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Story Notes:

The events of this story take place only a few days after the last scene of “Terra Prime” (and the true end of the series, IMHO) so, naturally, spoilers for everything, but mostly “Terra Prime”.

Note: Malcolm doesn't make an appearance until nearly the end of the story in Chapter Five but, because of the nature of the story and the fact that I began this long ago during "Drown Malcolm Month", it seemed only fitting that he should, even if only briefly.

Thank you to Aquarius for her workshopping help years ago, and to my beta for this story, Panyasan.

Thank you too, to all my readers over the years. I began this story as mere notes in 2010 and as a scribbled outline and fully fledged idea in 2011 thanks to The Delphic Expanse. Then life - family passings, new jobs, hurricanes and history - happened. If it wasn't for the enthusiasm of fanfic readers I wouldn't have come back to it after ten years.

 

oOo

 

Chapter One

 

Charles "Trip" Tucker leaned against a smooth stone pillar and stared out over the Vulcan landscape from under the sheltering shade of a massive rock ledge. From this lofty vantage point he could see several small towns spread out below the mountain and, farther in the distance, the hazy spires of the capital city Shi'Kara wavered in the mid-day heat. A transport ship, nearly invisible against the sky because of the distance, slowly and laboriously lifted from the western edge of the city and into the atmosphere. As he watched it disappear, a swirl of hot wind made him shut his eyes against blowing sand and he fumbled to rein in the fluttering edges of the Vulcan robes he was wearing. 

Behind him, just inside the temple's entrance, he could hear the Vulcan priest saying something to what was left of the... he frowned. What had T'Pol called it? A kat'ryarkat'ritan

He winced. Honor guard. That's what it was - a Vulcan honor guard of dignitaries for a tiny innocent.

Oddly, the thought didn't bring a tear to his eyes. Ever since that private moment in T'Pol's quarters - was it really only six days ago? - he hadn't felt the urge to cry again, though he was beginning to wish he could. He shifted uncomfortably against the pillar at the thought. It wasn't an inability to feel something that was bugging him; in fact, it was the opposite. Since just after Archer's speech to the planetary representatives, he'd felt weary and worn out, but on edge. The same sort of anger that had bubbled up inside him after his sister's death was threatening to do the same now and he didn't know what to do. He acknowledged their baby's death. He'd cried. He'd talked to the psychologist from Starfleet Medical. He'd done the social rituals for two different cultures - two different species on two different planetsif someone wanted to get technical about it. 

He glanced back over his shoulder. The Vulcan priests hadn't seemed to know what to do with him, other than to acknowledge his presence and part in the ritual as the baby's father. They weren't unkind, just... at a loss. Now that it was over, they spoke to T'Pol. 

Trip's gaze shifted from the tall, severe looking man in priest's robes to T'Pol's pale face.  She seemed so small in her heavy mourning robes. Part of him thought he should be there, by her side or even in front, shielding her from others. But another part of him realized that she needed this contact with other Vulcans, to deal with this in the way that Vulcans dealt with this sort of thing. 

He closed his eyes and tried some deep breathing. He was beginning to appreciate the quiet way Vulcans grieved, a welcome change from the countless "I'm-so-sorries" and flowing tears that had dominated the past week. Sorry didn't make it better. Sorry didn't bring either Elizabeth back to life. 

Neither did the rituals and the fire pits, but at least the Vulcans had let him be.

He felt like he was suffocating inside, unable to breathe. It was as if he was reaching for something, like he needed some other kind of ... oh hell, he didn't even know what it was that he needed. At this point, he'd welcome the worn out, numb and weary feeling he'd had during the meeting with the planetary representatives on Earth. This new feeling carried with it molten pools of rage in the pit of his soul. He'd been here before, and he knew neuropressure wasn't going to get him out of this dangerous place this time.

"I grieve with thee." 

The sound of another voice startled him out of his spiraling thoughts and he tore his eyes away from T'Pol to find himself staring at V'Lar, who had left the small circle of Vulcan dignitaries to join him at the entrance to the monastery. Hers had been one of only two faces he'd recognized - Vulcan's new leader, T'Pau, being the other. Soval had attended the memorial services on Earth, where he and other diplomats were forging ahead with conference talks to create a coalition of planets. T'Pol had mentioned nothing about any of her extended family planning to attend this ritual and Trip wasn't sure if he was in the frame of mind to remember them if they had. 

He blinked, realizing he was still staring at the elderly Vulcan woman. He wasn't sure who had asked for V'Lar to be here, but he felt suddenly grateful for her presence. 

"Thanks," he finally managed to say. His throat felt dry with the words. 

If V'Lar thought anything of his odd behavior, her kind, round face didn't show it. She seemed more tired than the last time he'd seen her, and she moved more slowly and carefully than he remembered, too. Briefly he wondered how the turmoil of the last several years on Vulcan had been affecting her life. 

"You are staying on Vulcan?" 

He nodded. "For a few days."

"I would be most pleased if the two of you would visit with me in my home..."

The idea of trying to be social right now spurred a new sense of anxiety, but she smoothly added, before he could make some kind of excuse, "...when you are able and desire the company."

He nodded again, the surge of emotion receding as quickly as it had bubbled up. V'Lar's mix of warmth, firmness, and disarming charm reminded him of his own grandmother and he suspected that "No" wouldn't be accepted as an answer. The thought was a bit comforting, and the fierce burn that had been building up in his gut began to fade back to glowing embers.

"Yes ma'am. Thank you."

Behind them he could hear light footsteps approach and knew, even before V'Lar turned to take her leave that it was T'Pol. The two women spoke quietly in Vulcan for a few minutes before V'Lar walked away. Further down the path in front of him he could see a middle-aged Vulcan woman who bore a remarkable resemblance to V'Lar, waiting. Her daughter, perhaps?

Daughter. The very word was like pressing the open in his soul and he blinked with the sudden pain. 

Out of the corner of his eye he could see T'Pol move to stand nearer him, and they both watched in silence as V'Lar departed. The former diplomat chose her footsteps carefully, her younger companion providing an arm for support, as both descended the steep gravel path that wound away from the entrance to the temple. Trip knew from his own arrival this morning that it led to a small landing pad hidden from view some meters below. 

Behind them, a gentle rustling of fabric announced the retreat of the somber priests into the depths of the temple. 

Suddenly they were alone again, for the first time in days.

T'Pol glanced up at him with a breath that seemed to have a question behind it. But she too was struggling with something - he could feel it - and the moment vanished into the dry mountain air. The silence hung there, as heavy as the rock ledge overhead and more awkward with each passing moment. Trip desperately searched for something to fill it but everything he wanted to say was tinged with anger at the universe. 

He needed to say something, no - to do something - but he felt as immobile as the stone edifices that surrounded them.

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