Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1980 by Johanna Cantor. Originally published in R&R #12, Johanna Cantor editor. Rated R. Author's Note: "Shadow of the Flame" is a direct sequel to "Images of Flame." which appeared in R&R VI/VII and VII. Sarek and Amanda have been together for 50 years, now Federation observers on Chinkwia. Amanda goes to a diplomatic event without Sarek and fails to return. Spock goes to find her, leaving Kirk with the increasingly irrational Sarek. This story begins about 10 minutes after her return.

Shadow of the Flame

Johanna Cantor

"Amanda! Amanda!?" Sarek's whole body was shaking, but it was the anxiety in his voice that cut through, forcing Amanda to pull herself together. She opened her eyes; then Sarek's face, hovering above her, came into focus and she smiled.

He gave a strange half groan, half laugh. "Thee is all right?"

"Of course I am." She tightened her embrace. "Poor darling."

"Wife, where was thee?"

"Tur kidnapped me. I had to get away. and hide. It took me just about forever to get back here."

"Tur?" It was as though he'd never heard the name. Foolishly, she began to explain. but a groan cut her short.

"All right," she soothed. "Hey! Don't try to control. Here." She placed her hands scientifically, flat on his back. He yelped and convulsed at the touch, then began to move frantically.

"I beg ... forgive ..." he managed.

"Shh. All right. Meld, Sarek! Meld!"

* * *

The cry sounded again. In the kitchen below, Kirk jumped and swore, then rose to his feet to pace savagely. Spock did not move. "Hey." Kirk touched his arm. "Are you all right?"

"Jim, leave me." Kirk put a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder, but Spock did not look up. "Please!" The captain turned on his heel, and left.

The door activated just in time. Spock buried his face in his hands. Somewhere, inside, he had been screaming all during the long search for Amanda and the slow journey back. Now control must yield. But as soon as he could, he set to reestablish it. We were in time, he reminded himself. Sarek lives. He has what he must have. It is not long ...

It is not long, the flame ... The ritual meditation for witnesses after the cry came to his mind. Spock sat straighter, taking deep, calming breaths, trying to subdue his agitation.

"Oh!" Sarek's scream brought Spock to his feet, charging for the stairs. Sarek had begged him to help: to stay as long as a witness' strength might be needed. But Amanda had ordered him out of the room, forcing him to leave her, and to abandon his father to ... A visceral memory of what Sarek was enduring shot through Spock, and he suppressed a moan. He sank down on the stairs hugging his knees, clawing for control. But Sarek was sighing in relief now, and Amanda's voice was murmuring soothingly. Spock heard carefully memorized Vulcan phrases mingled with her own Human words of comfort, and her voice soothed her son, too, as he listened. At least Sarek had the comforts of a dutiful wife. It would never occur to this Human woman to reject, to challenge ... For a moment Spock wept again, and as he wept, Amanda's voice grew strained. He heard movements begin again, then Amanda commanding Sarek to meld. "Wife!" Sarek gasped. "Thine! Oh, thine!" The last word turned into another cry, and Amanda cried out too. But almost immediately the comforting murmuring began again.

Spock rose unsteadily. Witnessing was not the custom of his mother's people. Somehow, this nontelepathic Human had managed, all alone, to support a Vulcan through six matings. If privacy was her desire, she had earned that right. Spock pulled himself together, and descended the stairs.

Jim. The thought of his captain helped steady him. I must make sure he is all right.

He should not have sent him away. But Jim would understand that he'd had to be alone. He quickened his pace. The captain had had a long, exhausting vigil, watching over Sarek. Most definitely not what Dr. McCoy would have recommended for a convalescent.

The portacomp caught his eye, and he stopped abruptly. There had been no time for preparation. The sight of Amanda, and the sound of her voice... But an interval should come soon. Quickly he programmed several medications, and sat down to print out neat Terran labels for each vial. A tray. Water. Fruit. A book? No, it would be too early. Later, he would ask Mother what she wanted for the long hours she must stay in reach so Sarek could sleep.

Spock carried the tray silently up the stairs, listening intently. There was no sound, so he scratched softly on the door.

"Spock?" Amanda's voice was weary, strained.

"Yes, Mother. I have a tray. I will leave it just outside--"

"Wait." Spock waited patiently as she arranged the covers, guessing that Sarek was unconscious. She called to him, and he activated the door. "Spock!" she gasped. "Spock, it's all right. He's all right. You look so..."

Spock's eyes went from her to his unconscious father. "It was difficult," he concluded.

"Horrible. I've never known the bad time to endure so long. Even now he won't let me untie--" A sob escaped her. "Oh damn! I'm sorry, Spock. I didn't mean to cry in front of you."

"The cause is sufficient, Mother."

She turned her face away. "If only I could reach out to him," she whispered. "He gets so tired!"

"Let me see."

"No, Spock!"

"There is no danger, Mother." He placed his hand on Sarek's temple, reaching. He was aware of his mother's anxiety, but he knew the techniques of a healer, how to probe, and lend strength, still shielding himself. He broke the meld without difficulty. "He sleeps. Mother, and he is as well as can be expected. Give him a vitalizer when he awakes. And encourage him to drink a little water whenever he can. Is there anything you would like?" She told him, and he fetched each item patiently.

"If I'd expected to be kidnapped," she apologized, "I'd have done all this earlier. Thank you dear. How's Jim?"

"I will see."

"Make him rest. He must be exhausted. You get some sleep too. And signal for pickup. Goodness only knows what Tur will do now. I think we'd better be ready to move out as soon as Sarek can travel. Thank you, dear." Spock nodded and left.

Amanda stretched, then cautiously crawled out of bed. She must stay near Sarek, but she had learned that as long as he could sense her presence, he could remain at rest. She showered, leaving the door open so he could hear her, then climbed into a robe and carried the tray Spock had brought over to the work table. "Sel the second," she snorted, examining the formidable array of vitalizers. But of course Spock had no reason to think that mating was anything but an ordeal. Damn that T'Pring! She must find some way now of letting him know. Maybe she could convince Sarek that it was a father's duty to speak of such things. But even if she couldn't, Spock wasn't blind, or stupid. Maybe he should marry a human, she mused. We do have certain qualities ...

Just then Sarek shifted, muttering a little. Amanda ran to give him a hug. He sighed, snuggled, then drifted off again. There. That's all you need, isn't it? She loosened her embrace, but rubbed her cheek against his temple, just to make sure he knew she was there. I can help! she thought defiantly.

"Well forpetesake," she said. surprised at herself. Odd that that old anger should be so close to the surface. And after almost fifty years. She shook her head at her own illogic. Probably because Spock was so worried, she mused. And because I've never been able to convince any Vulcan. Even Sel and T'Mel still seem surprised ...

Fifty years. She shook her head again, smiling as she thought back ...

* * *

A hypo hissed at Amanda's shoulder; a scanner whirled. Where the devil--

"Sel?" T'Mel's voice was sharp with anxiety.

"She seems all right, my wife. Fatigued, of course. And probably disoriented. But I believe if we just leave her to rest, she will recover naturally."

A sigh of relief. Sel's footsteps crossing the room and a muffled sob from T'Mel! Amanda screwed her eyes tighter shut, acutely aware that the Vulcans supposed her to be asleep. "Shh," Sel spoke gently. "The worst is over now. Thee has done nobly, my wife. Shh." T'Mel sobbed for a moment longer. Then silence fell.

Amanda opened her eyes cautiously. Sel was holding T'Mel close, her head cradled on his shoulder, one hand on her temple in meld position. As Amanda watched, T'Mel's body relaxed. Sel picked her up and carried her to the divan, settled her, then knelt beside her. Her hands came to his face, and then they were embracing each other, each seeming so comforted that a sob of loneliness rose in Amanda's throat.

A small moan sounded beside her, but before she could react she heard Sel rise and cross the room. "Sleep, Sarek." he said gently. "Sleep." There was no further sound and Sel went back to the divan.

After a moment Amanda opened her eyes, turned to look at Sarek, then almost exc1aimed in shock. What happened? She concentrated. trying to remember. Their mating was still a blur, surfacing only in the symbols T'Mel had planted in her mind. But I woke up, she remembered. And he was all right then. He woke up because he couldn't find me, but as soon as I hugged him he went back to sleep. I promised him I'd be there, and I was.

She frowned, concentrating harder. When he woke up again. he needed me. But before I could do anything, those Vulcans came in. T'Mel whispered something, and Sarek groaned. But then he nodded. He set his jaw, and covered his face with his hands. I reached for him. I said, "Let me help." And he wanted me! He turned to me, and hugged me, and then his hands went to my thighs, asking. But then other hands came down over my forehead -- Sel! From there on, her memories were only the symbols. God damn it, get out of my mind! I said I'd help! I didn't say you could turn me into a--a--

Sarek stirred uncomfortably. T'Mel and Sel moved quickly to the bedside. Amanda opened her eyes, glaring at them, but Sel was scanning Sarek. He shook his head, readying a hypo, and T'Mel put a comforting hand on Sarek's shoulder.

"Get out of here," Amanda growled. "You can't help him."

Sarek moaned, waking more fully. Then he gasped, covering his face. "No! Oh, no!"

"Courage. It grows easier."

"No. Oh! Sel, please stop the--"

"It is too soon, Sarek. The strain on your heart--"

"Ah!" Sarek curled into a ball, then reached for Amanda. She threw her arms around him. and fairly snarled at the two Vulcans reaching for them.

"Go away!"

"Amanda--"

"I said go away!" Sel recoiled. and she pressed her advantage. "You have no right!"

"Amanda, we are acting in your interests."

"You keep deciding that, don't you? I said go away! I don't consent!"

"Amanda!" Sarek begged.

"Hush." She embraced him tightly. "I'll help you, yes. But that doesn't give them the right to -- to walk allover me! Stay out of my mind!"

Sel hesitated. "Sarek, can you?"

"I shall attempt--unh!"

"Amanda." Sel spoke sternly. "I shall leave you free, since that is what you wish. But if Sarek loses control, I shall have to meld with you quickly. You must not fight--"

"What do you mean, loses control? He wouldn't hurt me!"

"That is not the danger now," Sel agreed. "But--"

"Oh!" Suddenly at the end of his endurance, Sarek parted her legs and entered her, thrusting hard.

"Get out of here!" Amanda grated. "Leave us alone. What kind of--"

"Amanda. for your own protection--"

"Amanda!" Sarek gasped. "Help me!"

"If they'd just get out of here!" Torn between pity and humiliation. she began to sob. Sarek screamed, his thrusting frenzied.

"Sel!" he cried. Sel's hands pressed Amanda's head and she lost focus...

* * *

"No?" Sarek was begging -- almost whimpering. Amanda fought to the surface.

"Turn over," Sel said implacably, and Sarek was lifted off her. Amanda opened her eyes in time to see him set his jaw for silence and he grabbed the mattress and held hard. T'Mel walked steadily over to the divan, then almost fell onto it. Her husband went to her.

"Sarek!" Amanda whispered urgently. He jumped, and she cupped her hand to hide her whispering lips. "Sarek, send them away." He looked at her, eyes widening. "I could make it better. I know I could. Please send them away!"

His face quivered, but set. "I could not stop myself, Amanda."

"Stop what?! If you--"

"He wishes to meld with you, Amanda," Sel explained wearily. "That cannot be allowed."

"But he melded--"

"Amanda, it is your interests that--"

"I'll be the judge of that!'" she shouted. "This is my body, and my mind! And come to think of it, it's my bed, too! You just --just--" Suddenly she was sobbing uncontrollably. Damn! The one thing sure to convince these Vulcans that she was incapable of rationality. They hurried to her. She tried to struggle, but Sel 's hypo hissed ...

She was floating now, limp, as passive as any maiden sacrifice, her body wholly at the service of..."At your service, sir," she said pertly, and giggled. It was so ridiculous. "The Perfect Woman?" she asked archly, the famous Gentleman cartoon popping into her mind: the perfectly proportioned torso, the ideal of any male, all the more desirable for being headless ... Amanda began to cry again.

It was the only sound in the room. Sarek was enduring what was happening to him in determined silence. T'Mel's fingers gripped Sarek's temples, her face reflecting his agony. At each interval, Sel melded with her, supporting her, but neither spoke. At each longer interval, they made Sarek withdraw, and turn away from her. Once Amanda reached to caress his clenched jaw as they pulled him away. A sob broke from him, and he clutched her hand.

"Sarek," T'Mel reproved. He loosened his hold, and turned away.

Tears sprang to Amanda's eyes again and she closed them. Think of something else, she told herself. Ai nostri monti, ritorneremo, l'antica pace, ivi godremo. Tu cantera ... She played through the great trio in her mind. Leonora's line-- that line taught me I'm not a soprano. But so simple. Primo che d'altri vivero ... So very simple. Everything clear. Real villains. Lord, I'd face down five evil baritones. But what can you do with people who are only trying to do what they think is right...

Sarek was groaning again. Each time he waited until he could no longer bear the pressure. He screamed for his friends, entering her as they rushed to him, and Amanda saw T'Mel's face grow deathly gray as she melded with him.

At least this time it was over sooner. Sarek lay still while he gasped for breath, but then he dutifully pushed himself off Amanda before T'Mel had to urge him back. "He'd rest better if you'd leave him alone," Amanda whispered.

"There," T'Mel said gently, ignoring her. "Thee shall rest now," Sarek sighed in relief. Sel took some readings and gave Sarek another injection. Then he went to his wife.

Amanda stretched, trying to throw off the aftereffects of the drug. "You said he can rest?"

Sel nodded. "For a while. You must rest also, Amanda. It is not over yet."

Amanda studied him, almost physically divided between resentment and sympathy. They were all so tired. "Sel," she said quietly, "you need rest too. And T'Mel looks exhausted. I -- I would like to be alone for a little while. Oh, I'll stay with Sarek, of course. But would you leave us?"

"Of course." Sel put his arm around his wife's shoulders.

"Amanda." T'Mel was too tired to speak above a whisper. "I wish to repeat that we are acting in your interest. There is much to explain, but--"

"I believe you," Amanda replied truthfully. "But there will be time to talk later. Why don't you go out to the colonnade, and rest, or meditate?"

"Come, my wife." Sel guided T'Mel to the door, and it closed behind them. Amanda sat up, wincing. Sarek clutched at her. "Do not leave me!"

Amanda jumped. "I thought you were asleep." She looked down at his ravaged face. "You've got to rest." But he only looked at her, with such anxiety that she lay down again and took him in her arms. "Put your head on my shoulder. There. Better?"

Sarek hid his face; she felt the moisture of tears. "Amanda. Oh, Amanda. I beg forgiveness. I cannot--"

"Shh," she comforted him. "Shh. I've seen what you're going through. I know you need..." Her voice trailed off as an idea occurred to her. "Sarek, how long will it be? Before you have to--"

He shook his head miserably. "Not long. I beg--"

"Shh. That's good."

"What?"

"Stand up. Can you?" She scrambled to her feet. "Please try."

"Amanda, do not--"

"Shh. I'm not going to leave you. Impelled by the need to stay close to her, he got out of bed and she steadied him. "Good. Now follow me."

"Am--"

"Shh. Not far. Not long. Come on." She took his hand and fairly pulled him out through the open French windows and through the garden. He followed her obediently, half dazed. to the door of her little studio. Amanda pulled him inside, locked the door, then pushed her spinet in front of it. "There," she said with satisfaction.

"Amanda--" he began, bewildered.

"Let's see," she mused aloud, shoving her work table against the spinet. "Not very much space. But we don't need much." She walked back to Sarek and deliberately embraced him, fitting her body to his.

"Oh!" he cried out. "Don't! Amanda!" His hands came to her arms. as though to push her back, but she took them and pulled them around her. "Hold me."

"Amanda. I must--soon. We must call Sel!"

"No!"

"I cannot!"

"Don't be ridiculous." She reached to caress him where she judged it would do the most good. "It's me you want," she murmured. "Not that watch and ward society." He stared at her wide-eyed, terrified, until some memory encouraged her to run her hand back, and under. Sarek gasped, beginning to tremble, "Mmm," she murmured encouragingly. "That feels good, doesn't it?" There was an oddly yielding feel to his crotch; she moved her other hand to follow the softness down his back.

"Stop!"

"Shh. There's nothing to be afraid of." She snuggled closer, but he tensed, still trying to control. "Stupid." she said lovingly. She wrapped her leg around his and pulled. He went down, and she twisted underneath as they landed, running her hands caressingly along the soft places. He moaned. and made no resistance as she guided him in. "There. That's where you need to be. Now do what you need to do."

"I must not--"

"You need to meld, don't you? All right. Meld."

No response. Deliberately, she moved on him, sighing a little as the slow friction sent him deliciously deep. "That feels so nice," she whispered, moving gently, then harder and harder. Sarek's control broke and he began thrusting into her, but suddenly the long hours of arousal seemed to merge. She was the frenzied one now, and she wrapped arms and legs around him, trying to send him deeper still. "Harder," she begged him. "Harder!" The strong thrusting felt marvelous, driving deeper and deeper, until she cried out in pleasure. "Oh! I want ... !" His hands came up to her temples, gripping hard, and she gasped in astonishment as her wanting merged with his. Pressure and need built, but her pleasure sparked release, and they merged deeply, fullness pouring into emptiness, need to give heightening need to receive, her aching intensifying his pressure; until his mind cried out that all he had was hers, and his teeth closed on her shoulder, marking her his.

At last they slowed, both gasping for breath, but Amanda still sensed pressure. She reached to cup her hand supportingly. //That is mine,// she thought, knowing somehow that that was what he wanted her to communicate.

//Thine! All ... // His thoughts crescendoed to a cry, and she held him fiercely, grinding down on him, until their cries turned into a long moan of relief and they both lay still, half stunned, but at peace.

"Whew!" Amanda sighed involuntarily. Something was different; she puzzled for several moments before she realized that her mind was her own again. Sarek lay over her, still deep within her, his body heavy and relaxed. But he had broken the meld. "Sarek?"

"Unh?"

"All right?"

"Yes." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Sarek, you can maintain the meld if you want to. I don't mind."

"It is easier ... not..."

"Oh." She tried to control an odd feeling of abandonment. "I suppose my mind is pretty strange to you."

"Strange ... different. Interesting. But it is difficult to--" he broke off, gasping for breath.

"Easy. Just rest now."

"Sarek! Amanda?" They both jumped as Sel called from outside. The door handle pumped frantically.

"Go away!" Amanda shrieked. "Send him away, Sarek. Now! Please sent him -- why are you looked at me like that?" Sarek was staring at her, an expression of horrified comprehension on his face. But as she spoke he deliberately relaxed, letting his head fall back to her breast.

"Sel," he acknowledged wearily.

"Sarek?"

"Sel, it is done. I thank thee. But it is done. And I do not regret it."

"Go away!" Amanda yelled again. "This is my studio!" And my man, she added silently. Slowly, Sel's footsteps moved away.

"Good for you!" Amanda hugged Sarek jubilantly, and he cried out softly at her embrace. "Shh. You're all right."

"No." He raised his head to look at her, and she saw the fever in his eyes. But he smiled at her. "You are so small," he murmured.

"So what?" she smiled back. "I'm big enough where I need to be." She rocked a little to emphasize her meaning and he gasped, beginning to move on her again. "Oh," she sighed happily. "Oh Sarek, I want you."

"That is good," he gave an odd laugh. "Because ... oh!" His hands came to her temples again, and as bodies and minds vibrated together with the thrumming need, she sensed him repeating //Thine. All. Always...//

At last they both lay relaxed, weary, but content. Amanda let Sarek rest until she judged he was about to fall asleep. "Sarek," she whispered gently, "could you get off me?"

"I beg forgiveness!" he exclaimed, shocked, and immediately pulled away.

"It's all right," she smiled, snuggling comfortably against his side. He looked at her, surprised at the caress, then gave a little snort of contentment. "I told you I could make it better," she grinned.

"Yes."

"What is it you don't regret?"

His face closed for a moment as he thought. "Melding with you," he answered. "I do not regret melding with you."

"That's nice." God, Vulcans make lousy liars. But he was tired, and so was she. There would be time. She reached to trace one pointed ear, smiling at its shape.

"Amanda?"

"Mm?"

"There was music in your mind. Something repeating, over and over. In a language I do not know. 'Primo che d' al tri...'"

"Mm, yes. Verdi. Trovatore. The soprano promises to marry the villain so he'll let the man she loves go free. Then she commits suicide. That's her line: 'Rather than live another's, I wanted to die yours.'"

Sarek chuckled sleepily at the anachronism, then yawned. "I beg forgiveness!" he apologized.

"Go to sleep. You're tired."

''It is very beautiful," he said politely. "The music, I mean."

"Yes." She stroked his temple lightly. "I think so too..."

* * *

"Fifty years," Amanda marveled aloud.

"Hm?"

"I said, fifty years," she repeated. Sarek frowned a little. "Oh, don't try to calculate it," she reproved him affectionately. "It's close enough." His arms came around her to pull her to him, and she snuggled close.

* * *

"Captain?"

"Over here." The captain gave Spock one quick, penetrating glance as he came into view, then turned back to his self-appointed task. A path had been worn in the base of the cliff and up the face; Jim was busy covering it over. Suddenly Spock knew how Sarek had spent part of the long wait, and he had to swallow a sob. But the captain, mercifully, did not look up, and he soon had himself under control. He helped Jim cover the path; then the captain sat down with a sigh of relief.

"Jim?"

"I'm all right. Just suddenly worn out. No, don't worry. I'm okay." Jim lay down, shielding his eyes from the sun.

"I'll get you to your room."

"No. It's nice here."

Spock hesitated. If the captain was just being tactful ... But as he debated urging Jim to go back to the house, the captain's breathing evened; he was asleep. That seemed to settle the matter. Spock sat down to keep watch. Then quite abruptly, his own exhaustion caught up with him. He lay down next to his captain.

Spock slept for several hours, basking in the gentle light, listening even in sleep for his captain's quiet breathing. Everything was all right. We were in time. Sarek did not harm Jim. But as soon as he had recovered from his exhaustion, Spock opened his eyes and stood up. Just convalescent, and all those hours taking care of Sarek ... He picked the Human up and started back toward the house.

"I'm awake," the captain murmured sleepily.

"No need. I am taking you to your room."

"I said I'm awake, Spock. Put me down." The slight edge in his voice warned Spock that the next request would be an order, so he set the Human on his feet, steadying him carefully. The captain studied him, then, apparently satisfied, set a slow but steady pace to the house .

"Would the scent of food bother Sarek?"

"No. Do not be concerned that you will disturb him, Jim. He will be either asleep or ... quite preoccupied, for some time."

"Good." Kirk led Spock to the kitchen, and programmed a substantial meal for them both. "What delayed Amanda?"

"Tur. "

"What? Oh yes, I remember. The unstable prime minister."

"Unstable! He kidnapped her!"

"What?"

"He took a sample of her blood and sent it to be analyzed. He meant to use that proof that there are aliens on Chinkwia to blackmail the First Pentagon. He would have threatened to tell the other castes unless the move to remove him from office were permanently quashed."

"But--"

"Precisely. Fortunately Mother managed to get the sample and destroy it."

"Is that why you were so late?"

"No. She also had a tape of Tur's plans and his jewel of office. So as soon as Tur realized she had escaped him, he alerted Air Control to watch for the skimmer. We would have been forced down from the air. So we came back by surface transport."

"Minp." Kirk looked meaningfully at Spock's plate. Spock began to eat, and Kirk nodded in satisfaction. "We'd better be ready to move out."

"Yes. I already signaled for pick up."

"Fingerprints," Kirk thought aloud. "Anything Federation, of course. The portacomp, the radio. Anything else?"

"Probably not. They will have made a point of not bringing too much in."

"Okay. Sarek will need some medication, won't he? You program supplies of his medication and mine, and anything else we might need. Then dismantle the portacomp; the console's Chinkwian. I'll start checking the rooms."

"Acknowledged. But you go to bed."

"We may not have much time."

"The Enterprise is the closest ship, and it will take her at least two days to get here. Go to bed, Jim."

Kirk rose reluctantly. "You were traveling all ,night. You--"

"I am in no difficulty. Go to bed, Captain." Kirk nodded, and started up the stairs.

* * *

The drive, appeased, was easing now, and now Amanda could really help. She moved on Sarek, legs and hands stroking, until the urgency was coming less from him than from-- //Sarek! Don't stop!// Sarek groaned, then astonishingly, laughed at her. Then his hands began to roam, and Amanda forgot her surprise.

But later, as they both lay quite still, she remembered. //What was so funny?//

//'Don't stop',// he teased, laughing again at the memory. //As though I could.// Amanda laughed too, but then she sobered. //Sleep now. You're tired.//

//Yes.// But he maintained the meld, as though to hold on to her just a little longer. She searched his mind gently. Weariness, gratitude -- she kissed him tenderly. Then, faintly bewilderment?

//You forgot!// she teased.

//Yes.// No, that was not quite accurate. //Not-//

//Oh, not how. I keep you in practice, after all.//

//Only ... how good ...// His mind slipped from hers into sleep.

* * *

Spock tiptoed down the hall to the study. It had not been possible to transmit data, but he found everything neatly logged. Even mother's tapes were labeled, and clearly organized. Spock nodded approval. No data need be lost.

* * *

At the canyon mouth a red-robed figure crept stealthily through the camouflage disguising the entrance, and straight into the force field. Tur screamed as he was slammed backward, and for a while he lay as he had landed, sobbing in agitation and frustration. But slowly, cunning returned to the mind that had lost everything else, and he remembered the force field. He had never seen it but he had studied the plans for the aliens' retreat. The switch was concealed in the camouflage ... here. He depressed the switch, then moved forward, cautiously holding both palms out. No barrier repelled him. The inner switch was even easier to locate. He reactivated the field, straining to hear the almost inaudible hum. For the thousandth time, he checked his pocket. The cool metal of his hand weapon reassured him, re-firming his purpose. "It's my life," he said aloud, as he started down the path.

* * *

On the console a red warning light glowed: FORCE FIELD. Tur reactivated the field, and the light faded. Spock checked the indicators on his way past. All secure.

* * *

A groan woke Amanda; automatically she checked the chronometer. Damn. Less than three hours' sleep. Still, three hours was something to be grateful for, at this stage. She switched on her table light, found one of the stimulant hypos, and pressed it into her arm. She set a vitalizer aside for Sarek and embraced him, fitting her body conveniently close. He was still asleep, but moaning, as need mounted. "Poor darling," she whispered, tracing his ear. Damn that Chinkwian cauliflower. She'd have him in surgery the minute they reached the Enterprise. Pointed ears were so much nicer...

Sarek's eyes snapped open and he gave a cry of fear. "I'm here, Husband," she said quickly. He only stared at her blankly. "Come, my dear," she encouraged, trying not to show her dismay. Sarek lunged at her, wrestling her down to enter her, apparently oblivious to her attempts to help. Don't fight him! Amanda reminded herself, quelling her instinctive panic. He's never hurt you in fifty years; he's not going to hurt you now. "Yes, my darling," she soothed. "Thee shall do what thee must, and have what thee must have..." Damn! She'd never get that pronunciation right. But she added her own comfort to ritual, kissing his forehead. His hands gripped her shoulders painfully; she tried to wrench them away. "Meld, Sarek. Meld!" He gave a choked cry, then his hands came to her temples. She knew the searing need, but at the contact he released, and fell across her.

"Amanda." It was a statement of fact.

"Yes. Husband." Amanda relaxed. It would be all right now. It was just that he got so tired. She picked up the vitalizer, warned him, and pressed it home. "If only I could reach out to you!" She spoke aloud, hoping the sound of her voice would help him. "Then you'd know you're all right. But I am here, my husband. You are with me..."

* * *

Tur huddled unhappily at the side of the path, his ceremonial robes inadequate for the desert night. The lights of the Adunas were barely visible in the darkness. But the Boranas would rise soon, and then he would be able to continue. There was time. He had only to reach the house, retrieve his jewel of office and the tape, and make sure the aliens remained there, living proof of the truths he had published. Then let the First Pentagon try to remove him!

The Borunas, at last. Tur waited until they were well overhead, then switched on his torch. It was enough to show him the path. Slowly, he moved on down toward the house.

* * *

Dawn. Someone was whimpering, and Sarek puzzled over who it could be until he woke enough to realize that he was making the noise. He clenched his jaw, willing himself to be silent. Need was mounting again, and he almost moaned aloud as pressure mingled with exhaustion. He must thrust, but he was so tired..."I cannot," he whispered. "Help, someone..." But there were no witnesses, no one to help. Amanda required privacy, but she could not meld with him as a Vulcan wife would, sharing and easing the compulsion. Need surged, bringing tears to his eyes, then heightened. Frantic, he grabbed Amanda, beseeching her to wake up.

She sighed wearily, and for a moment cold fear clutched him. But then her arms came around him and she opened to him, holding him comfortingly. "Amanda!" he begged. "Help me!"

"What is it?"

Meld with me. He bit the words back just in time. She could not. He must remember that she could not. He groaned; he had to move, but she moved too, and her hands ran down his back. "Don't!"

"Easy. I want to help."

"It's too -- don't -- so hard!"

"Meld then." Desperation lent him energy; he gripped her temples, and achieved the meld. Instantly he knew he was where he must be, that he had what he needed. Her hands stroked more gently now, he quivered as contact with the feminine both soothed and stimulated. //Thine.//

//Mine,// she responded, and at that assurance the fire tormenting every nerve pulled into one burst of flame. Seed rushed through him, and he could be still again.

Sarek sighed in relief and gratitude, and Amanda's lips pressed his forehead. Some remnant of logic told him that the pressure of lips could not make him feel better, but somehow it seemed to be so. He took a deep breath, willing himself to relax, and for the first time his body obeyed him,

"Getting better?"

"It will now." She kissed him again, then began to massage his neck. "Rest, Wife."

"I'm all right. You rest. You--"

"Shh!" There was a faint sound outside. Sarek raised his head, and suddenly he looked at the room they were in. "Where--?"

"You are with me."

"I know." He touched her cheek in gratitude. "But where are we?"

"Chinkwia." He frowned, trying to remember. "We're cultural observers here."

"What's that noise?"

"I don't hear--"

"Shh!" They both listened intently.

"There is nothing--" Amanda began, and then she heard tt too. "Someone's climbing up to the balcony!" she gasped. Sarek pushed himself up, edging awkwardly off the bed. "Wait, Sarek!" Amanda grabbed his shoulders, preventing him from standing up. "I'll get Spock." She pulled a cover around him, draped herself in another, and hurried to the door.

"Wait, Madam," a voice commanded from the balcony.

"Who's ... Tur!"

The intruder stepped into the room. "Madam. Sir." He was out of breath, either from agitation or the climb. Amanda walked toward him.

"I know what you want, Tur," she said coldly. "But--"

The alien moved toward her; Sarek growled. "Leave this to me, Husband," Amanda turned to him quickly. "You do not have all the facts." Sarek stepped back, and Amanda nodded approval, smiling at him as she turned back to the alien. "I have your jewel, and the tape, Tur. But I cannot allow you to-- why, Tur!"

He ba1anced a weapon lovingly. "You will give them to me now, Madam."

"Put that away!" Instead, he leveled the weapon at Amanda.

Sarek had seen enough. One sweep of an arm put Amanda behind him, out of danger, and he stalked the alien male.

"Stay where you are," Tur quavered. "No closer!"

Sarek's lip curled at the other male's obvious cowardice; he continued his advance.

"Sarek, stop!" Amanda cried. Then she screamed: "Spock!"

"Back!" the alien was trembling. "Stop, I tell you! Stop!"

Ridiculous. One blow knocked the weapon to the floor; another slammed the alien through the window and off the small balcony.

"Kroykah!" Spock shouted from the door. Sarek froze.

"Spock, it was Tur," Amanda gasped. "Sarek knocked him--"

"I will see to it, Mother," he replied calmly. He touched Sarek, making sure he was unhurt. "Ease, Father," he said. "It is over." Then he went out on the balcony, and vaulted over the low rim.

Sarek swayed, and Amanda took his hands. He gripped hers, looking at her in bewilderment. She was pale, but she smiled up at him. Then her arms were around him, and everything else slipped away, leaving only need, and Amanda. "Come darling," she said, and he followed her back to the bed.

* * *

Amanda's scream followed by a fine crash of falling glass had sent the captain leaping out of bed. But now, hastily dressed, he was wondering whether to leave his room. Everything was quiet. Probably held do best just to pretend held never heard a thing. He was pulling his shirt off when he heard someone moving toward the ground floor door. He ran for the stairs,

Spock was struggling to open the door, hampered by some burden. Kirk opened the door and Spock edged through. carrying a dangling body. "Who?" Kirk demanded.

"Tur." Spock's voice was harsh. Once through the door he simply stood, as though he didn't know what to do next.

"Put him on the couch," Kirk ordered, activating the lights. "Is he bad1y--" He stopped as he got a better look at the body. He crossed the room, and felt for life signs. "It seems," he said carefully, "that we have another problem."

* * *

"Amanda?"

"Better, dear?"

"I remember-- Tur?"

"He kidnapped me. He wanted to use our presence to blackmail the First Pentagon. When I got away from him I took his jewel of office, so I could blackmail him if I had to. I suppose he came to--"

"I--"

"You disarmed a man who was threatening us both. Don't worry. Spock will see to it that he doesn't get in again."

* * *

"What happened?" Kirk asked quietly.

""Sarek--" Suddenly Spock was shuddering so hard he could barely speak. "Sarek knocked his weapon aside. and then he--he..."

"All right. Clear self defense. Take it easy." Kirk put an arm around his friend and drew him to the door. "Go out to the garden." he ordered. "Ca1m yourself. I'll stay here." He shoved Spock through the door and closed it firmly behind him. Then he groped his way to a chair.

After a while he pulled himself together and got to his feet. There was a throw by the fire; he cast it over the corpse. Just then a footstep sounded on the stairs; he folded the throw down to expose the head. turning it to look more natural, and hurried to the stairs.

Amanda was halfway down. She looked exhausted. and more than a little frightened. but she managed to smile at him. "How are you, Jim?"

"Just fine. Amanda. What is it?"

"Is Spock here?"

"Outside. Can I help?"

She nodded, trying to smile again. "Tur came for his jewel of office, and a tape. Here they

are. Is he--" She looked past him into the room. "Oh! Is he--"

"Still unconscious," Kirk said smoothly, turning her around. I'll take these, shall I?"

"Yes, thank you. But Jim, he mustn't be allowed to use our presence to disrupt--"

"Of course. He doesn't have any other proof?"

"No. I destroyed it."

Good girl. "All right. You go back to Sarek. We'll see that Tur doesn't make any more mischief."

"Thank you, Jim. And for heaven's sake go to bed. You look terrible."

He smiled, and wordlessly urged her on up the stairs. Then he hurried back to the couch.

He'd barely gotten the corpse decently covered again when Spock walked in, still pale, but firmly in control.

"Good man," Kirk said briskly, before Spock could speak. "Here's the tape Tur wanted. Erase it. Do you know how the jewel is worn?" Spock shook his head. "I'll put it in his pocket then. That may look odd to somebody, but it probably won't look as strange as an incorrect placement might."

"Captain-"

"Erase the tape." Spock obeyed in silence. "Now there's just one problem. We have to tell your parents we made sure that Tur couldn't blackmail the First Pentagon. Suppose we just say that we decided he's helpless in the absence of proof. Will that do?"

"Captain--"

"No, Spock! He died in a fall. We'll have to get the body some distance away from here, and see to it that it looks natural. That shouldn't be difficult; it's what happened, after all."

"But Sarek--"

"--has the rest of his life to live. So does Amanda. With any luck at all, they'll never even know Tur's dead. But if they do find out, what they'll learn is that he died in a fall, somewhere in the canyon. Distressing, but not their fault. And it's not their fault, Spock."

After a long moment, Spock nodded.

"Good. One more thing. You're a bad liar. So let me do the explaining. I f you have to say something about it, tell a partial truth. If for some reason you have to lie, be sure you relax your throat muscles, and get enough breath not to--"

Behind them the message center activated. Spock crossed to it swiftly, and pushed reception. Kirk moved to stand by his side as the message began. Five red-clothed figures appeared on the viewscreen. looking resolutely at the camera. "People of Chinkwia," the male in the middle spoke, "I, Prawi, of the First Pentagon of the realm, speak to every Chinkwian today. Do not be deceived by the wild charges brought by the traitor, Tur. They are baseless -- insane. and entirely without foundation. There shall be proof. Tomorrow. at the Hour of Light, the First Pentagon will commence a journey to the desert, to the house where these aliens are supposed to lodge. Joining us will be members of the Gwinal, the Xatsi. the Flemor, the Lippel, and the Gurt. With these representatives of all the citizens of Chinkwia, we will enter this hidden canyon and travel to the house of the First Pentagon, built by us, it is true, but standing empty ever since.

"Citizens of Chinkwia, we will arrive at the house on the following day, at the Hour of Poetry. At that time, all of Chinkwia will see who speaks the truth. Citizens, I greet you."

The message faded, then began to recycle. As soon as he was sure it was a repeat, Kirk reached to turn the audio off. "He wants us out of here."

"Obviously." Spock shook his head. "He would do better to tell the truth."

"Perhaps. But he's made hi s choice. It's up to us to have an empty house ready for him. Mm. He's given us 48 hours -- maybe a little more. But the Enterprise might not be back in time. Can Sarek travel?"

"Soon. If it is done in easy stages."

"Good. How's the packing?"

"Data are stowed. That is one backpack. Everything else is expendable."

"Right. Spock, I'm sorry, but I don't think I can manage the body. If you'll take it, I'll start clearing the other rooms."

"I will take it. But you go back to bed, Captain. The walk out will be taxing."

* * *

Sarek woke again to need, but it was much easier, and he lay quiet, only opening his eyes to make doubly sure that Amanda lay next to him. She was there, of course, sound asleep, her cheek pillowed on one hand like a child. She is so small, he thought, as he always thought, and he smiled as he always did when he remembered her long-ago answer. The memory made his blood stir, but he calmed himself. He would let her sleep as long as he could. She seemed so frail. The demands of the pon farr taxed Vulcan women -- let alone a Human. But Amanda always accepted him, still holding him even when she was exhausted beyond the possibility of any other response. Once, only, in all their years: 'My God, don't you Vulcans ever sleep?' One complaint, and that the first time, before she had learned how frequent were the demands of the time, and how inexorable. Shattered then, on the verge of terror, he had begged her not to exert herself, only to lie quite still, and just let him ... 'Hush,' she had reproved him. 'I'm sorry.' And her arms had come around him, holding him...

But these were not thoughts that would allow him to let his wife sleep. Cautiously he crept out of bed, grimacing at his awkwardness. The wardrobe was across the room; he willed his legs to carry him firmly, and nodded, pleased at their obedience. Decently robed, he turned to the window, and froze. Tur. His pulses quickened. Agitation, he thought, and strove to calm himself. He remembered the Chinkwian, and a weapon. And he had acted. But how? One moment there had been a threat, the next nothing, and in the next only need, and Amanda ...

Grimly he set himself to cross the room. He must find out. The door. The corridor. Noises in the study. He moved toward it, hugging the wall. The door. "Father!" Spock sprang from the bookcase in the corner, hurrying toward him. Then a strong arm was around him, supporting him, taking his weight from legs and back. For a moment he rested his head gratefully on his son's shoulder. "Is something amiss, Father?"

"Tur. I--" he broke off, suddenly forced to concentrate on controlling himself. And a man my age should have more sense! he thought, ashamed. But Spock, tactfully silent, only turned him around, still supporting him, to walk him back to Amanda. "Tur?" Sarek croaked.

"He suffered a head injury. I took him to the other rim. We will be gone before there can be any trouble."

"Gone?"

"I will explain later." Spock reached to activate a door. Their bedroom, Sarek realized. He halted.

"Thy mother prefers that--that--"

"Yes, my father. I will be within call if you require anything." Spock helped him through the door, then, seeing Amanda was asleep, helped him over to the bed. Then he left, activating the door behind him.

She was so small. So tired. Sarek's mouth twisted bitterly. But soon he would have no choice. He slipped out of his robe and, very cautiously, into bed. Amanda stirred, then her arms came around him, welcoming, sheltering. "Wife," he murmured. "Wife." It was the loveliest sound in the language. Her lips brushed his cheek, and then he was where he needed to be, and everything was as it should be ...

* * *

"Spock," Kirk began, walking through the study door, "I've been--oh. Sorry. I--"

"Come in, Captain Kirk," Sarek said easily. "You are welcome." Sarek was sitting on the floor in his robe, sorting the contents of a drawer, carefully wiping each item he replaced. Neither his attire nor his condition seemed to embarrass him in the least. Kirk stared until he realized he was staring, then quickly turned back to Spock.

"Spock, I hate to run out on you, but if we're going to try to make the canyon mouth before the First Pentagon enters, I think I'd better start tonight. I can get the back of the journey broken by easy stages while it's cool, and let you people catch up with me."

Spock hesitated. The captain was being tactful. But an invalid, alone ...

"We'll establish check times and keep in touch by communicator," Kirk concluded the matter firmly. "Got anything ready for disintegration?"

"This pile," Spock nodded. Kirk reached for it, but Spock picked it up and hurried out the door. Kirk and Sarek turned to look at him in surprise as he left. They exchanged a worried glance, but Sarek shrugged in a very Human gesture, and turned back to his task. He worked a few moments, then grunted in annoyance, rose, and lay down on the couch. He was asleep within seconds.

Spock returned to find his captain tucking a blanket around Sarek. "He seems very well," Kirk whispered. smiling.

"He is as well as can be expected. It will be some time before he can control his emotional stability, however."

Kirk hesitated then decided it might help. "Excuse me if I'm interfering in what's none of my business. But, Spock, I don't think he's ... I mean, he seems quite content. I know you--" He broke off, staring unbelieving as Spock turned his back. "Spock!"

"Go to bed,Captain."

"But--

"I beg forgiveness. But please." Kirk whirled and stalked to the door. His hand shot out to activate it, then dropped again, and he turned slowly. Spock was watching him impassively. But Kirk knew that look.

"Try not to take it so hard. Okay?" The dark eyes closed abruptly. Kirk activated the door and closed it behind him.

Spock waited until the footsteps died away. Then he let his breath out slowly, calming himself, and returned to his task.

* * *

"That is all." Sarek said. Spock drew his phaser. Three quick bursts, and the only alien artifacts on Chinkwia were in the small climbing packs they carried. "Are you ready, my wife?"

"Sarek, at least let's activate the duster!"

"This is no time to become housewifely, Amanda! The house must appear to have stood empty for--"

"I reset the automatic controls, Mother," Spock interrupted quickly. "The duster will activate tomorrow at dawn. Everything will be neat."

"All right," Amanda conceded. "And you're sure they'll find Tur."

"Yes. "

"Did you tie him up?"

"No." Spock loosened his throat muscles and breathed deeply. "He is under sedation."

"That's probably better. Poor man. I do hope they can help--"

"Mother, it is time to leave." His communicator signaled and he opened it quickly. "Spock here."

"Checking in," Kirk said cheerfully. "Everything okay with you?"

"Affirmative. Your medication?"

"Right here." The hiss sounded clearly and Sarek and Amanda exchanged an amused look. The captain must have held the communicator almost touching the hypo.

. But Spock nodded grave approval. "I have your location."

"Right. I'll check in the next time I stop. Kirk out."

Spock closed the communicator. and they started toward the path. At its base, Amanda turned back. "It was a nice home."

"We are going home," Sarek said. They started up the path. Less than a kilometer from the house, they were moving up a gradient of one in five. Damn, Sarek thought. Then he settled himself for the climb.

* * *

Premeridian. And hot. But they were making good time. "We will rest," Spock decreed. Amanda jumped at the sound of his voice, then sat down rather suddenly. Spock erected their canopy. "Get out of the sun, Mother, Father." He unpacked some provisions, leaving them stacked. in the shade. Then he climbed on ahead. Well out of sight and almost out of earshot. he saw a crevice big enough to shelter him. and settled in. Meridian. The captain should be-- His communicator beeped. "Spock here."

"I'm at the spring." The captain sounded fatigued. but he was obviously pleased with himself. He must have been climbing steadily. "I've unpacked a lunch. I'm going to eat. and take a nap. Signal me in four hours."

"Acknowledged. Spock out." Spock closed the communicator with care, then focused on a pattern formed by the weathering of the rocks in front of him...

"Spock?" Spock hurried back; Sarek met him halfway. "Has thee eaten, my son?" Spock shook his head. "Thy mother sleeps. Return with me." Spock sighed, but followed obediently.

Amanda lay sound asleep under the canopy, her long Chinkwian traveling robe tucked carefully around her. "She is fatigued," Sarek murmured.

"Of course. There is time. It is, after all, best to rest during the heat." Sarek handed him a cup of water. Spock accepted it and sipped slowly, trying to give the appearance of tranquility. Sarek was studying him, and his eyes were warm, but appraising. Spock closed his own eyes quickly, and heard Sarek turn away, respecting the unspoken request. After a few moments Spock opened his eyes to find Sarek silently handing him a ration bar. "Thank you, Father," he said politely.

They began climbing again just before sunset. A check with the captain confirmed that he was climbing too. He'd make the plateau before dark, he boasted. Spock cautioned him against traveling after dusk. "There is plenty of time, sir." Kirk acknowledged with a hint of impatience and Spock's mouth curved in a quickly controlled smile. Watching unobtrusively, Sarek discarded one hypothesis. Whatever troubled Spock, it was not a problem with his captain.

Sunset, then dusk, then the light grew too dim for human eyes. Sarek drew Amanda's arm through his. Spock quickly moved on ahead. Sarek studied his ramrod-straight figure on the path above until Amanda squeezed his arm. "What's the matter?"

"I do not know. But Spock is ... troubled." It had taken him years to learn that about Spock. The more he hurt, the more he would deny hurt. "Camouflage," Captain Kirk called it, politely not specifying the type. Sarek sighed. It seemed so illogical.

"Sarek!" Amanda squeezed his arm again. "Be careful. Please?"

He nodded, not even pretending to misunderstand her. "To repeat a mistake is folly. But I wish he would ... I wish to understand!"

"I know. Perhaps it's just too painful for him. After T'Pring."

"Mm." Sarek thought back, and the memories surfaced all too easily: need,. growing to necessity, but no one ... Unconsciously he tightened his grip on Amanda. She stopped; then her arms drew him close.

"Always," she reminded him. He held her for a moment, feeling his terror disappear. Then they started out again.

* * *

"Oh!" Sarek's exultant cry rang out in the silent canyon, but he didn't care. "Oh! Oh. Wife."

"Mmm." Amanda was sleepy, but as content as he. She snuggled happily. "That was a contraction, wasn't it?"

"Yes." Sarek was actually regretful and Amanda laughed at him.

"I told you so," she giggled. Sarek held her as she fell asleep. then got up and flung on his cloak. It was a beautiful night -- far too beautiful to sleep. The right thing to do would be to hike for hours, or perhaps--

"Father? Are you all right?"

Sarek laughed aloud. Here was a companion. He bounded over to his son. Spock lay well away from the canopy, cocooned in his own cloak, but his tricorder was in use. "Do I intrude, my son?"

"Not at all." The flatness of Spock's voice disturbed Sarek's euphoria. He formulated a direct query, then suppressed it, deciding to try a more careful approach. Find common ground. Establish rapport. Damn it, he was an ambassador. Surely he could establish communication with his own son.

"Are you fatigued?" he asked politely.

Spock looked at him, and for a second an affectionate smile showed in the moonlight. "You require exercise, my father? It is good to see you better."

"If you would prefer..." Sarek began, but Spock was already rising. He folded his tarp neatly, and they started off, Spock matching Sarek's pace. They walked round and round, never out of earshot of the place where Amanda slept. Amanda. Sarek chuckled, causing Spock to miss a step. Sarek grabbed his arm, and for a moment father and son stood face to face. "Spock--"

"Yes, my father."

"May I know what troubles thee?"

Spock hesitated, his eyes searching Sarek's face. Sarek did his best to look sympathetic and receptive; he could not know that Spock saw only an openness that made his father seem totally vulnerable. But he knew when the dark eyes closed, and he did not need Spock's reply to realize that he had failed. "I beg forgiveness, Father. I am not disturbed. But I believe I am a trifle fatigued."

"Of course." He must accept the rebuff; to press now would only firm Spock's defenses. "I too. Let us return." He took Spock's arm, and that, at least, was permitted.

Back at the camp they both settled down, whispering so as not to disturb Amanda. Spock urged Sarek to drink, and eat a little. Then he began to rub his father's neck, helping him compose himself for sleep. Sarek sighed, realizing that he was, in fact, extremely weary. Once they were out of this, he thought, and he was well again, he would sleep and sleep..."Will it be the Enterprise, my son?"

"Highly probable. She will already have turned back for the captain and myself."

"That will be pleasant. I hope to renew my acquaintance with thy shipmates. And since I am already experiencing contraction. I believe I will -- what is thee doing?"

"Lie down, Father! I will give thee something to ease the pain."

"Spock, there is no pain." Sarek took the hands trying to force him down and held them reassuringly. "It is not painful," he repeated.

For a moment he saw a hideous embarrassment; then the mask reappeared. "No. Of course. I beg forgiveness."

"Spock?"

"I had forgotten. Of course a natural..." He swallowed hard and stopped. "Spock!"

Spock looked away, but he seemed to realize he must explain. "I... after ... When T'Pring ... Under those circumstances, it was rather ..." He broke off again.

Sarek was silent too, struggling almost physically to contain two overwhelming impulses -- one to transport instantly to Vulcan and rid it of that bitch, the other, even more imperative, to sweep his son into his arms and hold him close until the hurt eased. The bride I chose for him! What he endured ...!

"Father?" Spock was staring at him, wide-eyed with alarm. By way of compromise Sarek reached for Spock's hands, and gripped them hard, waiting until he felt he could speak rationally.

"I. ... regret. that thee suffered such an experience, my son. I ..." He choked, and Spock closed his eyes. "Let me help." He placed his hands on Spock's temples, reaching ...

"No!" Spock wrenched back and scrambled to his feet. "I beg forgiveness," he whispered, head hanging. Then he was gathering up his cloak and pack, and was running up the path!

"Spock!" His son did not look back. Sarek sat still for long, stunned, moments. Then he fled back to the canopy. "Amanda!" He shook her urgently, then swept her into his arms. "Amanda!"

"Unh? What? Sh. It's all right, my dear. Just--"

"No! It is not!" He buried his face, sobbing in an agony of rejection and fury. It was a long time before he could be quiet, and even then it took him several tries to tell her what the matter was. "He refused a meld! He will not have me as father!"

"Sarek, tell me what happened!"

"I wished only to comfort!"

"Of course you did," Amanda soothed. "What could he--oof! No, it's all right. You hold me tight. I like it. But Spock ... Sarek, I cannot believe... My dear, when you were... Do you remember the day they arrived? After dinner?"

"It is not clear," he admitted.

"After dinner. In the garden. You were agitated, remember? Spock meditated with you."

"Yes, I do remember! He took the son's part then."

"Yes. And he was so--Sarek, he was truly pleased that you allowed him. And also--now do not think of it. But when I got back, while I was preparing, he melded with you. And also during the first interval."

"So he is not avoiding contact with the fever," Sarek concluded. The knot in his chest loosened a little. "But what--"

"I wish I knew! But we must be careful."

"But--"

"Jim!" she exclaimed suddenly. "My husband, be guided by me in this. Spock's captain knows him better than either of us. We will seek his advice."

Sarek was silent. Then he nodded, desolate. "Thee is wise, my wife."

For a long time he held her, trying not to attend to the speculations chasing around his mind. Patience, he counseled himself, again and again. After a while need nudged, and he welcomed it for the cessation of thought. Afterwards, finally, he slept.

* * *

"Perfect," Kirk said aloud. "Just perfect." The small cave broadened into an area rising well above the canyon mouth. It might have been designed for the convenience of fugitive aliens. With the camouflage and force shield in place, the danger of detection should be almost zero. "Particuularly," he observed, "if the First Pentagon lead the party directly in. And they ought to have that much sense, at least." Briefly he considered beginning the task of moving the generators. But pride as well as common sense dictated rest. He wanted to be in fine fettle when the Vulcans arrived. He climbed up to his discovery, carrying part of the camouflage cloth, and stretched out to sleep soundly until his communicator beeped. "Kirk here," he acknowledged sleepily.

"Spock. I am at the mouth of the canyon."

"Right. Turn to bearing 154, and look up." Spock saw him as soon as he turned, and hurried up to him. "You made good time," Kirk smiled. "Your parents?"

"Behind me. Perhaps two kilometers." Spock studied the captain carefully, but looked away from his affectionate grin. "The journey was accomplished without incident."

"Good." Kirk's eyes narrowed. Spock was still troubled about something. "We'll need to move the camouflage and the generators," he commented neutrally.

"I will bring them up. Can you begin reconnecting?"

"Right."

Kirk was careful not to study Spock as they worked, but he found his anger. growing. Spock was confining his attention to the task, but Kirk knew him well enough to spot the signs of uneasiness as well as depression. In fact you're just plain miserable, he growled to himself. Dammit, Sarek, if you've been on his case again ... But when the others arrived, one close look at Sarek was enough to quench that anger. If Spock was miserable, Sarek was wretched. He looked at Amanda. She met his look with a pleading, worried glance, then dropped her eyes. The four of them finished rebuilding the camouflage in silence. Two phaser blasts obliterated the path up the cliff.

"There," Amanda said cheerfully.

Sarek nodded, recognizing his cue. "Would you walk out with me, Captain Kirk?" Kirk followed obediently. Nothing like the direct approach, he thought.

"Spock stay with me, please." Amanda was doing her part. "I want a nap."

"Of course, Mother. You must be fatigued." He helped her spread her mat.

"I'm glad the climb is done," she admitted. "But we should be very comfortable here." I hope.

Kirk walked patiently for some time. But finally he took the initiative. "Would it be easier just to tell me what happened, sir?"

Sarek stopped and squared his shoulders. "My son refused to meld with me," he said flatly. "I do not--"

"Oh Lord," Kirk interrupted. "Damn!" He paced a few steps, then back. "And I never thought of it!"

In spite of the captain's agitation, Sarek looked at him with hope. "Can you tell me why?"

Kirk sighed. "Yes. Ambassador. I believe I can."

* * *

"Spock!" Spock jumped at the harsh whisper, and hurried to the captain. "Where's Amanda?" Kirk demanded.

"Asleep. What--"

"Good. Spock, I told your father the truth. And I think he needs you."

"You told him--?!"

"Yes. About Tur. Please, go to him." Spock was off at a run. Kirk watched him for a moment, shaking his head at his own obtuseness. "And if that doesn't teach you to mind your own business, Captain James T. Kirk..." he scolded. "Damn!"

* * *

"Sarek!" Sarek did not turn. "My father, allow me." Spock took the rigid shoulders and turned Sarek, then placed his hands and concentrated to meld. Agitation, disbelief, guilt ... //No!// he communicated firmly. //Thee struck out in self defense, disarming an intruder. The death was accidental.//

Carefully, patiently, Spock contained Sarek's whirling emotions in the firm ordering of his unfevered mind, until at last he felt a lessening of the pain, the beginnings of acceptance ... weariness ... //Sit down, Father. Rest.// He sat and settled his father's body carefully to rest against his. Weariness, his own as well. Sarek's hands came to his temples, and together they eased out of the meld. "Better?"

Sarek nodded. But his face was still troubled. Spock rested one hand on his temple, a reminder of support available. "At any time," he promised gravely.

"I am grateful." Sarek pulled away to look at him. "I thought perhaps thee preferred not to meld with a ... a murderer."

"No! It was self defense!"

"It was not necessary to kill him."

"It was an accident." Sarek closed his eyes. "Father, I know it is difficult to bear. But thee killed an intruder, in self defense. I. ... " He took a deep breath, and went on resolutely. "I killed my captain. A friend, who sought only to help..."

"It was not thy fault!" Sarek caught his hand. "It was the blood madness!"

"Yes. Also with thee. And once the mind has cooled, my father, it is ... Logic rules."

"Thee will help me?"

"Yes, Father." Sarek swayed dizzily. Spock steadied him, then eased his father into his lap. The comfort eased the hurt still more, and Sarek began to feel more himself. "Thee should have told me, Spock," he reproved.

Spock hung his head. "I wished to spare thee."

"The truth is best, my son. So our fathers taught."

"Yes, Father." Yes. "I beg forgiveness."

"Thee lied out of concern. I understand."

"A correct goal does not justify unethical methods..." Spock began.

"So our fathers taught," Sarek finished. "Nevertheless, my son, there are different ways, and different truths. Thee chose one truth of two." Spock relaxed a little, and Sarek smiled up at hin. Two validities. Two selves, he thought. Always the opposition, never a clear path..."Spock. Thee has had much difficulty. I regret this. "

Spock looked at him in surprise, then smiled shyly. "The mind rules."

"Yes. But if I had not insisted on such rigid adherence to the teachings..."

"Thee was right, Father. It is the Vulcan that makes it ... possible." Sarek sighed in relief, years of struggle vindicated, and Spock smiled at him again. "It was not easy for thee either. I do not know why it took me so long to understand that. Bonded to a Hu--to a nontelepath, with a child who caused thee such anxiety, and in the end disobeyed thy--"

"And in the end," Sarek interrupted firmly, "became a joy to his father, and a comfort to his years." Spock's eyes lightened, then closed as he struggled to maintain composure. Sarek nodded, pleased. Finally. I should have done that years ago. Well, better late than never, as Amanda would say. Amanda. "Thy mother rejoices as well, my son."

"Mother?" Respect did not wholly disguise Spock's incredulity.

"Her criticism springs from concern, Spock. She understands thy difficulties." Much better than I ever did. He reached for his son's hand to hold it comfortingly. "And thy pain grieves her. It has not been easy for her, all these years--"

"I know." They were silent for a few moments. Then: "Father?"

"Yes, my son?"

"Why did thee marry Mother?"

Sarek was tempted, and fell. "At the time, it seemed the logical thing to do."

"Thee said tha t before," Spock pointed out, unresentfully, but not unhopefully.

"Yes." Sarek relented. "We were on Tenedos."

"I know. Thee and Respected Sel and T'Mel were sent there. Mother was part of the team. So was thy bondmate, T'Peli, who was killed in a transporter malfunction." He smiled slightly at his father's surprise. "That much is in the family chronicles."

"Thee has done some research, I see."

"Yes. As soon as I came of age. But there is nothing else. Only the marriage date. And the date of my birth."

"Yes. Well, after T'Peli's death, I continued with the research. I wished to accomplish as much as possible. Then the fever struck."

"I surmised that, of course. And Mother was there."

"It was no part of our plans to involve her. I thought it wrong even to tell her, because knowledge in this case would have been coercion. But she overheard us arguing the point."

"And offered a solution."

"Since she was willing, it was logical. We believed it would be possible to prevent the formation of a bond. But I ... could not."

"I see."

"I could not!"

"I understand, Father. Ease. I understand."

"Yes." Sarek relaxed, smiling wryly. "I forget, even now that thee ... Thee is so young." Spock's face closed for a moment, but he began to rub Sarek's temples. "Thee pledged," he prompted. "So thee asked Mother to have thee as husband?"

"No. She asked me."

"I see." Spock nodded knowingly. "She realized that the pledge would bind thee--"

"No. She did not know." I think. But that 'walk' with T'Mel. ... He shook himself back to the present. "But it was her desire that we marry."

"She wanted thy name? The security of marriage?"

"So she said." And I still don't believe it. "And I could not in honor refuse her that right."

Besides, I wanted... Sarek caught himself, and resolutely spoke aloud. "Besides, I wanted to marry her." Spock's mouth twitched, and he looked away. Amusement? Or was it something else? Sarek could not tell.

After a while he lay back, relaxing. Need? There, but light still. He would sleep. Amanda would sleep. Now she need no longer worry ... "Spock!" he exclaimed.

"Father?!" Spock jumped, and Sarek apologized.

"But it just occurred to me -- Spock, in human terms, thy concern was correct. It would be well to keep Tur's death from Amanda."

"Of course."

"I will need thy help." Spock looked at him in surprise. Sarek sighed; it seemed specificity could not be avoided. "Spock, the fever is not past." Still no comprehension. "Spock! The meld?"

"Oh!"

"Yes." Sarek paused for a moment to subdue a heightened color.

Spock scarcely noticed. "Thee melds with her," he ruminated, "even in the later--oh!" He caught himself, and murmured an apology. "Of course, Father," he said again.

"Swear that after the fever, thee will restore the memory."

"I swear." Spock breathed quietly, preparing. Sarek relaxed as much as he could, annoyed all over again at the weakness of his returning control. But after a while he closed his eyes, drifting. Spock's fingers began to stroke his temples; he slept.

The gentle fingers slowed. then came to rest. Spock closed his eyes in concentration. //Forget. Forget.//

* * *

The Chinkwians were traveling in a ceremonial column. the First Pentagon well to the fore, followed by representatives of all five castes, even a pair of drones, huddled fearfully in the last chauffeured wagon. Kirk and Spock watched the procession as it crossed the plateau below, then turned back from their vantage point.

A giggle sounded, then a happy sigh. Spock stopped so abruptly that Kirk almost bumped into him. Then, by tacit consent. they both turned back to confine their attention to the procession below.

Spock sat down, then looked up at his captain. "Why don't you take a nap, Jim? You're still overtired."

"I probably will," Kirk agreed lazily. "It's relaxing here." He squatted next to Spock.

An unabashed baritone chuckle sounded. Kirk ignored it tactfully, but Spock seemed to shrink a little.

Kirk studied him sympathetically. That's what you should have had, he thought. What you deserve; damn that T'Pring! He sat down, still watching Spock. Somewhere in this whole galaxy, Spock. There has to be someone. You'll find her. Somewhere. Someday... He settled back to keep his friend company as the last of the wagons dipped below the rim.

THE END