Author's notes about Bitter Glass

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. TJonesy 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.

 

[pause]


[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!"

"Saavikam--"

"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."

"Ah."

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."

"Affirmative."

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."

"Indeed?"

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."

"Spock."

"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."

"Oh?"

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.

"T'Sharen--"

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.

Extraordinary.

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.

"This."

 

 

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?"

"Explain."

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.


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