The verdict came in the next morning. Spock was alerted by a soft chiming via the hotel comm, and a message which asked him to return to the court in an hour's time to be present for the reading of the verdict and possible sentencing. He stood with one hand on the button, half-frozen. Sarek had pledged to stand with him for the verdict, along with his mother, Kirk, and McCoy. But still, he felt frozen. Perhaps there would be other media outside the court, after the story which had broken last night. It was very possible that other journalists had flocked to the place, and there were no Vulcan laws that would prevent their right to assemble peacefully outside the building, even if they were denied admittance to the court.

'It'll be all right, Spock,' Kirk said softly from behind him. 'I'll call McCoy and your parents, shall I, and we can meet them down there?'

'Y-es,' Spock said hesitantly.

'You have to be present for the verdict,' Kirk reminded him. 'They won't give it if the claimant isn't there.'

'Yes, I do know,' Spock replied, straightening himself up and trying to be more of the Vulcan of whom Sarek had professed such pride. But he had heard Kirk speaking quietly on the comm last night to Lieutenant Uhura, when he had believed Spock to be asleep. Although the specifics of the case had previously been restricted to a few sickbay staff and Spock's friends, and the court case on the obscure and isolated Starbase 73 kept tightly private, the entire crew had been curious. Now that the story had been printed as news the word had gone around the ship like wildfire. Once the case was over Spock faced returning to a ship where 430 people knew the shame that he had faced, perhaps encountering loss of respect and the associated loss of the authority which, as First Officer, was very necessary to his job.

'Spock,' Kirk urged him again. 'Go grab some breakfast and get dressed, and I'll call McCoy and your parents. You need to be ready for this.'

'Yes. Yes, of course, Captain,' Spock said absently, turning from the comm and going to the room's small replicator. He chose a simple, cold Vulcan breakfast and sat at the table eating it. Then he went to the bathroom and carefully washed and applied beard suppressant, and donned the stiff and formal Starfleet dress uniform. When he emerged Kirk was sitting at the table with his tunic hanging open, demolishing a small stack of toast.

'They'll be outside the courthouse,' he said to Spock.

'I beg your pardon, Captain?' Spock said, thinking of journalists.

'Bones and your parents. They'll be outside the courthouse to meet us,' he said. He dusted crumbs from his fingertips and wiped his lips on a napkin, then began to fasten his tunic while grabbing sips of black coffee from a tall cup. 'We've got fifteen minutes before we need to leave. I've ordered a cab.'

Spock nodded, not arguing about the choice of taking transport instead of walking. He did not relish the idea of walking through streets where anyone could approach him for comments, photographs, or reactions. Even with a cab, there would be the walk across the open plaza that stood in front of the court building, and nothing to protect him from anyone who cared to watch or ask probing questions.

Inside the cab he clamped down so firmly in his mind that he was barely aware of what was going on around him. He needed to control the emotions that were threatening to break through his control. So when they stepped out of the cab and Kirk said sharply, 'My God, Spock!' he looked up, startled, uncertain of what the captain had seen.

There, on the thirty yard wide expanse of the plaza, were assembled what looked like almost the entire complement of the Enterprise crew. They were stood in dress uniform, forming an aisle with sides three deep in places. When Spock stepped out of the cab, which had stopped at the end of the aisle where steps reached up to the plaza, the entire line came to attention and, in a very old fashioned and human way, raised their hands to their foreheads in salute.

Spock stared. 'Captain – did you know of this?' he asked in a quiet voice.

'Not a thing, Spock,' he said under his breath. 'Good lord... That must be every crew member who isn't necessary to keep the ship in orbit.'

Spock felt a pride welling up inside his chest that was very definitely not according to Vulcan discipline. Behind the lines on either side he could see people in civilian clothing, mostly human, jostling to try to break through. Some shouts were heard in the thin air. But the rear of both lines was composed of Enterprise security guards and the tallest and burliest of all other departments, and the journalists may as well have been trying to push through a brick wall.

Spock ascended the steps very stiffly, his eyes on the gap between the lines, but he could not help glancing to the left and right every now and then to see the familiar faces. Not one of them held an expression of derision or disrespect, but simply held their positions, their hands in salute and their eyes looking straight ahead. Far from feeling exposed, he felt protected.

As he reached the head of the line he saw Scott, who was in temporary command, standing there with his own hand raised. As he saw Spock he broke the pose for a moment to smile at the Vulcan and say, 'Aye, sir, they all came of their own accord. Not a one was ordered down here.'

Spock saw Uhura smiling at him with tears in her eyes, and Christine Chapel standing next to her with a statuesque pride on her face. Sulu and Chekov were opposite Scott, both rigidly at attention. Where the lines of Enterprise crew members ran out there began a short two rows of muscular Vulcan honour guards who held ceremonial lirpa, many of them the same ones who had been present to ensure order at his ceremony of kal-if-fee. These, then, must have been arranged by Sarek.

The line ended at the entrance to the court house, where McCoy and his parents were waiting just inside.

'Sarek, did you arrange this?' Spock asked in wonder as they passed from the heat and clamour of outside to the cool, shaded interior of the building.

'I believe it was the general consensus of crew aboard the Enterprise that the guard should be formed, once they were aware of the journalistic activity that was likely to be present today,' Sarek said. 'Commander Scott contacted me for advice as to how to arrange the necessary permissions, at which point I told him I would take responsibility for arranging those permissions, and also called upon the resources of our family to have the native guard present. T'Pau was quite willing to accommodate both requests.'

His mother's eyes were wide and damp with tears, and she smiled at Spock, reaching out a hand to touch his arm but not embarrassing him with a more demonstrative display.

'I'm proud of them,' McCoy said, nodding toward the colourful lines of crew outside the doors. 'And they're proud of you,' he said pointedly to Spock.

'Shall we go?' Sarek asked. 'It is time.'

Spock straightened himself and locked his hands behind his back.

'Yes,' he said. He looked sideways at Jim. 'Captain?'

'Of course, Spock,' Jim said. Spock could see his pride in his crew that was so strong in him that he almost glowed.

As they walked into the court room that feeling of protection faded somewhat, but he pulled hard at his disciplines and took his place on the left hand side of the aisle, where his lawyer was already standing. If she had been human perhaps she would have said something upon her predictions for the verdict, but there was no logic in speculation.

'The sudden interest from news agencies is regrettable,' she said simply, 'but well dealt with, I think.'

'Yes,' Spock agreed.

He leaned in as Kirk passed behind him to stand next to him. In the row behind him his parents and McCoy were standing, as close to him as they could get. The feeling of protection swelled again.

He looked sideways as there was movement at the other door, and Robert Heaton was brought in, flanked by Vulcan guards, to meet his human lawyer on the right side of the aisle. The human looked pale and subdued, and Spock wondered if his lawyer had shared any of his own predictions. Spock could not be confident, though. It was too hard to hold on to a certainty of victory when defeat would be such a blow.

The Ans'hi T'Par stood at the centre of the panel, and the guards rang their bells for silence. The soft murmurs of conversation died away, and she raised her voice to the room.

'Claimant S'chn T'gai Spock, son of Sarek, son of Skon, heir to the estate of Sarek on this world of Vulcan, thou dost come to hear verdict. Accused, Robert William Heaton, son of David Heaton, heir to the farm Wood's End, on the planet Alphonae Prime, thou dost stand before me to hear and receive verdict and sentence for fifty-seven counts of rape performed on forty-two separate occasions, and fifteen counts of physical harm inflicted upon another sentient being.'

The matriarch paused and looked about the court, then turned deliberately to look directly at the members of the panel on both sides of her.

'The panel you see gathered has deliberated on evidence presented through five days of court hearing. They have also studied psychometric data on both the claimant and the accused. The accused refused meld, while the claimant allowed probing by Skan, the most eminent professional in the field of meld evidence. The panel have reached their verdict.'

She looked toward the panel again, and a member stepped forward to hand her an elaborate scroll. This was obviously a formality only, because although she unrolled the scroll she barely spared it a glance.

'Robert William Heaton, thou hast been found guilty by this panel of thirty two provable counts of rape and two of provable physical harm inflicted upon another sentient being – '

A ripple of sensation ran around the courtroom. Spock could feel Jim's, McCoy's, and his mother's jubilation thick in the air. From Sarek there was a more muted sense of triumph. His lawyer T'Ansa turned to him and gave him a significant look, while Jim hit him on the arm, grinning like a child in a toy shop.

' – while fifteen counts of rape and thirteen of physical harm could not be proven,' T'Par said, raising her voice above the murmur of conversation. The bearers shook their frames of bells, and quiet settled through the court again. Spock allowed himself a glance at Robert Heaton and saw that he was leaning heavily on the bar in front of him with a blanched face, his lawyer holding his arm and murmuring into his ear. Angrily, Heaton pushed the lawyer away.

'It has been proven that thou did carry out these offences in full knowledge that they were being carried out upon a citizen of Vulcan,' T'Par continued, 'and that thy behaviour was immoral, inexcusable, and against the laws and dictates of thine own planet – in the case of the rape of a male by another male – and that of your victim, in the case of both rape and physical harm inflicted upon another sentient being. It has been proven that thou were not coerced by any other to carry out these acts, and did perform them thyself of thy own free will, upon a victim who was cruelly denied any free will. In thy favour is the fact that thou were born and bred in a place that did as a matter of course exact terrible cruelties upon other sentient beings and did bond them in slavery, but it has been proven that thou hast the intelligence and will to go against that societal norm. The fact that thou did not is damning indeed.'

Spock glanced at Kirk, finding it difficult to know what to think. The facts were whirling in his head. Robert Heaton had been convicted. He had been convicted.

'It is now my burden to pass sentence upon thee, Robert William Heaton of Alphonae Prime,' T'Par said. 'The panel have deliberated upon the best means of correcting this deviation which thou hast shown, and have come to a majority decision. That is, that thou shalt be committed to a penal institution for a term of thirty-five years, a term which shall be reduced conditional upon provable mental reform, but reduced by no more than ten years. A minimum of of twenty-five years must be served to honour the suffering of thy victim, which was intense, prolonged, and cruel. In deference to thy blood and place of birth, thou shalt be committed to the human penal institution of Willow Bay on Devra 7.'

Spock glanced at Heaton again, seeing a definitely look of relief ameliorating his shock as the judge mentioned the human penal institution. The length of the sentence had appeared to crush him, but perhaps one of his greatest fears was being imprisoned and left at the hands of Vulcans.

'Remind me to tell you something about Willow Bay,' Kirk said in a very soft murmur near to Spock's ear.

Spock looked at him, startled, but did not reply. There seemed to be some kind of supernova expanding in his chest just at the knowledge that he had been believed and that Heaton would receive punishment for his cruelty. It was as if a lid had been closed on one particular aspect of his trauma. Heaton would no longer be allowed to walk about in freedom, boasting of his crimes.

Spock listened in silence to the rest of the Ans'hi T'Par's words, but the relevant bit had passed. Robert Heaton was ordered to pay compensation to his victim, but as he had no resources of his own it was unlikely that would ever come to fruition. Spock did not mind. He was not in need of money. Very soon he was walking out of the courtroom with Jim's arm squeezing his shoulders and McCoy and his mother clustering about him. He did not protest Jim's tactile familiarity. The joy that was coming through the touch complemented his own unexpressed joy.

When they reached the outer door the guard from the Enterprise were still there, and when Kirk gave them a buoyant but subtle thumbs up such cheering erupted that the shouts of the journalists for comment were drowned completely. The cheers began with those in sight of the captain but rippled down the lines almost instantly. Spock walked with his head held high to the waiting cab, where his mother embraced him quickly and Sarek held his hand up in salute. He got in with Kirk and McCoy, intending to visit with his parents later.

'You wished to tell me about Willow Bay, Jim,' Spock said once the cab door was closed and it was certain that no one was listening.

'Yeah, what is it with that?' McCoy asked. 'You seemed pleased, Jim. I for one would have loved to see him in a Vulcan prison.'

'Maybe, Bones, but Vulcan prisons are very – Vulcan,' Kirk said.

'As one would expect,' Spock nodded.

Kirk brushed that away with a wave of his hand. 'What I mean is, although it would have been alien to all that he knew, a Vulcan prison would have been logical, focussed on the needs of the prisoner and on rehabilitating them to re-enter society.'

'Is that not the ideal?' Spock asked with half a frown.

'Well...' Kirk said. At that point the cab reached the hotel and Kirk deferred further discussion until they were in their room. 'Willow Bay is a very human prison, Spock,' he said as soon as they and McCoy were alone again. 'Of course ostensibly it's all about rehabilitation – what modern prison isn't? But it's – very human.'

'I am not entirely certain of what you mean by that, Captain,' Spock said, intrigued.

'Let's just say, he won't have it easy there,' Kirk said. 'It's a high security prison, violent crimes mostly. I don't imagine that the other inmates will be exactly kind on someone convicted of the kind of crimes he performed. I expect he'll be – put in his place – very quickly. Besides that, it's a working prison, and he'll be expected to perform labour in return for his bed and board. Of course there'll be the usual mental reconditioning, but it's not going to be a pleasant journey for him. I suspect that the judge knew that when she opted to send him there. There are other prisons nearer Alphonae Prime with better reputations.'

Spock frowned slightly. 'Captain, do you believe that it is a good thing to brutalise prisoners rather than effectively rehabilitate them?'

'Not in general, no,' Kirk said, sobering at Spock's tone of voice. 'But in that little shit's case...'

'I'm with Jim, Spock,' McCoy told him firmly. 'He didn't exactly hold back from doing what could have brutalised you, did he?'

'Perhaps that is true,' Spock said. He did not believe in allowing victims to have influence on how their attackers were punished, but he had to admit to a certain satisfaction at the thought of Robert Heaton being subject to some of the same hardships that he himself had suffered on Alphonae Prime, and over a much longer period, too.

'He'll be in his forties when he's out, at the earliest,' McCoy pointed out.

This too gave Spock some silent satisfaction.

'Gentlemen,' Kirk said, going over to the sideboard and bending to take out three glasses and a bottle that he had obviously put in there earlier. 'It's been a long morning. May I suggest we spend the rest of the day in a more relaxing style. I want to raise a toast to you, Spock, and later I have reservations for all of us – your parents included – at one of the best restaurants in the city.'

'Champagne?' McCoy asked, taking the bottle from his captain to read the label. 'You really were confident of the verdict, weren't you?'

'I couldn't see how it could go any other way,' Kirk said, reclaiming the bottle. 'Not just champagne, Bones, but authentic champagne from the Champagne region of France. Vintage of 2257. I was told it was an excellent year.'

The bottle opened with a forceful pop, the cork firing across the room and ricocheting off the wall, and he caught the first frothing bubbles in one of the glasses.

'Spock, Bones,' he said, handing them their drinks before pouring his own. 'To Spock,' he said, lifting his glass. 'I'm proud of you for coming through this. I think we all are.'

'Damn right,' McCoy muttered, before echoing, 'To Spock,' and raising his own glass.

Spock sat at sipped at the light and bubbling wine, feeling a profound sense of ease move through his body such as he had not felt since before his enslavement on Alphonae Prime. Perhaps, he thought, he would be able to move on from here. Perhaps this moment would count as a new beginning.

THE END