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Author's notes

There's a lot of stuff in here about Saavik, and if you like Saavik and you haven't already read The Pandora Principle by Carolyn Clowes, I recommend it. I borrowed rather heavily from Ms. Clowes in the attempt to maintain continuity with that excellent book.

For the most part I stuck to the Star Trek Chronology as written by the Okudas, with one significant difference: I've placed the events of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier a good ten years earlier than they did.

Romulan words, names, and cultural tidbits in this story were taken or derived from The Romulan Way, by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood. (The basic ones: Rihannsu=Romulans, ch'Rihan=the planet Romulus, ch'Havran=the planet Remus.) "The Sea King" verses come from a traditional Orkney poem. The poem "The Two Trees" (from whence comes the title of this story) was penned by Yeats. As for the Brahms mentioned in chapter 7, it's the Symphony No. 3 (if you're interested.)

Extremely heartfelt thanks to Beth for giving me an idea I couldn't ignore, and to Macedon for invaluable insights and assistance very far above and beyond the call of fannish duty. More thanks to Jaeti, Katrien and Jess (the rest of my patient critics) for keeping me on track. T. Jonesy I can't thank enough, she knows what for.

* * *

Gaze no more in the bitter glass
The demons, with their subtle guile,
Lift up before us when they pass,
Or only gaze a little while;
For there a fatal image grows
That the stormy night receives,
Roots half hidden under snows,
Broken boughs and blackened leaves.
For all things turn to barrenness
In the dim glass the demons hold.

from "The Two Trees"
William Butler Yeats

* * *

[stardate 9812.7 ...recording]

It has been years since I kept a log of this nature...years since Starfleet regulations required it of me. I confess I am reluctant to question too closely my motivation for doing so now.

I fear I would not be...entirely comfortable with the answer.

McCoy, my old nemesis, would likely find no small measure of personal satisfaction in this admission. No doubt he would seize upon whatever weakness he might perceive in such a statement, and I would be forced, quite logically, to dispute his analysis of my motives. Once, I might have attempted to formulate some acceptable explanation for making a recording no one shall ever hear.

There can be no logic to my certainty that the time for those debates has passed; nonetheless, I shall never dispute philosophical differences with Leonard McCoy in quite the same way again.

Our ever-tolerant mediator is dead.

. . .

There. I have said it.

. . .

Four hours and some minutes since I received the personal communique from Commander Chekov. Still I can see the holographic image of him in the room; still I can hear his voice.

Startling, how much he has aged, though there is still something of the earnest nineteen-year-old in him. Pavel Chekov was little more than a child the first time I saw him on the bridge of the Enterprise. I believe he hardly slept, that first year, wanting to learn everything at once, wanting to win some approval he imagined that I withheld from him. He never did lose that innocence, even years later when the captain asked him to take on the thankless job of Security Chief. He did it uncomplaining, as he did everything else.

Four hours ago his image brought me news I had not expected. And though his face is older, when he spoke, I could see the memory of him at nineteen as if it were yesterday. My first thought upon seeing him was how fragile these humans are...how fleeting their lives.

McCoy would appreciate the irony of that.

It surprised me...the degree to which I was unprepared to hear his news.

The Chagall on the south wall of my study mocks me subtly, reminding me of my hubris. It is the Expulsion from Paradise. I told Valeris once that its purpose was to remind me that all things end.

Valeris. I am further reminded of my own fallibility. But that is an old wound, one mostly healed by the years. This new one is fresher, and bites far deeper, and I understand that I have been arrogant indeed in thinking that I know anything at all of endings.

I was not ready.

I am not ready.

. . .

T'Sharen is at the door.


[resume recording]

She will not pry, but I am transparent to her, I think. She knows that something has happened. My claims of immersion in S'ionan's quantum treatises will not fool her for long.

I find this oddly reassuring.

But not yet. I must not speak of this until I have achieved Mastery of the Unavoidable. Not even to Shara.

The disciplines seem to be eluding me tonight. I have attempted to meditate, but there are too many shadows in the room...I cannot seem to escape them.

This is the reason for the log.

I do not know precisely what I hope to achieve by making this record. Perhaps some measure of acceptance. The weight of things I did not say rests heavily upon me, and I can think of no other alternative. I am tempted to touch the control stud, play the message from Chekov again. Perhaps this time he will say something different.

This is entirely impossible, of course. I am aware of this. Therefore my rationality is not in question. Still, I cannot entirely escape the temptation, or the thought which follows on its heels: years ago, I would not have needed to be told.

That is difficult to say. Years ago I would have known he was gone the instant it happened. But I felt nothing--had to be told the news of his passing in a subspace communique, as if I were no more than a casual acquaintance.

If I am to be honest I shall have to admit, that truth is not easy to bear.

. . .

I wonder...did he know how far apart we had drifted over the years? I did not. Did he? And when did it happen? When did the distance and the silence between us grow so great that I could not even feel it when he--

. . .

So. I still cannot say it. Interesting.

. . .

He reached me once at Gol, when I believed myself free of him, the very memory of his name already fading. It was not the first time, or the last, that I felt the touch of his thoughts across some great distance. He reached me on the very morning I was to complete the Kolinahr. I stood on the ancient stones, ready to cast out all emotion--and I sensed his apprehension, and his need, and was afraid for him.

Irony, irony. It is all around me tonight.

It occurs to me now, belatedly, just how long it has been since the last time I felt the vivid patterns of his mind's energy. San Francisco, fourteen years ago. It was another lifetime, and the memory is very dim.

I cannot remember what his mind felt like.

That seems to me too bitter a thing to dwell on, and so I shall speak of other subjects. Of the past, as it seems I cannot think of anything else tonight. And if I have waited too long to speak of these things, if I failed to speak them to the one who should have heard--well then, it is only fitting that I should endure my failure by speaking now.

Even if my words are given only to the computer, and he shall never hear them.

* * *

T'Kuht has risen. Her ruddy light is on the sill. Have I really failed to notice the passing of so much time? I find this difficult to believe, but I cannot deny the evidence of my own eyes.

Only a moment ago, it seems, the setting sun was at the window.

The significance of this lapse does not escape me. I cannot pretend misunderstanding. Even now I find it difficult to speak. Even now, when the time for such admissions is long past, and it is too late.

Who am I protecting with my silence?

A year ago, the last time I saw him. He came here, to SahaiKahr; I spoke to him in this very room. In two days I was to leave for the neutral zone. He sat in that very chair, near the window, when he was not wearing a pattern into my mother's la'ai rug with his pacing.

I still do not know how he learned of my plans. Only T'Sharen knew, and Saavik...my father, perhaps. Starfleet Command certainly never knew.

I can only assume Saavik's intervention. She has always known me too well. It would have been like her to contact him without telling me, though what difference she thought he could make, I cannot conjecture.

No difference, as it turned out; we quarreled, as had become our custom in recent years. I believe it frustrated him that he could not make me lose my composure, could not make me argue with him. I was...proud of that. Yes, say it, for it is too late for such truths to harm me, and no one shall ever hear this recording. It pleased me that even he could not shake me from my Vulcan calm. I thought, at last, I am strong enough to resist even this.

It is surely delusion to imagine that I can see the pattern his bootheels made on the rug.

He was frightened for me, but it could not matter, could not change what I had to do. He thought me a fool for risking myself again on what he perceived as a hopeless cause. He never understood what Shara and I attempted. He never understood why she had to go, or why, because she did, I had to follow.

He was wrong, and I was right, but there is little comfort in that now.

. . .

I can see the pattern his boots made.

But I am not approaching this logically. My logic is... somewhat uncertain, this evening. I should begin many years before that last time, if I am to speak the truth, if I am to say all the things I should have said to him while he--lived.

I should begin at the beginning.

* * *

The beginning, then.

Twenty-six years ago, my father asked me to accompany him on a mission of mercy, and I went, and did not tell my captain where--only asked him for an extended leave, which he granted. He looked at me with a dozen questions in his eyes and said only, "Take care of yourself, Mister Spock." He trusted me, then, and did not ask.

He was an Admiral, and I was still searching, my hair only recently shorn from my time at Gol. The Starfleet uniform I wore still felt like an alien thing. I had not yet readjusted to the chill of a ship kept perpetually too cold for me.

His hold on the Enterprise was fragile in those days. We both knew Nogura only waited for a reason to take her from him, and he was determined not to provide one. He needed my support. But I answered my father's request, and left, and he asked nothing of me save that I return safely.

Perhaps he should have asked. Perhaps I should have broken Vulcan silence and told him; the shameful secrets of my planet have always been safe with him. It set a precedent, though I did not see that at the time.

It was the first time I kept something of importance from him, but it was not the last.

Listen to me. I blame him for my own lack of trust, as if he should take responsibility. He probably would take responsibility, if he were here.

. . .

If I am to manage this with any measure of success, I must refrain from the self-indulgence of such thoughts.

There were thirteen of us, on that small ship, thirteen Vulcans unarmed in the heart of the Romulan Empire. Our harmlessness was our only defense. The message from ch'Rihan contained only three words, in Vulcan, and the coordinates. No one at Starfleet command knew of our mission; the Rihannsu might have shot us out of the sky with no one the wiser. We went because there could be no question of not going.

Thierrull, the Rihannsu called that world, a fitting name, for it means, literally, the mouth of Hell. Nearly waterless and wholly inhospitable, it was not hard to believe that place had been designed to punish the damned.

It was not the damned we found there, but children, starving and desperate.

Vulcan children--and Romulan. Children of rape, left to die on a barren planetoid a hundred light years from anything. This was the secret I could not tell my captain. We would take these children home with us, feed them, save their lives--but we would not speak of them, of their origins or how they came to be found. Their very existence shamed us. This is what I was told. No one who was not a Vulcan would ever know how those forty-seven half-Vulcan children came to exist on a barren world hundreds of light years inside Romulan space. The children themselves would be raised on a research station. The reason was obvious. Who would choose to shame the families of the parents of these children by foisting these poor creatures upon them?

This question was asked of me as we sat around our small campfire, waiting for Hellguard's dawn. Who, indeed?

I would, and said so. My father was not pleased. They asked me to leave the discussion, and I did. It was not until later that I learned another had spoken after I left.

T'Sharen was of a very conservative family. She held a seat on the dei'rah. And she did not have the disadvantage of my dubious human ancestry. The others listened to her. In the end, they agreed to bring the children to Vulcan after all.

One of these children was Saavik.

She was ten years old then, wilder than any animal, fierce and barbaric and utterly untamed. She had been living on that planet all her life. Even the other children were afraid of her. She could no more have survived alone on Vulcan than a child raised in the heart of ShiKahr could have withstood the conditions on Hellguard.

She needed me.

When we reached a starbase, I contacted Jim by subspace and asked to extend my leave of absence. Six months, this time. I offered him no explanation.

I could see it in his face, and I remember it still--that moment before he controlled his expression, shuttered himself away from me. He did not expect me to return. I had left him once and now I would do it again. The certainty was clear in his voice when he granted my request.

He never asked where I had gone with my father and eleven other Vulcans, or why, when I returned, I requested an additional six month's leave time without explanation. Not then, and not in all the years afterward.

I wanted to explain. I needed to explain. But to explain Saavik to him would be to reveal Hellguard and all its terrible secrets, and that I had been forbidden to do. I failed to see that his trust, once sacrificed, was something I could never entirely regain. I did not then understand what a precious thing I would lose by keeping Vulcan's secrets.

I wish that I could say I never gave him cause to doubt me again--but that would be a falsehood, and whom would I be deceiving?

. . .

I said nothing, except, "I shall see you in six months, Admiral."

It was clear that he did not believe me.

But, as Doctor McCoy would say, I am 'getting ahead of myself' again.

. . .

T'Sharen was the one who convinced my father and the others that the children of Hellguard were Vulcan citizens, and that our responsibility to them did not end the moment we entered Federation space. I have her to thank for Saavik. I have never forgotten that, despite all the history between us.

It is not the smallest of the gifts she has given me over the years.

Shara. What words are there for her? She is a force of nature-- like a quantum singularity, or gravity. I could no more resist her than the pull of a neutron star. The truth is that I never wanted to resist. I succumbed willingly.

I spoke to her for the first time on the journey home from Thierrull. We were still many light years from safe harbor the day she came upon me in the corridor. I was attempting to coax a recalcitrant Saavik to release the tricorder she held long enough for me to bathe her--so far with little success. My little savage was afraid of water.

So far it was the only thing she had demonstrated any fear of whatsoever. And she was furious with herself for the fear. My efforts to calm her had resulted in my current predicament; the child had bolted from my quarters into the hallway, where she had backed herself into an access tube, hugging the tricorder to herself and snarling at me each time I attempted to draw her out. I had felt the sting of her teeth already several times and did not wish to do so again.

"Nottakes!" she cried, a refrain I was beginning to dread. She had begun to weep with rage and fear, and the tears only made her angrier. "Mine! Yousays. Yousays!"


"A troublesome situation," said a voice behind me.

I straightened, and turned, careful to block the corridor against any possible escape attempt. The woman gazed calmly back at me, seemingly undisturbed by the child's shrieks, which were beginning to grate on my own nerves.

"Indeed. I seem to have underestimated her reaction to the prospect of bathing."

"One assumes that this response results from the attempt to remove the device from her possession?"

"Only superficially. I believe it was the unprecedented quantity of water which incited full-scale rebellion."


She was silent for a moment. Saavik, too, fell silent, waiting to see what this interloper would do.

"Have you considered sonics?"

I sighed. "The sub-auditory stimulus proved too much for her. She would not approach within four meters of the generator."

The woman nodded, as if I had confirmed a suspicion. She considered Saavik, who was glaring back at her with unconcealed ire, tears still running down her face. "One assumes the tricorder is waterproof."


We stood in silent reflection for a moment, Saavik watching us warily, her angry gaze shifting back and forth between us.

And then T'Sharen asked her something unexpected.

"Have you ever seen a flame-tipped dragonlily?"

The child stopped crying and went very still, her eyes wide. This wild creature was slave to only one master in the universe--her own curiosity. I would come to learn this myself from experience, but that day it was T'Sharen who seized unerringly upon the one method which stood a chance of succeeding. Instantly, Saavik's posture altered. She blinked.

"Nottakes," she said, as if reminding us, but her voice was noticeably calmer.

"No," T'Sharen agreed, "you may not take the flower from its mother until it is fully grown. But if you are very careful, you may touch it."

Saavik considered this for a time, her head tilted a little on one side, her eyes narrowed. I watched the two of them, not without some amusement, recalling the previous day's events. I, too, had resorted to bribery; I had given Saavik the tricorder in order to coax her to board the transport in the first place. It was beginning to look as if this might be the only profitable method of convincing the child to cooperate.

After another moment of consideration, Saavik untangled her lanky ten-year-old frame and jumped down from her shelter, holding tightly to the device slung across her bony shoulders. She gave me a fierce look. Her eyes returned to the woman. "Show me dragonflower," she commanded.

TíSharen gazed calmly back at her. "My name is T'Sharen," she said, to Saavik or to me. I knew her family, of course, but we had never been introduced.

"I am Spock, and this," I inclined my head toward the child, who flashed a warning at me with her eyes, keeping her distance, "is Saavik."

The woman nodded acceptance, and turned down the corridor, heading for the recreation deck.

* * *

The flame-tipped dragonlily of Argelius lives in fresh water near the planet's equator. A semi-photosynthetic, motile life form procreating by pollination, it is one of only a handful of such creatures in the galaxy. Neither plant nor animal, it spends the first six weeks of its life floating on the surface of warm water pools, until it develops rudimentary appendages and lifts them to the wind, sailing on the air currents until it reaches another, distant pool, where it roots and begins to germinate.

These protrusions resemble nothing so much as the delicate, membranous wings of the wyverns of Terran mythology; its brilliant crimson "flower" is, in fact, a receptacle which the adolescent lily uses to catch and hold water during its exodus.

Saavik was suitably entranced.

"Where its fire?" she demanded finally, turning narrowed eyes on the silently observing T'Sharen.

"It does not have any," the woman replied.

"Why not?"

"That would hardly be logical. It is a water-dragon."

Saavik accepted this.

"Can touch it?"

"Yes, if you are very careful."

Solemnly, my charge reached out one bone-thin arm and, as delicately as an insect brushing a curious object with its antenna, she touched one fingertip to the young plant. I found that I was holding my breath. It was the first sign of gentleness she had exhibited; I had not suspected her capable of it.

Then, to my infinite astonishment, the child hefted the tricorder still hanging from her shoulder, and aimed it at the flower. Obediently, the device whirred, its scanners recording dimensions, visuals, and chemical readouts. She watched the data appear on the tiny screen, frowning at it seriously as if formulating some hypothesis.

The woman and I witnessed this remarkable behavior without comment. At last Saavik grew frustrated with her inability to decipher the mysteries of the tricorder's screen, and dropped the device to her side, feigning boredom. She reached out again to the floating lily, leaning out over the water to run one fingertip along the edge of a scarlet petal.

T'Sharen left for a moment, came back with a field tricorder. Not looking at Saavik, she switched it on and pointed it at the adult lily, waiting as the sensors took their readings. Saavik pretended to ignore this development, but I could see her watching the woman avidly out of the corner of her eye.

"Mmm," T'Sharen said, as if to herself. "The adult lily is still gestating. There will be two more young in a week's time."

Saavik half-turned, her curiosity almost tangible. But still she did not quite let herself look at what the woman was doing. Getting into the sense of the game, I leaned forward and looked over the woman's shoulder.

"Yes, interesting. And it appears as though this one was born only this morning. Its development is quite remarkable."

"Indeed. I believe its 'wings' are beginning to form already."

Saavik had inched closer to us; she was staring intently at the readout screen, and trying to appear uninterested. Her quick gaze was taking in the shifting indicators. I saw her thin, too- long fingers flex, as if subconsciously reaching for something.

T'Sharen, with seeming indifference, set the device down on the edge of the clear pool, beside where Saavik knelt. There she left it. Then, not looking at it or at the child, she sat down on the rim and idly began to trail her fingertips in the water. I deliberately wandered a few steps away, pretending interest in a stand of colorful Rigellian grasses nearby.

At last I heard Saavik say, "What does red lights mean?"

"Those are the metabolic indicators..." T'Sharen answered, and for nearly half an hour, Saavik kept her occupied explaining every nuance of the two-inch by two-inch readout screen. I am certain she would have continued asking questions for the rest of the afternoon, if T'Sharen would have permitted it. But finally the woman said, "It is very pleasant, is it not?" and I turned to watch them surreptitiously.

T'Sharen had removed her shoes and placed them neatly beside her, stockings folded precisely on top. She was sitting, as casually as if this were something she did every day, with her impeccably pressed trousers rolled up to her knees and her pale, graceful feet dangling in the water. I blinked, nonplused. The woman was a dei'rah'se, after all.

Beside her, Saavik had mirrored her actions, and now sat with her feet, ankles and thin, desert-brown calves immersed in the lily pool. "Wet," she complained, and made a face. But she did not remove her feet from the water.

"A succinct description." Did I imagine that dry humor? "I am going swimming this afternoon. Do you wish to accompany me?"

The child swiveled her head sharply toward T'Sharen, green eyes wide. But the woman was not looking at her. Her posture said, quite clearly, that it had been a casual offer, and nothing more. I saw the struggle in the child's face--swimming? In water? She was ten years old and had never been swimming in her life. I doubted whether there were a single deposit of water on the barren surface of Hellguard large enough to bathe in. But this woman was an enigma, one Saavik was not ready to relinquish, her expression seemed to say.

Perhaps I only projected my own thought.

She said, rather mournfully, "Cats don't swims."

Saavik means "little cat" in Rihannsu, as I was aware. I did not know if T'Sharen knew it. She did not express any surprise at the rather odd response, but said only, "Little cats may sometimes learn to swim, if they begin early enough."

It was years before I learned what the name "little cat" really meant to Saavik, years before I learned she had been called thus by a Vulcan woman held prisoner on Thierrull, later killed while Saavik watched. The woman was not Saavik's mother, but she was the closest thing to it that the child ever knew.

I do not know what T'Sharen's words evoked in her that day. She only gazed at the woman for a long moment, her green eyes wide and solemn and too large for her thin face. Then she said, in perfect Standard, "Little cats are not afraid of water."

* * *

We became a threesome on that long journey back to Federation space, spending afternoons at the small swimming pool, evenings sharing meals in my quarters, or T'Sharen's. Often after we ate Shara would unwrap her Llonian pipes, and I would take up my lyrette, and we would play for an audience of one. Or she would sing and that way teach the child the Vulcan language. Sometimes I would look up in the middle of a piece to watch her play, her midnight-dark hair hanging down in a curtain, her slender fingers dancing over the stems of the pipes, her blue-grey eyes watching me watching her.

It was a six-week journey back to Vulcan. Every day of it was a learning experience. Saavik learned to swim like a fish, and to speak Vulcan, and I--

I learned something else entirely.

Late one night near the end of our journey, I woke violently from a disturbing dream--the third in as many nights--to find my skin damp with perspiration, and a reading lamp broken into smithereens beside the bed. It had been resting on the headboard; I had knocked it down while I slept. I sat upright, the bedclothes twisted around me, struggling to regulate my breathing and listening, fearing the noise might have woken the child. I heard nothing from the next room.

Gradually I breathed easier, and I rose from the bed and set about straightening the mess, moving silently, finding the simple act of restoring order to be the calming influence I needed. When the room was neat again, I made the bed and sat upon it, considering.

It had come early--but not that early. Two months at most. Easily explained by hybrid physiology or any one of a dozen factors. I weighed that and came to the conclusion that the timing did not matter; I knew. My Time was upon me, and there was no point in trying to determine why it had come some seven weeks too soon.

Long ago I had decided I would not give quarter to this biological imperative. After the disastrous, very nearly tragic ending of my first pon farr, I had determined that I would not suffer again the awkward ordeal of an arranged marriage. I would go to Gol and endure the cold purgation offered there before I would choose a lifemate out of simple exigency.

I suppose that was arrogance again--a refusal to submit to the realities of nature. But then, I had thought there was time.

Circumstances had conspired against me.

I got up and went into the room where Saavik slept.

I stood looking down at her for a long time. In sleep, she was no longer a fierce little cat but only a ten-year-old girl, alone in the world. I thought about T'Sharen and wondered if she would be willing to care for this barbaric, dangerous, brilliant child--thought about T'Sharen's conservative family, and what they would say. I had spent nearly every day in the woman's company for a month, and I had no idea what she would think of such a suggestion. She was as much of an enigma as she had been the first day I met her.

I had found her cool, unreadable, supremely Vulcan; we had spoken of physics and history and politics and never once of anything remotely personal. In spite of the fact that her strong and eloquently stated opinions spoke of deeply held beliefs, in a month she had revealed to me nothing of herself, of her past, of her inner thoughts.

And yet there had been her undeniable connection to the child. And the music.

I reached out to brush a fingertip along the dark wing of Saavik's brow, furrowed with seriousness in sleep, and the thought came to me that I did not want to die. And on the heels of that came an image of my captain, and the realization that I would not live long enough to see him again. A week...eight days at most. Not long enough. I experienced a flash of most unVulcan bitterness.

It occurred to me that he would think I had deliberately separated myself from him--that I had known my Time was approaching and had chosen to put this distance between us, had chosen to 'go off into the night' rather than endure his too-human response to this too-Vulcan affliction. And then it occurred to me that perhaps he would not be entirely wrong. Without warning, the afterimage of his lifeless form held fast in the fatal grip of my own hands shimmered like a burnt-out echo at the back of my vision, and was gone as swiftly.

At least he would be safe from me.

That betrayal of my own thoughts jolted me, and I pulled my hand away from the child's sleeping face--stood alone in the near darkness, grappling with it. I came to no conclusion which would satisfy me; at last I was forced to let it go.

Illogical to regret that which cannot be changed, my father's voice said to me, and I accepted his wisdom.

I was younger then, and such answers came easier.

. . .

It is late, the house quiet. Some time ago I saw T'Sharen walking in the garden, a slender, silent shadow in the starlight.

She has not disturbed me again, though it has been hours now since I closed the door to my study behind her, though I did not join her for dinner, as is my custom. She will not make demands. Yet she passed deliberately beneath my window, no accident or coincidence, a silent reminder that she is near, if I require anything.

I cannot go to her. Not yet. I have begun and so I must continue, if I am to find any measure of resolution.

Perhaps it is this vigil I keep which calls to mind that other, long ago.

. . .

That night I sat in darkness for a very long time, watching Saavik as she slept, planning the steps I would need to take before the fever progressed too far, and my ability to act deserted me. This I did with a clinical detachment born of necessity. I did not know how much time I had.

First, the child. I had some reason to believe that there existed at least a chance that T'Sharen would accept the responsibility, though I did not delude myself that it was a small favor I asked. No matter. There was a possibility; therefore, I would ask her. An easy enough thing to determine what I needed to know without revealing the truth. I am a Starfleet officer, I would say. How can I care for a child? I would speak of my oath, my duty, real enough concerns. And what of Saavik? I would say.

If T'Sharen could not, or would not take her--then there was Sarek. Not a perfect solution by any stretch, but still, better than to leave her with no one. The obstacle there lay in the fact that I could not speak to my father openly without arousing his suspicion. It would be much more difficult to test those waters without revealing too much of what I intended.

And what precisely did I intend? The practicalities of the situation demanded that I consider every angle, every contingency. I shied from the inevitable conclusion, but time was short; I did not want to die, but I did not see any alternative. And so it remained only to consider the manner of my death, and the consequences of the methodology.

Better to end it swiftly, I thought. I had no desire to face the long descent into darkness, the slow agony of metabolic breakdown that pon farr would mean. And thinking this, the realization came to me that I could accomplish two things at once. I could avert that appalling fate and simultaneously spare those I left behind some measure of distress. As long as no autopsy was performed, no one need ever know the true cause of my demise. Sarek and Amanda need suffer no guilt on my behalf for the failure of my betrothal to T'Pring. And James Kirk need never blame himself for granting my request for leave, need never condemn me for my arrogance, my complacency, which had allowed this situation to occur.

That thought was at once disturbing and dangerously comforting.

All through that long night I played out hypothetical scenarios, testing and re-testing for any possible flaws. If I was going to act, then I needed a watertight plan of action. In the end it was the least complex of these I chose to implement, calling to mind something my captain had once told me: the best strategy of deception is generally a simple one.

Sarek had not wished to risk a single life unnecessarily. As a result, the ship was a civilian vessel with a crew of but three; there were no security personnel aboard. With my programming skills, it would be a simple matter to arrange a localized critical failure of life support functions through the main computer, and to simultaneously disable the automatic alarm.

I was confident of my ability to do so without arousing suspicion.

Near ship's dawn, I left Saavik's room and returned to my own, beset by a calm certainty which bordered on fatalism. I glanced at my terminal with some thought of composing a message, not knowing what I would say, what I could say. Only wanting, illogically, to speak to him one last time. I allowed myself to toy briefly with the possibilities of what might be said in such a message without raising his suspicions. Then I turned without activating the recorder and went out into the corridor.

All of my decisions had been made. Now it only remained to act, and swiftly, while there was still time.

* * *

Of course, in all my careful premeditation, I had made one catastrophic oversight; I had not counted on T'Sharen.

That afternoon I left Saavik with her at the pool. Even since the previous night, I could detect differences in my physiology. The headache had worsened, and I knew from experience that no painkiller would touch it. My body temperature was higher than normal. My eyes were sensitive to light.

It had begun.

I told T'Sharen I was working on a collaborative paper for a temporal physics journal, and she accepted my explanation without comment. I left the child with her and returned to my quarters. I was not confident of my ability to maintain the pretense of normality for an extended period. I used the hours of respite to strengthen what physiological controls remained to me.

When they returned from their afternoon of swimming lessons, I laid aside my lyrette and met them at the door. They came in, two silent, slender figures, like mirror images in their black coveralls. I had not realized how much they looked alike. Saavik was tall, for a ten-year-old, nearly reaching T'Sharen's shoulder. In that first moment, I experienced a sudden unexpected awareness of the pleasure I felt at seeing them.

Despite my careful deliberations, I was not eager to die. And that night, I had no desire to be alone.

"How go the swimming lessons?" I inquired.

"I believe there is little more I can teach her." T'Sharen turned to look at the child. "She is a remarkably quick study."

"As I am learning," I said drily. It was a demonstration of the Vulcan predilection for understatement; Saavik devoured knowledge like a le matya with a kill after a long hibernation.

The child lowered her eyes now, uncomfortable with the praise. A month of safety, plentiful food and uninterrupted sleep were beginning to have its effect on her; she was beginning to look more like a little girl and less like a starveling wild creature. I suddenly found myself overwhelmed by the instinct to protect her. And then I remembered that I would not be able to protect her for much longer.

"Will you stay for dinner?" I asked T'Sharen.

Her look was opaque. "Have you completed your work?"

"I have." I made certain that not a flicker of expression betrayed me.

"Then I shall. But Saavik and I have something we must do first."


She was looking at the child again, and I thought I perceived the faintest upward curve of her lips. "We have decided a haircut is in order."

I carefully did not react. The thought of approaching Saavik with a sharp instrument alarmed me considerably. For that very reason, her masses of unruly dark hair had remained mostly untouched since Hellguard. Her angular face was framed by a tangle of snarls that fell unevenly to just below her shoulders. I suspected that the thick curls had annoyed the child, and she had made a habit of cutting them short with her knife, or her teeth. I had not yet dared to do anything about it.

Saavik was giving me a baleful look, which did nothing to alleviate my concern. But then I saw her trembling, and recognized the uncertainty beneath the glare. She wanted to do this. In a flash of insight I took in T'Sharen's straight, luxuriant tresses, and understood.

I said only, "I see."

* * *

Something remarkable happened between the two of them, that evening, as I watched. T'Sharen seated Saavik in the adjustable chair at my desk, and wrapped a cloth around the child's neck. Then she went to the replicator and requested the things she would need.

Saavik was holding herself still, perhaps willing herself still. She did not look at me. T'Sharen returned with a small bundle in one hand, and unwrapped it matter-of-factly on the desk, where Saavik could see it. Within the cloth rested a brush with a wooden handle, a wooden comb, a small bottle of some kind of hair conditioner, and a silver clip.

And the scissors.

The woman took up the brush and began gently to work through the snarls from the ends, singing softly in Vulcan as she did so. From time to time she would apply the emollient. Gradually, Saavik began to relax under her gentle, confident hands. But I could see her glance at the scissors frequently, eyeing them where they lay on the soft blue cloth.

I was thinking of the knife I had taken from her; the knife which had been the only security in her life. She had very nearly killed me with it. I had required her to give it to me before I would let her board the ship, had traded her my tricorder, and promised to keep the knife safe. She had almost let us leave her on Hellguard rather than part with the weapon. I watched, not interfering, having to remind myself from time to time to breathe.

I am not certain when it was that I stopped watching the child, and began to watch the woman.

Perhaps it was something about her hands, about the way her slender white fingers slid through the dark strands. She ran her hands a few times through the quiet shine of Saavik's hair, smoothing it, almost stroking the child, as one would an animal. And then she took up the scissors.

Saavik tensed. I saw her fight a battle with herself, and win it, by what margin I did not dare speculate. T'Sharen did not cease her quiet crooning, and I realized that she was engaging in a kind of hypnotic reassurance, telling the child there was no need to be afraid--that she was one who could be trusted.

At last, deftly, she began to move the sharp blades in a kind of slow, rhythmic dance about the child's shoulders.

I watched her as she worked, feeling the sing of fever and the throb of my own heartbeat in my temples, a dull agony. I did not burn for her; there was no mental connection between us. But there was something about her which called out to me, that night. Perhaps it was only the reassurance she gave to Saavik. That promise of sanctuary was powerful and aphrodisiac. I watched her and felt my body burning itself out.

Some time later she stopped, and laid the scissors down on the square of blue cloth. Taking up the comb, she drew a few locks back from Saavik's brow and fastened them at her crown with the silver clip. Then she took scissors, brush and bottle and wrapped them again in the cloth, and turned Saavik toward her with a touch on one angular shoulder, surveying her handiwork. I saw her give a small nod, as if of satisfaction.

Saavik got up and went to the mirror in the bathroom, stood staring at her own reflection solemnly for a long time.

T'Sharen came toward me. "An improvement, would you agree?" Said softly, a touch of something like amusement in her tone. I shook myself inwardly and composed my expression.

"To say the least."

We watched the child for a minute or so, wondering what she thought about the image which stared back at her from the glass. Her face was serious, unreadable. I was staring, too--but what I was seeing was the young woman she would one day become. A young woman I would never know.

After a moment, T'Sharen approached her, stood looking over her shoulder. She spoke, for the child's ears only. But I saw the shape the words made of her lips in the mirror. She said, "Saavik, do you know how beautiful you are?"

I saw the child shake her head, automatic denial. There was nothing of beauty on her world, and she had certainly never thought to find it in herself. But she shifted her weight a little, allowing her body to rest, almost imperceptibly, against the woman behind her. It was a profound concession. I averted my eyes, knowing it was nothing I had been meant to see.

My charge was rather subdued at dinner. She ate steadily and did not speak, consuming a quantity of food which would have alarmed me a few weeks before. It took her years to accept that food was not a thing to be hoarded and coveted. In those days she would eat anything that wasn't fastened down.

I forced myself to swallow a few sips of water and a bite of something bland; I could stomach no more than that, and made conversation with T'Sharen to conceal the fact. I asked her to tell me more of her work. That was relatively safe, since I need do no more than listen.

I had gone to Hellguard because my father asked me to. She had gone because it was who she was.

* * *

The dei'rah ministry has its roots in ancient tradition. It has existed almost since the time of Surak, and has changed little over the centuries. Its members are greatly esteemed, carrying much weight in other areas of Vulcan society; they have historically formed an essential part of the social dynamic of my planet, sometimes sending ripples as far as the Federation Council. T'Sharen had been dei'rah'se since the age of twenty- five.

This in itself was remarkable. The demands of the dei'rah are considerable, and the path which leads to investiture arduous. It claims a singular devotion from its representatives, and often exacts a heavy price. It requires an extremely disciplined mind. T'Sharen was the first dei'rah'se I had met close to my own age.

Among other things, the dei'rah occupies itself with the study of Surak's writings, and of the past. Founded in the years following Surak's death, some of its more pedestrian interests include education, social development, and ecological regulation. However, its works are not limited to these. If Vulcan can be said to have missionaries, then they are surely the dei'rah'sen. Unlike alien ministries of similar nature, it is not a religious group but an assiduously secular one; there are no Vulcans more firmly rooted in reality, more concerned with the practicalities of life.

I know not why I have so often forgotten that.

* * *

While Saavik worked steadily at packing as much food as possible into her thin frame, T'Sharen began to tell me something of the assignments she had taken in her eleven year tenure. At any other time I would have been completely absorbed in the tales she related. It was a life which rivaled my own for excitement and intellectual challenge.

I remember the thought which occurred unexpectedly as I listened: Jim Kirk would like this woman immensely. And then it came to me, very suddenly, that in two days time I would be dead and he would likely never meet her, never know Saavik, and my dismay must have shown in my face, for she broke off in the middle of a sentence.

"Commander? What is it?"

I recovered. "Nothing, dei'rah'se. I merely thought of something to add to my journal submission."

She said nothing for a moment, her eyes dissecting me, letting me know she considered this explanation unlikely at best. At last she blinked, and resumed her tale of a recent rescue mission to a failed colony in the Theta Lyrae system as if nothing had occurred.

I could not look at her. Abruptly the fever in my blood seemed to seize hold of me, and for an instant I feared I would disgrace myself by retching in front of her. Those three swallows of water roiled in my stomach. I tried to take in more oxygen without appearing to gasp for breath. I looked down at where my hands were clenched in my lap, and realized that they were shaking uncontrollably.

I stood up. The chair made a harsh, grating sound against the deck as I did so; the woman and the child both stilled, looking up at me as if I had lost my mind.

Which I had. I said something that I do not remember and bolted from the room.

* * *

She must have taken Saavik to her own quarters and returned alone; I never knew what she said to the child to explain my irrational flight. I do not know how much time passed before she found me in the child's bedroom, lying flat upon the floor, struggling to regulate my breathing.

One moment I lay in fevered darkness, black and hot and spinning, and then I moved and saw her silhouette in the doorway. She came toward me. She crouched beside me and reached out, and I tried to get to my feet, tried to escape. No. I did not dare let her touch me.

Even as I tried to back away from her, I looked up and met her gaze. I saw the sudden comprehension, saw that in my desperation to avoid her touch I had betrayed myself.

She straightened. Her eyes were dark in the faint illumination from the other room, the color of smoke, of storm. I remember longing for rain. I was burning, in flames. I remember that I stumbled in my haste, and she caught me, her cool, pale hands searing me through my tunic.

And then I remember nothing else.

* * *

Shara has been here.

I never could keep anything from her. She sees through me as if I were an infant, not yet past the first disciplines. She came into the room and said nothing, only sat down and gazed out the window, waiting.

I had not intended to speak of it. I kept my eyes on my terminal and pretended absorption in the data on my screen.

Finally I looked up, and saw that she had turned to face me. She was watching me, her face serene. She was not fooled.

"How is the work progressing?"

There was nothing in her face or her voice or her eyes to indicate anything but neutral interest in my progress.

"S'ionan's theory offers a point of view I had not considered."

She nodded thoughtfully. T'Sharen is a capable mathematician in her own right, though that is not her strength. "The connection he postulates between Mordreaux's Constant and the nature of warp fields is a most fascinating one."

"Indeed. Doctor Mordreaux himself suggested it decades ago, but neither he nor I could ever define the relationship."

She waited. I met her gaze.

"I had a communique from Earth yesterday."

I did not know that I would speak the words until they were out, and it was too late to take them back.

She only looked at me.

"From Commander Chekov."

She blinked. I knew she had expected me to say another name. But still she said nothing.

There followed a regrettably long pause, while I attempted to formulate the words to tell her why James Kirk would never send a communique to anyone again.

"The Enterprise-B launched two days ago," I said finally. Not quite what I had intended. But the words came swiftly, then, and I could not stop them. "It was only meant to be a media event." The bitterness came through and I had to draw breath. "But she received a distress signal. Her captain was forced to respond."

She is not slow, my Shara. She was on her feet and coming toward me before I got the words out.

"They did not have a tractor beam. They had no weapons."


"They asked me to attend, and I said I could not leave my research."

"Spock--" I looked up at her. I realized that I was making little sense. I was shaking. "--tell me what has happened."

I told her.

It is the second time I have spoken the words aloud. It does not seem to be getting easier.

She listened, and when I was finished, she said my name, once. She did not touch me. I think she knew that if she had touched me then, I would have been lost.

She left, and closed the door behind her.

. . .

I want to say that is the only reason she did not speak, did not stay. It would not be the first time that she acted thus to preserve my dignity, and hers.

But there is that traitor in me which thinks, perhaps it was the hypocrisy she could not bear.

She has ever followed the path to self-knowledge, self-truth, with far more courage than I. She knows full well my reasons for declining the invitation to attend the launch ceremony. She knows, as she always has, the price I have paid for keeping her secrets. Perhaps she left me alone because she understands that this time the cost was one I would not have paid.

I am shamed by these unworthy thoughts. She deserves better from me, after all these years. It is true the secrets were hers. But the choices were mine.

How does one pinpoint the exact moment at which two orbiting bodies reach critical separation, and begin the long outward spin into dissolution? How does one assign blame for such a thing? The division which occurred between myself and my captain happened over a wide span of years, a gradual distancing, as two continents may separate with the shifting of tectonic plates. So did I make my choices, and logically did not regret.

Years ago I ceased trying to explain to Shara Jim Kirk's illogical resentment of her, and my own quiet acceptance of it. She only ever saw the afterward, did not understand what it was that had been lost. No more than he understood what I had found in her.

My flight to Gol was the first severing--but even then, the rift might have been healed. Well do I know it.

It was what came after that made the distance unbridgeable.

. . .

I did not ask her for my life, but it was life she gave to me twenty-six years ago, when I had seen no way out but death. And in the end I found in her more than I had ever expected and, I thought then, more than I deserved.

When I knew anything again I found myself on my narrow sleeping pallet, the lights at half-level and T'Sharen across the room, reading on the low couch in the sitting area. I stirred, swallowing against the parched, cracked dryness of my throat. That was the first awareness: her presence, my thirst--and then a dull, throbbing ache, in every part of me I could feel.

I must have made some sound. Her eyes lifted from the data padd she held and in the first instant when her gaze touched mine, I understood what she had chosen.

"How long?" My voice was a hoarse croak, barely audible.

"Five days, twenty-one hours." Her tone was utterly neutral; I could read nothing from her. Smoothly she rose and came near, reaching to pour a glass of water from a decanter on the headboard. She moved with fluid grace--but it was too carefully measured, as if to conceal underlying stiffness. I felt a tightness in my throat which had nothing to do with thirst. Somehow I summoned the strength to raise myself a little on one elbow.

Wordlessly she held the glass while I drank until there was no more. Exhausted, I fell back onto the sleeping platform. I was trembling uncontrollably from that slight exertion, and the blood was pounding darkly behind my vision. I closed my eyes.

"Shh. Rest," she said, mildly reproving. "Your strength will return soon enough."

I obeyed, unable to do otherwise. There was a long silence, in which I could sense her close, not touching. I wanted desperately to look inward, to know if I would find the touch of her mind in mine, but I could not find the capacity or will to do it.

"Saavik?" I said, when I was able.

"With your father. I checked on her this morning, while you slept. She is well."

A pause, as I listened to the careful neutrality in her voice and tried to understand what it signified.

"And you?" I managed at last. I could not quite bring myself to say her name.

There was the slightest hesitation.

"I, too, am well."

I opened my eyes, made myself look at her. She was cool imperturbability itself: unruffled, perfectly groomed, expressionless and singularly, overwhelmingly beautiful. For an instant I tried to imagine what I had done to her, what she had done for me, but my brain would not permit the images to surface. More harshly than I meant to, I asked, "Are you certain?"

She met my gaze levelly. "I am unharmed, Spock. Nothing has transpired which was not my choice. Do not be concerned."

I sat up, heedless of my throbbing head--and my vision promptly closed in, threatening to fade entirely. She reached out, held my shoulders as I fought for air and for control over my rebellious stomach. I was shaking badly, and attempting to control that, too. At last I surrendered and allowed her to support my weight, allowed her to bring the cool glass to my lips. I drank again, spilling a few chill drops onto my bare chest; they burned where they fell and I became abruptly aware of my own nakedness.

There was something profoundly disturbing about that vulnerability, about sitting there unclothed with nothing but a sheet to shield me against her unmarred, neatly-pressed impenetrability. She was covered to the throat, her hands on me the only part of her exposed.

I was a monster, a savage; she was civilization, keeping me at bay.

When I could I looked at her again and found her watching me curiously, a scientist studying some new species of insect. But then her mouth curved, very slightly.

"Modesty, Spock? I tend to think it is a little late for that."

I had unconsciously drawn the sheet higher. My hands were fixed tightly in the folds of the bedclothes, as if in fear that she would forcibly remove them. The unfairness struck me, that I should be the one afraid, and suddenly a memory of what had gone before rose up, brutal and nauseating, and my eyes went to the graceful line of her jaw, saw the faint shadow there which might have been a bruise. I shuddered and thought that I would be ill.

But her eyes held mine, clear and open and violet-slate, and all that I could read in them was her mild, tolerant amusement. Nothing worse than that. No censure, no coolness, not revulsion or fear or any of the things I had expected.

I could not help but find in that a kind of miracle.

. . .

Now, in retrospect, I can see that I should have known something was not right.

Leonard McCoy has an aphorism regarding hindsight and its accuracy which no doubt applies. But I was only too glad to follow T'Sharen's lead, in the days after she saved my life. Only too eager to speak of other things, behave as if nothing had changed, shield myself and her from the consequences of the choice she had made. She aided my recovery with cool efficiency, sat with me and talked for hours of her work, of mine, of the children of Hellguard and their eventual fate. We never spoke of what had passed between us. Never acknowledged the cause of my infirmity. After that first time, she did not touch me again.

We never spoke of the link which had formed between us, or what it would mean. Such a spontaneous union does not always result in a permanent bonding--unless the persons involved share a particularly close affinity. The touch of her mind in mine was silent and unobtrusive and I found it easy enough to shut out the awareness of the cost she had paid and would pay for saving me.

She made things comfortable for me, in those first days, and I let her.

But I should have known.

* * *

On the second night I was able to eat most of the meal T'Sharen brought me. Afterward she brought Saavik to see me for the first time in more than a week. I was somewhat shaky, but managed to present the appearance of normality; I sat upon the small sofa in the sitting room, answering the child's numerous questions on the subject of Argelian botany. She seemed reassured by my willingness to answer her queries, and determined to make up for lost time. That night I slept without dreaming.

In the morning we reached Starbase 12.

. . .

T'Sharen found me sitting in front of the desk terminal in my cramped quarters.

"The ship makes planetfall tomorrow."

Her tone was carefully neutral; I let the statement subside into silence, not meeting her gaze. Not turning from the blank terminal screen. She stood in the doorway behind me, observing my illogical delaying tactics with admirable serenity.

It was not our own future we discussed; neither of us had yet dared to approach that subject. We had danced around it with great agility.

We had not yet referred to ourselves, in any context, as "we."

But it was of choices and responsibility that we spoke now.

It was a continuation of the discussion we had begun the night before, had not resolved. Perversely, her restraint goaded me to delay yet further, though my decision had been made weeks before. I had planned to see to Saavik's needs from the beginning, even before I had known the woman. Claiming legal custody of the child was the next logical step.

Perhaps I entertained some thought of escape, though at the time I was aware of no such intention. Perhaps I thought to return to the Enterprise and find there some sanctuary, some refuge from responsibility, from the realities of Vulcan biology and its consequences. But that morning I had run out of time for entertaining such fantasies. A decision had been made. The time for implementation was at hand.

"Dantria, then," I said. Still not turning to look at her. "If you are in agreement that the environment will be conducive..."

"I believe so. The population is small and the predominant culture a tolerant one." This said with dry humor. The comparison to Vulcan society did not need to be stated aloud. "Saavik should not have too much difficulty adjusting."

I half-turned toward her. "Have you spoken to her of it?"

I would take Saavik to this colony world and live with her there for some months...long enough for her to become accustomed to functioning in a civilized society. I was not certain of the fairness of it. I would offer her a home for a few months and then desert her; I had not yet told her what I intended.

But T'Sharen had stepped into the breach.

"She has had enough of uncertain futures. I thought she deserved to be told what was to become of her."

"She will have to go to a foster family, eventually."

Immediately I regretted the words. The "unless..." hung unspoken in the air between us. Reluctantly, unable to prevent the motion, I met her gaze.

...unless you and I...

"I understand, Spock. She will, too."

"Will she?" Do you?

I am certain my doubt was obvious.

"She will understand that you took an oath to serve. She is no stranger to loyalty, or to honor. She is capable, in her way, of respecting a trust given."

True enough. As evidenced by the fact that the child had trusted me to keep my word regarding the guardianship of her handmade weapon. "I hope you are correct," I said finally. "Now I must contact my captain, and gain his consent for my continued absence."

He is not going to like it, I was thinking. Bad enough to be in the position he was in, fighting to keep his command, without also having to lose the one ally he ought to be able to count on without question. And not for the first time. My estimation of his likely response must have shown in my voice, for T'Sharen took a step nearer. She lowered her eyes in a gesture of uncharacteristic hesitancy, then lifted them again to mine.

"Do you wish me to stay?"

I blinked. The realization came to me, slowly, that she was offering to provide what Jim would call 'moral support.' I read a profound, dawning understanding in her gaze and shied away from it.

"He will grant the permission I seek. Your presence is unnecessary, but the offer is...appreciated." This last said awkwardly. I did appreciate it, more than I could say. But she was too perceptive; I did not like the knowing look I had seen in her face when I spoke of my captain.

She inclined her head, accepting, and turning, she left.

"Terminal on. Subspace communique, route to command conn, USS Enterprise. Initialize comm synch."

* * *

I reached him in his quarters, near the middle of second shift. He was flushed, his hair damp, as if he had just returned from a workout. When his image appeared on my small terminal screen, vibrant and vulnerable and immediate, I wished to be anywhere else. Where was his impenetrable cloak of command? He would need it before I was finished. In that first moment it came to me that in my arrogance I had come very close to never seeing him again. And the reverse of that.

I wanted to ask him to forgive me for my shortsightedness.

I reminded myself of the inescapable logic of the decision I had made. It was a small thing, what I was about to ask--in no way did it contradict my dedication to Starfleet or my loyalty to him personally. He was a man who had never shirked a responsibility in his life. He, of all people, would approve my decision.

If only I could explain...

He grinned unashamedly, when he saw who it was. "Spock! Am I glad to see you." He sighed dramatically. "The place has gone to pot without you, you know."

In spite of myself, I nearly smiled. "I very much doubt that, Admiral."

"Captain, please. I'm still trying to break it in. Or Jim, if you happen to remember that you sometimes used to call me that."

It was meant as a joke. But the tone was a shade too wistful.

"Very well," I conceded. "Captain."

He sobered. Business, then, his altered posture seemed to say. "Everything all right?"

"Affirmative. We were...successful in achieving our objective."

"Good," he said shortly. I saw then that the secrecy irked him-- but that he was too stubborn to ask the questions he knew I would not answer. He was studiedly neutral. "How long until you're finished?"

"We reach Vulcan tomorrow."

A hesitation so brief I could not be certain of its existence.

"And then you'll be returning to the Enterprise?"

I suppressed the impulse to swallow. "That is the matter I wished to address."


His face was coolly inscrutable. I had not realized how well he did that--as well as any Vulcan. I could read nothing from him.

I forged ahead.

"Adm--Captain, with your permission, I should like to extend my leave of absence." The weight of his gaze prompted me to open my mouth again; I bit off the attempt at explanation I would have made. I had been forbidden to say anything which would explain satisfactorily why I needed to spend six months on a backwater colony world light years from anything. What could I say? I reminded myself that I need not explain myself to him. This choice was mine alone.

The unguarded smile which had greeted me was gone, replaced by blank wariness. "For how long?"

A quantitative request for information. Better. "Six months should be sufficient, sir."

His eyes held mine, and I knew not what he learned from that silent exchange. I still do not know what thoughts he entertained in that long, weighing silence. It was the expression he often wore while playing chess: speculative, calculating, self-possessed.

"Permission granted, Mister Spock," he said mildly at last--that deceptive mildness which could conceal many things. "Take as much time as you need. I'll take care of the paperwork."

Meaning, my replacement.

"Thank you, Captain," I said awkwardly. The unexpected hollowness which rose in me had nowhere to go, no outlet. I refused to give it any. I remember thinking that perhaps I was not as completely recovered as I had thought. What other explanation could there be for my shameful reactions to this straightforward conversation?

I failed then to see the rift widening between us with each passing second. Or perhaps I saw and believed the division a temporary one.

I was a fool.

He seemed about to terminate the connection when something altered in his expression, and he leaned slightly closer to the screen. I was held motionless under the suddenly intent pressure of his gaze. "Spock? Is there anything...?"

His eyes said, Let me help.

I did swallow, then. I wanted to tell him about Saavik, about T'Sharen. Wanted to tell him not to worry.

Vulcan discipline held. I said, coolly, "Sir?" Denying his concern, my discomfort. Denying any relationship between us but the professional. It was too much to ask, too far to go, to speak of these things aloud; I knew no other way but the Vulcan one, knew no other language to use with him.

I thought for a moment that he would not accept the rebuff. But then his gaze darkened, became opaque, and he sat back slightly. All right, his look said, if that's the way you want to play it. Two can play at that game. "Was there anything else, Mister Spock?"

I felt the pull of inexorable tectonics.

"No, sir." It required a certain amount of effort to keep my tone perfectly level.

He nodded once, incongruously, as if in answer to a question neither of us had asked.

"Well, then, Commander, I have a starship to run. Take care of yourself, will you?"

"Certainly, if you will do the same." I drew a breath. "I shall see you in six months, Admiral."

For the briefest of instants, something flared in his expression. Something angry and vulnerable and more than I wished to see. But he said only, "Just--take care of yourself."

I saw him reach to cut off the transmission; then his image was gone, and I was staring at a blank screen.

* * *

I told Sarek what I intended over dinner that evening.

I was somewhat surprised that he made no attempt to dissuade me from claiming custody of the child; it seemed I was not the only one who had been...charmed. In the days of my infirmity, Saavik and my father had come to an understanding.

He agreed with my assessment. Though her intellect was formidable, she could not yet be trusted with other children. I would spend my extended leave with her on Dantria, attempting to 'civilize' her. Privately, I suspected it would prove to be a task of epic proportions; Saavik had demonstrated an unparalleled capacity for stubbornness. Nevertheless.

T'Sharen did not make an appearance at dinner. I was sharply aware of her absence, and the significance of it. We were en route to Eridani--in the morning we would reach Vulcan, and the thirteen adults and forty-seven children on board would go their separate ways. When the meal concluded, I bid good evening to my father as swiftly as decorum would allow.

He stopped me, though, before I could turn to go.

"My son," he began, too low for anyone's ears but mine. I was stopped, quite frankly shocked into stillness. Never in my memory had he used those words in that tone. There was some flicker of response in his deep-set eyes, perhaps amusement at my obvious consternation. I stood looking down at him as if he were a stranger.

"Yes, Ambassador?"

I could not make myself call him anything else. We had reached some measure of understanding in the years since the Babel conference, but the silence between us had been a long one, and the rebuilding of communication arduous.

"She is a rare one, Spock. A wise man would not let her go."

It was not Saavik he spoke of.

Many things became apparent to me then, not the least of which the realization that Sarek had not believed for a moment my statement that I had been immersed in critical research for the last week. And I found myself remembering, with sudden clarity, that it had been my father who had arranged this entire expedition--my father who had been responsible for selecting the ship's small complement. I remembered how surprised I had been when he asked me to go.

I remembered, belatedly, what a skilled puppetmaster my father can be.

"Indeed," I said, when I found my voice. "Nor would a wise man underestimate you, Ambassador."

"This is true." That odd, softening expression flickered in his gaze once more, briefly. This time I recognized it for what it was.

I left then, swiftly, before I could betray myself.

* * *

I found her on the tiny recreation deck, as I had known I would.

She did not turn at my approach, though I saw the faint lifting of her head, as of a b'toa scenting a le matya. She was sitting on the edge of the pool where Saavik had first made her acquaintance. Her shoes were on, her feet crossed under her demurely at the ankles. As I drew near she lifted her slender fingers from the place where they had trailed in the water.

"You were not at dinner," I said to her back, and it came out like a veiled accusation. Not at all how I had intended it.

But she did not show any reaction, except to rise gracefully to her feet, still not facing me. It occurred to me belatedly that I had made an incredibly inane statement, to which she could make no logical response.


Spoken awkwardly. I had not known I would say it until it was out. It was perhaps the first time I had spoken her name since before...

Since before.

She did turn, then, her level gaze inviolable, her eyes almost colorless. For the first time I realized how tall she was--I did not have to look down to meet her gaze. If James Kirk had been standing next to her, he would barely have reached the bridge of her nose.

Perhaps it was this thought which prompted the words which followed her name past my lips.

"--would you care for a game of chess?"

She looked surprised for an instant, as if whatever she had expected me to say, it had not been that. The flash of transparent expression passed fleetingly and was gone as suddenly, but that brief glimpse into her made a sudden easing in my throat, a relaxing of a tension I had not been aware of. We held to one another's gaze, as though, illogically, we were seeing one another truly for the first time.

"In fact, I would," she said. And she raised one eyebrow in a faint gesture I had never seen her make.

I saw, then, that it was her own acceptance which had surprised her.

* * *

I was aware of the pattern we wove, but uncertain yet of the shape it would take. I think she felt it too--as if by some silent covenant we agreed that night to make a new beginning between us. It was the first time in a very long time I had done anything out of instinct alone, without a reasoned plan of action.

That very uncertainty was oddly...stimulating.

In the sitting area of my quarters, I bade her relax while I made preparations, setting up the three-dimensional chess board, pouring cool alae nectar into two fluted glasses. I brought them to the table and sat opposite her, noting almost idly how the indirect light caught in her hair and shone back violet highlights. I placed the slender glass into her hand--a forward gesture in itself--and my fingertips brushed hers very briefly. Our eyes met.

Hers were laughing.

That look made me stop, made the air catch oddly in my throat. I had become so accustomed to her fathomless regard that this open, mercurial humor surprised me into stillness. All at once the contradictions of her came clear.

In retrospect, I understand that she knew, far better than I, what would come of my innocent invitation. That bright look was her acceptance. But in that moment what I perceived was only a kind of promise: whatever comes, we will have had this quiet moment, Spock. And I do not condemn you. For any of it.

I made a gesture of concession. "Do you wish to take the first move?"

She lowered her eyes demurely. "No, by no means. It is, after all, your demesne. Please." And she gestured toward the board.

"As you wish."

We played.

I had learned years before that playing chess with James Kirk had spoiled me for any other opponent. Between myself and my captain, the game of dry strategy became something else entirely, more closely resembling psychological warfare, or some strange, ethereal contest of wills. We played so often and with such focused intensity that I found it difficult to play against anyone else.

It was a phenomenon which had no simple explanation. The results were irrefutable; he had admitted once that the reverse was true for him. But that night I experienced some unexplained resurgence of my old precision.

It was not the only unexpected thing I experienced, playing chess with her.

There was the undeniable pleasure of our conversation, which threaded between the moves on the board effortlessly, spanning Starfleet politics and temporal physics, colonial expansion and Terran music. There was the unanticipated harmony of feeling the slender thread of communication stretching between us--the link I had not allowed myself to feel in the days of my recovery.

There was, also, a vague sense of betrayal, mine, which I did not understand and blocked from my awareness.

The game proceeded. She took a knight with a pawn, leaving two pieces open simultaneously, and I acknowledged her daring with an appreciative glance.

"You take risks much like another chess player I know."

She was inscrutable. "Do I? Or perhaps I simply give you rope with which to hang yourself."

I was intrigued. "Indeed. However, the weapon may be turned back upon the hangman."

"True." She tilted her head slightly, thoughtfully. "It is a close contest whether the privilege of decision is greater than the freedom of having the choice made for you."

We had stopped looking at the board. I sensed that this was more than conversational sparring for her. For me it was no contest at all; that I had learned from James Kirk.

"I prefer to keep the decision out of the hangman's hands, if possible." My certainty came through.

But she only shrugged. That amusement surfaced again for an instant. "And I prefer the freedom. We are a good pair, Spock." And suddenly I remembered Jim saying, long ago, '...just a beach to walk on, no braid on my shoulder...' Was this what he had meant? This freedom that he longed for? I understood a part of what had drawn me to her then, and did not want to see it.

And she--what demons spoke, when she said she wished for freedom from choice? What decisions had she made, at thirty- six, that would haunt her thus? Or was it this moment she referred to, the two of us, coming to the resolution of a decision I had made tonight when I invited her to my quarters?

I chose the lesser of two evils, and took her rook. I met her eyes again, let her see my own amusement. "What is the verdict? Do I hang, or walk?"

She only held my gaze, so perfectly expressionless that I experienced a sharp, betraying stab of unVulcan envy. I had spent nearly three years at Gol, and still my control had never been that flawless. Wordlessly she reached out and, ignoring the peril to her bishop, moved her queen one level.

I caught myself in the process of lifting one surprised eyebrow. After all our sparring on the subject of choices, she had failed to protect the very piece I had chosen to spare. I bent my concentration to the board exclusively for some minutes. Surely there must be some deeply-laid trap, but though I quickly played out some thirty moves ahead, I could not spot it. Was she truly so skilled? Or was she--unlikely for a Vulcan, but beginning to look possible--bluffing?

Her face told me nothing, and I gave up trying to read her. I must have stared at the board for three minutes. Trap? Or bluff? My own words returned to me: You take risks much like another chess player I know.

I chose, then. Bluff.

I took the bishop calmly, calling upon a lifetime of training to keep my face perfectly bland. I turned my gaze upon her and waited. Only the briefest gleam of something like triumph in her eyes before she lifted one slender hand--and took a pawn on the first level.

I saw it then. It was simply, painfully obvious.

It was both: trap--and bluff. She had played my psyche like a master. She had set an elementary, straightforward trap which would not close on me for another eight moves, and she had baited it with the double temptation of rook and bishop. Had even warned me, and still I had taken the bait.

But for her trap to work, I had to take them in order, with precisely the attacking pieces I had chosen; an interlocking matrix, which allowed for no variance in its formation. Like a knot, I thought, feeling the noose draw tight about my neck.

The white king tipped under my hand, and I saluted her with a nod of acknowledgment. "It appears that I am outmatched."

She relaxed minutely. "You flatter me."

"On the contrary. I honor my executioner."

She sipped her drink, watching me over the rim of her glass. "I am afraid I lack the courage to carry out your sentence."

I lifted my own glass to her, a kind of tribute. "Then I am doubly fortunate."

I meant it only as a riposte, but to my surprise her eyes shimmered suddenly, as if I had unknowingly stricken her to the heart. She set her glass down, fingers still curled around the stem. I saw her hand tighten.

"Fortunate?" The words caught on an exposed intake of air; I was mesmerized. As quickly as that, her impervious Vulcan facade slipped, and I glimpsed fugitive vulnerability beneath. Her voice sank to hardly more than a whisper. "I thought you eager for the noose."

A moment of clarity, then, in which I understood that I had been dealing in manifest literalness, while T'Sharen had been speaking to me in subtext upon subtext. 'Perhaps I simply give you rope with which to hang yourself.' A subtle warning, which now I heard quite clearly. Be careful. I may hurt you.

And more than a warning. It had been implied acquiescence, as well--though to what?

I was suddenly wary. What exactly had she won with her victory? The ramifications filled me simultaneously with unease...and a shock of anticipation.

Brahms played on the electronic system, as we weighed one another across the table, a moody symphony I had always before found somewhat excessive. The music swelled over us. I suddenly thought of what it would be like to play it on the lyrette, with T'Sharen's pipes taking the melody.

"It is a remarkable piece." Her voice low.

I started. Had she read my thought? Our mental contact had, until now, been so faint I had almost been able to pretend that the ugliness of the previous week had never happened. "Rather extravagant," I countered, covering my growing discomfiture.

"It is that. And also remarkable. I sometimes think that music is the single greatest gift Terra has given to the galaxy."

I do not know why her words made me feel shame. She did not mean to sound condescending, surely--if anything, the opposite. I knew this, and still I felt shame. I do not know whether I was embarrassed on Earth's behalf, or of my own human heritage.

In any case, I spoke before I thought. "I prefer Sepek's symphonies."

Perhaps I said it out of obstinacy. Defying her to name me anything but wholly Vulcan.

"Ah, Spock. Do you really?" Her face was solemn, as if it was the most important thing she had said yet. And she shamed me yet again--for failing to see how completely she had accepted me, from the beginning, exactly as I was, without question.

The sound of my name on her lips prompted me to give in.

But I did prefer Sepek to Brahms.

At least, I always had before.

She closed her eyes for an instant, listening. "I have always wanted to like Sepek more. But the Brahms is so very beautiful..." There was a strange shading to her tone, almost like wistfulness. Perhaps even--envy.


We gazed at each other for a longer moment.

At last she broke the silence, a sudden, peculiar intensity surfacing. "There is something else that I have wished to ask you, Spock." I nodded permission, wondering what would come next. I was rapidly losing control of the conversation.

"Perhaps you will think it too personal."

Fascinating--was she actually blushing?

"If I do not wish to answer, I will simply tell you so."

She blinked. "Of course." Still she said nothing. I waited, determined not to speak again. She seemed to be searching for the correct phrasing.

I thought I was prepared for any sort of query, but still she took me by surprise.

"What was it like...to meld with V'ger? I have wanted to ask you since the moment I met you."

My perplexity must have been evident. I sat back in my chair, trying to encompass this unexpected development. "Why would you wish to know this?"

"What Vulcan wouldn't?" she countered. "To know such perfect logic, perfect thought..." Her eyes grew distant.

I shook my head. "It was that. But it was also--barren."

The intensity returned. "Barren? How? Wasn't it a relief, to be without feeling, without confusion?" Somewhere within me, an alert sounded. The thought came again: what choices had she made, at thirty-six, to make her believe that barrenness could be a relief?

I knew better.

"That is a strange choice of phrasing." My tone was carefully neutral. Tonight was the first time she had revealed anything to me, I was thinking, and it might be the last. And then, very suddenly, I became aware that I did not want it to be the last.

The sense that I had committed some grievous betrayal returned, stronger than before. For a brief instant I glimpsed the shape of that irrational guilt like a bitter shadow in the corner of the room. With an impatient effort of will I banished it, and felt a moment's passing loss at its dissolution before ascribing all such folly to a momentary lapse I would not repeat.

She drew a breath like a sigh. "I suppose it is. You do not have to answer, Spock. Forgive me if I have offended." But I could see that was not really what she wanted to say.

Explain it to me, the silence behind her words said. Explain to me what you saw, what you felt. Explain it to me so that I might know that purity.

And then I understood the connection.

V'ger. Sepek's dry precision. And the Brahms, swelling over us like Earth oceans before a storm.

For a moment I considered her, uncomfortable with the odd light in her gaze, the disturbing stillness in her face. But I would endeavor to answer her honestly. I owed her that much, at least. I steepled my hands before me and tried to find words to describe the indescribable.

"It is very difficult to explain what I saw when I touched V'ger's awareness. A consciousness beyond encompassing. Immeasurably vast...almost endless. I have never felt so insignificant. And yet, for all that its knowledge spanned the universe, still it could not understand."

Her indigo eyes, bright with her pursuit of elusive knowledge, consumed me in the low, warm light. "Could not understand what, Spock?" Her voice hushed, almost a whisper. Full of yearning I recognized too well.

For an instant reality wavered, and I had the distinct, entirely whimsical impression that time itself skipped like a heartbeat. I drew a breath; it seemed to catch somewhere in my throat, entropy and oxygen conspiring. And then time sped forward again, rushing downhill into the next instant like air into a vacuum.

Hardly believing my daring, I touched her, paired fingertips brushing the back of her hand.


* * *

I lost something that night, though no doubt a full Vulcan would think me quite unbalanced to grieve for the loss, would perhaps discount my admittedly subjective impression and name it the romantic foolishness my father once accused me of. But the impression persists.

Not mere physical innocence, for that I had never prized, nor even innocence at all. I think if I was ever innocent it was only years before, when I still thought myself impregnable, when I still believed that logic could exist in a vacuum. When I still believed nothing could touch me.

No, I lost whatever innocence I might once have had years before that--the day my blood burned and I returned to myself to find my captain dead under my hands.

Perhaps it was faith I lost. Faith in a reality I had believed in like a child holding to a daydream, as if nothing in my life would change unless I wanted it to. Not that night but in the ones which followed I learned that all things change, that nothing is as it appears, and that counting oneself Vulcan gives no guarantees.

I told Valeris once to have faith that the universe would unfold as it should. Perhaps I was trying to convince myself, as well.

* * *

What passed between us that night I cannot describe, except to say that it changed me, awakened me to truths about myself I had never confronted.

We did play together, not the Brahms but an impromptu composition of our own. Afterwards we joined our bodies, a purely hedonistic joining, and though we did not join our thoughts we did not need to, for we shared the eloquent language of touch. When it was over we slept. It was the first time in my life that I ever slept in the close contact of another's embrace.

Twenty-six years have passed, and still I remember that night with perfect clarity.

Hindsight again, but now I perceive what it was about that night that made it different from all the nights which followed, all the years between that day and this. Subtext upon subtext--and there were so many things Shara said to me that night I did not hear.

That vulnerability she showed me I never saw again, not once, in all these years. I stopped looking for it long ago, put it down to imagination. But it was not, of course. Now I see that what she revealed to me was real...and there is only one logical explanation for that. The explanation being that she chose to show me that inner core of herself, chose that night and then never chose to do so again.

Why? I have asked myself, and again, logic reveals the answer. What was different about that first night? Why did she never afterward share herself so completely? The answer is clear, and I marvel that I never saw it before.

She believed that night would be the last.

As I have said, I should have realized something was not right from the start. But I did not realize, did not see it coming, and so what happened the next morning caught me entirely unawares.

* * *

I woke to find her gone and the space beside me cool to the touch. I rose and went into the sitting room; she was not there either. I began, then, to feel the foreboding I should have felt days earlier.

As I strode down the corridor toward her cabin, the voice of the navigator came over the intercom, announcing our imminent commencement of Vulcan orbit.

I reached her quarters just as she stepped into the corridor, her single traveling case in her hand. Her eyes registered faint dismay, but not surprise.

"Spock. Good morning." Her tone was pleasant.

There was a sudden tightness in my throat and I found it difficult to speak. "I woke to find you gone."

"I am expected at the spaceport, Commander." There was no trace of recognition in her tone. We might never have seen each other before that moment. "If you will pardon me."

I tried to mirror her detachment. "Where are you bound, dei'rah'se?" Matching title for title.

Her eyes lowered a fraction; she seemed to catch herself, make herself meet my gaze. "ShiKahr Space Central. I must catch a shuttle to Rigel."

The certainty crystallized before I could weigh its rational probability: she was lying. That simply could not be. But the certainty persisted, and the betrayal wounded more than it should have, cut deeper than I could have guessed it would. I could not prevent the bitterness from showing.

"And now a lie?"

"Spock--don't." She moved as if to go. I almost let her. But when she turned I saw the faint mark I had made at her throat the night before, just below her left ear.

"Shara, at least--tell me the reason."

She turned back then, and what I saw in her eyes was disbelief.

I made a decision then, and I still cannot separate the distinct components of it, cannot know for certain what sequence of thought prompted me to step toward her, to stop talking and take action to prevent her going. I took her elbow gently and stepped through the door to the cabin she had occupied, pulling her after me. She allowed me to do it.

The door closed behind us.

I let her go, and for a long time we only stood there in the darkness, each waiting for the other to speak. At last I could not tolerate the silence any longer. "T'Sharen--"

At the same moment, she spoke. "Why did you stop me, Spock? What do you wish me to say?"


She made a sound which I could not decipher. "I cannot."

Did that mean she did not have an explanation, or that she could not give it to me? I did not know. My eyes were adjusting to the gloom and now I could read something of the expression in hers. They were pale grey, faintly luminous. I asked her for the truth. "Where were you really going?"

She met my gaze steadily. "To Seleya."

I understood.

"To sever the link." I was surprised to hear the anger in my voice.

"Yes." Still unflinching.

"Without telling me?"

Now, at last, she dropped her gaze. "There was nothing to discuss."

I looked at her for a long time, searching her face and finding nothing there of the woman I had come to know. Finding no possibility of reprieve. At last I stepped back a little, drawing a breath.

"Was it only to save my life?"

So faintly that it might have been my imagination, she flinched. "In the beginning, yes."

"And last night?"

She lifted her chin slightly, met my gaze once more. "No."

We were both silent for a longer moment. At last I said, quietly, "Don't go."

Something which might have been a shudder passed through her. There was nothing of that open need in her face, but her body had betrayed her. "I must." And then, before I could ask it, "You know why, Spock."

"Do I?"

Her jaw set. "Your ship. Your captain--"

"--will understand." Would he? For that instant, I believed it. T'Sharen made a sound of disbelief and turned away. She took a step toward the door. My words followed her, relentless.

"Do I not deserve the truth?"

She stopped. Did not turn. "What truth?" Her voice sounded strange.

"Do I not deserve to know why, Shara? Have I meant so little to you, that you would go without letting me know the reason?"

But she shook her head wearily, still not turning to look at me. "It is impossible. Face the logic of the situation, Spock, and let me go." All at once, in the silence which followed her blunt denial, I remembered something she had said the night before: It is a close contest whether the privilege of decision is greater than the freedom of having the choice made for you.

And in her flat hopelessness at last she revealed to me, unwittingly, the truth I had sought and what it would take to stop her leaving.

For an instant the immensity of it overwhelmed me, and something in me cried swift refusal. But she only stood, half turned away from me, slender shoulders straight and unflinching, asking nothing of me. This woman had offered me sanctuary when I most needed it, friendship when I had not asked for any, grace and kindness to a child who had known precious little of either. It was not rejection but freedom she offered me now--and I had seen the solitude she had not wanted me to see, the need she would not use to hold me. But by that very understanding, how could I let her go? How could I fail her, when all she had done for me and for Saavik had been out of a generosity that did not count the cost?

Her face was still; she was only waiting. In another moment she would go.

I could not fail her.

Something in me shifted, and there was a heaviness in my throat. I closed the little distance between us. "T'Sharen, look at me." Reluctantly, she did. "You do not have to be alone any longer. Whatever it is, whatever truth you are carrying, you do not have to bear it alone."

"I will bear what I must. You know nothing of it."

"Do I not?" I moved yet closer. She stepped back fractionally, as if I would in some way injure her. "Do you think I cannot recognize my own brand of stubborn isolation?"

"Stubborn?" Her tone was flat. "You have been too long among humans, Spock. I suffer from no such isolation."

I only looked at her. At last, her gaze faltered, and I saw that I had won a point. I tried gently to reason with her.

"Why do you fight it so? Should we not share these burdens, T'Sharen? Is that not logical?"

"You do not owe me anything." It was a whisper. An opening.

"No more than my life."

The dark head lifted. Her eyes were wide and suddenly afraid. She said it again. "You do not owe me anything."

On preSurak Vulcan, when a warrior saved another's life, an obligation of honor bound the two in a very real and permanent way. In such a manner was peace sometimes made between warring clans, and on such unlikely pairs the weight of treaties often rested. She was dei'rah'se: a student of the ancient texts. I saw the fear and knew that she had understood.

I moved to kneel, before her fear or my own could prevent the paying of the debt. I could see her trembling. I lifted my hands, palms up, to her in the ancient manner. "Lacking thy shield, I shall shelter thee. Lacking thy sword, I shall defend thee. Lacking thy name, I shall know thee."

For a long moment she did not speak. In the darkness she was a pale shade, and I waited with my breath held for what she would do.

It was not the ritual of bonding, not the words a Vulcan male would give to his betrothed. I did not know even if she knew the answering verse. It was a warrior's pledge, less and also more than the marriage promise, not vowing 'parted and never parted,' but a rather more ethereal and perhaps deeper faith. It was also a demand.

I took the risk that she would know it, being dei'rah'se--and that she would understand the promise I made her, and what it signified.

I waited, not moving, hands held still in the space between us. Her lips parted. Her eyes were bright and fierce and I thought that she would strike my hands down for my betrayal, for the demand I made of her, after all she had done for me.

But instead she closed her eyes, opened them...and slowly raised her own hands to match mine, fingertip to wrist, wrist to fingertip.

Then she spoke the answering verse, sealing the promise I had made her for good or for ill, binding me to her and her to me. "And no truth or lie shall rend us one from the other, and all that is borne we shall bear together, and I shall guard thy life as my own, forever."

I never knew, and still do not, if she ever forgave me for taking the choice from her. I have never asked her whether she still believes it better to let others bear the weight of decision--if in fact she ever did believe it.

I made my pledge in payment for a debt that was owed. I took the choice from her; the payment she exacted in return was my silence, the truths I kept for her, even from my captain.

Jim says that I am too honest, that he wishes sometimes that I would lie to him, just a little. This has always baffled me. Perhaps it is selective memory, that peculiarly Human trait I have never really understood. Or perhaps he does not consider silence a dishonesty; perhaps he discounts lies by omission. He usually smiles when he says it, so I--

. . .

Yes. Of course. I forgot for a moment.

Forgot that such deceptions, such silences--intended or not, acknowledged or left unspoken--are a thing of the past. Forgot that never shall I keep anything from him again.

* * *

We said little else that morning; there was no time. Two hours later I was standing in the corridor of the ShiKahr spaceport, bidding her farewell.

Saavik, beside me, wore a look full of storm warnings. It had perhaps been a mistake to expose her to the crowded chaos of the port, but sooner or later she would need to get used to such things. T'Sharen was attempting to reassure her. "I shall come and see you as soon as I can."

It was logical, I reminded myself. There would be time for us. Now my primary concern must be for the child's welfare. And in all fairness, we both needed time to consider all that had been said. I watched the two of them and tried to convince myself that it was not really farewell.

"Why you goes?" Saavik's voice was far from petulant; instead her tone was low and full of rising fury. "Why? You tells me right NOW." A traitorous voice within me echoed the sentiment.

T'Sharen was firm. "I am dei'rah'se. I must go where I am needed. And you must go with Spock, my child." We had resolved to adhere to our respective departure schedules, believing it best to maintain some consistency in the child's life; in an hour's time Saavik and I would be on a commercial transport bound for Dantria. Perhaps Shara perceived something of the girl's very real panic, for the lines of her face eased. She took Saavik's narrow shoulders in her hands. "I will come, Saavikam. I promise."

She did not look at me, but I understood. The promise was made for my sake as well.

Saavik did not appear convinced. There was mayhem in her darkened expression, and I was beginning to be concerned for the safety of the surrounding throng of travelers. I found myself planning how to restrain her if she should lose her precarious self-control.

"Why mustgoes?"

Now Shara did look at me. "Because Spock needs you, little cat, to protect him. He has never been to Dantria before either--he needs a fierce guardian like you. You must keep one another safe for me, until I am able to join you."

Saavik eyed me dubiously, looking for confirmation.

I nodded gravely. "It is so."

At last the child raised her chin defiantly. "I guards him," she said to Shara, like a challenge. "Until you comes."

Shara did not betray the slightest flicker of amusement. "Thank you, Saavikam."

"And I shall take care of our little cat." I raised my hand to her in the Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, T'Sharen, until again we meet."

She gazed at me for a long moment. At last she mirrored the gesture, and then turned on her heel and strode off down the promenade, not looking back.

* * *

Three months would pass before we would see her again.

In that time my fierce little cat learned to harness that murderous temper, to sleep sometimes without nightmares, to feed her ferocious curiosity with books and a seemingly endless stream of questions on virtually every subject. I answered them all and always she had more for me. Our days took on a new routine of lessons and quiet meals and long walks, enlivened by the occasional temper tantrum. I taught her to read (over considerable objections on her part) and to practice several forms of martial arts (with somewhat less initial persuasion, but no fewer confrontations) and she in turn taught me more about patience than I had ever cared to know.

Many years passed before I was able to recognize how completely satisfying I found those months with her, how free I had been with only this child and her needs to concern me. In the beginning I thought frequently of those who were absent. But in time, the pattern of our days eased the absence, and I would often find that a whole day had passed without a thought of that life which had been before.

I had rented a small cottage several kilometers from the nearest settlers, and Saavik and I were, for the most part, left to each other's company. The house was situated in a copse between two hills. It had a large garden gone to seed, which we coaxed into production. There were small mammals like rabbits, which ate anything we could make grow. There was a stream, with fish. Once a week we went into town for supplies. As the weeks passed, the air grew cooler, and for the first time in my life I witnessed the spectacle of a forest changing with the seasons.

On a grey afternoon three months after our arrival on Dantria we were returning home along the narrow path which ran along the western edge of the valley, when Saavik stopped abruptly and crouched down.

"What is it, Saavikam?" She had been outpacing me, as usual, and I had to raise my voice for her to hear. Her reply came back muffled over her shoulder.

"Don't know." Her head tilted a little, as if she were trying to get a better look. I was some ten meters away. "Looks like a moritu." The gentle, rodent-like garden raiders.

We seldom returned from one of these walks without some finding of Saavik's, some stone or feather or insect carapace to add to the growing collection on her bedroom window sill. I was about to caution her not to frighten the poor creature further, when I saw her reach out. The resulting shifting of her weight permitted me to see something between her feet. Something hunched and furry and too still. In that moment I perceived two additional things about Saavik's latest discovery: the creature's sides were heaving unevenly--and its pelt was covered with a fine, grey-silver coating, like pollen.


My perception of time ceased to function, as I cried her name and tried to cross the remaining distance between us in one outstretched lunge. In another instant it would be all over--the stricken creature would snap its head back and bite the child's hand.

Bhollarria, the footnote in the visitor's guide had called it: the 'killing dust.' An extremely virulent disease which had killed many herd beasts and several colonists in the early days of Dantria's settlement. The guide said the microorganism had been all but wiped out. "It is carried by tiny parasites, but can be transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. Not generally life-threatening for adults, the organism may cause brain damage, and can prove fatal to a child or elderly individual in a matter of thirty minutes to an hour."

All this flashed through my mind in the split second between realization and action. And in the protracted expanse of time and space between the initiation of my lunge for her and its completion, the words 'brain damage' sounded a chord of certain fear in me.

At the groundcar's top speed, we were fifty minutes from the nearest hospital.

In that same insular cocoon of slow motion, I saw Saavik's hand stop, hesitating at the sound of her name. Another second, and I would be upon her. One more second--

She started to turn, and the motion must have intersected the downed creature's peripheral vision, for even as she moved and I closed the last two meters between us, the hunched shape jerked to one side, began to uncoil. I saw a flash of yellow-white teeth. I reached out, but knew I would be too late.

And then I saw something remarkable.

Saavik looked back over her shoulder, her eyes wide at my sudden lunge, at the horror which must have been in my face. The teeth came for her, snapping--and in the next instant, the child turned. With a motion so fast she was a blur of dark curls and brown hands and wrists, she seized hold of the striking head at the scruff and, twisting, broke the creature's neck.

In the same instant that I flung myself on her she flung the beast away, and I caught her under the arms and rolled and landed hard in the grass with an armful of ten-year-old girl.

For a long moment I only lay there, shaking, crushing her ribs and trying to shield her with my body--and she, not knowing what had hit her, lay still, stunned.

At last she made a grunt of protest and tried to shove me off, without success; finally the reality of what I had seen penetrated, and I let her go. We sat up. Looked across the narrow track to where the small animal lay, dead. I could not find words, and so I said nothing, only sat there beside her and tried to bring my heart rate back to normal.

"Well," I said, rather unedifyingly. Saavik was looking at me warily, as if wondering what demon had possessed me. I searched for words to explain to her how near she had come to disaster, and could not find any; to look at that small unmoving bundle of fur and see any kind of menace seemed ludicrous now. I found myself staring at Saavik's thin-boned hands, thinking incongruously of that day, four months ago, when she had touched the dragon-lily with such care.

I looked again at the carcass. Presently I was able to draw breath. "That was neatly done, Saavikam."

"You are not angry?"

I blinked at her, not comprehending.

"No 'not-harms-living-creatures?'"

I reassured her. "Such rules do not apply when one's appendages are in jeopardy." But explanations could wait; now I wanted only to get her back to the safety of the house.

She looked relieved, and tilted her head up at me hopefully. "Can we eat it?"

"Indeed, I think not." I could not quite suppress a shudder at the thought.

For a moment I feared rebellion, but just then something in the distance caught her attention. She sprang easily to her feet and stood on the dirt track, staring intently toward the cottage, the moritu which had nearly claimed her life already forgotten. I rose with somewhat more dignity, brushing grass and dirt from my clothing. This activity I used to gain control of my still-trembling hands. When I could be certain I would not disgrace myself, I straightened and followed the direction of her gaze.

"What is it, Saavikam? What did you see?"

She said, darkly, "Someone is in our house."

* * *

And so it was that we greeted our guest with grass stains on our clothing and bits of leaves in our hair, and a near-brush with death only minutes behind us.

She was waiting inside for us, and the only reaction our state of disrepair evoked was a momentary compression of her lips. I could not tell if she was disapproving or suppressing amusement or if I imagined the reaction altogether. Seeing her, I found I did not much care.

"Shara. You came."

I said it before I could think how it would sound. I was, admittedly, still somewhat shaken from the encounter in the woods. Her eyebrow lifted faintly in response.

"It appears I am sorely needed. What sort of trouble have the two of you been getting into without me?" She was not looking at me but rather at Saavik, who had stopped, frozen in the doorway.

I was becoming painfully aware of the state of my clothing. I was also moving, closing the distance between us. I was not certain of what I would say, what I would do when I reached her. But something in her face stopped me, made me follow the line of her gaze.

"Saavik?" she said, and just then I took in the child's frozen stance, the sudden pallor of her skin, as if all the blood had drained out of her. What was written in her face was such an open tapestry of need and fear and relief that I felt a wrenching somewhere, as of a physical pain. It was only visible for a moment; then she bared her teeth at us, slammed one fist into the doorjamb and, whirling, was gone. A moment later we heard the echo of the outer gate banging on the garden wall.

I was thinking of the rabid moritu, and its denmates, and started immediately to follow. But T'Sharen put out a hand to stop me. "No. Let me go. Her ire is not directed at you." For an instant the pain I had seen in Saavik's eyes found its echo in hers. "I am the one who left."

She took a step toward the door. I hesitated, then moved to let her pass. "Be careful," I warned her. I started to explain further, but she only nodded and went out.

* * *

Begin at the beginning, I said, and that meant telling the story of Saavik, and of T'Sharen, and how the three of us found ourselves so deeply enmeshed in one another's lives. But the real beginning came that autumn day on Dantria, when I did a thing I should not have. And it was the encounter with the moritu which drove me to do it.

It was inappropriate for me to follow them, but I did it anyway, the descriptions of the 'killing dust' and its modus operandi foremost in my thoughts. The likelihood was great that there were more such creatures in the woods. I trailed T'Sharen at a distance of some hundred meters, looking for demented rodents behind every stone and hillock.

Perhaps that is why I lost her. One moment she was a moving shadow among the trees ahead, the next I looked up and realized I had lost sight of her. I stopped, listening. Nothing. For nearly half an hour I paced the woods along the valley's edge, looking for moritu dens and listening for voices.

At last, from a clearing ahead, I heard them. Voices, low, one which spoke steadily, the other which answered in clipped sentences of two or three words. Intending to warn Shara, I made my way through the trees toward them.

But as I drew near, the intimacy of the tone made me slow, finally stop altogether. I had heard that tone before, and I knew where: the night T'Sharen had cut Saavik's hair. For a long moment I stood, undecided. Illogical to allow them to remain in the forest without warning--but I could not quite bring myself to interrupt that tentative sharing. I could picture the two of them, sitting cross-legged on the grass, heads bent close. I was held captive by the image, and so lost the moment in which I might have revealed my presence, or made my retreat.

Just then the faint breeze from the north stilled, and I could hear the woman's voice plainly, as it carried to me where I stood concealed. Her words caught my attention.

"...tlhei, Saavik'khe. Na h'urrain. Ssuoh-d'rae?"

It was not Vulcan, but the language was curiously familiar. I tried to place it, without immediate success. I took an involuntary step nearer, trying to make it out. Then I realized what I had done and stopped, backtracking two meters into the trees. I had not intended to spy on them.

But Saavik was speaking then, her voice high and clear, answering in the same language. "Ssuaj-dh'e, S'harien." And in the very moment when I turned to go I faltered, remembering with sudden certainty where I had heard the tongue before. Then the other thing came home to me, wrapping itself around my throat, and I realized that I understood part of what had been said.

S'harien. A proper name--and one I knew. All at once I understood that I had been blind, and that with the hearing I had gained some small measure of sight.

S'harien. T'Sharen.

I had frozen in my tracks; I could not move. Any number of possible explanations--but dark foreboding besieged me in the moment after I heard Saavik call my Shara by that name.

S'harien was one of Surak's most outspoken detractors. He was a maker of swords, a lover of the old ways, and his swords were also named s'harien. My father has a s'harien, a blade passed down through my family for ten generations.

Pierceblood, it meant, in Vulcan...but it has been centuries since any Vulcan has borne that name. It simply is not done. In fact, I could think of only one race in the galaxy which might give a child the name S'harien.

The Romulans.

. . .

You have my word, Saavik. I will not forsake you. Do you understand?

I understand, S'harien...

. . .

In time I learned to speak Rihannsu like a Romulan, and then I came to know the meaning of the words they exchanged that day, in that other language. But that was not until later.

That day I could think of nothing but the name and what it signified, and my own dire suspicions. There might be half a dozen logical explanations, I thought. It is a figurative word, highly symbolic; there might be any number of reasons Saavik would call her that. Any number of reasons--but somehow I knew. I found my way back to the cottage like a blind man, the danger of the infected moritu forgotten.

* * *

I waited for them in the garden. It was some time before they appeared, walking slowly side by side, the setting sun silhouetting them as they came down the hill. I stood at the gate and watched them come.

As they drew near I could hear the excited, steady patter of Saavik's voice, speaking in Standard now. Shara paced her, face tilted down, listening intently. The child was, apparently, determined to relate every detail of our lives during the past three months in the space of fifteen minutes, and the woman seemed willing to let her.

"...not-eats-meat and not-harms-living-creatures and not- writes-on-walls!" she finished with a flourish, and looked to me triumphantly, as they came to a halt before me.

The woman looked suitably impressed. "That certainly is a long list of rules." Her eyes were on mine, and I did not think I imagined the sympathy in her tone.

"Yes," Saavik agreed morosely. "It is."

Standing side by side, with identically solemn gazes, they contemplated me--the warden of Saavik's prison.

I attempted to look stern. "I seem to recall that one such rule involved not straying from the garden unaccompanied. Perhaps that one did not make your list, Saavikam?"

She flushed slightly, and said nothing. But Shara tilted her head, something glinting in her serious gaze. "Perhaps the list is rather too long for accurate memorization," she suggested.

"You are," I said pointedly, "not helping."

She seemed genuinely regretful. "I know it."

I looked to Saavik for sympathy and, not unexpectedly, failed to find it. At last I bowed to Shara in a gesture of surrender. "It seems I am outmatched."

"Indeed. Thus is your autocracy overthrown. Shall we make dinner?"

"What's autocracy?" asked Saavik, as we went into the house.

* * *

Later, when Saavik had gone to bed, I washed the dishes and T'Sharen dried them in silence. It was a silence that waited. I caught her watching me once or twice and wondered if there were some visible sign of my inner turmoil, the questions that had gone unanswered too long between us. A hundred times it was on the tip of my tongue to speak of what I had overheard, but I could not find the words, and so said nothing.

When the last dish was dried and put away I started to leave the kitchen, and she reached out and put a hand on my arm.

It was the first time she had touched me in three months. The reaction surged in me, startled recoil and a kind of rushing heat which caught me unawares. I turned back to her, momentarily transfixed by it; I met her eyes and drew my arm back, too slowly.

I think perhaps I knew, then. I had pledged to her, and lain with her, and she had saved my life, but not until that moment did I understand the consequence. I had not seen her in three months, but her hand on my arm touched off some vital connection, and I knew then that I would marry her--that whatever her unspoken truth, it would not stand against that connection. It was perhaps the surest confirmation of my Vulcanness that I had ever known.

All my life I have called myself Vulcan. All my life I have struggled to make it true. Never would I have expected that such incontrovertible evidence of my success could fill me with such apprehension.

She must have felt it, too--or seen it in my face. I drew my arm back and she let me, but there was an intensity in her which had been absent a moment before. I never knew if she came to Dantria intending to tell me, if she told me because she sensed in me some suspicion, if it was only because of that fleeting touch. She let her hand fall and spoke the words which would change everything, forever.

"Come out into the garden with me, Spock. There is something I must say to you."

* * *

The moons were rising. Silver Moria was already high in the night sky; reddish Oba, her smaller consort, still skimmed the garden wall. Out here a hundred kilometers from anything, the stars were a brilliant tapestry of light. There would be no hiding in darkness from what was to come.

I followed her easily along the stone path. She led me to the center of the garden, where two ancient gnarled trees stood guard over a stone bench nearly as old. She did not sit there but turned to face me, standing calmly in the moonlight, her eyes as clear as Moria's watchful gaze. I stopped three paces away, waiting.

At last she said, "'Lacking thy name, I shall know you.' Did you mean that, Spock?"

"Yes." It took considerable effort to say it steadily. "I meant it."

She seemed to weigh my answer, as if unwilling to take my word for it. "Stop me now if you did not."

But I was resigned. My answer held the certainty of a decision made long ago. "I did, Shara."

She bowed her head at the name. Another moment passed, and then she turned and walked a few steps away from me. The moonlight shaped her silhouette, glinting red and silver in her dark hair.

"What I tell you now I have told no one in my lifetime. When I have spoken you may choose another path, Spock. I will understand. But whatever you choose, I will have your promise now that you will never speak of this to another living soul."

The fact that she felt she had to ask pained me. "You know I will not break your confidence."

She nodded once, acceptance. Her back was still to me. Which one of us was she protecting?

"Very well," she said. "So be it."

And she began.

"My father is dei'rah'se, as his father was before him. This is a matter of record. What is not a matter of record is this: thirty- eight years ago Stelik--my father--was sent by the dei'rah to a planet called Khamu, circling a star called Tau Phaedra."

I must have made some sound, for she nodded.

"Then you know of it. As you are probably aware, thirty-seven years ago that system fell victim to a fierce civil war which nearly wiped out its two habitable planets. Ostensibly, my father was sent to help prevent a natural disaster, and thus prevent that war. In actuality, there was another reason for his presence.

"The high council had received a strange report from a Vulcan science vessel conducting ecological studies in that system. It seemed that the crew of that vessel had detected and documented the orbit of an...unusual ship. Before the Vulcan captain could scan the craft, it had gone to ground somewhere on the northern continent. However, his account was verified by his officers; the ship had been clearly marked as a Romulan craft, and had borne a Romulan name: the Sunheart.

"This was a very serious piece of news. Vulcan had played no part in the Earth-Romulan conflict sixty years before. But if the Romulans had violated the treaty, it would be war--and if Earth went to war, this time, Vulcan would have to go with them. For the children of Surak to shed the blood of the children of S'task was unthinkable. What was to be done?

"It was decided that the Federation Council should not be informed of what the T'Meia's crew had seen, until the report could be verified. The Khamians did need ecological planning assistance; it would be a natural role for the dei'rah to fill. And so it fell upon my father to go, with his staff and his new bride, to this planet to see what he could find."

She stopped, her head tilting back as if she were reading the tale in the pattern of stars overhead. Already she had aroused my curiosity. This was a disturbing tale indeed, regardless of the outcome.

"For three months, Stelik met with the Khamian scientists, working to save their planet's atmosphere--and all the while he and my mother searched for evidence of the Sunheart. And then one night, quite unexpectedly, a man came to see them.

"He came to the university lab where they were working. He came dressed in Khamian clothing, driving a nondescript Khamian hovercar which he left parked in the faculty lot out front. My mother was alone when he came upon her, poring over atmospheric sensor data on her workstation. She looked up and saw a stranger in the doorway, and a moment later, she realized.

"In the moment when she first saw him, she must have taken him for a Vulcan. But he smiled at her, you see, and said in the old tongue, 'I believe you've been looking for me.'

"My mother stood up. For a moment she was taken aback, shocked into stillness. Should she call for help? Would he attack her? It suddenly struck her that this was probably the first time a Vulcan and a Romulan had laid eyes on one another in a thousand years. He seemed to understand her confusion and came toward her, still smiling.

"'Do not fear me, my lady. I mean you no harm. My name is Rael.'

"'I am called T'Lisen,' she said, before she could think. And from that moment, she trusted him.

"That night Stelik and T'Lisen stayed up with Rael until the early hours of dawn, while he told them the tale of how he and two hundred Rihannsu had fled ch'Rihan three months before, escaping the grim horror which life on the Romulan home planet had become.

"He spoke for an hour of the grim lives he and his shipmateshad left behind, the things he had seen. 'After the war withEarth,' he said, 'ch'Rihan and ch'Havran fought a civil warwhich nearly destroyed everything. The fallout has creatednuclear winter on ch'Havran, and on ch'Rihan, there is nofood. Hundreds die each day, and those of us who wish onlyfor peace are punished for our foolishness. The military are everywhere. They took my fourteen year old son from me,because he would not fire on a group of civilians protestingat the palace gate. The Tal Shiar came and took my wife,because she spoke to some women on the street about thefood shortages. She said that if the ruling classes would eat grain instead of meat, there would be enough for everyone. They charged her with treason.'

"When his story was finished, he said to my mother and father, 'Will the children of Surak let us stay? We did not want to risk war between our peoples. But inside the neutral zone, no one is safe.'

"'It is not our planet to give or withhold,' Stelik said, 'and we do not speak for the Federation Council. You yourself have stated that your government is easily provoked; they may find that even the act of offering you asylum is sufficient cause for war. And if things are as dire as you indicate, your ship will not be the only one.'

"'You are right, of course,' Rael agreed. 'We do not want blood shed on our behalf, certainly. Will you let us go, Stelik? Will you let us try to find another place, outside of Federation space?'

"'Where will you go?' T'Lisen asked. 'Beyond us, there are only the Klingons--and beyond that, nothing for a thousand light years.'

"'I do not know, my lady. Our ship is old and hardly spaceworthy. But we named her Sunheart. If our journey is to be a long one, so be it. We cannot go home.'

"My father thought for a long time. At last he said, 'I was sent here to help prevent an ecological disaster. This I will do. It will take six more months for us to prepare our solution; in that time, you and I shall work together to find a solution to this other problem...and I shall continue to search for the Sunheart. Those were my exact orders, Rael. Do you understand?'

"Rael understood him perfectly. They parted as the sun was coming up, with plans to meet again the following night."

T'Sharen paused there, and I watched her standing so still. Still except for the fingers of her right hand, which opened and closed, opened and closed. I was sitting on the stone bench now, and her face was sharp in profile. Thick eyebrows, long, aquiline nose. Full lips. Strong chin, prominent cheekbones. Now there was a sadness about her, and I knew that in some way I did not yet understand, she was telling me the story of her life.

She began again to speak.

"For weeks they met like that, and each time Rael would bring with him others from his ship. They had fled because they loved peace and did not want to live in fear--and Stelik and T'Lisen learned that Vulcans were, to the people from the Sunheart, something like mythical creatures. They listened eagerly to descriptions of life on Vulcan. They told of life on ch'Rihan, as it had been before the famines, before the Tal Shiar. My father and his companions found to their astonishment that Rael and his friends gave lie to everything they had ever heard about the 'savage' and 'irrational' Rihannsu. Rael smiled at their surprise. 'Many people on ch'Rihan,' he said, 'dream of another way. An end to violence.' My father was intrigued.

"Gradually, as the weeks passed, Stelik and Rael began to shape their plan to present the Sunheart's complement to the Federation Council for citizenship.

"My father believed that the Council was the best hope the refugees had, if only the matter could be presented in precisely the right way. The key, he said, was to assure the Terrans that offering safe harbor would not lead to all-out war with the Empire. This could be done, he said, by presenting the Federation President with an iron-clad legal document which demonstrated beyond a doubt the Sunheart's right to political asylum.

"Privately, my mother disagreed with him. In front of the others she said nothing, but when they were alone she expressed her apprehension. 'The Rihannsu government will never let them go so easily,' she warned. 'Legal document or no, they cannot afford deserters--and the Federation President will see that, and deny Rael's petition. Or if she does not, then the Praetorate will surely push for military action.'

"'That would be irrational,' Stelik countered. 'They would be committing suicide.'

"'The Rihannsu have never claimed to be rational beings.'

"'You quote stereotypes to me? After all we have seen of sane and evenheaded reason from Rael and his followers?'

"'Rael is a wise and gentle man, I agree. But not all of his comrades share all of his views, my husband.' She was thinking of Malakus, the engineer who had kept Sunheart's dilapidated propulsion system functioning on the long trip from ch'Rihan. He had a large following among the refugees, and though he was a personal friend of Rael's, his volatile temper made my mother uneasy.

"'I can only hope,' Stelik said, 'that the Council will not suffer from your rigidity of thought, my wife.'And he left the room."

T'Sharen paused again, and for the first time, she looked at me.

"My mother and father were joined as children, in the traditional manner. They met as adults for the first time at their own wedding, and were married only a month when Stelik was assigned to Khamu. My mother did not have the luxury of choosing her life mate. These facts do not mitigate her betrayal of course--but perhaps I can understand why she felt as she did. My father is not an easy man to...communicate with. Perhaps it is understandable that she should have felt as she did, for a man like Rael S'avren."

My shock must have been written in my face. Adultery among Vulcans is not unheard of, but it is the closest thing to it that I can imagine. But T'Sharen only held my gaze for a moment, without shame or apology. She must have read my thought before I even knew I had formed it.

"No, Spock," she said drily, and looked away again. "He was not my father. T'Lisen was a woman of honor. She did nothing, said nothing to S'avren of how she felt. But she could not help what betrayals she committed in the privacy of her own thoughts. And she knew, when he looked at her, that Rael felt the same.

"Unfortunately, someone else knew it, too.

"Perhaps Rael told him. They were friends who had been through a great deal together. Or perhaps he was only perceptive enough to see it in the looks they exchanged, in the way they carefully did not touch or speak alone together too long. In any case, Malakus watched them closely in the weeks that followed, and bided his time.

"My mother had never entirely trusted the engineer of the Sunheart. But ironically, it was Malakus who seemed to share her increasing doubts about the course of action Rael and Stelik had chosen. So when he sent a message to her computer terminal asking her to meet to discuss their shared misgivings, she consented.

"They talked for two hours, during which time it became increasingly obvious to T'Lisen that what Malakus hoped for was her collusion in a scheme of his own--one no less dangerous than Stelik's. Finally, he asked her outright if she would help him disable Stelik's ship and communication devices long enough for him to take Sunheart out of the system and make a break for freedom.

"'But that is suicide, Malakus,' she protested. 'Where will you go? And what of Rael? He will never agree to it.'

"'Then we leave him behind. It is not as if he would be unwilling to remain with you.' He gave her a knowing look.

"She stood up, having heard enough. 'I cannot be a part of such folly, Malakus. You would condemn your friends for the sake of the limited power such an action would bring you.'

"'Where are you going, T'Lisen?' He, too, rose to his feet, and took a step toward her.

"'I am leaving. We have nothing more to discuss.' She turned her back on him, to show she was not afraid.

It was a mistake.

"'You are not going anywhere, little dove,' he said, and put his hands on her.

"She whirled around, but he was faster than she, and though she had not trusted him she had never expected a physical attack. In a moment he had pinned her to the wall and forced himself against her. 'What's the matter, my dear? Rael's good enough for you, but a lowly Havrannsu isn't?'

"She fought him, but he was strong, and determined. When he had gotten most of her clothing off, she tried to plead with him. 'Malakus, please. You are making a mistake.'

"'I don't think so, sweet one.' And then he took from her what she had never given to any man save her husband.

"Afterwards, while she pulled her torn clothing on over her bruises, he said, 'If you say anything to Stelik or to Rael about this, or about my plans, I will tell your husband about you and S'avren.'

"'There is nothing to tell,' she said, but he laughed at her.

"'Isn't there? Could you look your husband in the eye and tell him there is no truth to it, little dove? Could your ice-cold husband tolerate the truth, even if you did tell him? Or would it destroy him?'

"And of course she knew the answer to that. And in the end she thought, It was only my body. He did not touch anything of my true self. I was a fool to come here alone...and if silence is the price I must pay, then so be it."

I started. "She never spoke of it?"

But Shara shook her head. "Malakus did take the Sunheart, the very next day, and the ship disappeared into Klingon space a week later. Shortly after that the conflict escalated between Khamu and her sister planet, and war broke out. The lab where my parents had been working was destroyed when the university was bombed, and Stelik and T'Lisen barely made it out alive. Rael S'avren and three of my father's colleagues were not so fortunate.

"Stelik took his battered team home, and that was the ignominious end of his mission to Tau Phaedra. He never did get to argue his point before the Federation Council."

She fell silent. A breeze slipped over the garden wall and lifted her hair from her face, and I saw that her eyes were closed. She still had said nothing to explain why she would tell me this tale, now, in precisely this way.

I let her words fade into the night for some time before I spoke. "Who told you that story, Shara?"

She looked at me. "My mother, of course. When I was five, and she was awaiting the birth of her second child."

When she said nothing else, I asked, "And why are you telling me now?"

She drew a deep breath, and a faint, bitter curve graced her lips. "Ah, Spock. That is only the beginning of the story." She turned and paced a few steps past me, then turned again and locked her hands behind her back. I recognized in her my own habitual defensive posture, and something in me ached for her. "My mother died in childbirth, you see. From a hormonal imbalance--an extremely rare condition not detectable until conception. Her chromosomes and my father's were incompatible; the fetus they created caused a catastrophic breakdown in my mother's endocrine system."

I looked at her for a long moment, and then, all at once, I understood. The chill of realization sluiced down the back of my neck.

"Then you--"

She was nodding. "I am not Stelik's daughter. And when the doctors realized what was wrong with T'Lisen and told him, both Stelik and my mother knew it." She sighed. "I think my mother always knew it. She had a name she called me...s'harien. It means 'pierceblood.'"

"I know what it means," I murmured. I felt a rising bitterness in my throat and my stomach was suddenly quite unsteady.

"Well, yes, then you understand. I think in some way she thought of me as the child of Rael S'avren. A part of her died the day they left S'avren at the lab, buried under a pile of rubble. She often talked about that day, and the months before. But it was only when she was dying that she told me about Malakus."

"You were five." I could not keep the consternation from my voice.

But she only made a dismissive gesture. "She respected me enough to tell me the truth."

That you were the child of rape? I wanted to say. My objection was instinctive. Was that how a mother would show respect to an innocent child? Or did she only want to unburden herself, to one who could not judge her?

But the woman I would have remonstrated with was dead.

As if she read the thought, T'Sharen went on. "She died, and my father sealed the medical records, and never told anyone what killed her. 'Complications from pregnancy,' he said. From that day to this I do not think he has spoken a hundred words to me--and never did he speak of my mother, or my parentage. I know what he thought. He is not a stupid man; he must have seen what was between her and the captain of the Sunheart. She never had the chance to tell him the truth; he would not listen to her--or to me. He walked out on me each time I tried to speak of it. Finally one day I left the house on foot and went into the lower city, to the dei'rah compound there. I became an initiate that very night.

"Some weeks later, I wrote my mother's story in a letter and sent it to him. I do not think he has ever read it." Her eyes were bleak, unbreachable. "I was twelve then. I have had no communication with Stelik since."

I spoke with some difficulty. "I know what it is to find oneself separated from one's parent by misunderstanding."

She made a little gesture with her hands, as if accepting a burden. "It is of no consequence. He did what he had to, as I did. The irony is, my father's work on Khamu has become my own."

"What do you mean?"

Her gaze fixed on me, and to my surprise, she came over and sat beside me on the bench. The branches of the trees cast delicate, lacy shadows across her face, making it even more difficult than usual to read anything of her thoughts. She looked at me for a long time, as if searching for something. Perhaps for courage to continue.

"Stelik believed," she said at last, "that the children of Surak and the children of S'task were destined to be rejoined in our time. He has forgotten that dream, in the years since my mother died. But when he went to Khamu, and found the Sunheart refugees, he tried to help them--because he believed it was time for the Travelers to come home."

I breathed the word before I realized I would speak. And when I had said it, T'Sharen's eyes grew so bright I thought she would ignite.

"Unification," she repeated, her voice sunk to a whisper. "Yes, Spock, exactly."

* * *

Her expression warmed a little at my astonishment. "You are asking yourself why I have told you these things now, in this place, in this manner."

There were only a handful of centimeters separating us now, and as she studied me, weighing her next words, I felt again that unnamed impulse which had taken me in the kitchen. I wanted to touch her. I wanted to take that five-year-old child in my arms and protect her, as I had tried to protect Saavik that afternoon. But like Saavik's, her hands were strong and did not ask for my protection. I pushed the illogical impulse down, and nodded.

"Because," she said, and never did her eyes leave mine, "whatever happens, Spock, I wished you to know the truth. Because I wished to tell it, and I thought that you would understand. Because I hoped..."

"What, Shara?"

She hesitated. At last she looked away. "Are you certain you wish to know the rest?"

"Yes. Tell me." But I could see that she would have anyway. The story of her mother's rape and deathbed confession and her father's subsequent desertion had taken her too far to stop now. When she looked at me again her eyes were shining.

"Have you never wondered why the rift between Vulcan and ch'Rihan continues, Spock? If any Vulcan has had opportunity to see the possibilities of reunification firsthand, it is you, a Starfleet officer."

I conceded cautiously. "I have...considered the waste of hostility."

Long-forgotten thoughts returned, crowding into my awareness. Years before, I had encountered a Romulan woman caught between her government and her own honor. I had seen in her the bleak courage of one attempting to preserve integrity and reason in the workings of a military state, and I had been forced to lie to her to preserve my own obligations, to my own state. In the years since, I had often thought of the illogic of waste.

It seemed to be all the reassurance she required. "Then you do understand. Sooner or later, the Rihannsu people will unseat the militarists and tyrants, and there will be peace. Why should we not offer what assistance we can? The status quo cannot endure forever."

She was speaking in riddles--but I was afraid I understood her too well. "Status quo, T'Sharen? As you say, I am a Starfleet officer. I am sworn to the Prime Directive above all else. What you imply is...not conscionable." Inwardly, I was struggling. How had she known? I had spoken to no one of my research into S'task's millennium-old texts, had revealed to no one my own private musings on the subject of Vulcan-Romulan relations.

"You are mistaken," she said, sitting back a little. "It would not be interference."

"Have I misunderstood you? I thought you were suggesting precisely that."

"There would be no interference, because we would offer only that which the Rihannsu have already asked of us."

"Please, T'Sharen. Speak plainly."

Persuade me, I was saying.

Shara stood, and took a few steps away from me, as if she could not bear to tell it sitting. As she spoke, her hands moved, white birds in the moonlight, punctuating her words.

"The Tal Shiar hold sway through terror, as a thousand such instruments of political intimidation have before them. On ch'Rihan, an ordinary citizen may find himself imprisoned for 'dangerous thinking'--or for no reason at all. But since the time of the war with Terra, there have been those who would not be terrorized. One such group calls themselves 'seheikk'he' ...The Declared. They are pacifists, and vegetarians, and in their meetings they talk about things like electronic ballots and staging nonviolent protests."

I repressed assiduously the excitement this revelation awakened in me. Instead I said carefully, "I have heard of no such organization."

"No, you would not have. As conditions worsened in the year after S'avren and his followers fled, the seheikk'he grew steadily in numbers. Too steadily. The Tal Shiar began 'removing' certain key members of the movement, causing them to simply disappear in the night. Sometimes in daylight. Rael S'avren's wife was one such 'traitor.' The movement has since gone entirely underground."

"How is it that you have gained such particular knowledge, then?"

"Spock...many on Vulcan know of the seheikk'he. The dei'rah. the high council." She gave me a sidelong glance which might have held something of embarrassment. "Your father."

I made my skepticism clear. "These seheikk'he plainly do not understand the meaning of the word 'underground.'"

But she was shaking her head. "They do--now. They learned the hard way that asking Vulcan for help would gain them nothing but retribution from their oppressors."

"They have asked for help?" I tried to reconcile this with what I had seen of Romulan pride, and failed.

"Thirty years ago. They managed to get a subspace message to Vulcan, to a woman named T'Vae."

"The high council historian."

"The same. The seheikk'he hoped to open communications with their Vulcan brothers--and they tempted T'Vae and the council with the one bait that was certain to draw their attention. They asked for a complete copy of the writings of Surak."

I was fascinated, in spite of myself. "And did the council agree?"

"Officially, no. They did not, of course, wish to antagonize the Rihannsu government. Even to send a message in reply might jeopardize the peace the Terrans had made at Alpha Trianguli.

"But unofficially, T'Vae sponsored a civilian vessel which launched a week later. On that ship were twenty Vulcan linguists, historians, and anthropologists, and two pilots. They disappeared into the neutral zone and were never heard from again."

I found it difficult to reconcile this with my Starfleet training, my close allegiance with Terra--with one Terran in particular. Though technically the high council had broken no laws, the secretive action Shara described might be considered a betrayal of sorts.

Another distressing thought occurred to me.

"My father. Did he--?"

"No, Spock. Sarek knew nothing of this. To my knowledge, he has never participated in any action which would compromise the position of the Federation Council."

She understood, then. I was somewhat relieved. "Is it known what fate befell that ship?"

She looked at me for a long time. At last, she sighed. "Hellguard is not the first camp of its kind that I have seen. Not the first time we have found Vulcan children in a place no Vulcan should be."

I became aware of what my face was betraying and stood up, taking two steps away from her. When I could trust my voice, I faced her again. "Explain."

"After that first ship, there were nine others, over a space of twenty years. Vulcan's Forge was the last, and it disappeared twelve years ago."

I held her gaze, and something made the connection: Saavik.

"Thierrull," I said, and she nodded.

"They started as concentration camps." In her quiet words I heard the journey of horror, denial, and final acceptance she had made. "A convenient place to keep 'dangerous thinkers'-- and Vulcan interlopers. Hellguard is the fifth such camp that I have seen with my own eyes. In all, there have been fourteen. That we know of. Only the children survive in the end; they can live on less."

"There were others?" I said it before I could stop myself.

"Five times the dei'rah has received a coded signal, telling us the location of one of these camps. Five times we have answered, too late to save more than a handful of children."

"A signal? What is its origin?"

"We do not know. We have assumed the seheikk'he...the underground. But it might just as easily be the Tal Shiar. It would be like them to send such a warning, such a message of threat. 'See what we have done. See what happens to Vulcans who cross the neutral zone.' It scarcely matters; we cannot fail to answer." Her lips twisted almost imperceptibly. "Imagine it, Spock. How the Praetorate must laugh, to think of the justice of it; those peace-loving seheikk'he forced to compete for survival with their friends, the meddling Vulcans." The memory of things she had seen was in her face.

"Five times you have crossed." I felt that I had just begun to see her, really for the first time.


We stood facing one another under a sky full of stars. And I read in her a kind of still expectancy, a suppressed intensity. There was still something she was not telling me.

"Something has changed." The certainty crystallized even as I gave voice to it.

Again she took my breath with her ability to control. There was not the slightest flicker of expression in her face. But her eyes approved me, a brief flash of triumph, as if she had made some gamble on me and I had not failed her.

"Five times--and each time we have learned more about the Rihannsu defense nets. Each time we have come closer to finding a way to get through them undetected." Her eyes gleamed in the shadows. "Soon, after ten years of futility, we will be able do something to help."

I could only stare. "To what purpose? Who will be helped, Shara, if more Vulcans die?"

She opened her hands to me, then, and at last I saw that she had been clenching her fists. At last I heard the tension in her voice. It sounded like distant thunder before a storm. "For thirty years the seheikk'he have been dying in these camps, and still they meet in secret. Still they spread the words of peace. Still they refuse to fear the Tal Shiar. Do you understand? Can you understand, Spock? Is it interference, if they have asked for our help--and can we fail to answer?"

"And what if we should precipitate a war?" I countered. But the instant the words left my lips, I knew I had chosen.

I had said 'we.'

She did not hear it, or perhaps did not understand what she had heard. "Even the Federation Council agrees that terrorists must be denied quarter, no matter the cost. You saw what they have done, Spock. You have been to Hellguard. Can you say that that was not terrorism, pure and simple? Does not every law you know--Vulcan or Federation or even Starfleet-- demand some answer forsuch crimes?"

"What answer, Shara? What can the dei'rah do, without provoking unrestrained hostilities?"

Her calm was absolute. "Join them, of course. Give the seheikk'he what they asked for thirty years ago: Surak's tenets." Her head lifted, and her certainty rang out. "Spread the word of peace to every Rihannsu who will listen."

It came to me, quite suddenly, that I was in the presence of a woman who believed that nothing, nothing in the universe, was impossible. I knew another like that. I had spent the better part of a decade trying to protect him from himself.

In her fearless certainty, I heard the sealing of my fate.

She was pacing now, her hair streaming over her shoulders in a dark veil. "Stelik was right," she said, almost to herself. "His vision of a unification between Vulcan and ch'Rihan was a true one."

I took her shoulders in my hands, made her look at me. "T'Sharen, what madness are you planning? The dei'rah are not trained infiltrators."

She met my demand unflinching. "Is it madness? Do they not deserve whatever help we can give them? Do they not deserve whatever I can give them? My mother named me S'harien. Who shall be the sword bearer, if not I?"

Lacking thy sword, I shall defend thee.

I let her go. There was an inevitability to it that I could not escape; she was voicing convictions I had buried for years. Why not? I caught myself thinking. If the Rihannsu people truly wanted peace--why should they not have help? And who better than the dei'rah to give it? If there were any who stood far enough outside the workings of the Federation Council to manage such a thing, it was they.

Logic cried that everything she said was madness; instinct recognized the truth.

We regarded each other for a small space of eternity, weighing risk and possibilities. I looked on her beauty and her strength and thought, she is the living embodiment of the path she has chosen. She and Saavik. They are what the children of Surak and the children of S'task could be--together.

She only looked at me, guileless and unguarded and utterly unrepentant. And in her face I saw reflected the images of all those children, all those Vulcan ships which had been lost, and I thought, why not?

And so that night I took the first step on the road that was to shape my life.

. . .

"If it be madness," I said, "then I would join you in it."

She blinked. I believe that I surprised her at last. For a long moment, she could not speak.

"There is something else that you must know," she said finally. Still she did not look away, only held herself straighter. Her voice was a bare whisper.

I waited.

"I have a reason of my own. Not political." She swallowed. "A personal reason."

I knew, then, and the numb horror swept over me in a wave. I did not know how I knew. But she gave voice to the certainty in my thoughts.

"Malakus did not die," she said, and her control made the very muscles of my face ache in sympathy. "He and a handful of his comrades returned to Rihannsu space with the Sunheart, some months after the ship disappeared into Klingon space. No one knows what became of the rest of her crew. The Tal Shiar rewarded Malakus for his ingenuity with land, and a house, and the ship he had stolen." For the very first time, her voice faltered. "It is my intention to find him."

She did not need to state what she intended to do once she found him. It was plain to see in her clenched fists, in the sliver of ice which showed in her grey eyes when she said his name.

I weighed that for a space of minutes, and she only waited, letting me consider all that she had said. I knew now why she had sworn me to secrecy. Now I understood the peculiar intensity of light I had seen in her, when she spoke of breaching the Rihannsu defense nets. In fact, I found I understood too well, and that in the end it did not matter.

Lacking thy shield, I shall shelter thee.

"Will you let me help you?" I asked her, quietly.

At last she moved, her head lifting in that curious gesture I had seen her make by the fountain, a b'toa testing the wind. "Do you know what you are saying? Nothing will be the same for you."

"All things change," I countered. "This is logical."

She had taken a step toward me. "If we succeed, nothing will be the same for the galaxy."

"I am aware of that, T'Sharen."

We were only a handsbreadth apart now. The name felt strange on my tongue; when I said it, something elusive shimmered in her eyes, like a vein of silver in dark stone. She drew a breath, as if it were the first in a long while.

"'And all that is borne we shall bear together.'" She whispered it to herself, as if testing the truth of the words. "Spock, are you certain?"

At last, I permitted myself to touch her. And as the first shadings of grey light rose in the east, I showed her that I was.

. . .

It seems that all my choices were made that night, bought wholesale in the moment when I bound myself to her and the path that she had chosen, the logic of it seeming inescapable. I did not know then that the cost would be so high.

I am paying it now, a quarter of a century after the fact.

* * *

When the sun was touching the edges of the sky, we spoke for the first time of marriage. That, too, seemed inevitable. She had saved my life. I had sworn myself to her. And she, in turn, had revealed to me truths that she had shared with no one else, and risked everything in the telling. These exchanges shaped an intricacy of obligation and trust which bound us inextricably. T'Sharen consented in the traditional manner, and when she said the words she seemed content; as for me, I cannot say I regretted anything.

She stayed with us at the cottage for three days more, and on the morning of the fourth day Saavik and I stood at the gate and watched her flitter until it was out of sight.

My little cat sulked a bit, but she seemed to sense that some resolution had been reached between us, and before long she reverted to her usual, intractable self. All that falland into the winter we played the roles of teacher andstudent, though I was not always certain which I was. Ithardly seemed to matter. We were at peace. Now, inretrospect, I think that it was somewhat like hibernating. On Dantria the trees and other growing things waited for spring. As we waited, for the changes that would come too soon.

* * *

[stardate 9871.3 ...recording]

The sun has risen, another night come and gone.

Fifty-eight hours and eleven minutes since I received Commander Chekov's news, and still the universe continues unchecked. In the time that he has been gone stars have novaed, planets have formed, new species have come into being.

And for me, none of these things shall ever mean what they once did.

I tried to sleep. That state of oblivion I would have welcomed gladly, but my own dark thoughts held me to waking; this journey of memory is only half done. The compulsion to finish it allows me no peace, nor rest.

I can only proceed in the hope that its completion will provide some resolution.

* * *

Two days before we were to leave Dantria, I turned on a news broadcast and caught the very end of a story which made my blood chill. "Tune in this evening for further updates on Klingon military activity," said the woman on the screen. She said this as though it were something to look forward to, and then the news ended, and another program began. I sat in the single chair which graced our tiny living room, suddenly unable to draw air sufficient for breathing.

In recent years there had been nothing but silence from Organia. The Empire had begun making forays into Federation space; still there had been no response from the Organians. Starfleet had been routinely monitoring Klingon activity for some time.

The Enterprise, I knew, had been stationed on the Klingon border for the past two months.

When I had calmed my respiration somewhat, I seized the control pad. I typed in 'Klingon' and then hit search. Obediently, the viewer scanned all available feeds; in a moment, it had located another broadcast.

"...no longer appear to be contented with threats. A Klingon battlecruiser, py'rotha class, and two smaller craft reportedly crossed into Federation space some twelve hours ago. Those vessels were intercepted by a Constitution class starship well inside the border..." The broadcast continued in generalities, discussing the history of Klingon-Federation hostility, military strength, political implications. All of which was vital, of course, but none of it told me what I needed to know. I hit 'search' again.

"...casualties aboard the Enterprise were light, thanks to the quick thinking of her commander, Admiral James T. Kirk. This isn't the first time the Admiral has saved the day; Kirk was also in command of the Enterprise a year ago, when the entity which called itself V'Ger threatened to destroy all life on Terra..."

Casualties! I experienced what can only be called distress. Who? How many? Enterprise had been outnumbered three to one. I waited, my fingers pressed tightly to the arms of my chair, for the names of the deceased.

Three dead, the news informed me at last, and twenty-six injured. As it was only three they gave the names: Lieutenant Laura Masters, navigation; Ensign Jamal Modave, engineering; Lieutenant Xon, acting science officer. I listened to the names, and breathed silent relief--and then I realized. All were first- shift bridge officers. They must have been on the bridge during the skirmish, and something must have gone wrong. An overload. A coolant leak.

On the bridge.

The images came swiftly, vividly unwelcome, and I could not stop them. First shift. Where? The starboard side of the bridge- -an explosion, perhaps? The navigation console? I thought of Sulu, who would have been sitting only a meter away. Had he seen the danger in time and backed away?

Or perhaps it had been a console overload on the upper level. Uhura sat there. Was she perhaps one of the twenty-six injured? Was Scott? No, he would have been in Engineering in any sort of confrontation. Chekov? He had been made Security Chief last year; if he had still been at Navigation, would he be dead now?

And Jim?

I heard a snapping sound, and looked down to see that I had broken the control pad with the force of my grip.

. . .

I should have been there, I caught myself thinking a hundred times over the next two days. My attempts to get a call through to Earth on Dantria's outdated comm network were unprofitable. The news broadcasts were frustratingly vague. And my attempts to repair the cracked control pad were equally--frustrating.

I thought more than once of the young Vulcan science officer, Xon. I could not help the belief, illogical though it was, that he had died in my place.

I began to count the hours until I could leave this remote planet, get to a real commcenter. Call Starfleet Command and find out what was happening in my absence. Well, that is not precisely accurate. It was really his voice I needed to hear.

Those two days seemed an eternity, and I had not yet faced the hardest moment of all.

* * *

It was a measure of how far she had come from Hellguard that Saavik did not weep. She did not yell or cry or throw things, but only stood, silent and still, waiting.

I wished very much that T'Sharen were present. But she was on assignment, and could not rescue me. I would have to do this alone.

"Did you finish tidying your room?" I heard the awkwardness; knew that she would hear it too.


"And this is all that you wish to take with you?" Aside from a small knapsack of clothing, she had taken only her electronic reader and a case of tapes.


Her downcast listlessness was most disconcerting. Such apathy was uncharacteristic. It almost made me wish that she would throw a tantrum. "We do not need to leave for another forty- two point eight minutes. It is not necessary for you to stand by the--"

She looked up at me suddenly. "Can we leave now?"

I did not immediately correct the interruption, but only considered her question. "Our shuttle does not depart for several hours. It serves no purpose--"

"Can't we just go? I want to go."


I took a step toward her, but she turned away, jerking out of my reach.

She was eleven now, and as tall as my shoulder, all arms and legs and impatience. It came home to me that she was a child no longer, not that she ever really had been. Her childhood had been stolen from her, irrevocably.

And now I would take from her the only security she had ever known.

"Do not make this more difficult than it needs to be."

She said nothing.

"I must return to my ship. And you must go to school, Saavikam. We discussed this."

I saw her stiffen. Her hand on the strap of her knapsack clenched until the knuckles showed white. Still she refused to answer.

"If I could take you with me, I would." I let my sincere regret show in my voice, hoping she would hear, and believe.

Her reply was almost inaudible. "Why can't you?"

Little cat, I thought, you do not know how much I wish that were possible.

"I have explained it to you."

"Tell me again."

I wanted to reach out to her. I wanted to curse T'Sharen for leaving me to do this alone.

I wanted to be anywhere else.

"Saavik, it is not forever." It was difficult to say the words-- more difficult to bear the wounded look she turned on me when I said them.

"I will not asks too many questions, I promise! I will be quiet and I will not eats with fingers and I will not touch anything that's not-mines. I will be a good Vulcan all the times!"

There was an obstruction in my throat. "That is...sometimes more easily said than done."

"Please," she whispered. It was the first time I had heard her utter the word. "Don't make me go."

I had not known how difficult it would be to part with her. I had so arrogantly assumed responsibility, all those months ago, and had not foreseen the cost to my controls.

Well, that was not to be the last time I would make such an error in judgment.

Perhaps if I had been stronger, more disciplined, I could have stemmed the urge which drove me to reach out to her. Perhaps I could have prevented the shamelessly sentimental gesture which followed. But in the face of her broken plea I found I did not much care for Vulcan proprieties.

Her hands were chilled, bone-thin, and I held them both in one of mine, brushing the heavy locks back from her brow. She leaned against me, not weeping, only holding tight to my fingers.

At last I disengaged my hand, made her look at her me. I was struggling for the words that would make her understand. "You must choose your own path, Saavikam. You are strong, and wise, and very brave. I know that you will succeed."

"I choose to stay with you," she said, but her voice held the beginnings of resignation. She had learned that I seldom reversed a decision once it was made, knew that neither violence nor tears would move me.

"On Helena you will go to school," I told her, reminding her. "They will teach you all manner of things, and you shall have your own computer. You may ask as many questions as you like."

She considered this, and once again I was struck by the changes six months had made in her. She wore Vulcan reserve like a cloak now, a costume she was trying on for size, not certain yet if it would fit.

"Then you go to school with me." She tilted her face up to gauge my reaction.

I shook my head. "I cannot, for I have a promise to keep elsewhere. But this promise I will make to you: if you need me, I will come."

She was silent for a space of minutes, weighing that. At last the stiffness went out of her shoulders, and I saw reluctant acceptance in her face. "When I grow up," she said at last, "I will fly a starship, too."

The surge of pride I felt had no foundation in logic.

I bowed my head to her, the only acknowledgment of her courage I could make. "That is quite possible, Saavik. The universe is a varied and fascinating place--and there are always possibilities."

I never doubted for a moment that she would do it.

. . .

We took the groundcar to the tiny spaceport, looking back at our cottage only once, as we reached the eastern rim of the valley. Then the house disappeared behind the ridge, and we rode the rest of the way in silence.

The shuttle to Starbase 15 was not crowded. We were able to procure a private cabin, and Saavik slept a little. I tried to read, but found myself unable to concentrate for thoughts of the immediate future. At the starbase she boarded the transport for Helena, and I stood watching the ponderous craft grow smaller in the viewport until it slipped into warp.

After she had gone I returned to the terminal. The Vulcan passenger liner had already begun fueling at an outer pylon; when it departed in an hour's time, I would be on it.

* * *

I meant for things to happen differently.

I intended him to be there, you see. McCoy as well. I certainly never meant to 'slink off into the night,' as the good doctor intimated. I had thought there would be time.

As it was, we only had two days notice. T'Sharen had received a directive from the dei'rah, in the form of an open-ended appointment to Gamma Niobe. She told me when I called her from the spaceport concourse.

It was I who suggested that we perform the ceremony before she left on assignment. It might be months before we would have another opportunity, I said. It would be illogical to wait. We arranged to meet the following evening at my family's mountain estate.

I stood at the public comm terminal for nearly a full minute after we disconnected, staring at the blank screen where her image had been. It struck me, belatedly, that in a day's time I would see her; in two days, she would be my wife.

I found that fact most--extraordinary.

I placed a second call to Vulcan. My mother was...more than moderately enthusiastic. She pretended to be dismayed at the short notice, but her performance was not convincing. I could easily see how pleased she was to be planning her son's wedding at long last. She restrained herself admirably; we discussed logistics for several moments and then signed off.

I experienced then a moment of some considerable indecision. Three months had come and gone since that night in the garden. Three months in which I might have sent some communication to my captain, even if only a text message at subspace. I had no logical motivation for my reluctance, no plausible justification for my continued silence. I had simply been unable to find the words to explain.

It was always my intention to tell him the truth. Not about Hellguard, and not Shara's revelations. But the truth...at least the partial truth. About Saavik, and what I had discovered in her. About T'Sharen, and the changes that she had wrought in my life. About the pon farr. I meant to tell him--but the weeks went by, and as weeks turned into months, it became only more difficult.

Perhaps I thought he would deduce too much of what I did not say. Perhaps I was afraid that too much in my life had changed, and that nothing between us would be the same. Perhaps it was only that I could not face the anticipated response my news would bring.

He would be relieved, perhaps even happy to hear from me. His eyes would be full of hope--or that twisting thing I recognized as the merciless denial of hope. He would be hurt, and vulnerable, but would smile to know that I was well. He would be angry at my silence.

I was not certain whether I could bear that concentrated assault all at once.

And so three months later, I stood in a public comm booth, vacillating. A part of me wished very much to let it become a fait accompli. He was not a family member, Vulcan propriety said. Logically, I was under no obligation to inform him.

I knew, even then, that it was a rationalization--and not one of my better ones. The truth was, I still did not know what words to use to explain. Further, I was reluctant to risk the possibility that if I asked him to attend the wedding, he might decline. In all conscience I could not have blamed him--or McCoy--for refusing to take part in any Vulcan ceremony, considering what had occurred the last time. But it would pain him to have to say no to me.

I did not wish to cause him distress.

No sooner had I formed the thought than the image came to me, of his face when I eventually told him that I had gone to Vulcan to be married without so much as calling him. On the heels of that came the realization; if I asked him to attend,he might refuse. But considering what had occurred last time,what sort of assumption would he make if I did not ask?

I made the call then, knowing that I had no choice.

* * *

The Enterprise was in spacedock in Earth orbit, undergoing repairs. I had expected to find him at Starfleet Headquarters or, barring that, his apartment in San Francisco. Perhaps the universe was mocking me, and my unVulcan agonies of indecision; I had not expected to be thwarted by the mere realities of space travel.

He was on a transport bound for Deneva, the deployment officer told me, on leave. He was not expected to make planetfall until late that night. Doctor McCoy had gone to Life City, and would be returning some time the next afternoon. Would I like to leave a message?

I nearly declined. Circumstances had decided matters for me; I could not reach him until the transport descended from warp. The distance between Deneva and Vulcan could not be covered in a day, except by the fastest warp couriers. There simply was not enough time.

But in the end I consented, and gave the officer the code for a command priority transmission.

The message I left was brief and concise, and there was no aberration in my tone that I could detect. I told myself that I was fortunate to have avoided an uncomfortable conversation. I could do nothing to change the situation, and so I told myself it was illogical to regret. I told myself that he would have declined in any case. I forwarded the same message to McCoy's terminal, and ended the connection.

The journey to Vulcan lasted all that day and most of the next, and I spent a great portion of that time thinking about Saavik, wondering what would become of her in that foster home on Helena. Had I prepared her adequately? Had I taught her the things she would need to know? My arrogance suddenly seemed blatantly apparent. What had made me believe that I could offer her anything at all like what she needed?

It occurred to me then, for the first time, how drastically my life had changed in a year.

A year before I had been at Gol, responsible for no one but myself. Now I could scarcely balance the weight of my obligations. It seemed that the cost of everything I did would be paid by someone else, that every choice I made would injure someone I did not wish to harm.

Even then I did not foresee what end all those turnings would lead to. Even then I did not understand how impossibly treacherous was the line I trod between duty and honor, between friendship and responsibility. Not then or in any of the years after did I suspect the inevitable outcome.

I never wanted to choose, never thought that I would have to. I certainly did not see then that I already had.

* * *

I reached the mountain house by flitter after two days of traveling. T'Sharen met me at the gate. She was clad in green, her hair streaming down her back, and the sight of her would have been enough to make me forget about conflicting responsibilities for a little while. But she had news for me I had not expected, and scarcely believed.

She stopped me at the door to my father's house and told me that Jim was waiting in the garden.

He had come. From Deneva. The trip which should have taken forty hours he had made, somehow, in twenty-eight. He never did tell me how that was accomplished, and it scarcely mattered. What mattered was all contained in the moment when I saw him, sitting on the edge of my mother's fountain.

He was watching the stars come out.

I stopped two meters away, feeling a suffocating pressure somewhere, not knowing what it meant. I had left him alone with his worry and his anger and my silence for more than half a year, and still he had come. I stood in the deepening shadows watching him until I could gain sufficient mastery to say his name.


He turned, met my gaze. Then he got up, startling me with the sudden movement.


I did not know what to say to him. "I am... gratified that you could come."

He drew a breath, visibly controlling. Offered me a shadow of his smile. I knew only then how much I had missed it. "You did your damnedest to make it difficult."

It was as I had feared, the conflicting emotions in his face revealing both bright welcome and guarded uncertainty.

"I regretted the necessity for haste. T'Sharen will be gone soon on assignment, and will not return for some time."

He sighed. "I know. I understand, Spock, really. It's just...I didn't think I was going to make it in time."

I seized upon practicalities, grateful for something innocuous to say. "Indeed. I am curious as to how you managed it; I understood that you were on Deneva, visiting your nephew."

"Starship captains have their ways." The ironic quirk of his lips warmed to a genuine smile. "I couldn't let you do this without me now, could I? Bones is going to kill you, you know, for not waiting for him."

"That response would hardly suit his chosen profession,"

His low laughter was... a most welcome sound.

"Bless me, Spock, but I've missed you. You were serious, weren't you, when you said you were coming back to the Enterprise?"

I endeavored to match his light tone. "You must be aware that Vulcans are always serious, Jim."

"Yes, of course, Mister Spock. How could I forget?" His smile returned then, and I experienced the flash of memory, sharp and overwhelming. A chess game, many years before, the first time that he offered me such a smile, such an open expression of unconditional kinship. As it had always been, I found myself wishing that I might, just once, return it

"I have also regretted our separation," I confessed. And then I felt the need to mitigate that momentary slip. "T'Sharen is... quite a remarkable individual. I have so wanted you to meet."

"And now we have." He lowered his eyes, and I could not read him. "She is rather remarkable, isn't she? I can see why you would find her... intriguing."

"Have you spoken with her?"

"Oh, yes. About you, of course. We've been comparing notes."

I found that my mouth had gone inexplicably dry. "Indeed?"

He laughed. "Don't worry, Spock. Your mother kept us in line."

That thought I found singularly unreassuring. "Now I shall worry."

I thought that he would laugh again. But instead he did something extraordinary, something which took me entirely by surprise. He reached out with one hand, squeezed my arm gently. His eyes on mine were bright indeed.

"No need, my friend. Don't you know that we all love you?"

My astonishment was profound, to say the least.

But before I could fully absorb it, he was going on. "Listen, you have to promise me something."

I had to clear my throat, which gone exceedingly dry. "What, Jim?"

"Promise me that we'll still be friends?"

I swallowed, utterly unable to prevent myself from doing it. There was, absolutely, only one answer I could give. "Always."

. . .

Later T'Sharen would tell me of their first meeting, and how he had given her a look which might have distilled molten durasteel into its component parts. How he had taken her hand and bowed to her, and that the first words he spoke to her had been, 'I have not known a greater honor, madam.'

He had come, in spite of everything, to stand with me as he had once before, on the sands of my ancestors. And if there was something of an unaccustomed awkwardness between us, there was also the promise of the future.

As for Shara, her eyes too held promises...of homecoming, of sanctuary. As they had from the beginning. And so I wed the daughter of T'Lisen at the place of koon-ut kalifee--but it was nothing like the first time. Instead of blood and madness, this time the ancient stones witnessed only the joining of two houses, two minds.

And for that one day, I wished for nothing more than what I held within my grasp.
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