Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1984 by Lynda Carraher. Originally published in Saurian Brandy #36), Sylvia Stanczyk, editor. Rated PG-13.

Reflections of Honor

by

Lynda Carraher

 

PROLOGUE

            The two fugitives slipped into the city at dawn, seeking the questionable sanctuary of a place they had once called home. Spock knew it was not the best of hiding places, but it would have to serve. They would not be there long, in any case. It was home no longer.

            They had been trapped in a multi-stranded web; Spock leaving Starfleet to return to Vulcan, bringing Lara, his Human wife, with him because he had discovered – to his glory and to his shame – that the prospect of a life without her was too bleak to be borne. Now the two of them were caught up in the rebellion that raged on Vulcan and on other planets as they broke away from the Federation to form a new Republic.

            And already, the Republic was rotting with treachery. Spock’s half-sister T’Faie had used a snare of half-truth to put Lara’s life in jeopardy, and he could save it only by treachery of his own. He had been offered – and refused – a command in the Republic’s Eosian spacefleet. Now he would accept it, but only because it would buy Lara’s safety.

            He left her in a safe hiding place, contacting the Eosian commander P’lef, making arrangements to leave Vulcan in her courier ship, but the price he demanded was enough radio time to contact Kirk, on Vulcan blockade duty with the Enterprise. He knew Jim would come, thinking two people planned to escape from the madness Vulcan had become, and Spock did not correct that misunderstanding until the moment Jim arrived at the burnt-out family compound where they had sought sanctuary.

            And then there was no time to argue, no time to explain why he was pushing his wife into the arms of this man who had been both his friend and her lover. Even as Kirk attempted to change Spock’s mind, the compound’s barriers were being attacked by the rebels who searched for him. He took one last gamble, crashing into Lara’s mind with a desperate link to convince her to go –

Get out of here, Lara. Go with Jim and don’t look back. Get off my world; get out of my life. They’ll destroy you if you stay, and everything I’ve done, every tradition I’ve defied to keep you with me and keep you safe has been just an empty gesture if you stay here and allow that. I won’t permit it, because if you don’t exist, then part of me – all that’s left of me – won’t exist, either. Because I love you. Against every tradition of my race, against every tenet of order and logic, I love you.

And then broke the link with a brutal swiftness and watched them dissolve into nothingness before he made his own escape. It was many hours before he realized he’d said something in the link that he’d never been able to speak aloud …I love  you.

-----I-----

They were standing so close – Lara thrown into Kirk’s arms by the force of Spock’s gesture – that the transporter took them together, a tangle of arms and legs and emotions, and brought them back into being in their separate togetherness.

Later, when she had time to reflect on it, Lara was thankful for that. It permitted her to catch his movement at its inception.

“Jim – wait!” Hand on his arm, feeling the corded muscles tight with anger, feeling the astonished gaze of Kyle at the transporter console, feeling the panicked desperation in her own gesture. And his gaze on her, sudden, blistering in its heat, mad for a moment with intolerable frustration.

“I have to talk to you.”

“Later, Lara. Right now--”

“Right now you’re about to make the biggest mistake of your life. Give me five minutes. Please!”

Pinned, like a bird in flight by a hunter’s shot, in that instant between lifeflight and deathfall, he stopped. Felt, somehow, the depth of her desperation.

“Five minutes,” he snapped. “Kyle, have the bridge crew stand by combat stations. Get a landing party ready, full sidearms, and hold our orbital position.”

He charged out of the transporter room with Lara in his turbulent wake, a death grip on his arm, hit the security lock on the briefing room door across the hallway, and stormed through the opening doors which slid shut behind them and locked with a faintly audible click.

Only when the doors were shut and she was between him and the intercom did she trust herself to speak. Her skull was pounding with the cumulative effects of the mind-link and the transport process, and her heart pounding with the desperation of her need to stop him. She couldn’t tell even herself why it was so necessary; how could she convince him?

His eyes were still flaming, the vein in his temple leaping in barely-controlled fury. At her, at Spock, at himself. It was Kirk, not Lara, who broke the crackling silence.

“What’s going on down there? What’s he planning?”

“I don’t know, exactly. But it’s important that you let him do it. No – not just important. Vital. Jim, if you interfere, you’ll destroy whatever self-respect he has left.”

“I’m just supposed to disappear, is that it?”

“That’s exactly it! Take your ship and get out. Whatever demons he has to face, he has to face them alone. He’s gone through things in the last year that would have driven a lesser man mad. I couldn’t tell you in a thousand years all the traditions he’s been forced to break, the things he’s had to do, to keep his sanity and his honor, and this is part of it. If you go back there, if you interfere, he’ll see it as the one betrayal he can’t forgive. Jim, if you love him, leave him alone.”

Her words cut through his anger like a blade of ice. If you love him… Not if you love me. Not even now, in a desperation that robbed her of everything else, standing before him in a kind of naked defenselessness that shook him to the very roots of his being, did she call up the one weapon she still had. And her conscious choice to leave it unwielded made it a weapon against which he had no defense.

He sank into a chair, drained, and seeing his surrender, she surrendered too, sliding down the wall she had braced herself against to slump on the deck with her head bowed and the unbearably intense relief making her eyes stream. That, and the realization that it was over, really over, at last; that she was drifting, lost, alone again without either fortress she had hidden in. Spock was lost to her now, as surely as if he were dead, and in bending Kirk to permit that loss, she felt she had spent her last coin with him as well.

Kirk stood up, gratified to find his legs would still hold him, and walked to the intercom. “This is the Captain. Secure from general quarters. Break orbit and resume prior heading. I repeat, resume prior heading.”

He reached down and caught Lara’s arm, pulling her to her feet, unresisting. “Come on. You can’t stay here.”

She allowed him to lift her, with a kind of numbness that wrapped her like a smothering blanket, and to lead her to the turbolift and then to the guest quarters on deck five. She wouldn’t permit herself to think – to feel – anything, or even to wipe away the wetness on her face, and he didn’t speak to her again before he left her, envious of the grief she could show, while he had to go on being what he was.

On the outside, anyway. On the inside, it was as if his chest was full of ground glass, and every breath he took cut a little more of him into ribbons. He finished the watch without speaking to anyone, and the bridge crew knew better than to ask what had happened on Vulcan.

They knew only that he had diverted the Enterprise from her assigned blockade course in response to a sudden signal from Spock, had beamed down to Vulcan alone, and had returned with Spock’s wife, both of them in a state that bordered on madness. The grapevine told them that much. Their varied imaginations filled in the details.

They considered the possibilities and discussed them in detail over coffee, at duty stations, in the gym, as the days went by and Kirk appeared on the bridge for his watches and retreated to his quarters immediately thereafter, speaking to no one. Lara Merritt remained in her quarters, and if she ate or wept or slept or paced, she did it out of their sight.

Spock was dead, one story went, killed by Kirk in a jealous rage, and the woman the prize in the battle.

No, said another. Spock was the victor, and the woman discarded for her unfaithfulness.

The signal was a ruse, still another said. Spock was imprisoned on Vulcan, Kirk had beamed into an ambush, and the woman was inadvertently transported back with him as he escaped.

Spock was not in prison; he had planned the ambush and participated in it because he feared meeting his former captain in the field.

Into this web of supposition and wild conjecture strode Lieutenant Uhura, vibrating with anger and looking twice her size as she stalked into the officer’s mess on the third night after the strange mission.

“Enough!” she shouted, standing in the middle of the room. The conversations ground to a halt as they looked in amazement at the sudden ebony Amazon who dared them to cross her purpose, whatever it was. “You’re behaving like a pack of jackals!” she snapped. “I’ve heard the craziest damned collection of lies and viciousness in the last three days that I’ve ever heard in my life, and I want it stopped. Now!

“I don’t know what happened down there, any more than you do, but I know whatever it was, it cut the Captain up like nothing I’ve ever seen. And you damned ghouls are licking your chops over it. You make me sick, all of you!

“We diverted to Vulcan for one reason, and only one reason – to remove a Federation citizen who was in danger. That’s what Mr. Spock’s message was, and that’s the way it’s down in the log, and the next person I hear saying otherwise goes on report for insubordination and incitement to disaffection. Have you got that?”

Apparently they did, for no one had the temerity to challenge her.

She muscled her way to a servoport and punched up a combination with an anger that left half the buttons on the panel cracked, jerked the tray out, and left with a simmering anger that hung after her passing like ozone in lightning’s wake.

By the time she reached the closed doors on deck five, most of the anger was gone. She breathed the rest of it out with a fierce determination and touched not the call button but the intercom.

“Dr. Merritt? It’s Lieutenant Uhura. May I come in?”

The answering voice was hollow beyond the distortion of the speaker; it sounded like that of an old woman. “Go away. I don’t want to see anyone.”

“It’s important.”

“Leave me alone.”

She was ready to give up when she thought of Kirk’s face that day on the bridge. He looked like a man eaten away from the inside, and she knew if something wasn’t done, soon, they’d either bury him or lock him away.

“There’s been a message from Vulcan,” she lied.

The lock clicked, the doors slid open, and Uhura stepped into Lara Merritt’s private hell. Had she not had implicit faith in Kyle’s identification, backed up by Kirk’s log entry, she would have sworn this was not the woman she’d served with for over a year. This was a wracked and tortured creature that might have been pursuing hag or hag-ridden quarry, all great stormcloud eyes with demons screaming silently out of them, and stark bony ridge of cheekbone and brow that leaped into prominence in the half-light. It was an apparition that vibrated with an urgency that made Uhura regret the necessity of the lie, but not its telling.

“What is it? What have you heard?”

The hand on her arm was a death’s-hand, clutching as if it could draw the nonexistent message out through Uhura’s skin. She put the tray on the dresser, not looking into those eyes where the demons screamed.

“There was no message.”

The hand, impossibly, tightened even more, swung her around into a blow that split her lip and set stars dancing in her field of vision. She fell back against the ridge of the bureau and gained her balance with a furious tension that left her own hands clenched and her spine stiff. She stepped forward, clamping down on the instinct to strike back, with a fierceness that sent tremors along her jaw and into her neck. Chin up, mouth drawn into a thin line, she faced the demons and spoke carefully, quietly.

“If it makes you feel better, Lara, do it again.” Then, slowly, she turned her face aside, waiting for the second blow, expecting it, tensing for it.

It didn’t come. She saw instead, from the periphery of her vision, Lara’s rage and frustration crumbling into itself like a flower dying. Saw the two hands clenched together in front of the haggard woman, with tremors starting up her arms like sere earth crumbling before the ground waves of an earthquake.

Uhura broke her stance then, softening, flowing into the utterly and ultimately nurturing female she was. “Lara--” she said, and reached out.

“Don’t … touch … me. Please.”

The motion continued, nut-brown arms encircling the thin shoulders, feeling the tremors and the sharpness of bones barely covered by skin. “It’s over, Lara. Whatever it was, it’s over, and you survived it. And now it’s time to get back to the business of living.”

Guiding, insisting, she steered the other woman to the desk and sat her down, returning for the tray left on the bureau. “Drink this.”

“What is it?”

“An ancient Bantu healing potion. Oolong tea. Strong enough to eat the bottom out of the cup.”

She didn’t rise to the gibe, but only turned her head away, dark hair swinging down to curtain her face.

“Drink, dammit, or I’ll have M’Benga pump it into your bloodstream.” And at the silence that greeted the threat, added – “You think I won’t?”

Lara breathed out some bit of tension, her shoulders drooping and her head rolling back to loosen knotted neck tendons. “All right, Admiral Uhura.” She picked up the cup, tested the tea’s warmth, and tossed it back with a motion that ended in a shudder. “Jesus. No wonder the Empire crumbled.”

“Now, eat.” A bowl appeared on the desk.

“Don’t tell me. Bantu penicillin, right? Chicken soup?”

“Right.”

“Wrong. Call M’Benga if you want, but I’m not eating synthesized chicken soup.”

“I don’t think he could get it through the IV tubing.”

Lara looked up, and Uhura could see that some of the pallor was gone; some spark burned there again. “Shall we call it a draw?”

Uhura nodded in acknowledgement. “Come down to the mess and make your own choice.”

Something in the drawn face snapped shut. “No.” It was nearly inaudible, but it had the cold strength of stone behind it.

“You can’t hide in here forever.” There was no answer, as if the bare covering of flesh was already gone and only the bones sat there, grim spectre of a woman. Uhura’s mind cast backward, to an event she had not personally witnessed, but which had become part of the Enterprise mythos.

“There was another time when you would have stayed hidden,” she said. “Another time when you ran a gauntlet for a man’s honor and bought it back for him. That was a long time ago, Lara, and some people have forgotten it.”

The other woman stirred, as if waking from a long sleep and recalling a vanished dream. It seemed long ago when she and Spock and Jim had walked boldly through the ship, daring anyone and everyone to say there was betrayal or vengeance in either man’s mind.

“Jim?” She looked around the room as if she expected to find him there. “Where--?”

“On the bridge. still, for another hour. He doesn’t have the luxury of hiding away, you see. He does what he has to do, and ignores the eyes and the questions. And he does it alone, because you haven’t got the guts to help him.”

Not even that sharp goad could rouse her anger now. There was only a bitterness in her voice, and a heaviness. “I can’t help him. He doesn’t need me.”

“You’re wrong. I don’t know what you gave him that no other woman ever has, but he needs you. He put his career on the line for you, violating Vulcan space, and now you won’t even speak to him.”

“I didn’t ask him to come.” The great dark eyes studied the hands twisting together in the lap.

“No. And he couldn’t go to you without being asked. Not after the last time.” The white, strained face came up at that, fear or anger or betrayal in the eyes – Uhura couldn’t tell which.

“He told you?”

“Not in so many words, no. But Scotty said they’d found you, and then the captain came back – alone. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him quite so alone. Until now. And it’s killing him, Lara. It’s eating him alive, and he won’t let anybody get close enough to him to make it stop. Except, maybe, you.”

Uhura realized she was shaking in her intensity, close to tears herself. She stopped, unable to muster any more words. Lara was looking at her hands again, limp and lifeless. She didn’t reply, didn’t even raise her head as Uhura made a wordless sound deep in her throat and left the room.

Lara sat for some time, quiet, and then slowly, as if it were a great effort, rose and left the room for the empty corridors.

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

            He didn’t see her at first, as he keyed open the security lock and slipped into the dark room, a shadow entering shadow. He stood for a long moment with his back braced against the door, feeling the tiredness break over him. He started across the room, familiar in its darkness, a quiet haven.

“Jim--”

He stopped midstride and reached back for the light.

“Don’t, please. Leave it off.”

“Lara?” He wasn’t ready, yet, to accept it. “How--?”

“If you don’t want old lovers cluttering up your quarters, you should change the security lock.”

            He stood silent in the darkness, unsure of what meaning might underlie the words. Finally he said the only thing he could think of. “I’ve never locked anything against you.”

“Maybe you should have. A long time ago. And kept it locked.”

He knew where she was now. Her voice had led his eyes to the shaded form sitting at the desk, and he crossed the room to stand over her, his empty hands curling as he restrained the urge to touch her.

“No,” he said. “I can’t accept that. You can’t lock yourself away from love; there’s little enough of it in the world as it is.”

“Anything as destructive as love should be kept out. If we hadn’t--”

“How far back do you want to go, Lara? Who gets the blame? You and me, for reaching out to one another? Spock, for knowing, and doing nothing about it? Or maybe Amanda and Sarek, for allowing him to be born in the first place?” She wouldn’t look up at him; he dropped to one knee and reached out to turn her face toward his. “If we had held ourselves apart, would that have kept T’Pau alive? Kept Spock from going back to Vulcan? I don’t think so. It would have just meant three unhappy people.”

“As opposed to the three happy people we have now?” She knew that was wrong, and hurtful, and not what she wanted to say, not any way to help him. But the words formed of themselves, and the bitterness in her voice chilled him so that he felt his hand fall away.

“I’m sorry,” he said gruffly, and got up. The weariness was back, and the frustration of helplessness. “I thought I had given you some pleasure, some happiness at least. If I didn’t, I’m sorry. I tried.”

Her quick movement in rising startled him; it was the first sign she had given of vitality. “It wasn’t you! It was me, my fault. I can’t… I just destroy whatever I love. I won’t destroy anything else, Jim.”

“What have you destroyed?”

“Whatever it was that you and Spock shared, for starters.”

“Then why did he call me, and why did I respond? Why would--”

“What?” She remembered, suddenly, something Uhura had said … he couldn’t go to you without being asked … and it chilled her that she hadn’t questioned it further at the time. “What do you mean, he called you?”

Her hand on his arm was cold as death, cold and shaking.

“You didn’t think I just dropped in because I was in the neighborhood, did you? He contacted the ship – I don’t know how – and I thought you were both coming off, but he only meant to get you off-planet. And he knew I’d come, knew I’d do whatever he asked – for him, or for you. Does that sound like we’re enemies?”

She was a long time responding. “I didn’t know… I guess I didn’t think.” She was silent for a moment, remembering something else she hadn’t questioned, something Spock had told her. There is something T’Faie wants me to do… Whatever it was, it has plainly been repugnant to him, but she knew with a cold certainty that he had given in to his half-sister’s demand, had compromised his own honor in order to get her off-planet. …everything I’ve done, every tradition I’ve defied…

The realization of what he meant, the weight of it, was too much for her, and her knees buckled. Kirk’s arms went around her, supporting, loving.

“Oh, God, Jim, what is he doing?”

“I thought you knew.”

“I thought so, too. Now I’m beginning to wonder.”

“Whatever it is, he wanted you out of it. Wanted you to be safe, and with someone who loves you. I do, Lara. He knows that – knew it when he asked me to help.”

She could feel the length of his body against hers, feel the warmth and humanness of it and the offering of something that could lead to a deeper intimacy, a deeper comforting. An awareness of that, and an awareness of her own body’s willingness to accept it, disturbed her, and she stiffened against him.

He felt the change in her stance and understood its meaning, releasing her reluctantly. It seemed he was about to say something else when the alarm klaxon sounded and his intercom burst into life, summoning him to the bridge.

“This isn’t finished,” he said as he turned for the door. “Wait for me here.”

“I’m going to sickbay. They might need--”

Her words were cut off as the doors shut behind him; he had no time to argue. No time, no time – there was never a balance of it, he thought as the turbolift moved him through the ship. It either crawled or flashed by. There was no time, even, to properly consider that observation as the car stopped on the bridge.

Sulu released the con, announcing they had picked up a small craft at extreme sensor range. It had refused to answer their hail and must therefore be considered a blockade runner. Kirk ordered warp four and watched the image grow steadily as information regarding ship’s status was fed him by the bridge crew.

“Entering phaser range.”

“Fire phaser.”

As the beam cut through the blackness, the craft dipped and swerved in a standard evasive pattern, and the distance between them decreased steadily.

“Sensors indicate the craft to be an Eosian courier ship,” Varyschenk announced from the science console. Kirk knew them; small, fast craft, little more than warp engines and shielding, harder to catch and kill than a Terran cockroach. They would have to be within optimum, not maximum, phaser range to do any appreciable damage. The unknown courier pilot evidently knew it, too; the ship was straining gamely in a race whose outcome was predetermined.

They were already closing the distance rapidly; he was preparing to give the command to fire when Varyschenk broke in. “I’m getting two patterns now. They’ve launched an object … could be a passenger bubble.” His hands blurred on the console as he made adjustments and coordinated the readouts to the other bridge stations. “Yes,” he said. “A passenger bubble … but I’m not getting any life forms.”

His voice held a puzzlement Kirk did not share. “Fire on that launch,” he snapped.

Sulu’s confirmation was broken off mid-word as the phasers found their target and a spectacular explosion dyed the blackness. Kirk knew there was only one substance capable of creating such force within such a small package, and the Science Officer confirmed it.

“An anti-matter device,” he announced.

“Give me the spill pattern. Can we run through it?”

They were already entering the fringes of the pattern when the reply came. “Sensors indicate an 85 percent probability of shield overload if we make the run.”

Kirk ordered a course change which would pull them out of the highly unstable space with maximum speed. When they had cleared it, the courier was again at the bare edge of sensor range, streaking for Eos and safety.

Technically, no state of war yet existed between the Federation and her wayward children; their mission was blockade duty, and they were not to intrude on Eosian space. But that haven was many hours away at the courier’s speed, and in the meantime it was officially and illegally within Federation space.

Kirk ordered an increase to warp five, and the courier’s image blossomed on the screen, well within optimum range now. “Lock on and--”

“I’ve lost the image, sir,” Sulu announced.

He didn’t think, he just yelled, “Sublight speed!” as if by raising his voice, he could alter the laws of dimensional physics, knowing even as he spoke, that the starship’s warp engines had carried them many AU’s beyond the courier’s position.

Shit, he thought, and barely kept it inaudible. If the pilot knew his business – and apparently he did – this leapfrog game of sublight to warp speed could keep them searching indefinitely for a ship which was not at any given moment even within the same time continuum as the searcher.

When the sensors had readjusted themselves to sublight readings, the courier was gone. Kirk ordered a resumption of warp speed on their quarry’s former course without much hope of success, and indeed the sensors showed nothing but the mocking distortion of hyperspace.

“Break off pursuit,” he ordered. “Secure from general quarters. Navigator, take us back to the blockade pattern.” Damn. Cochrane deceleration had nabbed them again.

A wild thought struck him and lumped in his belly like some internal iceberg. Spock was a past master of the Cochrane maneuver, one of the few men Kirk knew who had the nerve and the skill to push a ship to its breaking point, the way it had to be pushed in order for the tactic to work.

He willed the thought away. It was a standard tactic, taught at the Academy for a century and more, even if it was seldom used. The Eosians numbered plenty of Academy graduates in their space forces. He couldn’t permit himself to fantasize Spock’s presence on every ship they jumped, and what would the Vulcan be doing heading out for Eos, anyway?

The watch crew was returning to the bridge now, relieving the primary crew who’d dropped everything when the alert klaxons blared. Each of them would now return to their interrupted routine – meal, sleep, whatever – and try to resume it. Most would not be able to succeed for several hours.

Kirk wondered if he could, at all. He’d been so damn tired when he left the bridge, so unprepared to find what he’d found in his cabin. Part of him wanted her to be there, part of him hoped she wouldn’t be.

She wasn’t.

He called sickbay, but she had already left. There was no response from the com in her room. He stripped and showered and fell into bed, too tired to sleep. He told himself he was glad she hadn’t been there, that he just didn’t have the stamina for a big emotional scene at the moment, but he recognized that for a lie. There was nothing he could do, really, but lie there hoping his body would relax enough to let him rest and to concentrate on thinking of nothing until enough boredom set in to force his mind to sleep.

He didn’t know whether to be relieved or annoyed when the call buzzer sounded. He pulled on a pair of pants and padded to the door barefoot. If he called out permission to enter, he was laying himself wide open for what might be an unwanted visitor, but if he keyed open the door himself, he could block the entrance of anyone he didn’t especially want to see.

“Hello, Jim.” Her voice was as husky as he remembered it, not the tortured, shaking tone she had used in their earlier conversation. Still not sure if he was awake or dreaming, he reached for her hand, drawing her into his dream or reality, willing to accept it for whatever it was, without question, without explanation.

Looking at her in full light for the first time in days, he decided she was real. His dreams of her did not include this skeletal thinness or haunted expression.

“When I came in here the first time,” she said, looking anywhere but at his face, “I meant to… I hoped there might be some comfort I could offer you, something I could say or do to make the hell you’re going through a little easier to bear, somehow. I’m afraid I didn’t do a very good job of it. I’d like to try again.”

It had the sound of a carefully rehearsed speech, and for some reason, that angered him. Wordlessly, he led her across the room to the sleeping alcove and pulled her down to sit beside him on the bed. She didn’t resist when he untied the thigh-length tabard she wore over the soft shirt, or when he pulled the shirt off over her head. Nor did she assist him. Unmoving, unspeaking, she suffered the touch that masqueraded as caress, until he touched her face, turning it toward his own.

“You really would, wouldn’t you?” he asked.

“Would what?”

“Go to bed with me. Even though you wouldn’t really be there.”

“If that’s what you want.”

“That’s what I want from a whore, dammit! Not from you.”

Something in her was mildly surprised that the words didn’t sting. There were no tears left to spend on herself, and she had long since given up trying to justify or defend whatever drives had led her to his bed before.

“I’m sorry. I have nothing else to offer you, Jim.”

“Since when?”

“Since … ever, I guess.”

He rose angrily and walked away as far as the divider grille, reached up and hung onto it with both hands so that there was something solid to cling to. He didn’t look at her, and his voice was low, falsely calm.

“Get out of here, Lara. I won’t expiate whatever sins you think you’ve committed by making you the Captain’s Whore.” He heard the soft rustle of cloth and knew she was dressing. She didn’t speak until she was through.

“I don’t expect you to give me anything you won’t give yourself. We all build our own prisons, Jim. We set ourselves up as judge, jury, and executioner, and we go before the bar already convinced of our own guilt.

“I chose to isolate myself physically, but you don’t have that luxury, so you built your prison inside your head, and hung yourself up on a mental cross because I stopped you from going back for Spock.”

He let the muscles in his neck relax, dropping his head between his upraised arms, like a man waiting passively for an axe to fall, thinking, Go away, please; I can’t handle this, not now, not right now…

“Lara…” It might have been anger or anguish, blessing or curse.

“There was nothing you could have done there, Jim. Believe me. He’s fighting for his honor, and if you’d taken the fight away from him, you’d have taken the honor, too. He’d have come to hate you for that. I couldn’t let that happen to you, and I couldn’t let it happen to him, either. You still don’t see that – you still think you’ve failed him, so now you’ve got to destroy yourself. If I won’t stand by and let you do it, you think you have to destroy me, too.”

He could feel something churning inside himself; that ground glass in his lungs that he’d encysted – or thought he’d encysted – with the walls he’d erected, inside and outside. She was right; she was wrong. There had to be something he could have done, somehow, and he hadn’t done it. He’d walked away – had let Spock push him away, and then had let Lara keep him from going back – because in truth, he hadn’t known what else to do. And he considered that cowardice. His fears, his focusless guilts, were as much for himself as for Spock, because he feared nothing so much as the inability to take action. It was a bitterness in his throat and a stinging in his eyes, that inability, and it terrified and enraged him at the same time.

“Get out,” he rasped, and again didn’t know if he was begging or ordering.

“What does it take to get you out of purgatory, Jim? What cosmic bishop do I have to bribe?” He could hear her crossing the room, desert boots scuffing softly on the flooring. “I can’t pray you out, I can’t buy you out, and now it seems I can’t even drag you out kicking and screaming. Are you planning to homestead Hell?”

She touched the nape of his neck, just at the hairline. It was the warm and human touch he knew and remembered of her, not the skeletal grasping of their earlier meeting. That had been a ghost’s grip, one he could have shaken off with his reality-talisman. But this was reality, and he had no magic to work against it.

He kept his eyes shut, knowing if he opened them, they’d overflow; knowing everything he’d kept held back and pinned down since he and Lara had come back from Vulcan would rise up and shatter him as completely as the phaser beams had shattered the renegade cruiser’s passenger bubble.

She kept one hand on his neck; with the other, she was prying his fingers free of the grille, saying softly “Let it go, Jim; let it go.” But she wasn’t talking about the grille. He did let go finally, let it all go, and she was there, holding on to him as if he were drowning, guiding him to the narrow bed where he clung to her blinded by tears and furious at himself.

He couldn’t remember ever having done this before, not as an adult, not as a starship captain. His pride wanted her gone, wanted her not to witness this weakness, but something deeper than pride, and older, and stronger, made him cling to the slim firmness of her. She was his anchor to reality, and as she returned his grip, that pinpoint of reality gradually grew until it encompassed all of him and he felt his wholeness coming back. He didn’t have to push away the anger and the frustration any more, and he realized they wouldn’t shatter him as he had feared. Instead, they were slowly overcome and absorbed by his own rediscovered reality and by the fine and necessary balance that reality brought with it.

He loosened his grip on her finally, not needing the touch, but neither of them moved to break it completely. He was searching for something to say, something clever or balancing, but he found only a deep comforting emptiness in his mind.

He didn’t ever realize he had slipped over the edge of consciousness until he woke sometime later to find that Lara slept, too, stretched out beside him with her hand still curled around his. He disentangled himself, thinking he could be up and gone before she woke, but she stirred at his movement and her eyes came open, smoky and muzzy from sleep.

She propped herself on both elbows to look at the bulkhead chronometer and then dropped back. “Oh, hell. I didn’t mean to go to sleep.”

“And I didn’t mean to come apart on you last night. I’m sorry, Lara.”

“For what?”

“For acting like an idiot. I’m still not sure just what happened.”

“Catharsis happened, Jim. The walls came tumbling down.” She smothered a yarn. “I’m thinking of getting a trumpet and setting up shop.”

“It’s not funny,” he said sharply.

“I didn’t really mean it that way. It’s just that … well, I’ve knocked down a hell of a lot of walls in the last few years. Including some I should have left standing. But not yours, not this time. This one had to come down or it would have crushed you.”

He leaned back against the bulkhead, needing to put some distance between them, needing to turn her disturbingly sharp perceptions away from him. “What other walls?” he prompted.

“Mine. Spock’s.”

“And found … what?”

“Behind mine – a woman who’s not as strong or as brave as she thought she was. Behind his – ten thousand demons. Vulcan ones, Human ones, some very unique ones all his own. And one man, trying to keep them all within bounds, so that he can be his own man.” She gave her head a little shake, staring at some midpoint in space that held a vision closed off to him.

He moved uncomfortably, wondering what she saw and how much of her vision she could share. “The security team wants to debrief you,” he said finally, knowing she’d be approached, wanting her to be forewarned. “M’Benga and I have been holding them off ever since you beamed up.”

She mulled this for a moment, and he knew her loyalties were already at war.

“If you do it before you reactivate your commission, it might be easier for you. Otherwise … there’s not much you can legally refuse to tell them. Not without--”

“I’m not reactivating.” The statement was totally unexpected, and it caught him mentally flat-footed with his guard down.

“You--”

“Don’t … try … to run … my life.” There was a steeliness in the voice he’d never heard before. “It didn’t work before, and it won’t work this time.”

“We could make it work.”

“No, Jim, we couldn’t. How long do you think it would be before I was back in your bed?” She realized, suddenly, what she’d said and where she was, and made a short gesture with her hands. “See?”

“It wasn’t exactly a night of wild debauch.”

“And you’re going to wear a sign around your neck advertising that, I suppose.” She sat up, hugging her knees and meeting his eyes with her calm, smoky gaze. “By 0600, everybody on the ship will know I spent the night in your cabin.”

“It doesn’t matter. I need you, Lara.”

“It does matter. And what you need is your command. I won’t endanger that again.”

“Now who’s running someone else’s life?”

“I’m not. I’m trying to run my own life. The only way I know how.”

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

            They’d compromised, eventually, after days of wrangling and nights of lying awake in their separate quarters, each firmly convinced that the other was irrevocably wrong and just too proud and too stubborn to admit it.

            Lara had voluntarily reactivated her commission, a bare jump ahead of the Federation Defense League, which was calling up reserve officers and recent retirees at an unprecedented rate as war was declared on the rebellious planets of the new Republic. But she had refused a shipboard assignment – any shipboard assignment – with a stubbornness that took the case to the Defense League’s high tribunal and a court martial.

The tribunal’s decision was a masterpiece of military double-talk and blatant jingoism, all of which boiled down to a landmark decision, called into service in all subsequent cases in which a Starfleet officer had close family ties with the rebels. Such officers would not be placed in assignments which might lead to “breaches of internal security”, but would be assigned to noncombatant units requiring minimal security clearances.

She hadn’t been fighting anybody else’s personal battle, though she allowed her defense to be presented on those lines; nor had she objected to the undeniably effective leverage applied by her father, and through him, the entire diplomatic corps. She was fighting her own battle, and doing it with any weapon that came to hand, because she was the one who faced the prison term if the battle was lost.

Kirk followed the maneuverings through the ten months they took, alternating between anger and envy. By the time the decision was set in military granite and Lara accepted an assignment at a starbase convalescent hospital, it had become painfully obvious that her husband was indeed taking an active part in the rebellion. A very active part.

It was unfortunate, he reflected, that the ruling did not extend to officers whose ties with the rebels were emotional rather than familial.

-----II-----

            “The Federation is dying, Spock, as T’Pau of Vulcan is dying.”

            “Who told you that? Who pours such lies into your ears?”

            His hands tightened on the slim wrists; he could feel the bones, fragile as a bird’s, under his fingers. But the laughing, mocking face in front of him only smiled sardonically. He bore down with his hands, feeling the bones shatter under the pressure, and still the smile did not fade, though the rest of the face did – wavering, shifting, becoming another outline built around that red and twisted mouth.

            “You are a survivor,” the new face said. “I have certain knowledge of that fact, remember.” And the hands, the face, the entity that mocked him drifted away, leaving mist in his hands and laughter in the air.

            He jerked awake, throwing the bedcover away in a savage gesture that would have astonished those who had known him in another time, who more than once had trusted themselves to his reputation for gentle strength. Naked, he swung off the bed’s platform and crossed the room to the carafe on the desk, poured a glass of water, and bolted it down as another man might have bolted a shot of whiskey.

            He was perceptive enough to know why he had that particular dream, over and over and over. It was a single distorted reflection of what had, in reality, been two separate confrontations – the first on Eos with Kyra, the second on Vulcan with T’Faie. What haunted him was that both had been proven right. The Federation lay shattered, while he survived – but only by betraying his own principles.

            But perception did not empower him to keep the dream from recurring. That was a weakness, and a shame to him. Vulcans did not dream. Not ever. In lightsleep, the physical responses shut down, but the mind retained awareness of one’s surroundings. In deep sleep, entered only when security was assured (and how long had that been, for him? Years, he thought.), the body hovered so close to physical death that a brainscan would have revealed no sentience at all, not even on an instinctive, animal level.

            But he dreamed. Because he was not totally Vulcan, he supposed. If he needed any proof beyond the dreams, there was the other manifestation, equally damning and equally Human. He always awoke from them in an intense state of sexual arousal. It bore no relationship to what he had shared with Lara. It was a redblack lust, more ferocious and more mindless than plak tow; a desire not merely to mate with but to subjugate and humiliate the woman – any woman, he realized – with sheer brute strength. The state threatened both his self-image and his sanity with its compelling reappearance.

            He recognized its destructive capabilities, but as with the dream, recognition did not lead to control. There remained only relentless subjugation, as difficult and as wearying as the subjugation of his other Human tendencies had been for him as a child. Once he had thought he could let those tendencies come forward. Once he had permitted himself to feel … and this was the result.

            He reached inside himself for the controls. It was becoming harder each time, but he persisted, until at last he could feel them glaciating that portion of his mind he recognized as Human, smothering it in another layer of ice until the next time his traitor body should force him into what he had begun to think of as humansleep. He left the room to shower and dress and report to the bridge.

            He never dreamed of Lara.

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

            T’Riell watched the telemetry monitors intently. She knew the patterns well by now, but they never failed to hypnotize her. When she was certain that the pattern was the same, that he would sleep no more this night – in any mode – she left the monitors and went to his quarters.

            He responded to the buzzer by releasing the latch control. This was a new development, she noted, this locking business. They had inherited the system intact with the rest of the ship when Lyran forces took her away from the Federation. In their rush to get her battle-ready, to convert the Federation’s Darius to the Republic’s Nyhie, the locks had never been deactivated. Some of the Lyran crew members used them; nearly all the Eosians did. But none of the Vulcans. Until now.

            As she stepped into the room, he was pulling on the lavender-grey tunic, and the insignia of rank on the tunic’s breast winked solemnly at her in the room’s dim light. She did not bother with preliminaries. They had been through the debate so often that neither of them needed the opening moves now.

            “How long?” she demanded.

            “As long as necessary,” he replied smoothly, thrusting his long arms into the sleeves and settling the tunic across his gaunt chest.

            “This is madness,” she said.

            “Agreed. Only a madman would condone warfare, or think that it will alter anything permanently.”

            “I do not speak of politics, Commander.” She knew he was already aware of that, but she said it anyway. “I speak of your refusal to permit me to treat you.”

            “I am not ill,” he told her, and thought – not in any way your medicines can reach, Healer.

            “I should like to confirm that statement.”

            “Request denied.”

            “Commander Spock--”

            “This is not Starfleet, Healer,” he told her coldly. “Your medical authority does not extend to your commanding officer.”

            T’Riell knew the discussion was, essentially, over, and that she was no closer than she had been before, but she was unwilling to let the matter drop this time as she had in the past. “Your sleep patterns--” she began.

            “Are different from standard Vulcan sleep patterns,” he finished wearily, then looked at her sternly. “Healer, if you do not by now know that you must make allowances for my … unique physiology … I must seriously question your suitability for this position. I permitted you to install your voyeuristic machines--” He gestured toward the telemetric bed. “--with the assumption that you would content yourself with monitoring my rest periods. If you continue to disturb my duty hours, I shall most certainly insist on your reassignment.”

            T’Riell knew of certainty that this particular period was not assigned as command’s duty shift, but she did not point that out. She was, rather, noting and filing away a number of medical-psychiatric observations which she would include in her next report to the Fleet Surgeon – who did outrank Commander Spock and who could therefore issue a compelling order that he submit to an in-depth psychometric examination. Which examination, she was quite sure, would result in his being pulled off-line before his sanity crashed in around him like an eggshell in a fist.

            He was already in the process of brushing past her when the alert klaxons kicked on, and the accidental touch filled her mind with the resonance of danger, as much as the klaxons themselves did.

            T’Riell and her insistent harping on his physical and mental condition was forgotten as he moved with single-minded haste toward the turbolift. As it spilled him on the bridge, his quick glance noted with approval the efficiency of the bridge crew.

            Waynar, his Eosian First Officer, rose smoothly from the con as Spock approached it. If he was surprised at the speed with which his commander responded to the alert, he did not show it. Like most of the non-Vulcan crew members, Waynar thought Vulcans to be much more telepathic than they actually were. Nothing about Vulcans, Waynar told himself, could surprise him any more.

            He was shortly to be proven wrong.

            “Firefight, sir,” he explained. “A Federation heavy cruiser bracketed by three Romulan warships.”

            Spock slipped into the chair. It was uncomfortably warm from the Eosian’s body heat, and the controls he touched were slick with sweat.

            Just a mop-up, he told himself. Wait for the outcome of the uneven battle – a foregone conclusion at those odds – and see what damage could be done the battle-weary victors. That was the advantage of having three separate forces at war on this front – and the hell, too. To stand by like a carrion-eating kabbori and watch a valiant ship go down. A ship that represented a philosophy he’d once sworn to defend with his life…

            No. Those distracting thoughts had no place in his mind now. He touched a control on the console, killing the klaxons, and swung the chair toward Waynar, dispossessed now and having no duty on the bridge, yet unable to leave until dismissed.

            “A battle surveillance does not require full alert status,” he pointed out.

            Not by The Book, Waynar thought, embarrassed by his overreaction, and letting his embarrassment turn to a quick anger that spilled into his voice. “Permission to leave the bridge, sir.”

            “Granted,” Spock said absently, watching the flashes of the distant firefight, glad to have Waynar out of the way instead of hovering ineffectually at his shoulder. He called for a minor course correction that would bring them into better surveillance range.

            In the months since Nyhie had been on line, he’d had her sensor screens altered to increase their flexibility and range, just as he’d had the ship itself altered before he took her into battle. She was the fastest, most flexible craft in the Republic fleet now, and he suppressed a Human glimmer of pride at that thought.

            The Federation starship was definitely losing ground, he noted. Her phaser bolts were faded from their crimson deadliness to near pink, and in all the time he’d been watching, she hadn’t launched a single photon torpedo. Her aft shields flared as a Romulan phaser was deflected, but the glow hung around her far too long as the weakened defense mechanism slowly dissipated the energy. She couldn’t take much more of that. The battle must have been going on for some time, he decided. He knew quite well what the tolerance of a starship was. He should. He’d served on one long enough. Even Enterprise had her limits.

            Why should that thought have suddenly erupted? Unless…  No. Enterprise wasn’t in this quadrant at all, assuming his intelligence reports were accurate. Assumptions, though, were dangerous. He was gripped by a sudden certainty he couldn’t shake.

            “Narrow the field and increase magnification on that Federation ship. Stand by for status change.”

            The screen blanked for a second as the order was carried out, and then the starship was alone in the field. He still couldn’t make out the registration number, but he was sure. So sure.

            “Boost magnification.”

            The helmswoman lifted her eyes from her board. “The power drain, sir--”

            “Boost magnification,” he repeated. It was one of the few times he’d ever had to repeat an order. He could see them clearly now – NCC 1701 – and his fingers hit the switch he’d only minutes ago deactivated.

            The red alert klaxons blared through the bridge for ten cycles before he cut them off, leaving only the flashing lights to remind the crew of their battle status. As he received battle-ready reports from the gunnery stations, he caught a glimpse of Waynar coming back hastily, red-faced as if he’d been running, and bristling with self-importance.

            “We’re going in?”

            “Affirmative, Mr. Waynar.”

            “The Federation ship is down, then?”

            Spock didn’t answer. He was busy doing several things at once, an activity that would have pleased him immensely had there not been two names clamoring in his mind. Looking back on it later, he didn’t know which he’d thought of first. He only knew that when he’d seen those numbers, he’d known a moment of most unsettling emotion.

            Enterprise. Jim/Lara. Or Lara/Jim. It didn’t matter. He reached for a link unused these many months, ripping away the scar tissue he’d so carefully formed, searching for some call from her. There was none. Of course. He’d made it quite plain to her. If her mind was calling to anyone, it would be calling to Jim, somewhere in the tangle of emotions flaring from Enterprise. He had no time to search her out now, anyway.

They were within firing range of the Romulan ship lying off Enterprises bow, and as he’d hoped, there was no indication they’d been spotted. The Romulan’s attention was all on her rapidly-failing prey. The first photon torpedo from Nyhie hit her amidships and shattered the minimum shielding there; the second ruptured both primary and secondary hulls. The suddenly-freed artificial atmosphere rushed out, carrying with it bodies and parts of bodies, equipment, and chunks of the ship itself, making a hideous snowstorm of many colors against the blackness of the starfield.

Enterprise was not fired on at all, and Waynar thought, By the Comet, he’s actually going to try to take her intact! The audacity of it nearly took his breath away, but he had little time to dwell on it as the second Romulan ship broke away from Enterprise to turn her guns on this newer, vital target. But her crew was tired, her phasers losing their punch, and she simply couldn’t outmaneuver the extra thrust programmed into Nyhie’s modified engines.

Darting like a wasp, Nyhie was all over the second Romulan, her phasers like crimson flame, until the report came through that their quarry’s port shields were down. A deadly clutch of photon torpedoes was dispatched, and the Romulan vessel, primary hull breached in three separate places, wallowed away.

The third Romulan ship, not liking the odds, broke off abruptly, and Spock, determining to finish the job at hand, let her go. He kept pounding at the second ship, mortally wounded now, until she blossomed like some malignant flower as her captain asked for one bit more power than her overtaxed engines could deliver, and the matter-antimatter containment shields ruptured with the strain.

It was over nearly as suddenly as it had begun, and the helmswoman waited for the signal to come about. She found herself shaking a bit. A heavy cruiser. What a prize that would make! They’d all take a step up if Spock could pull this one off.

She rather thought he could.

As the course coordinates were fed to her, she looked up sharply. The course he was calling for would take them away from the crippled, defenseless starship. She swiveled in her chair, looking at him for explanation, and it was like running into a stone wall full tilt. His eyes dared her to make some comment, to ask the question, and something inside her froze as quickly as if it had been exposed to the absolute zero of open space. Spock’s eyes drilled into her, carrying that numbing cold, and she turned quickly back to her board, entering the course he had called for.

The unasked question hung in the air of the bridge like the ice crystals from the first ruined Romulan vessel, but no one – not even the impetuous Waynar – dared ask it.

-----III-----

Kirk had been in the mess when the alert sounded, and his stomach rumbled in complaint when he settled into the con. It was to be the last non-essential thought he would be able to entertain for some time.

Outgunned, rat-trapped, attack capability nearly nil after four hours of the most furious battle he could remember, Kirk knew he had to make a decision … now. He could sit here and wait for the inevitable, or he could self-destruct, and take at least one, possibly two, Romulan ships with him. But only if he did it now, while he still had the capacity to pick the precise time and place.

But 430 lives…

They took a bad hit, and the bridge filled with smoke from a fire somewhere belowdecks. He was sure he must be hearing things when Varyschenk reported a fourth ship streaking toward them – a Federation destroyer.

Aft scanners showed the destruction of the tenacious Romulan off their bow, and his heart jumped. Someone started a cheer, but it was choked off when the destroyer appeared impossibly soon on the forward scanner.

“We haven’t got anything capable of that speed,” the navigator said, and someone – Kirk was never sure just who – said “Jesus! I’ll bet it’s Nyhie.

His mind stopped dead, like a seized engine. Nyhie. That meant… it meant his words nightmares come true. It meant him and Spock, toe to toe, slugging it out, and ending with one of them dead or captured.

But Nyhie wasn’t firing on them. She was reducing the second Romulan ship to scrap iron, and streaking away at what was obviously and impossibly warp 10, almost before he could gather his shattered wits about him.

What functions remained for him to complete before he left the bridge for the first time in what seemed like months were directed by that portion of his mind which responded to the deeply ingrained patterns necessary to the continued survival of any Starfleet line officer. The other part of his mind was occupied, in spite of his attempts to suppress it, with the still-vivid and still vividly painful memories of the last time he had seen the Vulcan face-to-face.

Even when he left the bridge, bound for his quarters and his bed, the images continued to play in his brain. He knew sleep was going to elude him, even though his body cried for it. He knew he could call M’Benga for chemical oblivion, but refused to make the call, because it might become necessary for him to resume his duties on the bridge at any moment. And because, deep inside, he feared that a synthetic nirvana might become so overwhelmingly attractive that he could never willingly withdraw from it.

And so he stripped off his uniform, rank with the smell of fear and fatigue, showered without really feeling the water, and turned to battle his memories on a field already reduced to the rubble of his hopes and what he had once stood for.

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

The message came from Starfleet 30 days later.

He knew he was in line for a commodore’s stripe, maybe even flagship status for Enterprise, and he received the sealed communiqué with mixed emotions. Emotions which rapidly changed colors, from the mixed neutrality of beige to the howling vividness of scarlet when he broke open the seal and played the tape. At the end of it, the Fleet Admiral invited his comments, which would, if Captain Kirk desired, become part of the official record. The only ones Captain Kirk could think of at that moment would have melted the tape, the player, and possibly the entire console.

There would be no commodore’s stripe, no flagship status for Enterprise. That wasn’t mentioned in the tape, of course, but it was blatantly clear, and it didn’t bother him much. What bothered him – and he gave an angry snort when he caught himself thinking of it in those terms – what enraged him was the accusation that he should have taken offensive action against Nyhie, but that he had foregone that action because he knew his former first officer was in command.

After an hour of angry pacing and half a dozen removals of the bottle of Saurian brandy from his locker – each time putting it back unopened because he knew he was too angry to appreciate it and it was too good to waste as a spite drink – he decided he would send, as his response, an unedited transcript of the bridge log from the beginning of the Romulan attack to the end of the startling and unexpected rescue, and another copy of the report he had filed at the time.

If those brass-plated cretins didn’t realize that, first, Enterprise was in no shape to take offensive action against anything more powerful than a dragonfly; and that second, no one was sure their rescuer had been Nyhie until it was all over and they’d had time to review the sensor tapes, then there was no sense arguing with them anyway.

He mentally slammed the doors on the subject of the reprimand and went down to the gym, hoping to work off his anger on the handball court. He pounced on Sulu, who was a powerful player when he chose to be, and assumed himself lost in the game when a disturbing thought crept out of that supposedly closed cupboard.

The reason you’re so mad, the thought said, is because you don’t really know what you’d have done if you’d met Nyhie head-on.

Like hell. He batted the ball into the backcourt with a careless follow-through that made him wince. She’s a rebel ship. I’d have fired on her.

On Spock?

Yes. On Spock.

And the 4.5 centimeter ball, travelling at roughly 187 kilometers per hour, caught him square in the solar plexus and knocked him down quite as efficiently and as painfully as a slug from one of Sulu’s antique firearms would have done.

In the star-spangled pain that followed, as he tried to hang on to both his dignity and his consciousness, two voices clamored. One was Sulu’s. The other was that of his own awareness, which debated objectively whether the incident sprang from a body that didn’t move quickly enough, or from a mind that harbored unacceptable thoughts.

One of them, he decided, had undeniably turned traitor.

-----IV-----

Traitor. The word hummed in Kyra’s mind, even after she had closed the cover of the official report of the Enterprise incident.

It wasn’t the first time she’d read it. There had been ample opportunity to go over it time and time again while Spock, summoned to Eos at her command, dodged and fought his way back to home port. He had to know what was coming, she thought. Why, then, had he returned? What plan-within-a-plan led him to Eos and disgrace?

She touched the cover of the other folder, the one prepared by T’Riell. Was the Vulcan healer correct? Had Spock crossed the precarious line between the permissible madness of combat and the forbidden madness of the inner soul?

She would see. He waited for her now, in the anteroom. She would have sensed his presence, even without the announcement of the page. That vital mind, that vital body, sent signals as strong as any homing beacon to one with her telepathic powers.

She stood carefully, arched her long, supple body before the mirror, and smoothed the high-waisted gown carefully. She was satisfied that her pregnancy would not be discernible. It had not yet been officially announced; the time was not ripe. But that was not the reason she sought to hide her thickening waistline from Spock. She wanted him to see her at full power, desirable and unattainable, not as a royal broodmare with another man’s seed quickening in her belly. Still, there was an unconscious care in her movements as she crossed to the door, an odd and protective tilt to her pelvis. Her body acknowledged and accommodated this new life, even if her mind did not.

She clamped down hard on her expression when she saw him standing there in a vagrant shaft of light filtering through the window grille.

“Commander Spock. Have you come to plead your case?” He ignored her extended palms, and she bit back anger at the snub. Men had been executed for less.

“You summoned me, Your Matros.”

“Indeed I did. How careless of me to forget.”

“Perhaps Your Matros has had other matters on her mind.” His eyes, expressionless, moved unerringly to her belly, and she knew she was coloring in fury.

Angered by his sudden intuitiveness, she attacked him with her mind, projecting images of herself and her consort Tisai locked in embrace. She pinioned his gaze, amethyst on ebony, giving all her concentration to holding him there, battering at his consciousness with the vision, so real to her that her own body responded with quickened breathing and a tingling in her breasts. In her mind, in his, the figures turned until she was superior, her curtain of silver hair falling to shield her partner’s face. The vision-figure arched back in sudden ecstasy, and Tisai wore Spock’s face, Spock’s hands, Spock’s body.

Kyra felt the muscles of her face moving into a sardonic smile. Leave him with that, she thought; let him think on what might have been…

She set her mind to break the contact and found she could not. The balance had shifted somewhere, somehow, and now it was Spock’s mind that controlled, that sent, that blurred the image of herself into something she was not, even as she struggled to hold it there. The silver hair darkened, shortened, until it barely grazed a jawline stronger than her own, just as the woman’s body was smaller, harder than her own. A Human body that the long, delicate Vulcan hands caressed; a Human face that moved to hover above his; a Human will that yielded as he moved to reassume control with a gentleness that was steel clad in velvet.

Kyra knew that face, knew the name. Her influence, her fortune, had purchased that information for her once. Now neither was sufficiently powerful to shut away the vision of Spock and his Human wife.

The silent, intense battle charged the very air in the room; it seemed to draw the oxygen out of her lungs as she struggled to replace Lara’s yielding image with her own dominant one. She would not lose – could not lose. Not here, not in her own stronghold. Her long fingers curled into claws. She would shred the flesh from his bones. She would shout for her guards. She would … surrender.

And that quickly, it was over. Like a marionette cut loose from its strings, she felt her joints give way, and she slumped over the high back of a chaise, struggling for breath.

He still had not moved; had not traded the mask of his face for any outward sign of triumph. His victory was so complete that he did not need the empty posturing of demonstrated power.

“You bastard,” she hissed.

“As you wish, Your Matros.” The slight incline of his head was a mockery of acceptance. He thought he could afford that, she decided. Thought that because he had won this battle, the issue was decided. She straightened painfully and reached for the bell cord, wishing she had a weapon. If he attacked her now, before the guard responded…

But still he did not move, though he must have known full well what the gesture meant. She felt her strength coming back, arrogance lifting her chin and straightening her spine. The guards burst in, weapons at the ready, and skidded to embarrassed halts, confused at the outwardly calm scene. Kyra did not look at them; they were only instruments, and not particularly worthy ones, at that. Her gaze, her words, were for Spock.

“Your death will not be noble, Vulcan. And it will not be swift. But it will give me great pleasure.” She nodded at her men and they approached him warily, expecting a resistance that did not come.

“Get this garbage out of here,” she snapped. “Its smell offends me.” And turned her back abruptly as they took him away, not understanding why the quick tears burned in her eyes, or why her ultimate victory tasted so sour.

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

Commander P’lef was uneasy in her mind. She liked it not, this business of hanging a man by his own honor. Especially when it had been that honor which put his head in the noose to begin with. She should not have allowed it to come to this, should have spoken out sooner.

Ah, but one did not move rashly against the crown, part of her mind said. The telepathic power held only by the women of the ruling house made even the thought of a rebellion supremely dangerous. And yet, another part of her mind knew it was a greater rashness, a greater danger, not to move when the bearer of the crown debased all it stood for.

Spock had become an obsession with Kyra. It would have been better for both him and Eos had he responded differently to Kyra’s advances in those first revolt-torn days of her Matriarchy, years ago. Had he tarried with her then as she thought she desired, she would have tired of him quickly, possibly as quickly as she had tired of Tisai, her consort. But in denying her, Spock had become the unattainable – a new thing in the pampered existence of the child-woman Kyra had been then. And she had spent years learning all she could about him, about the society that formed him.

Kyra thought she had found a flaw in that society, thought its growing dissatisfaction with the Federation would provide a handhold in her climb to reach Spock. Yet he had denied her a second time when she offered him more than herself and a consort’s place on a single planet.

            It was not the width of his ambition Kyra had misjudged, it was the depth of his commitment to the Federation he served, to the Human he called captain and friend. Even when Kyra joined forces with the Vulcan’s inimical half-sister T’Faie, he had not turned his back on that commitment. True, he had taken the command thrust upon him, but P’lef knew he had done so only to buy the life of the Human woman he loved.

Kyra had made a serious misstep then, with her judgment turned inside-out by the demands of her latest bed-partner. Making Waynar Spock’s second-in-command was a grievous error, and giving him command of the Nyhie in Spock’s absence was an even worse one. The man was more at home on the battlefields of the Matriarch’s court than on those of starflung space. His reports to Kyra had been designed more to undermine Spock and promote himself than to give the Matriarch a true picture of what was going on in the field.

Waynar had made a botch of it, as P’lef knew he would. She also knew he would undoubtedly botch permanent command of the Nyhie. Men, with their raging passions and love of manipulation, made poor soldiers. Perhaps if they had power of their own and were not compelled to leach it away from their women instead, things would be different.

P’lef sighed and took a sip of steaming tloss, careful not to spill any on the full dress uniform. Wishing would not alter reality.

And reality was that Spock had met his former captain in the field six months ago and allowed him free passage to safety. Worse than allowed it – cleared the way for it. Waynar lost no time in reporting that. Coming as it did within hours of T’Riell’s report of Spock’s physical and mental condition, it had spiked Kyra’s rage to a new level of vindictiveness.

The court-martial order had been signed by P’lef as chief of military operations, but Kyra might as well have held the stylus. Even now, as P’lef waited for the board to return its verdict, the Matriarch sat across the room and smiled to herself, refining the penalty in her busy mind.

The courier came in quietly and bowed them into the courtroom proper. P’lef noted with distaste that pennants and tapestries of Eos had been hung therein during the deliberations. The commander had little patience with the trappings of the Matriarchy; she wished she had the courage to demand their removal, at least from the tribunal’s table where she would sit.

Matros, she thought, you press too far.

There was the shuffle of rising forms as the Commander and the Matriarch entered and were seated. Spock remained standing, silent and weathered as a stone fortress, bringing a dignity to the dress uniform that P’lef wished were more prevalent. Someone pressed a sealed packet into P’lef’s hand; she broke the seal, quite aware of what it would say.

What would they do, she wondered, if I read what is in my conscience instead? And knew even as she formed the thought that it was a purely rhetorical question. Her own disgrace would not ameliorate Spock’s.

“Spock of Vulcan,” she read, “by grace of our Matriarch commander of the destroyer Nyhie, this tribunal finds you guilty of offering aid to an enemy of the crown in time of war, which is an act of treason and punishable by death.” She went on with the specifics of the charges, glancing up occasionally to see if there was any reaction from the prisoner or the court.

There was none from any quarter; no one was surprised by the verdict, least of all Spock. The list of particulars was long; her throat was dry before she finished, and she wished she had brought the tloss into the courtroom with her. When she had finished, she laid the papers aside.

“Commander Spock, do you understand the decision of this court?”

Kyra broke in before he could reply. “That is merely a formality of record,” she explained in dulcet tones. “However, you do have the right to have the charges repeated in your own language.”

He spoke for the first time, in fluent and formal High Eosian, as unaccented as Kyra’s own. “Tyranny is the same in any language, Your Matros. The perversion of justice to serve one’s own ends requires no translation.”

Kyra nearly lost control then, going white and half-rising as P’lef gaveled for order and restrained herself from applauding the Vulcan’s bold act.

“You will strike that from the record,” Kyra instructed. “Let it read only that the prisoner declined translation.”

“So done,” P’lef replied. It would be harder to strike the Vulcan’s words from the memory of those present, she knew.

“Commander Spock…” P’lef spent the words carefully, knowing it would be the last time he would be addressed by that title. “…the crown reserves the right of sentencing in all capital offenses. You will approach the dais and acknowledge the sovereignty of Her Matros.”

He moved away from the defendant’s table, flanked by two masters of order, but their restraints were not necessary. Three paces from the flag-draped platform, he dropped gracefully to his knees, back straight, head raised in quiet pride. P’lef would have sworn there was no change in his expression, yet he seemed somehow to wear a mocking smile.

Kyra saw it, too, and she gripped the arms of the chair as dignity struggled with temper. After long seconds, dignity won, yet still she did not speak, enjoying now the breathless attention of the court. When she began, her speech had the sound of something carefully rehearsed.

“Thy treachery grieves us, Spock. Thee came to us a fugitive from thy own land, and we did grant thee sanctuary.”

Fugitive, yes, P’lef thought. But made so by your own machinations, Matros, and those of the woman T’Faie. It was not sanctuary to which he delivered himself – it was bondage. And he knew it.

Kyra flicked the other woman a quick and venomous glance, and P’lef knew her own angry thoughts had betrayed her. She realized there might be two bodies swinging from the gallows now, and was mildly surprised to discover that the picture did not particularly frighten her.

The Matriarch was warming to her role now, the center of attention, the dispenser of life and death. “And thy accusations of tyranny do grieve us further still. We would have thee know the justice of Eos, Spock. If thou wilt admit thy transgressions against us and beg forgiveness of the crown, we will grant thee clemency.”

Spock, wordless, faced her with no change of expression. Yet P’lef felt strongly that there was an unspoken communication between the two telepaths, for Kyra’s face reddened in anger and her chin came up as though the Vulcan had voiced some base insult. She rose slowly, the raised platform and upright posture making her tower over the prisoner, despite the distortion of her now-obvious pregnancy.

“Thy rank is forfeit, Spock, and all privileges appurtenant thereto. Yet thy life will not be forfeit, for the life of a traitor is but a coin cheaply spent and soon forgotten. We grant thee life, Spock of Vulcan, and call for chann-tav.”

P’lef fought down a sickness in her throat. The chann-tav had not been invoked in centuries, not since the ascendancy of the Matriarchy. But it was still in the old books, so Kyra could not be barred, even by an act of the Senate. P’lef saw puzzlement reflected on the faces of the crowd. There were few in the courtroom who even understood the punishment, she realized. Most certainly, the condemned man did not.

Kyra realized it, too. Even that was part of her plan. She rolled the words forth in a clear and unwavering voice. “Thy eyes, which saw the enemy and did not track him, are forfeit. Thy arm, which did not smite him, is forfeit. The lives of thy sons, who did not fall in the battle thee fled, are forfeit. And that thy seed shall never flower again in this land, thy manhood also is forfeit. And when these forfeits are paid, thou shalt beg in the streets for thy bread, that all who see thee shall know the price of treason.”

There was shock in the crowd, reflected in checked movements and indrawn breath, but none came from the prisoner. P’lef willed him to leap up, to strike out at the arrogant, towering figure and thereby purchase his own instant and relatively painless death. But he only regarded Kyra with that dark and unflinching gaze, asking no quarter, granting none. The masters of order moved as though to pull him upright; he stopped first one and then the other with the dignity of his stare, rising smoothly to his feet.

“Your mercy and justice are noted, Your Matros,” he said. “May they stand as your monument when the towers of Eos fall.” He inclined his head in a mock bow, the grace of it lost in Kyra’s sharp gesture and shrill command.

“Take him away,” she snapped, abandoning the formal tone and manner. Almost as an afterthought, she added, “The sentence will be carried out tomorrow. Publicly.” She turned as quickly as her growing bulk would permit, and stalked out, leaving the beginnings of babble in her wake.

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

It was dark in the cell, a full, inky blackness meant to give a foretaste of things to come. Spock considered the blackness, tasted it, rolled it around in his mind. It was no stranger to him. For two months, while the evidence against him had been assembled and the deliberations undertaken, this fetid cell had been his home. And if Kyra had her way, there would be more blackness ahead of him.

It would have been a lie to pretend he did not fear the punishment set out for him. And, as he had told someone long ago, lies to oneself are the worst of all. But fear, or lack of it, could not alter the future. He put it aside as irrelevant, like the beating of his heart or the way his prisoner’s tunic fit. There was a situation to be dealt with; there were decisions to be made.

He considered his options. He could go meekly to the butcher’s block, as if Kyra was within her rights to order the debasement of another sentient being. He could seek the best opportunity for an escape attempt and either achieve it or force his guards to cut him down. If he succeeded, he would be alone on a hostile world, but with other options open to him. If he failed, it would not matter, for failure would mean instant death. Or, he could simply leave now, turning his mind inward until nothing remained but the physical envelope.

Perhaps that was the best way to defeat her. To present the shell to be carved up any way it pleased her, but to have the satisfaction of knowing the real Spock, the one she sought to debase, was far beyond her reach. The shell would die quickly without the mind to direct it; if not before the time scheduled for the public butchering, then surely during it. In either case, Kyra would be empty-handed, publicly defied.

Something else clamored in his mind, some stubborn logic that kept his lungs drawing breath and sped blood through vessels. The purpose of life is life. To seek death is illogical.

Yet had he not sought it, consciously or otherwise, in the foolhardy risks he took with Nyhie? And sought it knowingly, even eagerly, in that final confrontation with Kyra?

It had gained him nothing, he knew. No reason to place in her mind, there in the courtroom, a replay of that last mental exchange between them. He had known that even as he formed the vision of himself and Lara and thrust it into Kyra’s easily-accessible mind, had known it would infuriate her.

One last great act of defiance.

Something deep inside him gave a sardonic, silent laugh at that. The act had been as foolish and pointless as carrying her mark on his body had been. His fingertips brushed the twisted scar on his right cheek – the failed mnemonic that was to have reminded him of Kyra’s ruthlessness, of the danger of crossing her. Allowing it to remain had been an empty gesture. He would have it removed--

Again, the dark and empty mental laughter. When, Vulcan? When you return to ShiKahr? When the force of your mind shatters these stones, changes the flow of time to wipe out the years since you first met her?

The soft scrape of a tray in the food-delivery slot jerked his mind out of its futile circling. His nose told him there was meat on the tray, and he made no move toward it, though his stomach cramped sharply in its emptiness. There are still some things I will not do for you, Kyra.

That thought, as much as anything, made his decision for him. There were, indeed, things he would not do for her, gifts he would not give her. His dignity was one of them.

He settled himself in the darkness and began to cast off his body. He slowed his breathing, slowed his heart, waited for the loss of sensation in his extremities that would tell him the process was beginning.

It did not come. He told himself to be patient, to concentrate only on drawing his essence inward, but his time-sense would not shut down, and he was aware that the minutes ticked by into hours and he was no nearer his goal.

Had he lost, somehow, the Vulcan ability to separate body from mind? Or had he never really had it, debased always by the Human blood that flowed in his veins? He thought of the dreams, of the humansleep that had dogged him for months now.

T’Riell had tried to tell him, but he had ignored her. It would please her to be proven right, he thought. She was a skillful and knowledgeable healer, and he thought that in perhaps another place, another time, they might have been well-mated.

There. Human thoughts again. Even here, even now, his heritage followed him, thwarted him. He smoothed the thoughts down, black water over red stone, but the waves broke and the crags stood free, victorious. He saw T’Riell’s face, floating in an out-of-focus hallucination, and thought, No. If I must have visions, let them be other faces, other times. He tried to loosen the swept-back hair, to soften the slanting brow and fine-drawn line of ear, seeking a face he never dreamed. But T’Riell remained, her mouth moving soundlessly.

Go away, his mind roared. Go away, T’Riell!

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

“Bring the light closer, Commander.”

“What is it, Healer?”

“He is turning inward. I did not think he would have the strength.”

“Turning…?” P’lef was confused.

“I cannot explain it now. But he is not aware of us. And unless we can bring him back, we’ll never get him out of here.” T’Riell found a pulse point, noted the faintness and the chill of the skin. She drew back an open hand and slapped him, rocking him back with such force that she had to use the other arm to keep him from toppling over.

"Spock!” She slapped him again, her hand stinging, and repeated the action a third time.

P’lef stepped forward angrily. “I’m not risking my life for you to torment him!”

“Stay out of this, Commander.” The hand rose again, cracked against skin, and Spock shuddered, making as if to pull away. “Spock, come back!”

“Go away,” he said tonelessly. “Go away, T’Riell.”

She backhanded him, feeling the skin split over her knuckles and he was suddenly alert, catching her wrists, rising and dragging her up with him.

“You are wrong,” he hissed. “Who pours such lies into your ears?” He tightened his grip, and T’Riell knew he was not seeing her at all. In his hands, as they bore down on her wrists, in his body as he held her immobile against him, the heat of plak tow exploded, threatening her own consciousness. Whatever his tormented vision, it was rife with demanding sexuality, battering at her own control.

“P’lef – break his hold. Hurry.”

To the Eosian, it seemed as if both Vulcans had lost their senses. She hesitated until T’Riell’s voice rose with a note of panic P’lef had never heard. “Commander – now! Please!

She stepped forward, raised the weight of the hand torch in a double-handed grip, and brought it down with all her force at the inner crook of Spock’s right elbow. He spun away, right arm dangling uselessly, left arm raised at her. “No!” he roared. “Not this time, Kyra. This time, I shall end it!”

T’Riell launched herself at his unprotected back, strong searching fingers closing on the vital juncture, and he swayed like a towering colossus, crumbling slowly to the damp stone.

P’lef, shaken by the unexpected violence, gathered her thoughts slowly. “By the Comet, Healer, have we risked our lives to rescue a madman?”

“I do not know, Commander. His actions were not inconsistent with some of the telemetry readings I took on board Nyhie. But whether the condition is permanent…” She trailed off, shook her head. This was no time to delve into Vulcan biology. “We will have to carry him to the surface. If the guards regain consciousness before we beam up--”

“Then we shall die immediately, instead of later.” P’lef shrugged. “Treason is a one-way street.”

“One which I would suggest we travel rather quickly, Commander. Even a one-way street leads somewhere.”

-----V-----

Rumors, Kirk thought. If you haven’t heard a good one by 0900, make one up. He sipped at his coffee, which was now stone-cold, grimaced, and turned his attention back to the intelligence report. Now there’s an optimistic title if I ever heard one. Intelligence report. Rumor report, more likely.

Something was up, that was certain. Action in the sector was down; the heart seemed to be going out of the Republic’s fleet. Reports from Vulcan said the Separatist movement was tottering, that Sarek’s voice of reason was gaining strength. If Vulcan pulled out, the rest would come apart like a pair of cheap boots in a rainstorm, he knew.

But this … this didn’t make any sense. The Eosian forces in full revolt, the Matriarchy ordering reprisals on a bloodbath scale? Kyra was cutting her own throat, if these reports were true. And Nyhie… no reports of any kind on her action, not for the last three months. And even in the months before that, she had seemed to be working her way back to Eos.

He wondered where Spock stood in all this. Right in the middle, he’d wager. Whichever side he was on, he’d go down fighting. And take as many of the enemy with him as possible. The only trouble was – who was the enemy, now?

His head hurt, and his coffee was cold. He wasn’t supposed to drink it, anyway, he remembered. M’Benga was on his back about caffeine overload, and had been trying for a month to nail his captain down for a snoop at what the doctor said was an incipient ulcer.

An ulcer. Terrific. Just what he needed. Almost as much as he needed this cockamamie assignment – escorting a transport full of bigwigs on an inspection tour. If Command felt it was absolutely necessary to cart 150 observers through a hotly-contested sector, why the hell hadn’t they given them something bigger than a transport to joyride in? No photon arming, and only two phaser banks … they might as well have sent them out on bicycles. Hirayama would be nothing but a stone around his neck if Enterprise ran into trouble.

He put aside both the annoyingly incomplete intelligence report and the thorny problem of trying to understand the mental processes of Starfleet Command, and called for a readout on the replacements they’d picked up yesterday. He’d have to do the old welcome-aboard thing, and fire off a famous Kirk pep-talk. Only who was supposed to pep-talk him? Who assured the Captain that he was out here facing off the Forces of Evil and that his strength was the strength of ten because he was Pure of Heart?

Self-pity, my friend, is something you don’t need right now. Save it for shore leave, and impress the hell out of some sweet young thing who’ll be happy to--

The half of his attention which had been on the list of names suddenly became whole, and he stopped the run to make sure. He noted the room assignment number and hit the proper toggles on the intercom.

The response was slow, the voice garbled, and he thought – How many can there be? He kept his voice level as he said, “Report to the Captain’s office, Lieutenant.” He took the mumbled “Ygthw” for an affirmation and closed the connection, remembering. It seemed longer than it was, really. So much had happened. A lifetime. And even if it was who he hoped, there would still be some things missing. A lot of things.

Half a loaf, friend. And maybe more.

He pushed back from the desk and walked to the outer office where a clerical yeoman was coding data chips for retrieval. “Madigan, get me a pot of coffee. A big pot. And two cups.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. One of M’Benga’s spies, no doubt. Her words confirmed it. “Captain, you know you’re not supposed--”

“Yeoman…” He grinned at her. “What did you just call me?”

“Captain, sir.”

“That’s right.” He held her gaze, waiting for her to work it out in her mind. When she did, she blushed.

“Yes, sir. And two cups.”

He watched appreciatively as she left, the pert curve of her rump making the short uniform skirt swing enticingly. He was beginning to feel better already. The doors hadn’t closed completely, and they stuttered, reversing movement to admit someone else.

“Captain.”

“It is you!” He crossed the space between them, grinning, caught the offered hand. “Come on in here. Damn, it’s good to see you. And a lieutenant, yet. You’ll be booting me out of the center chair, next.”

Pavel Chekov rubbed two fingers across the stripes on his sleeve and pulled up the offered chair. “Not for a vhile yet, Captain.”

Kirk studied the young man, noting a new maturity and a thinness in the face. “I wasn’t sure it was you,” he admitted. “You sounded … different.”

Chekov grinned. “I had a mouth full of toothpaste,” he admitted.

“And you look … different.”

“Vell, it vas a new brand,” he offered.

Kirk laughed. “More than toothpaste, I think. So, where have you been? I see you’ve got a new rating to go with that stripe.”

“Yes, sir. Veaponry. I took some training after I got off medical leave.”

“What happened?”

Chekov shrugged. “Potemkin took some hits. I vas in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing serious. But I spent some time at the rehab hospital on Starbase 16.”

“You’re certified fit for duty, aren’t you?” Kirk’s attention was distracted as Madigan brought the coffee tray in.

“I had a miraculous recowery vhen I heard I had a chance to get back here.”

“I’ll drink to that.” Kirk handed across a cup and saluted with his own. “They check you out on that new weaponry console?”

“Yes, sir. I fact, my first tour starts in a few minutes. Then I double back for first tour tomorrow. Just like old times.” Not quite, Kirk thought, but said nothing as the younger man continued. “And, oh, speaking of old times, I saw Dr. Merritt at the hospital.”

“On Sixteen?” He kept his voice carefully level. “So that’s where she wound up.” He swirled his coffee in the cup. “How is she?” The question seemed to make Chekov uncomfortable, as though he suddenly wished he hadn’t mentioned the incident.

“Sort of … empty. Like she vas vaiting for something, but she vasn’t sure vhat.” He sipped reflectively at his drink. “I guess it’s been pretty rough on her, vith Mr. Spock…” He trailed off. “Is he still … uh … vith the Nyhie?”

“As far as we know. The reports are pretty sketchy.” Kirk was uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken and realized Chekov was, too. They nursed their coffee and spoke of trivialities until the clock rescued them. When Chekov had gone, he swung the chair around to face the bulkhead, as if its blankness could wipe blank the jumble of emotion in his mind.

After the tortuous delays and endless circling of the court case, he’d purposely put thoughts of Lara away. The process of regrowth, of healing, had been as slow and as difficult as purging his body of some addictive drug. But it was gone now – she was gone. He had convinced himself of that. Contacting her would only start the process over again, and for what?

Still, the thought nagged at his mind. A stop at Starbase 16 was on Hirayama’s itinerary, and therefore on theirs. Should he beam down, see her, start it all over again?

Lara had once called loneliness the central and inevitable fact of human existence. He’d disagreed, then. Now, he wasn’t sure. If it was inevitable, why should he taunt himself by reopening old wounds? But could he knowingly be that close to Lara and not see her?

He wished there was someone he could talk to about it. Some other mind to bounce ideas off; some cool voice of logic or impassioned humanism to echo back his words with their own added coloration.

The central and inevitable fact… Perhaps it was. He couldn’t recall a time when he’d felt more alone.

The sigh of the opening doors brought him reluctantly out of his reverie. Probably Madigan, he thought, checking to see if he needed anything before she left. Perhaps she… No. He knew how that would end, and it would solve nothing.

“Good night, Madigan,” he said without turning. “Enjoy your evening.”

“The name’s McCoy, Captain. It hasn’t been that long, has it?” The familiar drawl reached out and grabbed him at the first word, spun the chair around and propelled him halfway across the room before the memory of their parting stopped him.

“..Bones?” The question was tentative, halting, weighted with uncertainty.

“Hello, Jim.” McCoy, too, bore a sheepish grin and a posture of indecision. Then it was gone and they were hanging onto each other and pounding backs and shoulders like winning-side rooters at some old-home-week athletic contest.

The emotion was too intense to last long. They broke apart, some of the self-consciousness returning. Kirk was the first to regain some semblance of coherence.

“What the hell are you doing here? I was just thinking about you! Sit down.”

McCoy, grinning, found the chair Chekov had so recently vacated. “Don’t tell anybody, but I’m a stowaway.”

“A what?”

“Well, things got a little boring on Hirayama, so I used my immense powers of charm, and a little bribery--”

Hirayama? You’ve been there all along?” Kirk settled himself on the edge of the desk. “I think you’d better start at the beginning. Including where you got that shirt.”

“Kinda fetching, isn’t it?” he said, smoothing the silky yellow fabric splashed with crimson starbursts. “A gift from a certain lady of my acquaintance.”

“I presume you were treating her for color-blindness.”

McCoy chuckled. “Not quite. Although there was a certain amount of treat involved.”

“Bones,” he prompted. “The Hirayama. Remember?”

“Oh, yeah. Well, I was gonna go home after Argelius…” He trailed off, chagrined and embarrassed as he recalled the bitterness of their parting.

“I remember.” Kirk’s voice was soft. “Mint juleps and grandkids, you said.”

“Have you got an idea how boring an eight-month-old kid can get after twenty minutes? Almost as boring as mint juleps and rocking chairs.

“Well, after about six weeks, I was climbin’ the walls. Then I got a note from Christensen at the Experimental Branch of the Federation Health Institute, wanting me to guinea-pig for her. I figured what the hell. I didn’t have much to lose, and she had some theories about the Fabrini treatments that looked pretty good.

“To make a long story short, four months later, I had a prototype whatsit wired into my spleen, and an offer from FHI to do some consulting. When this observation mission came along, they decided they needed someone with my vast store of medical knowledge, and Carol thought--”

“Carol.”

“Umm… Dr. Christensen--”

“The lady with the … interesting … taste in shirts.”

“That would be tellin’, Jim.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Anyway, Carol wanted to see if this gizmo would do the trick in the field as well as it does in the lab. I guess it does. So far, so good, anyway.”

McCoy shifted slightly in the chair with a twinge of something akin to pain crossing his face. Looking at him, Kirk wondered if the “so far, so good” was real or just something McCoy had convinced himself of. There were signs of aging – in the salt-and-pepper hair, in the beginnings of crepe along the jawline and at the throat. McCoy had looked like death warmed over the last time Kirk had seen him, and while he was obviously healthier now, he was still not the Bones of old.

“You wouldn’t have a little touch of bourbon in that jug, would you?” McCoy asked hopefully.

“Just coffee. There’s some brandy in my cabin, though. Want to go down there?”

“No. Here’s as good as any place, I reckon. I would take some of that coffee, though.” Whatever McCoy had in his craw, he was working it around while Kirk refilled the cups and handed one over. The thickening of his Georgia drawl and his continued shifting in the chair told Kirk that much.

McCoy looked into the dark liquid as if he might find words written there. Kirk recognized the gesture; he had used it often enough himself. The words were never there, though.

“I’ve known since the day before we left that Enterprise was gonna be our escort,” McCoy said, almost apologetically. “I almost backed out. And then I thought, what the hell, there’d still be a couple miles of space between us. It wasn’t enough, I guess.”

He set the coffee down untasted. “Jim, what I’m tryin’ to say is I’m sorry. About what I said, what I did to you back at Argelius.” He stopped Kirk’s reply with a gesture of his hand. “No, let me get this out. I was a sick, tired, cranky old bastard. I was hurting. I was scared. And I ran. I ran as far as I could, but it wasn’t far enough. Because I was still there, wherever I went, and every morning I’d wake up knowing I ran out on you when what you needed was a good swift kick in the butt.”

Kirk felt the laughter coming and tried to shut it off, but he couldn’t. McCoy’s speech had taken such a crazy, zigzag path from apology to self-pity to righteous indignation that there was simply no other response possible. He felt like somebody had taken the three bitter years since McCoy’s departure and jerked them off like frayed and dirty plastiderm from a long-healed wound. And the laughter was the final healing.

McCoy was surprised, maybe even a little miffed, at Kirk’s response until he recognized it for what it was and retraced the pathway himself. He began to grin, a little sheepishly. “Well, you did!” he grumbled.

Kirk let the emotion run itself dry before he spoke. “You’re right, Bones. A little late, but one hundred percent, dead on-center right.” He slid off the desk and clapped McCoy on the shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go crack open that brandy.” He waved away McCoy’s beginning motion toward the coffee cup. “You don’t really want that. Probably give you some exotic Russian disease.”

“Russian?” McCoy queried as they walked through the offices toward the corridor.

“That was Chekov’s cup. He’s been reassigned here – I was just talking to him before you showed up.”

“Chekov? How’s he doing?”

“Going around in circles, thanks to the superior wisdom of Starfleet. He was in rehab on Starbase 16, so naturally the first assignment he gets after leave takes him right back there.”

“Chekov was on Sixteen?” McCoy asked as they stepped into the turbolift. “That young man leads a charmed life. He must’ve just got out in time.”

“To fill this slot? Yeah, I guess it was kind of odd.”

McCoy gave him a strange look. “You mean you haven’t heard? It wasn’t in the orders?”

“Our orders? Just to escort Hirayama on a tour of damaged facilities.” A black premonition was creeping up Kirk’s spine. “But Sixteen’s a hospital base. I thought … I assumed you’d be picking up some personnel there.” The turbolift had stopped, but he made no move to leave it. “What’s going on, Bones?”

“Jim, Sixteen was hit by Romulans three weeks ago. It was the second hospital base to be hit in the last month, and a hospital transport’s been attacked since then. I don’t know what it is the Romulans are after, but…” McCoy trailed off as Kirk’s obvious shock penetrated. “Jim? What’s wrong?”

“Chekov … didn’t know about the raid. But he told me … he said Lara Merritt was there. How bad was the damage, Bones? Where did they take the survivors?”

McCoy shook his head. “I don’t have all the details. But … if it was like the others, the Romulans came in after the initial attack. The body counts don’t jibe with the known populations, but… I’m sorry, Jim. We’re assuming there are no survivors.”

Kirk felt the strength flowing out of his legs, as if something had opened a great gash in his flesh. A voice in his mind screamed Not fair; not fair! To be so close … to have the memory of her raised up again, ripping away the protective scars, just so this new assault would be exquisitely painful…

He heard McCoy’s voice, far away, calling his name, felt the touch of a caring hand on his arm, and shook it off as if it were some crawling vermin. The roaring in his mind clarified to a sound that should, somehow, he realized, have a meaning. The words that followed, ripping through the turbolift speakers, gave him a direction, a focus for his rage. He had never, he realized, responded to a red alert with such eagerness.

McCoy trailed behind him as he made his way to the bridge. The deck rocked under them, and he knew the ship had been hit solidly.

He swung into the chair calling for status and damage reports, and his blood chilled as he saw the outline of their attacker on the main screen. The silhouette was unmistakably that of a Federation destroyer. And there was only one Federation destroyer that would fire on them – Nyhie.

“Varyschenk, get me a grid pattern to provide maximum protection for Hirayama. Uhura, patch navigation through to their bridge and set up a navicomp lock. They’re sitting ducks. And I want her damage reports on anything over a level three. Mr. Chekov, buy me some time. If he gets past us, he’ll take that transport apart a plate at a time.”

Even as Chekov nodded and began laying in a fire pattern for the phasers, Kirk knew something was very wrong. Nyhie wasn’t dancing to the tune he’d called. There was no maneuvering by the smaller, faster ship, no feint, no distracting phaser burst to draw Enterprise away and expose the weaker Hirayama. The renegade destroyer was coming straight at them, lobbing a photon torpedo head-on, into the strongest part of Enterprise’s shielding. The shields transmitted a shudder through the deck, but held. As Nyhie held – dead on, straight for them.

Alone, Enterprise could have maneuvered away, gone sub-light, done any number of things. But not with Hirayama hanging around her neck like a chain, with all those passengers and crew to consider. Kirk had no choice. He called the orders that would swing Hirayama into an arc so the transport’s phasers could slice into Nyhie in that microsecond when the destroyer’s shielding powers would be centered against the photon torpedo Enterprise launched.

Nyhie bloomed like a nova, white-hot death that flared the Enterprise viewscreen to an eye-burning intensity and blinded the forward scan sensor. Kirk didn’t need external eyes to know what had happened. He had bought the more than 700 lives on board the Enterprise and the Hirayama, but only at the cost of every living thing on the Nyhie.

Every living thing.

Including her commander.

Some level of his mind registered what was happening on the bridge – the status reports, the movement of Bones brushing past his chair to calm the near-hysteria of a rookie navigator temporarily blinded by the intense light which had flashed from the screen before it died, even the congratulations piped over from the bridge of the Hirayama.

Heard them, but didn’t respond. Couldn’t respond. Because some other level of his mind, some inner voice heard only by himself, screamed the only fact that mattered at all.

Spock is dead, and his blood is on my hands. Forever.

-----VI-----

Spock came back reluctantly, knowing he had failed. Kyra would win, after all. There would be the public humiliation she wanted for him, the--

No. This was not the damp and gritty floor of his cell under his back. It was smooth and cool and it vibrated slightly. And the sounds … a med-bed?

He opened his eyes to T’Riell’s serene face. She nodded expressionlessly. “Very good, Spock. What does your body tell you?”

He flashed her a look tinged with annoyance. It was a child’s exercise that she asked of him, when so many other questions clamored for answers. She had no right--

The anger, the chaos, the lack of control in his mind, startled him into the realization that she was quite right in asking him to center. Slowly, he began to assimilate the information, and as he examined and called out the responses of his body, he felt order coming back. Her calm glance moved from his face to the med panel and back as she compared his body-awareness with what the sensors told her.

“Is there nothing else?” she asked when he was finished.

There was; he had not intended to mention it. “An awareness of healing,” he conceded.

“Where?”

“In my right arm.” He concentrated on the sensation. “A broken bone?” The question was as much for himself as it was for her.

“Yes.”

“How?”

“You are a difficult person to rescue, Spock.”

“Rescue?”

“From Eos. And from yourself. You were turning inward when we reached you – hallucinating. Commander P’lef used only the force deemed necessary at the time.” She answered his quizzical look and stopped his question by reaching for an intercom switch. The act, coupled with Spock’s impressions of the room, confirmed his suspicion that they were on a ship. He held his questions until P’lef appeared. The unadorned tunic she wore was still Eosian military in origin, but the dark splotches on breast and cuff spoke of recently removed insignia.

“This will cost you dearly, Commander,” he said.

“I have neither sons nor manhood to lose, Spock.”

“I am sure Kyra could make adjustments.”

“Doubtless she could. But she will have to catch us first.”

He studied her harsh face, her quiet manner, before he spoke again. “Why, P’lef?”

“Because you are a man of honor.”

“If I am, you know I cannot permit this.” He started to swing off the bed, but T’Riell barred his way as P’lef spoke again.

“Then say it is because I have found there are prices I will not pay. Your life, your integrity, are two of them.”

“Commander--”

“Mr. Spock, we have gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to come this far. I have heard you abhor waste, and that is all this endeavor will be if we do not continue.”

He raised one eyebrow in a sardonic gesture of acceptance. “Commander, your logic may be somewhat faulty, but I yield to your intent.”

She gave him a mocking half-bow.

“May I ask where we are going – and on what ship?”

“My scout. Mine now, anyway,” she stated defiantly. “As to where – Vulcan.”

“Through Federation space?”

“Do you know any other way to get there?”

“No. But … may I remind you that, even if we elude the Federation patrols, Vulcan and Eos are still allies. I doubt we will be received there with open arms.”

“You have been long away,” T’Riell offered. “Things are changing on Vulcan. S’Rakel’s power is eroding. Your father’s group has gained much influence, Spock, and your appearance will give him the strength to break the Separatists’ hold. The Federation would be willing to overlook much in order to have Vulcan back.”

“There is a small matter of my fleeing the authorities, and assisting another to flee.”

“That has been set aside, Spock. There is no one now to press charges against your wife.”

He flicked her a look sharp as a whiplash, annoyed that she knew so much. If the healer understood it was for Lara’s protection that he had agreed to join the Eosians, did she also know who and what were truly behind the move against him? Then his curiosity overcame his reticence.

“T’Faie is … gone?”

“Gone, dead, who knows? Or cares?” T’Riell stopped abruptly. “I beg forgiveness, Spock. I forgot she is your kinswoman.”

“She is also my enemy. The two are not mutually exclusive, Healer.” He wondered again where she obtained her information, how much she knew. “She has a son,” he said slowly. My son, he thought, whom I can neither publicly acknowledge nor privately deny, and whose hate for me burns even more coldly than does his mother’s. “Selek, too, is dangerous.”

T’Riell shrugged. “He may be with her. I know only that neither of them is on Vulcan. Or Eos.” She glanced past him to the sensor panel, to the traitorous gauges that revealed entirely too much to a knowing mind. She was a Healer, and a Vulcan. If she knew the source of the panel’s disturbance, she did not comment on it. She said only, “You must rest now, Spock. There is much to be done on Vulcan when we arrive.”

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/

T’Riell’s prediction was correct, though for a few moments it seemed not to be so. Their arrival in ShiKahr was unobtrusive, and Spock, who was on the bridge when P’lef’s fugitive ship was granted clearance, was surprised at the ease with which the renegade obtained sanctuary.

The quiet welcome by his father, who made no mention of the conditions of Spock’s flight from Vulcan, was quickly replaced by a seemingly endless round of meetings, strategy sessions, estimations of strengths and weaknesses in both Separatist and Federationist positions.

Spock found himself made the figurehead of the drive to withdraw from the Republic and petition for readmission to the Federation. Sarek realized it was little known that neither Spock’s affiliation with the rebels nor the end of that association was of his son’s own making, and so to the public at large, Spock became the personification of Vulcan – acted upon by myriad outside forces, striving to take the proper course, the honorable course, only to withdraw in disillusionment when the drive for a republic began to shatter from the conflicting aims and chauvinistic power plays within its structure. He knew he was being used, and did not care. The all-night meetings, the constant marshalling of logic against key individuals or important groups whose votes they needed, left him little time to dwell on his own situation.

The compelling, disturbing dreams became infrequent, and T’Riell became less an annoying watchdog of his health and more a partner in his political efforts. The quickness of her intellect and the stubbornness of her character reminded him of Lara, but she was more politically sophisticated and tougher than his wife had ever been. It was with very little surprise that he learned her initial assignment to the Nyhie had been no accident. T’Riell had been one of the Federationists’ more informative agents. Unlike Lara, the quietly efficient Vulcan woman had been a master of deception. And, unlike Lara, she brought him no tranquility.

For that, he found himself seeking out T’Borr and the child Skolann. The odd relationship had begun when he paid the customary tcha-klei’s visit to the boy on the second anniversary of the pledging ceremony.

His duties toward the child – godparent, teacher, mentor – would not formally begin until the boy’s fifth year, when mental training imposed by the tcha-klei would be added to physical training imposed by the family, both combining to prepare the boy for the challenge of the kahswan in his seventh year. Prior to that, the tcha-klei was expected only to monitor the tcha-tzin’s progress on an occasional basis.

The difficult circumstances of the child’s birth on that night when terror ran the streets of ShiKahr and T’Borr’s bondmate fell its victim, had apparently not harmed the boy, though the shock of Sundering had thrown his mother into premature labor. When Spock’s hands had helped him into the world, Skolann’s survival had seemed doubtful. But now he was a sturdy, chubby child with a surprisingly large vocabulary and an already marked penchant for taking things apart. He was still in the developmental stage at which touch was important, and he had climbed onto Spock’s lap on that first visit with neither hesitation nor spoken invitation, as soon as the lap became available.

Spock had touched the boy’s face lightly, and the toddler had regarded him solemnly as the vague infantile memory of their tcha-klei/tcha-tzin bonding surfaced in his young mind. Skolann had placed his chubby palm on Spock’s face in an instinctive response which was years away from any real meaning, yet Spock had felt a curious stirring he could not quite identify.

His visits to the house of T’Borr and Skolann became more frequent than the responsibilities strictly required of a tcha-klei. He found in the cool stone home of the young widow some measure of the serenity he had thought forever banished from his life.

On the eve of the Council vote, it seemed only natural for him to find himself at her door. Skolann, already in his night clothes, toddled without hesitancy to the tall, quiet form, and Spock picked him up in what he realized had become an automatic response. He realized, too, with something akin to regret, that Skolann’s telepathic powers would begin to bud in the coming year, and the casual physical contact with the child would have to be ended then.

He was examining this unexpected and disturbing bubble of emotion with such intensity that he barely heard T’Borr’s greeting; did not even think to wonder that the child should be up so late, so obviously expecting his visit.

They stood in the entryway, and he realized finally that there was an odd tension about T’Borr. It would not be proper to ask its origin, of course, but the impression clung to his mind as Skolann prattled, unheard, about the day’s events.

The child knew he was being ignored, and put his hand on Spock’s face to draw attention back to himself. His fingers touched the mark on Spock’s face, and his attention was suddenly riveted on this newly-discovered facet of his tcha-klei.

“What’s ’at?” he demanded.

“It is a scar, Skolann. Where the skin healed imperfectly over a cut.”

The boy’s fingers mapped his own face. “I don’ have one,” he announced.

“No, you do not.”

Skolann considered this for a moment. He touched Spock’s face again. “Hurts?” he asked.

Spock brushed shaggy bangs from the dark eyes which regarded him so solemnly. “Not any more,” he said. Half a truth was enough for a child less than three years old.

Skolann decided he did not like the mark, principally because he didn’t have one of his own. “Make it gone,” he said, pushing at it.

“I cannot do that, tcha-tzin.”

“I can, if you would allow it.”

Spock turned at the sound of a voice which did not belong in this place. T’Riell stood in the doorway to the living room with a mug of parra in her hand. He looked from one woman to the other, one eyebrow climbing rapidly. This turn of events did not bode well.

T’Borr stepped in smoothly and took the child from his arms. “It is bedtime now, Skolann.” She caught Spock’s quizzical glance. “Please go in and sit down. I shall join you both in a moment.”

Spock’s discomfort grew when he followed T’Riell into the living room. The half-empty pot of parra said the two women had been together for some time; the third cup still upside-down on the low table said he had been expected. He was being manipulated again, and this time, he did mind it. Very much.

T’Riell sat as if the room was hers and picked up the conversation mid-stride. “I could, you know. Remove it. Kyra has no hold on you now; why keep anything to remind you?”

This was patently impossible, he told himself. There was simply no way for T’Riell to be operating on the basis of anything but guesswork. He kept his face and voice carefully bland as he responded. “Your logic eludes me, Healer – first that you would presume this has anything to do with the Matriarch, and second that I should concern myself at all with its removal.”

“I will concede that you have no vanity, Spock. But you do have a tendency to cling to symbols.” She warded off his interruption with a swift movement of her hand. “No – hear me out. You question my conclusions, as if I had not had ample opportunity to make certain inferences after living and working in your presence for some time. I observed you very closely, Spock. You know that. What I think you do not know – because you were never conscious of it – is that when you reviewed order tapes from the Matriarch, you would touch that scar. And on the bridge – when you carried out direct orders that conflicted with your own preferences – you touched it like some evil talisman.

“Kyra marked you, somehow; scarred something in you much deeper than the face you show the world. And as long as you carry that mark – inside or out – you’ll never be free of her.”

T’Riell leaned forward in her intensity, as though lessening the space between them could also bridge the distance between their attitudes. “The war is over for you, Spock. After the Senate votes tomorrow, it will be over for all of us. And Kyra’s power is waning. Her husband would see the crown on his own head, or would pass it to their daughter and rule as regent until the child attains maturity. If the Federation does not crush Kyra, her own people will, simply because she is unfit to rule. Carrying your battle scars into peace is as inappropriate as carrying a lirpa to meditation.”

Spock forced himself to sit back, to cross his legs casually as he templed his fingers. “I think perhaps my father chose the wrong spokesperson for the Federationists,” he said easily. “Anyone who could construct such a cathedral of misapplied logic on the basis of a few centimeters of keloid tissue could easily use the same technique to shatter the Separatists’ philosophy. You may have missed your calling, Healer.”

T’Riell’s spine stiffened in anger, and Spock felt rather pleased with his evasion. He had a Vulcan’s typical distaste for outright lies, but Jim Kirk had tutored him well in the fine art of bluffing. One more statement was all he needed to totally confuse her, and the sweetness of it was that it permitted him to accomplish something he wanted done anyway.

“Had I known you were so concerned, T’Riell, I would have spared us both this emotional tirade. Set a date for a time next week, and you may perform your dermatological exorcism.”

T’Riell was speechless with a mixture of frustration, anger, and embarrassment. She had gone forth to slay a dragon, quested loudly and long, only to find she had been chasing a firefly. Her instincts told her the firefly was really a dragon in disguise, but there was little she could do to prove it.

T’Borr’s entrance put an abrupt end to the mismatched sparring bout. She took one look at T’Riell’s bristling posture and Spock’s elaborately casual one, and set about smoothing the waters in the only way she could. Forcing herself to exude an air of serenity, she filled the parra cups, serving Spock first as an expression of his status. He found both her strained calmness and her gesture of servility annoying. Nor was he encouraged when she sat near T’Riell instead of taking her customary place near him.

The two women exchanged glances. T’Borr gave a small nod, and T’Riell edged forward again in her low chair. Now we come to the real purpose, Spock thought, and felt a kind of battle-ready calm spread through him.

“Spock, there is something we must discuss,” the healer began.

“Indeed?”

“Yes.” T’Riell, usually so outspoken, was obviously having great difficulty. Even T’Borr’s calm was faltering as she toyed with her cup and tried without success to keep her face from coloring in confusion or embarrassment. T’Riell cleared her throat and tried again.

“As staff surgeon on the Nyhie, I made certain … um … observations about your physical condition. Your behavior when Commander P’lef and I removed you from Eos tends to bear those observations out.” The silence that followed her statement was deafening in its intensity.

“Yes?” he said, finally.

“And I … I mean, we … T’Borr and I…”

“Go on, T’Riell.”

“This is so…” She made a gesture of impatience, then blurted it out. “Spock, where is your bondmate?”

“That is none of your business, Healer.”

“It is precisely my business!” she exploded. “As a Healer, and as one who understands your value here. Spock, your medical records indicate you will enter pon farr in approximately two more years. Certain of your physiological responses lead me to believe you may not have that much time. You must make some provision for that.”

Understanding hit him like a physical blow. “Are you suggesting an alternate bonding?”

“Yes.” Surprisingly, it was T’Borr who spoke. “We are both free, both healthy. Either of us would make a suitable surrogate. We ask you to choose, now, so that the arrangements may be made.”

Spock rose to his feet in a barely-controlled motion of incipient violence. “I am bonded,” he said, cutting each word off precisely. “I have a wife. This is not a suitable discussion, and I will not continue it.”

T’Riell moved quickly to her feet and barred his way. “You will! You must. A few moments ago, we spoke of symbols. I said you cling to them, and you know the truth of that. Your Human wife is one – a symbol, nothing more. You carry your bonding as you carry that scar – a monument to a past that no longer exists for you.”

“Stand aside, T’Riell. Do not meddle where you are not wanted.”

A second slim form joined the first. “No, Spock,” T’Borr said. “My son’s father was lost to senseless violence. I would not have his tcha-klei lost the same way. Choose one of us, or name another – but choose.”

They were as stone before him, and he knew he could not pass them without violence. There had been enough of that in his past. Too much.

“There is an alternative,” he said softly.

“What?” T’Riell asked.

“The Kolinahr.” The idea, which had been taunting him with its promise of total serenity, total logic, had not yet been voiced to anyone. Not even fully to himself. That he should be explaining it to these two women before he had settled the issue in his own mind was unthinkable. But then, so was continuing this painful discussion.

“The Masters of Kolinahr have freed themselves of the cycle,” he said.

“They will not accept you for that purpose alone,” T’Riell challenged.

“I am aware of that, Healer. There are other, more compelling reasons for me to seek out the Masters.” He stopped her question with a shake of his head. “I will not discuss them with you. Already you have violated my privacy to a shameful extent.”

“Two years is not long enough to achieve Mastery,” she insisted.

“Perhaps not. But it is sufficient to begin.”

T’Riell’s anger threatened to overwhelm her, and she knew it. She struggled to suppress it until she could make one more statement. “P’lef was wrong when she said we risked our lives to rescue a madman, Spock. We risked them to rescue a fool.”

She turned on her heel and stalked away, with only the wind chimes in the garden to bid her peaceful journey. Spock would have followed her – not to bring her back, but because the serenity he had found in this house was now shattered forever, but T’Borr’s hand on his arm halted his movement.

Control was a constant struggle for her at the best of times. Now, disturbed by the harsh words of the exchange, and shamed that their offer had been shunned, she was near the ultimate disgrace of tears.

“You would throw your life away rather than bond with one of us? Are we – am I – so repellant as all that?”

He shook his head. “No.” He covered her hand with one of his own, and touched her cheek lightly with the other, feeling her tremble at this unexpected intimacy. “T’Borr,” he said, in the old, old tongue, “little night-bird. Lovely thou art as a pool in the desert, and as sweet to the soul. Honored I am by thy offer, but accept it, I cannot.” He broke the contact gently and held her at arm’s length, returning his speech to the contemporary mode. “I have violated too many vows already, T’Borr. This one, at least, I shall keep.”

“But if it means your life--”

“I doubt that it will. Two years is a long time, and my wife may decide to return to Vulcan. The bond is part of her, now, even though she is Human.”

“And if she does not return? Or if, as T’Riell suggested, your time comes before then?”

“There are too many variables in your hypothesis, T’Borr.” There was a gentle smile in his voice, if none on his face.

“I would not wish to see thee dead, Spock.”

This time the smile extended to his eyes. “In that, we are agreed. I shall endeavor to remain alive – for both of us.” He released her, and slipped past her unresisting form. “And now, I really must go. I do not share T’Riell’s certainty about tomorrow’s vote, and there are people I must see in the morning.”

TBC