The day had just started its measured, dignified bow toward evening when Spock stepped from the shady cap of the school’s side entrance into the open terrace of its sunlight-drenched yard. He walked unhurriedly toward the parapet and placed his hands on the thick terracotta barrier, savoring its warmth. The school building was situated high upon a hill, allowing a spectacular view of the city below.
Spock gazed upon it contentedly, his sharp eyes picking up the curves of the streets. They were so ancient that the logical geometry of modern architecture shied away from their unpredictable lines and inexplicable corners. It led to some peculiar misalliances at times – making a technologically sophisticated skyscraper share ground with an old temple or a library or a private residence that had stood there since before Surak. This part of the city, though, remained out of bounds for any innovations, preserved as a monument to the capital’s long and colorful history.
Spock liked it best.
From his observation point, he could see the teashop that he favored two streets below and the bakery around the corner. The two establishments were engaged in a not precisely logical feud over customers, which the whole neighborhood suspected was a poorly disguised attempt at courtship between Zarrin, the woman who ran the bakery, and Benad, the teashop owner. Spock was as oblivious as any male at first, so he had Reya to thank for his enlightenment, but once it was pointed out, the situation became very obvious.
Zarrin would come to the teashop to start the almost daily debate about the logical division of street space they both used for outdoor tables, and her arguments as well as Benad’s counterarguments would inevitably lead to yet another appeal to the city council. At the same time, Benad would walk past the bakery every morning to find out the day’s specialty, and Spock noted, as did many others, that there would inevitably be a beverage to go along perfectly with whatever Zarrin was making at the bakery later that day. Once she found out that Benad’s loch’a ice tea wasn’t selling very well, Zarrin started making spice cookies with melting hot custard, which begged to be savored in combination with the frostbiting flavor of loch’a roots.
The whole affair was decidedly illogical, but no one seemed to mind very much, and Spock certainly didn’t. The biscuits were delicious.
His gaze slid further to the right, resting for a moment on a somewhat shabby house at the corner of the square. The young Vulcan couple that lived there did not have enough funds to order proper repairs because, unlike most of their colleagues, they didn’t create their paintings with the use of holographic technology, but used old-fashioned canvas instead. They exhibited their works on the street in front of their house, and while most Vulcans found the whole idea unreasonable, Spock had noticed many times that the passers by would stop and remain still for awhile, transfixed by the pictures.
Something shimmering caught his eye, and Spock looked over to the center of the small square. There was a huge kal-toh set positioned directly in the middle, just by the fountain. Two elderly Vulcans were standing beside it, posed in contemplation. One of them had just made a move that led to the structure attaining a new form, glimmering under the sun.
As Spock watched, a child ran toward the fountain, dipped his hands in the water and splashed his palms against its surface, sending sparkling droplets everywhere. Spock saw a young woman bowing to the kal-toh players, asking to excuse her son, and then she and the boy proceeded up the street to the china store.
Spock sighed almost dreamily. He knew perfectly well that the fountain was built in the place of the ancient well that people used to get water from long before the industrial age. Later, at the beginnings of the industrialization, a fountain was built in its place to signify the wealth of the Shi’Kahr city and the prosperity of its dwellers. The same fate awaited all the other communal wells, and the capital remained one of the very few cities to display open water now, many centuries later.
Spock had known this since he was a child, but the tangible feeling of history never grew old for him. He was grateful that his father decided not to move to one of the modern, perhaps more comfortable cities. Everywhere Spock looked, he saw not only present-day Vulcan, heavily loaded with technology, but many past generations as well, and it fascinated him.
When he was younger, Spock used to picture ancient warriors in purple cloaks and shining armor walking those streets as they headed for battle. Or the murky, kaleidoscopic days of Surak’s Revolution, when the rebels fought for logic, unarmed, against the regular army. Or the famous lyre playing contests of the days of Shi’Van – Vulcan renaissance – still echoing between the buildings’ walls, permanently recorded into the stones of the pavement.
Vulcans did not approve of daydreaming, but the city was two thousand five hundred years old, and Spock was too much a part of its stones and lanterns and its invisible rhythm to be immune to its deep, guttural call. He was born of this city. He might have been half-human, but he could not have been any more connected, any more rooted to this place than he already was.
A subtle increase of noise from the lower level of the school yard made Spock aware that the morning classes were over. Spock had been continuously testing out of his age group ever since he was eight. Consequently, he was now in the graduating class despite being just fifteen. He was only required to attend several courses a week and devoted the rest of his time to individual study. The Vulcan educational system was designed to enable students to be completely autonomous as early as possible, favoring an institute of advisors rather than teachers.
Students from the regular morning classes were filing out onto the lawn below Spock. He watched them idly until he spotted Tepan with his customary gloomy expression, and beside him – Reya. Spock experienced a slight increase in the rhythm of his pulse and berated himself immediately for the lack of control.
She was not as beautiful as T’Pring. Reya was shorter and more sturdily built, where T’Pring was tall and slender to the point of seeming ethereal. Reya’s hair was cut short in challenge to the aristocratic fashion of the noble houses; thick and shiny, it appeared as though her head was crowned by a stormy cloud, sending electric-blue sparkles across the midnight black every time she moved her head. Her eyes were grayish green, a rare color for Vulcans, and the brave upswing of her eyebrows made her look like a pirate girl from one of the old Earth novels Spock had read. She was quick in motions and graceful enough to never seem awkward, but she didn’t walk into the room as if she owned it, the way T’Pring did.
Spock frowned mentally at himself. He really should break the habit of running this kind of comparison. Reya was betrothed and so was he, and while there was no harm in friendship, her relative attractiveness should not be the subject of his musings at any point. It was irrelevant.
Spock watched her look around curiously as she strode into the lawn, her lips curling slightly in her customary welcoming expression, and suppressed a sigh. Reya was attractive, and it was anything but irrelevant.
As if his unruly emotions were not humiliating enough, Reya chose this very moment to look upward and catch Spock staring. He blushed slightly, but managed to respond to her polite nod without doing something utterly embarrassing, such as averting his eyes. He could at least act responsible for his actions.
Besides, she didn’t look away, either.
Spock’s attention was momentarily diverted by Sevak, his advisor, who had been occupied when Spock had approached him earlier to ask about his thesis.
“Your theory is intriguing,” Sevak said, after they had exchanged ceremonial greetings. “However, the research method you propose is quite unorthodox.”
Spock stiffened in the intervening pause between them. “Indeed. Then you do not recommend I pursue this?”
The elder Vulcan peered at him with a mildly hesitant expression on his face. “I did not say that. But you must realize that the school’s resources are limited. While your theorizing might be convincing, you will not be able to prove your postulations with empiric data.”
“I have calculated that it would only take sixty-four point seven man-hours at the Vulcan Science Academy level four laboratory to collect the required data,” Spock said, a bit more hastily than he intended.
Judging by the imperceptible shift in Sevak’s expression, he’d noticed Spock’s lack of control as well.
“That may be,” the advisor said coolly, “but as a student with no scientific rank, you would not have access to any of the VSA facilities above level two.”
Spock bowed his head, fighting embarrassment and disappointment, which must have been showing on his face. What a way to cap his humiliation.
“I am aware of that,” he said, trying to sound calm rather than subdued. “If you recommend I change the topic of my research, I shall heed your counsel.”
“I do not,” Sevak said flatly. “I did, however, send a missive over to the VSA recommending you to be allowed the access you need as a junior researcher.”
Spock’s head snapped up so fast it was almost painful. “You did?” That was an honor he could never hope for. Taking hold of his reaction, Spock bowed his head respectfully. “I am grateful for the opportunity, Advisor Sevak.”
Sevak regarded him with wry amusement. “I am not doing my colleagues at the VSA any favors,” he said in a quieter tone, as if talking to himself. “You are an exceptionally gifted student, Spock. Trying to keep up with you could prove too agile an exercise for some of our more... traditional minds.”
Spock, having recovered himself, looked at the older Vulcan uncertainly. “If you perceive my being there problematic—”
Which, honestly, would not be the first time. It wasn’t that Spock didn’t respect his mentors – he just spent a great deal of time disagreeing with them. The fact that he usually managed to prove his point, given an opportunity, did not endear him to the conservative ranks of Vulcan scientific elite.
Vulcan society did value truth or knowledge, but it was highly structured and organized, with each brick occupying its uniquely designated space. Spock was merely a schoolboy, talented or not. He had no scientific regalia to compete with the professors at the VSA. Thus, the fact remained that it was not his place to show independent thought before he had spent decades of studying under one scientific authority or another.
“No, I do not.” Sevak gave the slightest of sighs. “I believe that your being there is exactly what that institution requires.”
Spock looked up for explanation, but Sevak dismissed him with a tiny shake of his head, leaving him to ponder his advisor’s meaning alone.
Spock most certainly did not flinch, but his heart seemed to skip a beat as he turned to see Reya standing in front of him. Tepan was shifting from foot to foot behind her, seeking to appear as an inanimate object as much as possible.
“Greetings, Reya.” Spock bowed to her. “Tepan.”
The boy nodded stiffly, and Spock felt another pang of guilt. He was always uneasy around Tepan, even though the latter had never shown any trace of emotion of any kind in Spock’s presence.
“Our classes are concluded for today,” Reya said, stepping closer to Spock and watching him inquiringly. “We were considering a trip to Penan’s teashop.”
Spock raised an eyebrow, remembering. “It was supposed to host a poetry debate today, if I am not mistaken?”
“Indeed, you are not.” Reya smiled subtly. “It would please us if you would accompany us there.”
Spock flushed a little, his eyes sliding involuntarily toward Tepan. The feeling of guilt intensified as he saw that Tepan was not even looking either at his bondmate-to-be or Spock, but was surveying the view of the city below them with his customarily absent air.
“Unless you have other engagements,” Reya added as an afterthought, her hand fumbling with the ribbons of her belt.
Spock swallowed. “I have no prior engagements. I would be honored to accompany you.”
The fleeting relief on Reya’s face was a reward in itself. Spock suppressed another sigh, falling in step with her, as the three of them headed down.
Spock had known Tepan since they were both four years of age. Tepan was a son of Prin, Sarek’s housekeeper. The boys hadn’t exactly grown up together – more in view of each other. Modern Vulcan society did not acknowledge class differentiation, but members of the old houses were still easily identifiable and respected above others, and Spock belonged to the noblest house on Vulcan: the House of Surak.
If Vulcans still recognized aristocracy, Spock’s family would have been considered royalty. In the eighteen centuries that had passed since Surak’s time, the line had never once been broken. All the males traditionally received inherited names, all starting with an ‘S’ and consisting of five letters. Likewise, all the females were distinguished by a suffix signifying privilege – a ‘T’ in front of their names. On Vulcan, there was no mistake in recognizing people’s origins after they introduced themselves.
It did not, however, occur to Spock to object to Tepan’s company on the grounds of class, of which he, in any case, had no conscious knowledge at the time. It was just that Tepan was a little slow and a little indifferent to really respond to Spock’s reaching out to him. While Vulcans considered any display of emotion distasteful, they did not deny the merit of controlled emotions. Most Vulcans were curious by nature, hence the species’ general predilection toward science, and Vulcan children were considered insufferable by many galactic races for their insatiable curiosity and zeal for knowledge.
Tepan showed none of these qualities. Nor did he reveal any inclination toward arts or physical exercise. Spock’s childhood was a relatively isolated one, given the location of Sarek’s residence, and any social interaction with his peers that did not result in open hostility was precious to him, so he tried. Nothing worked with Tepan, but Spock did not abandon his attempts for some time.
Resentment toward the ‘half-breed’ from other children was illogical, but persistent, and Spock got used to working without a partner in any of his school projects very early on. One exceptionally hot spring afternoon, however, he noticed a dull-looking Tepan who was left without a partner as well. That had never happened before, and when Spock asked him for a reason, Tepan looked at him with an almost-expression of unhappiness.
‘They do not want to work with me because of you,’ he said, staring at Spock with his oddly empty eyes. ‘They assume I am your friend.’
Spock blinked, and blinked again, as the full implication hit him. He was five years old and his dream of having a playmate ended there and then. Without another word, he went in search of Tepan’s abusers, meaning to clarify things once and for all. He came home that day with a split lip and bruised knuckles. He had never offered his friendship to anyone but I-Chaya ever since.
Spock and Tepan exchanged no more than a greeting for years after that, until they were fourteen and Tepan’s mother asked Spock if he could help her son out with math. Spock tutored several younger children at school and saw no logical reason to deny the request.
Their tutoring sessions were very strained, and it was then that Spock discovered what exactly Amanda meant when she said, not unkindly, that Tepan ‘was not very bright.’ It was Spock’s endless patience, more than anything else, which allowed Tepan to pass midterm exams that year. After that, their arrangement became unnecessary, to the unspoken relief of both parties.
Several weeks later, Tepan introduced Spock to his betrothed, Reya.
‘Tepan tells me you are the one who beat me in the semi-finals of the arts competition last year,’ she said, startling Spock with the open, good-natured challenge in her eyes that glinted brightly and amiably. ‘I had not realized that it was due to the fact that you are so aesthetically pleasing yourself.’
Stunned, Spock realized that he was speaking before he had any idea of what he was saying.
‘If that criterion carried any weight, I would not have been allowed to enter the competition, for you would have been declared winner.’
Horrified at himself, he nonetheless felt vindicated as a delicious blush spread over Reya’s cheeks. They talked about arts, music, and literature for an hour and a half in the hospitable shade of the schoolyard trees. In all that time, Tepan did not utter a word.
At that point, Spock’s social skills were a strange combination of over- and underdeveloped. As a son of a Federation Ambassador, he was schooled in dozens of social guidelines practically from the moment he learned to talk. Sarek considered it necessary to occupy as much of his son’s time with studying as possible, and, in his view, diplomatic education was an ideal outlet for Spock’s excessive energy. Since he was twelve, Spock had worked as Sarek’s de facto aide alongside trained diplomats who were actually paid for it.
As a result, Spock felt completely at ease escorting the wife of the Andorian Ambassador and her daughter to an art exhibition; or defending the Vulcan tradition of putting their children through the Kahs-wan ordeal to the Denobulan attaché and invoking no less than fifteen different cross-cultural references to prove that it was hardly barbaric at this day and age; or entertaining junior members of the Tellarite delegation by trading insults with them on the issue of Vulcan’s less than welcoming attitude toward the new trade agreement.
He was well versed in dozens of subjects, starting with Federation politics and border disputes and ending up with plagiarism charges brought up against a deaf Centaurian composer who saw music as combination of colors. He could discuss them freely, without the risk of offending anyone and taking after his father in how he navigated the most controversial topics in a way that maintained peaceful and agreeable atmosphere.
The trouble was, Spock had absolutely no knowledge of how to interact with people his own age, nor had he any idea of how to go about interpersonal relationships. He had never had friends or even companions, and had never had any person’s interest directed at him unless this person was a teacher or an instructor. (Well, apart from that one time when the Deltan Ambassador had brought his son with him, but Spock was very deliberately not thinking about that experience. Ever. Again.)
His social interaction with his peers consisted solely of his obligatory meetings with T’Pring, which occurred only when they were tradition-bound to attend a social event together. It was not necessarily a requirement, but they both had their respective duties to their families, which in turn had obligations to the city. The fact that T’Pring was considered extraordinarily beautiful and Spock did not ‘spoil the view’ too much only served them to be engaged in more social officiating than their status alone would entail.
But Spock did not socialize with T’Pring the way bondmates-to-be or even friends normally would. She was as cold as she was beautiful, unreachable in the casket of her impeccable logic. She had never showed any kind of neglect or disdain to her betrothed in public, but she had also never spoken a word to him that was not a ceremonial question or answer, defined and mandated by protocol and tradition.
Spock had overheard several times Sarek being congratulated for securing such a beneficial bonding for his son, and his father accepted the praise graciously. Once, Spock heard him telling Amanda that negotiations with T’Pring’s family were the most difficult task he had ever faced as a diplomat and that it was the crown achievement of his career.
Spock could tell by the way the phrase was constructed that his father sought to tell his wife how much he valued his family. Otherwise, Sarek would not have spent the time emphasizing how hard it had been to convince T’Pring’s parents and how masterfully Sarek had defeated their arguments. After all, he was not vain.
Quite illogically, however, Amanda frowned and refused to acknowledge his accomplishment. Sarek looked mildly bewildered, since she was usually quick to show her appreciation of him. But apparently, even after twenty years together, his human wife could still surprise him with her reactions.
When Sarek left the room, Amanda walked over to Spock and hugged him, quick and fierce, before he could protest. She had not touched him so elaborately since he was six. Then, before he could ask for an explanation (or, in truth, hold on to her for a little longer), she kissed his cheek and strode out.
With no childhood friendships, there were no adolescent bondings. As a child, Spock was often a party to physical altercations, but it was not until that memorable day when he had broken his opponent’s nose and an arm to boot for calling his mother a whore that it was considered worthy of active intervention.
For six months after the event, Spock was obliged to attend special classes with the local healing center to perfect his techniques of emotional control. It was more humiliating than useful, for those classes were normally reserved for Vulcans suffering of severe mental afflictions. For six months, Spock was forced to undergo the same treatment as the victims of the Bendai syndrome and Vulcans whose minds were irreparably damaged due to some sort of trauma. The classes were... disturbing. And if his classmates considered him worthy of scorn before, now it seemed that their attitude was officially justified.
Spock was on a tricky terrain now. One more incident and he would be considered too unstable to attend a public education facility, which would close the doors of the VSA for him once and for all. Considering that Spock was determined to become a scientist, this was a gruesome prospect.
To Sarek’s quiet but profound surprise (and displeasure) and Amanda’s complete lack of either, the ‘correction course’ proved to have little effect on Spock. The situation was becoming dire when T’Pau intervened. Spock was sent away for a year, with his education being supervised from afar, to study at the ancient monastery of Gol with the Kolinahru masters.
Spock hated Gol. He was more impressionable than most Vulcan children, and the barren rocks of the citadel and severe faces of the acolytes seemed to be physically subduing his spirit. He had never felt so alone and abandoned in his life. Nightmares were quick to follow, and he was fighting desperately to control them, because every time he woke up screaming, he was left alone for an even longer time.
He was no longer a child, and yet, as he was left in solitude for days at a time and was forbidden to speak to anyone, he was seized sometimes by very infantile impulses, such as an illogical longing to see his mother’s face.
But between the hard physical work – for Gol was closed to any and all technological advances, starting with electricity and sanitation, let alone replicator technology, and had to be sustained by the everyday manual labor of its residents – and countless hours of meditation, Spock was slowly changing, his focus shifting inward rather than outward.
The Kolinahru masters were deaf and blind to racial prejudice or any kind of intolerance. Their only goal was to achieve absolute logic and to discipline the mind to the point of absolute control. Their training, while ruthless, was completely unemotional. They truly did not care that Spock was half-human.
It was under the grey, cloudy skies of the Gol highlands that Spock had learned, for the first time, what it really meant to attain ‘peace of mind.’ The emotionless state that frightened him so upon arrival turned to be strangely compelling. He returned to study with the masters for two months every summer afterwards, even though he never did overcome the instinctive revulsion the monastery sparked in him.
Returning to Shi’Kahr and bracing himself before reentering school, Spock had suddenly discovered that the year he spent away was exactly the year when most of his peers and former abusers switched from being ‘still children’ to ‘almost adults.’ Their behavior changed accordingly, and they treated Spock with cool politeness, even with a tinge of the odd camaraderie of strangers who had shared the same experience.
Spock’s return had been greeted with whispers that he tried to ignore. Students, mostly females, were giving him strange assessing looks, which Spock couldn’t decipher and tried not to notice, but which unnerved him to the point of voicing it once to his mother.
‘Spock, to them, you were always a badass and a genius, in other words, a walking contradiction to everything they believed to be ‘right.’’ Her laughter tempered to a chuckle. ‘Now you come back, wrapped in all that Gol glamour and mysticism. What girl can possibly resist you?’
She looked him up and down and added with a grin. ‘The way you shot up doesn’t hurt, either.’
Her statement was more confusing than enlightening, but as she refused to give more explanations and only smiled, Spock resigned to leave it at that. His studies and work occupied too much of his time to be dwelling on such matters, in any case.
And then, he met Reya.
Spock was not prepared for how surprisingly easy it was to talk to her. Reya had a quick, keen mind that made her a brilliant student, but that wasn’t what distinguished her from the crowd. Her family was one that embraced a less traditional interpretation of Surak’s teachings, and without centuries of tradition weighing on her shoulders, she was much more open in her expression – much more openly emotional, if the word fit, than any other Vulcan.
She was actively developing a methodology that would allow Vulcan to return to its condition before the Great Collision; before it became a desert planet. Reya theorized ways to refill its rivers with water and prevent it from rapid evaporation, challenging eons of geological history and the most forward Vulcan scientists in the process.
Spock was... enthralled.
He argued with her conclusions as they took their swimming classes and helped strengthen her arguments while they played racquetball, a human game which was strangely popular on Vulcan at the time. Reya got him to give her piloting lessons, and he ended up coloring ceramic plates with her while they talked about Serel’s symphonies and the latest archeological discoveries on Tellur. Spock had finally come to appreciate the number of teashops in Shi’Kahr, where he and Reya watched and participated in public debates. Spock had never been so eloquent, no matter what subject he was defending.
All the while, Tepan was a silent, indifferent presence at the periphery of their sight. Most of the time, he wore an air of a man who would rather be anywhere else, but could not figure out where. He rarely uttered more than a couple of words or even lifted his eyes. Reya seemed to be perfectly at ease with Tepan’s demeanor, clearly long used to it.
Spock looked at her, looked at him, and felt his stomach clench unpleasantly at the thought that she was to be bonded with him for life. They seemed so... mismatched. He tried not to dwell upon it. He was, after all, betrothed with T’Pring – a glowing example of how pure logic could breed total disaster. Spock reveled in finally having a friend, and if his pulse picked up a notch whenever he saw Reya, he dismissed the warning signals.
That was until one day, in yet another teashop, Reya was passing him his cup and their fingers brushed for a moment by accident.
How Spock managed not to let go of the cup he would never know; he was not ready for the utter shock, like an electrical charge that swept through him from the point of contact. It left him breathless and strangely lightheaded. His vision went blurry, blood rushing to his face. He suddenly felt elated, and giddy, and—
They pulled away abruptly, both blushing, neither daring to lift their eyes.
‘I shall acquire another beverage,’ Tepan said unexpectedly in his dull, expressionless tone, before getting to his feet and heading for the counter.
‘I apologize,’ Reya said in a quiet, uncharacteristically small voice, not looking at Spock.
‘I...’ He cleared his throat. ‘It is of no consequence.’
After that day, the easy companionship they shared was irrevocably gone.
The poetry reading was the usual pleasure; art and music had always found ways to Spock’s heart, no matter how devoted he was to science and logic. T’Sellin was a contemporary poetess, whose style was remarkable and genuine in both sense and forms. Spock lost himself completely, sitting on a low, narrow bench, listening to the elaborate rhythm of bold comparisons and unexpected images, mesmerized by the deep cadence of T’Sellin’s voice as she conjured up stories and visions, startlingly emotional and still unfathomably precise.
There was just the sound; the twilight illuminated by candles; the gentle singing of strings in the air, enthusiastic but far more sophisticated than human applause; the spicy sweet burn of an appropriate beverage melting on his tongue; and the almost ethereal light in Reya’s eyes. They gleamed softly with undisguised delight as Spock won another round of bouts-rimes started by T’Sellin, and when Reya’s fingers reached to run across the table lyrette’s strings this time, it was only for Spock.
Later, Spock would ask himself at which point in the evening Tepan disappeared, saying something about another appointment, but it didn’t even register. After the event, there was some confusion as Spock and Reya searched for their shoes in the long, accurate line of other people’s footwear that was a bit ridiculous, but strangely endearing. Spock caught himself before he allowed the corners of his mouth to curl upward.
They left the teashop when the stars were long up in the sky. Spock had visited several planets with his father, but it was here, at home, that he had come to appreciate the power of desert skies – black, and velvet, seemingly very close to the ground, with the stars so clear, sharp, and bright, that they appeared unreal. They took up the whole dome because it belonged to them, glinting and twirling, making one’s head spin.
Vulcans considered the idea of constellations illogical and therefore recognized none, but humans did, and Spock entertained Reya by pointing out some of them as they walked along the dozily oblivious streets, telling her what shapes the stars were supposed to form if one looked at them from various points on Earth. They hadn’t noticed that the laces of her not-so-traditional skirt had tangled with the leathercloth of his belt until it started hindering their steps.
They stopped, trying to disentangle the rebellious pieces of clothing, and somehow Reya’s delicate fingers ended up entwined with Spock’s and stayed there. They ceased to pretend it was anything but a kiss when Spock’s other hand slid to the small of Reya’s back – steadying her, steadying him, as their foreheads came to rest against each other, breaths intermingled. He could feel her eyelashes touch his.
There was a sense of overpowering sweetness to their contact that Spock had never experienced before, and might never experience again. He was swaying; they both were, drunk on the feel of each other, caught up in an intoxicating feedback loop, drawing closer, closer, closer...
The sound of water.
Spock opened his eyes slowly, as if coming out of a long sleep, and pulled away slightly, blinking as he took in their surroundings.
They were standing at the entrance to the caves that led to the old underground palace. There wasn’t anything particularly spectacular about this place besides the merging ground waters that created a small waterfall. The hour was late, and they were alone here.
Spock felt mildly relieved and blushed immediately, realizing what kind of display they presented just a couple of moments ago. Reya seemed unfazed, but she wasn’t looking at him. Spock watched as she came to stand at the precipice, her hands resting lightly on the twisted metallic railing, glinting darkly with reflected light. Tentatively, Spock reached out and clasped the thin bar himself, the metal cold against his feverish skin.
They were silent a while.
“I am leaving tomorrow,” Reya said finally, without looking back.
Spock froze. “Leaving?”
“To Betazed.” Her shoulders stiffened. “Tepan has been accepted to the Rix Gardening School, and I—”
“He is a gardener?”
She looked at him across her shoulder, frowning slightly. “A good one, in point of fact. He had won a prize at the last city exhibition.”
Her tone was mildly reproachful, and Spock bowed his head. Gardening of any kind was hard toil on Vulcan; only the most dedicated and patient could engage in it. It made perfect sense that Tepan would be good at it.
“I did not know. I apologize for the presumption.”
Reya sighed audibly and then turned to face him, looking up into his eyes. “Illogical,” she said, quieter, “but understandable.”
Spock shook his head gently. “I did not mean to imply—”
Her lips pressed lightly against his, stopping him mid-word.
“He is not you,” she whispered, while he stood there, shaken. “Not you at all.”
Her hands slid up to his neck, pulling him down, and Spock moaned softly, giving up any semblance of control and kissing her, deep and gentle and just a little desperate and vaguely aware of his surprise at how natural, how easy it was. He pulled away with an effort he didn’t know he was capable of and looked at her, not bothering to mask his turmoil.
“You cannot do this to me, and expect me to let you go.”
She ran her fingers gently across his lips, the soft caress unraveling him till he trembled.
“I know,” she whispered. “I apologize for being selfish. I only wanted to have a parting gift; a memory to treasure.”
Spock clasped her shoulders. “You do not have to. You can stay.”
“I cannot.” She shook her head, extricating herself from his grasp gently.
“Tepan is my bondmate-to-be. And T’Pring is yours.”
“Betrothals can be dissolved,” he started, but she was shaking her head more prominently now.
“Dissolution of one bond is a scandal. Dissolution of two would be unprecedented.”
“It has to have happened before.”
“For a singularly emotional reason?”
“I could research—”
“Spock. I am going to Betazed tomorrow. This is final.”
His mind was reeling, suddenly incapable of keeping up with all the conflicting emotions.
“You do not even wish to try,” he said, struggling for comprehension. “You do not think I am… worthy.”
“Spock.” Reya took a step back. “I think you have many advantageous qualities. I regret that they are not as appreciated as they deserve to be by our people, but I cannot change that. What is, is.” She paused, composing herself. “I am honored by your feelings. I hold you in great esteem as well. But I cannot challenge centuries of Vulcan tradition and then hope to raise my children in that same tradition.” She looked at him up and down, eyes unreadable. “For one thing, I do not want them to be treated like you are.”
Spock didn’t – couldn’t – reply.
“We cannot have a future together,” Reya whispered. “And continuing as we were, knowing this, would be... dishonest. And illogical.”
Spock swallowed around a sudden lump in his throat. “Vulcan is but one place,” some stranger said, using his voice. “While I acknowledge that you are correct and life would be difficult for us here, we could explore other possibilities. The Federation—”
“Spock,” she interrupted him, gently but firmly. “My heart is of Vulcan; my soul is of Vulcan. Since I first knew myself, I wanted to make our planet bloom again. You, better than anyone, know how dedicated I am to this. I will never leave Vulcan as long as the choice is mine to make.”
Spock let the pause rest between them, counting the seconds until he could allow himself to speak. “I see,” he said, finally. “You are correct, of course.”
Reya glanced at him, a flicker of emotion he couldn’t identify showing for a moment in her eyes.
“Spock, if I misled you unknowingly, I ask forgiveness. I was not aware... That is, until tonight, I—”
“Reya.” He raised his hand to stop her. “Please. No additional explanations are required. Your logic is sound.”
She bowed her head. “I am honored.”
He stilled himself before looking at her as he should have been looking at her the whole time – just another schoolmate; friendlier, perhaps, than most. Not someone he was considering to spend his life with. She was right – he had nothing to offer her except trouble. He should never have forgotten his place.
“I shall escort you home.”
Reya shook her head. “That will not be necessary.”
She walked over to a parking terminal and pressed a button. Spock heard the faint buzz of the airtaxi car before he actually saw it descending, on autopilot, from one of the parking lots. Reya turned to look at him as the door slid open.
“I hope you will understand my choice one day, Spock,” she said quietly, raising her hand in ta’al. “Live long and prosper.”
I do understand it, he wanted to tell her, desperately wanted to say, but didn’t. Returning the salute, he allowed his eyes to linger on her one last time.
“Peace and long life.”
He watched the skies for a long time after the sound of the engine had died in the distance. He wondered vaguely if the stars should seem edgy and cruel to him now, but they were just as soft, brilliant, and celebratory as always, as though the ability to see them was a reward above all.
Spock didn’t know how long he had stood alone by the waterfall, his mind curiously devoid of thought. But an indefinite amount of time later found him walking down the sleepy streets, feeling enervated and numb, as if the car that took Reya away had run right over him.
It was curious, he thought, how he had never realized the true extent of his feelings and hopes regarding Reya until they had been taken away. It was logical, given that he had not allowed himself to experience the emotions welling up in him until tonight. How could he possibly have known? Certainly these kinds of things were not taught in classes, and the prospect of discussing such a topic with Sarek made Spock feel mildly terrified.
Know your emotions to control them.
Spock sighed. He had failed on so many levels.
The sound of an approaching car didn’t register at once, and it was not before it was hovering right beside the sidewalk that Spock finally realized he had company.
The car was black, sleek, and elegant in a predatory kind of way. Spock had seen the model in a commercial in the last issue of Sports Illustrated, an Earth magazine that had inevitably found its way to Spock’s room over the past several years. The car was recommended for those who, quote, did not believe in speed limits. The price was fitting.
The car stopped when he stopped, hovering in front of him ominously. Spock bit his lip, trying to think quickly of a way out of this trap, but he was too tired to come up with one. Instead, he watched dully as the passenger door slid open.
Spock hesitated for a moment, glancing up and down the empty street, considering his options. Seeing no alternative, he grudgingly complied.
The car shot upward at an angle that almost defied the laws of physics, pressing Spock into his seat, but he didn’t even blink. He was too used to the driving style of that particular pilot.
“Would you mind explaining yourself?”
Spock raised an eyebrow. “What exactly do you require an explanation for?” he asked slowly, stalling.
“Do you honestly believe that you are allowed to spend the night wandering the town simply because your parents are off-planet?”
Spock sank back into his seat, his eyes drifting closed. “How did you find me?”
“I placed a tracking device on you.”
Which was, in point of fact, illegal, but Spock refrained from mentioning it. The first time he did had earned him a very thorough lecture which he had absolutely no wish to listen to again, especially not right now.
“I deactivated it.”
“Without setting off the alarm? Impressive, but there was another one. Did you not think to check for it?”
Spock opened his eyes and stared at the driver.
“T’Pol. You are not my guardian.”
She kept her eyes on the road. “Your parents are unwise to leave you without one. They trust you unreasonably, if tonight’s excursion is any indication.”
Spock turned to look out the window; arguing with T’Pol was pointless. “Where are we going?” he asked, noticing that they were leaving Shi’Kahr.
“To my house,” she replied curtly. “You will sleep; you will meditate; you will eat. And then, we will talk.”
He glanced at her. “You realize that you have no authority over me.”
She peered at him for a moment, hazel eyes boring into his with relentless determination, and Spock decided that it would be illogical to continue resisting when his chances of being victorious were so obviously slim. He closed his eyes again, electing to choose his battles more wisely.
He woke up at dawn in the guest room of T’Pol’s residence and, dressing quickly, padded to the kitchen. It was a Vulcan custom that guests should prepare the morning meal, and Spock knew that he was a guest here, however reluctantly.
He hesitated to define his relationship with T’Pol in one word. They were not blood relatives. T’Pol – the famous T’Pol, first officer of Captain Archer’s Enterprise, co-designer of the Federation Charta, and one of those who restored the true teachings of Surak on Vulcan by discovering and presenting the Kir’Shara – was a friend of Spock’s grandmother T’Pau – although ‘friend’ might have been a liberal term where those two women were concerned. Amanda once called their relationship one of ‘love-hate,’ and, illogical as the designation was, Spock was inclined to agree. But it was in T’Pau’s house that he had first met T’Pol when he was all of eight, and since then they have been... in contact. Not with great regularity, since T’Pol spent more time on Earth than she did on Vulcan, but, as Spock grew older, she began to take more interest in his life and daily matters.
This was fascinating for Spock, who had memorized her mission logs by the age of ten, but it was not without setbacks. For one, Sarek strongly disapproved of T’Pol, and Spock suspected it was not without reason. By Vulcan standards, she was unorthodox at best – but this was perhaps why Spock was so drawn to her. T’Pol could always be counted on to provide a unique perspective.
Spock was not surprised to discover Terran products in the kitchen. Generally, Vulcans tended not to be adventurous regarding the contents of their meals, but T’Pol had lived among humans for too long. Spock, who had been subject to his mother’s cuisine all his life, had not found it to be much of a challenge. He settled for kremarra salad, a traditional Vulcan morning dish consisting of fresh vegetables and nuts, and strawberry pancakes.
“You have a trained hand,” T’Pol observed from the doorway, adjusting the collar of the white woolen robe she usually wore at home.
Spock handed her a cup of her favorite chamomile tea with a curt bow, choosing to ignore the comment. All Vulcan children were taught to cook from an early age – for occasions such as this, if nothing else.
“You have grown since the last time I saw you,” T’Pol remarked, warming her hands around the cup as Spock returned to the stove. “You are taller than me now.”
Spock glanced at her over his shoulder. “You appear to be correct.”
She nodded. “Are you still studying martial arts?”
“Indeed. I train on my own four times a week and have two practice sessions a week with an instructor.”
“That is fortunate,” T’Pol said enigmatically.
Spock wisely chose not to ask. “The meal is ready,” he announced, having assembled the dishes on a large tray. “Shall we eat?”
T’Pol nodded and motioned for him to follow her. They settled in on the patio, awash in glorious morning sunlight. Spock found the wind to be a little chilly up in the mountains, but the incredible freshness of the air more than made up for his discomfort.
T’Pol watched as he served them both, eyeing his motions as if measuring him up to some unvoiced standards. Spock refused to be fazed by this and remained confident in his movements.
“Amanda trained you well,” T’Pol noted, picking up a spork.
Spock blinked. “This is a simple meal.” He was long used to the fact that, unlike most Vulcans, T’Pol preferred to talk while eating, as humans did.
She narrowed her eyes slightly. “Accepting deserved praise is logical.”
“Quite,” Spock agreed, after a short deliberation.
She eyed him for a moment longer, then apparently decided to let the matter drop. The conversation drifted toward the latest developments in the Federation political life and was, overall, quite pleasant – even if Spock did get the feeling once or twice that he was being examined.
Indeed, T’Pol’s expression turned up its intensity after he had cleared up the table and refilled their cups with tea, and Spock stilled himself for whatever was to come. Although he was used to her ‘ambushing’ him with unexpected premises and the way she was always appearing on his horizon for whatever reason, Spock could not predict the way the conversation would turn. He could not trust that he would need to explain himself to her or that she would explain herself to him. The shifting ground of their encounters threw him out of his comfort zone, which T’Pol seemed to enjoy, and this meeting was no exception.
“I have shown your paper on the recent conflict between the Deltans and the Orions and its influence on the Free Space Act to Admiral Hernandez.”
Spock blinked and nearly let go of his cup. He did not know which part of the statement was more astonishing, if not outrageous. T’Pol, however, didn’t allow him time to recover.
“The admiral nearly issued a warrant for my arrest, Spock,” she told him casually. “She believed I had been sharing classified information with you.”
“But that – that would be impossible,” Spock nearly sputtered in bewilderment. “You and I have never discussed the subject. Why would the admiral think we had spoken about it?”
T’Pol examined a stray lock of her still-chestnut hair before tucking it behind her ear and answering.
“Your analysis of the situation ‘hit a little too close to home,’ to borrow a human colloquialism. The admiral believed it was impossible to reach such accurate conclusions based solely on the examination of the data available to the public at large.”
“But – that is exactly what it was,” Spock insisted. “I can show you my preliminary notes and—”
“I believe you,” T’Pol told him calmly. “And after I gave my word to the admiral, so did she. She asked me several questions about you, and then asked me to give you this.”
Spock took the PADD T’Pol handed him without hesitation, his curiosity winning over his dismay at such a deliberate violation of his privacy. He scanned the cover page quickly, and felt his eyes flying up to meet T’Pol’s of their own volition.
“An application to join Starfleet?”
T’Pol sipped her tea. “The admiral believes you have a future within Starfleet. So does Admiral Archer.” Then, “So do I.”
Spock lowered the PADD to the table slowly, his hand tingling in an odd way as he let go.
“You are aware, I trust, of my decision to apply to the Vulcan Science Academy.”
“I am indeed,” she said, unperturbed. “However, cultivating multiple choices is logical – wouldn’t you agree?”
Spock studied her carefully. “You believe they will not accept me to the VSA.”
T’Pol frowned slightly. “They would be foolish, should that be the case. And although the VSA Board has been rightly accused of a number of disturbing qualities, including arrogance and excessive self-confidence, stupidity has not yet been one of them.” She placed her cup on the table, studying it pensively. “Acquiring an intellectual resource such as you will benefit their institution greatly. The question remains” – she glanced at Spock pointedly – “of whether it will benefit you.”
Spock sat a little straighter. “The VSA is the oldest and the most prestigious school in the Federation.”
“Correct, and with good reason. The opportunities they provide are unmatched throughout the sector. However.” She paused, pulling out another PADD, which Spock strongly suspected contained his academic records. He had to suppress an instant pang of frustration at having his life so blatantly on display. “In my estimation, you demonstrate equal talent and equal – enthusiasm? – in twelve separate fields of study.” She eyed him meaningfully. “Do you have a favorite?”
“That would be illogical.”
“And yet, if you enter the VSA, you will be asked to pick one and only one subject for further exploration. Are you prepared to do that?”
Spock blinked. He hadn’t thought about it that way.
“Starfleet Sciences, on the other hand, welcome diversity in their students and officers. Insist upon it, more precisely.”
She raised a hand. “I am not trying to convince you; I am merely reciting your options.”
Spock had a sneaking suspicion that he was being played, but it would be years, he realized, before he could so much as hope to compete with T’Pol on the slippery ground of psychological manipulation.
“It is not only that, Spock,” T’Pol said, suddenly serious. As if she sensed his thoughts, all the earlier playfulness drained out of her. She put the PADD on the table and stood up, taking a couple of steps across the patio.
“You know,” she said slowly, stopping in front of him, “that I have never had a sister or a brother. But I imagine, if I did, they would be something like you.”
Spock was silent, not really knowing what to say. He was aware that he and T’Pol shared a bond of sorts, but they had never discussed their feelings regarding one another.
“I merely wish you to be happy,” she said simply, looking over his shoulder at what Spock knew to be the holo of Elizabeth, her – late – half-human baby daughter.
T’Pol moved on, folding her hands behind her back and gazing at the snowy mountain peaks. Illuminated by the gentle mid-morning sun, she was beautiful, and Spock’s heart clenched unpleasantly at the thought of all the grief and tragedy that she carried upon her shoulders.
“In Starfleet,” T’Pol said quietly, “I met the man I fell in love with. The man I loved more than my life.”
Objectively, Spock knew that. It was, after all, a fact. But to hear T’Pol’s openly emotional and simultaneously impassionate words was... disconcerting. All Vulcans experienced emotions, but very few were amenable to admitting it. For a moment, Spock’s thoughts drifted to Reya, and a sharp, painful pang shot through him at the memory.
“In Starfleet,” T’Pol went on, “I met a man who became my closest friend. For ninety years he has been, and still is, my friend, my guide, and my anchor.”
Spock thought he heard that which remained unspoken: My captain. Spock had seen T’Pol and Admiral Archer together once; they were a formidable force.
“I am proud of that,” T’Pol continued. “And if I do regret anything, it is not getting to know them sooner.”
She turned to look at him, and Spock held his breath.
“I am not saying that it will be the same for you if you join Starfleet, Spock. No one can know the future. I do not know if you would find your happiness there or fulfillment.” She tilted her head to one side, regarding him. “But I have known you since you were a child, and Spock, I do know that you would not ever be truly happy on Vulcan. It would be” – her lips quirked slightly – “logical, to seek out an alternative.”
He sat there, staring, not realizing his pulse had suddenly begun racing. Finally, he spoke.
“My father would never approve of this choice, should I decide to make it.”
T’Pol shrugged mildly. “You are a citizen of both Earth and Vulcan. Should you be so inclined, you can take the legal capacity test. The required age on Earth is fourteen and you are nearly sixteen now. You shall pass easily. Your decisions will be yours to make.”
Spock nodded slowly, his mind buzzing with all the possibilities. Unexpectedly, he noticed that T’Pol was smiling softly. It was only then that he realized that the question he asked was one of a purely practical nature, as if he had already conceded her point.
“I thank you for your consideration, T’Pol,” he said, rising up to his feet. “I shall deliberate on this at length.”
“You do that, Spock.” She nodded, the smile still faintly present in the corner of her mouth. “Come. I’ll take you home.”
Spock followed her out toward her extravagant temptation of a car. Catching his wistful glance, she paused.
“You may drive, if you wish.”
Spock looked up at her quickly. “You are aware that I am not yet licensed to pilot this kind of craft.”
“Indeed,” she agreed, sounding amused. “However, I am also aware that you have been charged several times for exceeding speed limit, which” – she raised an elegant eyebrow – “should not even be possible for the type of car you pilot.”
Spock felt his cheeks burning and tried his best to suppress the involuntary reaction.
“That is not... relevant,” he said at last, hoping she would not demand an explanation.
“Perhaps.” She lifted an eyebrow and dangled the keys in the air.
Spock tried to ignore her overly pleased expression as he took them.
“Incidentally,” T’Pol intoned in an innocent tone that boded no good. “Starfleet vessels are very fast these days. I have it on good authority that a 9.9 warp engine is currently being under construction.”
Spock closed his eyes briefly as he inserted the keys to the ignition slot. If he had ever had any doubts before, he was definitely convinced at that moment that people like T’Pol should be isolated to deliver the rest of the galaxy from the evil.
He took off smoothly, determined to show her how incorrect her assumptions were, but cars like this one didn’t exist for by-the-book pilots and Spock knew the exact location of most traffic scanners. The sideways glance T’Pol sent him made Spock think that perhaps he did enjoy the speed slightly more than was advisable.
He looked into the clear bright sky and thought of Reya, who must have been boarding her transport at that very moment; of Tepan, at her side, silent and calm as always. The thought stung, but not as much as Spock had anticipated.
‘In Starfleet, I met the man I fell in love with. The man I loved more than my life.’
Spock knew it was illogical to hope that he would be as fortunate, but T’Pol’s words had struck a chord within him that he did not know he had. Between his father’s expectations of him, the obligations to their house and society, and the effort he was making to try and become someone he could not be, Spock had never stopped to consider his own wishes as merits in their own rights.
The concept of Starfleet fascinated him: the devotion to the service; endless discoveries; numerous possibilities; a chance to make a difference in a most profound way; but most of all… the people. People like T’Pol and Admiral Archer, dedicated to what they believed was right and determined to fight for it, even – perhaps especially – if it meant changing the face of the galaxy in the process. People who understood duty on a whole other level than an obedient child (which Spock never was, in any case).
He told T’Pol that he would consider her offer and he intended to, fully. It would be only logical, after all.
Suddenly inspired, he pulled the helm abruptly onto himself before taking a sharp turn and steering toward the horizon, chasing after the rising sun.