Ten years from now (and one universe over), a Captain Kirk and Commander Spock will meet for the first time, two experienced officers who will learn what they can do together is greater than everything they had ever done apart. Jim remembers it like he does Spock's memories of Vulcan in the heat of high summer, the stark beauty of the plains of Gol, Amanda Grayson's laugh; distant things that aren't him, yet are. He remembers men that fought for peace and hated war, who defined themselves by what they were to each other and the Federation that they served.
They were good men, better men than he can ever hope to be.
Three months of ceaseless work had given him this much; he knows himself, in ways that maybe no human before him ever has and perhaps ever could. Jim Kirk mostly came out intact. That doesn't mean he doesn't know there were things that slipped through the cracks, pieces of the three other people that inhabit his head; he finds them every day.
When the door of the Ambassador's residence opens, Jim smiles. "Hey, old friend."
This is one of the cracks, and maybe the one he was willing to leave alone.
Ambassador Spock doesn't smile, but Jim can feel it anyway. "Jim," he says, warm with welcome. "It is good to see you again."
Dr. Lyra Uloi is waiting outside when they arrive. A tall woman, she's a head shorter than her two colleagues, dark brown hair cropped short around a strong face with wide set, worried green eyes, dark skin splattered with freckles across her cheekbones.
"Greetings," she says, eyes flickering between them before resting on Dr. McCoy. Thank you," she breathes, and the professional mask slips, revealing the fear she's kept carefully shielded from her colleagues and patients. "Dr. McCoy--"
"I reviewed the file," Dr. McCoy says, looking around the quiet grounds of the hospital. Spock remembers this place as little more than bare rock and poor soil; ideal for the city that their people had envisioned without wasting the little fertile land on the continent. "This is Lieutenant Chapel, my head nurse; Lieutenant Uhura, our communications officer and who will act as my interpreter; and Commander--"
"Spock, yes, it's good to meet you." Dr. Uloi has been on Vulcan long enough not to offer her hand as she does to his human colleagues. "This is Healer Sorin and Healer T'Sai--they're the senior members of the team assigned to the patients."
Spock thinks of the files he reviewed before leaving the Enterprise; Healer T'Sai is a graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy and a noted specialist in telepathy, with an emphasis on empathy. Her choice of field had led her to study two years with the Acolytes of Gol, beneath the eye of the kolinahru and the High Priestess herself, giving her the required distance to practice the most intimate of services for a Vulcan without losing herself within them. Bonded in childhood, she had married the noted neurologist Healer Teren in her thirtieth year; now in her one hundred and second, she's returned to her apprenticeship, training in genetic engineering and obstetrics to fill the gaps in their ranks. Her blonde hair and blue eyes (common traits of Vulcans born in the far north) often confused off-world--non-Vulcans who came in contact with her.
Spock does not find it reassuring that she's been called from the urgent need to rebuild their achievements in manipulation of the building blocks of life to care for ten non-Vulcans; that she's been called, has stayed, and made little progress is even less so.
Healer Sorin is more surprising; his Academy record had been laudable but not exemplary, a practicing physician with secondary skills in pharmacology and biochemistry. Useful, even more so now in their narrowed world. In one thing only is he unique; as a child, he'd been found to be the most powerful telepath Vulcan had seen in three millennium of recorded history; a throwback to their ancestors before Reformation, when the gift had been both a prize and a weapon of war.
Strong telepaths were always welcome, an advantage that any family would be pleased to claim; Adepts were their reminder of what they had been and could be yet again. Adepts, invariably, joined the ranks of the kolinahr, where the dangerous breadth of their gifts would be leashed to perfect logic, lives lived in service of their people.
Sorin had studied the discipline from earliest childhood, given into the keeping of the acolytes and raised in the starkness of Gol, the entirety of all that a Vulcan could be his birthright. And he had walked away, to join a people that feared him, complete an education far beneath his position, and travel a galaxy to practice his skills wherever he was required.
Now he is here, in a tiny colony that could no longer afford either respectful neglect or scornful dismissal; Spock supposes he and Sorin are much alike in that. Tall and almost gaunt, Sorin surveys his charges with chilled impersonality; Spock wonders how his patients relate to someone who practices pure logic so effortlessly.
Following them into the hospital, Spock glances in the wide, airy rooms, designed to accelerate the natural flow of air, built in a sprawl of interconnected buildings that had been impossible in the densely populated Vulcan cities. Patients meditate in an interior garden, fountain trickling in the center of a lawn of Gol desert grass and sandroses the color of a new dawn, while students follow their instructor into the children's wing, windows splashing white light across the tiled floors.
As they come to the north edge of the hospital, T'Sai leads them to a retinal-locked door and down a narrow hall, opening on a wide, bright room, painted in shades of soothing blues and greens, sprinkled with softly cushioned chairs and brightly colored blocks, beaded strings, and stuffed toys.
Five people in the stark whites of a patient, softly colored robes wrapped around their thinning bodies, look at them without seeing anything.
"Are they all like this?" McCoy whispers as a nurse patiently retrieves a block that fell from the limp fingers of one of the males. Placing it in the man's hands, the nurse continues a quiet monologue, shields lowered as she listens for a response; to the block placed in his palm; to the sound of her voice; to the gentle, welcoming call of her mind, to anything at all.
There's only silence in return. Spock looks away.
"No," Dr. Uloi says. "These are the ones that are responding to treatment."
McCoy opens his mouth, then closes it, lips tight. Dr. Uloi leads them to another door. Hesitating, she looks at them. "In my report, I explained it is necessary to shield yourselves; your Academy training is sufficient for the time we will be with them." Pressing her hand against a panel in the wall, she murmurs a phrase, then the door opens for them.
Spock recognizes the three healers, but his attention is arrested by the five biobeds, monitors humming subliminally as they care for the five people who have not been so fortunate as those in the outer room.
"They're catatonic," McCoy says, approaching the first bed and peering at the monitor. "Not responsive?"
"There have been--episodes," T'Sai answers, approaching one of the beds and noting the readings. "Two of our nurses were subsumed in their minds when contact was initiated; only the most highly trained are permitted to attempt further communication."
"The episodes, however, have lead to a better understanding of their conditions," Healer Sorin says quietly. Dr. Uloi's eyes narrow. "Their experiences assisted us in identifying new methods of approach; the results are those who have regained some consciousness of themselves."
"You call that an improvement?" Dr. McCoy answers incredulously.
"Yes. They are able to feed themselves, with prompting, care for their health and hygiene, and respond to their attendants. They know the sound of their names and that those names apply to themselves. One month ago, they could do none of those things. By definition, that is improvement."
Spock thinks of the empty-eyed man and compares the listless, sluggish movement of his hand as it closed on the block to the stillness of the body before him. Yes, an improvement.
Spock identifies the species of each patient; an Orion male, a Tellarite female, and three humans, two female. In the outer room, there had been no humans at all. "Is the species significant?" Spock asks as Uhura assists Dr. McCoy to translate one of the charts.
Dr. Uloi nods grimly. "At first, we assumed a higher natural psi-rating was the cause of the discrepancy in responses, which is partially true. Tellarites and humans have the lowest natural psi-rating; according to all of our data, all of them were psi-null before their bonding. The Orion seem to respond slightly better; the others are of species that are not necessarily telepathic but have a natural higher threshold."
"So no telepaths," Dr. McCoy says softly. "Just people with no natural defenses."
T'Sai stiffens slightly. "Dr. McCoy--"
"In essence," Sorin says, turning from study of one of the far biobeds, "that is correct. In the three months since the first was admitted, there have been no other registrations of separation. There is a pattern."
Sorin lifts his eyes to T'Sai. "Cthia demands truth, even that which we find distasteful. Forty-two percent of interspecies marriages currently in existence in the colony involve a species that is psi-null. One point eight percent of that group are represented here. None of those that involve a telepathic species or a telepath have registered separation or are in treatment. If you wish to offer an objection, contradictory data will need to be supplied. You have none."
T'Sai hesitates. "Correlation does not equal causality, Healer Sorin."
"Wish-fulfillment does not equal reality-truth, Healer T'Sai," Sorin answers coolly, then turns away, returning to his patient.
Dr. Uloi glances toward the door a little desperately. "If you would," she starts; Dr. McCoy hesitates, then nods, clutching his tricorder as Lieutenant Chapel wipes at her eyes quickly. Lieutenant Uhura and Dr. Uloi lead them from the room.
Spock hesitates as Healer T'Sai passes him, giving him a steady look before she, too, leaves. "Healer Sorin?"
Sorin completes his calculations before lifting his head, brown eyes inquiring. Spock's memories of the acolytes of Gol are still vivid; he remembers the stillness of them, echoed in this man, a reminder and a memory of something Spock had once sought and may well yet again.
"You are curious regarding the disagreement between myself and Healer T'Sai," Sorin says, stopping at the foot of the bed of a human woman. "It is philosophical, not professional. Healer T'Sai is opposed to the challenge of the Grayson Test."
"And you are not."
"I have indicated my support for the measure when asked," Sorin answers. As a former acolyte, his opinion would be asked and listened to, perhaps more than any other but the Elders. "Current bonds are not affected; you and your bondmate are not subject to the restrictions."
"I do not oppose it on behalf of myself alone," Spock answers. "It is in contradiction to all that we believe, what Vulcan is--"
"What Vulcan was," Sorin corrects. "Vulcan no longer exists. We that remain will work toward what we once were, but at this time, we are a species on the brink of extinction. Much must be sacrificed in service to rebuilding what was destroyed."
"Stripping us of the tenets of our beliefs--"
"Cthia demands we recognize the truth of what is, not what we wish. To achieve true cthia, to recognize it, all else must be sacrificed. You spent four seasons with the acolytes of Gol before you chose a different path; of those who remain of our people, you would understand what that must entail."
Spock's eyes are drawn back to the beds. "You can say this in this room?"
"Yes. In this room, I can say it with certainty." Sorin tilts his head, studying Spock. "I see. You think of your bondmate here and it frightens you."
Spock instinctively reaches for his shields; there is no break.
"I do not need to sense your feelings to interpret the motivation of your arguments. It is natural that you should see this and think of your bondmate's vulnerability." Sorin hesitates. "I offer my belated congratulations on your bonding. It was long assumed you would choose not to follow Vulcan tradition."
Before Spock can respond with more than a nod and wonder at such a flexible interpretation of Vulcan tradition, Sorin indicates the biobed. "It is time to attempt communication. I require privacy."
Spock nods his assent, aware of his own desire to leave, leave immediately; not only this room, but the hospital, the presence of these broken minds. Closing the door behind him, Spock brings himself under control, trying to find the stillness within himself that has been beyond his reach since the meeting with Captain Mitchell.
"Commander Spock?" Dr. Uloi's worried voice penetrates abruptly, and Spock realizes he's been reaching for Jim, a faint spark of brightness that feels at this moment impossibly far from him. Horrified by the lack of self-control, he forces his mind to calm, abandoning the warmth of Jim's mind.
"My apologies, Dr. Uloi--"
"There is no offense when none is taken," she says, matching his stride as they cross the quiet room, the patients seemingly not having moved since he first saw them. "This entire area is in a Faraday cage; we built the wing from scratch to accomplish a complete separation from the rest of the hospital. No one is easy here, especially those that are bonded."
As they leave the wing, Spock finds the normal, busy activities of the hospital almost indecent; an illogical reaction, perhaps, but after the suffocating silence, it almost seems too loud. "Where are Dr. McCoy and my colleagues?"
"They're reviewing the new data," Dr. Uloi says warmly. "If you wish to join them--"
"I have--another obligation," Spock says; it is not a lie. "Please inform Lieutenant Uhura that I have left. If my presence is required, she is to contact me immediately."
Dr. Uloi nods. "Of course."
Turning, Spock retraces his steps through the hospital. The unsettled feeling increases exponentially, and distantly, he can feel a faint sense of sleepy alarm; instantly, he cuts off the contact before he can disturb Jim's rest. Since they learned of this, Jim's sleep has been uneasy, though he has taken pains to conceal it. If meeting with the Ambassador has in some way allowed him to relax, Spock should not resent it.
Cadet T'Prina, as expected, awaits him outside the Ambassador's residence.
"Commander Spock," she says, rising at his arrival from the wide porch, angled to easily catch the evening breeze. "Ambassador Spock has instructed me to inform you that Captain Kirk has accepted his hospitality on behalf of all Enterprise senior staff. With your permission, I am to extend the same invitation to Dr. McCoy, Lieutenant Chapel, and Lieutenant Uhura when they have completed their duties for the evening. Do you require sustenance--"
"No, cadet. You are dismissed."
T'Prina nods firmly, turning toward the gate, then hesitates. For a welcome moment, he almost hopes she is reconsidering, but she does not. "I have a question, Commander."
"I do not think--"
"I wish to understand--"
"You are dismissed, Cadet T'Prina." T'Prina shuts her mouth, eyes widening. "When you have completed your duties, you may return here or to the ship, whichever you prefer. I will speak to you in the morning." Spock pauses. "Do you understand, cadet?"
"Yes, sir," she whispers, and this time, she doesn't hesitate. Spock dismisses her presence from his mind, following his growing awareness of Jim to the exclusion of all else, navigating the darkened rooms unerringly toward the familiar mind.
Opening the last door near the back of the house, Spock can see Jim is already sitting up, arms looped around his knees. "That bad?"
"Five have made progress," Spock begins, but Jim waves a hand dismissively. "Dr. McCoy--"
"Not what I asked. Come here."
Spock hesitates at the foot of the bed. It is illogical, perhaps, but he does not want Jim to see what those rooms held in their silence, what it meant to see the helpless bodies that had once been husbands and wives, bondmates, lost to everything, even themselves.
No one could be easy there, not those that are bonded, not those that are bonded to someone who could so easily--
T'hy'la. Even in the darkness, Spock can see the startling blue of Jim's eyes. "Come here."
The first touch is almost painful and not nearly enough, not after the silence of those rooms. Jim knots a hand in his tunic, pulling him to the bed before straddling his hips, lacing their fingers together and brushing a kiss against his mouth, murmuring, "Right, now let me in, okay?"
Let me see. Stop shutting me out.
Spock hesitates. "I do not wish--"
You really need something else to do with your mouth. Jim licks gently across his lip, teasing, light, promising; reaching for Spock's hand, he presses it against his cheek. Like this.
Pon farr steals control, not memory; at least, not for Spock. He remembers the first time Jim kissed him as clearly as the last, and every time in between; they have never twice been the same. Opening to the press of Jim's tongue is as inevitable as accepting the bright invitation of his mind.
It passes in a rush, so much easier than words have ever been, and here he can express the growing anger he'd felt when he'd seen those damaged minds, the slowly building fear that came with the confirmation of why five had yet to awaken, and beneath it all, a litany of This will not be you. I will never, will never permit anyone, anyone…
I know. Jim slips out of his shirt, never breaking contact between them. I know, you know, we both know, come on, let me--
I will never let you be taken from me.
Jim grins, raising himself on his knees to strip away his shorts, bright and golden even in the dark, holding Spock's hand to his face, and his mind--
I want you. Fuck me, like this, in my head, in me, Spock, now, now now now….
There's no clear memory of discarding his uniform, Jim's mind humming constant encouragement, words reduced to nothing more than images and feelings, a running litany that stops for a timeless moment when Jim is tight around him, arching into his touch, Jim's mind surrounding him, and everything, everything they are and will ever be is here.
Yes, just me, just us, just this and Spock cannot be sure which one of them thought it, hissing at the slide of Jim's fingernails down his back, my mind to your mind and Jim whispers Yes, Jim's fingers tight around his, my thoughts to your thoughts, and a pause before they're together, singular, never touching and always--
To achieve true cthia, everything must be sacrificed, even self; he had never suspected it could be found here, in Jim, in what they are together that is so much greater than they will ever be apart.
There is no thought remaining, only feeling.
It's still hours until dawn when Spock feels the faintest questioning touch, too light to awaken him if he had been asleep. Aware Yeoman Rand had overseen Jim's packing, Spock finds the proper clothing in their proper places, padding in the direction of the inquiry until he emerges in the kitchen, lights minimized as the Ambassador sets two cups of tea on the table.
"Ambassador," Spock says, looking at this version of the man he could one day have been; it's too abstract a concept, even when dressed in flesh before him. "My congratulations on your bonding and the birth of your daughter."
The Ambassador smiles, motioning to the opposite side of the small table. "And mine for your bonding," he answers graciously.
Taking the chair with illogical wariness, Spock picks up the cup, tasting his mother's favorite tea for a scorching moment. Setting it down, he leashes impatience as the Ambassador studies him; Jim's sleep is settled for the first time in days, and Spock wishes to share it.
In the two years and ten months since the first and last time he met this man, much and oddly, very little has changed.
"He won't wake up," the Ambassador says, warm in a knowledge of Jim that Spock is still learning. There is nothing rational in resentment; Jim is not this man's. The distance between them is greater than time and the worlds they come from. "He was not shielded," the Ambassador says, reaching for his tea, and for a moment, Spock can pretend he does not know what that means. "Nor were you."
It is not logical to feel embarrassment in the presence of one's potential self; perhaps that is the reason Spock feels none at all. "My apologies," he answers coolly. "I asked that Jim discontinue their constant use due to the strain; I did not think to remind him."
He has no excuse for himself, nor will he give one.
"There is no offense," the Ambassador says with a brief smile, a flicker that's understanding and amusement both. "I would like to offer my assistance in your inquiry; I was unaware of events in the colony that have come to pass. My wife resided at Starfleet Medical for the duration of her gestation and the first month of our daughter's life. At our ages, it seemed--prudent to minimize all possible risks."
"They are well?" Spock had never thought of children; he does not see that the future will change that, not least because of the man who shares his life.
"They are. It was a precaution, nothing more. My--our unique genetics were a cause for supervision, not concern."
Spock takes another drink of the tea, letting the flavor settle. "Jim likes this one as well," he says, remembering the first time Jim had tasted it with a flare of remembered warmth. "He says it is relaxing and helps him--clear his head, as he puts it."
"I also wish to offer my apologies," the Ambassador says, eyes fixed on the cup. "For the actions that resulted in Jim's--condition. I was careless, and did not consider the potential consequences of melding to one who was so close to my bondmate. I do not offer excuses--"
"I--" Spock stops himself; truth is always difficult, he reminds himself, and must be faced. Even truth that is unpalatable to recognize, much less admit. "To Jim, perhaps, this is owed, but for myself--there is nothing I would change."
The Ambassador looks up, eyes dancing. "Jim said the same. When he was able to speak at all."
Involuntarily, Spock seeks Jim's sleeping mind; exhausted, of course, with the low hum of contentment that indicated this would be a good night for him, for them both.
"It was never easy," the Ambassador says softly; Spock presses his fingers against the table. "For Jim and I. For years, it was--unsettled between us, because of the men we were when we first met, the world we lived in. You are different and so is the world; yet Jim is--" The Ambassador pauses, lifting his cup. "It was long before I would see him as you see him now."
Spock's glimpses of the memories Jim still carries have always been fascinating and painful by turn. Jim's restlessness is far greater than his counterpart, with the razor edge of anger that he learned too young and perhaps will carry all his life. Jim's life has been hard, hard in ways that the other man had never known; hard in ways that Spock had long recognized in himself.
"They are not the same."
The Ambassador raises an eyebrow, bittersweet amusement and pleasure both. "No. They are not. And yet they are, for all the reasons I loved them and love them still." There is a pause, too long for comfort. "Does that bother you?"
Truth is always difficult. "Yes." Spock examines his answer carefully. "But less than it once would have."
"That is understandable." Finishing his tea, the Ambassador takes the cup to the sink. "I have sent inquiries to those families that include a non-Vulcan bondmate. My wife has a large acquaintance, so some I have already met. There has been no sign of dissatisfaction we have been aware of, but she has volunteered to inquire more thoroughly than I can." Spock turns, leaning against the counter. "You have studied the data and have viewed the patients. What are your conclusions?"
"What was done was done badly," Spock says after a moment. "Healer T'Sai suspects part of the damage was incurred due to inexperience; only an acolyte of Gol would have the necessary skill and distance to separate joined minds with the least trauma to both parties. It is against our instincts to sunder what has been joined; those that did this did not have the skill to overcome it."
"Could you do it?"
The question isn't casual. "Perhaps." Spock considers his answer in light of the man before him; his own training had only begun when he'd abandoned it. "With practice. I assume this means you are capable as well."
"I spent years studying kolinahr," the Ambassador says, the faintest trace of amusement in his voice. Shocked, Spock finds himself without a reply. "I have seen the very epitome of what we could be, yes. And on the cusp of all knowledge, I failed. It required a sacrifice I was not prepared to make. In time, I came to understand it was one I would also not choose to make."
"I do not understand," Spock says flatly.
"You do," the Ambassador says, returning to take Spock's empty cup; he hadn't realized he had finished it. "Control your irritation, Spock. I do not exist--"
"--to be a tour guide of my life," Spock answers absently, an echo of a conversation with Jim so long ago it feels almost like another life. "Jim does complain you tell him that you do not possess the properties of an oracle. I find myself understanding his resentment."
"You are very young."
"And you are not as old as you pretend." Spock rises. "You have been informative, Ambassador. If you will excuse me--"
"I will not keep you longer. My bondmate is not pleased that I lingered this long." The Ambassador gestures. "We will speak again in the morning."
Returning to his room, Spock considers the conversation; it was informative, yet not. Better they meet like this first, Spock supposes uncertainly, than amongst others.
Jim awakens briefly, thinking a query at the first touch. "You have often stated he refuses to be an oracle," Spock says after a moment's thought. "I understand why you often seclude yourself to speak ill of my people after you have received a transmission from him."
Jim is still laughing as he falls back to sleep.
Waking before Jim, Spock spends a satisfactory hour meditating in the quiet garden; in response to the lack of natural breaks for wind, many of the private residences had been built around an interior garden, a style that had been popular on Vulcan pre-Reformation and on Earth during the Roman Republic. The rectangular shape is edged with native stone, leading to engineered Vulcan grasses that thrive in the poor soil. Seedling trees from several arid worlds are beginning to flower; there are also several dwarf fruit trees, nearer the fountain in transplanted, fertilized soil. The water expense is well worth the result; Spock recognizes Terran fig trees among the variety on offer, as well as a small but thriving vegetable garden in one corner.
The white sun above him is not Vulcan's, and it can never be, but Spock thinks this could be a place his people could find themselves again. Perhaps, one day, their children will call it home without regret.
Rising, he sees a woman waiting. "T'Sora," he says, recognizing her from the holos Jim had received from the Ambassador. "Live long and prosper."
"Live long and prosper, Commander Spock," she says, stepping off the stone and crossing the short distance between them. "I have long anticipated meeting you."
The holos did not do her justice; tall and angular with the dark skin and eyes of the eastern desert clans of Vulcan, she carries herself with the same calm grace that the Ambassador does, self-contained without the distance that younger Vulcans adopt in the place of true peace. The neatly coiled twists of dark hair is striped in wide swathes of white, but like the Ambassador, the appearance of age is deceiving.
She is also, Spock realizes with what is not, is not, is not shock, with child again.
"At my age," she says, as dryly as the Ambassador, "time is not to be trifled with. We have determined five children would satisfy us; it would not be logical to wait."
"That is--logical." He cannot think of a more appropriate response.
She does not smile, but he suspects that is because she thinks it will shock him. "We are about to break our fast," she says. "Would you join us? Your crewmates will not begin without you."
With a nod, Spock follows her back inside. The house is surprisingly comfortable, though no environmental controls have been yet activated. "My bondmate designed and built our home and most of our systems; we are popular hosts during the summer months," T'Sora says as they pass through a wide doorway; in daylight, Spock notices the high ceilings, the mechanized grills that line each wall, allowing sunlight and the free flow of fresh air. "He spends his evenings teaching me his skill in engineering; in return, I instruct him in botany and agriculture. He has mentioned that he finds them much more interesting subjects than he did in his youth."
"I see." Spock cannot imagine finding satisfaction with the study of plants, however practical it might be; there are many reasons he has pursued a career that almost exclusively requires residence on starships. Jim had once confessed a similar disinterest in all that encompasses food production.
Before he can think of something more to add, the noise coming from the next room captures his attention. Emerging into the large open area that comprises the kitchen and dining, Spock blinks at the group that seems to fill the room nearly to overflowing.
"My husband and I wished to meet your and Jim's colleagues," T'Sora says placidly. In the kitchen, Nyota and the Ambassador argue the merits of pre-Reformation Vulcan proverbs--a subject Spock feels perhaps he should have warned the Ambassador not to pursue without several hours and at least four reference texts; Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov compete for Cadet T'Prina's attention at the table as she identifies the various dishes for them; Lieutenant Commander Scott and Dr. McCoy hover over the carafe of coffee while Lieutenant Chapel tries to convince Dr. McCoy that the dishes are safe for human consumption. Lieutenant Evans and his longtime partner, Ensign Harrison, are engaged in a subtle combination of conversation and watching over the room that comprises the senior staff of the Enterprise with professional paranoia.
On the far side of the room, Jim looks up from the small bundle of blankets that Spock speculates hold the Ambassador's offspring. "Spock, c'mere."
As T'Sora joins her husband, adding her reasoned arguments (to which side, he cannot be certain, though Nyota looks pleased), he joins Jim on the small sofa by the far wall. Drawing back the blankets, Spock looks down at small round face, wide brown eyes regarding him speculatively. "T'Mana," Jim says, grinning. "She's going to be a handful."
The infant blinks slowly; Spock wishes that he did not seem to sense a vague resentment that someone else has captured Jim's attention. After a moment of sober regard, the child returns her gaze to Jim, emitting a high-pitched sound that bears a disturbing resemblance to a demand.
"You," Jim tells her, tapping her nose, "remind me of some relatives of yours that also don't like it when I don't pay them enough attention." Looking at Spock, he gestures toward the child. "Want to hold her?"
It is not logical to wonder if she will break. "Perhaps--"
Jim shifts the child, her face pressed briefly against his shoulder, before transferring her to Spock. "She won't break," Jim murmurs as Spock struggles to balance the warm mass. "Will you, kiddo? That's Uncle Spock. Later, we'll explain the inaccuracies of the term by definition, but right now, I think the consequences of spacetime irregularities as they relate to relativity and temporal mechanics are a little advanced. Maybe on your first birthday."
T'Mana does not seem entirely pleased with the change in location, but when Jim extends a finger, a tiny hand reaches out, grabbing firmly, before glancing at Spock with something very like satisfaction.
Spock thinks perhaps his inexperience with children is responsible for the uneasy feeling that he is being evaluated and found wanting.
Abruptly, Nyota materializes in front of them, looking grim. "My turn, Jim. Hand her over."
"Spock just got her!" Jim protests. Ignoring him, Spock tries to extend the child in her direction; illogically, T'Mana retains hold of Jim's finger. "Come on--"
"You said ten minutes and it's been twenty," Nyota answers, expertly retrieving the infant. Losing hold of Jim's finger, the small mouth puckers in dissatisfaction, but a long strand of Nyota's hair seems to be an acceptable replacement; grabbing on, she looks up into Nyota's face in approval. "That's my girl," she says in colloquial Vulcan; T'Mana gurgles, pleased with her acquisition as Nyota bears her away, seating herself with an interested Lieutenant Chapel and an eager Dr. McCoy.
"I like babies," Jim says alarmingly, eyes following the child's progress between Starfleet officers before standing up. "Other people's, I mean. Those are really the best kind."
"Indeed." Following Jim to the table, Spock looks over the selection. All are safe for human consumption, but Jim's experiences with Vulcan cuisine have been mixed at best. As the Ambassador and his wife join them, Spock explains the ingredients of each dish as Jim eyes everyone else's selections, finally following Spock's recommendations warily.
It is a pleasant meal, if rather noisy; T'Prina, having maneuvered herself to sit at Jim's right side, identifies the various species of fruits and vegetables, their origins, and their requirements for successful cultivation, before requiring him to sample each. Fascinated, Spock watches Jim attempt resistance and finally surrender, tasting each selection with grim determination. Spock notes the ones that do not result in badly-concealed horror to add to the replicator menu.
T'Prina's attentions have long been a source of fascination; her application for the Enterprise had been a surprise only to Jim. Jim's brief description of their interactions during his class had been enlightening; during their next refit at Starfleet, Spock had examined the list of applicants for the Enterprise and been unsurprised to see that all of his students had added their names for consideration.
Curious, Spock had requested to interview all the applicants instead of the final selection; the results had been intriguing. Many of the names Spock noted for potential assignment to the Enterprise after their graduation; invariably, they were accomplished, intelligent, intellectually curious, fearless, but also, in retrospect unsurprisingly, innovative thinkers. None had been command-track when Jim had begun his instruction--Starfleet continued to deny what it did not wish to admit and would never give Jim a class of future captains to instruct--but five had switched track soon after, and three others had returned after graduation to start their education in command.
Spock thinks it is appropriate to feel quiet satisfaction with the results.
T'Prina had not been one of those, however. Spock suspects, watching her careful study of Jim over the course of her internship, that she has been coming to a decision on the course of her career. What that will be, he cannot pretend to guess; then again, he suspects she does not yet know, either.
Finally, the meal comes to a conclusion; rising to assist T'Sora and Dr. McCoy clear the table, Spock sees the Ambassador retrieve his child, looking at them all with intensely private satisfaction. "In three days time, my wife and I are hosting a dinner for several families of our acquaintance," he says. "I would be pleased if you would all join us."
While not stated, Spock speculates there will be many attendants with non-Vulcan bondmates; T'Sora's slight nod when she catches his eye confirms it.
"Ambassador," T'Prina says, rising from her chair and permitting Jim to escape a sliced amjen fruit, native to the colony with a taste reminiscent of avocado and strawberry syrup, "I would ask permission to invite my bondmate. He has expressed an interest in meeting you, as well as my colleagues."
As the Ambassador gives his assent, T'Sora brings a bowl to the cleaner. "I am surprised," she murmurs. "Do you know the clan?"
Spock nods slightly, watching as Lieutenant Sulu demands T'Prina's attention. "Interesting. They are active in challenge of the Grayson Test."
"They introduced it to the Council," T'Sora agrees softly as Spock retrieves the silverware. After a brief hesitation, she continues. "The clan has made a point of social interaction with Sarek. My bondmate and I have had reason until now to decline their invitations. For reasons you are aware of, he is not--sympathetic to their views, and he and Sarek have had limited interaction since we returned."
"Have my actions caused disharmony between them?"
T'Sora lowers her eyes. "They have not spoken since you declared yourself clanless when Sarek refused to accept your choice of bondmate. I have been less than active in mending the breach between them," she says softly, eyes flickering to her husband and daughter.
Spock nods. His actions are not her responsibility to mend.
"It is not logical, but--" She stops, looking thoughtful. "I had not meant to take a bondmate or have children. I thought my greatest satisfaction was to be found in my work and the breadth of my acquaintance. When we came here, it was understood that it was my duty to assist our people in rebuilding our population. I do not know that I would have protested the actions of the Council or the Elders before I met my bondmate." Looking up, the dark eyes flicker, and for a second, Spock sees a flash of carefully controlled anger. "In the wake of destruction of my world, in all that we have lost and mourn, I have been given the gift of an extraordinary man as my bondmate, and a daughter. I would have neither if the law had never existed. It is not logical that the personal should affect my view of what is necessary for our people, but it does. To reintroduce and legalize our own xenophobia is anathema. What has been done to the patients of Dr. Uloi is an obscenity to all we are and all we can be. We cannot go backward, re-embrace the worst of ourselves, in the name of the existence of our species. If we do, we are not worthy to exist."
"The personal--" Spock stops himself, realizing he is watching Jim, currently engaged in interacting with T'Mana. "It is not logical," he admits. "But the personal is the also the political. Those that do this do not do it in the name of saving our people from extinction. It is an excuse to legalize what would once have been unthinkable."
After a moment, T'Sora adds another bowl. "A message from your father arrived this morning. I did not wish to disturb your peace unnecessarily and so delayed disclosure."
Spock raises an eyebrow. "I appreciate your consideration. I will see it now."
"It was directed to the terminal in your room. You and Jim, as well as your colleagues, are welcome to stay with us as long as you wish." Her eyes warm in a smile that does not reach her lips. "We, my bondmate and I, would insist you consider our home as your own. Further invitations are not necessary. The expectation will be you come to us as family, in celebration as well as in grief. Do you accept this?"
Spock feels Jim's shift of attention as well as approval. "Of course, T'Sora. I thank you,"
"One does not thank logic. If you will excuse me, I must make preparations for the day. I have volunteered to act as 'tour guide' for your bondmate. My husband finds the term amusing; perhaps Jim will explain the context."
"He will, at length." Having completed the task--which had taken far longer than can be explained by the number of dishes--Spock returns to the table. "Ambassador," he says, "if you would excuse us--"
"Of course." While T'Sora joins her bondmate, Spock waits as Jim tickles the child before rising from his seat, projecting general contentment with the world. Spock wonders if Jim will ever make the connection between sufficient food and sleep and a less volatile emotional equilibrium--
That sounds a little too logical for me.
This is true. In the privacy of their room, Spock reaches for him; perhaps it is a weakness, but--
"I like weakness," Jim murmurs into the kiss. It's the domesticity, isn't it? It's in the air or something. I spent twenty minutes this morning learning about the latest advances in cleaning. They have two 'bots that do all the mopping. I'm kind of horrified that I wrote down the manufacturer.
Pulling away, Spock bites his lip against a smile, forehead pressed to Jim's. You are strange.
Jim snickers. "That's what you like about me." Pulling away, Jim threads their fingers together briefly on the way to the terminal. "See what your father wants while I see what Rand made me pack. And yes, I do know you told her to show up completely at random to make sure I got everything, so don't even."
Seating himself at the terminal, Spock types in his code. "Yeoman Rand is extremely organized and efficient. You could do worse than follow her example."
"When her term of service is up, I'm sending her to the Academy," Jim answers. "All that authority is wasted on just me--she needs a ship to order around."
Surprised, Spock turns to look at Jim. "Her academic record--"
"So she had some lousy teachers when she was a kid; the new colonies can have limited educational opportunities," Jim says, finding his boots in the closet with a faint sense of surprise. Spock concludes T'Sora had unpacked for them and makes a mental note to express his appreciation for her foresight; things tend to go astray when Jim is left to his own devices. "Uhura and Scotty both give weekly lectures anyway. They love having people to nod in awe at them. I'll check with the enlisted and see if there's enough to start regular classes." Turning around, Jim straightens his shirt, looking pleased with being able to wear civilian attire. "The power of nepotism, Mr. Spock. Not everyone is fifth generation 'Fleet and have dads who died in service, but it sure helps smooth things along." Jim smiles. "I'll get them in when they're ready."
Spock considers the potential. "You have a plan."
"I do, but it needs some work. Thought I'd go over it with you and Uhura if you have some free time. Interested?"
Spock stops himself from constructing a curriculum, setting aside a rough outline of personalized aptitude tests and introductory classes. "Yes, I am."
Jim grins. "I thought so." Crossing the room, Jim leans against the desk. "You want company for this?"
Spock looks at the message for a moment, unopened. "Yes. I would prefer your presence."
"See, now this is progress," Jim says lightly, but the warmth is unmistakable. "Because I wasn't going to leave."
Leaving Jim with T'Sora to explore the rapidly expanding colonial capital, Spock requests the Enterprise beam him directly to Sarek's residence on the other side of the city. While there is public transportation, Spock does not think the time it would take would be beneficial to his state of mind.
It is not logical, Spock admits, but as T'Sora had reminded him, the personal is not logical.
The city is already split into districts; the area Sarek had chosen is almost exclusively occupied by those who were offworld during the destruction of Vulcan and of great off-planet wealth; unlike the Ambassador's pleasant neighborhood, still in progress with much incomplete, there is a sense of luxury here that is not found in other parts of the city. The residences enjoy a higher level of technology than even the city infrastructure, and Spock finds himself studying the wide green lawns and the age of the non-native trees, imported at great expense, with a faint sense of dissatisfaction.
Touching the panel to announce his arrival at the palatial home his father had had constructed, Spock is surprised by the alacrity of response; the door opens, revealing an expressionless woman in the traditional dress of the upper classes of Vulcan. He is suddenly reminded of T'Sora's plain, serviceable trousers and tunic, appropriate for a long day chasing (and it will be chasing; he has spent two leaves with Jim and has learned to prepare himself appropriately) Jim through the city and work in a private garden tending vegetables.
"Commander Spock," she says. "Live long and prosper."
"Live long and prosper, Lady T'Ren," Spock replies, accepting her gesture to enter. The hum of environmental controls seem surprisingly loud, but Spock suspects it is the lack of them at the Ambassador's home that causes him to notice it. Following her through the richly furnished rooms, he takes the chair she indicates in a formal reception room.
Spock imagines his mother's reaction to the stiff formality of the room; she had followed tradition up to a point, and even his father had never pressed her beyond it. It was many years before Spock had become aware that the home his mother had given him was far simpler than their social position would have indicated; it was even longer before he understood the lesson, surrounded in Starfleet by hundreds of different species of humanity from all variations of class and caste.
"My husband will arrive momentarily," T'Ren says coolly. "May I offer you refreshment?"
"Water will be sufficient," Spock says promptly; to refuse would be insulting. As she leaves, Spock looks out the wide window at the lush growth of the garden; exotic trees and flowers that demand large quantities of water dominate the view.
A Vulcan does not require luxury, perhaps, but they do not deny themselves aesthetic pleasures.
When she returns, Spock takes the glass, aware of the footsteps approaching them from the less formal wing devoted to family; he is perfectly aware that bringing him here is both to honor his rank and to remind him of the place he had chosen. To Sarek's bondmate, and to Sarek, he is not family.
"Commander," Sarek says as he enters, attired in the formal robes of an Ambassador of Vulcan. Rising to his feet, Spock exchanges the courtesies of a stranger with the man who had raised him.
As they seat themselves, Spock decides to shorten this visit. "You requested my presence but did not provide detail."
"Yes." Sarek seems to straighten. "I understand your ship's doctor has requested that the regrettable situation at the hospital be declared a medical emergency."
"That is correct."
"I do not think it is necessary; while alarming, the patients in question are being cared for by competent healers. I understand there has already been improvement."
"There has been," Spock agrees. "However, both Healer T'Sai and Healer Sorin have requested further assistance; consultation with Dr. Uloi, a specialist in telepathic trauma, has agreed with their assessment. Dr. McCoy is currently examining the patients before making a final determination."
"You are second in command; your determination would also be of note. If you will examine the documentation, you will see that the effects are limited to a very small portion of the off-world population. There is no pattern other than the distressing but understandable trauma associated with separation."
Offworld population. Spock files that away for further thought. "Five of this group are catatonic and five have only just regained some form of consciousness due to the breaking of their bond with their bondmates--"
"Their former bondmates," Sarek interrupts. "The breaking of an established bond is often traumatic to those affected; everything is being done to assist them to regain their minds so they may leave and continue their lives."
Spock hesitates. "Leave?"
"With the end of their bond, they have no reason to continue residence in the colony," T'Ren answers coolly.
"Some have families," Spock answers slowly. "I understand there are children."
"Provision will be made, of course," T'Ren says; to his surprise, Sarek begins to look uncomfortable. "With the breaking of their bond with the colony's citizens, they--"
"Forgive me, but they are citizens as well. I was not aware that colonial citizenship rested on species; please elucidate."
T'Ren hesitates. "There is some confusion," she says finally. "It is a legal matter. I am not privy to the details."
"I would think as the bondmate of a Federation ambassador and Elder, you would be privy to details many others are denied, including Federation officers. Is there argument that having broken with their bondmates, they no longer have citizenship?"
"There has been discussion," Sarek says finally. "Considering the current situation our species finds itself in, it is not unreasonable that with the exception to the Federation charter--"
"And the challenge of the Grayson Test," Spock says flatly. "Three decades ago, a Terran citizen made a direct appeal before the Federation Council on behalf of herself and her future bondmate; the provisions of her challenge were considered so universal that they were codified in law, leading to the freedom of Federation citizens to choose their mates and conceive children. They cannot be denied their citizenship. They cannot be denied their homeworld. They cannot be denied suffrage. They cannot be denied reproduction. They cannot be denied their family affiliation or access to their progeny."
"I see. The challenge to the Grayson Test is not a measure to prevent extinction; it is being introduced to weaken the provisions to allow it to be overturned entirely."
Sarek's mouth tightens infinitesimally--it is enough. "That is not the goal of permitting the exception to pass--"
Spock rises to his feet. "It is anathema. If you will excuse me, I will take my leave immediately. I find this interview distasteful and I do not wish to extend it further."
"Spock," Sarek says, standing up and following him toward the door, "I ask you to consider the matter as a Vulcan. Your personal choice, while distasteful, is not relevant to matters that involve the entirety of our people."
Spock thinks of T'Sora. "In this case, Ambassador, my personal choice is of less consequence than the prejudice that has informed this decision. I will not be party to it. If it comes to pass--" Spock hesitates. "I will renounce my citizenship, as will my bondmate. I will not be part of a people descending to measures that are contradictory to every tenet we embrace." As the door opens, Spock turns to face Sarek. "Live long and prosper."
As he closes the door behind him, Spock reaches for his communicator. "Requesting one for transportation to the Enterprise," he tells the technician on duty. "Immediately."