DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Johanna Cantor and is copyright (c) 1981 by Johanna Cantor. Originally printed in R&R #13.
by Johanna Cantor
"Parking orbit," the navigator announced crisply.
"Set on automatic, and release the helm," Spock ordered.
"Yes, sir," Navigator and Helm replied in unison, clicking the Enterprise into safety with practiced competence. "Locked in."
"A commendable job, Lt. Ryan. Ens--"
Ryan glowed. "Thank you, sir," she whispered, and collapsed.
They were all so exhausted that everyone, even Spock, just stared unbelieving at the crumpled figure. "Medics!" Spock rallied.
"Medics," the communications officer acknowledged, whirling to the board. "Sickbay. Medical team to Auxiliary Control. Stretcher!" Sulu was at Spock's side, a hand on the commander's shoulder. Spock nodded, consigning the lieutenant to his care, and leapt for the command chair. Then he sat down, taking a breath. The habit of forcing oneself to remain at ready would not disappear in a moment. Not after this mission.
"Shipwide," he ordered. "All hands. The ship is locked in parking orbit. Repeat. Parking orbit established. Go to Condition Green. We will remain here, for rest and repairs." He paused with a sense of something undone. Jim would say a few words, thank the crew ... it was illogical. One does not thank a crew for doing its duty. However... "My commendations to all. Spock out." He cut the channel. "Message to Starfleet, Oshansky. Position and condition." His panel lighted. "Spock here."
"Chekov, sir. Request Lt. Ryan report to Sickbay."
Spock lifted an inquiring brow at the medic working over Ryan. "Exhaustion and wounds, sir. But she'll recover."
"Lt. Ryan collapsed, Mr. Chekov. Medics are--"
For a moment Chekov's voice was most unmilitary. "She was wounded in the engagement, sir. But there was no one else. Usiletti's still unconscious -- severe concussion. And...and..."
"Gates?" Spock prompted sharply.
"Dead, sir." Sulu turned to hide his face; Uhura went to steady him. No one else moved for a stunned moment.
"Highest commendation. Note that she gave her life in the performance of her duty."
"Other commendations...." Suddenly Spock felt totally drained. "Will follow. Spock out." He cut the channel and sat, closing his eyes. Gates. Others -- how many others? *If I had ordered...* Futile. He pulled himself together and turned to the executive officer. "Commander."
Uhura snapped to attention. "Yes, Mr. Spock?"
"Skeleton shifts, all departments. Memo to department heads: full damage reports, estimated repair time, repair requirements. Meeting of all division heads in 48--no, 72 hours."
"Agreed, sir." Uhura went to the communications officer to log the orders and instructions. Spock tuned out; there was no need to monitor. He must put the commendations list together. "Permission, sir?" Uhura said gently. He looked up in surprise. "Relief crew is coming on shift, sir."
Relief crew. It was really over, then. He rose, concentrating on rising steadily. It would be logical to--
"It would be logical to get some rest, sir," Uhura echoed his thought: Spock nodded, and followed his crew into the lift.
"Sickbay." That was one report he would not wait for. He was not surprised to find that he had company -- the entire Bridge crew, in fact.
Dr. Chapel took in the situation at a glance. "Continuing to improve," she said crisply. "He should be out of Intensive by tomorrow."
Spock sat down. "Your report, Doctor. At first he barely heard what she was saying; the tone of her voice told him that these were casualties expected to recover. He would get the details later. Her voice grew serious; he listened to the severely injured. "Deaths," she ended gravely: "Ten. Applebaum, Christophoros, Gates...."
*Ten*. Spock closed his eyes. *If I had ordered...* Futile.
Chapel had reached the end of her report. "Was there anything further?" Spock pulled himself out of it, shook his head, and rose to leave. Chapel studied him, and produced a prescription. "The admiral is asleep, sir. But if you'd like to see him...." Spock turned toward Intensive. "He's still heavily sedated, Mr. Spock."
The silence in Intensive was broken only by quiet breathing. Spock studied the panels. Kominsky -- prognosis good. Caputo -- he shook his head. Hours at best, he estimated, and as he assimilated that, Chapel walked in with a chair. She sat down by Caputo and took his hand. So. His estimate had been too optimistic. *Eleven*. Spock turned away, found himself facing Jim's panel, and immediately felt better. Kirk had had barely a fighting chance. But a fighting chance had always been good enough for him. Spock went over, thinking that it was somehow appropriate to see Jim in the same condition as his ship. But now both could rest. Recover. He paused at the foot of the bed.
"Well, about time," Kirk said thickly. Spock jumped and met a startled gaze from the doctor. Chapel shook her head at the ways of admirals and rose to pull a screen around Caputo's section. Jim's eyes opened. "What's happening up there? How' s..." He focused. "Spock!" One look told him. "Man, you've done it!"
Spock nodded. "We were successful."
Kirk closed his eyes, but only for a second. "Pull up a chair," he said. Spock hesitated, but the eyes opened, making it an order. Spock obeyed. "Now. Report."
"Both terrorist ships destroyed, no survivors located. We are in parking orbit. Repairs are -- that is, repairs will commence in 72 hours. Ship's damage: severe. Casualties: forty-seven. Ten dead"
Kirk's face contracted in pain. They were silent for a moment. Then: "You did a fine job, Mr. Spock... My compli..." His voice wavered and he reached for Spock's steadying hand. "Sonofa! What did they give me?"
"You are heavily sedated, Captain." He smiled at the low growl. "The only alternative would have been restraints." Kirk snorted but subsided. "So you feel very ill?" Spock asked gently.
"No. On, no. Just kind of ... free fally." Jim closed his eyes, but the grip on Spock's hand remained firm. Gradually the quiet seeped into him; his state of readiness began to ease. Jim's hand relaxed now, but a glance at the panel showed Spock he was only dozing, floating in a drug-induced calm. Still, it was good to see him at rest.
The door activated and the charge nurse tiptoed in. She was carrying a portaviewer, and to Spock's surprise she brought it over to him. "A personal tape for you, Mr. Spock," she whispered. "It just came through. 'Important, not urgent.' The c.o. thought--"
"Thank you, Nurse." She set the viewer on his lap ad adjusted it for him so that his hand could remain where it was. Spock turned the volume very low and activated the viewer.
Amanda appeared on the small screen. "USS Enterprise, care of Starfleet Command, attention: Communications Officer." Spock stared at the screen. Why would she...? Amanda was smiling her best smile. "The message that follows is for Cdr. Spock, science officer. My son. It is inportant, but not urgent. Please do not bother him with it, if it's a busy time. Thank you. My begins here. Spock, we are fine. I hope you are and that by now if ... if you're seeing this, everything has settled down. I'm calling because of T'Pan -- don't be alarmed. She is well. She visits us every day, and you may rely on me to look after her. But she is having a difficult time, Spock. Not physically -- it's a normal pregnancy so far. But you know her aunt was killed last month and T'In suffered a stroke. T'Pan went through a awful time with the inquest -- I don't knew if she told you there was suspicion of illogical suicide. T'Pan cleared T'Ria's name, and that's all over now. But then on top of all that Katholia ran off -- some men. A Romulan. I don't know a thing about it, but I do know she intends to keep her child. T'Pan told me Katholia never actually promised the child to them. I suppose at the time, they just assumed she'd always be with them. So the burden of keeping things going has fallen on T'Pan. Spock, if you possibly can, come home. You're the one person who could really help. T'In -- you know what she's like. Talk about old guard! She thinks T'Pan should have stopped working when she began to show -- you can imagine what T'Pan had to say about that!" Amanda smiled then grew serious again. "If you can't come home now, she'll understand. And I think she'd cut her own tongue out before she'd call you herself. You may rely on Sarek and me to take care of her. Take care of yourself, my dear."
The screen faded, but Spock still stared at it, his tired brain whirling. He could take a shuttlecraft, intersect the... But he couldn't possibly leave...
Suddenly he realized that the clasp on his hand had tightened again, and Jim was tugging at him to attract his attention. *If you can't come home, she'll understand...* He turned, trying to smile.
The grip tightened painfully. "Compassionate leave," Jim said. "Effective immediately. Go."
* * *
It was night on Vulcan; the first thing Spock saw as he formed was the Sister, rising silently over the horizon, and he caught his breath at its loveliness. Then he saw Amanda and Sarek waiting outside the chamber and his breath caught again, this time in alarm. But Amanda was smiling and Sarek nodded reassurance. So T'Pan was all right. He went to receive his parents' touch.
Amanda observed decorum until they were safely in the hangar. Then she whirled to embrace him. Spock endured this philosophically, only looking at Sarek to exchange the tolerant look they had always exchanged at such moments. Amanda saw it and exclaimd at them. "When I haven't seen you in months! And those terrorists! At least you look rested."
The last was a question and Spock nodded. "I slept most of the journey."
"Good. T'Pan's fine, Spock, though she seems tired to me. She doesn't know you're here, that's why--"
"Doesn't know I'm *here*?" Spock interrupted, astonished. "But--" He stared at Sarek.
"I didn't want her to be disappointed if something care up."
"Thy mother was adamant." Spock turned his astonishment at Amanda, but she was looking at her husband.
"I respect your judgment in most things, Sarek," she rejoined. "But you've never been pregnant!"
Spock froze, but Sarek only acknowledged with a slightly ironic bow and reached to hand her into the car.
They let him off at T'In's compound then lifted off, Amanda speeding Spock on his way with the comment that she'd expect him when she saw him. Spock didn't hear Sarek's observation that if T'In had her way, they could expect him soon, but he was thinking much the same thing as he walked into the silent compound. Silent? Deserted! He paused to orient himself. The family had always sat in the courtyard after dinner. But now... What changes there had been in such a short time. And just as T'In must have believed she was about to see the refounding of her house. He shook his head in silent sympathy.
There was a light in T'In's apartments. He walked over, saluted formally, and was bidden to enter.
T'In sat in a power chair, face and body both ravaged by grief and ill health. She looked at him blankly for a moment. Then she recognized him and brought her hands up as though to defend herself from a blow. T'Pan, on the floor beside her, was putting a tape away before rising to greet a late caller. She looked up.
"Spock!" She scrambled to her feet and came toward him at a half run. He caught her hands and held tight, feeling them tremble. She was perilously close to loss of control; he pulled her arm through his and stood rock steady.
"Spock, son of Sarek, of the house of T'A!" T'In's speech was slow and slightly slurred, but very exact. "I remind you of your oath."
Spock looked at her. He thought -- just once more -- of the hopes he had formed and put them aside. "It is quite unnecessary, Madam."
T'In's face relaxed a little and he seized his advantage. "Is there someone who could stay with you? I would like T'Pan to accompany me on a nightflight." T'In stiffened again and T'Pan pinched his arm warningly. "I will bring her back early." *To you* hung in the air, unspoken.
T'In pushed a button; they were soon joined by T'Lin, who greeted Spock with her usual passive courtesy. Then T'In, to Spock's surprise, rose, and walked slowly toward them. Another pinch stopped his instinctive move to assist her and she ushered him to the door, as a hostess should.
Spock kept T'Pan's hand as they walked to the hangar. She was trembling so violently now that he had to help her in. He took the controls, taxied out, and lifted off. "Spock!" she began, then had to dash away a tear. "I beg--"
"Hush, Wife. Ease and calm thyself." She sat back, placing her hands for a calming meditation, and for some time Spock kept his attention focused on the scenery. But finally she turned to him. "Is thee all right?"
Her eyes were glowing in the planetlight. "Spock!" she said again. "Dear friend, how is this? I hardly dared expect thee even for the birth."
"Amanda summoned me."
"Oh! Oh, she should not have--"
"On the contrary, Wife. When I left Vulcan, it was only on my parents' oath that they would watch over thee." He set the craft to circle on automatic and turned to face her. "Thee has had great trial, T'Pan. I grieve with thee."
Her lips trembled; she controlled them. "Thee received my message of T'Ria's death?"
"But yes! Thee did not receive my reply?"
"It was not in last week's messages. Probably it will come tomorrow."
Spock swore silently, for the first time in his life damning the renowned Vulcan efficiency. To leave a message to a bereaved wife in limbo, until the day some technician would bestire himself...! "I regret this." There was nothing else to say. "Amanda mentioned some legal question?"
"Yes. It was of concern to me. T'Ria's craft crashed against the face of Egaln. The inquest brought in 'death of unknown circumstances'." Spock stiffened. "There was no apparent cause for the crash, thee realizes. And thee knows how people talk."
"Yes. It was ... uncomfortable, Spock. Some of our oldest friends. Even T'Pau mentioned it to Sarek -- Amanda told me. I think it's one of the reasons why Katholia ... left us."
"Thee called for investigation?"
"Like a peacock." She smiled faintly. "I applied first on the basis of her perfect record. When that was denied, I gathered affidavits from character witnesses. But there was 'no cause to reopen'." Her voice betrayed agitation; Spock took her hand and held it protectively in both of his. "I knew there had to be some reason for the crash. There *had* to be. She was just as she had always been, only so pleased at being with child. I *knew* she had not killed herself. Even if she had sought death, she would first have given her child life!"
T'Pan gripped his hand for a mment, calming herself, then resumed. "Therefore, there had to be some cause for the crash. The only hope was a witness. I advertised and spoke myself to everyone I could think of, with no success. It was Amanda who produced the lead. She said that since my efforts in Vulcan circles had produced nothing, there had to he a witness who was not Vulcan. She -- she was so kind, Spock. She must have spent hours searching. And she discovered that the Blue Streaker line commonly sends vehicles into that area -- it is a company that delivers *coat* to Andoria. I ... I went down to their hangar." She looked at him anxiously, but he had any reaction well masked. "It was immodest," she said, not mincing matters. "And I've never told T'In. But I found a driver who had seen T'Ria's crash. In fact, he was its unwitting cause. He told me that he was behind schedule that day, going 'hell for leather' -- that means too fast, I think. He rounded Egaln so fast he gained altitude and almost collided with T'Ria. She threw her craft into a side slip -- 'prettiest side slip I ever saw' -- the driver said. But she never re-established control. The driver summoned the peace officers, but he did it anonymously. He could not understand why she had crashed, but he did not wish to involve his company in legal proceedings. But when I explained how important it was, he came with me -- in fact, he flew me directly to the magistrate's office and made a full statement. On the basis of that statement an investigation was ordered. There were starbird remains in her thruster ducts."
Spock shook his head at the senselessness. "Starbirds," he repeated heavily.
"Probably sucked in during the sideslip. When she activated her thrusters, there was no pow..." She bit off the last word and sat silent again.
"Wife." Spock reached for her and she clung to his tunic. Spock put his arm around her to comfort, suddenly knowing that he must always have a care for this woman. "Wife, I commend thee. Thee cleared her name and lifted the shadow on the light of thy house." A sob broke from her; another was choked off. "It is permitted, my wife. I grieve with thee."
Spock did not calculate how long they sat in the circling craft. But he made quite certain that T'Pan was comfortable again before he reached for the controls. They banked toward the city.
"Thee must return to T'In, of course," he acknowledged. "But I trust I need not leave thee there?"
"Oh, no! That is, I am confident that T'In would be honored to--" A snort erupted from her. "Truth, Spock. It is only that she fears... She wants S'falt."
"Thee said--" she faltered.
"Yes." For a moment he gave the craft more attention than it required. "I had hoped; that is true. I had thought that if the others bore their children alive, I could claim thine. But -- it was not to be."
"Her hope is all she has, Husband."
"No," T'Pan said baldly. "I speak of elders only with respect," she added dutifully. "But I have lived with T'Lin all my life. And I do not feel I have ever shared one thought with her. She is always as thee sees her. She is ... not there. Spock, in truth, I am T'In's only interest. I, and S'falt."
"Her welfare must of course be a priority to us both," he said gently.
"Ah, that is generous!" Spock could not reply. T'Pan looked at him in concern. "Spock, mine is thine. The child will be mine; therefore--"
He nodded. "I trust T'In will allow me--"
"But certainly. A child needs his father and his grandfather. T'In and I have always thought that thee and Sarek would stand in that relation."
"I would be honored." Her hand sought his again in the darkened craft and he held it.
They hangared the craft and climbed out. T'Pan kept Spock's hand for an instant, reluctant to enter the cheerless compound. Then she squared her shoulders and walked in. There was no one in T'In's receiving room. T'Pan colored at her own involuntary sigh of relief; Spock pretended he had heard nothing. She gave him a grateful look and drew him to her rooms.
T'Pan frowned at the small bed. "Tight quarters for tonight," she apologized. "Tomorrow I will purchase a double." Spock smiled at her and carefully crawled in beside her.
Moments later the door activated. Spock felt T'Pan start and waited. There was the hum of a powerchair; then the door closed again. "She checks every night, sometimes four or five times," T'Pan whispered. "It's as if she's afraid something will -- will remove the last--"
"Sh," Spock soothed. No wonder T'Pan seemed tired. He rose and locked the door. "If the door is locked, she will know thee is within," he told her. "And I believe T'In will see the impropriety of any attempt to encroach on my right to be private with my promised wife." T'Pan frowned doubtfully at that, but when he lay down again she put a hand on his chest, as though for simple contact, and was soon asleep.
* * *
Spock went down to the common room the next morning girded for battle. He was considerably surprised to find T'In not merely polite, but actually affable. And from its heft, the noonbag standing by the door had to contain two portions. He was careful to maintain decorum, but once safely in the craft he cocked an astonished eyebrow at T'Pan.
Her eyes were dancing, but she achieved a remarkably prim face. "If a *very*pregnant woman *must* flaunt her condition before the world," she said austerely, "it is more proper that she be escorted."
Spock smothered a laugh. "Serving honors me," he said formally and T'Pan laughed out loud.
The office was as chaotic as he remembered. The piles of databooks were neat, but they were everywhere -- imperiling anyone who passed a shelf, on the chairs, even on the floor. "We're throwing out an extension," T'Pan said apologetically. "And of course if I could ever find time to codify--"
"--thee could store," Spock finished for her. It was a familiar sentence. "I will assist."
T'Pan glowed. "Spock!" she whispered. "The babies -- the sixth generation: 30 per cent show a mean .0003 rise!"
T'Pan was at her desk, unfolding a large printout in the only bare space in the office. "Here. See? I haven't plotted these readings. But it is there."
Spock came to stand beside here, running his eye across the thick-printed columns. "Indeed," he approved.
"Of course we won't have anything even worth writing up until we can demonstrate a sustained effect," she disclaimed with more modesty than accuracy. "But-- oh, good morning, Tony."
Spock lifted his hand from her shoulder with lightning speed and clasped his hands behind his back.
"Morning, Toots. Morning, Spock. I didn't know you were home. Back for long?"
"For several weeks, Mr. Rinaldi," Spock replied calmly, quelling an impulse to call Amanda and demand an immediate translation of "Toots". Human idiom or not, it did not sound like a respectful way to address a senior research associ--
"Aw hell, Spock." Rinaldi threaded his way toward them. 'Spock--" he began, then grinned and thrust out his hand. "The better man won. Call me Tony?"
Spock had rarely been more surprised, but he grasped the hand "Tony," he managed.
"Tony," T'Pan smiled, "is Anne down with the animals already? I wish you'd go to her. She *will* try to lift those pellet cartons, and--"
"Well, she mustn't!" Tony vanished.
Anne. Spock frowned, then placed her: the young human lab assistant T'Pan had introduced him to on his last visit. Even then, Rinaldi's sulks had been diminishing. He turned a husbandly gaze on T'Pan.
T'Pan chuckled softly. "*Maybe* the better man won," she zapped, "I think there was a random factor."
Spock snorted and bent to examine the piles. They followed an exact, if circular, chronological order. He began to prowl backwards. "The shelf by the door," T'Pan told him, already deep in yesterday's results. "They're the oldest." He went to move the pile in the doorway: her warning cry came just too late, and he instinctively threw himself to one side as the warped door snapped out and stuck halfway across the aperture.
"I'll fix that!" he exclaimed in tones of profanity, wrestling it back. T'Pan, hurrying to replace the data that doubled as doorstop, looked at him in surprise.
He recovered his temper immediately, of course: there was no reason why the broken door should annoy him. It was all of a piece, the data coming out of the project were so overwhelming and good researchers so hard to find, that T'Pan had long since accepted the impossibility of accomplishing anything beyond recording the day-to-day results.
By the time she left to go down to the animal colony, Spock was deep in codification. The noon meal was a brief interlude; then both plunged back to work. Spock was so absorbed in the coding -- and the implications of the results -- that he barely glanced up when she went down to start the day's scan. An hour passed, two...
"Spock." Rinaldi was yelling. "*Spock!*" Spock charged for the stairs. T'Pan was clinging to the bannister, Rinaldi's arm around her. "She almost fell," he yelled.
"Tony, please." T'Pan winced at the noise. "It's nothing." Spock hurried down to her. "Dizzy," she smiled apologetically. He picked her up bodily. "Spock, put me down! I an all right."
"Thee will be, of course, my wife."
"She hasn't been sleeping well," Rinaldi told him, hovering anxiously.
"Undoubtedly that is the cause," Spock agreed. He looked around. The two colony areas and their apparatus filled every space but the walkway. He carried her upstairs and put her gently in her office chair.
"Thank you," she murmured. "Stupid. I slept *last* night."
"It will often happen thus," he told her, trying to conceal his gratification at her remark. "Sit, and breathe deeply."
She nodded, closing her eyes. Spock knew an impulse to protect her privacy and rose to activate the door. Halfway across he remembered then memory carried him further back and he stepped dead. Now he knew why the door annoyed him -- how irrational, to be angry at the door, when the fault was-- He swallowed hard, trying to subdue a disgusted nausea.
"Spock?" T'Pan was staring at him. "Spock?"
The last thing he wanted was to talk of it. But T'Pan had come to take his arm; anxious eyes searched his face. He swallowed again. "When I -- that day, we--" He glared at the door. "One could at least preserve decency!"
"Oh." T'Pan colored, remembering too. But Spock required calm; she took a deep breath. "No one knew, Spock. I closed the blinds."
Spock thought back. She'd placed his grasping hands on the desk, telling him to hold on, for only a minute, and then, yes, the office had darkened. He gave a slight sigh of relief. "Thee was not to blame, Spock. The fault was mine. I wanted--"
"To come here. For an hour. That would have been no problem. It was my idea to accompany thee." He almost groaned. "Sarek warned me; I ignored him. My own father's warning--!"
"It was my idea to wait until he had left the house and borrow his old labsuit for thee," she countered. "And then I became absorbed in the data."
"I felt it. We could have left. But I ignored the signs -- I was so sure I could control. *Stupid!*"
"No. Sh. No tumescent is logical. It is not expected. And no one knew."
"Rinaldi knew! He saw me on the stairs -- I almost struck him!"
"No. I told him, later, that thee had had an attack of fever. It was quite true, but he does not know about-- Spock?"
He was shuddering, remembering the necessity. Rinaldi, tugging at his arm, asking if he was all right. His outrage at being stopped in the very act of going to his wife, by this of all humans. T'Pan's startled face; her swift command to Rinaldi to leave them and not come in without permission, even as she led him to the desk. Her face as she perched on the desk -- her expression so caring -- he began to feel a little better. But he knew he'd cried out at the realization that he could not thrust, and probably again as her arms had come around him, hands pressing, making him arch against them like a wild thing, no longer caring or even knowing where he was, until he had achieved his need. Probably he'd yelped then too. And when T'Pan had held him, soothing him, as she always did -- even then he had taken no thought of decency, only nuzzling her to while away the minutes until his head should stop spinning. "Where there's a will, there's a way," she'd said, and he'd *laughed*. Aloud! He groaned.
"I *know* Rinaldi heard me!" Spock rasped. "What he must have thought--"
"Pooh. Who cares?" Spock did not make the obvious response and T'Pan put her lips close to his ear. "Anyway, he makes a lot more noise than you ever did!" Then she looked at him quickly: probably that had been an unwise remark. But Spock was looking comforted. She sighed. Men were odd.
The sigh penetrated. Spock turned to her quickly. "Sit down, Wife. Thee should rest."
"No." She smiled. "Today is the day to shift the animals and clean. I must help--"
"I will assist. Sit down." He led her back to the chair and sat her, rubbing her neck and shoulders.
She rested her forehead on his arm. "Thee is kind. I regret my--"
"Hush, Wife. Thee was kind, when I--" He put his arm around her and pulled her head to rest on his shoulder and for several moments, he simply listened to her quiet breathing. A pattern formed -- good. She was in control and working for energy. He pushed his thoughts aside, so that she would not sense disquiet, and waited. She lifted her head and he reached to her, melding light1y to impart sympathy and energy, and she sat straight, nodding to him. "Good," he approved. "T'Pan."
She recognized the changed tone of voice. "Yes, Husband."
"After the child is born and named. Would thee then consent to a bond?"
"Now what is this?"
"I know we agreed. But--"
"Spock, attend. Fact: thee will return to space; I will return here. The danger level is unacceptably high. Item: S'falt must grow to manhood in the house of T'I. Were we to bond before his Kahswahn, divided loyalties might hamper his allegiance. Item--"
"S'falt," Spock murmured. She had stopped before he realized he had spoken aloud, and he gave an apologetic grimace. "I do not yet think of him as a person," he explained. "But it is true." Soon there would be someone else whose welfare they must consider. He sighed wearily.
"Spock." She studied him; he tried to remain tranquil. "We will talk of this," she said.
So much for tranquility. But Spock shook his head. "It is illogical," he conceded.
"So? Look at me." She took his face in her hands, her eyes compelling his attention. "'At dawn,'" she quoted, "'in the madness of need, Surak arose....'" Her voice stopped.
Spock thought through the quote she had begun. "Yes," he nodded, understanding. His eyes met hers. "But I am far more fortunate than our father." He smiled. "For I have already found my T'Losa, to 'ease my burning with the balm of life.'"
It was exactly what she'd hoped he would understand and she smiled. "Husband, I have sworn. When next the fever is on thee, we will bond. When next thee knows need, thee shall also know surely that thee shall have what thee must have. 'Thee shall know that thy moans will not be heard, for they shall sound only in the sanctuary of my breast. Thy body shall not groan with heaviness, for I shall lift thee up, sharing the burden until thee finds thy rest. Thy being shall not cry out in lonely need...'"
Spock listened to the ancient words, letting them soothe the memory of need and humiliation, telling himself that it was enough. Never again must he 'stand in the market, displaying his grief, roaring for one to comfort.' Yes. It was enough.
T'Pan was silent now, watching him. He met her eyes and smiled. "Good. Then it is settled."
"T'Pan, it is clearly logical. And generous. Only what of thee? If I died--"
"Thy will would make me thy wife. *And* mistress of thy property."
She could never resist that little joke and Spock smiled again, thinking, as he always thought, how different this was from the time another woman had had an eye to his holdings. The last vestiges of shame lifted; he had cone to terms with worse. He looked at her, then scooped her up and sat down, his wife in his lap. She knew a moment of surprise, but then she relaxed, letting her head rest on his shoulder. Spock rested his cheek on her soft hair. Even in coolness of mind, it was pleasant to--
"Spock ... thy will?" He looked at her, surprised that she should mention it seriously. "I came close to collecting, didn't I?"
There was no way to evade. "Yes."
"I could wish thee in a safer position. Keeping the peace, instead of--"
"Wife," he interrupted earnestly, "we *were* keeping the peace." It was difficult for Vulcans to understand this. "There are peoples -- even races -- which have not yet learned logic. At all. The only possibility for peace, for all the Federation, is to make war too costly for those who would wage it." He looked at her, a trifle anxiously, but she nodded understanding. "It was pleasant, T'Pan, to think that...." Words failed. He patted her belly and was promptly kicked. "Well, I beg forgiveness!" he said to his son.
T'Pan grimaced. "Exercise time. Every afternoon, just when the scan begins."
"He feels thy interest," Spock teased, then paused, wondering if that could possibly be true.
"I think he wants to play with the mapliwinks."
"Well, not every child has a whole colony of them. Perhaps he will--"
"Hey, T'Pan-- Well, excuse me!" Spock rose hurriedly and set T'Pan on her feet. "T'Pan, when's that sand delivery? We're very low."
"Tomorrow, Tony. We have enough for today's cleaning." She started for the door, pointedly ignoring both men's move to reseat her. Tony exchanged a masculine look with Spock and Spock produced a compromise.
"Is the scan completed?"
"Remain here, T'Pan. I will assist with the cleaning and thee can plot the readings." T'Pan hesitated, then nodded gratefully and returned to her chair. Spock followed Rinaldi out. He *would* fix that door. Tomorrow, he vowed.
* * *
"Glad you're here, Spock," Rinaldi murmured on the way down. "I've tried to get her to take it easy, but she's so wrapped up an the project..."
The Human sounded genuinely concerned. Spock warmed to him. "I believe the only true problem is fatigue. A few more good nights should--" Rinaldi chuckled; Spock stopped, wondering what was funny. Then, determined to be affable, he cast around for a more comfortable topic of conversation. The lab assistant was tempting the animals into the clean compound with their pellets; she looked up and smiled. "Ms. Williamson is a charming lady," Spock said in a low tone. "Have you grown to know her well?"
Rinaldi chuckled again. "You'd better believe it. Not a finer little lady on Vulcan -- er, present company excepted, of course." He indicated the floor above with his thumb. Spock sighed. It seemed difficult to lead the conversation away from T'Pan. They knelt to take the large printout sheets from the scanners. "You know, though," Rinaldi's voice lowered, "you're a lucky guy. I hope I get a chance with a Vulcan again some time. They seem to know what you want -- you know?"
The shock was severe; Spock bent to hide his face. Mercifully, Rinaldi realized that his bonhomie had taken him too far; he moved away to begin working on the abandoned colony. Spock went up stairs, handed the sheets to T'Pan silently, and returned. His thoughts were whirling. He'd actually *asked* T'Pan; he remembered that clearly. She would not lie. But Rinaldi...
By the time they'd finished, his control had taken on a glacial tinge. T'Pan pretended to notice nothing as she bade Tony and Anne good night, and explained they were to dine with Sarek and Amanda. But in the craft she almost snapped at him. "What's the matter?" *Now*.
The urge to snap back was firmly controlled. *Emotionalism*. "A moment?" he asked politely and set himself to achieve a more reasonable frame of mind.
T'Pan turned away, weary and unhappy. Perhaps it was the Human in him, that made him so prone to disquiet. Of course, she told herself fair-mindedly, any male would find it difficult to remain tranquil when unbonded. Perhaps she was asking too much of him. But--
He went on resolutely. It would be better to know, than to wonder. "Thee told me -- I beg forgiveness, but I remember asking -- that thee melded with Rinaldi once. During...?"
Now what was this? "During intercourse." In spite of herself her chin lifted defiantly. "Yes."
"Once ... only?"
"I believe that is what I said. What is thee asking?" She was growing angrier by the second. "If I lied?"
"No." Spock sounded so genuinely confused that she reined in to listen. "That is why I do not understand..." His voice trailed off, but it was too late to back out now. "Rinaldi told me that--"
"He *told* thee?!"
"Humans do speak of such things." Privately he thought her shock most understandable, but one must be fair. "Freely, and often at some length." He looked at her stunned expression and decided to make one thing perfectly clear. "I did not initiate the conversation. At least, not knowingly." She smiled a little at that. "No. I don't suppose thee did."
The smile helped. "He told me...." She was waiting. "He told me that thee seemed to know what he wanted."
"I see. And naturally, thee wondered if that was because of a meld."
"I could not help..." Suddenly he realized that he *didn't* want to know. "T'Pan, I beg forgiveness. I do not know what came over me. I have no right to question thee. I have no claim on thee. I do not even desire to have a claim--" Now who was lying? He shut up just in time and T'Pan, who had stiffened at his last two sentences, saw his misery.
"But that is not true," she said gently. "Thee has my oath. And that is all the claim thee need ever have, Husband." His face quivered and she let him alone for a few minutes. But soon they were descending: the compound lay ahead. T'Pan waited until they had touched down. Now she must speak. "I could have intercourse with Tony," she said baldly. "Or anyone, even if we were bonded. If I wished it." His eyes widened; hers glinted with some mischief. "So if that is one reason thee wishes to bond..."
"I suppose it was in my mind," he admitted. "I had not considered--"
"Probably thee has never reasoned it through. Think now, Spock. If my oath did not make me thine, what would? Even if we bonded, if I wished to turn from thee, how would the bond stop me? It would draw me to serve thee during the fever, but--" He shuddered; she stopped abruptly. "I beg forgiveness. I was forgetting..." She stopped again and turned away, to allow him to recover, but he didn't take advantage of the space.
"T'Pan, forgive me. Thee should have no need to tell me I may trust."
Again he had said exactly what she wanted to hear. And he met her look. He was ashamed, but he met it.
T'Pan nodded. "As for Tony," she resumed, "he is a friend. A colleague. But I have not consented to lie with him since I mated with thee, Husband. As for knowing what he wants, well, there are many ways to know what a man wants, especially a Human like Tony. Whatever gave *him* pleasure, I did the next time." She paused. "All right?"
Spock nodded and followed her out of the craft. He felt profoundly sheepish, but somehow content to the core. Was it accident that her voice had stressed that 'him'? No. She was telling him that she had pleasured Tony. But Spock had pleasured *her*. And *he* had given her the child she had never thought to have. As he followed her into his hone, Spock realized that he actually felt quite sorry for Tony Rinaldi.
* * *
That first day established their routine. Spock fixed the lab office door and T'Pan made no comment, though he sensed that she grudged even that much of his time away from the research.
Thereafter he applied himself to the backlog. The piles of databooks began to diminish; the floor became less of a hazard. He also, with Rinaldi's enthusiastic approval, took on T'Pan's jobs in the daily closing. Now she could rest then and during the flight to his compound. Amanda took him aside to remark that T'Pan looked ten years younger -- a remark he almost had to ask her to translate. But Amanda's expression told him it was a good thing.
Amanda's Human tendencies had found expression in the purchase of a Terran crib so sumptuous that T'Pan's eyes danced even as she thanked Amanda. She confided to Spock that she had half a mind to put the mapliwinks into it. Spock smiled, thinking how austerely many a Vulcan woman might have taken such ostentation. By tacit consent, they did not tell T'In the source of the gift; her astonished eyebrow was unanimously ignored.
T'In was improving, lifting that cloud from T'Pan's thoughts. Spock seconded her in keeping T'In occupied during the evenings and T'Pan finished the draft of the semiannual report she hadn't even hoped to get to before the birth.
That target date was drawing close. They had a bad moment when T'Pan learned that it was against birth center policy to allow non-family to attend, but her distress moved Sarek to the console for an immediate call to T'Pau, and the matter was quickly resolved. Spock carefully refrained from pointing out that no bonded couple would meet such difficulty: T'Pan was grateful for his restraint. Spock did wonder about the birth, but he had to concede without even discussing it that the only help he could give could be given as well bonded or not. He reviewed that portion of the teachings. All was in readiness.
Finally, one morning, T'Pan rose early. When Spock awoke she was packing a small bag. He sat bolt upright, but T'Pan held a finger to her lips, smiling. "I must take this to the aircar," she whispered.
"I'll tell T'In."
"No, Spock! For thy love of peace!" She smiled; the mischief was back. "It will be hours yet. We will call her from the lab, when we leave for the birth center."
"We are going to the lab?" Spock knew a fellow feeling with T'In.
"Of course," she said, surprised. He managed to leave it at that.
He hovered close during the morning,. T'Pan was patient. He realized she was right; it was early afternoon before she began to control. He could not help worrying then and T'Pan could not reassure him until, losing patience, she caught him in a brief meld and let him experience a contraction. After that he allowed her to do as she would, only staying close and watchful. They both knew that the only difficult time of a normal labor lay ahead. The sudden hormonal shifts that triggered the closing of the fetal heart tended to leave the mother exhausted and disoriented. Spock understood that T'Pan intended to be past that before leaving for the birth center, and facing T'In. And he had to agree, quite tacitly, that that would be best.
By late afternoon Tony and Anne had caught on. To Spock's surprise, their only visible reaction was hearty congratulation. The four of them worked together reviewing the schedule for the next few days. Tomorrow was the twice-weekly behavioral scan: Spock sensed T'Pan's frustration at longing to be in two places at once and immediately volunteered to do the recording she always handled. Tony and Anne were grateful -- neither of them had been looking forward to that chore. T'Pan's eyes glowed.
He kept watching her for signs of distress, but even he did not spot trouble until T'Pan sent the Humans down to the animal room. Then her hand rested lightly on his arm. "Spock, I think it is..." He placed his hands, melded, and immediately knew that everything he had read about the difficulties of this time was accurate. He melded more deeply, sensed a resistance, and immediately reassured her. //*Trust me. Only to help. Trust me.*// The barriers softened and now his strength could be her strength. An aching head was comfortably pillowed and his normal well being eased the sensation of misery.
Spock made her sit down and perched beside her, monitoring through the meld. Contractions were difficult now. She knew a need to push, tried, and they both winced. //*It is not yet time. Control.*// He imparted energy and reassurance, counseling patience. The urgency was growing, difficulty increased. Twice he told her to try pushing: twice they both whitened at the pain. //*Patience. It is not long.*// He reached to hold her body as well as her mind and that helped too. Another contraction and T'Pan buried her face in his shoulder. Then, quite suddenly, she began to feel better. Energy and well-being flowed back. With the next contraction she pushed and the pushing exactly counterbalanced the pain. //*Excellent, wife.*//
Reluctantly, he left her to obey. He spoke to T'Lin; they would leave immediately. Leaden fingers touched his chest; he pushed them aside and called Amanda. Then he went to help T'Pan to the aircar. She had to stop walking with each contraction, but she was in perfect control. She was a woman in a hundred, Spock thought, and he was quite proud to have the humans accompany them to see them off. He and Rinaldi handed her into the car and Anne placed a large package on T'Pan's lap. "Something for the baby," she beamed and ran out of range so they could lift off. T'Pan looked at the gaudy wrapping and suppressed a smile, but she raised her hand to wave in the human gesture.
* * *
Sarek and Amanda arrived as they did. Amanda was glowing, but determined, Spock could see, to observe decorum. He accompanied T'Pan for the birth doctor's examination; no are challenged him. The doctor was slightly taken aback to discover T'Pan within a hour of birth, but Spock met her reproachful glace serenely. T'Pan knew what she was doing.
It was unfortunate that Spock and his parents were grouped around the birthbed like a solid front when T'In wheeled in. She looked at them and her eyes flashed fear ad fury. Unexpectedly tongue tied, Spock could not think how to reassure her, but Sarek came to his rescue, congratulating T'In on the joy in her house. T'Pan reached toward her for a parental touch. Tears sprang in T'In's eyes and she had to wipe them hurriedly, then she rose to touch T'Pan, allowed Spock to help her back to her chair, and actually gave him an approving nod as he took his place at the head of the birthbed and reached for T'Pan's temples.
She was in no difficulty, but she welcomed him, and Spock joined closely, lending strength for each push, imparting energy in between. "Lie down now," the doctor instructed her, adjusting the overhead mirror. At the next contraction they both looked up and saw the tiny crown. "Next one," the doctor said and they waited in a fever of impatience. At last the contraction began. They gave a mighty push and the baby popped out, seeming so small as to be anticlimactic. The doctor picked him up first -- this was one case where tradition had long since yielded to science -- and S'falt gave a lusty yell.
Spock watched the doctor as she checked the baby. S'falt was whimpering a little, as if questioning why this difficulty must be endured, and Spock knew an impulse to rush forward and sweep him into a protective hold. But T'In's chair was moving forward. She held out her arms and the birth doctor placed S'falt in them carefully. T'In lifted the baby as high as she could and spoke the naming ceremony. "Citizens of ShiKahr. Know, all of you, that this boy is S'falt, who is a son of the family of T'I of ShiKahr. Any honor due us is also due him. It is so declared. Peace." She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them to look directly at Spock in steady gratitude. Then she gave the baby back to the doctor and wheeled out.
Amanda was trying heroically not to cry. "Could I hold him? Just for a minute?" She took him from the doctor and hugged him and Sarek stood close to admire the tiny bundle. But S'falt began to whimper again, perhaps sensing her agitation.
T'Pan bore it for one minute. Then she said, very gently, "Would you bring him here, Amanda?" Amanda smiled and took the baby to her. T'Pan gazed at him for a moment, then put him to her breast. Rooting instinctively, S'falt found her nipple and in a second he was sucking strongly, looking as if things weren't so bad after all. Sarek and Amanda watched for a moment, then they tiptoed out. Spock knew he should follow. He sat down.
The doctor came over to observe the suckling and nodded. She advised T'Pan to break S'falt's suction on the nipple and put him to her other breast. He gave a yell of outrage which stopped only when he reestablished his grip. T'Pan chuckled, a low, contented sound in the quiet room, and turned to share her smile with Spock. The birth doctor :stopped what she'd started to say, and began to straighten the receiving table.
S'falt fell asleep, his mouth slackening around the nipple. Spock reached to touch the closed eyes. T'Pan took his hand and nursed it to her cheek. The birth doctor carefully lowered her astonished eyebrow, and invented another task.
"Spock," T'Pan whispered. He bent close. "The behavior scan?"
"I will be there," he promised tenderly. She smiled her thanks and drifted off to sleep.
"They will sleep for some hours row," the birth doctor said. Spock took the hint and rose, thanking her formally.
The corridor seemed empty; so did the crowded lift. Spock felt at loose ends -- an emotional reaction, but one surprisingly difficult to control.. He would go to the lab, he decided. A night's work should take care of another pile of data. He walked through the reception area.
"Spock." Sarek rose from a chair, putting aside a readscreen as he came over to his son. "Thy mother went with T'In; we were concerned. The joy of this day overcame her, and T'Lin seemed incapable of response. Amanda will remain with her until her healer has seen her." He walked toward the hangar and Spock followed automatically.
Sarek said nothing further until they were seated in the craft. "Thee did well, my son. I do not think T'In could have borne another reverse." Spock could not reply and for a moment Sarek's hand rested on his shoulder. "The next will be thine," he said.
Spock nodded. It seemed a long time.
"Thee will find fatherhood a joy," Sarek told him. Spock closed his eyes, assimilating the comfort of such caring, as the aircar lifted off and banked toward home.