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Only Good For Legends, Part Four

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The legislative body of the United Federation of Planets meets in San Francisco once every two years, for five months during the fall and winter. The Opening Ceremony is a long and arduous affair, full of speeches that no one is interested in giving or hearing. The reception afterward, however, is quite another matter -- politicians and diplomats seize on the opportunity to meet each other before the formal legislation begins. This year over seven thousand attendees are expected; every planet is represented by its best and brightest, hoping to underline the importance of their homeworld's contributions to peace and prosperity in the galaxy.

Spock and Chapel are given the task of vetting the attendance lists, double-checking guests and honorees and honored guests. Attendance to the ceremony is not mandatory, but Spock is given little choice about attending the reception; as a member of the IDD and the son of one of the guests of honor, he cannot find a graceful way to decline the invitation. He comforts himself with the knowledge that Jim will also be there -- a "reward" for making the honors list in his first semester -- and Spock will not have to suffer alone.

Clouds begin gathering a few hours before the reception, and at six o'clock the first rumble of thunder echoes across the campus. Chapel pauses in the act of putting on her jacket to gaze out the windows, where flashes of lightning can be seen across the sea. "If I recall correctly, humans used to consider storms an ill omen," she observes, with the faintest trace of smugness in her tone. She is not required to attend, and is apparently meeting Pike to discuss the latest developments of the Enterprise's launch next spring.

Spock tries not to glare as he says, "I understand they still do."

"Curious," Chapel says, and takes her leave.

A half-hour later Spock makes his way alone across the grassy quadrangle to the Great Hall; the main entrance is clogged already, a long line of guests waiting to be announced so that they can make their way down the grand staircase, but he slips through the entrance afforded to security officers at the other end of the building.

He is immediately bombarded by the sight, the sound, the smell of a thousand different species. For all the months he has been back in San Francisco, he is still unused to the press of a crowd, and he takes a deep breath before making his way through, searching for anyone he knows. He catches sight of Nyota first, looking flushed and overwhelmed. She sees him but does not seem to recognize him for a moment; when she does, she comes over quickly, relief plain in her features.

"Thank goodness," she says, her voice raised over the din, "A friendly face."

"Good evening," Spock says. "Are you unwell?"

Nyota shakes her head. "I'm fine. I just wasn't really prepared for what this was going to be like."

Spock nods, but remembers the translation protocol and realizes that she may not be talking about the oppressive atmosphere of the hall. "Are you referring to your recent publication?"

"I've already been cornered by a dozen different delegations trying to tell me why the new Grayson-Uhura Protocol is unequal to the shades of nuance in their particular languages," she says, "And is fostering a pro-human bias against their interests."

"You believe their objections to be without foundation?" Spock asks, and she laughs in response.

"I'd be less suspicious if they weren't delegations from the Ferengi and their immediate allies, and if they weren't complaining about how I was trying to crush the progress of capitalism."

"That does indicate a certain bias of their own," Spock says.

"Exactly," Nyota says, and looks around. "God, it's like a needle in a haystack, finding people I like here. I've been here almost half an hour and you're the first person I've actually wanted to talk to."

They join forces and make their way to the buffet, where food of every imaginable type is laid out, all with careful cards written in Standard indicating what species should avoid which hors d'oeuvre. They fill their plates and talk about the evening's events, about the the new Grayson-Uhura Protocol, about the fact that Nyota heard that Pike would not be attending and is torn between regret and relief.

"The worst thing is that I was gunning for a position on the Enterprise," she sighs, biting into a deviled egg. "I bet he took one look at my application and threw it in the trash."

"I'm sure he has forgotten about the incident last year," Spock says, with perhaps more tact than honesty.

"I threatened to kill him with my boot," Nyota says.

"As I recall, you were provoked."

"I don't think that'll really make a difference."

Spock says, "I work very closely with his first officer, Commander Chapel; I can inform you that she read the Grayson-Uhura Protocol and was extremely impressed."

Nyota blinks. "How did she get a hold of the paper?" she asks sharply. "It's not really something a first officer would be reading up on."

"You underestimate the depth of my colleague's intellectual curiosity," Spock says, but Nyota continues to stare at him until he admits, "I was reading it in the office several days ago, and was so overawed by its brilliance that I mentioned it to Commander Chapel. She requested a copy."

"Oh my God," Nyota moans, but she's laughing at the same time, a curious combination of pleasure and mortification. "I can't believe you!"

"As first officer of the Enterprise, Commander Chapel has more influence in recruiting new staff," Spock points out. "Therefore her good opinion will most likely supersede any reservations Captain Pike may have about your volatility."

"I'll give you volatility," Nyota says, shaking her head.

"I'd rather you didn't," Jim says from behind Spock's shoulder. Spock turns; Jim is wearing his cadet's uniform, pressed and unmarred -- Spock cannot imagine where Jim has been hiding it, since all his uniforms tend to develop rips or stains within a few minutes of him donning them. "Hi," Jim says to him.

"Hello," Spock says. He brushes the back of his hand against Jim's, and Jim surprises him by tangling their fingers together. Spock can feel a strange knotting in his gut; it's coming from Jim, something simmering, almost anger but not quite.

Jim peers at Nyota. "You look familiar," he tells her. "You're the talented tongue, aren't you? From the bar in Riverside."

Nyota pauses a moment before recognition sparks; after that, her face flickers through a series of emotions before settling on bland friendliness. "And you're the farm hick who clearly doesn't only have sex with farm animals," she replies. "Nice to see you without your face caved in."

Jim smirks. "I promise you, the pleasure's all mine."

"We were just discussing the assignment of personnel on the ships to be commissioned next year," Spock says, quickly. He is unsure what he expected would happen when Jim and Nyota met up again; mostly he avoided thinking about it.

Nyota does not break eye contact with Jim as she says, "Oh, I'm sure Cadet Kirk doesn't need to worry about that for a while longer. He's still a newbie for another six months, isn't that right?" She plucks a grape off of her plate and pops it into her mouth. "You've still got an off-planet rotation and another three years of training before you get a commission."

"Actually," Jim counters, snagging a glass of champagne off of a passing waiter, "I've already tested out of most of the first-year courses. And half the second-year. Perks of being a space brat -- I already knew most of the stuff you've been studying up on by the time I was five."

"Oh, dear," Spock hears; he turns and sees his mother staring apprehensively at the three of them. "Isn't this a lovely gathering?" she says brightly, putting a smile on her face that seems full of hopeful good cheer.

Nyota smiles back. "I'm looking forward to the fireworks," she answers. Spock frowns, trying to recall the schedule of events for the evening, but Nyota continues, "Have you gotten cornered by anyone yet?"

This time, Amanda's expression is wry and resigned. "Nyota, I'm cornered all the time about one thing or another. But I'm guessing you're talking about the protocol?"

"I had a Ferengi councilman offer me my own harem if we reconsidered certain passages in the algorithm," Nyota says, putting a sarcastic spin on the request.

Jim snorts. "Really? They must not respect you much. They only offer sex when they're not interested in giving you money," he says mildly. Both Nyota and Amanda turn to stare at him, and he smiles broadly. "I'm sure it's nothing personal."

"Dammit, Mandy!" Spock hears McCoy bellowing before he sees him emerge from the crowd, out of breath and carrying two glasses in his hands. "When you say you're going to wait by the pink statue, I don't expect to find you all the way over on the opposite -- oh God," he interrupts himself, looking up from Amanda's face to notice her companions. "Any bloodshed so far?" he mutters into her ear.

She takes a glass from his hand and turns back to Nyota. "Well, I haven't gotten cornered by any Ferengi yet," she tells her, "But a delegation of Ithenites wanted to talk to me about why, in our new protocol, the whistles on the third range were so limited in tone, and if it was an insult to the Crown Prince -- whose whistling is generally agreed to be somewhat hindered by his disability -- and if so was I aware that their treaty with the Federation was contingent upon utmost respect for the Royal Family and at that point I thought it would be a good idea to find my colleague and either devise a strategy to avoid them all night or find a good answer."

Uhura frowns. "There are, what, seventeen words total that they use in the third range?"

"Nevertheless, they think we're deliberately trying to cause offense."

"Well," Nyota says, popping another grape into her mouth, "I'm definitely not in the mood to avoid anybody tonight. Let's go."

Amanda takes Nyota's offered arm, looking both amused and nervous. McCoy watches them go for a moment, then turns to Spock.

"What're the chances I'm gonna understand anything they say?" he asks.

"Low," Spock says.

"The things we do for love." McCoy drains his glass and hands it to Jim. "It was nice knowing you, Jim. You too, Spock, I guess. In a way." And he disappears into the crowd.

"Your mom's quite a lady," Jim comments, putting the glass down on the buffet table. "Is it weird for you, how she's still so close to your ex?"

"Not particularly," Spock says. "In fact, I believe the conclusion of sexual relations between Nyota and myself was a relief to my mother. I still have a great deal of affection for Nyota, but we are more suitable as--"

"You could just say 'I'm not that into her anymore,'" Jim interrupts, but he's grinning and the strange tension is leeching away.

"I am not," Spock assures him.

Jim smiles at him before something catches his eye; he nods to the top of the large staircase at the north side of the hall, where attendees wait to be announced. "That them?" he asks.

Spock follows his gaze, and understands Jim's meaning; the Vulcan delegation has just begun descending the staircase, although at this distance their announcement had been drowned out by the general noise. "Yes."

"Huh. They look like fun-loving types. Which one is T'Pau?"

"She is in the lead," Spock says. It is the only thing that differentiates her from the others, dressed as they are in identical somber robes. "I should greet her."

"I'm coming with you," Jim decides.

They make their way across the hall to where the Vulcan delegation has congregated. There is a kind of magnetic repulsion around the group; partygoers step around them, giving them at least a meter-wide berth. Spock steps across the empty space deliberately and is immediately the object of a dozen impassive gazes.

"I wish to greet you," Spock says, "And welcome you to the festivities."

"But you are not the host," one woman says.

"Furthermore it is illogical to bid welcome after we have been announced by the herald. Presumably everyone here is already aware of our presence," says a young man.

"This is Spock," T'Pau says, moving forward and offering him the ta'al. "His training in the ways of logic is... incomplete."

Spock inclines his head. "T'Pau. It is pleasing to see you once again."

"Why?" she asks. "Our last conversation was most unsatisfactory."

Spock can think of no suitable answer to this; instead he turns to Jim. "May I present Cadet James T. Kirk, of Starfleet Academy."

"It's an honor, ma'am," Jim says.

"Yes," T'Pau replies. She looks hard at Jim for a moment, then turns to Spock. "Is this the reason you will not bond with T'Pring? Your sexual attachment to this human?"

Jim blinks.

"No," Spock says, then hesitates. It is true, but it is inaccurate all the same. "My relationship with Jim has vindicated, not precipitated, my belief that a Vulcan bond would not be successful."

"On the contrary, Spock, a Vulcan bond is far more likely to be a success than whatever sexual appetites can be satisfied by a human male," T'Pau says. Jim makes a very odd noise in the back of his throat. "Perhaps, once your dalliance has concluded, we might discuss matters again."

Spock feels anger, both from Jim and from his own temper. "Our dalliance--"

"If you would excuse us, Councilor?" Jim interrupts, before all but dragging Spock away. "Okay, wow," Jim mutters, once they're out of earshot, "As hot as it would've been to watch you smack the snot out of someone, my mom always told me you shouldn't hit girls."

"Her conversation was very offensive," Spock says. "Although I assure you I would not have resorted to physical violence."

"Okay, sure." Spock frowns at him, and he adds, "I believe you, I do. It's just, you know, you were glaring pretty hard."

Spock takes several deep breaths. "Perhaps we should find some champagne."

"I saw some chocolate-covered strawberries floating around," Jim offers, leering suggestively.

The rest of the evening progresses more smoothly, and it is not until he and Jim are walking home that he turns his mind back to the strange clench of Jim's feelings earlier, when they were talking with Nyota.

"Were you jealous?" Spock asks. The storm has passed and the weather is now relatively pleasant; Jim has unzipped his uniform jacket, revealing the black undershirt that Spock knows is soft to the touch, skin-warmed.

"What?" Jim asks.

"When you found me at the reception, speaking with Nyota. Were you jealous?"

Jim tries to laugh, though he seems uncomfortable. "Not really -- well. I guess jealous is the closest word for it." They walk in silence for a few minutes, then Jim asks, "Was I that obvious?"

"In retrospect, you were," Spock says. "However, it was the the feelings that I sensed from you that I have been trying to decipher."

"You're telling me you don't recognize jealousy?"

"It is not an emotion that I have ever had chance to acquaint myself with," Spock says.

"So you've--" Jim stops on the sidewalk. "You've never been jealous of anyone?"

Spock considers this. "I suppose I have never had need. I was always confident in the regard given by my family, and in romantic contexts, I have never before been with a partner whose emotional attachment to me has been outstripped by my attachment to them."

"Wait, so hold up. You're saying everyone you've been with, they've been more into you than you've been into them?"

"No. I am saying that before you, my partners have always been more, as you say, into me than I into them," Spock says. "That is no longer the case."

This time Jim does laugh, loud and real, and pulls Spock close for a kiss that they cannot seem to get quite right -- Jim's smile is too broad and his teeth keep catching on Spock's lip -- but they try for several minutes, anyway.

*

They never learn to discuss their relationship any better than that, but they soon realize that they do not need to; Jim offers his thoughts and his feelings with every brush of his fingers, and Spock learns that, to Jim, his feelings are easily telegraphed by his actions.

"You never walk away," Jim murmurs one night, an arm and leg thrown over Spock's body carelessly. "I don't know why, but you don't."

Spock says, "I remember my mother telling my father once that it was a human trait to leave. Vulcans will always stay to resolve the situation."

"So it's just the way you were raised?"

"No," Spock admits. "I remain for other reasons."

"You sap," Jim grins, and yawns, and falls asleep.

They are both busy; Jim's second semester is considerably more difficult than his first, and Spock's duties seem to multiply by a factor of ten now that the Federation's legislative session has begun. Jim drops out of one extracurricular after another, though he is sentimental about tri-D chess club and refuses to stop attending. "You might actually get good one day," he argues, when Spock points out that the only reason he is continuing to take it is because it offers them time together.

"I doubt that very much," Spock tells him. "Besides, you ought to spend the time on your studies; your grades in Temporal Physics have been slipping in the past month."

"What, are you hacking into the Starfleet computer system to read my report card now?"

"As IDD envoy, I have full access to your academic records," Spock says. "On a related note, I am disappointed to learn of your subpar performance in xenodiplomacy, which I would have assumed--"

Jim buries his face in his hands. "Oh my God, I'm dating my mother."

But as much as Jim may complain of Spock's lack of boundaries, he seems to operate by the same theory of no half measures; Jim has all but moved in with Spock by the end of their first month together, his uniforms and educational materials making a slow but implacable transfer during the rest of the semester. Spock moves his own clothing and books to one side, and says nothing when a small fridger appears in his kitchen, followed by a stove module and a truly alarming array of pots and pans and cutting implements. He acclimates himself to the various states that his apartment may be in upon his return home in the evening: full of music, full of cooking aromas, full of cadets in a study group, laughing around his kitchen table and falling silent when they catch sight of him. And always Jim, looking up from whatever occupies his attention and smiling.

There are, of course, adjustments to be made. “Your coffee tastes like shit,” Jim observes one morning. “It tastes like shit from birds who ate shit, then threw it up and ate it again, then shat it.”

“That was evocative,” Spock comments.

“So is your coffee.”

“It is not supposed to be pleasant,” Spock says. “It is supposed to wake you up.”

“I can’t believe you actually think that caffeine wakes you up. That’s the oldest superstition in the world.”

Spock ignores him and attempts to adjust the coffeemaker. A hand slides around his waist, fingers cool under the hem of his shirt, and Jim’s mind bumps against his. Jim scratches idly at Spock’s stomach, though his interest is sharp and heated.

Spock abandons the coffeemaker and turns in Jim's grip, hands sliding up his arms. “You want to have sex,” he realizes, pleased.

Jim rolls his eyes, obviously/just look at you/born for this/for me/all mine, and he leans forward to kiss him. “You know what’s even better than coffee first thing in the morning?” he murmurs into Spock's ear.

“You’re going to say ‘blowjobs,’ aren’t you?” Spock says.

“You ruin all my fun,” Jim complains.

"I hope that is not the case.”

The conclusion to that conversation results in Spock being late for work. The next weekend Jim buys them a very expensive espresso machine.

With these and other accommodations to each other, they learn to live together, to be together, in a way that Spock has never been with someone else. There are arguments that end in long stretches of silence, laughter that ends in slow kisses, quiet afternoons and frantic nights and countless meaningless moments in between that add up to far more than the simple unfolding of time. Spock thinks of his future, now, even if he still cannot bring himself to remember his past.

*

Starfleet Academy's semester concludes at approximately the same time as the Federation's session, and for two weeks Spock and Jim see each other only in bed, their duties as envoy and cadet keeping them apart. Occasionally Spock does not see Jim even then, falling asleep with the smell of Jim faint on the pillows only to wake up a few hours later to the cool press of Jim's body against his back.

But eventually, the last of the diplomats are signalling their departure from Earth, and Spock can relax once more into his less-demanding role as envoy to the Academy. He spares a thought to be grateful that T'Pau did not make any special effort to see him again; they have not spoken since the beginning of the session, but Spock cannot imagine what she would have left to say to him.

It is therefore surprising to come into his office a few days later and find T'Pau waiting for him.

"Councilor," he says, pausing in the doorway. Chapel is not in evidence, and T'Pau is standing in the middle of the office as though reluctant to touch anything, her hands clasped in front of her. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" T'Pau looks puzzled, and Spock corrects himself. "Why are you here?"

This seems to make more sense, and T'Pau's expression clears. "The delegation will depart tomorrow morning for Vulcan. I do not anticipate that I will return for the next session."

"I see," Spock says, although he doesn't.

"When we spoke at the reception the other evening, I said that we should talk again once your... relationship with the human had ended."

"I believe the term you used was 'dalliance,'" Spock says, trying to sound as even-tempered as possible.

"Yes, it was," T'Pau agrees. "However, you have made clear that despite whatever arrangements you may have made personally, you have no intention of going through the bonding ceremony with T'Pring."

"This is correct." Spock feels as though he is walking into some sort of trap, though he's unaware of how it could spring upon him.

"Very well. If such is your intention, then you must come back to Vulcan and annul your bond with T'Pring before the High Council."

Spock is unable to formulate a reply for a few moments. "I must?"

"An annulment is considered... somewhat unconventional, it is true. However, in light of the circumstances, I believe that the Council may give its consent to your petition."

"My petition." Spock is only able to stupidly repeat phrases that T'Pau utters, but he's unsure of a better way to respond. "Are you telling me that I have to petition the High Council itself in order to annul a marriage that I would never go through with in the first place?"

"Correct."

"And it has not occurred to you or to anyone else on the high council that I could simply--"

"That you could simply ignore the duty you owe to your family and to your clan and to your people?" T'Pau interjects. "I confess I did not think it possible when I first came here."

Spock can say nothing to this.

T'Pau seems to sense his anger, although it only prompts her to say, "Very well. I am aware that humans view personal ties as more binding than ones of duty, at times. Perhaps an appeal on those grounds will be more suitable; if you will not come to honor the Vulcan way, then you will come as a favor, to me." She cocks her head, regarding him thoughtfully. "Does that meet the necessary requirements of sentiment?"

"I will consider it," Spock says.

"That is all I require," T'Pau says. Spock moves aside as she moves toward the door. She turns to face him again. "You are needed, Spock. It is my hope that you understand that."

Spock does not bother to conceal his impatience this time. "For what, Councilor?" he asks. "Why am I needed so badly?"

"You may as well ask why a star needs all the planets in its orbit," T'Pau says, and lifts her hand. "Live long and prosper."

When Chapel arrives some minutes later, she finds him sitting at his desk and staring out the window, down at the quietly bustling city beneath. "Are you well?" she asks him.

Spock says, "I do not know."

*

"You're home late," Jim observes when Spock walks through the door that evening. He has his apron on and is doing something complicated to a vegetable -- Spock is still disinclined to involve himself with the intricacies of Jim's cooking, although he is happy enough to eat it.

"Yes," Spock says. He takes off his coat and hangs it in the closet. The collar is crooked and the sleeves are not hanging straight down, but he is unable to do more than stare at it blankly.

Cool arms wrap around his waist; they are not altogether unexpected. "What happened?" Jim asks. His nose brushes against the back of Spock's neck; his concern is tinged with good humor and the knowledge that every time Spock doesn't spend five minutes hanging up his coat, there's something wrong.

"T'Pau came to my office this morning to speak with me," he replies. "She -- I do not believe that 'asked' is the correct word -- she made it clear that she expected my return to Vulcan, in order to annul my betrothal to T'Pring."

Jim's concern turns from worry over Spock to worry over them both, a fear for their own connection. But he says nothing, and allows Spock to continue.

"I do not wish to go," Spock says. "But I am unsure if my personal desires are sufficient reason to avoid it."

"Why don't you want to go?" Jim asks. "You afraid if you meet T'Pring, you'll all of a sudden fall in love with her?"

"I do not believe it is possible to be in love with two people at once," Spock says very seriously, "And as you have a prior claim--"

Jim laughs, and the concern disappears for a moment, overwhelmed by relief and amusement. "You say the sweetest things, Spock." He kisses Spock's shoulder and does let go this time, only to turn Spock around to face him. "So what is it, if it's not that?"

"It is--" Spock realizes that he has never articulated this to anyone, not in all the years he has lived on Earth. His friends and colleagues never seemed curious, his lovers were often simply content to know that he had so clearly chosen Earth as his home, and of course his mother never needed to ask. "There are many reasons."

The faint aroma of something burning distracts Jim, but he drags Spock by the hand into the kitchen and sits him down at the breakfast table, pointing at him with a knife. "Keep talking," he orders as he grips a pan and raises it above the stove's flame.

"My memories of Vulcan are almost universally negative," Spock says. Jim is not looking at him directly, but is moving around their small, improvised kitchen with a certain poise. Spock feels as though he is speaking his thoughts aloud, without the pressure of an audience, and he is surprised all over again that Jim has no telepathic abilities. "Even before Sybok's madness, all I knew of Vulcan society was that I was unwelcome in it. My classmates discounted my accomplishments and focused on my heritage, despite the fact that my father was on the High Council and the board of the Science Academy. Sybok, as I recall, faced similar shunning and rejection."

"But he's a full Vulcan," Jim says. "Right?"

"Yes," Spock says, "But he was born and spent most of his childhood on Earth, where his mother and our father allowed him to attend Terran schools and have human and alien friends. As a result, although Sybok was able to meditate and had full control over his telepathic abilities, he was... an oddity, among Vulcan society. He laughed a great deal," Spock remembers suddenly.

Jim glances up at him, a tentative smile on his face, before returning to his pan.

"His mother died when he was very young," Spock says, "But he never seemed to harbor any anger toward our father for remarrying. In fact, he met my mother before our father did."

"Really?"

Spock nods. It is a story he remembers almost as well as a favorite poem, though it has been almost fifteen years since anyone in his family has recounted it. "When he was ten years old, Sybok was already years ahead of most of his agemates, and our father enrolled him in a few University classes in order to engage his mind more fully. He attracted the attention of a young woman who was working on a very preposterous idea that all language has mathematical components and can be universally understood with the right quantitative measures of qualitative data."

Jim grins, and it is clear he already knows who this young woman will turn out to be. Friends and associates of his parents always did, Spock remembers, all the times Sarek or Sybok or Amanda would tell the story. But there was a certain tradition to the way it was told, and some of it comes back to Spock even as he speaks the words.

"Sybok was the only person in the entire University who did not think she was mentally unbalanced, and they began working together after school every day; she was trying her theory on the Vulcan language, and he was one of the best native speakers on Earth at the time. She would help him with his math homework, too, as I recall. Our father became curious about this new study partner, whom he had never met, and requested that she and her parents come over for a dinner -- he was under the impression that she was Sybok's age, perhaps a year or two older." Spock frowns; he is not telling the story quite right. His version seems to lurch and sway as the memories come back, unlike the careful measured tones of his father or the sly smiles of his brother or the way his mother would hold her hand up to her mouth, her eyes dancing.

"When Sybok told his new study partner about the invitation, she was very surprised, since her parents lived in Connecticut. But the next time they came to visit her, she accepted our father's invitation. However, the evening of their engagement, the young woman was detained by a professor at the University and was unable to meet them on time, so her parents went with the understanding that she would come as soon as possible. Our father and Sybok spent almost an hour making very uncomfortable small talk with the young woman's parents."

There were specific things they had talked about -- something about a storm that should break any minute, and Sarek's ambassadorship -- but Spock cannot remember them clearly now.

"At last their daughter arrived, out of breath and apologizing profusely in flawless Vulcan. She had run from the transport shuttle up the hill to the house in the pouring rain, and was apparently a complete mess. Our father often said that his belief in love at first sight began at that moment." Spock looks down at his hands, which are laced together in his lap. He is vaguely surprised that they are not bunched into fists or tapping an impatient rhythm on the tabletop.

"When did they move back to Vulcan?" Jim asks.

"Two years before I was born," Spock answers. "A year after they married. My mother insisted on finishing her dissertation first and proving her theory about the Universal Translator. Our father worked with her, and contributed so much to the project that they shared credit for it in the end, but my mother says that it was Sybok who was the true linguist in the family. She used to say that," he corrects himself. "I do not think she has spoken his name since the night my father died."

Jim sits down at the table. "What do you remember about that night?"

Spock is reminded of the hundreds of interviews he has conducted across the table from witnesses, suspects; how the evidence is sometimes tangible and sitting between them, but often is contained only in what is said. "Very little. I remember my father said that Sybok was ill, had been ill for the past few days -- I had not been allowed to see him. My mother and I were in the library reading when we heard a noise from the hallway. My mother went out to see, and I could hear my father shouting for her to lock the door. She did, and I asked her what was wrong. Then something heavy hit the door. There were several minutes of noise -- violent noise. Objects hitting flesh. My father said something, but I could not hear what. Then there was silence. Sybok opened the door and my father was dead at his feet."

Jim doesn't say anything; his hands are flat on the table, and without thinking Spock puts his hands in his, stroking the scarred, rough knuckles of Jim's fingers. Jim is not curious, not interested, not horrified -- he is only sorry, the kind of sorrow that can only come from pain of one's own.

"I do not know if he lunged for my mother, or if he simply stepped toward her -- my mother had pushed me behind her, protecting me the only way she could. She did not scream, though, I remember that. She said, 'Please, don't hurt him,' and then there were a great many people, I don't know where they came from. They took Sybok away and I never saw him again." Spock closes his eyes, fighting against the catch in his throat.

Jim's fingers brush against his face, easing the ache Spock can feel -- the ache he has always felt, but chosen to ignore -- when he thinks of his family. "Hey," Jim murmurs.

Spock turns into Jim's hand, and Jim leans across the table to kiss him softly on the mouth.

*

"So is that the reason you don't want to go back?" Jim asks, hours later. They are lying in bed, listening to the gentle patter of rain against the windows. Spock is combing his fingers again and again through Jim's hair; it has a fascinating texture, unlike that of any lover Spock has had before, and there are times when Spock has to clasp his hands behind his back to avoid touching it. But here he may indulge himself, the warm contentment of Jim's mind humming against his hand.

"Pardon me?" Spock says absently.

"The universally negative memories you have," Jim says. "Are they why you don't want to go back to Vulcan?"

Spock lifts an eyebrow. "Is that not sufficient?"

"Well," Jim shrugs, "Not for me personally, but then I've never been too afraid of bad memories."

That is very true. "I suppose I am afraid of the good ones, as well," Spock admits. "Although my life outside our home was... quite unpleasant, my family life was happy. My father was a very good man, and despite his reserve he never left any of us in doubt as to how much he cared for all of us. And my mother, I think, loved Sybok as much as she loved me or my father."

"That didn't bother you?" Jim asks.

"On the contrary, it comforted me. It showed me that family was not reliant on blood connection. And Sybok was easy to love, I believe."

"He lived with you the whole time?" Jim asks. "Even after he turned eighteen?"

Spock remembers Jim's history, his flight from home at age sixteen, and realizes the arrangement might seem odd. "Vulcan children usually stay in their family's home until they take a mate, some time in their late twenties."

"Huh," Jim says. "Okay, stop distracting me and tell me what else is stopping you. So far you've said it's the bad memories and the good memories and it's not that you're afraid T'Pring will sweep you off your feet. Ow," he adds when Spock tugs particularly hard on his hair. "Play nice."

"Those are the only reasons," Spock says. "The first two, that is."

Jim looks skeptical. "What about your brother?"

Spock starts to reply, but he has nothing to say.

"I noticed," Jim continues, "This whole time you've been talking about him, that you've been talking like he died, too. He's still alive, Spock. He's there, on Vulcan."

"He is in prison," Spock says. It is the wrong response, but he cannot think of anything better.

"He's probably saved up a few visiting privileges." Jim waits for a moment, then says, "I think you should go."

"To see my brother," Spock says.

"Yeah. See your brother, get out of this betrothal thing."

Spock nudges Jim to lie on his side, facing away from him, then tucks himself against Jim's back. Under the covers like this, Jim is almost as warm as he is. "And face my memories, no doubt."

"They're just memories, Spock," Jim murmurs. "I've been facing my own for a long time."

"And you wish me to be more like you?" Spock asks.

Jim chuckles, his thoughts already growing blurry and soft, sleepy. "The world probably couldn't handle another Jim Kirk," he says.

*

The air of ShiKahr is immediately familiar, dry and salty and shockingly hot -- the air of the Vulcan desert. Spock disembarks from the Federation transport vessel and squints in the punishing sun, blinking for a moment before his second eyelid closes and shields him from the worst of the glare.

Around him, his fellow passengers are already dispersing on business of their own. Spock follows them, their brisk movements making him notice his own, slower pace. He has never thought of himself as prone to dilatory behavior, but compared to these people he is almost ambling down the walkway.

He finds a docking agent standing at the cargo entrance. "I am Detective Spock, I--"

"Three cargo units," she chirps back at him, her antennae examining the PADD in her hands while she smiles up at him. "One of personal effects, one of clothing-wear, and the blue beauty we've all been taking turns drooling over."

Spock smiles. "You approve of my vehicle, I take it?"

She looks a little surprised; it occurs to him that a smile is not often part of her day when traveling to Vulcan. But she answers, "Oh, yes sir. I don't recognize the design, though."

"It is an original," he says.

"That's an understatement. Would you like us to send your cargo to an address, or will you take charge of them yourself?"

"I'll take them," he says. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, sir."

The directions to his family home point him away from the city and into the mountains, which grow out from the city on one side. As the vehicle climbs higher, ShiKahr diminishes below him, the desert stretching out around it. It is beautiful and forbidding, both.

He arrives at the house at dusk, and when he cuts off the engine to the vehicle the silence seems part of the growing darkness. The house’s recent function as a guest residence has kept it in good repair, although when he goes inside, the furniture is strange, full of drab pieces that his family did not own. Spock wonders for a moment what happened; his mother packed only their clothing and the contents of her library, leaving everything else behind, fourteen years ago. Perhaps the Council sold it, or threw it away, or stored it in the basements of the house. There was a bright yellow couch in the living room that always had dirt marks, from where his mother and he would sit back-to-back reading, their shoes pressed against the armrests.

Spock looks in on his childhood room, turned into a kind of study, with an empty desk in the corner where his bed used to be. There is a console with a blinking message light; Spock presses the "receive" button and finds two messages waiting for him, one from T'Pau and one from Jim.

He listens to T'Pau's message first. "Spock, I trust you are in good health. The High Council has agreed to hear your petition tomorrow at thirteen-hundred hours. I have enclosed the coordinates. You will make your case and wait upon our determination."

The vid ends, and Spock presses Jim's message; but instead of a vid, there are a few lines of type on the screen.

Dear Spock, it reads. So, you've been gone for less than a day, and it'll be two days before you get this. But I had to confess, because it's been weighing on my conscience; when I woke up this morning, I didn't make the bed.

I feel better getting that off my chest.

I haven't written a letter since my grandma died -- she loved getting them, and Sam and I would get guilted into writing once a month or so. (Guess who did the guilting.) Grandma would always write back complaining about our penmanship. One advantage of sending a wave, I guess. You don't get to critique my chicken-scratching.

Spock, thinking of the grocery lists that Jim attaches to the fridger, is forced to agree.

I met with a few commanders today about my placement next year; they're all looking for bright young engineers and it looks like Starfleet practices the same poaching techniques that I remember from high school football teams in Riverside. Your buddy Commander Chapel seems to think that I belong to the Enterprise already. Not that I don't -- I think if you ever do decide to dump me, that ship would make a pretty good girlfriend. I've always had a thing for gorgeous curves. Plus, we've got a hell of a history, so to speak.

My mom thinks I'm a kept woman, by the way; when I told her that I was staying in your apartment even though you'd gone off to Vulcan for however long you'll be stuck there, she told me two things. One, that it's a good thing you're rich, otherwise she'd worry about your job, and two, you shouldn't expect a dowry or anything if you ever decide to make an honest -- well, she said "an honest woman," but I think we both know she's kind of awful.

I want to ask you a lot of questions, but I'm not sure where to start. So I'll say that you should tell me what you want, and come home when you can. I've got a light on for you.

Spock shuts down the console before he can respond immediately -- he wants to, but there is too much emotion, too close to the surface, to say anything coherent. Come home when you can.

Instead he gets up from the console and drifts down the hallway, past his parents’ suite and into Sybok's old room. It has retained its bed, though it does not seem to be the same one -- there is no room for a child to hide under it, as Spock did when he was very young. Sybok would laugh whenever he found him, which was most times, and if it took too long Spock would roll out from underneath the bed triumphantly while Sybok sat studying at his desk. “I win,” Spock would say, and Sybok would agree.

Spock sits on this strange bed and stares at the small dresser that now sits in the same place that Sybok’s desk once was, memory lurking in every lengthening shadow, until darkness falls.

*

The High Council holds its sessions in a massive chamber, the councilors seated at a large horseshoe-shaped table; applicants, witnesses, or anyone else who comes to the attention of the Council stand at the end. The room is bare of any other furniture or ornamentation -- personally, Spock agrees with the choice. A room so obviously meant to intimidate would surely lose its power with the addition of unnecessary decor.

He is ushered into the hall at the appointed time; a dozen faces turn to watch him approach. He nods at T'Pau and vaguely recognizes a few others, but cannot place names to faces; he knows only that they must have been visitors to the house during his childhood. He sees them now as men and women of power, but back then they were merely old people who puzzled over the paintings on the walls and the bright fabrics on the chairs. The elderly man seated on the far left, Spock recalls, once spent an entire evening holding a throw pillow clutched in his hands, unsure of what else to do with it.

"Spock, son of Sarek," says T'Pau, "You have come to apply for an annulment of your bond with T'Pring, daughter of T'Hauth."

"Yes, Councilor." Spock resists the urge to shift his weight. He was unable to find any detailed information about the Vulcan annulment application, other than the fact that there was one. In larger Vulcan society, annulment applications are handled by the local councils -- but for a member of one of the high families, the pomp and circumstance of the High Council itself is evidently required. It is difficult not to be impatient already.

"I am Torven, daughter of Melars," says a white-haired woman seated on the far right. "Have you consulted with your betrothed about this action, or is your request made without her involvement?"

"I have not seen T'Pring since we bonded twenty years ago," Spock tells her. "I do not believe she even knows of my presence on Vulcan, much less my application in this matter."

"And why is this the case?" demands the councilor to Torven's left.

Spock turns. "Pardon me, I do not recall your name, Councilor."

"I am Srogal, son of Simal," says the councilor. "Answer my question."

Spock waits a long moment before replying. "I have only just arrived, and the application was made before my departure from Earth. If I should meet with T'Pring, or if someone will tell me her whereabouts, I will naturally inform her of my course of action."

"And your course of action -- what is your reason for it?" Srogal asks.

The question should not be a surprise, yet somehow Spock finds himself unprepared. "The same as most who make it, I would imagine--"

"I would request," Srogal interjects, "That you leave your imagination out of these proceedings, and confine yourself to the questions asked."

T'Pau glances over at Srogal, a slight frown on her face, but says nothing. Spock says, "I wish to annul the bond because I do not intend to go through with the bonding ceremony next year."

"And why is that?" asks Torven, leaning forward in her chair. "Do you intend to--"

"His reasons are hardly relevant, when taken into consideration with the larger matter," says yet another councilor, a young man who has been glaring at Spock this entire time.

"What larger matter is that?" Spock asks.

"You are here to answer questions, not ask them," Srogal snaps at him, before turning to the young councilor. "Councilor Stonn, you will have an opportunity to interview the applicant after Councilor Torven's question is answered."

The young man -- Stonn -- subsides, but there is something hard and angry in him that Spock is wary of. Torven repeats her question.

"I no longer follow the teachings of Surak, Councilor," Spock replies, "And my opinions about the nature of a bond differ from the general view of Vulcan society. Therefore I do not believe such a bond would be successful."

Before Torven can respond, Councilor Stonn once again interrupts. "Are you aware, then, of the ramifications of applying for annulment without the approval or knowledge of the other party?"

"I am not," Spock admits, "Though I do not believe that T'Pring would have a strong objection -- I am not the same Vulcan that bonded to her twenty years ago."

"She has no doubt changed as well," Stonn says, "But to request an annulment is an unacceptable affront."

"Councilor Stonn, you have already made your objections clear to the Council," says T'Pau. "Now is not the time to discuss them further."

"Pardon me, Councilors," Spock says, "But I would like to understand any objections you might have to my application."

"You would like to understand my objections?" Stonn sneers.

"Yes," Spock answers. "You seem to have a great many of them."

"To sever a bond without the kalifee is an insult to your betrothed," Stonn says. He is clearly very angry, despite the slow, measured tones of his speech. "It is a public statement that you believe her unworthy of you. To even make the application means disgrace to her family and to her honor."

"T'Pau," Spock says, "As I recall, you are aunt to T'Pring. May I ask if your family has suffered any disgrace recently?"

"Enough," Srogal says.

Stonn does not appear willing to submit, however. "Councilor," he says to Srogal, "You of all people should appreciate the gravity--"

"I said be silent," Srogal tells him, quiet but harsh, and Stonn closes his mouth. "To return to the interview," Srogal says, after waiting for a moment to ensure Stonn does not make another outburst, "Whom have you selected in place of your current bondmate?"

Spock hardly knows how to answer at first. "I do not believe that question has relevance to the decision of the Council," he finally says.

"We will decide what is relevant, Detective Spock," Stonn says.

"I hope to one day take a human partner," Spock says. "Therefore there is no one on Vulcan whom I have selected in place of T'Pring."

This causes a brief susurrus among the Councilors, until Torven leans forward and says, "We will consider your application in light of your... unique circumstances. You honor us with a personal appearance, Spock, son of Sarek."

T'Pau's expression does not change, but she avoids Spock's glance. "Of course, Councilor," he says.

"Spock," says T'Pau, rising to her feet, "You are dismissed. We will adjourn until the beginning of the fourth bell this evening."

This is evidently a recess of some kind; the councilors all stand and make their way to the door. Stonn leads the way, ignoring Spock entirely. Srogal slows as he passes by, his gaze appraising, but he makes no effort to speak with him. The chamber is soon empty, save for T'Pau, still standing at the head of the table.

"I had my doubts that you would come," she tells him.

"I give you due credit for making as certain as possible that I would," he replies.

"I may have slightly overstated the necessity of a personal application," she admits. "However, it may help to sway the Council in your favor."

"Not the entire Council," Spock points out.

"Stonn is a strange creature -- a young traditionalist. It is perhaps unfortunate that he has a point -- annulment is not the Vulcan way."

"But I am not Vulcan," Spock points out. "At least, not entirely so."

"True enough," she agrees. He realizes now that seeing T'Pau on Earth was seeing her out of her element; there she had been abrupt, nervous, every inch the alien. But standing in this chamber, she seems comfortable with the power of her position. "It is that very alien nature of yours, more than anything else, that may decide some councilors. But you are the son of a Vulcan, and for twelve years followed the ways of our people. Besides, for someone to ask for an annulment does indeed have drastic reprecussions. Stonn was correct when he called it a grave insult."

"Then why did you suggest it to me in the first place?" Spock asks. He is trying not to show his impatience, but he is not trying very hard. "You seem to have gone to a great deal of trouble to get me to Vulcan."

"Yes, I have," she says. "But now is not the time to discuss it. I wish to speak to you of another matter, one that occurred to me as I was coming home last week. Is your telepathy fully developed yet?"

Spock blinks, puzzled by the non sequitur. "I do not know. I have not received training since I was a child."

"I suspected as much," she says. "Your shielding is adequate, but adequate only. While you are here, you should take lessons from one of our mindsmiths, who can show you how to better protect yourself. You can also learn more about your telepathic abilities, should you desire to."

"That is very thoughtful of you, Councilor," Spock says.

"Yes," T'Pau agrees, "It is."

*

The next day, Spock manages to formulate his own, somewhat pitiful, reply to Jim's message.

Dear Jim,

I am well. I cannot yet come home, but you are on my mind and in my heart.

It is, of course, sentimental and foolish, and does not convey even a small fraction of all the things Spock wants to tell him. But he presses the wave button and waits until the confirmation is displayed.

"Alert," says the intercom, "There is a being approaching the house."

Spock freezes. "Computer, identify."

"Please wait until facial recognition scans are complete."

Spock moves to the entryway, staying slightly to one side and out of sight of the window. He knows his instincts are overriding his common sense at the moment; T'Pau had told him that the mindsmith would come to his house this morning for a discussion about how best to undergo training in the short time Spock was likely to be here. But he cannot calm his buzzing heart no matter how he tries, and he spares a fleeting regret that he brought no weaponry with him to Vulcan.

"The visitor is T'Pring, daughter of T'Hauth," the computer says.

Spock is unsure if he should feel more or less nervous; nevertheless, he opens the door and comes face-to-face with a young woman whose hand is raised to press the doorbell.

She looks at him for a long moment. "You are Spock," she says at last.

"I am."

She nods, as though he's answered a question correctly. "I am T'Pring," she offers grudgingly.

"You are," Spock replies.

"My aunt sent me here to help train your mind."

"She did."

"Are you capable of speaking more than two words together?" she asks, sounding rather impatient.

Spock bites back a smile. "I am," he replies. "Would you like to come in?"

He leads her into the living room, where she sits down in an armchair, her hands folded in her lap. Spock sits down across from her. "T'Pau mentioned that you are one of the best mindsmiths on Vulcan."

"Yes."

"That is impressive."

T'Pring seems to realize, somewhat belatedly, that she was given a compliment; she must have at some point studied human social conventions, because she replies with, "I understand that you are renowned for your efforts with the InterPlanetary Disputes Division. No doubt your intelligence would have been put to better use here on Vulcan, however that you have found an outlet for your talents is to be commended."

"Thank you," Spock says. "I am... happy to see you again. Our last meeting was quite some time ago."

T'Pring lifts an eyebrow. "I recall. You are much different now."

"Taller?" he guesses.

"Among other things. You have become very human, despite your upbringing. Your hair -- you wear it as a human would." A line between her eyebrows forms, giving her a cross expression, although it is more likely simple confusion. "And you just now attempted to make a joke."

"You recognized that?" Spock says, impressed.

T'Pring looks disapproving, and switches subjects. "T'Pau has informed me that your shielding is adequate. I find this an optimistic assessment, based on preliminary observation."

Spock tries not to feel discomfited by that. "I have not been trained since I was young."

"Yes. Your last lesson would have been fifteen years ago, before you left us to go to Earth. Very well," she says. "We should begin with meditation."

The rest of the day will no doubt be very, very long.

*

The High Council is unable to come to a prompt agreement regarding his application; Spock is interviewed several times by various members of the Council who ask questions that Spock would find offensive coming from Chief Sideman. There seems to be no expectation to privacy; the questions he refuses to answer are repeated again and again, as though they wish to trick him into some kind of admission. Spock is familiar with this method of interrogation, and cannot deny that it would be an effective tool against all but the most stubborn.

In between interviews, Spock is left pacing the halls of his house, restless yet unwilling to leave its confines. He spends one day locating the contents of his family's house and having them transported back, trading the somber utilitarian furniture for the things that are as familiar to him as the view from the terrace. The yellow couch has a musty, dry smell, the faint traces of dirt still visible on the insides of the armrests. But he does not open the boxes labeled as "personal effects."

There is another demand on his time; T'Pring arrives every morning and sits with him, teaching him methods of using and manipulating telepathic bonds. "Because of our own childhood bond, which you wish to sever," T'Pring says at one point, "I am able to show you in more detail how such lifebonds work. However, upon the conculsion of the annulment, that will be removed. Should you wish to establish a bond with someone else, you will have a great deal of difficulty unless you pay attention." She adds this last because Spock has just noticed the message light on his console is blinking. He suppresses the urge to ask for a rest; he knows by now that T'Pring will simply stare at him until the conclusion of the break, then inquire as to what the purpose of a five-minute rest could possibly be, since he did not sleep.

It takes a great deal more time than Spock would have expected to discover Sybok's exact location; he is incarcerated in a maximum-security prison on Delta Vega. There are periodic transports in and out, but the next one will not be for almost a month. Spock holds that information close to him, not sure if it comforts him or not.

Other than that, he has little to do and even less that he wants to do. He had no friends while living here, no one that he cared for outside of his family. He speaks with his mother often, and with Jim every day; Jim asks general questions about the planet and very specific ones about T'Pring.

"I can assure you," Spock tells him at one point, "You have no reason to be jealous of her."

"Man, you just love using that word now that you know what it means, don't you," Jim mutters. Spock is sitting at his console, while Jim is sprawled on their bed in San Francisco, dividing his attention between Spock and the PADD in his hands. He is wearing old, worn sweatpants and a t-shirt, his feet bare, his hair damp from a recent shower; it is about eleven o'clock at night there, and Jim will soon be going to sleep.

The slouch of Jim's shoulders and the way his mouth curves in a smile makes Spock want to defy physics, to somehow reach through and touch Jim as though they were in the same room and not light-years apart.

Jim glances up and catches Spock's eye, and his smile grows wider. Then he clears his throat and says, "Hey, I think your mom's bored with you off-planet. She keeps sending messages asking if I've eaten regularly."

"It is a reasonable question to ask, since you only eat when you remember, and you seldom remember."

"Whatever. She needs a hobby."

"She has her knitting, I suppose," Spock says, and enjoys the way Jim groans and cover his eyes with his hand.

"All right, on that note, I'm going to go to bed and have nightmares about horrible ugly green sweaters. Thanks."

"I have missed you," Spock says, before Jim can sever the link.

Jim grins at him, his hand still poised over the disconnect button. "Well, aim better next time," he says, and the screen goes blank.

*

Days stretch into a week, then two, and finally Spock contacts T'Pau for an explanation. She invites him to come and meet with her in the city later that day. "You may even bring T'Pring, if you wish," she says.

"I will be there at the appointed time," he says. "Alone."

When Spock is ushered into T'Pau's house, he is surprised to see her sitting with Councilor Srogal. "Councilors," he says.

"My bondmate informed me of your meeting," Srogal says, remaining in his seat. "I decided my presence would be advantageous."

Spock asks, "Advantageous to whom, Councilor?" but he is only responding with half of his mind -- the other half is busy imagining T'Pau and Srogal as a bonded pair. They hardly seemed cordial at the Council meeting, much less like any married couple Spock has ever encountered.

Srogal ignores Spock's question and says, "Regarding your application -- T'Pau went to Earth with the sole objective of convincing you to return and honor your duties. Were her arguments insufficiently persuasive?"

T'Pau does not scowl, although there is a tightness around her jaw. "That was hardly my sole objective in attending the Federation's session," she says.

"However, since in all other respects you performed adequately, and yet you failed in this endeavor, I am attempting to ascertain why. Either it was a flaw in your argument, or a flaw in his understanding," Srogal tells her.

"On the contrary," Spock interjects, "There was no flaw either in argument or understanding. However, this is perhaps a situation that calls less for logic than for common sense."

"Fascinating," T'Pau says, leaning forward in her chair. "You believe common sense to be a separate--"

"That is not relevant to the subject at hand," Srogal interrupts. "What is relevant is that you ought never have made such an application. And yet you have not only made it, you expect us to approve it."

Spock remains silent. He has found this most advantageous in provoking an actual question from irate persons, and Srogal is no exception.

"Furthermore, you have informed the Council that rather than choosing a princess of Vulcan, you will instead elect to mate with a human. And with your human partner," Srogal says, "You intend to come here and take your place on the High Council?"

That question is the most surprising yet, and Spock has to take a few seconds to understand it. "My place on the -- Councilor, I believe there may be a misunderstanding. I have come to Vulcan for the sole purpose of annulling this bond, after which time I will go home. I do not expect to return here, and my father's seat on the High Council will remain empty."

T'Pau and Srogal both appear surprised. "You will not seek to take Sarek's place?" Srogal says. "But I -- assumed that once you returned, once you had time to fully grasp your family's position here, that you would wish to remain."

"On the contrary," Spock says, "With every day that passes I am more anxious to leave. My family's positions seems to be one that everyone wishes to forget. I, too, do not feel the need to resurrect the past."

"Then once the annulment has been approved, you will leave?" Srogal says.

It is an obvious question, innocuous on its surface. But as Spock makes a verbal confirmation, he sees -- something, something that he cannot define, in the way Srogal responds. The body language of Vulcans is almost impossible to parse, but Spock is reminded of the minute relaxation in a criminal's face when he believes he has escaped with some transgression, major or minor.

The conversation seems to flow more smoothly, or at any rate less dangerously, after that. Srogal is not a congenial man by any means; Spock can recall him, vaguely, someone his father always spoke of with the measured respectful tones he reserved for those he truly despised. But he allows T'Pau to carry the majority of the burden of conversation until they touch on the subject of Sybok.

"The transport schedule can surely be altered," T'Pau says. "Or perhaps our decision over your annulment will take long enough to make one available to you before you leave us."

Srogal seems to rouse himself out of whatever meditative state he had lapsed into. "No," he counters, "I cannot see that visiting your brother will be in any way beneficial."

Spock lifts an eyebrow. "Really?"

"Indeed. His madness, from what reports I have received, is still upon him, whatever may have caused it. You would do him and yourself no good by disturbing him with a visit simply to satisfy your emotional need to see him."

"Perhaps you are right," Spock says, nodding earnestly, and once again Srogal relaxes just enough to make Spock's spine stiffen.

*

When T'Pring arrives at the house the following morning, Spock eyes her with new interest. Srogal's mistake yesterday -- and he is sure, now, that it was a mistake -- has opened up an entirely new set of possibilities to him, ones that he has spent his entire life carefully not considering. T'Pring is no longer a woman with a complicated relationship to him, but a witness, a source of information.

It ought to be, at the very least, discomfiting, to think that there is something amiss about the death of his father and the incarceration of his brother. But in fact Spock feels more comfortable and at ease than he has since coming to Vulcan. He realizes, as he admits T'Pring's entry, that it is because he is on a case; although the environment is still strange and foreign to him, the situation has resolved itself into something familiar. "A cop's a cop," Chief Sideman often says, "It's like having genital warts or Andorian shingles. There's no cure and it's embarrassing as all hell."

He folds himself down onto the floor at her instruction but holds up a hand when she reaches out to perform yet another meld.

"Wait a moment," Spock says, "If you will. I wish to talk to you."

TPring looks back at him with a faint tinge of dislike that surprises him more for the fact that he never noticed it before. "We are talking now. We will talk throughout the lesson as I instruct you. Your meaning is unclear," she says as she settles back on her heels.

Spock considers her for a moment -- he has no idea what she knows or believes about her sister's former bondmate, or about the events of fifteen years ago. There are various ways that Spock has introduced delicate topics to witnesses before, but he has never attempted to interrogate a Vulcan. "I wanted to ask you about your family," he tries.

"They are not your business," T'Pring answers flatly.

"If the application for annulment is unsuccessful," Spock says, "Then they will be very much my business."

"I must assume that you have already done whatever research is necessary into my family tree, hence your annulment application. If there is any further information you are looking for, you will at least do me the courtesy of looking elsewhere for your answers."

The response is odd, but even odder is the strange... vibration, for lack of a better word, that he can sense in her shielding. If he reached out and touched her, perhaps he could discover what emotion it is that she is trying to suppress. But he does not want to.

Instead he simply says, "Is there nothing further you wish to discuss? With me?"

"No."

That is a tone Spock is very familiar with; Jim often uses it, usually when Spock distracts him from the kitchen and inadvertently causes dinner to burn. "I see."

"You find me an unworthy bondmate," T'Pring continues, "Therefore there is no need for discussion. Please close your eyes and breathe deeply, and try to focus your mind on a single object."

Spock keeps his eyes open. "I do not find you unworthy, T'Pring."

She lifts her chin slightly. "That is very obviously untrue."

"It has nothing to do with -- my application is not due to anything about you. It is rather my own situation that requires it."

"Please explain," she says. She still looks impassive and wooden, but in her voice there seems to be something slightly less unyielding. He has her curiousity, at least.

Spock realizes he has no idea where to begin. "Would you care for some tea?" he asks.

The escape into the kitchen offers a few moments to gather his thoughts. He requests Vulcan tea from the replicator and puts the two cups on a tray, trying to determine what he owes her in explanation. His relationship with Jim is not a secret, or even something they have kept particularly private; Captain Sideman referred to Jim as "the little woman" when she and Spock met to discuss his leave of absence, and both Chapel and Pike have made comments that indicate their relationship is widely known at the Academy.

But he wanted to annul the bond between him and T'Pring long before he and Jim expressed their feelings for one another; and what would T'Pring want to know about someone who had come between her and her betrothed? Assuming, of course, that she would care -- and that she had not already made plans of her own. He knows very little about her, even after two weeks and countless hours together.

"Have you forgotten the way back?" T'Pring asks him, startling him from his memories. She is standing in the doorway, a faint line between her eyebrows.

"You made a joke," Spock observes, surprised.

She looks away. "I spent some time with Cadet Uhura when she was at the Academy. She made an effort to respect our culture, but occasionally she would have outbursts of humor."

"It must have been very trying for the other students," he says, lifting the tray in preparation to lead the way back to the living room. But T'Pring sits down at the kitchen booth instead, arranging her skirts with unconscious grace as she perches on the stool. Spock sets one cup in front of her and one in front of himself, sitting opposite her. They both take a sip, and Spock has to work to keep his distaste for the bitter flavor to himself.

"I wanted to explain to you why it is that I want to go through with the annulment," he says.

"This tea is of very poor quality," T'Pring observes, instead of replying. "You should have let it steep longer in the vy'leth to take out the bitter flavor." She looks up at him and notices his baffled expression. "Did you not let it steep at all?"

"I ordered Vulcan tea from the replicator," he admits.

The expression on her face is as near to repulsed as he has ever seen on a Vulcan. "If you would allow me?" she says, and gets up before he can reply.

Spock ends up watching T'Pring move around the kitchen, opening cupboards and pouring strange liquids into containers. "I do not believe my mother ever made Vulcan tea," he explains awkwardly. "Although she makes Terran tea quite often."

"The methods of preparation are not dissimilar," says T'Pring, "Although there is no boiling of water involved." She stirs some powder into a small clear container, and seems satisfied when it turns a deep purple color. "Pardon my interruption. You were going to explain why your application was not an insult to me and my family."

"Yes." She does not seem inclined to make this conversation easy. "I grew up on Vulcan, but with a very strong human influence in the way I approached social interactions -- in the majority of Earth cultures, emotion is considered an important factor when determining life-long bonds."

"I have done research on the mating customs of humans. There is an illogical emphasis on romantic love."

"Yes," Spock repeats, "That is true. However over the course of my childhood, and then during my adolescence and young adulthood, I was exposed to that ideal; therefore a bond with you, without those feelings, would be highly disagreeable to me."

"But whether it is disagreeable or not, surely one's duty must override such a personal inclination," T'Pring says. She pours the blue liquid into another container full of orange liquid; it turns bright red. "In addition, my research indicates that most human bonds do not last more than a decade or so. In Vulcan society, bonds are for life -- surely that proves the superiority of the Vulcan way."

If he were in the mood, Spock might argue that T'Pring's argument was based on false logic. But he says only, "I believe that ten years with someone I chose is preferable to a lifetime with someone I did not."

T'Pring pours the tea into the cups and brings them back to the table. "I infer that you have someone in mind, other than myself, with whom you would make this bond. A human?"

Spock takes a sip of the tea; it is not sweet, but it has a pleasant taste and aroma, one that seems half-familiar. "I am in a relationship with a human at this time, yes."

"And you believe this human to be your t'hy'la?" she asks.

"That is the closest Vulcan word for it, I suppose," Spock concedes, although he wonders what Jim would say if Spock told him of that word's meaning. They have traded endearments often, professed love and passion in many forms, but there is a certain hesitation, even now, to confess to Jim what he can so easily tell T'Pring.

"Lieutenant Uhura claimed that you were once her -- I believe the term she used was 'boyfriend,'" T'Pring says. "And now you are boyfriend to someone else?"

Spock waits for the conclusion, which will no doubt be unflattering. "Yes," he prompts, when T'Pring does not say anything at first.

"It is unfortunate that humans can enjoy only passing pleasures," she says, "Without the benefit of another, more permanent, bond."

He expected some comment on his own capricious nature, and her observation surprises him. "On the contrary," he says, "Though many marriages do not last for the full lifetime of one or both of the spouses, it seems to be a very effective method of creating and sustaining a family bond."

"But there is no sharing of the mind," T'Pring says, frowning. "Even should you wish it, you would not be able to bond with a human as you could with a Vulcan."

"My mother and father seemed to manage without undue distress," Spock reminds her.

She takes another sip of tea, hiding her face behind the cup. "My apologies -- I had forgotten." They sit silent for a moment, before she continues, "I confess that I find it difficult to speak with you. You seem very -- alien."

Spock can think of nothing to say to this.

"I suppose this should not have come as a surprise to me -- my sister often commented on the difficulty of making conversation with her betrothed, as well." She finishes her tea and sets it down firmly on the table. "Also, I find that I have fallen victim to anger, and my attempts to control it in your presence have been only moderately successful."

It is a Vulcan trait, of making mundane and surprising statements with the same level inflection. It seems that T'Pring has developed this to a greater extent than most; it takes Spock a few moments to parse her statement. "I am sorry," he says. "I can only give you assurance that I never meant to--"

"I do not care about the annulment. My family may think it a great disgrace, but I learned long ago to control my pride. If you are successful in your application, I will not bar it."

"Then -- why are you angry?" Spock asks.

She gets up from her seat and takes the cups away from the table, crossing over to the recycler. "When T'Pau informed me that you would be coming back to Vulcan, I had assumed it was because -- but I was mistaken. I erred in making a conjecture based on incomplete data."

"What did you assume?"

T'Pring does not turn to face him, instead speaking to the recylcer. "I have never anticipated your return with satisfaction. Although mutual affection is unnecessary for the successful completion of a bond, I believe we lack even the most basic regard for each other that would make such a bond tolerable. However, in recent years I have weighed that against the knowledge that you were a constable of the peace, enforcing the laws of Earth and the Federation. It has provided... solace, to me."

"Why is that?"

Now T'Pring does turn, her eyes fixed on his. "I knew that once you came back, you would discover the truth about your father's death. And my sister's."

*

Needless to say, the rest of the afternoon is not spent in meditation and shielding techniques. Spock finds himself in a peculiar position -- although his conversation with T'Pau and Srogal has led him to suspect something, T'Pring seems only surprised to learn that it has taken him this long.

"You have truly never asked questions? About what we were told of that night?" TPring seems baffled. "Are you really that stupid?"

Spock feels an ache in his jaw from the way his teeth have been clenching. "I had no questions, because there was nothing I needed to be told. I was there to witness it myself."

"You were a child, no more capable of comprehending what was happening than a sehlat," she says, dismissive.

"I believe even a child can understand a murder."

"Perhaps an ordinary child, but evidently not you. Otherwise you would have--"

"Furthermore," Spock interrupts, "Only one life was lost that night. Your sister did not die by my brother's hand."

"No," TPring concedes, "She did not. She killed herself several weeks afterward."

It is as though a chill runs down from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, smothering the rising anger as though it had never existed. "I grieve with thee," he replies, the response automatic, although his tongue curls oddly around the ancient Vulcan phrase. T'Pring acknowledges it with a nod.

"My father said that it was the plak tow, the blood fever," T'Pring continues. "That she went into pon farr and that she would not bond with Sybok."

"But if he were in prison--" Spock says.

"The pon farr is our exception to every rule," TPring says, "Criminals are given leave to assuage the blood fever of their bondmates. But my father said that she refused, and that she died because of it."

"You do not believe him."

"A Vulcan has not died of the blood fever for almost three hundred years," TPring replies. "Strictly speaking, my sister did not die of it, either. She killed herself. But no, I did not believe it. I was with her almost every moment after Sybok was arrested. I was only twelve, and did not then know the signs of pon farr -- but I have since learned them, and compared them against the conduct of my sister in the days before her suicide. She was not under the influence of blood fever."

"Do you have any evidence?" Spock asks. "Other than your memory of her conduct?"

"I have been able to gather some items of interest," she says. "I will bring them tomorrow morning, if you will allow it. But it is my hope that you, at least, will take me seriously."

And she leaves before Spock can ask who had been so stupid as to not take T'Pring, daughter of T'Hauth, seriously.

*

True to her word, T'Pring comes back the next morning with a large satchel on one shoulder, her skirts dusty from the road. "I believe the area around your house is infested with wild animals," T'Pring says, moving past him into the hallway the moment he opens the door. "I have brought the items I told you of."

"It's is barely dawn," Spock observes, following her into the living room.

"Yes," she agrees absently. She upends the satchel on the table, spilling the contents. Spock moves closer; there are several PADDs and a long leather strap, weighted at each end with a large spherical stone.

"What are these?" he asks.

"Evidence," she says, "Or at least I believe they are. These are items and information that relate to your father's death. And, I believe, to my sister's. This," she says, collecting the PADDs into a neat stack and handing him one, "Is a copy of various messages traded between my family and yours, both before your father's murder and after."

"What is that?" Spock asks, nodding at the leather strap.

T'Pring does not touch it; it remains loosely coiled, one end hanging over the edge of the table. "That is an ahn'woon," she says.

"What relevance does it have to the case?" he asks, reaching for it. He is already thinking of this as a case, he realizes; he has divided people he has met into witnesses and suspects and colleagues.

"My sister hanged herself with it," T'Pring says.

Spock's hand stills, millimeters away from the dull brown leather. "Oh," he says.

"That in itself is of course unimportant," she continues, "However, its ownership is of relevance -- it did not belong to her. It belonged to your brother."

Spock looks up at her. "How can you be certain?"

"Because my family's ahn'woon is displayed in our house," she says, "And because in the inventory of your family's household possessions, there is no mention of an ahn'woon." She hands him another PADD.

He looks down at it, then at her. "You were able to acquire both the ahn'woon used in your sister's death and an inventory of my family's household possessions?"

T'Pring looks uncomfortable, but rallies quickly. "It was necessary for a thorough investigation."

"Oh, no doubt. Have you reached any conclusions from your investigation so far?" he asks, taking care not to sound patronizing.

"My evidence is incomplete," she replies. "To draw a conclusion now would be illogical."

"But you have suspicions, surely."

"I have," she says, and hesitates. "I believe that your brother was going through pon farr when he killed your father."

Spock is still lost. "Why would that matter? Whether he killed my father while in pon farr or not--"

"Did your mother never explain it to you?" T'Pring asks.

"Explain what?"

"The blood fever, Spock. It is called plak tow. A man or woman in the grips of plak tow can be irrational, insane. They do not recognize their loved ones or understand anything that is happening around them." She looks down. "This is of course only if the pon farr is not... assuaged immediately."

"And if it is not assuaged -- do you think Sybok could have killed my father and not realized it?"

"I do not know."

Spock takes a deep breath. "I confess, the distinction is unclear to me. Either Sybok was insane and killed my father without reason, or he was driven insane by blood fever -- and killed my father without reason."

"The distinction is not clear because we do not have enough evidence," T'Pring says. "Also because you are ignorant."

Spock laughs, surprised as much as anything. "I am?"

If his laughter unsettles her, she does not show it. "Yes. Ignorant of our customs and our society. You left when you were twelve years of age -- I remember very clearly. You were no doubt well-educated in academic matters, but you had not yet reached your second seven-year and thus would not have begun your training."

"Training for what?"

"Exactly," T'Pring says, exasperatingly. She hands him several more PADDs. "Here is an overview of the pon farr ceremony, the plak tow, and the koon'ut'kalifee. They are not comprehensive, of course, but they may be sufficient to keep you from making any egregiously erroneous assumptions as this case progresses."

Spock juggles the PADDs in his arms before setting them carefully back on the table. "And that?" he asks, nodding a the last one in her hands.

"It is a list of all the research done by members of the Science Academy in your brother's and my sister's year."

"At the risk of sounding repetitive," Spock says, "What relevance does it have?"

"I do not know," T'Pring says, handing the PADD to him. "But I believe it must have some relevance, because there are no copies of any of your brother's research."

Spock frowns down at the information. "If you would elaborate?"

"Every student at the Academy must submit documentation of their work at regular intervals," T'Pring explains, her hands linked behind her back. "Your brother was involved in historical anthropology, with a focus on the teachings of Surak, which somehow was linked to work he was doing in Vulcan biology. There are reports that indicate his work was progressing adequately; however there is no record of that work anywhere in the database."

"And that is unusual for the Academy?"

T'Pring makes a disapproving sound and says, "I will send you more information on the practices of the Academy, as well. But suffice it to say that yes, it is highly unusual."

"What explanation did they give for such an action?"

"I did not ask," T'Pring says. "I did not wish to attract attention from -- anyone who might have an interest in this case."

"I see," Spock says. "You believe there might be someone with an interest in the case?"

"When I requested the records pertaining to my sister's death, I was told that no one but a member of the High Council could make the request, as ordered by the High Council." Spock can hear disdain and resentment in her voice, but her face remains impassive. "When I asked T'Pau to retrieve the records for me, she refused. She said that it was not logical to indulge in curiosity about something that was so clearly resolved. Ever since then, I have been... reluctant to display my interest."

Spock says, "You believe T'Pau is involved somehow?"

"I believe someone on the High Council is involved," T'Pring answers. "And as such, to draw the eye of any of them would be very illogical indeed."

"Indeed," Spock agrees. "In that case, perhaps we should keep our investigation private for now."

"Yes," T'Pring says. "I will say that our slow progress in your telepathic training is due to your lack of intelligence and discipline. No one will question that."

"Thank you," Spock says drily, "That is very generous."

*

Spock spends the next few days educating himself; T'Pring's information is both exhaustive and exhausting, and she often thinks of new information that will either help them in their inquiries or help Spock to avoid making a fool of himself. Both objectives seem equally important to her. "Appearances are vital," she says when Spock comments on this. "If you had remained on Vulcan, you would have seen what damage can be wrought by ignorance of or apathy toward the rules."

Spock looks up from his text and regards her thoughtfully. "Murder is illogical," he comments. "From what I have read so far, it seems that suicide is likewise an unacceptable course of action for a Vulcan, even one in the throes of plak tow."

"It is," says T'Pring. "I have been made aware of this on multiple occasions, both during my youth and in my years at the Academy. There is speculation that your desire to annul our bond has to do with a concern over the... emotional instability of my family."

Spock tries to imagine the kind of life T'Pring must have lived, constantly reminded of her family's shame. Spock has been the subject of, at worst, morbid curiosity; he found it intolerable when he was a young man, but in comparison it does not seem such a trial. "I am sorry that you had to endure that," he says.

She lifts an eyebrow. "I endure it still, Spock. We are a logical and civilized society. But we are not kind."

Spock returns to his PADD rather than replying; he does not know what he might be able to say to improve matters. He has a brief, fanciful idea of bringing T'Pring to Earth, as a teacher at Starfleet or a scientist at one of the many laboratories on the west coast, somewhere she will be a curiosity but not a pariah. Somehow he does not think Jim would adopt T'Pring quite so readily as he did Watson.

Not that he is entirely sure that he would be willing to extend such an invitation; he does not know if her more abrasive qualities are a result of her upbringing or her own unique personality, but he knows his reactions to her are not always positive, such as when she announces her intention to go through Sybok's personal effects in order to glean information.

"I have seen the boxes stacked in an ancillary room," she protests, when Spock hesitates. "There may be something there pertinent to the investigation."

"If there was, surely you would have already discovered it in your perusal of my family's inventory," Spock says.

T'Pring smooths out the nonexistent wrinkles in her skirt. "No doubt I would have, but there were several items that are unfamiliar to me. I was not able to determine their relevance, but perhaps a physical examination will yield more information."

Spock leans back in his chair. "What items in particular were unfamiliar to you?"

Whatever wrinkle she is trying to smooth must surely have been eradicated by now. "I was unable to find any information on something called a Cube. The inventory listed it as belonging to someone named Rubik, but I was not -- why are you laughing?" she demands.

*

The next step in the investigation is not clear to him until he reads the last of T'Pring's treatises on High Council procedure. "'Councilors will not interrupt the witnesses, nor will they interrupt their peers,'" he reads aloud.

T'Pring, who is sitting rather pointedly on the floor in a meditative pose -- they were supposed to begin their lessons almost ten minutes ago -- looks up. "Yes?"

"During my first meeting with the Council," he says, "Councilor Stonn interrupted me and several other councilors. He seemed to take a great deal of interest in the proceedings, more than the other councilors, but he is too young to have had anything to do with what happened to my father."

"Indeed, his interest is odd in light of the circumstances," T'Pring says.

"It may be worthwhile to speak with him," Spock says, "If you would care to join me? I will request an appointment for tomorrow."

"No," she says quickly, getting to her feet. "No, I believe that you should conduct the interview alone. I am sure that you will think of all the relevant questions."

"I disagree," Spock says, watching her closely. "Your understanding of the culture, as well as your relationship with Stonn, will offer a great advantage."

T'Pring flinches almost invisibly at the word "relationship," but all she asks is, "If you would clarify?"

"As the niece of T'Pau, you have no doubt met all of the High Councilors at one point or another," he replies easily. She relaxes, which is only a confirmation of what Spock has already guessed.

"Nevertheless, I believe this is an interview best conducted by yourself," she says. "I will leave you to arrange a meeting with him."

*

Stonn's office is in a small building, flanked by skyscrapers on either side. What it lacks in majesty, however, it makes up for in age; the building is clearly ancient, echoing stone under his feet as he makes his way up the stairs.

"Spock," Stonn says, meeting him at the door. Spock expected a large, organized office with the blinds closed; the clutter is as surprising as the wide-open windows, sending a breeze through the room. "You honor me. Have you come to answer questions, or to ask them?"

"Both," Spock says. "I am curious to discover the exact nature of your opposition to my annulment. It seems... more than simply logical."

Stonn sits down behind his desk; Spock dislodges a few books and papers and takes a seat across from him. "There is always logic to be found in honor," he says.

"So you believe an annulment to be dishonorable," Spock says.

"I believe it to be unnecessary," Stonn replies. "You and T'Pring will have ample opportunity to declare your intenitons to terminate the bond at your koon'ut'kalifee. That is the proper time to resolve such matters."

"The kalifee will result in death," Spock points out, "Either of one of us, or of the challengers."

"Possible challengers."

"I have every confidence that, were T'Pring forced to make such a decision, she would choose you as her challenger," Spock says.

Perhaps exposure over the past weeks has made it easier -- Spock can see that this has made an impact. For a moment, Spock is sure that Stonn will lie; that he will disclaim any emotional attachment to T'Pring, or at the very least downplay the chance that she would select him as her champion. But the moment passes, and Stonn says, "I would accept, if she were to do so."

"Then why take the risk that it will be you, and not I, who is killed? Surely an annulment would be a safer alternative."

"It is not within my power to rewrite the laws and traditions of our society. Our personal -- preferences -- cannot dictate society." Stonn pauses for a moment, then says, "But I do not believe such an event will come to pass. T'Pring is an honorable woman, and would not issue a challenge based solely on her own..." He seems at a loss for words, and Spock is reminded again of how few words there are in Modern Vulcan for any kind of emotion.

"Preferences?" Spock supplies.

Stonn nods tersely. "I also believe that, if you spend a sufficient amount of time with T'Pring, you will come to reconsider your application."

It would be an incredibly roundabout compliment, from a human; from a Vulcan it is an embarrassing display. Spock clears his throat. "She is very interesting," he says.

"Yes," Stonn says softly. "I have known her for many years, and she has always been interesting. Are there any other questions that you wish to ask of me?"

"I wondered what the vote was, if that information is not confidential."

"It is," Stonn says, "But as a member of a High Family, you are privy to the information. The vote is seven for, and six against, approval."

"And for approval to be granted, it must be eight-five, correct?"

"At the present," Stonn says.

Spock frowns. "If you would clarify?"

"Originally the High Council had ten members," Stonn says, "And a simple majority was required in its determinations. When the Council expanded, one of the compromises was that all decisions would still be required to meet with a sixty percent majority. Should a new Councilor be added, for example, the new requirement would be nine, not eight."

"And you expect a new Councilor to be added in the near future?" Spock asks.

"I am prepared for it," Stonn says.

Spock can tell when an interview is over. "Thank you very much for your time, Councilor. I trust you will understand if I do not wish for your success in your present endeavor."

Stonn stands with him, offering him the ta'al; the gesture is unexpected, and Spock returns it clumsily. "I very much doubt I will be successful," Stonn says. "Srogal has made every attempt to undermine me."

"What?" Spock asks, too surprised to keep his voice level. "Srogal has been undermining your efforts? I would have assumed--"

"Yes, T'Pau is the more logical obstructor. But Srogal has voted for approval, and has made numerous attempts to bring the matter to a vote prematurely. Which is at odds with his long record as a Councilor -- in fact, he denied the annulment application made by your own brother sixteen years ago. Why he would suddenly approve yours is not something I can explain."

*

"Okay," Jim says, scowling into the viewscreen, "Seriously. What's the matter?"

Spock stares back at him, helpless to answer satisfactorily. He is aware that he does not look well; he woke up on the couch, where he evidently fell asleep sometime in the early morning after spending hours trying to piece together some kind of coherent chain of events from the information that he now has. He knows that his failure stems from having too little to go on, but at the same time he feels that each new fact is too much, more than he wants to know about things he has expended enormous energy to forget.

This does not, evidently, lead to an appearance of good health and emotional well-being.

"I have been thinking," Spock says. "There is a great deal to think about."

"That's not the right answer," Jim says. "I'm not sure what the right answer is, but that? Wasn't it. Come on. You want to talk in code or something? I think I remember a little Morse from when I was a kid."

"No," Spock says, quickly. "There is nothing -- that is not necessary." It is foolish to worry that his transmissions may be monitored, even more foolish to worry that something could happen to Jim as a result. But he has looked at Jim's face when it is broken and bruised, when he has been close enough to death's door to walk through. He cannot risk it, ever again.

"Fine," Jim says. "You want me to...?" and he waggles his eyebrows, leering. "I could aesthetically please you again."

Spock has to laugh at that -- they have tried vid-sex all of once, for five minutes, before Spock had to admit that he was not responding biologically to mere images on a screen, even ones so aesthetically pleasing as Jim's.

"All right," Jim says. "I just want to, you know. You're sure you're okay?"

Spock nods and tries to press his smile against Jim's obvious concern. "I wish you were here," he says, able to be honest about that, at least.

Jim smiles back, then, real and bright and so much warmer than the heat of Vulcan. "Yeah," he says.

*

A few hours later, T'Pring finds Spock in Sybok's room, going through boxes. "Your front door is not locked," she says, rather than commenting on the papercut Spock managed to get on his cheek and the dust on his hands and trousers.

"Yes it is," Spock counters, sorting through what looks like a notebook of truly awful handwritten poems. He has a distant memory of Sybok reading a great deal of Terran poetry, declaiming at the dinner table in order to make Amanda laugh and Sarek sigh. "I gave you access," he adds.

"That is atypical of Vulcan society," she tells him. "Even among family members, certain parts of a domicile may be locked against the presence of any other person. We are a very private people."

"It is perhaps fortunate that I am half-human, then," Spock says, and upends one of the boxes onto the floor.

"What are you looking for?" T'Pring asks.

"I spoke with Stonn yesterday," Spock says, ignoring T'Pring's twitch, "And he told me that Sybok applied for an application of annulment, as well."

"I did not know that," T'Pring says. "I should have looked over the records of the High Council -- that was a lapse of diligence on my part."

There was no reason to have suspected that the High Council's rulings would have had any bearing on the case, not without knowing about the application in the first place. But Spock says only, "You were never told about this from your family?"

"My sister never mentioned such a thing, nor my parents."

"You said that T'Preth and Sybok did not often interact. Is it possible that Sybok made the application without telling her?"

"It is possible," T'Pring says, "But T'Pau was on the Council at that time -- she would have no doubt told T'Preth."

"So T'Preth would have known about the application, most likely."

"What are you looking for?" T'Pring repeats.

"Sybok would have kept a copy of his work on a data crystal," Spock says. "You said that all record of them had been erased from the Science Academy's database, correct?"

"Yes," T'Pring says.

"Thus far I have not found anything remotely technological in his personal effects."

"They were confiscated," T'Pring says. "By order of the High Council."

"Yes, I know -- but Sybok may have kept a backup copy somewhere, one that the Council did not recognize and therefore did not confiscate."

"Do you think his work might have something to do with his request for annulment?"

"I am not sure," Spock says, looking through the detritus now on the floor. "But as you have said before, its absence does indicate it has some importance."

There is plenty to go through, even without any PADDS or console chips amongst the belongings. Sybok was highly sentimental, keeping old toys and momentos that anyone else would have thrown out long ago. There are broken styluses, holographs from family vacations, and a very ugly clay figurine that Spock recognizes after a moment as something he himself made in class, when he was six or seven. His teacher had admonished his lack of skill, and sent it home with him so that he might meditate upon his shortcomings and endeavor to improve. Sybok had plucked the figurine from his fingers and said, "Spock, this is incredible! You made a perfect Charlie Brown, you see?" And they had gone into the library, curled up together in an armchair that was made only for one person, and pored over the ancient adventures of a small, sad boy and the world that never made sense to him.

He blinks away the memory, and tries to focus on his task, but he finds no data crystals, nothing pertaining to Sybok's academic studies at all. He does find the Rubik's Cube, and hands it over wordlessly to T'Pring; she makes a small noise of satisfaction and settles cross-legged at the foot of the bed with it in her lap.

Spock begins looking through yet another box, more out of duty than expectation of success. He turns to ask T'Pring a question, expecting her focus to be not on him but on the toy -- but she is instead examining a holo that has fallen onto the bedspread.

"Is this Earth?" she asks, tilting the frame so that Spock can see.

He glances at the picture. "Yes," he confirms. "My mother's father's house in Connecticut, in North America."

"How old were you?"

"Five, I believe."

"The elderly man greatly resembles you," she says.

Spock cranes his neck to examine the picture more closely. "That is my grandfather."

"Curious," she says, "Everyone except your father and you are smiling broadly in the picture, even your brother."

"Sybok did not follow the teachings of Surak," Spock explains shortly.

"Really?" T'Pring puts the holo down carefully on the bed. "Fascinating."

Spock looks around the room. "There is nothing here," he says.

"What about your mother?" she asks, picking up another holo.

"She did not follow the teachings, either," Spock replies.

T'Pring glances up from her perusal; the expression she gives him is almost amused. "I meant, would there be any benefit to speaking with her about your brother's studies? Surely he would have consulted her as well as your father about it."

"True. But I am--" Spock wonders if his fears will sound hysterical, unreasonable, to her, but he continues, "I am worried that any transmission I send to her may be monitored."

T'Pring nods, as though he had done well on a test. "I believe you are correct -- and even if you are not, it is better not to risk it." This time it is T'Pring who hesitates, before saying, "There is one other who may be able to offer insights into your brother's research."

Spock frowns. "Yes?"

"Your brother."

Spock stares at her, the words sharp in his mind but unable to penetrate; instead they chip away at him, implacable.

"It is the logical course of action," she argues, as though he has contradicted her. Perhaps he has; she is more adept at reading his mind than he is at reading hers. "He alone will be able to tell us what he was researching, and if it had something to do with his application for annulment."

"Only if he is able to recall them."

"Even if he is insane, memory and madness are not linked." She holds the holo in her lap and regards him. "Besides, you can visit him without arousing suspicion -- it is expected that you go to see him. In fact your delay has caused more comment than your visit would."

"I am not afraid of what comments people will make," Spock snaps at her. He starts to put Sybok's things back into their containers, placing them carefully and unsure why he is bothering. It is probable that Sybok will never see any of this again.

"But you are afraid," she says. "Afraid that our theory is wrong."

"I am afraid that our theory is right, too," he admits. "I will... consider it."

This does not seem to satisfy her, but she nods. "I believe these holos to be of superior aesthetic value," she says, holding three of them out. "You should display them."

Spock takes them from her hands. One is a picture of him and his mother, barefoot on a Terran beach; her longs skirts are bunched up in her hands while his trousers are wet from the knee down, the water swirling at their ankles. She is facing half-away from the camera, staring out to the sea, a faint smile on her face. The second is of Sybok reading, sitting out on their home's balcony, his hand clasped over his forehead the way he always did when he was concentrating. The third is of Sybok and their father together, looking down at the photographer; Sybok is laughing and holding Sarek by the shoulders, while Sarek is solemn, only a faint trace of amusement around his eyes and his mouth.

"Who took them?" T'Pring asks. "Do you recall?"

"My father took the first two, I believe," Spock says. "He developed an interest in photography during his ambassadorship on Earth."

"He was very proficient," T'Pring says. "And the last picture?"

"I took that. My brother said he would keep our father still if I took the picture -- my father hated to be photographed. But he indulged us."

"It was no indulgence," T'Pring tells him. "It is likewise a very pleasing picture."

T'Pring stays until dusk; they work on meditation, and deciding where to place the holos, and T'Pring does not mention the investigation again. Spock is conscious of a grudging gratitude toward her; he is not sure if he enjoys her presence, but there is a kindness in her company that he knows is deliberate. So when she pauses at the doorway, looking out at the gathering darkness, he says, "Do you have any objection to taking my vehicle? It would no doubt be faster than the long walk to the public transport station and then waiting for the next transport to arrive. And since it is so late, you may be waiting alone for quite some time."

"The public transport system is one of the fastest and most efficient in the galaxy," T'Pring says stiffly. "But -- perhaps it would be instructive. I have never ridden in a personal transport vehicle before."

Spock has to open the door for her, after she spends a few moments enunciating very clearly, "Computer, open." He pulls the handle and the door swings wide and she flinches back a step.

"That is a very primitive design," she says, leaning down to peer inside. "It is much smaller than a shuttlecraft. What could be the logic of such an inefficient device?"

"Transportation evolved in a considerably different fashion on Earth than on Vulcan," Spock says, still holding the door open. "There was an emphasis in the twentieth century on the development of vehicles that could carry only a few passengers at a time, rather than mass-transit systems."

"Most inefficient," T'Pau says, not getting in.

"Are you certain you would not prefer to walk?" Spock asks.

"Quite sure," T'Pring says and awkwardly folds herself into the passenger seat. Spock closes the door gently and goes around to the driver's side, climbing in. "What is that?" she asks, pointing.

"Fuzzy dice," Spock says.

"Ah," she says. Spock turns on the vehicle. "What was that?" she demands.

"The engine," Spock says, and sets off toward the city.

For the first few minutes, T'Pring remains rigid in her seat, knuckles white. But as they clear the canyons and the city's lights come into view below them, she seems to forget her fear. "Fascinating," she murmurs. She seems to remember Spock's presence and clears her throat. "The public transportation system is largely belowground, so as to conserve space."

"A very logical decision," Spock says.

T'Pring gives him a look that reminds Spock very much of McCoy, a kind of restrained disgust. "You brought this vehicle all the way from Earth, no doubt at great expense. Why?"

He had brought it mostly because he remembered the long, tedious walk between the transport station and his family's house. "For practical considerations," he tells her, "As well as sentimental ones."

"What sentimental considerations?"

"My t'hy'la built it for me."

"Jim Kirk. Your--" T'Pring pauses. "I have forgotten the word that Cadet Uhura used. Play-friend?" she says in heavily-accented Standard.

"Boyfriend," Spock corrects automatically, then realizes what she's said. "How do you know--"

"You told me yourself that you were in a relationship with a human," T'Pring says defensively.

"How did you know his name?" Spock asks, more curious than alarmed.

A flash of guilt crosses her face. "Yes. Well. I may have received information from certain sources--"

"You have been investigating me." T'Pring's silence is answer enough. "When did this begin?"

"When I heard that T'Pau was unsuccessful in persuading you to complete the bond," she says, with the slightly sullen tone of a confessing criminal. "I was curious."

"And what have you discovered?" Spock asks.

"Your performance at the IDD is above average, you order all of your clothing from a tailor who has worked for you and your mother since you first moved to San Francisco, you are partial to rye bread on your lunch sandwiches and are a terrible tri-dimensional chess player. You arrested Jim Kirk twenty-seven times in the past two years and eleven months, he almost died during an altercation with an Ulnasian who committed a murder you wrongly accused someone else of. He is now enlisted in Starfleet in the Command track, with a specialty in communication security and a subspecialty in engineering. Your mother knits very badly."

He should probably be angry, or at least annoyed, at this invasion. He has grown used to being the object of curiosity and intrigue, but he has always before kept himself at arm's length from those who would indulge in it. One of the things that first drew him to Jim was the way that Jim took him at face value, always; there were never any questions that Spock was reluctant to answer, any indication that Jim had been doing ad hoc research into Spock's past.

But instead of anger, Spock finds himself suppressing laughter. "A very interesting portrait."

"Indeed."

They arrive at T'Pring's home; she struggles briefly with her safety belt before Spock reaches over and unclasps it for her. She manages to open the door herself this time, and leans down to say, "I have found no one who will say anything to impugn your honor or your sense of duty. It is a testament to you."

"Thank you, T'Pring," Spock says.

"There is no thanks, I state a simple fact. I will call tomorrow." And she closes the door awkwardly, before going into the house.

Spock sets back off toward his home, easily dodging the massive Starfleet transport that is lifting off from the city's central port. It is a clear night, the stars brilliant even against the light of ShiKahr; it reminds him of the nights he spent in Iowa, the faint glow from the nearest habitation doing little to mar the sky. There is no moon orbiting Vulcan, but for a few moments, staring upward, Spock can almost fool himself.

He gets home and turns off the engine; although it is designed to be as quiet as possible, the cessation of even that low noise makes the silence oppressive. He does not want to go inside, but there is nowhere else on this planet that is preferable. He wants to be home, in San Francisco, in Iowa, with his friends and his family and Jim, showing him in every way possible that he is welcome and wanted.

As he walks through the front door, the computer gives a quiet, unfamiliar trill. "Alert. There is an intruder in the house. Alert."

Instantly Spock flattens himself against the wall. The entryway console does not have a visual interface; he is forced to whisper, "Computer, identify."

"Unable to identify."

"Location?"

"Central room."

"Lock all points of entry; shut off lights in ten seconds," Spock breathes. The computer makes another soft trill, which is all the acknowledgement he can expect; he quickly makes his way down the hall and peers around the corner of doorframe, trying to get a visual.

Just as he sees a figure sprawled out on the couch, the lights go dark -- but it is more than enough time to make an identification, even without the confirmation that comes a moment later. "What the hell?" Jim groans. "Computer, I really thought you and me were getting along by now. You want flowers or something?"

"Computer," Spock says, "Lights at full."

Jim is up and off the couch before Spock finishes speaking, and the lights come on to reveal him tripping over a chair on his way toward the door. "Shit!" he yells, and Spock reaches out to catch him, but succeeds only in grabbing one hand while Jim lands in a heap at his feet.

The elation and warmth and faint undercurrent of Jim's worry slide under Spock's skin through their joined hands, and he tightens his hold almost unconsciously. "Hello, Jim," he says, turning his head to see Jim's face right-side-up.

"So," Jim laughs, "I was planning on a smoother entrance." He tugs on their joined hands until Spock folds himself down on the floor, curling his feet underneath him. Jim pulls himself into a sitting position and murmurs, "Surprise."

"Yes," Spock says. Jim is wearing his battered leather jacket and a pair of disreputable jeans, a white shirt underneath -- the uniform of his life in Iowa, although the shirt and jeans are clean and free of any engine oil. His hair is soft and curling under Spock's fingers, slightly shorter than it was the last time Spock did this. His lips are chapped -- it is unlikely Jim thought to bring balm to protect himself from the drier climate of Vulcan. His skin is paler from the winter weather.

"Looks like you missed me," Jim comments breathlessly, and only then does Spock realize that he has been running his hands across every available inch of Jim's body, pressing curious fingers and palms against Jim's ribs, down his thigh and over his knee, up his arm and across his collarbone.

“Yes,” Spock tells him. “Yes.”

Jim manages to get them both to their feet and asks, "So which way to your room?"

They manage to make a meandering path toward the bedroom, although Jim does his level best to distract him with his mouth and hands and hips. Spock pulls Jim's clothes off impatiently as they proceed, slapping Jim's hands away when he makes any attempt to assist. "God, I forgot how bossy you are," Jim laughs, his mouth brushing against Spock's. His breath is sweet, and he tastes of apples; Spock bites down on his lower lip to draw out the taste.

"I am merely increasing our efficiency," Spock points out, breaking away to rid himself of his own clothing, "Since you take longer to undress yourself than I do."

"And we know how you're all about efficiency." Jim falls back on the bed, immediately wincing. "Jesus, what is this mattress made of, fucking marble?" But he reaches impatiently for Spock and drags him down until they are settled side by side, Jim's knee sliding between Spock's thighs. "Hmm, I guess you're right. Fully clothed to naked, three point seven seconds. Very impressive, Detective Spock."

"You were not timing it," Spock says. "I would have noticed if you were still wearing a chronometer."

Jim laughs and rolls on top of him, closing his eyes briefly at the sensation of their bodies pressed together like this. "God, I missed you. Wanted you every night, you know that?"

"What about during the day?" Spock demands, his hands sliding down Jim's back, thumbs brushing along the divot just above the swell of Jim's backside.

"Oh, during the day, you know," Jim grins, "There was so much to distract me. All my classes, tests, plus those hot cadets in my study groups."

Spock glares at him. "Indeed."

"Oh yeah," Jim affirms. "I mean, I only thought about you when I was really bored -- oh Jesus," he gasps, as Spock grinds up against him, fingers digging into the backs of his thighs. "But every night," Jim continues, ragged, "Every night I thought about what I'd do to you when you came home."

"Mmm," Spock hums, teeth grazing against the soft, fragile curve of Jim's ear.

"I'd push you down just like this," Jim murmurs, "And I'd make you beg."

"Beg for what?"

"For more," Jim says, as though it should be obvious. He begins moving against Spock, a hard rhythm that presses their cocks together, presses their entire bodies together. "I'd think about how you'd feel underneath me, no, don't close your eyes, Spock," he chides, two fingers under Spock's chin and lifting it so that their eyes meet again. "I want you to watch me, watch us, feel us. You feel that?"

"I--" Spock pushes up, as hard as he can, trying to get impossibly closer to Jim even while Jim buries his hands in Spock's hair, uses it to yank his head to one side, exposing his neck to Jim's clever tongue and wicked teeth.

"You can feel it," Jim says into his ear, dark and promising. "You can feel how close you are. I feel it, too. How you've been wanting this since the day you left, how you want it right now -- the minute you come you're going to want it again, and again. More. You're going to want more and you're going to beg me for it, aren't you."

"Jim," Spock gasps, and he is coming, messy and hot between their bodies. He feels a momentary twinge of -- not embarrassment -- but Jim just grins down at him and kisses him, softer and more gently than he did before.

"Man," he says, still smiling broadly, "I'm just that good." He settles himself on Spock's chest, his cock still hard and warm against Spock's hip, his eyes still wide and almost black with desire.

"You were correct," Spock tells him. He places a hand on Jim's cheek, dragging his thumb across Jim's lips. "I want more."

"Didn't make you beg yet," Jim teases.

"There is still time," Spock assures him, spreading his legs so that Jim settles more firmly between his thighs.

Jim pauses, pulling away for a moment to look down at him. "You want--" he starts, his thoughts completing the sentence.

Spock can feel an odd reserve, almost apprehension; when he realizes the source, he has to chuckle. "You believe me... untried in the act of penetration?" he asks Jim.

Jim's eyebrows raise as though trying to meet his hairline. "I'm pretty sure you've tried plenty of penetration on me," he replies, but he knows what Spock means, and adds, "I wasn't sure. Plus it's not like I know if you've even got a prostate."

"So you were reluctant to ask, for fear that I would not find the act as pleasurable as you would," Spock says, and waits for Jim to understand.

Which, of course, he does with almost preternatural swiftness. "Yeah, yeah, look at us growing in every way," he grumbles.

Jim prefers Spock on his stomach, rather than on his back, and he is more thorough than Spock has ever been in his preparation. "Well," Jim replies when Spock mentions this between ragged breaths. He is draped over Spock's back, his hand sweet and slow between Spock's legs as he thrusts idly against Spock's thigh. "I don't have your mind-meldy party trick." He adds another slick, cool finger, "So unless you tell me you're ready, I have to take it slow--"

"I am ready," Spock assures him. "I am -- very ready."

Jim laughs as he kisses the back of Spock's neck, but he withdraws his fingers and rearranges Spock's body, guiding him into position until Spock is on his knees, thighs spread wide and cock brushing against the soft sheets. Jim smooths his hands down Spock's back, curling his fingers carefully around his hips as he begins to press inside.

Spock was truthful when he declared himself ready, but he is still taken by surprise by the pressure, the way his body responds to this intrusion. It has been many years since he experienced this, and he dimly recalls his dissatisfaction in the encounter, a feeling of discomfort and pain.

But never before has there been someone whispering encouragement and obscenities in equal measure against his shoulder, never before has a hand slid forward to wrap around his cock while he slowly adjusts, never before has there been such a sense of reverence, adoration. Spock's body relaxes moment by moment, and the hot slide of Jim's cock inside him is a reward for every deep breath he takes. He feels -- sacrificed, given up and given over to the mercy of some greater force, and when he moans it is the closest he has ever come to prayer.

After -- some amount of time, minutes or seconds or hours -- Jim is fully inside him, hips flush and his forehead resting against Spock's back. "Oh," Jim whispers. "It's so good, God, Spock, you feel amazing."

"Yes," Spock says, his face pressed against the mattress, biting the inside of his cheek to prevent himself from whimpering.

Jim huffs. "What, don't you think I feel amazing too?" he demands, playful, but there is an uncertainty there.

"I do," Spock says, propping himself up on his elbows, "Though it perhaps would feel even more amazing if you moved at this -- oh," he gasps, as Jim pulls away and pushes back into him, the sound wet and loud in the dry silence of the room.

"Like that?" Jim asks.

"Yes," Spock says, and is rewarded with another hard thrust.

"Keep talking, and I'll keep going."

Spock closes his eyes. "What -- what would you like me to say?"

Another thrust, harder; Jim takes his hand off Spock's erection to hold his hips more tightly. "Tell me what you want."

"I want you to--" Spock takes a gulp of air. "Continue."

"Continue what?" Jim asks, and this time he teases, a slow withdrawal, stuttering along the way, until the head of his cock is stretching Spock wide open. Spock arches his back, but Jim just keeps his grip and makes a chiding noise. "No cheating," he says. "What do you want me to continue?"

Spock says, "Fucking me," and that is what Jim has been waiting for, because the second he hears it he is thrusting back in, his pace hard and urgent.

"God, yes," Jim says, "Keep talking--"

"It feels as though I can't, I cannot, Jim, please," Spock pants, his arms sliding out from beneath him until his cheek is once again pressed against the bed.

"Yes," Jim promises, "Anything, oh fuck, you have no idea--"

"I love this," Spock gasps, his fingers clutching at the sheets as Jim's pace quickens. "I want this, I love you, I--"

Jim comes, moaning, and his pleasure catches in Spock's throat and sends him spiraling into another climax, his come smearing into the sheets as he collapses. Jim manages to brace himself before falling over and withdraws himself carefully. "Jesus," he says after a few minutes.

"I enjoyed that," Spock says, and Jim laughs.

*

In the early hours of the morning, Jim nudges Spock. “So are you going to show me around, or have I already seen the important parts? The front door, the living room, your bedroom--” Jim breaks off, laughing at Spock’s glare.

You are the one who kept asking for directions to the bedroom,” Spock points out. “I am hardly to blame for my lack of hospitality, since you have not provided me opportunity to play host.”

“Fine, fine. So break out the pearl necklace and the apron now,” Jim says, crawling out of bed.

"I'm afraid I do not understand the reference. And I do not own an apron."

"I mean, show me around," Jim huffs. Spock takes a moment to admire the twist of Jim's spine as he pulls on his boxers, and Jim catches him staring. “Come on, you pervert, let’s go.”

Spock gets out of bed and pulls on a robe from the closet. “This is my room,” he begins.

“I got that, thanks,” Jim says, and they set off.

Jim is impressed with the house, in his way. “You really weren’t kidding about being a prince of Vulcan, were you?” he says at the conclusion of the tour. They are out on the balcony, watching the sun come up from beneath the mountains. "I thought it was some kind of... I don't know, translation problem."

"I speak Standard flawlessly," Spock says. Jim grins and leans back against the half-wall, flinching almost immediately at the hot stone against the skin of his lower back.

“Christ, it’s hotter than an oven in here.”

“This region of Vulcan is currently experiencing an unusually cold winter,” Spock informs him, and smiles at Jim’s heartfelt groan.

“I’m going to melt, aren’t I? God.”

“It depends on how long you intend to stay,” Spock says.

"I'm here for however long you need," Jim tells him, "And if you start bitching about all the classes I might miss, then you're going to spend the night on that ugly wicker thing." He nods at the chaise in one corner of the balcony.

Spock shakes his head and pulls him close. "I am learning to respect your judgment," he says. "Although I do not always trust you to care for yourself the way that you care for me."

Jim looks out at the landscape, squinting into the fading light. "I'm working on it," he says, then looks back at Spock. "So, you going to tell me what's going on, or did I travel all this way for a quickie?"

"There have been -- complications. I have been given information about my father's death which has disturbed me, and have been trying to investigate."

Jim is not surprised, Spock can sense. "I figured it had to be something with your family."

Spock's arms tighten around Jim's waist, and he touches their foreheads together. "Your insight is, as always, remarkable," he says, and Jim's amusement washes through him.

"Yeah, I'm a marvel. So what've you found out?" he asks.

Jim does not interrupt to ask questions while Spock recounts the events of the past few weeks; every once in a while Spock senses a curiosity, and can answer it without Jim having to form the specific thought. He wonders if this is a side-effect of the lessons T'Pring has been giving; before this, even Jim's mind had never been so easy to touch.

"So what's your next move?" Jim asks at last, when Spock has concluded his explanations.

"It should be to go and see Sybok for myself, and discover what he can tell me," Spock says.

"Plus it's one of the reasons you came here," Jim points out. There's no recrimination in him, however, just a sense of understanding.

"Yes," Spock agrees, and lets go.

Jim steps back but curls his hand around Spock's. "We don't have to deal with anything right now, okay? Let's just--" He kisses Spock gently, careful of the slightly sore spot where he had bitten the night before. "Come on," he breathes, “I want another look at that bedroom of yours.”

“Indeed?” Spock asks, following Jim as he backs up toward the doorway.

“Or here,” Jim concedes as they stumble through the living room. “Or even out there if you want, but the ugly wicker thing doesn’t look too comfortable for all the things I want to do.” He reels Spock in for a moment and kisses him again, less gently this time, using his free hand to undo the belt of Spock's robe and trail cool fingers across his stomach.

"Would you care to disclose what things you had in mind?" Spock says, shivering.

"Well," Jim starts, when they are interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. Almost at the same moment, Spock feels a tug at his mind, the polite brush of T'Pring's shields against his.

"Spock," she calls, "I was able to find some additional--"

"Oh, shit," Jim mutters.

She comes into the room and stops short, her eyes going wide for a second before she clears her throat. "Pardon my intrusion," she says, fixing her gaze on the window. "I did not intend to -- interrupt."

"No apology is necessary," Spock says. He reties his belt quickly, wondering if there is any way to make this moment less than hideously awkward. "May I... present Jim Kirk to you? Jim, this is T'Pring, daughter of T'Hauth."

"I had already surmised his identity," T'Pring says.

"Really?" Jim asks. He is blushing, but the smile on his face is genuine. "How'd you figure?"

"Your undergarments have the Starfleet insignia on them," she replies, eyes flickering at Jim's face for a second before she looks back toward the window.

Jim laughs. "Got me there. And I guessed who you were, too."

"And how, may I ask, did you figure?" T'Pring asks.

"Well, it wasn't your underwear," Jim begins. "It was--"

"If you would excuse us for a moment, T'Pring," Spock says. T'Pring nods, still keeping her eyes averted, and moves to put the couch between herself and Jim as he passes.

Jim laughs all the way to the bedroom. "She's -- okay, it's a really good thing you kept telling me how I shouldn't be jealous," he says, collapsing onto the bed.

"Hmm?" Spock asks, not really listening to Jim while he looks around for his clothes. Many of them, he realizes, are in the living room.

"I said, if you hadn't told me not to be jealous, I'd be jealous. 'Cause that girl is hot. Like, naughty-librarian hot, which believe me I used to go for in a big way."

Spock pulls out a pair of trousers and spares a moment to glare at Jim. "But now?"

Jim laughs again. "Now it's just cranky detectives for me." He gets to his feet. "So, either you're going to have to loan me some stuff to wear, or T'Pring's going to get another lesson in human anatomy."

Spock tosses Jim a pair of pants and shirt, hitting him squarely in the face.

*

T'Pring is not in the living room; Spock and Jim find her in the kitchen, preparing tea. She looks up and sees them. "I thought it would be appropriate to share some refreshment," she says. "If you do not find it objectionable."

She is looking at Spock, but it is Jim who says, "That'd be great," and hops onto a stool. "Smells good."

"This tea has no odor," she tells him.

Jim is not even slowed down by this, nor by her stiff posture and flat inflection. "Maybe not to Vulcans. But human olfactory senses are about five times as powerful, did you know that?"

"I did not," T'Pring admits.

"It doesn't make up for the many, many ways in which we're inferior to you, of course," Jim says, grinning; when T'Pring glances up at him, his smile broadens even further. "So, Spock's brought me up to speed on your case. I'm not sure what I can do to help investigate, but I'm here anyway."

"If you are not here to help, then why are you here?" T'Pring asks, honestly curious, and Jim lets out a huff of laughter.

"I think we're going to get along like a house on fire," he says. "Think of me as Spock's own, personal--"

"Jim," Spock warns.

"--Morale officer," Jim concludes blithely.

T'Pring pours the tea out into three cups. "I do not understand," she says.

"It means I'm here to help in less tangible ways. I'm pretty good at synthesis, so my instructors tell me." He takes the cup T'Pring offers him and sips at it, tentative at first. "Tastes like blueberries. That's a compliment," he adds at T'Pring's frown.

"Thank you," T'Pring says, clearly bewildered, and gives Spock the remaining cup, holding hers clutched in her hand. She looks intently at Jim for a few moments, then says, "If you are in Spock's confidence, then it seems clear I can bring you into mine. Therefore I would like to share with both of you the information I have discovered."

"Share away," Jim says. Spock draws closer as T'Pring clears her throat.

"I found it interesting when you mentioned the vote the other day. Regarding the annulment -- I wondered how the other councilors had voted. Councilor Stonn was able to assist me in my inquiries."

"Was he?" Spock says mildly.

"I am as confident of his discretion as you are of Jim Kirk's," T'Pring says, "And I did not tell him the reason for my curiosity."

"So all you had to do was ask, and he just told you?" Jim says. He turns his head to look at Spock. "Sounds familiar."

"Councilor Stonn and I have been acquainted for a great many years, it is natural that we should have grown to share a mutual regard and... familiarity," T'Pring says, her voice higher and faster than it is normally.

"Most natural thing in the world," Jim soothes. "Anyway, you were saying about his assistance?"

"He informed me that there are now seven councilors who are voting against annulment, including himself: Councilors Ruenne, Pavok, Voneris, Sirel, T'Pollyn -- and as of yesterday, T'Pau." She takes a sip from her tea -- were she human, Spock would suspect her of feigning nonchalance.

Jim lets out a low whistle. "The plot thickens."

"She is voting against the annulment?" Spock is baffled. "Does Stonn know why?"

"No."

"Well, come on," Jim scoffs. "It's pretty obvious." Both T'Pau and Spock turn to stare at him. He blinks back. "What, it isn't?"

"Not particularly," T'Pring replies.

Jim leans forward, his elbows propped on the counter. "Think about it. T'Pau's brought Spock all this way, she keeps acting like she expects him to take his rightful place on the High Council, she acts surprised when she finds out Spock doesn't want the aforementioned rightful place. Doesn't that imply anything to you?"

"A great many things," Spock says, "But hardly anything concrete."

"She's buying you time, Spock. The Council was split seven-six in your favor; if just one councilor switched votes, your application would be approved and you'd leave -- before you solved the Great Mystery of 2243."

Spock blinks. It makes an odd sort of sense, but -- "That would only explain her actions if she knew of our suspicions."

"Well, exactly," Jim says. "My guess is she knows something about what all happened with your dad. And your sister," he adds, turning to T'Pring.

"You think T'Pau may have been involved?" Spock asks. It is an uncomfortable thought.

Jim makes a face. "It's a big risk to take, if she's got something to hide. I mean, you're Detective Spock of the InterPlanetary Disputes Division, feared by all alien wrongdoers throughout the galaxy--"

"He is?" T'Pring said, with interest.

"Jim is doing what is known on Earth as making fun of me," Spock tells her.

"Oh."

"Hey now," Jim protests, "It's true. He once arrested me naked."

T'Pring blinks.

"Anyway, no, I don't think T'Pau's involved, exactly. I think she's got suspicions, same as you, that something happened fifteen years ago, and I think she figured out that she wasn't going to get far on her own. How much opportunity for sub rosa dealings does a member of the High Council have?" he asks T'Pring.

"Very little," she replies.

"There you go."

"Then why not simply tell me outright of her suspicions?" Spock says.

Jim shrugs. "From what you've told me, sounds like politicians are the same everywhere -- or maybe she's afraid of drawing attention just like you are."

"We are not afraid," T'Pring says, her voice louder than is absolutely necessary. "We are simply being prudent."

"Right. So, what now, Sherlock?" Jim asks Spock. "And Watson," he adds to T'Pring.

"What?" T'Pring says.

They go over possible next steps; T'Pring brings up the possibility of Spock going to visit Sybok again. "You could bring him this," she says, going over to a shelf and bringing down the Rubik's Cube.

"Oh, man," Jim says, "This is the last place I'd expect to see one of those things." T'Pring hands it to him and settles at the counter next to him, her eyes following Jim's fingers as they spin the cube's facets around.

"It was a gift from my grandfather," Spock says, likewise watching the quick movement of colors and patterns as Jim toys with it. "He gave it to Sybok, thinking that it would offer him a challenge."

"Let me guess," Jim says. "Sybok solved it in five minutes."

"Four and a half, he claims," Spock replies, "But when my grandfather asked him how he was progressing, Sybok realized that it was supposed to be a difficult endeavor and pretended that he had not discovered the solution yet."

"A lie," T'Pring says.

"A nice gesture," Jim corrects her.

"At the end of the visit, Sybok had still not admitted that he had already solved it and my grandfather showed him how. Apparently he then took my mother aside and expressed grave concerns about Sybok's so-called superior intellect."

"Man, I don't know who I like more in that story, your grandpa or your brother," Jim says. He has solved one side and is fussing with the next.

"So it is a treasured possession," T'Pring concludes, "And he may perhaps derive satisfaction from its return."

"Perhaps," Spock allows.

"Well, it's just as much fun now as it was when I was twelve," Jim says.

"You should twist this piece counterclockwise two rotations in order to achieve the desired outcome," T'Pring tells him suddenly. Jim glances up at her, and she adds, "I assume that you are endeavoring to make all six sides present a uniform solid color?"

"I am indeed endeavoring to do that," Jim says, deadpan. "I wouldn't have expected you to even know what this was."

"I am very interested in its design," T'Pring replies. "It is quite a rudimentary creation, but there is something pleasing in the mechanism by which it works. Although I am troubled by the implication in Spock's story, that human children often find it a challenge."

"Well--" Jim licks his lips, squinting off into space. "I guess you could just go with the classic, Vulcans-are-smarter argument."

"But what could possibly be the challenge?" T'Pring demands. "With a few moment's of thought and some primitive spatial reasoning, one can manipulate it to appear in almost any pattern one chooses."

"Score another one for Vulcans," Jim admits, then adds, "Holy shit!"

Spock is on his feet in an instant, reaching for a phaser that is not at his hip. He scans the kitchen, but sees nothing that could have prompted Jim's reaction. "Jim, what--"

Then he looks down at Jim's hands; the Rubik's Cube, all six sides solved, is making a beeping noise. Spock has just enough time to draw breath to order everyone out of the room before the beeping stops, and the cube seems to crumble in Jim's hands.

Jim, for his part, looks up at Spock with a combination of horror, guilt, and amusement. "I swear, Detective," he says, "It wasn't my fault."

But Spock is not paying attention to Jim; he leans over and pushes his finger through the debris. "This is not a Rubik's Cube," he says.

Jim blinks at him. "What was your first clue?"

"How do you know?" T'Pring demands in the same moment.

Spock holds up a small corner cube, three of its sides colored blue, orange, or yellow, the other three black. "It more closely resembles a kind of lockbox; the twenty-seven individual cubes were possibly held together by magnetization or an ion bond, one which dissolved upon the 'solution' of the Cube being achieved."

"I thought you said this was rudimentary!" Jim demands, glaring at T'Pring.

"It is," T'Pring replies.

"Then how come you never managed to solve it?"

T'Pring does not roll her eyes, but she somehow gives that impression. "I assumed that such a childishly simple pattern was not necessary in order to explore the more complex possibilities available."

"Sure," Jim sniffs, and dumps the remaining cubes on the table. "So wait -- twenty-seven individual cubes. There're only twenty-six visible -- what's the twenty-seventh?"

Spock holds up one cube, black on all sides. "I believe it is Sybok's data crystal."

*

When Spock contacts Stonn a few days later and requests a meeting, Stonn asks, "You wish to speak with the entire Council?"

T'Pring and Jim, out of sight of the viewscreen but still in Spock's eyeline, stand close together, their heads almost touching as they watch Stonn on a secondary one-way screen in a corner of the room. Spock gives a frown and says, pitching his voice low, "I am unsure. How many would be needed to witness a withdrawal of an application?"

"Ah," Stonn says. From the corner of his field of vision, Spock can see T'Pring turn away. They are not lying, but it has the taste of dishonesty, and it took Jim several hours to convince her of this course of action. "I believe it will be sufficient to have myself and T'Pau, if you wish," he says.

Spock inclines his head slightly to the viewscreen. "Thank you. Please also make a request to Srogal; I am sure he holds an interest in these proceedings."

"Very well," Stonn says. He appears poised to ask a question, but says only, "I will contact you with the available time."

"Please be aware," Spock adds, as though the detail is unimportant, "That I plan to leave Vulcan within the next few days. I have no plans to return except in case of pon farr."

Stonn says, "I will note the need for haste," and signs off.

"Wow," Jim says, handing the screen over to T'Pring, "Nice performance, Mr. Spock. You could've gone on the stage. Maybe made it in vids. You've got a gift."

"Let us hope your performance was sufficient to fool him," T'Pring says.

"It isn't him I'm worried about fooling," Jim says. "I know what Sybok has on that data crystal is pretty damning, but it's not going to be enough. You've got nothing solid -- this is all theory built on conjecture."

"You disapprove of this on scientific grounds?" Spock asks, faintly amused. Jim rolls his eyes.

"Yeah, because I'm the type who always looks before he leaps. I'm just saying, your bargaining chip may not be as big as you think it is."

"Two people died as a result of Sybok's research," T'Pring reminds him. "We believe that it is large enough for the purpose at hand."

Jim sighs. "So, what, we're just hoping for the best here?"

"We must have faith," Spock says.

"Faith, we've got," Jim says. "What we need is a damn miracle."

*

Spock is directed to meet with T'Pau, Srogal and Stonn at the High Council's chambers the following morning. "You really want me to come?" Jim asks, struggling into his uniform. "It's not like they're going to listen to a thing I say. If they'll even let me in the door."

"You are the one who discovered Sybok's data crystal--"

"Yeah, by accident--"

"And you found the information regarding T'Pol and T'Pau's connection--"

"That's just because I've got that weird fixation on any ship named Enterprise," Jim dismisses. "Ask me anything you like about twentieth century American aircraft carriers--"

"And it will comfort me," Spock says firmly, "Knowing you are nearby."

Jim grins at him, rolling his eyes theatrically. "Seriously. Such a sap."

They make their way into the city; T'Pring joins them outside the building. "Are you certain you wish for me to be there?" she asks Spock.

Spock lifts his eyebrows at Jim, who laughs.

Guards watch them as they approach the doors, but only when they attempt to pass through does one say, "You may not enter."

"I am here on business with members of the High Council," Spock says.

"And I, too," T'Pring adds.

"Relax, guys," Jim says, "I think I might be the problem here."

"You are not of this world, and we have been given no instructions to permit the entry of aliens," says the guard. He does not appear disapproving, or contemptuous, but his body has already shifted subtly into a fighter's stance. He is very clearly not ornamental.

Spock opens his mouth, but Jim says, "All right, I'll wait over there."

"Jim--"

"Spock," Jim interrupts, "I know you've got enough anger to fight the whole wide world right now? But picking and choosing your battles might be a good idea. Those guards are going to have it hard enough today."

"Perhaps you are right," Spock says, though it feels as though he is being cheated.

"And--" Jim hesitates, then puts his hand on Spock's arm, "You're sure about this? I mean, I like burning bridges as much as the next guy, but..." He does not complete the sentence. He does not have to.

"It was burned long ago," Spock says, "And not by me."

Jim kisses him, quick and hard on the mouth. "Go," he orders.

Spock turns and walks with T'Pring through the door, their footsteps echoing in the grand empty room. "You must remember to keep control, regardless of what emotions you may be provoked to feel," T'Pring says, softly, as the three councilors rise to greet them.

"I shall," Spock tells her. Truthfully, he does feel in control; the rage that has simmered in his blood for the past three days sits just below the surface, but does not overflow its boundaries.

T'Pring glances up at him, and there is the faintest of smiles at the corners of her mouth. "I am unsure if I was speaking to you, or reminding myself."

They are now standing before the councilors; Srogal seems surprised to see T'Pring. "T'Pring, daughter of T'Hauth, you were not summoned here," he says. "You have no part in these proceedings."

"I had no part in Spock's original application," T'Pring replies, "But I have a vital part in today's proceedings. Spock has therefore requested my presence."

This seems to be acceptable, although T'Pau looks at them for a beat too long before agreeing. "Very well," Stonn says, "We shall begin."

"I would like to start by giving reasons for withdrawing an annulment application," Spock says.

Srogal shifts in his seat. "That would be an illogical waste of time. We are ready to accept your withdrawal."

"On the contrary," Spock says, "My reasons are unusual, and should be taken under advisement when the Council considers its ruling. I was informed that Sybok once also petitioned for annulment; his application was denied, and I believe it was this denial that lead to the death of my father and of Sybok's betrothed, as well as Sybok's wrongful incarceration. Since I have no intention of causing harm to anyone within my family or circle of acquaintance, the prudent course of action would be to withdraw my application."

"What leads you to believe that your brother's madness was caused by--"

Stonn's question is interrupted by Srogal, who talks more quickly than is normal for him. "Then you are withdrawing the application?"

"Councilor," Stonn says, "I would hear what Spock has to say."

"What he has to say has no bearing on--"

T'Pau, who has been silent this entire time, leans forward. "Proceed, Spock."

"Councilor T'Pau," Srogal says, turning to her, "I must protest that there is nothing this detective could tell us that would have bearing on our proceedings."

"But as I am the senior Councilor at this meeting," T'Pau says, "I am entrusted with making that decision. Spock will speak his turn."

"Thank you, Councilor. To answer Councilor Stonn's question, I do not believe Sybok suffers from any madness."

"Your loyalty to your family is commendable," says Srogal, "But your brother himself confessed to his unsound state. There is no question that he was afflicted by madness -- and remains so."

"Interesting," T'Pring comments, "That you would take the word of a madman for proof that he is mad. Your logic appears circular, Councilor."

"If he is not mad," Stonn says, "Then why did he kill Sarek? Or do you believe someone else wielded the lirpa that cut him down?"

"No," Spock replies. "No, Sybok did kill my father. But it was during his plak tow, his blood fever. T'Preth issued kalifee, as is traditional, but instead of choosing a lover as her champion, she chose my father. Sybok was unable to fully understand what was happening; he simply attacked the man challenging his right to claim T'Preth. A crime, to be sure, and one for which he would have served five years in prison, as is customary under the laws of Vulcan. Instead he was declared incurably insane, shut up in a maximum-security prison on a snow-planet, and allowed no visitors except the one blood relation he still has -- a brother who was light years away and could do nothing to help him. Who believed the same story for a decade and a half."

"You have no evidence of any of these -- accusations," Srogal says. "To make these claims without any proof--"

Spock holds up Sybok's data crystal, the small black cube dull in the white light of the Council's chambers. "I have made no accusations yet, Councilor," he says. "But I assure you, I do have proof. My brother's work was not destroyed quite so well as you assumed."

Srogal holds himself stiff and still, his eyes on the data crystal. "What do you intend to do with that?" he asks, as though Spock holds a weapon in his hand.

"I intend to propose a trade," he says. "One concealment for another. I have it within my power to disseminate the contents of Sybok's research, if you do not answer my questions."

"You have no right to do this," Srogal says.

"I am doing nothing," he says. "It is you who must choose."

"The truth is not something to be doled out," Stonn protests. "Honesty is the one of the foundations of our society."

"Let us hope your society can survive without it for a while longer," Spock tells him. "Councilor Srogal? The decision is yours -- the truth to everyone in this room, or the truth to everyone on this planet."

"What truth?" Stonn demands, his gaze wavering between Spock and Srogal. "What was Sybok going to do with this... research of his?"

"He was going to publish an article," T'Pau says, a faintly pleased expression on her face.

"I do not understand," Stonn says.

T'Pau sighs. "Perhaps you should begin at the beginning, Detective, and when you have come to the end, there will be no need for Councilor Stonn's questions."

"I will admit, Councilor, that not all aspects of the crime are clear to me yet. Which is why I am still waiting for Councilor Srogal's decision." The hum of Spock's heartbeat is like a swarm of insects pressing against his insides.

At last Srogal says, "Sybok had no concept of what he would have done to our society. Had he not been stopped, we might have borne witness to another revolution like the one a century ago. No one could have allowed that."

It is all the confession Spock needs. He nods to T'Pring, who clears her throat and grips her PADD, glancing down at it as though to remind herself of their theory. Since she is the one who came up with the majority of it, it is more likely she is gathering her nerve. "Councilor Srogal, when did you first learn of Sybok's research?"

"At his application for annulment," Srogal says. "He used the research as some kind of excuse."

"In what way would it have been an excuse?" Stonn asks.

"You are asking the wrong question," T'Pau says, "And you are asking the wrong person. I was the Dean of the Academy when Sybok was enrolled there. Srogal understood little of the... subtleties of Sybok's work."

T'Pring glances at Spock, then says, "Very well, Councilor T'Pau, if you will inform us."

"He was one of our most gifted students," T'Pau says. "His work on the Universal Translator was promising, but it was in his work on the new translations of Surak's teachings that he truly showed his potential."

Stonn frowns. "I know of no new translations," he says.

"No," T'Pau says, "You would not have. Sybok focused his studies on the passages that dealt with Surak's theories of emotional control; he soon developed a theory that proved... disturbing to many."

"What disturbed you?" Stonn asks.

"He believed that it is our quest to control and suppress our emotions that lead to many of the chronic conditions that afflict our people," T'Pau says. "Bendii Syndrome, for one -- and even pon farr."

"It was an absurd theory," Srogal says. "No one would have taken his work seriously."

"On the contrary," T'Pau disagrees, "We took him very seriously indeed."

"Then you are saying -- your brother thought that--" Stonn frowns down at his hands, then looks up at Spock again. "Pon farr is a disease of some kind?"

"Yes," T'Pring says. "Sybok intended to prove his theory by his own example; since he did not follow the teachings of Surak, he hypothesized, he would not go through pon farr and would be able to show that there were other ways by which Vulcans could live their lives in peace, without sacrificing their emotions."

"Which is why he requested annulment from this Council," Spock says, "And when you asked him his reason, he told all of you of his research. I believe it caused a great deal of consternation amongst you, did it not, Councilor Srogal?"

"We attempted to discuss with him the danger that his research presented," Srogal says. "If all of Vulcan was suddenly told that the teachings of Surak had been the cause of Bendii Syndrome, of pon farr, of the Sight Sickness -- it would shake the faith of billions."

"And so you acted," Spock says. "Less than a year later, Sarek informed the Council that Sybok believed he was undergoing pon farr, and rather than simply witnessing the ceremony as is traditional, you seized your opportunity."

Srogal does not answer directly, but he looks Spock straight in the eye and says, "When I learned that Sybok would experience pon farr, I persuaded T'Preth to issue the challenge, and to name Sarek as her champion. It did not matter if Sybok or Sarek were the victor; I knew that either way, Sybok's research would be buried."

"But how did you convince Sybok to plead madness?" T'Pring asks. "Surely he would have been able to present his case and receive only the five-year sentence."

"To whom would he plead his case, T'Pring?" T'Pau answers for Srogal. "He would have been able to claim only that a member of the High Council had somehow tricked him into killing his own father. It would have only confirmed his insanity."

"And furthermore," Srogal says, "I informed him that should he plead madness, I would allow you and your mother to leave Vulcan." He has not stopped staring at Spock. "I knew that you would only cause difficulty if you were to remain on Vulcan. Your present conduct seems to prove me correct."

"I assume that you murdered my sister," T'Pring says to him, her voice calm but her fingers white where they grip the PADD, "When she told you of her intention to confess her misconduct during the koon'ut'kalifee. Her statement against you would have cast doubt on Sybok's guilt, and possibly allow him freedom once more to bring his research to light. You could not allow her to live."

Srogal leans back, as though the weight of it has settled down implacably on his shoulders. "Her death was... most regrettable."

"I do not understand," Stonn says. "I do not understand. You have said that Sybok underwent pon farr, then you say that he could not have; and you say it was all orchestrated by Councilor Srogal. But -- to allow people to die, to plan their deaths. How does that preserve our society?"

"If it helps," Spock says, "It was never supposed to end in death."

"Then what went wrong? Why did you suddenly decide to let this be an opportunity to kill?" Stonn demands, turning to Srogal.

"You are asking the wrong question," T'Pring tells him. "And you are asking the wrong person."

"Well done, T'Pring," T'Pau says, with real approval in her voice. "I believe Spock may attempt to recruit you into the IDD when all this is over."

T'Pring stares at her aunt for long, long moments. She takes a deep breath. "Councilor T'Pau," she says, "When you were leader of the Syrranite movement, you made the acquaintance of T'Pol, daughter of T'Les. She informed you of the false pon farr that she underwent during her time aboard the United Earth's Enterprise, did she not?"

"She did," T'Pau says. "It was artificially induced by a chemical found on Yuli Seven."

"And in your travels, have you ever had occasion to visit this planet?"

"I believe you already know the answer to that, T'Pring," T'Pau says; she seems almost in good humor. "I have been there."

Stonn frowns at her, clearly still several steps behind. "I was not aware that there was any method by which to induce pon farr," he says, as though accusing.

"Because of the reticence in your society to discuss it," Spock says, "I believe that there are few outside this room who know of T'Pol's experience. It would be very easy to give Sybok a dose of the compound and induce an artificial pon farr, thereby disproving his theory before it was published."

"I encouraged Sybok a great deal in his work," T'Pau says. "I did not agree with his lifestyle, with his blatant disregard for the way we have ordered our society. But I respected his work as a scientist, and as a historian, and trusted him to understand the real-world implications of his work. When he presented his findings to the Council at his application, I was as surprised as anyone at the direction he had taken." She folds her hands in her lap. "I am well aware that intentions are irrelevant to the end result of an action, but I did believe that I was acting for the best."

"Then you admit it was you who infected Sybok with the compound?" Spock says. He is aware of a great conflict within him; straightforward satisfaction at the closing of a case is soured by the knowledge of what he could be doing to the planet by closing this particular case.

T'Pau cocks her head, her eyes thoughtful and dark. "I do."

"That is enough," Srogal says, standing up. "You have had your truth, and now you will go."

"Not before you answer for your crimes," T'Pring says. "My sister, Spock's brother and father -- you have their blood on your hands."

Srogal lifts his chin. "And by what authority will you charge me, T'Pring, daughter of T'Hauth? Your house was disgraced long ago, no one will listen to your tale. And as for Spock, son of Sarek -- you are a child of Earth now."

"I am a child of two worlds," Spock tells him. "But you are right. I cannot make you answer for my father's death, or for T'Preth's murder. My influence there extends no further than the reach of my hands."

"Then you will immediately--"

"But my brother's case is another matter entirely," Spock interrupts. "He was born and raised on Earth, and carries Terran citizenship. At the time of his arrest and incarceration, the InterPlanetary Disputes Division was still in its infancy and did not have the resources or the political will to investigate wrongful prosecution from a trusted ally. They accepted the report given to them by the Vulcan High Council and let the matter rest.

"It is unfortunate for you," Spock continues, pressing the signal on his communicator, "That I have both the resources and the will. Councilors Srogal and T'Pau, I am arresting you for the use of false information to wrongfully incarcerate Sybok, son of Sarek."

The last words are somewhat difficult to hear in the sudden din of the chambers; two dozen IDD officers are beaming down from the orbiting USS Temperance. Srogal protests and struggles, shouting for the guards -- but they enter the chamber slowly, their weapons disarmed by five officers training phasers on them.

Chief Sideman is the last to beam down, looking somewhat odd in the formal uniform of the IDD. "Hey, kiddo," she says, greeting Spock as if it has been two hours since they have seen each other, and not two months. "Looks like you got your man."

"And woman," Spock agrees. "I trust that the extradition requests were approved?"

"Taking two members of the High Council to Earth in chains wasn't the easiest sell in the world," the chief says, "But yeah, they came through. Turns out the political branch of Vulcan is just as worried about the information that's on that knick-knack of yours as these two seemed to be."

"And my brother?" Spock asks.

"Officially remanded to the custody of the IDD," the chief says, smug and smiling. "The administrative bureaucratic laybrinth that is the hallmark of all our dealings with Vulcan means that he's still technically in prison, but once we're in charge of him, his prison's going to be a top-of-the-line officer's quarters on the Temperance and then -- well, you tell me. I'm sure your mom wouldn't mind if he were put under house arrest, would she?"

Spock says, "She would not mind in the least."

Chief Sideman goes to speak with the officers holding Srogal, and Spock looks around the room. T'Pring and Stonn are standing close together, talking in low voices; he watches them and wonders what Stonn will choose to believe, what he will think about what he has believed in the past. His face is smooth and clear of emotion, but Spock feels he can understand Stonn's feelings. To be told that something you have learned to live with is in fact causing a sickness within yourself -- it is easy to sympathize.

"Sounds like I missed a party," Jim says from behind him; Spock turns and smiles, extending his hand wordlessly. Jim takes it, his fear sharp and hot but already smoothing away at the sight of Spock, uninjured and undamaged. "You ready?"

Spock begins to say yes, but he catches sight of T'Pau, calmly submitting to being handcuffed. "One moment," he says.

T'Pau watches their approach with distant interest. "Cadet Kirk," she greets him. "Forgive me for being unable to greet you in the manner of my people."

"I'll keep myself from greeting you in the manner of mine, too," Jim replies.

"Councilor," Spock starts.

"No longer, I think," T'Pau says. "You may simply call me by my name."

"I still have unanswered questions, T'Pau," Spock says. "I hope that you may be able to shed light on them."

"Ask, and I shall answer," she says. "Though I would remind you it is likely that we will have many opportunities for further interviews."

"This question is somewhat pressing," Spock says. "I would like to know why you brought me here. If you had any idea that I might have found out about this, why did you not do everything in your power to prevent my return? It seems... illogical."

T'Pau lifts an eyebrow at that last word. "Logic is in the eye of the beholder, Spock. When T'Pring first made her inquiries into her sister's death, I knew that there was little time. Srogal depended too much on the taboo of pon farr, on the prejudice of our people -- he did not cover his tracks as well as he should have, and an investigation even by a novice would surely have uncovered the truth."

"But you warned T'Pring away from the case."

"Yes, but she is more than a little stubborn. She is a great deal like you, in fact. It is a pity that you will most likely not bond; I believe you would do well."

"Ouch," Jim mutters.

T'Pau continues, "T'Pring would have resumed her inquiries, and if Srogal had found out it is likely he would have killed her, too. Furthermore, T'Pring has little standing in our society; even if she had found the truth, and even if Srogal had not attempted to silence her, what could she have done? Better to find someone with influence and power, to ensure that when the truth was discovered, it would not be hidden again. Or worse, destroyed."

"You speak as though you wanted to be caught," Spock observes.

T'Pau nods her head. "I did. Guilt is not an emotion, Spock; it is a reaction, one that is impossible to control or suppress. I was responsible for infecting Sybok, and although I did not know that Srogal intended to take advantage of the blood fever, I have known since and I share responsibility. If the consequence of his punishment is mine as well, then it is a negligible one." She laces her fingers together, calmly, as though her hands were not already bound. "But of course, the consequences will be greater than my incarceration. You will publish the research, will you not?"

"It is not my research to publish," Spock tells her. "My brother will decide what is to be done in that case."

Chief Sideman, who has been waiting at T'Pau's side, nods to Spock. "All right, T'Pau, if you'll please hold still for the transport."

"As you wish," T'Pau says. As she beams up, Spock holds up his hand, offering the ta'al. Her lips quirk in a small smile, and then she is gone.

Spock watches the empty space that she once occupied, breathing in the desert air that he no longer finds so dry and distasteful. He thinks of T'Pau and the decisions she has made; of Sybok and the years of his life wasted because of fear; T'Preth and the too-high price she paid for her poor judgement; and of his father, Sarek, son of Skon, a man that he is remembering for the first time without pain.

"Well," says Chief Sideman, "We're off to Delta Vega. I'm guessing the paperwork's going to take a few days to get in order, but we can stay in orbit for as long as it takes. Perks of being property of United Earth, and not the Federation; we've got blanket authority to be as big a pain in the ass as we like when we're getting back one of our own."

"You consider my brother one of your own?" Spock asks.

The chief quirks an eyebrow. "Just like you, kiddo," she says, and taps her communicator. "One to beam up."

Spock turns to Jim, who has been standing just behind him, hands in his pocket. "I have closed a great many cases," he says. "But I find myself--"

The words will not come -- Spock is not even certain what words there are. His brother will soon be released, his father's death has been explained; he feels as though his family is complete again, made whole, for the first time in too many years.

Jim takes one hand out of his pocket and puts it on Spock's shoulder, his thumb brushing along the hollow beneath Spock's ear. "I know," he says, and he is telling the truth. Spock leans forward and lets his forehead rest against Jim's, grateful for the small refuge of Jim's presence.

Jim smiles, touches their noses together for a quick moment, then straightens up. "So what now?" he asks.

"Now," Spock says, "I think I would like you to meet my brother."

Chapter Text

"Hand me that -- the coil spanner." Jim's legs are the only things visible from under the vehicle until one hand comes groping out, patting the ground near his hip.

"This?" T'Pring asks, crouching down and picking up a tool with her thumb and forefinger. She puts it delicately in his hand.

"No, that's the recoupler. The spanner looks more like a three-pronged metal rake. Do they have rakes on Vulcan? I haven't seen a lot of trees. Oh, thanks," he adds, when T'Pring apparently provides him with the correct tool. His hand disappears back into the bowels of the vehicle.

Spock hovers in the doorway to the house, unwilling to interrupt but unable to stop watching. Jim disappeared under the vehicle at first light, after muttering something about Vulcan replicators being even worse than Terran ones for simple, God's-honest coffee. T'Pring, when she'd arrived a short time ago, had not even made it into the house before being drafted into service as provider of tools and receiver of whatever wisdom Jim chose to impart.

"See, one thing you've got to know about a car, is it's just like a person," Jim says now, bending his left knee and placing his foot on the ground, the better to scoot further underneath.

"An anti-gravitational vehicle resembles no sentient being I have ever encountered or heard of," T'Pring argues, craning her body down further. "Also, why do you not simply engage the anti-gravitational unit and raise the car? You are getting your clothing dirty by lying in the dust."

"It's traditional," Jim replies. "Anyway, the comparison was more of a... metaphor. If you travel off-planet, you get jet-lag, you get thrown off by the new gravity and atmosphere of the place, that kind of thing, don't you?"

"I do not know what jet-lag is. And I have never been off-planet before."

Jim pulls himself out so that he can look T'Pring in the eye. "Really? Never?"

"No."

"Huh. Okay, well -- jet-lag is a human phrase, it stems from back in the twentieth century, when people would fly cross-country -- that means -- okay, you know what, let's just say it's an old phrase. It means you're body thinks it's, say, midnight, when really it's ten in the morning."

"I understand," T'Pring says. "But what does this have to do with an anti-gravitational vehicle?"

"It doesn't, really -- basically what I meant to say was that cars need to be cared for, especially when they're taken long distances in the cargo hold of some transport vessel. You can't treat a car like she's just a machine, you've got to give her respect."

"It is a machine, Jim," Spock points out, stepping forward. T'Pring tries to pivot to face him from her crouched position, and almost falls; Jim just grins up at him. There is a smear of oil across his cheek and a stain on his shirt shaped roughly like a handprint.

"Hey there," Jim says.

"What are you doing?" Spock asks.

"You," Jim says, getting to his feet, "Are a neglectful, careless man."

"Am I?"

"Do you know how fucked up your pressurizer is from all this to-ing and fro-ing across the cosmos? I'm not sure if you've noticed, but Vulcan's just a little bit heavier than Earth. Thinner atmosphere, too--"

"Yes, I am aware," Spock says, "Especially since you complain about it for ten minutes every morning."

"Hey hey, not in front of the guests," Jim hisses, jerking his head toward where T'Pring is unabashedly listening to their conversation. "Besides, come on, we've been sleeping together for months -- when have you known me not to complain about something for ten minutes right after waking up?"

"This is true," Spock admits.

"Anyway, I'm fitting your vee with an adapter that'll let it pressurize automatically."

Spock considers thanking Jim, but instead says, "I was not aware that you were bored."

"I'm not. I'm taking a practical, actually. For my Advanced Engineering class -- otherwise I have to stop wearing that cadet uniform that you pretend you don't enjoy taking off of me."

"I don't believe that I ever pretend not to enjoy it," Spock corrects.

Just then, there's a gentle chiming noise from inside the house -- a comm request. Spock goes inside to the living room and presses the "receive" button on the console. He is presented with Chief Sideman, looking harassed but triumphant.

"Hey, kiddo," she says, leaning back in her chair. "So, good news and bad news, what do you want first?"

"I have no preference," he says.

"Fine, fine. I swear you're getting more Vulcan every day," she mutters. "The good news -- we've secured transport of your brother. We should be beaming him up within the hour, at which point we can come get you and skedaddle on out of here." She sighs, and runs her hand through her hair; its disarray indicates she has done this often in the past few hours. "Bad news is, we can only come get you. They finally released Sybok on the condition that he still be treated as a..." she frowns and shuffles through the notes in front of her, "'Grade Seven' prisoner. A dangerous lunatic, in other words. And IDD transport procedures dictate--"

"'Anyone that the arresting authority has deemed a danger to individuals shall be transported under strict security protocols,'" Spock quotes. "I see."

"Sorry, kiddo -- when it was just two plotters and a recently-found-innocent man, we could take your boyfriend no trouble. But this -- given the situation, and given how goddamn touchy the Vulcans are getting about all this," she adds with an exasperated huff of breath, as though surprised to learn that arresting two members of the High Council and petitioning the release of a infamous criminal could cause ripples within Vulcan society, "We should play it as by-the-book as possible."

"Understood," Spock says. "I presume this security measure will not be in effect once we reach Earth?"

Chief Sideman laughs. "You have no idea how sulky you sound right now, do you? No, it won't -- cross my heart and hope to die, once we're in Terran orbit we can clear charges in about five minutes. But this has been embarrassing for Vulcan, and I know you hate politics, but--" she made a helpless gesture with her hands.

"I appreciate your assistance in this matter. When do you estimate you will be in Vulcan's orbit?"

"Tomorrow morning, most likely. I'll let you know."

"Thank you, Chief. I will be ready."

"By the way," the chief adds, "I've talked to him."

"Oh?"

"I can see where you get it from," is all she says, and logs off before he can respond.

"So you're ditching me?" Jim says from the doorway. Spock turns around as he comes further into the room, wiping his hands clean on a rag.

"Where is T'Pring?" Spock asks.

"Checking out the coil relay," Jim says, then admits, "Actually, I just showed her how the windshield wipers work; she's kind of mesmerized. So what's going on?"

Spock takes the rag from Jim and uses it to clean the smear of oil on his cheek. "It appears that security protocols must be undertaken for the duration of the journey back to Earth; your presence is not permitted aboard the Temperance. I am sorry -- I will arrange a private transport for you--"

Jim, who has submitted to Spock's ministrations thus far, now rolls his eyes and takes the rag away from Spock. "Dating a Vulcan prince has all kinds of perks," he murmurs, nibbling carefully on Spock's lower lip. Spock pulls him closer, and is rewarded with a pleased humming sound as Jim wraps his arms around Spock's shoulders.

They are interrupted by T'Pring, who pauses at the doorway and observes, "If you do not wish to be interrupted, it would be logical to conduct such displays of emotions behind closed doors."

"Sorry, T'Pring. You know how us humans can get," Jim says, sounding not at all sorry.

"Indeed, I do," she replies.

"Was there a reason for your visit?" Spock asks.

"Affirmative -- and it was not, despite what he might think, in order to hand Kirk various tools. I have come to tell you that the Council has made its decision. There will be a formal declaration next week."

"Unfortunately," Spock says, "I will be leaving tomorrow. My brother's release has finally been negotiated."

"Ah," T'Pring says. "Then I am sure that the declaration can be sent to you over the comm signal."

Jim narrows his eyes at her. "But you already know what it is, don't you?"

T'Pring clasps her hands together. "I have been... it has been implied in my presence that the ruling is very likely to be in our favor," she admits.

Jim whoops and does his best to pick Spock up, succeeding only in lifting him an inch or two off the ground. "See? What did I tell you? Stonn came around, I knew he'd come around--"

"As a matter of fact, it was not Stonn who cast the deciding vote," T'Pring answered.

"Oh?" Spock says.

"No. Another councilor changed his vote -- Stonn remains firm in his belief that our annulment is unacceptable."

"But--" Jim looks confused. "All right, so he's kept his voting record consistent. But now that you're free, won't he..." Jim trails off, looking helpless.

T'Pring shakes her head, looking away. "Although he is not bonded at the present moment, I have no reason to expect him to pay address to me. With the history of my family and the annulment, I do not believe he would find me a suitable bondmate. There is too much that is... uncertain."

"But he's in love with you," Jim protests.

T'Pring does not reply to this, instead turning to Spock. "If you are to leave tomorrow, then I should say farewell. And -- I am sorry. For the grief that my family has caused yours. I cannot find the logic in their actions."

From a Vulcan, it is a powerful condemnation. "Thank you, T'Pring. I hope one day to meet with you again."

She nods, and raises her hand. "Peace and long life, Spock."

"Live long," Spock replies, "And prosper."

*

The matter of Jim's transportation home is solved, however, when Jim contacts Starfleet Academy later in the afternoon; the Enterprise will embark on its maiden voyage in two weeks, and Pike has specifically requested Jim's presence on board.

"I can't tell if it's because I'm George Kirk's son and it was built at the Kirk Memorial Shipyards and... you know," he says, making a slightly embarrassed face, "Or if it's because he feels guilty about all the blood I lost on the saucer section. But either way, they'll be doing a tour of all the founding planets as a kind of symbolic thing -- between Tellar Prime and Andoria, they're stopping here, and they'll beam me up. I'll be riding home in style." He spreads his arms wide as though to invite Spock to properly appreciate his solution.

Spock frowns. "What will you do in the meantime?"

"Worried about setting me loose on Vulcan?" Jim asks, then shrugs. "I've got work to do, independent study. Maybe I'll teach T'Pring how to drive. That'd be fun." He gets up from the comm console chair and reaches out for Spock, pulling him in close. "In the meantime, we've got a little over twelve hours before you vamoose on out of here. T'Pring's gone, the vee's fixed, I'm wearing jeans--" He laughs when Spock cuts him off with a kiss, so predictable/I wore these jeans just for this/yes/more/now, and Spock cannot help but obey.

Jim steers them toward the living room couch, pushing Spock down so he can straddle his lap. "You have a fondness for copulation here," Spock observes. He curls his hands around Jim's hips, pressing him down as he himself thrusts up. "I have noticed."

Jim twitches and gasps gratifyingly, but manages to respond in a somewhat coherent manner. "Better than sex on that slab of granite you call a bed," he says.

"You never seem to mind sleeping on it," Spock points out.

"That's because I mostly sleep on top of you," Jim returns.

Spock tightens his grip and moves Jim's hips again, and Jim simply rolls into him, balanced on his knees. He leans toward Spock and kisses him, nipping along the line of Spock's lower lip as his hands creep underneath Spock's shirt, peeling it off him and tossing it on the floor behind him.

"So when will I see you again?" he whispers, soft against Spock's jaw. Spock closes his eyes and lets his mind focus only on the feel of Jim, the dancing movements of his mind matching the light touches of his fingers.

"The Enterprise will return to Earth before embarking on its first official mission," Spock murmurs, shifting as Jim presses down against his groin again. "I will -- doubtless see you then."

"Mmm," Jim says. "I'll even be in a Starfleet officer's uniform, bet you'll love that."

"I will enjoy taking it off of you," Spock readily admits, and Jim laughs, shifting his weight so that he can undo the fastenings of Spock's trousers and his own jeans.

Jim frees their erections and holds them together in his fist, tight and urgent already -- Jim is always impatient, the first time, rushing toward completion. Later he will be languid and slow, willing to take his time, but this is always over more quickly than Spock would like.

The one time he had commented on it, however, Jim had been less than appreciative. So he simply rocks his hips upward, letting his head fall back against the couch so that Jim can lean further over, can use his other hand to grab fistfuls of his hair and tug, can kiss and bite along Spock's neck.

Spock feels Jim come, feels the satisfaction and pleasure heavy in Jim's mind, as well as faint amusement at his own eagerness and a sweet desire to see Spock's own climax. "Come on," Jim whispers, with his voice and his mind, "Come for me, yeah, that's it--" and once again, Spock does as he is told.

They stay curled around each other on the couch afterward, content for the moment, and Jim resumes their conversation. "So what about--" he stops, but continues stroking his fingers down Spock's throat; his thoughts are clear, and concerned, and looking toward their future -- the realities of an officer of the peace and an officer of the line.

"There are difficult questions to answer," Spock says; his arm wraps more tightly around Jim's waist. "I cannot tell you that we will never be parted. I can only say that I hope it will be of short duration, and that our reunions will be sweeter for--"

"God, stop being such a sap," Jim says, grinning; his thoughts are still sharp with worry, but the affection softens those edges, just a little. He threads his fingers through Spock's, his thumb brushing along the veins of Spock's wrist.

*

The Temperance arrives on schedule the following morning; Spock is beamed up and almost immediately feels the minute shift that signals a warp jump.

Chief Sideman, from her position behind the transporter chief, nods up at Spock as though he had asked a question. "We're not wasting any time," she says, coming forward to clap hands with Spock as he comes down off the pad. "To be honest, I had to arm-wrestle IDD to let me come back and get you; they're getting pretty nervous about our custody rights et cetera with our illustrious prisoners. Not to mention your brother."

"I was given to understand that Vulcan was not taking formal action against our arrest of Councilors T'Pau and Srogal," Spock says.

"Formal action, no," Chief Sideman sighs. "But for a bunch of people who keep harping about controlling their emotions, they can be passive-aggressive little bastards when they want to be."

"Indeed," Spock agrees. "Chief, I wished to ask--"

She laughs, and pats him on the back. "Go, go. He's in a secure room per protocol, but since you're an IDD officer, you've got full authority to talk with him whenever you want. Deck Seven, Room 4B. Don't run," she adds as he makes to leave; when he turns back to her questioningly, she grins. "You just look goofy when you do," she explains.

Spock makes his way to the nearest turbolift. "Deck Seven," he instructs, and realizes that he should feel nervous -- and then all at once he does, almost sick with worry and fear. Sybok has had many years to think over his wrongful imprisonment, to wonder what champions he could possibly have had in his family if they have done nothing to release him before now.

The turbolift doors open and Room 4B is only a few doors down; Spock stands in the hallway for a few moments, trying to quiet the roiling of his stomach.

The intercom suddenly chirps into life. "Spock, I can sense your presence out there. Stop being such a twerp and open the door."

Spock touches the panel and the doors slide open. The room is brightly lit, a large window looking out into space. Spock does not get a further chance to examine the furnishings, however, since he's pulled into a hug.

As a child, Spock was rarely given overt displays of affection. His mother would embrace him, but carefully and rarely; his father was never a demonstrative man. Only Sybok was prone to ruffle his hair, or swing him around in a breathless circle, or wrap him up in what was apparently termed a bear hug. "I'm teaching him the ways of the strange and wondrous humans," he would explain whenever Amanda sighed or Sarek frowned. "Better he learn it from me than off the streets."

They are the same height, now, and Sybok is thin to the point of concern, no longer the cheerful round-faced young man of Spock's recollection. But there is enough sense-memory to allow Spock to close his eyes and let his chin rest carefully on Sybok's shoulder.

After a few moments, Sybok lets him go, and holds him at arm's length by the shoulders. "You look like shit, Spock," he says.

Spock laughs.

*

Amanda is waiting for them at the IDD transport; Spock sees her first, her hands clenched together, scanning the crowds of officers surrounding T'Pau and Srogal. He turns to tell Sybok, but his brother is already making his way toward her.

When she finally catches sight of Sybok, she doesn’t react for a moment -- as though unable to understand fully what is before her. “Oh my darling,” she breathes, reaching out toward him. She hesitates, but Sybok takes the last step froward and takes her hands in his.

Spock keeps himself apart for a few minutes. He has seen his mother cry several times: in sadness, in pain, once even when she was so angry at a particularly stubborn ambassador that the tears rolled down her face even as she shouted at him. But these tears are different. She tugs on Sybok's hands until she can wrap her arms around him tightly, her brow wrinkling as her muscles tense. She is murmuring things into the fabric of Sybok's sleeve, and Spock does not need to know exactly what she is saying -- he understands.

Eventually Sybok notices Spock’s absence and turns his head, still embracing Amanda. “Spock, get over here and say hello to your mother,” he orders, gruff and playful, but with the odd hesitancy that Spock noticed on the ship, as though expecting to be punished for his smiles.

Amanda will not allow Sybok out of her sight for the rest of the evening; they go to her house and she follows him around as he examines each room in turn. They end up in the library, Sybok sinking down into his old armchair. Spock sits down in another chair, feeling slightly unsettled. Amanda notices it and laughs.

Sybok quirks an eyebrow. “What?”

“I am accustomed to sitting there,” Spock admits, perching gingerly on the edge of the unfamiliar seat.

“Usurper,” Sybok accuses, narrowing his eyes.

“Now, don’t tease your brother, Sybok,” Amanda chides, then inhales suddenly, bringing her hand up to her mouth. Instantly Sybok is kneeling by her feet, letting her grip his hand white-knuckled. She shakes her head, smiling down at him, though her eyes are over-bright. “I’m sorry. It’s just -- this feels so familiar.” Her smile fades. "Oh, darling. I'm so sorry."

"Manda, you haven't done anything to me," Sybok says.

"I believed them," she insists. "I thought terrible things about you, I didn't even question it. I--" she pulls one hand free and touches his forehead, his cheek. "It's the worst thing I could have done to you."

Sybok closes his eyes and turns his head away from her touch. "The worst thing you could have done -- either of you -- pales in comparison to the kindest thing done to me on Delta Vega."

Spock feels his stomach drop. "Did they harm you?"

This seems to irritate Sybok; he gets to his feet and stands before the empty fireplace. "You would think that, wouldn't you," he says, faintly accusing, with none of the humor of before. "'Harm.' It wasn't beatings, Spock, or water torture, or isolation chambers -- hell, I would've preferred that."

"What was it?" Amanda asks, quietly.

"Control," Sybok says. "Years and years and years of control and repression and bending my mind into the narrow pathways of Vulcan expectation. Every time I told a joke, or cracked a smile, or did anything, they pushed me back down and tried to mold me into this robotic simulacrum of myself.

"And the kicker is? I asked for all of it. Srogal came to see me right after I was taken into custody, do you know that? I made wild accusations, completely unfounded. Turns out they were the truth -- he said that I could fight the charges," he says, turning to Spock, "Or I could let you go free. Free to be a human on a human's world, rather than the broken Vulcan you would become. His words," he adds, then shakes his head. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry -- I don't want to tell you this."

"They exchanged Spock's freedom for yours?" Amanda asks, as though scarcely able to believe even Srogal capable of such a thing. "He was a child -- what could they have possibly charged him with?"

"The High Council voted against Spock's conception, when Father put it before the Council." Sybok tells her. "They'd been on the fence about him marrying Manda, but a baby? Your very existence was unlawful, according to them." Amanda inhales sharply, and he seems to remember her presence for the first time in several minutes. "I'm sorry, Manda. I didn't -- Father never told you because he never thought it would be an issue, he thought he could get it reversed. And he did, when Spock was seven or eight."

"The evaluations," Spock realizes. He remembers a row of frowning faces and long robes, watching him as he stood for hours on end answering questions, his feet sore and hot and his eyes heavy with fatigue. But Sarek had been the one asking the questions, and his pride in each right answer had been worth any price. "I thought they were simply another test."

"They were," Sybok tells him. "In a way." He sinks down into his chair, slumping down as though the fight has gone out of him.

There had been fight within him, Spock realizes -- anger had never been part of Sybok's makeup before, and now it seems to radiate from him.

Sybok says, as though reading his mind: "I never used to hate before, but I hate them. The whole planet -- if they all got swallowed up by the sun tomorrow, I wouldn't mourn a single one of them." He puts his hands over his face for a moment, breathing quietly.

"Do you hate us?" Amanda asks. Her tone is flat and straightforward, but there are tears on her cheeks; when Spock makes to rise up and join her on the couch, however, she holds up a hand to keep him still.

Sybok doesn't lower his hands for a moment; the silence is marked by the grandfather clock, cutting off long slices of seconds. "No," he replies at last. "I did, for a while -- I thought, how could my own family abandon me? Surely they must know.

"Then I met a young Vulcan, who'd been imprisoned for murder. Vanath. She was guilty; she accepted her sentence and talked about how she would have done it again. A flaw in her logic, the prison wardens said," he says wryly. "But her family came to see her every time a transport was available. They petitioned the command to release her; they did not believe she had done it, even with all the evidence and all the logic and the woman's own confession."

"But why did that make you hate us less?" Spock asks. "Surely--"

"It showed me that those you love aren't always the ones who know you best," Sybok answers. "I realized that that kind of blindness could cut both ways; and believing I was guilty when I was innocent was better than believing me innocent if I had been guilty."

"That is a strange conclusion," Spock says.

"Not logical, perhaps," Sybok says, and this smile is different than the ones he has offered today; tired and small and real. "But true. Besides, it’s over now.” He turns back to Amanda. “I’m home. And I’m safe.”

*

It cannot be so simple, of course. For one thing, the news of Sybok's release and Spock's involvement have become public knowledge in a matter of hours, and the media descend upon them en masse. While in Amanda's house, Spock is insulated from it; but when he steps outside that first evening, he is immediately surrounded, hemmed in on all sides and almost unable to breathe under the barrage of questions.

Spock remembers being recognized for a few weeks after he arrested Ambassador Imbelk a few years ago, and there have always been people who have known his name and his history before they know him. His mother has told him of the months after their arrival in San Francisco, how she was unable to step out of the house without being stared at. He has declined hundreds of requests for interviews -- he knows, distantly, that he is part of a famous family and has participated in widely publicized events.

But this is something else altogether -- there are reporters outside his home, three hundred and forty-seven messages on his console, all from people he does not know and does not care to meet. A human man attempts to force his way into Spock's home, possibly for an interview, possibly as part of an assassination attempt; either way, Spock disables him and calls the IDD to send someone to take care of it. Seventeen heavily armed men and women arrive a few minutes later; the sergeant in charge smiles at Spock's bemused expression. "Chief's orders," she says. "You can't get your beauty rest if you're worrying about people scaling the building in order to get a story out of you."

Spock nods and tries not to grit his teeth, but as he closes the door to his bedroom, he thinks suddenly of Iowa -- of the clean and empty space, the way people lived their own lives and showed minimal curiosity for his. He is surprised by how much he misses that, the scale of his days pared down to something manageable, something understandable.

As if that were not enough, there is still his family to put back together. Sybok is still angry, apparently at the entire galaxy; their conversation did nothing to sooth Sybok's rage toward those who incarcerated him, even though he seems to have come to terms with Amanda's and Spock's own part in it. He is afraid, too, another new development that makes Spock ache for the unnameable torments Sybok has suffered. There are glimpses of the Sybok they remember, and he seems to be bringing himself back from whatever ledge he had been driven to by Delta Vega. Even so, the next few days are exhausting, both for him and for his mother -- and no doubt for Sybok, too.

Although Sybok embraces them both when he goes to bed that first night, the next morning he refuses to leave his room, and Amanda and Spock spend hours sitting on the floor in the hallway, talking of harmless things. After a while, Sybok opens the door, but he makes no move to come out. Amanda simply smiles and continues talking; Spock watches Sybok relax gradually against the doorsill, even contributing occasionally to the conversation.

"How is Jim?" Amanda asks at one point. Sybok frowns and turns to Spock.

"He is well. He sends his regards," Spock says.

"Jim? Who's Jim? Oh my God," Sybok breathes, "You're blushing."

"I am not," Spock protests.

"You are, a bit," Amanda tells him.

Spock ignores them both. "Jim Kirk is my -- significant other. Or boyfriend. Or partner. Whatever term is the least likely to subject me to mockery."

Sybok laughs. "So you're in love?"

"He certainly is," Amanda says, before Spock can answer. "They met in Iowa a few years ago -- Spock arrested him. It was love at first sight, I think."

"Wait, Iowa?" Sybok demands, and the next several hours is spent in an agonizing verbal autobiography, with Spock having to stop seemingly every story he begins in order to explain something else. At the end of it, however, Sybok is sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea, and that counts as victory.

"So now, Mother," he says at long last, holding his own mug, "Perhaps you'd like to tell Sybok about Dr. McCoy?"

Amanda looks a little ill, and Sybok is already grinning.

*

The IDD formally clears Sybok of all charges on the third day, but the Vulcan ambassador makes an appearance at the hearing, and requests an opportunity to speak.

“Before Sybok, son of Sarek, was accused of the crimes for which he was found guilty on our planet,” he begins, standing stiffly and addressing the IDD commission, ignoring Sybok sitting a few meters to his right, “He was already beginning to spread seditious and damaging misrepresentations about our society, our very way of life. He is a dangerous individual who we find an unacceptable representation of what it means to be Vulcan. Therefore be it advised that though the IDD has permitted his liberty on Earth, he is from this time forward banished from Vulcan.”

Sybok snorts. Spock presses an elbow into his side, warningly.

“Additionally,” the ambassador says, “We will be issuing a formal protest against any testimony from either Sybok or Spock in the trials of T'Pau and Srogal. Their... suitability as reliable witnesses is a most serious--”

“Are you calling my brother a liar?” Sybok demands, trying to rise to his feet. Spock pulls him down.

The ambassador turns to regard Sybok. “Of course,” he says flatly. “He has every reason to conceal or distort the truth, and his time on Earth has doubtless made him susceptible to the weaknesses of his half-human heritage.”

Not for the first time, Spock is grateful that he prevailed upon his mother to absent herself from this hearing. Sybok is incensed, slamming his open palms against the table. “You have the gall to accuse my family of deceit and treachery after everything that your precious High Council has done--”

“That’s enough, Sybok,” says the head of the IDD. “Ambassador, we will take your applications under advisement, but as Sybok is a native-born citizen of Earth who has been found to be the victim of a most serious crime perpetrated by two of your citizens, we will be making our own determinations as to the suitability of any possible witnesses.”

“Very well,” the ambassador replies, and leaves without further discussion.

“They really think -- what, that banishment is some kind of punishment?” Sybok says later, as they make their way back to Amanda’s home. “What could possibly make them think I would ever want to come back to that -- festering ball of repression and shame and denial?”

Spock says carefully, “I agree that the High Council has done everything in its power to enforce a way of life that may not be sustainable. But I have found that, by and large, the people of Vulcan are not--”

Yes, they are,” Sybok snaps. “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations -- it’s a lie. It’s a lie they’ve told themselves so many times that it feels true, feels logical, but they’re so terrified of anyone showing them the truth that they’ll do anything to shut them up. Exhibit A,” he says, gesturing to himself.

“I found at least one ally while there,” Spock comments. “T'Pring was most helpful--”

“Because she wanted her sister’s death exonerated. Not because she cared about the truth.” He stops, his hands clenching and clenching. “I’m sorry, Spock. Perhaps we shouldn’t talk about this. I’m not -- logical -- when it comes to Vulcan.”

“It would be a point of concern if you were logical about anything,” Spock says, and Sybok laughs.

"That's the little brother I know and tolerate," he teases. "Come on, let's get home before Manda sends a Starfleet security detail to retrieve us."

Spock follows him out, into the weak sunshine of a San Francisco spring.