Captain Mitchell's data solid had been complete at first examination; using the private terminal in their quarters, Spock reviews the files more carefully, reading the legal arguments introduced. The time limit is impeccable; the citizenship and homeworld affiliation extremely questionable, but the argument for it is an airtight study in sophistry.
It is also conclusive; the citizenship requirements are being restricted, and this measure will lead to the second, which strips former bondmates of their right to the place that they had chosen as their home. And in essence, limiting their access to the families they had built there.
The third measure has not yet been introduced, but with this in place, there will be a legal basis to pass it; stripping the citizenship and residency of non-Vulcans, regardless of their position as bondmates and parents. The ten patients currently in residence now have context; the future will have far more of them. There are few acolytes of Gol left; two survived the end of Vulcan. The training to break a bond is reduced to two people--and Healer Sorin, Spock remembers--the Ambassador--and, perhaps, himself.
Thirty years ago, Dr. Amanda Grayson had requested and received an audience with the Federation Council, carrying with her only the Federation Constitution on a tricorder. At an age at which most humans had only begun to pursue their careers, she had already gained a reputation for linguistic brilliance and an intuitive understanding of the underpinnings of communication. A twenty-five year old linguistic scholar who had never before studied a legal briefing had stood before the entirety of the new Federation and demanded her right to self-determination as a sentient being.
In forty-five minutes, she had changed the lives of billions in claiming legal protection for a right she had argued was hers by virtue of existence. The Amanda Grayson Test was the standard that set personal self-determination above culture, species, even citizenship; five simple provisions that until now no one had ever successfully challenged.
And the man she had done this for--that she had loved enough to challenge Federation law, the prejudices of her own people, the xenophobia of her husband's, to live on a hostile world and adopt its traditions as her own and raised a son to obey--would permit, encourage, support destroying the foundation of her life, that had made it possible for him to have a life and a son with her.
Pocketing the solid, he clears the terminal, returning to the transporter room. "T'Ven Hospital," he says calmly. "Energize."
He finds Healer Sorin with the catatonic patients; Spock notes the bed he is currently collecting data from is the same as the one he had seemed to stay closest to the evening before.
"Commander Spock," Healer Sorin says without looking up. Spock notes the faintest signs of exhaustion on the otherwise expressionless face. "There has been no change."
The bed contains a human woman between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, certainly no older. The dark hair surrounds a pleasant but by no means beautiful face, shadowed eyes sunken slightly in sallow skin. Looking at the chart, Spock reads the name--Melody Huang. Like the others, the name of her former bondmate is not listed; the next of kin, however, lists Sorin; there is no clan affiliation, but Sorin is not a common name. "You know her?"
Healer Sorin nods. "She was bondmate to my brother."
Spock hesitates. "I would think your personal relationship--"
"We met only once, when my brother requested my assistance for their bonding," Healer Sorin answers. "As an acolyte, it was well within my skill to assist them. My brother's psi-rating was never strong, but their minds were extremely compatible, even by Vulcan standards."
"How long were they bondmates?"
"Ten years and five months. They bonded during my last season as an acolyte and soon went off-world as my brother pursued his diplomatic career." Sorin studies the patient critically. "I had hoped her mind would recognize me as family and respond; it has not been successful."
"Did you request assignment when she arrived?"
"I was off-planet when she was admitted," Sorin answers, making a note after looking at the biobed readings. "My brother requested I return home to assist him in bonding with his current bondmate." Sorin looks up. "They had not been successful despite numerous attempts."
Even when the bonding is done in childhood, it is rare for the participants to require more than supervision. "That is--unusual."
"They both had recently completed separation from a former bondmate. Her former bondmate has improved more rapidly than Melody," Sorin says dispassionately.
Spock controls his surprise with difficulty. "The former bonding caused their--difficulty?"
"Yes. When I initiated a meld to determine the reason they could not join, I discovered what had occurred. I was able to complete their bonding as thoroughly as their minds would permit." Sorin pauses, making another notation. "Time will decide if it will ultimately be as complete as what they had had before."
Spock looks at the young woman's face. She could not have been very old when she had bonded with Sorin's brother, her human mind still maturing. "Was the separation voluntary for both of them?"
"If you ask if it was done against her will, that question is complicated. My understanding from my brother's mind is that she agreed when it became clear that their continued union was found unacceptable by our family and my brother bowed to their will. She was unprepared for what occurred, and the severing was done inexpertly and without care for the more fragile state of her mind. My brother's--reluctance was a factor as well. She instinctively resisted, and my brother responded to her distress. My brother's psi-centers were permanently damaged in the separation. Hers were destroyed, causing a chain reaction that extended to both short and long-term memory. In effect, she has no consciousness to return to."
Spock closes his eyes. "My apologies for my lack of care in speaking of this matter."
"One does not apologize for statements of fact." Sorin looks down at Melody. "I have received permission to attempt neural regeneration using donated neurons from active psi-centers. With implantation, the neurons can--instruct, I think, is how it can be defined--her own neurons to regenerate and restore what has been destroyed. The memory centers are more complex, but with assistance, the connections can be recreated."
"Human brain matter cannot regenerate."
"It can be instructed to with the assistance of donated matter that can. In essence, it will be taught, with the guidance of a telepathic healer with an understanding of neurology. Healer Teren and I will meld when the procedure is complete and begin the process. If it is successful, we will solicit the former bondmates of the other patients for a tissue sample and repeat the process. Their minds will accept more easily tissue from a mind that was once part of their own."
It is revolutionary--but possible. Spock makes a note to consult Dr. McCoy. "In your brother's case, if his mind was damaged--"
"We will use mine. I assisted in their bonding and created the paths that joined them; her mind should find it an acceptable replacement, and my presence in the meld will encourage her to recognize and accept it." Sorin completes his exam, looking at Spock calmly. "I am an Adept telepath; there is little of the mind that is a mystery. Healer Teren and I will remain melded with her until we can be assured the regeneration is underway, to compensate for any unanticipated problems."
"I am--surprised you were able to obtain permission to attempt so radical an experiment."
Sorin raises an eyebrow. "My presentation to the other healers was thorough; I was able to convince them of the logic of my arguments. They understand that for these patients, there are no other treatments we can devise."
"I wish you success."
"Success is assured; the level of success is in question. If you will excuse me, I must complete my assessments."
"It's hocus-pocus," Dr. McCoy says, running his hands through hair already in disarray. "But it's logical hocus-pocus. Neurology has never been my field, but I keep up on what kids are up to these days. Vulcan brain matter regenerates, yes--that it can teach human brain matter to do the same is something I've seen theorized, but as far as I know, it's never been put into practice."
"I would think rejection would be an issue," Spock says, taking a seat as McCoy pushes a tricorder and three datapads across the desk. "Yet Sorin seems unconcerned."
"That's where the melding comes in," Dr. McCoy says sourly. "They're using only a few cells, and Sorin thinks that Teren can direct him to the cells to convince them they aren't foreign, whatever the hell that means. Teren says it's possible; Sorin, being an Adept, was taught all your people's mind disciplines and among them regenerative healing, similar to the your healing trances."
"Similar, but with far greater success. It takes a very strong mind to direct regeneration of self; to direct it for another would be an impressive achievement."
An Adept could possibly do it, exert so great an influence on a mind as to convince it that it can do what it should not be able to do. A human mind might be more receptive than a Vulcan one; they would have none of the inborn barriers to overcome.
"Do the other five patients show any progress?"
McCoy sighs, leaning back in his chair. "Yes, and no. They're responding more, and they're showing signs of increased consciousness. But their memories are--we're not sure. The damage is limited; they can get back to full consciousness, but we may have to start them from scratch and work them back up. They won't be the people they were before, but they'll be alive and eventually be able to function normally." McCoy closes his eyes. "We won't know for a while; it may be years of therapy before they're ready."
"Will residence here be required?" Spock asks carefully.
"Nah. Telepathic specialists and a secure, safe environment, with regular interaction with family members and people they're familiar with. If they have off-planet family, they can be transferred closer if they don't have anyone else here. Otherwise, this is as good a place as any."
Spock files that away as well. "Dr. Uloi says your assistance has been invaluable; you recognized the pattern of damage and recommended more comprehensive ways to begin to repair it. I am--impressed."
McCoy gives him a suspicious look that slowly but surely, melts into a smile. "Regularly staring at Jim's scans after he knocks himself out teaches you a few things. While the cause isn't the same, some of the patterns were similar to a few concussions I've treated. Besides, seems that thing we don't talk about's useful for more than Jim traumatizing me while drunk. While Sorin was examining Jim's records, he noticed Jim's recovery time after injury has nearly been cut in half; he thinks that's pretty much you in the mix."
"I was not aware--" Spock stops himself, considering. When he'd become first officer, he'd recognized Jim's long-standing habit of minimizing injuries and made a point of consulting Dr. McCoy, within the parameters of doctor-patient privilege. With the change in their relationship, he could discard a third party and discover Jim's physical well-being with a touch. "Fascinating."
It hadn't occurred to him that this particular habit might also have a more instinctive purpose.
"Don't look like that--I didn't see it either," Dr. McCoy says, his pleasure tinged with something like scheudenfreud. "Jim gave permission to release everything and Sorin consulted me after identifying the pattern." McCoy expression changes to something between pleased and faintly horrified. "Anyway, we'll know in a couple of days if Sorin's theory is workable. Melody is the most damaged of the five that are still catatonic--if it works on her, it'll work on all of them."
"You will wish to observe, I assume."
"Damn straight. This will be one for the history books. They want the hospital at minimal staff, even with the protection of the room, so they'll start at midnight and work through morning. Sorin thinks that we'll know pretty quickly if it works, though recovery will take longer." McCoy looks at him hopefully. "You going back to the Ambassador's place?"
"Yes. I have offered to assist the Ambassador and T'Sora to prepare for the dinner engagement. There are some dishes that require ingredients that their replicator does not yet have available."
"I have to admit," Dr. McCoy says, rising with Spock and stretching, "I'm curious what a Vulcan party is like."
Spock thinks of the attendees. "I think you will find it--familiar, Dr. McCoy," he answers carefully, making a note to ask the Ambassador if ethanol will be available.
"Looking forward to it. I'm going to take a nap before reviewing the surgical plan, so I'll be along as soon as Lyra finishes up her morning rounds."
"I will inform them," Spock answers dutifully as Dr. McCoy opens the door to the staff lounge. With a wave, Dr. McCoy disappears inside, and Spock takes his leave.
T'Prina is still in residence; having been raised in an agricultural setting, she has a breadth of knowledge that she's more than willing to impart. To Spock's surprise, however, her bondmate is also present in the gardens with her.
T'Prina, the neat lines of her trousers stained with mud and vegetation, looks up at his arrival, giving him an impeccably correct nod as she brushes back an escaped braid and rises to her feet, leaving a smear of mud across her forehead. Her bondmate rises as well, equally disheveled; Spock thinks he detects the faintest hint of wariness. "Commander Spock," she says, as formally as if they were all in uniform and not in the middle of a muddy vegetable garden, "I would like to introduce my bondmate, Torren, to your acquaintance."
"Live long and prosper, Torren."
"Live long and prosper, Commander Spock," the young man responds, straightening slightly. "T'Prina has been thorough in her correspondence; I have long anticipated meeting you."
Interesting. "T'Prina is an extremely competent cadet." T'Prina flushes slightly; it's novel enough that Spock continues. "Her work has been exemplary. Captain Kirk has stated we have not had the privilege of hosting a more accomplished cadet."
Lowering her eyes, T'Prina accepts the praise before she kneels, busying herself with the transplantation she had been involved in when he arrived. Wanting to put the man at ease, Spock joins them, wondering, not for the first time, how one cultivates such a strong interest in plants.
"Your accomplishments at such a young age have set a standard that many at the Academy have utilized as a template for themselves. I look forward to making the acquaintance of Captain Kirk as well," Torren says promptly, moving to assist T'Prina, digging back the soil when it begins to collapse into the prepared hole. "I understand he is your bondmate as well? I offer my congratulations."
Spock has an unsettling suspicion he will hear a great number of congratulations tonight in the spirit of unity and support. However, he supposes, it cannot be more unsettling than Dr. McCoy and Nyota organizing a celebration three days after their return to the Enterprise that had required the entire ship to attend and offer their felicitations, sometimes in surprisingly graphic detail. "I understand you have just completed your degree. Have you chosen a position?"
Torren picks up a small, spindly piece of greenery that does not look capable of supporting its own weight. "I have been accepted to Starfleet Academy on science-track," Torren answers unexpectedly as T'Prina prepares a space for the plant. "There is a dearth of competent engineers with an affinity for warp-core theory as translated to practical applications. My interests have always been practical; a starship would be the most logical place to put my skills to use."
Spock glances at T'Prina thoughtfully. "That is laudable."
"I will not deny," Torren continues, inserting the plant into position and supporting it as T'Prina fills the area around it, "that T'Prina's correspondence has been a factor in my decision. And I have--" Torren pauses to lift a tiny limb as T'Prina adds small wooden supports, "--come to wish to see more of the galaxy."
Spock checks himself before inquiring on his family's reaction; that, he thinks, he can guess. "I look forward to working with you, Torren," he answers honestly, adding another name to his list.
Torren looks up; he does not smile, but the brown eyes are pleased. "I reciprocate, Commander Spock. I admit that part of my motivation is the opportunity to work with Commander Scott; his application of warp theory under less than ideal conditions has been a source of fascination to the Academy's Engineering department."
Abruptly, T'Prina stiffens, rising onto her knees. Following her gaze, Spock watches as Jim and T'Sora exit the wide glass doors.
Coming to her feet, T'Prina circles the garden patch (something she did not do upon his arrival, Spock notes); her bondmate rises as well, straightening his tunic in what would be, in a human, a nervous gesture. Spock thinks, if such a thing could apply to a Vulcan, Torren might be tense.
"Captain Kirk," T'Prina says formally. "T'Sora," in not quite an afterthought. "It would please me to introduce my bondmate, Torren."
"Lady T'Sora," Torren says, joining her. "Captain Kirk. It is an honor to make your acquaintance, sir."
Spock thinks that perhaps there is adequate cause to find this situation utterly fascinating.
"Torren--engineering, right?" Jim frowns slightly. "Oh. That paper you did for graduation--compensating for ion storms during warp?--it's made some significant waves with starship engineers. The theory is intriguing."
"I hope to have the chance to observe the practical benefits," Torren says, almost straightening. "I look forward to furthering our acquaintance in your time here."
"So do I," Jim says; there's a vague sense of bewilderment at the focused attention of two Vulcans on him. "My chief engineer will be here tonight--he'll be thrilled to meet the author."
"I look forward to the introduction," Torren answers with carefully controlled enthusiasm. "I used your ship as a template when I began work on the theory; Lieutenant Commander Scott's accomplishments have made possible several roads of inquiry that were not considered before. The variety of situations you encounter made your ship ideal for testing theories that were once considered improbable, if not impossible at our current level of technology. I understand you encourage his innovative approach to theoretical physics."
"Scotty tends to like physics best when it does what he wants it to. It tends to give up after he hits it with a hypospanner a few times." Jim glances at Spock a little desperately. A human, Spock thinks, might find this rather humorous. "If you will excuse me--Spock," Jim says hopefully, "I need a minute."
"Of course."Uncoiling himself, Spock follows him inside as T'Prina and T'Sora begin a spirited discussion on a rare vegetable she wishes to cultivate. "Was your day satisfactory?"
"I think we covered the entire city," Jim says with a grin. "The Science Academy's coming along great; the tech here is higher than Starfleet Academy." Jim glances at the glass door, where T'Sora and T'Prina are both engaged in transplanting another group of plants. "Thank you for leaving me the note on Torren's paper, by the way," Jim says softly as they arrive in their room. "Did T'Prina seem a little--stiff to you?"
Spock closes the door while evaluating his response. "Not that I observed," Spock answers carefully as Jim begins to search first their empty bags, then the closet. "What are--"
"I mean, she was very--well. Vulcan courtesies required her to introduce us, I guess--where the hell did T'Sora put my game?"
Spock does not sigh; instead, he opens the desk drawer, retrieving the console in question. "Where it will be easily found," he says. Jim grins, taking it before flipping it over to study the back. "T'Prina's bondmate will be attending Starfleet Academy," Spock observes in Jim's general direction.
"Scotty's going to be thrilled; remind me to tell him." Jim frowns, sitting on the bed. "Give me your toolset, will you? I need to check something."
Retrieving it (also in the drawer), Spock hands it over, watching in curiosity as Jim removes the game that has been a constant in Jim's life (and his own) for the last few weeks. "Did you not complete--"
"I did. T'Sora was looking at some updated recyclers and--" Jim pries the non-descript cover apart, taking out the small data solid. "--I thought about compiling. No clue why. Dar stole the uncompiled copy of the game to avoid the security measures in the completed one. So someone had to have stripped those out and recompiled it, and I'm betting it's the same people who did all those ships' database." Jim approaches their terminal, looking at it critically. "I need to get a look at how they did it and the encryption signature."
Spock looks at their host's wall in resignation. It is perhaps an advantage that T'Sora wishes them to consider themselves family. "If you will hand me my kit," he says, kneeling to run a hand along the seam in the wall, "I will attempt to find an access point."
Jim retrieves the case from the bed. "Next time, you might not want to tell me how you used to build computers before you could talk," Jim says, making himself comfortable on the floor beside him. "Now explain what you're doing so I'll remember. I've never worked on a Vulcan computer before."
Jim's questionable codepicker turns out to have uses beyond breaking Federation and Ferengi encryption. After the connections are complete, Jim sets it to analyze the data structure and identify the encryption. "Don't look like that," Jim says in satisfaction as it chirps to indicate it has been activated. "I use it for good. And cracking illegal programs. Even you have to admit this is an ethical use for it."
"I do not question the ethics of this endeavor," Spock tries as he retrieves a chair to watch the analysis; this is not a new argument. "I question the ethics of the existence of the object itself."
"And yet it exists, so we all deal with the contradiction." Jim looks at him speculatively. "I can probably build you one," he adds. "For ethical use, of course."
Watching an analysis is not the most efficient use of time, especially considering it will take several hours to complete the first stage. "Do you think the compilation and encryption process will give an indication of the identity of the individual who attempted to kill you?"
"Pretty sure he wasn't going to kill me," Jim answers, rolling his eyes at the concept of vacuum being a method of assassination. "And maybe not exactly who, but where they did the encryption and how. I'm pretty sure the trade was going to include the data solids as a show of good faith, and this game was among them."
"Why would they take the time to--"
"Steal a game? Dar did that, but he had someone else do the compiling and encryption. And if I'm right, it's the same people that did the compression and encryption for those data solids. Who also, if I'm right, which I am, are affiliated with the guy who did not try to kill me but almost did by sheer accident anyway."
It is--logical, as applied to Jim's turn of mind. "It is not improbable."
"It's Dar. He keeps his activities confined to a very small group of trusted contacts. That's why his record is a lot shorter than it should be." Jim gives the door a long look, then gets to his feet. "I trust you have no conflicting appointments at this time," he says, pushing Spock's chair away from the terminal and straddling his lap.
"Jim--" Spock starts, before Jim kisses him, slow and comfortable, hooking one hand over the back of the chair, the other curled around his jaw. It is inappropriate; however, Spock can't quite articulate the reason why.
Jim, who has often surprised Spock with his ability to multitask, draws him from the chair and toward the bed; the short distance isn't quite enough for Spock to remember why this is not an appropriate time to engage in--
"God, stop thinking," Jim murmurs, pushing him back on the bed before following. "For once, we are not under attack, running toward an attack, recovering from--yes, an attack--" Jim pauses, mouthing along his jaw, "--and it's quiet, we're alone--"
"My objection," Spock answers, cupping the back of Jim's neck, skin cool against his palm, "is courtesy to our hosts--"
Jim snickers. "From what I can tell, our hosts aren't slacking off in that department." Jim pauses, raising his head curiously. "What will T'Mana call you anyway? Uncle--genetically identical past version of--"
Spock rolls Jim onto his back, putting an end to that line of thought immediately. "Your attention span is capricious."
Jim grins into the next kiss. T'Mana isn't the only one who gets cranky when she doesn't get undivided attention, you know. Is it genetic, do you think?
"I would not know," Spock breathes as Jim's teeth scrape across his jaw, lips softer as they trail down his throat. "Nor do I think this is an appropriate time to speculate on--"
So distract me, then.
Sliding a hand between them, Spock unfastens Jim's trousers, watching Jim shiver at the brush of fingers against the his belly, focusing his mind on the wide variety of activities they could indulge in. Jim sucks in a breath at the images. Perhaps you could be more specific. How would you like me to distract you?
Glazed blue eyes meet his. Spock--
Abruptly, there's a faint scrape and Spock looks up as the door opens, perfectly aware that there is no possible way to mistake what they are doing. Beneath him, Jim winces at Dr. McCoy's, "What the--goddammit, twice was enough, you--"
Jim buries his snicker against Spock's neck. Spock takes a deep breath before answering, "If you would close the door, Dr. McCoy--"
Ask him if he wants to join in--he'll pass out, and it will be hilarious.
With a final horrified glare, Dr. McCoy slams the door shut, doubtless advertising to everyone there is a reason it should remain so.
Don't really care, Jim answers, hooking a knee over Spock's hip, tongue sliding over Spock's lip, teasing. Do I have your attention now, Commander?
Dr. McCoy is not in evidence when they emerge; Lieutenant Sulu, Torren, and Cadet T'Prina are engaged in an ambitious project to expand the garden, while Lieutenant Commander Scott examines the household systems with the Ambassador, toolkit open at their feet. T'Sora and Nyota have commandeered a portion of the living area, a variety of texts open around them and conversing fluently in Ancient Vulcan.
"We should visit more often," Jim says thoughtfully, surveying the room, lingering on Ensign Chekov and Lieutenant Chapel entertaining T'Mana. "I haven't seen everyone this relaxed since that thing we don't talk about that wasn't on Rigel and now has a regulation named after it."
"Yet you still mention it."
Jim considers. "When you and Uhura agree to do another duet, I'll stop." Following Spock to an empty couch, he changes the subject. "So you believe Sorin about what happened?"
"At least for that patient, yes. It is not unreasonable the same is true of the others."
Jim nods slowly, considering the answer. "I think I know why Starfleet wanted us here," he says finally, looking at T'Mana. "The other patients. I need to evaluate whether they'll be okay here." They're going to be buried in privacy regulations. We both know it. And if this procedure helps them, then Bones won't be able to declare this a medical emergency. It'll be like it didn't happen.
"Their healers will see they receive the most comprehensive care possible." If their citizenship is revoked, they will no longer fall under those regulations. Spock hesitates. If we renounce our citizenship, neither will we.
"I'll take your and Dr. McCoy's recommendations under advisement." Do you think that will make a difference at this point?
Spock meets Jim's eyes. "No, I do not."
Yeah, Jim answers tiredly. I thought so.
The three days allow the Enterprise crew to indulge in an unscheduled shore leave. This deep in Federation space, Jim strips the ship to a skeleton crew of the newest officers in three rotating shifts, leaving Crewmen Rand, Michaels, and Temer as the most experienced crew to keep an eye on them.
Jim is correct about the benefits of relaxation; the tension of the last few months and six missions, not to mention the events on Begammon Station, seems to seep slowly away. Nyota and T'Sora spend the entirety of one day at the Linguistic department of the Academy, immersed in ancient texts and studying the ancient dialect that both Vulcan and Romulan originated from; Ambassador Spock invites Lieutenant Sulu and Lieutenant Evans to observe lirpa practice among the Academy students, which Spock suspects will lead to classes being organized on the Enterprise; even Dr. McCoy, between hospital rounds, finds the time to wander off with Jim and Lieutenant Chapel in tow for sightseeing and returning with samples of the first of the Vulcan wines cultivated in the newly-established vineyards and Jim flushed and giggling himself to sleep, mouth tasting of fermented fruit.
After accompanying a fascinated Ensign Chekov to the Academy, followed by an expedition with Nyota to the local bookstores to acquire some obscure texts recently recovered from the few databases that had survived his planet's destruction, Spock wakes Jim in the grey of pre-dawn on the next day, leaving the house before anyone else has awakened.
He will never have the opportunity to introduce Jim to his homeworld except in the memories he carries; this world, new to them all, is all that he has to offer. They go to the desert north of the city that dominates the continent and watch the sun rise white-hot over the grey-brown sand, fingers of light sliding over their feet as Spock tells Jim of the four seasons he'd spent with the acolytes of Gol before his anticipated entrance into the Vulcan Science Academy, of the stillness of the desert and how he'd meditated for days on end, trying to discover within himself the peace that had eluded him all of his life.
In the view of the mountain east of the city, Spock tells him of T'Seleya and the legends that his people built around her, and how it guided him during his kahs-wan; they transport to the far south continent on the edge of the single planetary ocean, exploring the farms developing in the fertile valleys tucked between massive golden-brown prairies, where Spock shows Jim the traditional cultivation methods that Vulcans had perfected over the tens of thousands of years of their history and exported throughout the Federation, making planets like this one arable when once they could never have been easily settled. Finally, warily, Spock takes Jim to the newly built Place of Marriage, where his people now practice the oldest traditions of their civilization, new stone dragged for kilometers to be erected in the memory of what they had lost.
It surprises him, watching Jim explore the patterns of stone and metal, the painstakingly leveled ground where a marriage would be completed or a challenge initiated, how a place so new can still carry so much history. Dozens have come here already, sanctified it with the creation of new bonds, weaving their lost world's past into the future they hope to build.
Yes, Spock thinks this place can be a home to them, to the children that will be born here and continue the traditions of their world.
Jim pauses at the center stone support, head tilting. Almost absently, one hand comes up, rubbing at his chest as he circles the pillar before coming back. "It matches the memories," Jim remarks, hand dropping to his side. "I asked the Ambassador to tell me if what I--remembered was accurate." The blue eyes flicker up, meeting Spock's. "With words."
Spock crosses the brushed stone to join him, studying the pillar; there's nothing rational about the instinctive reaction to anyone, anywhere, touching Jim's mind, but Spock has long accepted that there are places within himself that logic will never be able to touch without sacrificing what created them.
"The koon-ut kal-if-fee," Spock says slowly. "The challenge hasn't been invoked in ten millennia." In this universe, that is.
"Yeah." Jim's shoulder presses against his. "So if I challenged in five years, ten months, and six days--aww, I love how you still think I can't subtract, it's cute, really--I need to do it here?"
"Who would you designate to be your champion?"
"I'm my own champion, Mr. Spock." Jim's expression changes, mouth quirking. "So Uhura gave me some texts on Vulcan law and tradition to read up on during the trip here."
Spock considers the extent of Nyota's library and tries not to feel apprehensive. "Were they educational?"
Jim's amusement trickles through him, waiting. Spock considers silence, but-- "You found something of interest, I take it?"
"Immensely. Apparently, I'm considered chattel, since Iowa is not, in fact, a designated Vulcan place of marriage."
Spock fights the urge to ask if Nyota had highlighted that specific passage in Vulcan law; like Jim, she has an unfortunate sense of humor.
Pulling away, Jim turns, leaning back against the pillar. "Chattel," Jim says, almost gloating over each word, "an item of property, a convenience that can be discarded when a more logical attachment is found."
"It is an archaic law; the specifics have not been practiced--"
"In ten millennia or so?" Jim pushes off the pillar. "What else have you got?"
Spock watches as Jim circles the ground again, deliberate; remembering, perhaps, another Jim Kirk in this place. Spock has only the faintest impressions of those memories; the specifics he has never pursued. "What do you remember?"
Jim glances back at him. "It's not about them. They never went through the formalities; they never thought it was important." Jim waves a hand idly. "And there were some bad associations with lirpas and gongs and bells or something."
Returning, Jim hesitates, gaze fixed somewhere beyond the pillar.
"It wasn't important to them," Jim says slowly. "But I think--I think it's important to me. And you won't admit it, but I think it's important to you, too."
Spock lets out a breath. "It is not necessary--"
"You would have wanted to do it here if you'd had a choice," Jim says, not looking at him. "Don't even try. I know you, you know. I may not get this thing right all the time, but I get lucky sometimes. This place--this is how it happens. You bring your people and your traditions, you build houses and cities and hospitals and Places of Marriage and you make it your home. This is part of it, and maybe I'm becoming my mother or something, but if this is yours, I want it to be mine, too."
Perhaps Jim will ever cease to surprise him. Reaching out, Spock brushes two fingers against Jim's. "In five years, ten months, six days, and twenty-three standard hours, we will return here, then." Spock hesitates, considering Jim's reading material. "Precisely how far have you read regarding the structure of the koon-ut kal-if-fee?"
"Just the parts Uhura highlighted."
Spock doesn't sigh; he had supposed as much. "You realize that if you challenge, you will remain chattel, in the most archaic definition of the word. I will provide the texts for your edification."
Jim smirks, fingers twining through his and pulling him closer until he can feel the brush of Jim's lips against his. "Would you really fight for me?"
"I would win you, and I would take you here," pushing until Jim's stretched against the stone of the pillar, "before all who come to witness to prove my claim."
Jim licks his lips, pupils blown wide. "I think I missed that part."
Spock kisses him then, opening Jim with his tongue, pushing inside the warmth of his mouth as he would his body, tasting him, wanting him now; perhaps it is not logical to want someone so desperately, but this is how they began, and from the first time they met to the first time they touched, it's never been simple between them. They've never learned to be anything else.
Spock thinks he understands what the Ambassador meant when he said there were things he could not give up; Spock cannot imagine the loss of this brilliant mind, of this complicated man, the infinite stretch of a universe contained in the deceptively fragile human body pressed against him.
Pulling back, Spock catches his breath, pressing his forehead to Jim's. "I will bring you here," Spock breathes. Jim was correct; he wants this, wants to bring Jim to this place and surround them with the traditions that predate his people's first written word, traditions that even the pursuit of logic could not make them discard. This is what they are; to sacrifice that would have been to deny themselves. "As my people have for all of our history, I will bring you to this place and confirm my claim on you when we begin to burn."
Jim smiles, fingers curling around the back of his neck, human-cool. "Tell me more about the chattel thing," Jim says; his mind is filled with light, like the heart of a star at the edge of supernova, brilliant and blinding. "I read something about a collar?"
On the evening of the third day, the first guests arrive precisely on time, a fact that Jim seems to find bewildering; Spock, familiar with the human custom of being late, finds he misses Yeoman Rand's presence. She is skilled in anticipating Jim's propensity for procrastination when faced with formal occasions and has several effective strategies for dealing with him.
As Spock had suspected, the congratulations are repetitive and, at least from non-Vulcans, unduly enthusiastic. T'Prina, immaculate in her blue dress uniform and almost painfully correct, assists the Ambassador and T'Sora in the introductions, her bondmate at her side; after so long on the Enterprise, she is far easier with humans, sorting the arrivals efficiently by career and interests into various groups.
The Council decision, of course, is a popular topic of debate, but Jim's presence rivals it for interest. The presence of a Starfleet captain in itself is a novelty to them, but Jim himself is a draw for attention, and his lack of awareness of this is in itself fascinating to watch.
"Don't grow too complacent," the Ambassador murmurs as he gives Spock a glass of water. "There are merely too nervous to approach you directly. Give them time to relax."
"Why would they--"
The Ambassador's eyes gleam in amusement. "The same reason young T'Prina is reconsidering her career decision and Torren already has. Legends have that effect on people."
Spock tightens his grip on his glass. "I do not understand."
"You will. Make sure Jim doesn't make a break for the bathroom; you need to get used to this. And remember that legends have their uses, as well as their drawbacks. It took us longer to realize that." The Ambassador watches the various groups thoughtfully. "The Federation is changing as we speak; this is just the beginning of what will test it and build what it becomes. Do not pretend you have no influence over events, or you will make it true."
Spock considers. "A no-win," he says as Jim looks up, catching his eye with a smile, "does not exist until you believe in it. As Jim would say."
The Ambassador's mouth twitches. "You've already started. Go on as you have begun and you will do well."
"You told Jim you were not an oracle." Jim's silent appeal becomes slightly frantic.
The Ambassador shrugs. "Perhaps just for today. There is a bathroom five meters from his position and he has begun a complicated series of tactics to maneuver closer. If you wish to halt his progress, I suggest you hurry."
Jim's relief is nearly physical; it is only with restraint he does not drag Spock toward the curious group. "And Spock blew up a candy store right after that. You can see why it wasn't my fault I was arrested."
Perhaps he waited too long to intervene, Spock thinks, as more eyes than seem possible fix on him expectantly.
After the meal is served, the groups begin to settle, various discussions on a wide variety of subjects competing for attention. Lieutenant Commander Scott, upon discovery of Torren's identity as the author of the paper on warp ion theory as well as his plans to enter Starfleet Academy, had begun a spirited discussion of current changes in engine design as well as savaging the intelligence and abilities of any number of Starfleet instructors. Jim had restrained himself from adding commentary, listening as Nyota expertly redirects the conversation to where they wish it to go.
Eventually, Dr. McCoy drifts toward them, leaning against the back of Jim's chair, leaning down with a pleasant smile. "I'm going to the hospital. I'll be in touch as soon as we have results." Nyota looks up, putting down her glass. "Nah, have fun, Nyota. Lyra's there. Enjoy the party."
"We wish you success, Dr. McCoy," T'Sora says with a pleasant nod. Rising to his feet, Jim accompanies Dr. McCoy to the door, where they engage in several seconds of conversation that make Dr. McCoy flush abruptly. Eyes narrowing, he takes his leave, and Jim returns, settling beside Nyota with a pleased smile.
"Healer Sorin has never had a reputation for innovation," one of the human women says; Jim had identified her as Sarah Clemens, who had been of interest to Captain Mitchell. Extremely reserved for a human, she and her bondmate, Sekar, had been surprisingly quiet throughout the evening, though attentive to the various conversations they joined.
Jim looks at her thoughtfully. "He's one of the senior team members," Jim tells her. "And an--Adept, right?"
"That is correct." Sarah Clemens finishes her water, placing it neatly on a nearby table. "However, he has never shown an interest in the telepathic healing fields, despite his expertise with the mind disciplines."
"It is laudable he would overcome his disinclination to utilize his early training in a time of need," T'Sora answers. "He devoted his life to assisting in disaster relief throughout the Federation, which he felt was a more fitting path for him to take. His work has been invaluable to the Federation in times of disaster." T'Sora allows herself a small, rueful pause. "Of which there has been much."
"Yet he did not return to his people until his brother requested it," Sarah Clemens replies expressionlessly. "His time here is temporary by his own admission; when they have discovered a means of helping the affected patients, his intention is to return to Earth for his next assignment, per his contract with Starfleet." She pauses with a glance at her quiet bondmate. "It is said he does not find peace with his mother's new bondmate and their family."
"Rumor is not fact," her bondmate says unexpectedly. "I do not find them preferable company, so I cannot fault him if this is true. If their influence was the cause of the current situation with Melody, there is just cause for his distaste."
"You think he's just here to try and fix what his brother did?" Nyota says bluntly. At the raised eyebrows, she bows her head slightly. "No offense is intended; it is admirable if that is his motivation."
"It would not be logical," Sarah Clemens says, with another glance at her bondmate. "But the personal rarely is. Even he might feel shame for the actions of his family, despite the illogic."
Which seems to be the general consensus.
"He was instrumental in their bonding," her bondmate adds. "It is possible the damage incurred was a result of his efforts. It would be correct for him to utilize his talents if this is so. He has openly offered assistance to those with broken bonds if it is desired, and not just those who have lost their bondmates to death."
Jim doesn't straighten, but he looks like he wants to. "What about those with former bondmates that are currently patients?"
Sarah Clemens shrugs, very slightly. "We are acquainted with one of those who are separated." For the first time, she looks uncomfortable. "He and his new bondmate are--" Searching for the word, she glances at her bondmate. "They are tel rifihet'es." Spock sees T'Sora stiffen, eyes widening slightly. "There is not a word in Standard--disharmony, I think." Her bondmate nods soberly. "It is not pleasant."
And very faintly, neither are they, crystal clear but unspoken.
"If you will excuse us," her bondmate says, rising to his feet, "T'Mir requests our presence." Sarah Clemens nods, joining her husband with a small group of engineers surrounding Lieutenant Commander Scott and Torren.
Nyota leans toward T'Sora. "What did they mean--disharmony?"
"It is complicated," she answers. "I cannot provide a full definition, as Standard does not possess the correct conceptual base. I have a reference text that might give you context; it is an ancient concept, related to a time when families would use themselves and their children as barter. The bondings were sometimes not--voluntary." She glances at Spock. "There would be incompatibilities. Adepts would be utilized to force what the minds did wish to permit"
"Not common anymore, I take it?" Jim asks over the rim of his drink.
"Unknown since well before the Reformation, Jim," she answers soberly. "To participate in such an action would be--unthinkable."
The conversation shifts toward current colonial birthrates; Spock has a faint suspicion, watching Jim accept another glass of what hopefully is not (but probably is) ethanol, it will be a popular topic.
"If you knocked me up, I'd kill you," Jim leans against the door tiredly. "For the record."
Spock's attention is pulled from examining the data analysis at the unexpected announcement. Jim waves a hand. "Too much population growth projections talk," he says tiredly. "How far did it get?"
"It is three quarters complete," Spock answers, reading through the data. "Preliminary review suggest it was Orion algorithms used for compression and compilation, similar to those on the data solids from the missing ships."
"Let me express my shock in interpretive dance," Jim says, dropping on the bed with a sigh. "Now I just have to figure out how to contact them. It shouldn't be too difficult; they went through a lot of trouble to get in contact with me."
Spock regards Jim for a moment. "And how do you plan to initiate contact?"
"Putting up a sign saying 'Give me back our people or I will start paying attention to all those black market trades going on that the Federation unofficially ignores' probably wouldn't work well unless I had a death wish, so no idea yet. And Dar's going to be invisible for a while, so no hope from that quarter." Rubbing his eyes, Jim stares up at the ceiling. "Sorin was kolinahru?"
"He ended his studies before he had achieved kolinahr, but that is irrelevant to the study of the mind disciplines."
"So he could do the disharmonious--thing?" Rolling on his side, Jim's expression is not easily interpreted. "That seems kind of illogical for someone one step from a Vulcan saint--oh please, you want to do comparative spirituality, we can totally go there. I know it's inaccurate. I don't care. It's funny."
"Your sense of humor is unusual, even for a human," Spock admits. "Did you speak privately to Sarah Clemens?"
"Good luck with that," Jim snorts. "She and her husband are glued together. But they seemed vaguely amused, if Vulcans could be amused, which I understand they can't." Jim lifts his head long enough to grin. "She asked me to convey her appreciation to Captain Mitchell and thanked me for my concern on his behalf or something. So that was one hideously awkward conversation down, with more to go. Uhura got farther with some of the others; she speaks the language."
Spock declines to remind Jim that he speaks the language very well; early in their acquaintance, Spock had mentioned Jim's accent in a way that had perhaps been inappropriately critical. In the one year and four months since the incident, Jim has refused to speak a single word of Vulcan in his hearing.
As he and Nyota had parted on very amicable terms, soon after the incident he had gone to her for assistance in understanding Jim's unexpectedly negative reaction to what had been constructive criticism and had been witness to a display of amusement that had lasted an inappropriate length of time. She had never explained further, merely remarking he would discover the answer eventually for himself.
"Disharmony," Jim says softly, then, after a moment, "Tel rifihet'es." Spock finds his attention is no longer on the data analysis. "Why would he do it if he knew it would be disharmonious?"
With an effort, Spock returns to the subject at hand. "I do not know. If the participants were insistent, perhaps he felt it his duty to assist them." Then, "The word is not in common use. I do not think I have heard it spoken since I completed my secondary education."
"Hmm." Jim folds his hands behind his head. "So after a tel-of-kat, a bond-breaking, is it always because of a tel rifihet'es or is it just because--Spock, are you paying attention?"
"Yes." He is. And there was a question. "No. But it is rare that the necessity of tel-of-kat exists. My father's first marriage is an example. The incompatibility had already rendered their bond unstable; when it was broken, it was--welcome to both parties. Tel reifihet'es is what breaking the bond seeks to avoid."
Jim rolls onto his side, looking thoughtful. "Disharmony. Sounds unpleasant," he says finally, trying to find a context for the experience. "We're going to the hospital in the morning," he says finally. "I need to make a final evaluation before making my recommendation to Starfleet."
"If this is successful, the declaration of medical emergency will no longer be sufficient."
"I know. But I don't want to leave them here either. If the colony is going that direction--" Jim looks at him helplessly.
"Yes," Spock answers. "I agree."