The message arrived while I was working late, going over the arrangements for the next week's conference on admission procedures for new Federation member worlds. I admit to reading the message signal twice to assure myself it really was from my son. I could not recall the last time he had addressed a communication to me rather than his mother. I made a mental note to run a diagnostic on Amanda's computer account and make sure that messages intended for her could reach her.
The message was admirably brief; Spock is not given to using more words than are necessary.
Greetings, Father. I would ask you to come to Earth, if you can. On our last mission, I was badly injured in the performance of my duty. In anticipation of my death, I performed the vre'katra with the only one present, Dr. McCoy. Now I find that I am not skilled enough to sever the link.
For a reason which I will explain to you when you arrive, I cannot see a healer. You will see the logic of my position when you arrive. While I realize you have many obligations on Vulcan, I hope you will come as soon as you can, as the strain on McCoy seems considerable.
I hope that you will not worry Mother by informing her of my injuries, as Dr. McCoy predicts that I will make a full recovery.
I considered this.
I saved the work I had been doing and closed down my computer terminal. I went to the comm unit and called home.
After a minute, Amanda answered. She was in her office, a cup of tea perched in front of her; she had clearly been working too.
"Sarek," she said, smiling.
"My wife, something unexpected has come up. I must leave for Earth immediately. I hope to be back in a few days." Amanda shook her head with a resigned smile. This was not so unusual as to arouse her suspicion.
"Well, if it must be, it must be. I have a lot to do this week-"
"There is no reason why both of us should have our work disrupted." I let a hint of the frustration I felt slip into my voice, knowing it would be misinterpreted. "I will return as soon as I can."
"Do," she said, her eyes meeting mine, and then reached to flip the switch, and the screen went dark. I wished for a moment that I had told her the truth, and then dismissed the idea. Spock was right; it would only have alarmed her to hear that he had once again been nearly killed.
It took several hours to arrange passage to Earth, but once aboard the courier ship the journey was swift and uneventful. I spent time in meditation, trying to master my irritation at the fact that my son had not explained his reasoning. I found that I had little faith in his logic.
Upon our arrival, I sent an aide to make my excuses at the Embassy, increasing his confusion over the reasons for this trip, and placed a call to Spock's residence.
There was, after several minutes, no answer.
It occurred to me that he might be still in Starfleet Medical, and then that he might be on duty, although the latter seemed inadvisable. Neither was apparently the case. At Starfleet Medical a yeoman explained that he had been discharged the day before, which was somewhat reassuring as to his physical condition. However, he was nowhere to be found.
There were a limited number of places he was likely to be. I considered which was most likely, and eventually called the residence of Admiral Kirk.
Kirk answered fairly quickly.
"Ambassador Sarek," he said. He looked as though he had been expecting the call.
"I must speak with my son, at once."
"Of course," he said, and left, leaving the viewer on. After what seemed like an unnecessarily long time, Spock appeared. He was in civilian clothes, and looked like he was under a great strain that he was fighting not to reveal. He met my eyes, challengingly.
"I am here," I said. "Are you ready to explain all this?"
"If I must," he said. "But perhaps it would be better to undo the link first."
"Your logic is impeccable," I said. "I will be there momentarily. Sarek out."
I made my way quickly to the Bay, and found Kirk's apartment, high up in a building much like one where Amanda and I had lived for several years. I pressed the door signal and waited with limited patience. Finally it was opened, by Kirk.
"Come in, Ambassador," he said. "Thank you for coming."
"One does not thank logic," I said. "McCoy is here?"
"They're both here," he said, and lowered his voice. "I wanted to keep an eye on them." McCoy was sitting on the couch, focusing on the cup of coffee in his hands in a way that suggested deep exhaustion. Spock was pacing, although I am sure he would not have used the term to describe walking aimlessly about the apartment.
"Greeting, Doctor," I said. "Spock."
"Why don't I let you talk about this," Kirk said pointedly, and retired to the kitchen, taking the brandy glasses on the table with him.
"Why have you not summoned a Healer?" I asked as soon as he had left the room. Spock hesitated visibly, glancing at McCoy.
"Don't mind me," the doctor said, his accent heavier than usual. He did not look at all well, and it occurred to me for the first time that perhaps Spock was not at his most clearheaded.
"Obviously this will take time to explain. Let us do that later," I said. "Come, Spock. I will see what I can do to help you."
He sat, stiffly. I was not at all confident of my ability to help. Spock did not trust me, and he was not accustomed to the touch of my mind.
"Perhaps privacy-" Spock began. McCoy rose quickly.
"I'll go see if Jim can use some help in the kitchen."
"Very well," I said. "I will have to meld with you later, to insure that there is no lasting harm done."
"I'd be just as happy to skip that part," he said.
"It is for your own good, Doctor."
He shook his head.
"I remember saying something like that to you when you were my patient, and you didn't take it very well, as I recall."
I raised an eyebrow deliberately. "I have never heard it said that doctors make good patients."
"We make rotten patients," he said. "But I'll try to behave." He looked less afraid than he had, which was good. I waited until he had gone, and then turned back to my son.
I looked at him, a silent question, and he nodded permission. I arranged my fingers carefully on his face, finding the meld points. It had been over a decade since we had touched.
"My mind to your mind . . . my thoughts to your thoughts . . ."
It was strange, alien, being in his mind, as though he were a stranger.
Father. The thought colored with conflicting emotions: resentment, shame, a sense of resignation that held the other two at bay. Surprise at my concern.
I am your father, Spock.
I cannot fix it. The ghost of his memory, a computer problem he could not solve as a child, admitting defeat. The memory pushed coldly aside.
I tried to see what was wrong without invading his mind too deeply. There was something he was trying to keep from me, like a black curtain drawn across his mind. I tried to keep away from it, with difficulty. He saw that I was doing so, and helped, with easy strength.
Guide me, then . . . He did so, steadily, with what could have been a Healer's touch. I saw the disruption, the vre'katra link bleeding his energy away like water spiraling down a drain. One end led to McCoy, his personality reflected in it like fragmented images in a mirror. The other end-
I followed it, deeper into his mind than I had ever gone, and was nearly blinded by sudden, golden, breathtaking light. There was the link, yes, but it was a pale shadow next to the steady light of my son's bond.
I had thought him unbonded. I had spent countless hours discussing the matter with Amanda. It had caused her grief to think that he was unhappy, alone. I turned in darkness, seeking Spock's thoughts again.
Why have you sought to keep this from me? Who is she?
Before the thought was completed, I knew. Whom had I called when I could not find my son?
You see now why I could not go to a Healer, he thought, the words dripping bitterness. It would shame you, and the House, to have this known. And a Healer would try to break the bond.
I was sure he had not meant the last thought for me. I was barely managing to keep a sense of myself as a separate person, to realize that his shame and defiance were not my own.
You must control, or I cannot help you.
The emotion was cut off as he clamped his control down hard. I tried to ignore the bond entirely, focusing on the vre'katra link. It could be severed, thus . . . there was a feeling of something snapping. It brought both pain and relief.
I pulled out of the link, felt him pulling away even harder.
I am Sarek, Sarek . . .
" . . . am Spock," I heard him say tightly as my hand pulled away from his face.
There was a profound and prolonged silence.
"Send McCoy to me," I said eventually. Spock left the room, without replying. McCoy came in a moment later, looking troubled.
"What happened to him?" he said, looking at me with some suspicion. I sighed inwardly.
"My son and I have family matters to resolve. I assure you, this will not harm you."
"Why am I not comforted by hearing someone say 'This won't hurt a bit?'" McCoy sat, gingerly, on the sofa, and held perfectly still as I made the meld.
He seemed shaken but unharmed, and I cleared away the remaining traces of the link easily. When I released him, he relaxed, and then looked startled, as though anticipating pain that was not there.
"That's better. A lot better," he said. "Thanks."
"You are welcome. Sit still for a minute and rest." I stood and walked into the kitchen, hesitating only for a moment at the closed door.
" . . . don't look all right," Kirk was saying. "What did he say?" Spock was sitting at the kitchen table, not meeting Kirk's eyes; they both looked up with guilty expressions when they saw me.
"Yes, Father?" Spock said, calmly. There was a depth of defiance in those two words that took me back to his teenage years, just before we had ceased to speak at all.
"Do you not wish me for me to ensure that your bondmate has not been harmed?" Spock slowly nodded. I turned to Kirk, who was frowning.
"What are you talking about?" Spock made a slight gesture, drawing his glance.
"My father is right. You . . . are at risk," he said, looking at his hands.
"Why?" I did not care, at that point, whether Spock had failed to explain the ramifications of the vre'katra to Kirk or whether he had explained and Kirk had failed to understand.
"It is necessary," I said. "As my son agrees." Kirk looked at Spock, not me, and slowly nodded as well.
"All right. You can explain later," he said. He looked up at me. "Do it, then."
I touched the meld points on his face. "My mind to your mind . . ."
He seemed unharmed, the bond not disrupted by the outside link.
What is that? I could feel Kirk's presence, looking with some bemusement at the golden strand of his bond as I saw it. What's going on?
I found myself respecting his bright strength despite myself. Spock must not have explained . . .
Must not have explained what?
Any outside link can place a strain on a bond.
What bond? What has all this got to do with me?
You do not know. A coldness came over me at the idea. I reached for a deeper link, sorting through his memories, trying to ignore his discomfort as I did so. He was my son's bondmate, but he knew nothing of it, only of a sense of closeness he never questioned. He was my son's bondmate, but he had never been his lover.
I managed to control my anger until the link between us was broken. I turned to Spock.
"This is criminal," I said. "This is unconscionable. I will not permit you to perpetuate this travesty. You will tell him, or I will."
"Tell me what?" Kirk said. "What in the hell is going on here?"
Spock looked at him, and then turned away.
"It does not matter," he said. "Do what you will."
I looked at Kirk. "If he will not tell you, come to me. If he will not free you, if that is your wish, come to me. I will see that it is done. Do you understand?"
"No, not really," he said. "But I would appreciate it if you left so I can figure this out. In private."
"Of course." I walked back into the living room where McCoy was. "You should go home," I said. "I will drive you, if you wish." He looked as if he were about to protest, looking at the kitchen. "Admiral Kirk and my son have a great deal to discuss."
McCoy looked startled, and then somewhere between worried and amused.
"It's like that, is it?" He shook his head. "Hope you know what you're doing."
"As do I," I said. "Are you ready?"
"Sure. Let me get my coat."
I was beginning to think I should have brought Amanda after all.