent start to drop, the surge losing power. “I’m so grateful we’re here to see this,” he spoke softly into her ear, his words laden with so much meaning. “It’s beautiful.”

She didn’t respond; the sense of contentment that settled over them was comment enough. It wasn’t over, there was still so much between them that had been left neglected for far too long, but at least now their work could begin.

They turned back to each other as the geyser finally burned itself out. “C’mon,” he said as he took back her hand, “Let’s go home.”


The End

“One forgives to the degree that one loves.” ~François de La Rochefoucauld, 1613-1680


Comments:

pdsldl

I absolutely love this.

 

Lt. Zoe Jebkanto

Wonderful, just wonderful.

 

Asso

Not a line, not a word, must be lost of this great- little masterpiece.
Thank you for writing it.
Thank you for making us able to read it.

Cogito

Beautifully poignant!

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