Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1984 by Lois Welling. Originally published in R&R #19, Johanna Cantor editor. Rated R.

Winner Take None

Lois Welling



Editor's note: Several years after t.he death of his first wife and his own retirement from Starfleet to enter the diplomatic service, Spock bonded with T'Pru, a Vulcan woman of good family. It was a marriage of necessity. Their differences proved irreconcilable, and although they remained married until Spock's death, no true bonding ever resulted. In later years Spock found consolation, but that is another group of stories ("The Lytherette," "My Word Now Given," and "Ambassador"s Lady". Lois has promised to continue those stories some day, but now the focus changes to Spock's grandsons, Sajon and Sian, and Sajon's bondmate, T'Sathe.

* * *

T'Sathe woke to find Sajon standing next to her hospital bed. "Who summoned you?" she asked, although she knew the answer.

"Your physician." His voice, like his face, was expressionless.

"I asked that you not be informed."

"He did what he considered best. You are ill and require care."

T'Sathe struggled to sit up, considering it more advantageous then arguing from a prone position. "I have provided for my own care these past years. I shall continue to do so."

"I" there was a slight stress on the pronoun, have decided. For your sake and that of the child you carry, you will return to Na'Sar."

"No, I do not forget. Not for one instant of these past fifteen years have I forgotten my status."

"You complain?" There was a hint of bitter amusement in his voice. "It was you who chose the challenge, and with it the consequences."

"Yes, I knew the consequences. I have accepted my fate." Her chin set high with pride. Whatever inner torments consumed her, she had never betrayed her heritage, training, or more importantly, her own set of ethics. Not once had she allowed her emotions to reflect through to the outside and never had she asked anything of the man responsible for her banishment, not even news of her never-seen son. Sajon had had the child removed at the instant of birth.

"Have I a son or daughter?" T'Sathe had demanded when she heard the cry. "You cannot deny me the right to know and to name my child!"

She was told that she had a son and that he would be named as she directed, but she had yet to see her child.

"And so you shall continue to accept your fate," he said, interrupting her thoughts and reminding her that Vulcan law placed no time limit on her sentence. As chattel, she was at the mercy (or lack of such) of the male she had rejected.

"Had you your grandfather's spirit and character you would free me!" The harsh words were meant to belittle. They were her only weapon and she did not hesitate to use them.

"Your act was even more treacherous than T'Pring's!"

"I think not. I did that for which no one else had the courage."

"You believe that act took courage?" he exclaimed, disbelief lighting his voice and eyes.

"You saw another way? I think not. At that moment you believed as I did -- that we were all doomed."

"And you consider that justification for your actions?"

"I have never sought justification. The whole family must accept blame for what happened."

T'Sathe's physician entered and stared from one to the other. He appeared amazed that two adults would speak loud enough to call attention to themselves through a closed door. He favored them with a look of disapproval, but his only comment was, "This woman needs rest."

"Yes, she does." Sajon's tone was once again without inflection. He stared directly at T'Sathe. "I shall return for you in three days."

"No, Sajon. I will not return to Na'Sar -- face the family and my son as chattel. I will not."

Sajon left without further ocmnent and T'Sathe accepted the medication the physician offered and his advice to calm herself.

* * *

Now that Sajon had gone and she could let down her defenses, T'Sathe realized just how weary she was. The recent virus that had spread outward from the port city had caught her in its wake, during the first trimester of the third pregnancy. Now, weakened, her health and the child's survival was threatened. Perhaps, she thought as she reflected on her situation, there is sane truth to the ancient superstitions. Perhaps I am cursed. For yet another time her life was to face major upheavel. She was 45 years old and every fifteen years of that life had seen significant change caused by catastrophic events. She had suffered her grief and adapted, each time creating a new life out of the rubble. But not again. Now was the time for desperate measures. This time she would not passively yield to the fate Sajon demanded.

Fifteen years ago she had challenged -- an act almost unheard of in this century. Yet she had chosen this, and she had lost. She had accepted her banishment and being denied her maternal rights as payment for her actions and because she had no legal recourse. But she had nurtured the secret hope that when Sajon's anger had abated, he would free her. Surely he would want to seek another bondmate and build a complete family. She reasoned that he would desire to put the incident behind him as much as she did.

Under her circumstances she had to consider herself fortunate to live in modern times. The rites, not often called upon since ancient times, had never been altered. She had no status as an intelligent being; she belonged to Sajon as property. But in these civilized days, this translated into better living conditions than in times past. Silently she praised Surak for his part in these changes. The ancient warrior clans had bonded young boys (three to four years apart in age) to each other and a shield. They were sworn to protect it, each other and the clan's pride and property (i.e. its water). Later a female was added to serve both males as a mate and to bear their children. The three adults, with their children were the basic family unit within the clan. With technology came the ability to draw water from beneath the surface and less reason to fight. But the society soon found that, where there are warriors, there are wars. As part of their attempts at restructuring, the male/female bonding replaced the shield-mates, but the rituals remained.

So T'Sathe was not chained to a hut at the edge of the village -- an object of scorn for the entire clan. But neither had Sajon allowed her to remain in the clan house. He had kept her alone these past fifteen years, away from the only family she had, and ostracized by all. To fill her empty days she concentrated on her research in the physics laboratory of the family owned company. It was away from Na'Sar, for Sajon had placed her as far from the family heme as was possible. Over the years her work received recognition and she was invited to seminars and conferences. She accepted these invitations as she did the few social ones that had finally begun to come her way. While she had no contact with him, T'Sathe knew that Sajon had reports of her activities and reasoned that as long as she conducted herself with restraint he would continue to ignore her.

Knowing she would never see them again, she forced thoughts of her bond/family from her mind and slowly the imagined image of her unseen son faded along with that whole part of her life. The passing days built a barrier leaving those memories on the other side.

Then, after seven years of silence she had come home to find him waiting in her one large room that served all her purposes except kitchen and bath.

"How dare you invade my privacy, enter here without permission!"

"You have only what privacy I allow you." He answered with a voice from deep within his throat.

The deliberateness of his words caught her attention and she looked past her anger -- and was horrified. The fever. There was no mistaking the physical symptoms -- tense back and neck, muscles held rigid, desperately trying to control the trembling. His eyes, darting -- avoiding contact, refusing to focus. As she stared, the reason for his visit became all too clear.

"No!" She released her tightly held packages and they slipped to the floor as she backed away from him. "No!" she repeated, wanting to believe the words would have some effect -- knowing they would not.

"As chattel you will serve my needs."

"No!" she said again with more vehemence. "I served you once and you took my son. I will not..."

She watched as he gripped the edge of the table, trying to maintain the control that was visibly slipping away. "T'Sat..." He stopped himself. Seven years ago he had declared her name an anathema and vowed never to speak it again. He would not, even now, break that vow.

No longer able to maintain the forced tension, his muscles rebelled as knees and elbows buckled. Instinctively, she moved toward him and in that instant knew what she must do -- not for his sake, but for her own. The training was too strong, too deeply ingrained in her from earliest childhood. Then later, in learning her duties to her bondmate during the pon farr, unquestioningly, she had accepted all the propagranda even to believing that if she were not true to her duties and her bondmate, she would bring death to them both. She had felt noble and fired with enthusiasm. The life of her mate and future generations were in her hands, and she would fulfill her sacred calling.

The fire was out. But enough of a spark remained to motivate T'Sathe into action when Sajon collapsed, enough to make her realize she could not let him die.

Closing their minds to one another, they merged bodies. For six days and nights they remained that way -- and the resentment built T'Sathe until it almost consumed her. Hating him for waiting, she called down the ancient curses upon him for having placed her in this position.

To release some of her pent up frustrations and feelings of helplessness, she taunted him. "Why must you rely on me? Why have you no bondmate with which to share this time?"

"I will have no bondmate. Such a relationship requires trust -- and there is no trust in me. It has been destroyed."

"Kroykah! You have a chance to make complete life-- take it."

"You believe that will bring you freedom. It will not. You will remain chattel, an outward sign of what I must bear inwardly."

"You believe I have no guilt?" For yet another time she realized how little he understood her or her actions.

"If you have guilt, you conceal it well."

"I have laid it to rest, as you can, if you allow yourself."

"Lay it to rest?" he asked incredulously. "I took a life -- and worse -- was manipulated into that deed. My actions were not a free choice, as were yours."

At his words she remembered "the deed" as he called it. She could not rid herself of the image of him or the look on his face when he had come out of the fever -- back to the coherent world -- to learn what he had done. His eyes had radiated hate and disgust as he said flatly that his first pon farr should have been his last, that he preferred death to this "deed". At the time she had thought these emotions directed entirely at her. But the fact that he had not taken another bondmate, that he had returned to her a second time, gave her pause to wonder how much self-hate might be involved.

When this second cycle had passed, he had left her as he had come -- with bitterness. And yet another time T'Sathe found herself wishing the teachings she had believed as a gullible child had been true. Death would be better than living like this. But death had been denied them, guilt and hate the only things they shared.

His words remained fresh in her mind, dashing any hopes she might have for the future and leaving her no alternative. When she determined that she was pregnant -- she aborted. Having no legal rights and no one to whom she could turn, she did it herself.

Alone, she lay in her bed, turning her mind against the growing, dividing cells in her body. A potential life was being flushed away -- was being denied the chance to live. Why? A part of her asked the question. Because she could not carry and give birth to another child only to have it taken from her, to have another child raised without her. She had heard rumors of her firstborn, and they had upset her.. She had wanted to question Sajon, but could not approach the subject. Her pride could not stand a rebuff. So she continued to tell herself that her reasons were valid, but was it enough of a reason to deny life? Other thoughts seeped through her mental defenses, she could not block them. Revenge. Sajon had taken her, but he would never have the child. She denied this -- she would not accept this image of herself. Yet if she could have stopped the process, she would have. But it was too late, the contractions were pushing the embryo from the womb. She had succeeded in taking a life. Now she knew the guilt of which Sajon spoke. It haunted her, would not leave her, even affecting her daily life. Her colleagues noticed and after some time, sent a healer. With this help, T'Sathe dealt with her guilt enough so that it did not consume her waking hours, but it continued to make her nightmares. And she learned one very important thing about herself that she could never, under any circumstances, repeat that act. When the cycle again presented itself seven years hence and Sajon returned to her, as she knew he would, he would find a very different T'Sathe. Her anger was gone and she was resigned to her fate. Now she could understand his guilt, even share the emotion.

* * *

Her anger calmed, T'Sathe was struck by the irony of her situation. For the second time in her life physical incapacity was responsible for her being taken to Na'Sar. The first time she had been just fifteen years old. She had awakened in another hospital room to find Sannen and T'Min standing on either side of her bed. Confused, she had stared at them. She had not seen Sajon's parents for some time, though the two families did meet occasionally since they had joined in the bonding of their children. Why were they here now? Then slowly her thoughts had begun to form. She remembered that she had been with her family, returning home from holiday when something had gone wrong with the aircar. Then her father's words echoed in her head. "We are going to crash."

"No -- tell me they are just hurt -- like me..." She looked into the eyes of Sajon' s parents and found the answer, something inside her already knew, then turned away. Control was rapidly abandoning her as the realization penetrated. Dead: mother, father, both her brothers - her family was gone.

"Why was I spared?"

Sannen had taken her hand. With the parental link severed her mind was searching for an anchor. "That I cannot answer, T'Sathe, we can only be grateful that you were spared."

"I am alone."

"No." T'Min emphasized the word. "No, you are not. We are your family now. When you are able, you will come to Na'Sar."

These were the words she had wanted to hear. Along with her sorrow was fear.

She felt alone, frightened and guilty for having survived. Her family was gone, custom allowed the family of her bondmate to assume responsibility for her, but she wanted to be more than a responsibility . She wanted to be welcomed, to belong.

And they had welcomed her and made her feel as though she belonged. A first floor room was prepared for her long convalescence. She would lie stretched out flat in a body cast while the disk in her back healed and the cloned bone chip from her leg grew in a laboratory. After that would come surgery and more convalescence, only then could she begin the long ordeal of physical therapy. Full health would be hers, but she would have to earn it.

Soon after being installed at Na'Sar (and as predicted by the healers) T'Sathe was overcome by depression. Able to heal themselves in most cases, Vulcans did not tolerate serious injury well. When their abilities and training failed to bring expected and quick results, frustration set in and was almost always followed by depression. Thought it was one of the few emotional problems Vulcans faced, it was considered by healers as the most serious.

Within three days of arriving at Na'Sar, T'Sathe began exhibiting the tell-tale signs. She picked at her food, leaving most of it uneaten and lost interest in everything. To avoid visitors, she feigned fatigue. It was her idea to follow her dead family. But the afternoon of her seventh day found her alive enough to be wakened by a noise coming from just beyond her room, a thumping followed by a shuffling. She listened as it continued to grow louder and she knew that Sajon's brother would soon be in the doorway. She had seen Sian on several occasions since she and Sajon had become bonded, yet each time was unprepared for the sight of him. And she certainly did not know what to say to him.

Through lowered lashes, she watched as he worked his way across the room. His moves were slow and deliberate as he concentrated on each step. Older then Sajon by 14 years, he was as tall as most Vulcan males, but there the similarities ended. His skin was pale -- pinkish really, his ears large and round and they did not lie flat to his head. His hair was the color of sand and seemed to have a mind all its own. His head appeared too large for the stick like body and the tell-tale noise that always accompanied him was his cane hitting the floor -- the thump -- and the other leg dragging -- the shuffle. His impending arrival stirred her emotions more than anything had since she had awakened in the hospital. It filled her with dread.

T'Sathe knew Sian's medical history from memory. As a nine year old, she had sat with her parents while they poured over his medical tapes. Their question was, did they want to bond their daughter into these chromosomes. The answer had come very close to being no.

Sian infancy and early childhood years had been plagued by asthma -- attack after attack of attack was finally diagnosed as a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic asthma. The result was Sian isolated in a special room, sealed and equipped with a highly sensitive filtering system. Sian was desensitized, item by item until stability was achieved. But some attacks continued to occur and at the age of ten they were joined by pain in the muscles and joints. By a process of elimination, Lupus was diagnosed. It seemed that the Vulcan and the human cells within him were at war with each other. But that was not all that was to befall Sian. In his early twenties he began to exhibit a weakness of the limbs, dropping things and stumbling. Soon after his speech began to slur. Tests confirmed Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

Medicine and a closely scrutinized life kept Sian alive in his controlled environment, but his prognosis was dismal.

When, at last, he stood next to her bed, T'Sathe opened her eyes.

"Go-od - mor-ning, - T'Sa-the." His words were painfully slow in forming in the uncooperative mouth, but the voice deeper than one might expect.

"I wish you the same, Sian ... Might we talk later? I find myself tired."

"The - fam-ily - accept-ed - that - ans-wer - the - la-st - two - tim-es - they - trie-d - to - vis-it."

"It is the truth. I am..."

"T'Sathe, - it is time - to face - the world - and- accept what - happened. You - can no - lon-ger hide - and - wish you - had - not - survived."

"Do not give me motives." The response erupted quick and harsh.

"Tell me - with truth - that - you - are not - wishing - for yourself, the same fate that befell you family."

She wanted to leave -- to get away from his words, but could not. She could only lie there, immobile -- her torso held tight in the body cast.

"I control," she insisted.

"You try, child, - you t-ry." Slowly, gently, he reached out to catch a tear that had slipped from the corner of her eye.

Mortified by her weakness, she attempted to explain. "I have the training. I should be able to..."

"Training alone - i-is useless, T'Sathe. Exp - experience is - needed."

"I have experience. I have lived according to the discipline."

"And what trials - have you en-countered? A child - childish insult, par-ental dis-approval for - some - small - infraction?"

She looked away, knowing she could not argue the point.

"This is - different and will - require time."

"And you will help me." She snapped out the phrase she had heard from each and every person who had spoken to her since the accident.

His eyes caught hers and held them. "Who better, T'Sathe?"

With those words Sian turned and T'Sathe watched as he began the slow routine that would take him out of her room.

Later, much later, when the hostilities no longer separated them, he would tell her his thoughts at that moment. He would explain in great detail how he was already planning to put an end to her depression. He had told it with such reality that images had formed in her mind and she could picture the whole scene.

Somewhere between his third and fourth year, Sian had come to understand that he was not "normal". When he questioned this, he was told that all life was sacred and purposeful. The child in him accepted this and he continued to follow his parents' wishes. But several years later the young teenager had asked himself, "Why?" Upon evaluating his situation he found that he had no real future. It was then he finally realized the full impact of his physical condition. Not being a true Vulcan, the cycle, the companionship of a bondmate and children would never be his to experience. Denied access to the world meant he was denied access to a career. A life spent in lonely research with only a computer connecting him to the outside world did not seem much to live for. So why endure the pain?

Since he could find no reason to do so, he withdrew, refusing to eat or to get out of bed. As the days had passed and family concern grew, one by one family and healers approached him, trying every avenue of persuasion. But as in T'Sathe's own case, neither family nor healers could reach him. When all had tried, it was his great-grandmother, Amanda, who had gotten through to him. The human has succeeded where the Vulcans failed.

His mother had not gone back to her profession for several years after Sian's birth. He required too much care and his condition was too precarious. Near fatal emergencies were common those first few years. But when Sian was six years old, and his condition more stable, he could be responsible for much of his own care, T'Min returned to her profession. It was also at this time that Amanda retired and she began spending her days with Sian. More human than Vulcan, Sian found he had much in common with his great-grandmother. She had a sense of excitement about her, a zest for life. She bought him toys that taught him nothing, they shared sweets which were good for neither of them and gossiped about friends and family. When the Lupus made walking painful, it was Amanda who produced the cane and insisted that pain or no pain, he must not allow his muscles to atrophy. She made his isolation less of a burden and for the first time in his life he understood the meaning of the word, "fun". She could show her disapproval when she thought him wrong, and did not hesitate to do so. But she did not lecture as the other elders did.

Sian had lain in his bed for two and a half days before she carne, late in the afternoon. He expected yet another lecture, and had no intention of responding. But Amanda did not address him as the others had, his mother pleading, the others reminding him of duty and tradition. Pulling a chair next to the bed, she set her hand held tape viewer on her lap, identified the tape as a work of fiction of Earth origin -- something she defined as a "mystery" -- and began reading. Sian ignored her for several minutes, but she continued, paying him no attention. Without being able to prevent it, Sian began to listen. His great-grandmother was speaking in Vulcan, but the word patterns were strange and the content was most unusual.

With her words, a story began to unfold. The body of a human male -- a large knife protruding from his back -- was discovered inside a locked room with no visible means of entry. The door had been locked from the inside.

"It is obvious that someone had use of a transporter," he said in a very disgusted tone.

"Not on 20th century Earth," Amanda added, then went on with the story. Illogical, Sian told himself as he lay there listening. Officials were summoned and people questioned as the plot unfolded. With a feeling of superiority, Sian easily identified the culprit. But then more facts were uncovered and another person appeared equally guilty, then another.

Amanda continued to read and Sian could not believe what motives and passions drove these fictional characters. These people hated, stole, lied, plotted revenge and openly expressed these emotions. They did not keep such thoughts buried deep inside as Sian felt he must. This was like nothing he had ever heard before, he had no idea such writings existed.

After almost two hours Amanda stopped reading. Sian waited. She had stopped with the last remaining family member locked in that same room. How could she do that?

"Great-Grandmother?"

"Sian, I'm just too tired to read anymore. We'll pick it up tomorrow."

"But, I must know what happened."

"Well, maybe a drink will soothe my throat." She went to the table and poured each of them a glass of juice. She held out a glass for him and pale blue eyes met. Sian recognized the concern and the love -- and the ploy. A decision was called for. After several seconds he struggled into a sitting position and accepted the glass.

"Perhaps you could continue with the reading. My throat is raw." She handed him the viewer.

Sian began to read and did not stop until he had finished the story. It left him excited, invigorated. "Do you have any more like this?"

They became his passion, these mysteries and getting inside the minds of these characters. He could identify with the emotions of fictional people as he never could with the real ones around him, and he could live their adventures while confined to his room.

After his addiction was fully developed, Amanda had moved the tapes to Sian's room to give him easier access and when she died, the collection was to be his. Everyone in the family knew this. But immediately after Amanda's death, T'Pru began her take over as head female of the household. She had Amanda's room stripped, including the bathroom.

One day she entered Sian's room and while he tried unsuccessfully to stop her, she removed the tapes. He watched unbelieving as she began taking them off the shelf and packing them into a container.

"Stop!" he cried.

She had ignored him as he struggled out of bed and, using his cane, started across the room, then fell. He had looked up to find her staring down at him, the contempt so evident in her eyes. She watched as he stretched for his cane; it was out of his grasp and without it he could not right himself. She took the container and went through the door -- leaving him there on the floor -- and destroyed the tapes.

He lay there and cried, not even trying to move. That was how Sarek had found him. The sight of his great-grandfather had stopped his tears, but in response to Sarek's questions, Sian could only point to the bare shelves. Sarek carried him to bed and held him until he was quiet.

Sian had heard of his great-grandfather's temper, that in his younger days in the council, few could match him. There were stories of his ability with words -- he could cut to the bone, humiliate, "Tellerites do not argue for a reason, they simply argue." When Sarek summoned T'Pru to Sian's room and turned that talent on her, it was a sight to behold.

The ensuing scene would forever be one of Sian's favorites. The words Sarek said to her warmed his heart every time he recalled the incident: cruel -- spiteful -- deliberate, and the most cutting -- unVulcan. Then Sarek informed T'Pru that she would apologize to Sian (he could not wait) and provide the funds to replace the collection.

When she turned to utter her apology, Sian met her stare. He knew her words were false, but savored her predicament. When Sian had survived infancy -- surprising them all -- her contempt had become evident. As young as he was, it did not escape Sian. Her covert actions were not noticeable to the rest of the family, but Amanda knew. Again the human perceived what the Vulcans did not. She had appointed herself his protector, but now she was dead and Sian realized that with her died his protection. So, while that incident with the tapes was not the first time Sian had cried, it was the last.

The family made it their task to replace all the tapes in the collection. They began searching out dealers wherever their pursuits took them. Spock brought them from his off-world travels and his aunt sent them from the exotic places her Starfleet missions took her. The family members who did not have occasion to go off planet, instead ventured into the alien sector of the city and investigated book dealers there. The new collection began to grow and soon it quadrupled the original. When he thought about it, Sian decided that T'Pru had done him a favor. Only four of the original collection were not yet replaced, but Sian had hope. He found the quest was in itself an adventure, never knowing where and how an elusive tape might be located. Tracking down the remaining tapes became like the mysteries he read about. While Amanda had confined herself to stories of her native planet, the family, in their desire to please Sian, had expanded these limits. Not wanting to return bane empty-handed they began adding suspense stories of other societies to Sian's collection.

* * *

Sian sat studying the large collection -- housed on two walls now, and pondered his dilemma. He knew he could not introduce T'Sathe to the same tape that Amanda had used to entice him from his depression. This was a female and she was older than he had been at the time. So many dead bodies would put her off. The violence in that story had served as a vent for his pent up anger and frustrations, but this was not what T'Sathe needed.

His eyes skimmed the titles as he tried to recall what each story was about. "Stolen Flight." Sian stopped. This story was a legend of the bird people of Acturis IV. A young female, led by her own ambition and, immaturity was tricked out of her ability to fly. To regain it she must perform several tasks and prove herself worthy. Sian had especially enjoyed the quest, unraveling the clues couched in riddles, and the last chapter her tasks successfully completed, her flight restored, she had soared the cliffs of her homeland as all her people before her. He chose it, reasoning that T'Sathe could identify with the struggle of the young Dion. While flight would never be hers, after her own tests and trials T'Sathe would be free of her cast to walk again.

Knowing he could be difficult to understand, Sian decided to practice reading. He removed the tape from the shelf and placed it in the viewer. Then speaking just above a whisper, he began to real aloud. After several minutes he had the rhythm and the words were flowing easily. He did not know why this was true, but he could read better than he could speak his own words. Perhaps it was due to the fact that someone else had done the thinking and organizing and he had only to concentrate on the reading.

The next morning he sat close to his bedroom door and listened to the activity in T'Sathe's room. The early morning was taken up with her personal care and today her physician visited.

Sian moved closer to his door when he heard his father and the healer talking in the hall. Both were concerned with T'Sathe's state of mind. Sian smiled mischievously to himself, thinking that at the healers next visit, he would notice a great improvement.

T'Sathe's room was quiet, but still Sian waited. From his own experiences, he knew the morning ordeal to be tiring. T'Sathe would sleep until they brought her lunch, which in all likelihood she would not eat.

Sian moved, positioning his chair and the door so he could watch T'Sathe's room. Soon he heard footsteps and identified them as belonging to his grandmother. He could recognize every family member by their footsteps. As predicted, T'Pru approached carrying a tray. She glanced in his direction and Sian pretended to be engrossed in his reading. He strained to hear as T'Pru lectured the girl, but he did not need to hear the actual words. He knew his grandmother's lecture from memory. He looked up as T'Pru left. By her manner she had lost the lunch battle. Sian smiled at her knowing it would further increase her displeasure.

T'Sathe's room was quiet with T'Pru gone, but still he did nothing. Let her calm herself after that encounter, he told himself. Let her be relaxed when I begin.

Finally, about mid-afternoon Sian pulled himself out of his chair and, reader under his arm, he made his way across the common area separating their rooms. T'Sathe faked sleep as he dragged a chair next to the bed and settled into it. By way of introduction Sian followed his great grandmother's lead. He stated that he thought she needed some diversion and that he would read to her. Then he began. The minutes passed as the tape progressed through the viewer with no reaction from T'Sathe. Sian continued to read and to steal glances at her whenever he dared. With each look, and her lack of response, his confidence began to erode. He did not believe that her control was that absolute, not at her age. Her lack of response meant lack of interest.

He moved closer and closer to the point in the story where he would spring his trap, and stop reading. The point where she would ask him to continue. At least, in his scheme she would ask him to continue.

He slowed his pace, not sure what he would do if she did not follow his plan. For in his overconfidence he had not devised an alternative.

As Sian inched his way toward the climatic scene, he heard footsteps and knew that Sajon was coming down the hall. Sian looked up as his younger brother entered, as did T'Sathe. Sajon's youthful entrance could not be ignored.

Upon entering, Sajon slowed his pace. "Sian, T'Sathe, good day to you both."

Appearing to have just awakened, T'Sathe weakly acknowledged the greeting.

Sajon glanced from his intended to his brother, then back again. "I ask pardon, I am intruding... "

"No," Sian said, deciding all was lost now. "I was just reading to T'Sathe."

"Do I know the story?"

"Lost Flight." Sian's words began slurring.

"Oh yes, that is one of the first stories Sian read to me. I learned to read from Sian's tapes. You will enjoy..."

Sian listened as his brother talked on nervously. Sajon seemed grateful to have a subject on which to focus. He made these daily visits to his bondmate's bedside, but it was awkward for them both.

Sajon continued trying to draw the other two into the conversation. When it was obvious that he was not going to accomplish that goal, he left.

Totally defeated now, Sian struggled to his feet and started to leave. When he was almost to the door, T'Sathe said, "Was she successful?"

He turned to stare at her. "She?"

"Dion. Did she regain her flight?"

"Yes, finally..."

"And the crystal, did she understand its meaning? I think I know..."

Sian went back to his chair.

* * *

T'Sathe stretched her stiff muscles, then got out of bed and paced the length of the hospital room. She tried to rid her mind of these unproductive thoughts, but they would not go away. They would never go away. So one more time she went back over those years and the mistakes she had made and what it had cost all of them.

It had started simply enough, with one individual identifying with another. Sian had often times told her of his first reaction to seeing her in that bed. For the first time in his life he had met someone whose condition was worse than his own. His desire to help and to be needed, another first, led to a friendship.

Pleased that he had been the one to move her out of her depression, he had continued to look after her. His own condition seemed to improve just by caring for her. The family noticed and commented, as did Sian himself.

"Forgive me, child, if I dote. But never before have I had this chance."

She responded to the nurturing and came to realize that Sian filled much of the void left by the death of her family. The days passed and she became a part of this family, as she came to know them and they her. They visited, talked, and did their best to make her feel welcome, but when they had all gone back to their own routines, Sian had been there. His prodding continued as her physical condition slowly improved. T'Sathe could not help but be grateful, for without his constant attendance she would surely have died of boredom. Life was unbearable for an active fifteen year old confined to bed. Their adventures came in the reading and the discussing and even planning a fictional adventure of their own.

With Sian's encouragement, Sajon joined the two and the young couple came to know each other under the direction of their own matchmaker.

She had thought Sian might abandon her when the body cast came off. She was mistaken, for now came the physical therapy and it was Sian who took command of her regimen, even to disagreeing with the healers. Having acquired so much medical knowledge from his own condition, he considered himself an expert.

It was at this time that T'Sathe and Sian began to argue, her wanting to rest, him demanding she extend her limits. But when the final triumph came, she was only too pleased to let Sian take the credit. As she struggled out of her chair and walked unsteadily, stiff-legged across the room, she caught the look in his eyes. For her, this moment was a sign of her life's forward direction, for him there was no such hope.

Slowly, imperceptively, their roles began changing. Free of her body cast, the two could spend their days in the common area between the bedrooms and without anyone willing it, or even realizing that it was happening, T'Sathe began doing for Sian instead of the reverse.

T'Sathe even went so far as to try to convince the family that she need not attend school. "I can continue as I am, with Sian."

"No, T'Sathe," Sannen was firm. "You will go to classes with children your own age."

She had dared to argue, but he was insistent.

During her confinement Sian had another asthma attack. It had been a terrifying experience for her, unable to move and not wanting to call for attention, she could only lie there listening to the commotion in Sian's room.

When things had quieted, T'Min had come to explain and reassure her. What Sian's mother did not do was tell her what to do at these times. This was unfortunate since T'Sathe had not been out of her body cast for more than a month when Sian had another attack.

She awakened to the sound of her name, frightened at the tone. Barely able to walk yet, she hurried to Sian's room to find him coughing, struggling for breath.

"Sian? Sian, what is it? What should I do?" She tried to force him to lay down.

"No." he insisted, "Bet-ter - to - sit." Unable to speak further, he pointed to a piece of equipment.

She looked at the thing he had indicated and had no idea what it was for, but Sian's heavy wheezing drove her toward the door. "I will get help."

"No," he gasped, his head shaking furiously. "No time." He pantomimed directions and T'Sathe managed to turn on the machine and help him get the face mask in place. Then she could only stand by while he sucked in the medicated spray, the jets of steam puffing each time he exhaled.

When he could, he pointed to several medicine containers. T'Sathe held them up one at a time until he nodded. She poured water and he slipped the mask aside long enough to swallow the pills.

After a long time the monitors settled into the normal range and Sian appeared better .

T'Sathe pulled a chair next to the bed and stayed until dawn. Sian assured her that the crisis was over and she could go to bed, but she knew she could not sleep. Sian did not seem sleepy either, so they talked.

The pattern began that night and with repetition, established itself. T'Sathe would stay long past what time was necessary -- not wanting to leave him. There, in the dark, the only light the glow from the medical equipment, both were feeling relaxed now that an emergency had been averted and Sian's mood was mellowed by the drug.

They talked. At first their words took no particular direction, but soon in the anonymity of the darkness they began to share secrets never spoken of in daylight. How different they were, the young healthy female with hopes for the life that lay ahead, the older frustrated male, with nothing but unfulfilled, unfulfillable dreams. The drugs eroded his defenses and mellowness decaying into bitterness.

How many such times had they shared? T''Sathe could not count the mornings she had awakened in that chair, her neck stiff. But it was only friendship that had built, there was no hint in that beginning -- no indication of what was to be.

T'Sathe had considered herself very fortunate. Having lost her own family, she had been accepted into that of her bondmate. Assuming much of the responsibility for Sian had been her way of repaying the family. She had everything, a solid family relationship, a good friend in Sian and the premise of a good marriage with Sajon.

But that life was not meant to be. Her own ignorance had destroyed any hope of that life. "Ignorance is bliss." Some human had said that centuries ago and that human had been correct. Ignorance was bliss, but the ignorance led to destruction and blood on the desert floor. Once more she cataloged her list of failures, all the things she had been too blind to see or too much a coward to face.

She thought of Sian as an older brother, to replace the one lost. In the beginning he had even called her child. But that had stopped and she would never forget that particular incident. It had begun like so many others, just one more middle-of-the-night crisis brought on by his ever deteriorating condition. But it had ended on an unpleasant note. She woke to his coughing, struggling to get his breath. She knew that his lungs were filling with fluid, the wasting muscles unable to do their work. To lie flat was disastrous for him. She found him like that, trying to catch his breath. Flipping on the suction machine, she helped him insert the tube. Then she sat next to him while it did its work.

Later, after much complaining, he took the drug and T'Sathe waited quietly for it to do take affect. Then we will talk, she thought, but her words did not draw the expected response. Sian was sullen, taking exception to everything she said and calling her child over and over again.

Finally, in her frustration she had snapped at him. "I am a woman. You will no longer call me child."

His response was harsh and cutting. "Then behave like one and do not come in here with your nightdress open."

Stunned, she looked down to find her gown open almost to the waist. Humiliated, she fled the room.

He had apologized, of course, and she accepted, but she never found the courage to ask the many questions that had plagued her. She should have, but found it easier to ignore the situation. But deep inside, the newly emerging woman knew what the girl would not admit, that that incident had marked an irrevocable change in their relationship. But only the marvelous gift of hindsight had made that clear.

* * *

A nurse appeared in the doorway and T'Sathe stopped pacing. He offered a glass of juice. "Some advice," he said. "You must rest if you wish a successful delivery of your child." Without waiting for a reply, he left and T'Sathe went to stare out the window. The night skyline of the city winked at her, as did the stars. She looked for a long moment. Those stars held worlds and Sajon had traveled to some of those worlds. But why hadn't she? Sajon had asked her often enough. She had been tempted to go to Acturis IV, to see the bird people, but found it impossible to go off planet when Sian could not even leave his room.

Sajon...

She remembered her first sight of him.

She had stood outside the door of her father's study, waiting for permission to enter. A mixture of fear and anticipation filled her. What would this Sajon be like?

The word came and T'Sathe entered and was introduced to Sannen and T'Min, but her eyes were drawn to the boy behind them. She found him very attractive and was glad. Tomorrow when her friends asked, she would not have to fumble through a statement of his intelligence and how illogical it was to place undue importance on physical attributes.

"Do you play matra?" she asked when the introductions were over.

"Yes, I know the game."

"Would you like to play?"

"Yes."

Her father interrupted. "You children go along."

They went to the family sitting room and T'Sathe set the small electronic game on a table. They sat across from one another and played three sets, each winning one and tying the other. For conversation each drew on the information found in the exchanged portfolios. On the surface, things appeared casual, but these two inexperienced young people were trying to evaluate each other.

They were bonded within the next turning. T'Sathe had a mixture of feelings about the arrangement, but was told that this made her no different from anyone else. She was assured that these emotions would all become positive as the years passed and her heart and mind turned more and more toward Sajon and his toward her.

After T'Sathe's accident they became two children living in the same house, but separated by the awkwardness of youth. As the years passed T'Sathe felt that she and Sajon were growing toward one another. She remembered many enjoyable times spent in each others company and shared with other bonded couples. Then circumstances had intervened. The job of overseer to the family's off world business ventures fell to Sajon and one after another their shared times were lost. A few times T'Sathe had gone alone, but without Sajon, she felt out of place. When she considered it, T'Sathe realized that her most vivid memories of Sajon were of saying good-by.

Even with Sajon away so much of the time, he had begun to suspect what she failed to see. He had tried several times to make her understand as he did again that last time they were together before -- before it happened.

T'Sathe remembered looking up as Sajon entered the common room. "Sajon, how pleasant. You have returned early."

"Greetings," he said. "As usual, I find you here -- together."

There was something in his voice that she had not recalled noticing before. She was about to question him when Sian interrupted.

"Ah, T'Sathe, note -- the stoic Vulcan. He -- has something - he cannot -- wait to -- share with us."

"Am I so readable, Brother?"

"Yes, it's the -- eyes, the Vul-can's eyes -- always give him away."

Here again T'Sathe detected something in the tone of these two voices, but thought it better left alone for now. "Is Sian correct, Sajon? Is there something?"

With an attempt at flair Sajon reached into his tunic and pulled out a small package.

"A tape!"

"Mig-ht it be - one o-f the illu-sive f-f-four? "Sian questioned. Sajon had to ask T'Sathe to repeat Sian's words.

When she did he said, "The illusive four is now the illusive three." Sajon handed the tape to his brother.

"Which one?" T'Sathe's excitement was also visible in her eyes as she and Sian examined the tape.

"Not only," Sajon added, "did I locate the audio tape, but a video also." He produced another package.

"Oh, we must have a viewing -- tonight. We'll invite the family..." T'Sathe was busy making plans.

"At this late notice, do not expect too many to accept," Sian said, putting a damper on her plans.

Later, after the three had viewed the tape, the two walked in the garden and T'Sathe questioned her bondmate. "Something troubles you, Sajon, it has been most evident since your return."

"You paid enough attention to me to notice? I am flattered."

"Sajon, really, your attitude of late is most perplexing."

"It need not be if you would do as I requested."

"Not see Sian."

"Not see him to the exclusion of all others."

"You see his condition. It worsens daily."

"There are others in the family who could care for him."

"His speech is deteriorating, most times no one else can even understand him."

"They can learn."

"He prefers me."

"Yes, I imagine he does. He will not even try with anyone else. He makes himself dependent on you." Sajon took her hand and led her to one of the secluded garden benches. When they were seated he said, "Do you realize how much time you spend with Sian?"

She tried to protest, but he continued. "You cannot spent your life being guilty for the things he lacks -- and neither can I."

"Guilty? You think I pity your brother?"

"Don't you?"

"Certainly not. Sian has his mind and he uses it to the fullest. I know few individuals as knowledgeable in so many fields. Think of the papers he has published and the people who communicate with him, why only yesterday..."

Sajon shook his head. "Listen to yourself, T'Sathe. We are never alone. Even when it's the two of us, it's still the three of us."

"...Sajon."

She felt that same familiar ache that always filled her when she thought of what her actions had done to him.

Sajon, her greatest injustice of all.

* * *

Even that last day found T'Sathe and Sian together in the common room between their separate bedrooms. Years ago it had been turned into a shared sitting room.

"No, Sian, I disagree. The true meaning of that statement ... " T'Sathe stopped speaking as T'Manda entered, her manner hurried, her face flushed. "T'Manda?" the younger woman questioned.

"I have news -- of Sajon. He is coming home."

"But his trip is not completed." T'Sathe rose, alarm filling her. "What has happened?"

"It is his time..."

"It is too soon."

"Apparently not. He will be here before the sun sets. You must make ready."

"I am not prepared. I have no marriage dress..."

T'Manda's voice took on an amused tone. "A family this size has many such dresses. I shall fetch one, then return to help you."

T'Sathe nodded as T'Manda turned and left. Then dazed, she turned to stare at Sian. He seemed more shocked than she.

"So," he said, his voice despondent, "the time has finally cane. This is where we part."

"Part, Sian?"

"My brother comes to claim his bride, to take you from -- here."

"Only for a time. When the cycle has passed, I shall return."

"No, Sajon plans to take separate lodging for the two of you, away from Na'Sar."

"Not live here? Why? And why should he tell you this, and not me?"

"It does not matter now, T'Sathe, go to your husband." There was something in his voice she had never heard before, something akin to despair.

"Yes." It was T'Pru, harsh voiced in the doorway. "Go to you rightful bondmate and out of his life forever." She jabbed a finger in Sian's direction.

"Grandmother, what are you saying?" T'Sathe's confusion at this whole situation deepened with T'Pru's words.

"That he," the finger jabbed the air again, "had interfered long enough."

"Sian does not interfere. He is like a brother to me."

"If you believe that, you are as blind as everyone else in this family. But it does not matter. Now things will be as they should." The old woman aimed her fiery eyes and words at Sian. "Sajon and T'Sathe will be together, for they share a bonding -- a special relationship. Something of which you will never know."

"Like you, Grandmother?" His face twisted in victory, hers in pain.

"Stop. Stop this," T'Sathe pleaded with T'Pru. "You must apologize for your words. You do not understand. We share a closeness. After all these years it is to be expected. You try to pervert it."

"It is not I who pervert it! Even Sajon knows. Tell her, Sian, tell her of the quarrel. Brother against brother..."

"Enough, old woman," Sian stood, anger giving him strength and clarifying his voice, "leave us so that we may spend our last moments in peace!"

"Last moments. Yes, I know what you plan -- another disgrace on the family name." With that remark, she turned and left while T'Sathe tried to take the sting from her words.

"You must forgive her. At her age the mind begins to play tricks. She imagines all these things in her frustration.

A small smile crept across Sian's face. "My innocent T'Sathe. You idealize me. Would that I were so noble."

"Are you saying that she spoke true? That you quarreled with Sajon?" Her voice began to quiver. "And the other -- about last moments? -- No, I refuse to believe that."

"What does it matter now?"

"It matters very much. You have been friend -- t'hy'la to me."

"You give me these motives. I do not claim them."

"What then?"

He stared at her for a long moment, as if deciding what to say. "Fate does not often make one such a gift as you were to me. I was not fool enough to refuse it. My desires are no different from my brothers, only my abilities. T'Sathe, you are the only passion I have ever known."

She stared at him, only now beginning to comprehend.

"Remember, T'Sathe, my blood runs red. I love you and, if I could, I would challenge for you."

"No!"

"Yes, and can you imagine the resulting conflict? But at least I would die as I have never lived -- as a man."

"And not by your own hand." She could only stare at him as the realization hit home.

"That decision was made years ago. Look at me. I have no life. I exist only to be with you -- and without you, I do not exist."

"If you do this, then everything we have shared is a mockery."

"No. Without you, I should have died years ago. I had set a limit on my endurance. When I could no longer walk with the aid of two canes, no longer sleep without the drugs, but I let those limits pass, because I had you."

"There will be others in the family..."

"You do not believe that and neither do I. Years ago, the family abandoned my care to you. 'T'Sathe will see to it. Do not worry about Sian, T'Sathe is with him.' With you gone, will any one of them give me the attention you have?"

"Then I will come back. Sajon will understand..."

T'Manda appeared in the doorway, a marriage dress over her arm. Blindly, T'Sathe followed her into the bedroom, she did as T'Manda directed, moving as if programmed. When she was bathed and dressed, she sat in front of the mirror at her dressing table while T'Manda styled her hair.

T'Sathe tried to concentrate, to answer the questions T'Manda was asking, but could not. She was trying desperately to piece together the events of the past hour and to correlate them with the ceremony for which she was preparing. Sajon, her bondmate, was coming home to her. He was deep in the fever and she did not know it, did not feel the stirrings within her own mind or body. That was the first wrong. And Sian, the things he had said to her, they were very wrong. Yet she knew deep inside herself that they were true.

Her neglect had led them all to this point in time. Sajon making plans which included her, but not discussing them with her. Sian not finding life worth living without her. Two brothers; she had grown up in the same house with them, caring for one, bonded to the other, yet it appeared she knew neither of them -- nor herself.

Her hair was finished. T'Manda was motioning for her to come. Not quite realizing what she was doing, she followed her bondmate's sister.

As T'Sathe passed through the sitting room, she glanced around. Sian was nowhere to be seen. Numbly she followed T'Manda through the house and into the garden. When they came to the wall, T'Manda pushed open the gate for T'Sathe to pass through alone, as such must walk these last steps alone. T'Sathe hesitated, not anxious to face what was waiting on the other side of that gate.

At T'Manda's gentle urging, T'Sathe began walking and her escort fell into step beside her. Slowly she walked toward the entourage; the bell ringers, the official and bearers, the weapons carriers, all stopped, waiting for her to take her place in line.

T'Sathe plodded along, her feet sinking into the hot, dry sand now that she was off the hardened garden path. She jerked as a clap of thunder jarred her and noticed that the breeze was fast becoming a wind and that the temperature was dropping. A storm was building over the desert and soon all of T'Manda's work on her hair would be for naught.

'Bondmate, I perceive." It was a lie. "I am drawn to the joining place." Another lie. T'Sathe knew that she was supposed to be drawn to this place, not be guided by her escorts. Not knowing what else to do, she relied on her training and repeated the words learned in her youth, hoping they were having the calming effect on Sajon.

They passed through the stone arch cut centuries ago by these same winds. The procession halted and the official emerged from the sedan chair and moved to stand before the fire pit.

"Kah-if-fee!" she announced as the bell banners were shaken but the word and music were all lost to the wind as the sky darkened like a huge bruise.

It had begun.

T'Sathe watched as Sajon raised the mallet and struck the gong. He appeared distorted through the heat waves shimmering up from the desert floor, but she knew that it was taking all his concentration to maintain control. He seemed to stare at her, but there was no hint of recognition in his eyes. Once again she tried extending her mind to him and found nothing on which to anchor. She wished she could be closer to Sajon. Surely physical contact would bring mental. Then something was distracting her. Slowly her head turned away from Sajon and she saw him in the distance.

It was Sian, struggling to walk as best he could with neither legs nor canes finding solid footing in the sand. Instinctively, she began moving toward him, then found herself surrounded by her escort. She stopped and realized what she had almost done. To be drawn away from one's bondmate at this time -- unthinkable -- unheard of. But if she could be drawn away, then no bonding existed. Yet something pulled at her mind, sensations were coming from somewhere.

Sian!

Now that he was in close proximity she was perceiving Sian and Sajon! The enormity of the situation bombarded her. She and Sajon were linked but not through a two way bonding; they were linked with Sian.

Confusion overwhelmed her; not a true bonding, but subverted, perverted. What had she done to Sian? Her dependence on him at a critical time in her life must have caused this and now without her, he had no wish to live. And Sajon, waiting, expecting what she could not give. She stumbled, almost losing her footing, a small moan escaping her lips.

Her eyes traveled from one brother to the other as their minds cried out in hers. Both were wanting from her and now she knew that she had nothing to offer either of them, nothing except death. She had failed them both and herself in the bargain.

In the background the official's voice still droned the traditional words and T'Sathe knew that when the words stopped, they would all die.

Losers, we are all of us losers -- on this course to death these long years past and not knowing. She had loved them as brother and bondmate, wanting to bring good into their lives. Instead she would bring them death to them all.

Her head kept turning from one to the other as their minds mixed in the confusion of this discovery. There were no secrets now. All thoughts were laid open to each other; love, hate, desire, jealousy, guilt, all were known.

That death awaited them all, that too was known. Only one simple question remained, would Sian's act draw them into death with him or would their mating be the catalyst? It did not really matter for the result would be the same.

"Forgive me," she begged of them. "I always wanted to give my best for you both, but my only gift seems to be destruction. It was then she realized, "I still have one small gift left to give before my life is over."

As Sajon raised the mallet, T'Sathe stepped forward and uttered the fateful word.

"Kah-if-farr."

THE END