Watching Sarek struggle to hold on to a thought through the ravages of Bendii Syndrome in its final stage reminds Picard of nothing as much as his grandfather, lost to Alzheimer's. So far medicine has come, and yet: still this horror, this indignity. It had been frightening to watch it as a child, not understanding why grandfather who used to be the source of all stories did not even remember Jean-Luc's name anymore. It is as devastating to watch now, decades later, in a different way. Ever since their mindmeld, when he had experienced Sarek's thoughts and emotions in a tidal wave that bore no resistance, there is an intimacy there which doesn't allow for the polite distance he keeps from most people. Which is why Sarek's wife Perrin has agreed to let Picard see the ambassador in this state.
He is not here for a sickbed visit. He is here because of Sarek's son, Spock, and the Federation's fear that one of their greatest may have defected to the Romulans. Picard is sure there is an alternate explanation, but since this assumption is based in parts of memories that aren't his instead of solid proof, he knows he needs more to solve this particular puzzle. Now that he sees how far the illness in Sarek has progressed since last they met, he wonders if he hasn't made a terrible mistake. If he hasn't brought additional torment to a man suffering enough already, with nothing to justify this because Sarek simply has gone too far to help anyone.
But no. Whatever one should call it, the man's mind or soul, Picard has shared Sarek's, and he knows that Sarek's fierce, never once verbalized love for his son with all the anger and regret interwoven would have made Sarek choose pain and a slight chance over no chance at all every time.
He thinks of his own father. The disappointment in Maurice Picard's voice, the arguments when Jean-Luc chose the stars instead of the vineyards of La Barre. There is an irony here only his brother Robert would have been able to appreciate: walking in Sarek's shoes, so to speak, when once Jean-Luc had been in Spock's position. He thinks of the taste of wine and regrets and tries again, and this time, Sarek manages to remain coherent long enough to tell him of a Romulan senator whom Spock had befriended years ago. But then the illness wins again before Sarek can tell Picard the message he's supposed to give to Spock when he finds him.
Vulcans are touch telepaths. A mind meld is a procedure not to be undertaken lightly, and only with someone in firm control of his or her abilities, which is why Beverly Crusher had been concerned years ago when Picard had volunteered for it in order to give Sarek the stability the ambassador needed to conclude his negotiations. And then, Sarek had only begun to be affected by the illness that has now swallowed him whole. Picard, too, has changed.
He'd been so sure, years ago, he would be able to handle it. Sure of his own mind, sure of his strength. Arrogantly sure, he thinks now, because between that first mind meld and what he's contemplating now stands something the Jean-Luc Picard Sarek had first met would have not been able to imagine, not even remotely.
Sometimes, in his nightmares, he can still hear the voices of the Collective. Millions and millions of voices, not like Sarek's had been, not something given and accepted in mutual agreement. Forced on him, inside out, and his own voice, his own voice but not: Locutus. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.
He knows that it's not true, but something in him will always be convinced he should have been able to stop it. If he'd been stronger. If he'd managed to held out. The crews of 39 Starfleet vessels lost at Wolf 359 because he couldn't. He has the list of the crews for each vessel. If you kill someone, the least you can do is to know their name.
Picard hasn't had a telepathic experience since, partly because of this and partly because fate fortunately hasn't thrown one his way. But when Sarek tries and tries to raise his hand, tears of frustration and humiliation in his eyes, he knows what the ambassador is trying to do. There's no one else here besides them, no one to encourage or stop, not Beverly, not Perrin. Nothing but memories, the power of regrets against the terrors of dreams.
Picard meets Sarek's trembling fingers with his own bare hand, forming the Vulcan salute. What passes comes in the form of an image: a butterfly, escaping its cocoon trap of frail madness and death.
He is not overpowered by Sarek's presence the way he had been during that first mind meld. It is more like listening to a very low key hum in the back of his mind, white noise -
- the voices of the Collective, always there, never alone -
- no, not that, never that, don't think that, it's different -
- and Picard is able to focus on the tasks at hand without a problem. Data, bless him, asks only the right questions and never suspects. Nor does anyone else. When the news of Sarek's death comes shortly before they reach Romulus, the hum does not cease but intensifies but still reminds unobtrusive. Like the machines on the Enterprise, so a part of yourself that you only are aware of their presence when you focus.
(. We are the Borg. Millions of voices in one voice, and that voice is -)
When they finally encounter Spock, however, Picard finds it impossible to ignore. He has in fact met Sarek's son before, in the way one does as a junior lieutenant at an official function in honour of a Federation legend. Something of the awe he then felt is still there, but mixed with irritation and disbelief that a brilliant man who should know better should indulge in cowboy diplomacy. Disguises, all this cloak and dagger business, and really, Picard isn't immune to the thrill, but that is what the holodeck is there for, not real life with the very real risk of inciting an interstellar war if something goes wrong.
Spock, something in him says in exasperation and affection, and while he tries his best to contain what he knows is not his own reaction, argues as rational as he can that if Spock wished to undertake a mission with obvious repercussions for the Federation, he should discuss this with the Federation, Spock as good as accuses him of speaking with a dead man's voice. Twice.
There is a lot Picard could say. "I am not your father", while technically true, would skirt dangerously close to a lie of omission, which is still a lie. Besides, given their respective ages and the fact that Spock could be his grandfather, it really would sound ridiculous.
(The image of the boy Spock, a bruise on his face from an argument at school, refusing to talk about it, flashes in him, as does the image of Spock as a man, but still young, so very young, declaring his intention to join Starfleet instead of choosing the Vulcan Science Academy.)
(His father, Maurice, holding the grapes in his hand: This. This is what you're throwing away, Jean-Luc. Your heritage.)
(Professor Galen, telling him: You have a wonderful mind. Archaeology requires both patience and curiosity, and you have both. Why throw that away for playing with Starfleet phasers?)
In the end, he sticks to the topic at hand, which is the unlikelihood of reunification between Vulcans and Romulans, and merely adds that profound as the mind meld with Sarek had been, his judgment is still his own. There is a time to tell Spock more, but it is not now.
After some Romulan schemes are exposed and yet more Romulan idealism is revealed, leaving hope and Spock determined to stay on Romulus to work for the impossible with the same relentless energy that reminds Picard of a boy going into the heart of the Vulcan deserts, after the reappearance of Tasha Yar's doppelganger Sela who may or may not be her daughter from another has carried its own reminder of loss and missed opportunities with it, that time comes at last.
"You may have known Sarek better than his own son did. My father and I never chose to meld," says Spock, and his face, which is and isn't like his father's, is filled with a familiar ache even more powerful for expressing itself in restraint.
My son, Maurice pleads, decades and decades ago and yet so present, my son, don't do this to me, my son.
My son, all that is left of Sarek whispers.
"I offer you the chance to touch what he shared with me," Picard says. He is very still and does not move while Spock, hesitatingly, gently, touches his face. There is one moment of lingering fear that has nothing to do with Vulcan or human fathers and their sons, and everything with allowing yet another presence in his mind. Resistance is futile. But this is different; anything given by free will is different, and he has managed to carry Sarek's memories with him without losing what he must never lose again.
My father, my son, and that tidal wave of love again, from Sarek who never had been able to give it verbal form. The sense of Spock's presence, passion burning like a banked fire, brilliance like lamplight in darkness. The mind, Deanna Troi once told Picard, creates different images for each of us to process what we think and feel. The heat of the desert, fire in darkness; that is what the Vulcans choose to see and feel. What Picard sees: that butterfly escaping once more, and the vineyards, an autumn breeze carrying the smell of nearby lavender fields with it.
You're going to have to live with this, Jean-Luc, Robert says as they're both covered in mud, their father's earth, having hurt and clung to each other as only family can.
Then Spock lets him go, and Picard finds himself on Vulcan, where it all began, not in the desert, but in Sarek's chambers, in the flickering firelight. Sitting next to Sarek who looks at him from his stony bed, no longer with the desperate, flickering gaze of madness but with the clarity and focus his eyes had when they first met.
"Thank you," the older Vulcan murmurs. Some strange mixture of relief and fondness makes Picard smile.
"I thought thanks weren't logical."
"As my son says, there are other truths than logic."
Sarek is still holding Picard's arm, but their fingers are no longer linked. "What happens now?" Picard asks. He has carried the memories of the first mind meld with him for years, but what he has shared with Sarek the second time has been different. It had been the right choice to allow the ambassador a farewell with his son. It even offered Picard the closest thing he will ever have to a farewell with his own father, and it definitely proved that he can share his mind again if he wishes, Locutus not withstanding.
But he does not believe, or wish, this to be a permanent state for the rest of his life. And as they look at each other, he sees that Sarek agrees.
"You awake," Sarek says, and in a breath, he is gone.