He is, she is told, half-Vulcan, and half-Human. His mother is a Human woman, whom T'Pring believes she can remember from clan gatherings (though it is possible it is a false memory, and that she is only transposing pictures of the woman into the sea of faces at those events). Looking down at the images now she thinks Amanda Grayson looks a kind woman, and not deserving of the mistrust and scorn T'Pring knows she receives (it ebbs like ink through her name whenever anyone speaks of her).
Ambassador Sarek is one of the most respected and prominent Vulcans in their clan, and indeed on Vulcan. As the Ambassador to Earth, he is consulted in all manner of things, and his opinions weigh heavy. He is also a member of the Vulcan Science Academy's Board of Admissions. Regardless of these facts, T'Pring can sense from her parents and from those around that there is something incorrect with his marriage to Amanda Grayson; that while T'Pring is being bonded to Spock because of its political and, indeed, monetary advantage, Spock himself is somehow… undesirable. In their minds, his name is the brown of Earth's dirt.
She cannot acquire fully-formed answers. Questions result in uncharacteristic hedging and minds slamming shut around her, and she realizes, as she is brought to the bonding ceremony, that she will have to discover what is so terrible about Spock herself. Very well. She lifts her chin under the enormous hairstyle and straightens her shoulders under the multiple layers of fabric that make up her elaborate gown.
He looks, at the ceremony, no different than any other Vulcan boy she has met. The dark, folding robes render him small, but her own hair is piled atop her head like a small mountain, and she can sense in him, even before the bond takes hold, the quiet resignation of one who has been dressed by one's parents.
It makes her like him before the ceremony is even complete.
They are left together in a solarium, likely closely monitered by their parents outside, to acclimate to the bond; to the presence of another mind closely linked with their own.
His mind feels like a tidal wave, and she does not think it is his lack of control; it is simply that his melding abilities and the strength of his mind therein are far greater than her own.
He takes, and she gives, gleaning little of him as they sit side by side, backs to the window. She does not know how long they sit like that, but at some point the onslaught slows to a cool ebb, like waves lapping against a shore.
"I think your father was perfectly correct in marrying your mother," she tells him as the sun sets and everything turns brilliant red. She is surprised to find that she is enjoying it, and then realizes that she is not—that Spock is the one of them who loves this time of day, and by proxy so does she, now.
He blinks at her, and he seems inclined to have her explain it, rather than to search her mind for the provocation. Which is just as well, as she is unsure of the provocation herself.
"Humans are Vulcan allies. Obviously we should have close relations: Ambassador Sarek was perfectly correct in marrying and fathering a child with a Human. Very logical," she adds, nodding to herself. Then she reaches up and pulls her hair out of its twisting growth atop her head, because it hurts, and she feels as though she is wearing abstract art on her head.
He looks at her, and then lifts an eyebrow, reaching up and helping her so that it does not tangle.
"Show me how to do that," she demands, reaching out and tracing the line of his eyebrow. Fascinating.
He tries. He pushes her eyebrow up with his finger, has her raise both and then pushes the other down, but it never works. She frowns and contorts her face in concentration, and soon he is collapsed in laughter, and she thinks to be annoyed, but then his mind flashes to her how she looks, and they both dissolve into fresh laughter.
She likes him, but she must teach him not to laugh so freely; happiness is not a dangerous emotion, but allowing one emotion to take over is to allow all to take over, and their people have come too far to be so unravelled.
It is difficult to navigate the bond; foods she used to like hold no appeal to her, and people whom she had once been fond of she now holds strange resentment towards.
The bond colors everything, and she is unsure of whether Spock feels the affects as strongly. When he picks up a cracker with cheese she realizes it does not: she dislikes Guuran cheese.
For a week she builds slow walls against it, tampered by her own reluctance. It feels like a secret between them, but her mother sits her down three days into slow pogress and says,
"T'Pring. I know that the bond makes you desire further closeness, but do not confuse loss of self with being close. You are T'Pring, he is Spock, and the two are joined, but not the same." Her fingers press a kiss to T'Pring's and she draws back, standing tall and outlined in the high Vulcan sunlight. She is calm and logical and strong, and T'Pring would someday be so. "I believe we will work on your mental defenses," Mother adds. "You seem weaker than he."
The words are shaded a sickly green and spiderwebbed angrily with black: her mother is disgusted that the half-Human, half-Vulcan Spock should be a better telepath than her full-Vulcan daughter.
T'Pring thinks to be resentful, but even though her mother wishes it were not so, Spock is there in the back of her mind, and T'Pring knows him.
Biology or no, Spock is her people. Her person.
"I shall flay them," she decides. They are nine, and she has just been informed of their fight; it would explain why she suddenly broke her stylus and saw red and black so strongly it overpowered her optic input for 2.5 seconds. "Given adequate vacuuming the Vulcan body can be drained of blood in 3.2 seconds."
He lifts an eyebrow at her, just because he can. She is onto him. "I do not need you to fight my battles for me."
"do not be absurd," she dismisses, sitting beside him and removing the cheese from her plate and taking from him the bread. "You are physiologically smaller than they— you were fortunate to catch them off-guard with your rage."
"I am stronger than they are," he maintains, splitting his lip again.
"You took advantage of their cowardice and attachment to non-action by countering with a vehement course of violent action." She raises her eyebrows at him. "You are bleeding."
"It is nothing."
"It is not logical to suffer so, unless of course this is part of the punishment, and the enduring of the physical wound is designed to act as a reminder not to participate in the course of action which garnered it in the first place."
He looks at her, and the looks is familiar already. "T'Pring."
"You talk too much."
It is a thank you, and she allows her shoulder to press against him briefly in an unspoken, "You are welcome." She takes her handkerchief and dabs green smears onto it, putting pressure on his lip.
He does not rise to the bait, but after The Incident no one baits him. They are frightened of him, if still resentful.
He stops laughing, and she is glad of it, but misses the clear ringing sound of it. Which is illogical, as it is clearly in his best interests for the laughter to be subdued to an amused shift of his eyebrow; a glint in his eyes which, she must admit, are very Human.
They are so dissimilar. She has a complacency in the conviction that she will never be turned away for what she is; he has never known that easy acceptance. She enjoys the company of many; he is solitary, and prefers his mother to any peer. She is content on Vulcan; she can feel in him a desire to fly and touch his fingertips to the stars yet undiscovered.
When they are eleven he hands her a necklace and identifies it as her mother's, though she has not told him it is her mother's, and has not consciously thought of it as such.
"How did you know it was my mother's?" she inquires, fastening it and placing a hand over the large, smooth stone.
"I just knew," he replies, and his words are honey-warm and complacent in her mind's eye. This is something he does not question, and why would he? She is, she admits to herself, envious of his abilities. She takes it as an opportunity to better herself; to strengthen her mental walls until he truly cannot glean from her what she does not wish him to have. Sometimes, even when she thinks she has succeeded, she finds she has failed, but she takes it as a personal challenge.
Once she has realized how adept he is, it occurs to her to look to their peers, and after careful examination of those around him, she realizes that they have all had such a moment: Spock knows that which he should not—even without physical contact he slides past walls which are not fully formed. There is a lesson there; it is an opportunity for growth, but she realizes that they—all the other children of their own clan and others— are resentful of Spock. He is half-Human, and logic would dictate that he would not be a skilled telepath—that he would not be able to function as a full-blooded Vulcan would.
And yet he does not just meld with other Vulcans with an ease that is enviable; she has seen him meld with animals, with other species of humanoids; with machinery. There is evidence that he is capable of psychometry as well—she would have to test it more thoroughly to know for sure, as it is possible that he truly is simply gleaning the thoughts of the individual in relation to the object.
He also excels academically. She simply watches with a faint smile lurking in the back of her mind as he catapults beyond the skills and aptitudes of his "peers" and even older students.
Even those instructors who resent him have no choice but to give him flawless marks, and she takes pleasure in his success.
Not all of their classmates resent him. T'Ren is a promiscuous twelve; fascinated by reproductive processes, especially interspecial reproductive processes. She makes no secret of this, carrying the datafiles openly, and as Spock is the only hybrid at the Academy it is no secret that her interests lay with him.
She touches Spock far too often, and the green flush that curls at the nape of his neck informs T'Pring all she needs to know, even if the bond did not allow her insight into a challenge from this intruder on what is hers.
T'Pring will not have it, and so she sits next to T'Ren during a study break. T'Ren looks up as though apprehensive.
T'Pring says nothing, simply sits across from T'Ren complacently, but allows her mind to broadcast all manner of terrible things—some of which T'Pring has in her power to do, and others so wildly imaginative their purpose is to add ambiance rather than be truly threatening in a realistic sense. When Spock comes in she touches his arm and presses a kiss to his first and second fingers. He raises an eyebrow at her, and she raises both of hers back.
T'Ren gets up, murmurs a polite excuse, and all but flees.
"That was a little more than necessary, do not you think?" he inquires wryly.
"Just enough," she retorts, and realizes she will have to smooth the bite from her voice.
T'Ren never comes near him again, and the word goes around; Spock is T'Pring's.
When they are 14 hormones and pheromones begin to take over, and suddenly they all discover why, every so often, a woman challenges her bondmate, or her bondmate asks for all to be dissolved, or why, after the first seven years, the two elect to find someone better suited.
T'Pring thinks it would be logical to get to know him intimately; to know how best to relieve him of his arousal in a quick manner for when Pon Farr descends; to enjoy the act herself, rather than to just satisfy him; to endure it passively and without pleasure. It is logical to be prepared, after all, and she will admit to biologically-driven curiosity. She does not find him unattractive.
But Spock seems unwilling, and though a flush curls at the back of his neck when she, through their bond, attempts to convey this, he replies that his studies are more pressing upon him. There is always an excuse.
She tries to recall, precisely, definitively, when he started slipping from her, retreating from her entirely at times.
She cannot recall the date or the time or even the month or year, but at some point between eleven and thirteen he did, and now she cannot find him at all sometimes, and the space of her mind which moved and made room for him echoes with the absence of him.
Other times she can sit next to him and let the calm of his mind wash over hers and soothe her, and she can offer him the same serenity. Sometimes it is as though nothing has changed, and they are united against the world and he is raising an eyebrow at her because he can, and she cannot. At those times, when they are bent over a physics problem, solving it together for the pleasure of doing so, it is as though nothing has changed; at other times it is as though everything has, and that there is no going back from here.
T'Pok and T'Priela inform her that their bondmates and they have investigated stimulating arousal; T'Puo has, apparently, pursued more intimate physical relations with Sannek, who is not her bondmate. T'Ren has made the rounds, and is said to keep a chart which tracks stamina, force of orgasm, mutual satisfaction, and size of the organ. T'Pring has no idea whether to be appalled or amused, but it helps to strengthen her resolve to get what she wants.
And as logical as the request may be, when she approaches him and says, "I wish to pursue an intimate relationship for the purposes of establishing a baseline understanding of your physiology," he lifts his eyebrow and says;
"Fascinating." As though that is an appropriate response.
"I was not aware that you felt as such. Thank you for explaining. When would you like to arrange for this series of datagathering sessions to begin?"
She looks at him, and there is a sterile blue to his words, as shriveling disinterest as effective as a drought which turns all that was once lush to barren desert, and she no longer is so interested. The reciprocal nature of enjoyment in a feedback loop was imperative, she had found through inquiry. Undoubtedly his reluctance and scientific approach to mating would make the event less pleasurable (T'Ren has arduously assured them all that enthusiasm makes up for a multitude of failings, and T'Puo, who is far more reliable, has corroborated that finding), and therefore why engage in it if not for Pon Farr and the purpose of reproduction? She realizes that intimate, sexual relations between she and Spock will be relegated to the realm of necessity, not pleasure.
She declines to set a date, and they do not speak of it again.
She does not experiment with any of the others, however, though there are offers. There are minds which open in subtle invitations, an odd shock of fantasy when she brushes a hand reaching for a stylus or a datafile. Some of their peers are very imaginative, if not altogether based in reality (the Vulcan body, and indeed most likely no humanoid body, can bend in that way). They make heat pool at the base of her spine and in her abdomen
She is not willing to give up on she and Spock, not when she is still very fond of him, and when their childhoods were built upon this; designed to create a foundation for their future together.
She still takes pride in his academic excellence, and he gratifies her with a raised eyebrow when she wins recognition for her theories on morality and logic as relating to Surak's own teachings. The space in her mind, so frequently empty, warms with the red heat of sunset which she will always associate with him, and in those moments she supposes they will be fine.
She reasons that perhaps he is shy; perhaps being a hybrid has rendered him malformed in some way; perhaps he wishes to wait to know himself before he will know her; sexual closeness often triggers the bond to blow wide open, and he has become—no, he has always been—very private. His thoughts are his own, and what he shares he shares deliberately and with great forethought.
It is a very Human sentiment; to know oneself before knowing another. The entire purpose of having a bondmate at seven is to have someone with whom you are entirely invested in; to ensure that Pon Farr is successful and the blood burning is sated; that the coupling and marriage are stable, and thus the society is. To know oneself as defined by one's bondmate is the norm; she and Spock are becoming an exception, a strange, unexpected anomaly as their peers drift closer to their bonded, she and Spock drift further apart—and she is helpless to stop it.
And sometimes, when she steps back and looks at them in a purely analytical way, she does not want to stop it.
They are fifteen when the news of Tarsus IV ripples like a shockwave through the Federation. Colonization projects are abruptly put on hold, and T'Pring, with a certain morbid fascination, cannot stop watching the live stream holovids as survivors are catalogued, as Kodos' body is removed, as Winona Kirk grips the phaser that ended Kodos' life as though she wishes that she could end it a second time. The voice accompanying the 'vid informs her that Kirk's youngest son is a survivor.
Spock finds her in the concave she has claimed, and he stands behind her, watching as a camera swings past, and then jerks back to, two young males.
Both are humanoid, likely Terran; one brown-haired and one blond. The brown-haired one has his arms wrapped around the smaller blond in a protective gesture which fiercely ignores the entire external world, as though the boy in his arms is his world, metaphorically speaking. They are, improbably, sitting in the middle of the landing area for shuttlecraft, and completely oblivious to what is going on around them. Their facial similarities suggest that they are most likely brothers; the blond looks utterly vacant.
"My mother is sending out an invitation to those children who have survived. She believes that the application of logic might offer them a serenity they may not find otherwise."
"It is an admirable thought," Spock agrees, which is neither an endorsement nor dismissal. She turns to look at him, and after a moment he looks at her, the image of the boys reflected in eyes which should be easy to read but never are.
"It was not morally permissable," she says, testing a boundary she thinks she has found. T'Pol is this ruthlessly logical; morality is secondary to the good of the many. Sometimes Spock reminds her of T'Pol.
"There is a logic to it, however."
"The good of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one," he says seriously, and there is a faint grey in his voice with a strongly throbbing blue line: he means what he says.
"That is appalling," she informs him. "That makes you no better than those children who once mocked you for your heritage."
"I do not condone—"
"Spock," she interrupts, and she is striving to maintain her calm but she is angry, and she has not been angry in so long it tastes foreign. "Your father is going to Earth. Could you not go with him?"
"I have no desire to visit the planet," he replies, moving past her and up the stairs. "I will stay with my mother."
She did not mean to say it—does not mean it to be taken in a negative way. He is simply ignoring one facet of his biology, and as he changes and shifts into someone she does not know, she wishes that he would find something to trigger a regression of sorts. He performs admirably, always.
But he is no longer hers.
She does not think he is even his mother's, or his own. He belongs to his conflicts and struggles. She does not know how to remind him that, before Surak, Vulcan belonged to its conflicts and struggles and nearly destroyed itself.
He blows up a lab.
They are 16, and he blows up an entire wing of labs. Professor Sacchek emerges singed and smoking, but Spock is in the dining hall and no one can directly point the finger at him.
That does not mean that she does not know of his guilt, cannot feel the vicious warm curl of satisfaction tinged with deep greens and reds, a feeling so strong that he cannot seem to keep it from transmitting through their bond.
She does not ask him, and he does not offer the information, does not let her into his confidence as he once would. But then, perhaps the fault is with her; she would have sat beside him and forced the tale out of him, assured him that she was on his side because she could not countenance being anywhere else.
They are growing apart, and there seems to be little she can do to stop it.
He is driven; he will someday be the best of them all, but she finds herself wondering… if she wants to be the wife of the best. If she is willing to settle for duty, for honor and a politically intelligent alliance void of a present husband. This, she knows is the true crux of the matter: even when he is present, he is not there, his mind pulled away into the stars to where she has neither desire nor inclination to follow.
He rarely socializes with any of them; he recognizes the resentment and fear in the rest of their peers; the distrust of the multitudes, and rather than thrust himself against their bigotry he instead outdoes them all, and then goes back to his home. He is very close with his mother—everyone knows that to insult Amanda Grayson is to inspire the wrath of Spock, and no one wants that. He is not a child, and will not attack them physically (though apparently he might blow up their offices with them inside), but as Vulcans discovered so long ago physical violence is not the only way to exact vengeance.
There was a young human telepath her mother dealt with who had looked at T'Pring solemnly and said, "I can kill you with my brain."
It was nonsense, of course: the child's abilities were like a whisper in a room full of people shouting, but she has of late looked at Spock and thought: He could kill us with his brain.
And yet still there are small moments, as they both sit in the library as she looks through biology files and medicinal journals and he, more and more frequently, reads on the philosophies of Surak instead of the planetary and astrological informational texts, where he is flickers into being as her old Spock.
"Do you wish to be the next Surak?" she inquires, partially facetious and partially genuinely curious.
"Without Surak's teachings Vulcans would be as warlike as we suppose Romulans to be. The predisposition to feel emotions with violence and within an instant is inherent in all Vulcans, and thus… it is necessary to meditate and practice strong self-control."
"Yes," she agrees, placing down her file and looking at him.
"I am half-Human," he says. "My burden is greater; I will attempt to complete the Kolinahr."
She does not say that she thinks he is attempting to prove for the last time his worth in Vulcan society; to become one or the other when biologically he is neither Human nor Vulcan.
But as she has not ever experienced such a crisis of identity, she does not say as much; she has always ever been entirely Vulcan. Her perspective is one of privilege and she is aware of it and how negative his response would be and how utterly unappreciated the comment would be. She does know that he has struggled with the conflict for all the time she has known him; if this will settle him she cannot say anything against it.
"I am sure you will excel if you have truly decided upon this course," she says. He is already surpassing many of their peers in his control over his emotions.
But Spock does not settle for excellent when he could have within tenths of percentages of perfection.
She watches him go after what he wants with a determination that borders on obsessiveness, and 16 fades into 17, which becomes 18 without her noticing the appreciable passage of time.
She turns to her own studies, and yet, by the time she is twenty, she finds that she is tired of defending Spock. She loves him dearly—she would house his katra and grieve him were he lost, but she is finding herself having difficulty being so defined by Spock.
She is 18 when she meets Stonn.
He is not of their clan, and he is not aesthetically appealing; his ears stick out from his head, which is flat on the top, and his nose droops slightly, but his mind is vibrant purples and the green of the plants which grow in the oasis gardens. His mind is open, and he is not persistent, and there are no fantasies thrust at her, and a flush curls at the nape of his neck as he catches and holds her gaze.
The first time they kiss it is an almost accidental brush of fingers, his sliding against hers. She feels heavy and warm, her breathing evening and slowing and the space at the base of her mind fills with the vibrant colors of Stonn's mind. It is not the mind she is used to, and it is no replacement for Spock—even without the bond, Spock's mind will always be more vibrantly enigmatic—but it is open and without any pretext other than attraction and respect.
As the flirtation stretches into months, she tells her mother of it.
Her mother smoothes her hand over T'Pring's hair and says, "It is logical to experiment with others. If becoming S'chn T'gai Spock's mate is distasteful, then you have the right to challenge it. Why not discover now, while you are young, whether you would like to, rather than be surprised when the time comes."
T'Pring looks at her, and Mother presses a kiss to her fingertips fondly. "It is remarkable to me that it has taken you so long to come to this point where another has caught your attention."
"I am loyal." She feels defensive; protective of him. The image all of Vulcan seems to have of him is so at odds with the reality she knows, even if he is a solitary, driven man, Spock is still exceptional and worthy of respect and not their fear and bigotry.
"Your affection for him may be strong, but consider, T'Pring: is this affection romantic and sexual in nature, or affectionately platonic and familial?"
It is, of course, the problem exactly. 11 years of being bonded is more than half of her life thus far. She does not know how to be without him in the back of her mind, and now that she is examining it, perhaps it is cowardice. Perhaps she clings to a boy she knew, who used to laugh until she taught him not to, who told her she spoke too much and who went out with his pet into the wilderness despite warnings against it, who melded with technology in order to fix her computers for her. She does not know this man, who is quietly self-contained, whose only confidant is his mother; who has a chip on his shoulder wider than the planet.
Her loyalty is to their past, but she feels no… future with him.
She seeks Stonn out, pushes him back into his apartment and kisses him. It is clumsy, and clinical, but exhilarating somehow. She feels…
She feels as though she is not doomed and heavy with responsibility, with only part of her life stretching before her with any appeal. No longer are her studies the things which bring her joy and satisfaction. Stonn expects her to be responsible for nothing, and she has no cause to be. He is not bound to her, nor she to him—their coming together is not one chosen by their parents or clan politics, but one of choice. She did not realize how liberating that would be.
She does not think of Spock at all for an entire weekend; it is as though the bond has gone dead, though of course it has not. It has simply lapsed from