Blood Debt by Djinn

"Sir, I beg of you. We must go."

Spock waited till the wracking cough subsided, then looked up at Talmek and shook his head. "Those who need me must be able to find me."

"Others will be able to find you as well if we stay here." Talmek looked toward the tunnels. "Even this far down we are too exposed. We need to go deeper. Go somewhere you can rest, get well."

"We will stay here." Spock sighed.

An echo of his sigh came from the veiled women who knelt at the fire, silently cooking their meal. Talmek eyed her suspiciously.

Spock followed his gaze. "Leave her, she is a threat to no one," he said softly.

"You don't know who she is."

"I don't need to. She comes to me with no words, with only the thirst for knowledge, the hunger for logic. "

"But you have never seen her face."

Spock coughed again, racking heaves that left him dizzy and weak when they subsided. "She comes to us anonymously for a reason. She only seeks to learn. And she has served us faithfully for some time." Spock knew that Talmek was right to suspect the woman. It was illogical to not make her show her true identity. But Spock was tired of the running, tired of all the precautions. He coughed again. What difference did it make anymore?

"That might be just an act. She could be anyone." Talmek shook his head. "We have been attacked too many times lately. Your followers decimated. She could be the one betraying us. You are weak, sick. How do you know she hasn't poisoned you? How can we be sure that she isn't Tal Shiar?"

"How indeed?" A new voice sounded from behind him. "If it's any help, she isn't."

Talmek whirled, his hand reaching for his disruptor. A woman stood at the cave entrance. She pointed a crystalline wand and energy streamed out with a loud wail, knocking Talmek across the room. Spock stood; ready to rush to his acolyte's side.

"Do not move." She moved closer. "He isn't dead, just stunned."

The veiled woman moved slowly around the fire, as if trying to hide behind the small flames from the stranger.

Spock studied the woman that threatened him. She appeared to be Romulan, but her tawny hair and vaguely feline features made her look more exotic, more dangerous. "Do I know you, Madame?"

She grinned. The expression was in no way friendly. "You might say that."

"Have I injured you in some way?" He saw the veiled woman reach for one of the stones that ringed the fire pit.

"Put it down," the intruder ordered. "You may not be Tal Shiar, but you are certainly as dangerous."

"How do you know who or what she is?"

"Because I happen to be on very good terms with the Tal Shiar and they've been tracking her since she arrived on Romulus." She smiled when Spock glanced quickly at the woman. "That's right. This one's no native. You really should be more careful, Spock. Anyone could infiltrate your little group."

The woman rose slowly from the fire. She had not dropped the rock.

The tawny one smiled again. "I don't want to hurt you, but I will."

The woman did not stop moving toward her.

"Take off your veil then, if it's to be war between us. Let me see your face."

Spock watched as the woman ripped off the cloth that had hidden her face. He felt a shock as she glanced at him. "Saavik?"

"Hello, Spock." She pulled a dagger out from somewhere in her uniform. "It's time to give this up and come home. But we can discuss that later. Once I deal with...whoever she is."

"Have you forgotten that I hold the energy weapon?" the woman asked.

"No. Actually I haven't." Saavik flung the knife, the blade whipping through the air, perfectly aimed.

The other woman dodged, moving fast enough that the dagger missed her chest but not quickly enough to get away entirely. The knife sank into her arm; she did not cry out. "A fine blade," she said paying absolutely no attention to the emerald blood that streamed down her arm.

Saavik took a step back.

The woman raised her weapon. "I shall treasure it always." The wand screamed and the beam knocked Saavik even farther into the caverns than it had Talmek. She fell, her body hidden by the tunnel wall.

Spock was already moving to her when a shock wave knocked him to the ground. He looked over to see the woman also fall.

She was cursing in a strangely human manner. "Damn them. What part of 'Give me half an hour' didn't they understand?" She rose to her knees, shaking her head as if to clear it.

Spock hoped that she no longer held the wand. Trying to see through the smoke, he began to crawl to Saavik. He heard footsteps coming, felt strong arms pulling him to his feet.

"No. You're coming with me."

He looked up at a hazy figure. Why did her voice suddenly seem familiar? "Who are you?"

"Don't you recognize me, Father?"

"Valeris?" he said, barely getting the words out as another spasm of coughing took him. He tried to make out her face, but it was becoming hazy.

"Time to get out of here, Spock," she said, her voice fading as another shock wave pummeled them. She looked over at Saavik and frowned. Releasing Spock, she walked over to the fallen woman and pushed her into the tunnel. She raised the wand and made a small adjustment, firing at the rock arch. It fell in a shower of smaller stones, sealing the entrance to the tunnel.

"Saavik," he rasped.

"There's a way out, it'll just take her a while to find it. Safer than being found by the Tal Shiar, in any case." She kneeled down next to Spock. "Let's go," she said, as she touched a badge on her shirt and a transporter carried them away.

They rematerialized in sunshine. Spock's eyes, accustomed for so long now only to the dim glow of the caverns, burned in the bright light until the membrane that served as an extra eyelid slammed down in self-defense, leaving him blind. He struggled to get up as another coughing fit came over him, then sank back to the grass when the last of his strength gave out. Just before he lost consciousness, he thought he heard the cry of a hawk.

----------------------

Rise stood in the doorway, watching Jorase tend to Spock. Her servant wiped the grime from Spock's face as he tossed in what Rise could only suppose were fever-ridden dreams. Hope they sting, she thought, feeling her heart harden as she stared at the man who had sired her.

Jorase looked over at her. "He is very sick."

"I know." Rise went to the humidifier, added a few drops of the aromatic oil that already scented the air in the small bedroom. "It is his own fault. He stayed too long in the caverns. Only he'd think that he would be immune to the metals and chemicals trapped there."

Jorase grimaced, the act crumpling her already mangled face even more. "A tincture of hennesbore might help him."

Rise nodded absently. "Do what you think best. The Tal Shiar want him alive."

Jorase hurried out of the room to get the medicine. Rise took her place, sitting next to Spock and sponging his face. As she moved, her arm twinged in pain in the place where Saavik's dagger had hit. She tried to ignore the pain as she worked. Jorase came back in with the bottle and Rise stood, backing away even as her servant dribbled some of the tincture into Spock's mouth.

"Let me know if he wakes."

"Yes, mistress."

Rise turned and walked out into the hall. She went into her own bedroom and stared at herself in the mirror. She looked nothing like the woman Spock had known. Nor like the human woman she had tried to become when Cameron had helped her escape from the Federation prison after the Khittomer assassination attempt had failed. She reached up and touched the tawny hair that grew so wild and untamed then walked over to her bedside table to pick up the holo of Cameron and her. It had been taken just after they had finished the genetic tinkering that had changed him slightly and utterly transformed her. Rise touched her smiling image, all blue eyes, pale blonde hair, and ivory skin. And lovely rounded ears. Even her blood...she sighed. Even her blood had been altered. For such a short time, she had bled crimson.

She put the holo down. Tried not to remember the day she had cut herself and seen the green blood pool on her skin. She had screamed and Cameron had come running. They had tried to find the doctors that had worked on them but genetic experimentation was strictly prohibited and these particular practitioners had moved on. All of Rise's money couldn't find them.

Probably killed by another unhappy client, she thought bitterly as she ran her finger over the points of her ears. She had found the last location the doctors had practiced and had read some of their records. Learned that they had used more than just human DNA in their experiments. They had employed whatever genetic material they had thought would prove useful. Like modern Circes they had combined Rise's human genes with felinoid ones. Rise supposed she should be grateful that it had been that animal and not another. For if she was now a monster, she was a lovely one. Exotic. Striking. Romulans often stopped on the street to stare at her. Some had even walked up to her, touching the wild mane that had been such lovely blonde hair and black hair before that. Her skin color was a shade tanner than most Romulans or Vulcans and her eyes had shifted to a tawny amber. She truly did look like a cat. Beautiful.

And felines were popular on Romulus. Well with most of the populace, she reminded herself, thinking of her Tal Shiar contact and her dislike of the graceful creatures although she didn't seem to have any such problems with Rise. Or Sureya as she was known now.

"Mistress?" Jorase called out from the doorway. "He is awake."

Rise put down the picture.

"I'll just get some food for him," Jorase said, turning away. "He looks starved."

"It is a look he no doubt embraces," Rise countered but she didn't try to stop Jorase. She took a deep breath and walked back into Spock's bedroom.

His eyes were surprisingly alert for someone in his condition. He stared at her. "Valeris?"

"I go by Sureya here."

"Not Rise."

"Nobody calls me that anymore," she said, trying to stop the pain that came from the thought of all of those that had called her that...all lost now.

"I will not call you Sureya."

She shrugged.

"So either I call you Valeris or Rise."

"Why don't you just call me 'Captor,' Spock?" She sat down in the chair next to the bed.

He had to shift to see her face. "I am your prisoner?"

"What did you think? That you were my honored guest?" She laughed, the sound calculatedly bitter.

"I have not had time to analyze the situation."

"Ah." She leaned back in the chair. "Well, analyze away, Spock. We have nothing but time now."

He studied her.

She looked back, keeping her expression bland. "Why don't you just ask me why I look like this?"

"I assume you did this to better hide your whereabouts after Khittomer."

She laughed again. "I didn't do 'this' at all. What I did was to try to wipe out anything in me that was Vulcan. Succeeded for a while too. I was human. Fully human. The process was imperfect though, and Vulcan blood will out apparently. This is the final product." She touched her face.

"Little cat," he said, but the words held none of the fondness they had when he would call Saavik the same thing.

"Don't call me that."

"As you will, Rise."

She felt irritation rise. He was in no position to bait her. "You forget yourself, sir." She stood slowly, gracefully. "The Tal Shiar could come at any time. You are here on my forbearance only."

"Illogical. You and the Tal Shiar must both want me here or I would not now be in this bed, in this room, in your house." He smiled slightly, the expression mocking. "If the Tal Shiar meant to take me away from here, I would be in their custody by now."

She walked to the window. "You are right. Still so smart." She looked up at the sky where a shiarawk was circling. Opening the window, she leaned out and whistled shrilly.

The hawk called back. Rise smiled as the bird soared toward her. At the last possible moment, the shiarawk pulled up, narrowly missing the window and roof. She could hear his delight as he sent her, *I fly.*

*Yes, my beauty, you fly.*

"A shiarawk?"

She nodded. "His name is Shiansu. Though he flies free he is mine. He's sired most of my clutches."

"Shiarawks are most valuable."

She turned to him. "Everything here is valuable, Spock. I am very rich."

"Rich enough to afford the symbol of the Tal Shiar? Impressive."

"Not really. I train them for those who can also afford to fly a shiarawk. It is all the rage nowadays...my birds are the best trained, the most beautiful. And of course the most expensive. Very much in demand." She looked down at the mews. "I have been successful at breeding the Romulan falcon too." She almost forgot who she was talking to as she lost herself in the subject. "They are difficult to breed in captivity and even more difficult to train. Only the richest houses can afford one. Though few want them. They are nearly impossible to hunt with. I have a male that I think might condescend to hunt for me, but the rest refuse to cooperate."

He seemed taken aback.

She shook her head. "A side of me you didn't know, I guess. I probably should have been a vet, or worked with animals in some way. If I had taken that path, think how different our lives would have been."

"If your mother had let me know of your existence, our lives would have been even more different."

Rise bristled. "Leave her out of this."

"She should have told me that I had a daughter."

"She had her reasons for keeping me secret." Rise would never tell him that over the years she had come to agree with him...that her mother's actions had only made things worse. But loyalty to her mother would keep her silent on that score forever.

"Not very good ones," he said, shifting to get comfortable. "But I can see that discussing her will get us nowhere. Why are you keeping me for the Tal Shiar?"

Rise smiled. "You'll find out." She heard Jorase coming up the stairs. "Your dinner is here. I will leave you to eat in peace." She turned to walk out.

"Have they always known where I was?"

She looked back at him. "The Tal Shiar?"

He nodded.

"They knew you were in the caverns. They did not know exactly where."

"Yet you found us?"

"It took a while. I had to wait till the pain you felt from your sickness grew bad enough."

He frowned. "I do not understand."

"I can feel you." She closed her eyes, relishing this moment. She'd been waiting for it for so long. "I've been able to feel your emotions since I first escaped. Then it was pure rage that I had gotten away. That did you no credit, Father."

His eyes narrowed.

"Let's see, after that there was Kirk's death, Amanda's illness, a Pon Farr- -nastily timed, thank god for Saavik's willingness to bail you out especially since I was no longer an option." She knew she was sneering. "Then there was your anger at Sarek's remarriage, your final falling out with him, more Pon Farrs--this time safely planned so poor Saavik was spared the duty--your betrayal by Pardek, hearing that Kirk had been rescued only to die again. Do I really need to go on?"

He was staring at her aghast.

"I can tell you everything you felt in those moments. The crushing grief each time you lost Kirk. The guilty relief when Amanda finally moved beyond the pain." Rise looked down. "I'm sorry for that. She was always kind to me."

"You cannot know these things."

"Did you never wonder if you had left anything of yourself behind when you raped my mind? When you tore your way through it to steal my memories?"

He looked at her in dawning horror. "I would have known."

She laughed bitterly. "Oh, don't look so appalled. It's not a bond. Just a resonance, a link of some kind. It only works with strong emotion, pain especially. Your pain, obviously, for you couldn't be this surprised if you had felt any of mine. I had no choice...I lived your life's highest and lowest points. For seventy years. Think about that."

"I had no idea." He looked down.

"Obviously." She moved aside so that Jorase could bring in his dinner tray. "Enjoy your meal, Father."

-----------------------------

Saavik woke with a groan. At first she thought she'd gone blind, then she realized that wherever she was, it was completely dark. She reached out slowly. Her right hand connected with stone. Her left hand just kept reaching. She reached above her, and finding that the ceiling wasn't within reach, stood gingerly, feeling for the top of the tunnel or cell or wherever she was. She rose all the way without hitting the ceiling.

She felt with her foot. The ground seemed solid. Then she caught the familiar chemical reek that had been her constant companion for the months she had traveled silently with Spock. So she was still in the caverns then. She remembered the strange woman that had attacked them. Saavik had assumed she was Tal Shiar. But why would a Tal Shiar operative leave her here?

Saavik reached under her shirt and felt the pouch she'd strapped to her body. She pulled out a small light, turning it on and blinking in the suddenly too bright light. She was in a tunnel. The wall to her right looked like a recent cave in. Had the woman done that? And why? It made no sense.

"Damn it, Spock. Why couldn't you just come home on your own?" Saavik muttered as she pulled out a small compass. The odd fields in the cavern played havoc with it. "Damn it," she said again as she stuffed it back into the pouch. She reached for her dagger then remembered throwing it at the woman.

I'll just have to get it back, Saavik thought grimly, well aware that she had no idea where the woman had gone. But wherever it was, she had probably taken Spock with her. Saavik smiled grimly. How hard could it be to find a Romulan woman that looked and moved like a cat?

She had to backtrack several times but Saavik finally found one of the main tunnels to the surface. She waited until she was sure that no one was watching her, then slipped out of the tunnel.

She walked with purpose, just another Romulan on her way to work. Her clothing blended, she looked the part, and if challenged her accent would not give her away.

She kept walking until she came to the house that Talmek had used occasionally as a meeting place. The building was overrun with Tal Shiar. She kept walking, no different than any of the other curious passersby. Three blocks over was a merchant that had been sympathetic to Spock's cause in the past. As she rounded the corner, she saw that it too was full of Tal Shiar agents.

It's a roundup, she realized. This was all planned. Spock might be in custody already. She had to find the strange cat woman. Sooner rather than later.

Like some form of feline herself, Saavik disappeared into the crowd and began her hunt.

------------********-------------------

Spock watched as Rise's servant filled his glass with fresh water.

"There you go, sir. Will you be wanting anything else?"

Spock ignored the question. "I'm her father. Are you aware of that?" He watched for the reaction.

There was none. "That's her business, sir." She reached for his breakfast tray. "Can't see that she's mistreating you."

He stared up at her face. "She's mistreated you though, hasn't she?"

She looked up at him and actually laughed. "You think she did this to me?" She straightened and touched her mangled flesh. "After the accident, Mistress Rise was the first person to look at me and not shrink back. To treat me like a person and not a monster." She snatched the tray from his lap. "So don't think you can turn me. I'd sooner die for her."

Spock watched her go, leaning back against the pillows. Too much talking tired him and brought the coughing on. And lately, too much talking seemed to be only a few words. He shifted repeatedly, not finding a comfortable spot. Finally, he closed his eyes to doze. When he opened them again, it was full dark.

"You slept a long time." Rise stared at him from the chair across the room. A single candle on the bedside table lit the room.

She played with something around her neck. When she saw he was staring at it, she held it out. "It was Cameron's."

The name wasn't familiar. He shook his head.

"He was the one that got me out of prison." She smiled softly. "He was the father I never had."

He did not give her the satisfaction of looking away.

"He wore this garnet in a ring. I had the stone reset when he died. I never take it off."

"What do you want of me, Rise?"

"I want nothing, Spock. Trust me on that."

"Then why bring me here if not to exact some form of revenge on me?"

"Helping the Tal Shiar work against you is my revenge."

"And how do you intend to do that? Other than keeping me here?" he asked, hoping to draw her out.

She smiled. "You shall see. In good time." She rose and picked up a small bottle. Opening it, she filled a dropper with the amber contents and held it to his mouth. "This will ease your cough."

"Not poison?"

She shrugged. "Why would I try to poison you with this? If I wanted to kill you, you'd be dead."

"Logical," he conceded, as he took the dropper and squeezed the liquid into his mouth. It was very bitter but he forced himself to not grimace as he swallowed it down.

"Done like a true Vulcan," she said with a mocking smile.

"Is it just me you hate, or all Vulcans?"

She shrugged again.

"I did not know you were my daughter. I would never have--"

"--I do not wish to discuss it, Spock." She began to rise.

He held out his hand. "We shall not speak of it then." When she did not sit, he said, "Stay?"

"Stay? Why?" But she sat back down. "Are you actually enjoying our little chats? I always suspected there was something of the masochist in you."

"Does that mean there is something of the sadist in you?"

She stared at him, then smiled harshly. "If there is, I got it from you, Daddy."

He took a deep breath.

"How odd that sounds. Daddy. I imagine that I would never have called you that."

He didn't answer.

"Sure you don't want me to go?"

He searched for a safer subject. "Your servant?"

"Jorase."

"Yes. What happened to her?"

"I found her on one of the first worlds Cameron and I settled. She had been injured in a factory there. Slipped and fell into one of the machines. She actually looks much better than when I first met her." Rise seemed very far away. "She had run out of money, had no family to help her. She was begging on the streets when I nearly ran her over with my flitter. I took her in, at first just intending to get her something to eat, but she was so grateful...and then so useful. She has been with me ever since."

"She is very loyal."

"Tried to turn her, did you?" Rise smiled and Spock realized it was the first real smile he'd seen from her. Her attention was captured by something at the door and she bent down, rubbing her fingers together. A black cat stalked in, followed by three kittens. "Freya! Where have you been? I thought Shiansu had gotten you, you silly thing."

Spock remembered his mother having a cat named Freya about the time Valeris had come into his life. He watched Rise's face as she stroked the cat and played with the kittens, chuckling softly as they rolled at her feet, swatting at her fingers. Her expression was transformed for a moment, then she looked up and saw that he was watching her and the pleasant look was replaced with something sterner.

"Do not think me weak," she warned. She got up quickly and walked out of the room, the cat following her out with the kittens gamboling behind.

----------------------------

"So which one is mine?" Sela shielded her eyes, watching the two birds circling high above.

"I haven't decided yet." Rise held out her arm, the heavy glove protecting her flesh from the ripping talons of the bird that sat waiting to be flown. *Ready?* she sent to the shiarawk.

The bird screamed and shifted, his wings coming up slightly in his excitement to fly.

Rise nodded at Keltun, her Romulan assistant. He swung the lure high and fast then snapped it hard. The fresh carcass went flying into the high grass at the edge of the estate.

"Go," she told the bird as she flung him up and out.

Two powerful wing beats and the hawk was heading for the grass, flying in straight and low, his progress toward the carcass incredibly fast. Rise leaned back and sighed in satisfaction. This young bird was one of the best she'd bred yet. There wasn't a wasted motion as he took the carcass, the impact of the 'kill' would have broken the back of the rodent had it still been living.

"Amazing," Sela said next to her. "Such a fine symbol." She smiled at Rise. "Your birds are always the best, even better than those who have been doing this forever. How can that be, Sureya? What's your secret?"

Rise smiled. "They like me."

Sela shot her a skeptical look. "That's it? They like you?" She laughed and reached for Rise's hand. "Well, I like you too, Sureya, but I defy you to train me."

"You're untrainable," Rise agreed, gently pulling her hand away.

"You used to like it when I did that."

"We said no expectations." Rise watched as Keltun approached the shiarawk. The bird was busily eating, its wings mantling the carcass to keep it out of the sight of the other birds above. She called out to her assistant, "He likes this one. We'll use it from now on in the lures. Let him finish. I want him to have a taste for it."

"There is a difference between no expectations and no fun," Sela said with a pout.

"Perhaps we have different needs for fun?"

"I think we were pretty much of one mind on that when we started." Sela smiled as she again turned her eyes to the skies. "They're beautiful."

"They are," Rise agreed. She held her arm out and whistled loudly. One of the shiarawks began to circle lower and lower. Finally she came to rest on the glove, back winging to get her balance. *Pretty girl,* Rise sent her as she touched the back of her head.

The bird cocked her neck, allowing Rise to scratch the side of her neck.

The assistant came up and Rise handed the shiarawk over to him. She saw that the hawk on the ground was finished eating and walked over to him. He looked up at her, then past her to the sky. *I know you'd like to fly, little one. But not yet. You're not ready.*

His shrill scream was a definite argument. He extended his wings and took a few jumps.

"Looks like someone isn't going to come quietly," Sela called out to her.

"He'll come," Rise said as she watched the bird launch himself into the air and speed away.

*Shiansu,* she sent to the bird that remained in the sky.

*I get,* he answered her, as he set off after the younger bird.

"I forget sometimes they're essentially wild. They seem to enjoy their partnership with you."

Rise smiled. "That is the idea."

Sela turned away and looked in the shed next to the mews. A chorus of barks and other cries greeted her. "Your collection has grown since the last time I was here."

"People keep bringing them to me," Rise said as she watched Shiansu begin to drive the other bird back toward her.

"But most of these aren't Romulan."

"You're right. It seems like wherever I've lived, I've managed to attract stray canids and felines. I've given up calling them anything but dogs or cats."

"So many cats," Sela said with a shudder.

"You hate them, yet you like me, and I've been told I look like one."

"Your face does. But I'm willing to overlook that. Other places you look pretty much like any other Romulan." Sela shot her a lascivious glance.

Rise just shook her head, a slight smile playing at her lips.

*We come,* Shiansu's mindvoice sounded. The young hawk landed with an angry cry on the grass in front of her. Shiansu flew by, his wings causing a caress of air as she passed. *Young bird, silly bird,* he sent her.

*Yes, very young. Thank you for getting him,* she replied, smiling at the smug tone in the older bird's mental cry. She held her glove out to her runaway and he hopped up on her arm. *Sorry, friend. Maybe someday you'll get to fly free like your father, but not just yet.*

He screeched and flapped his wings. Shiansu screamed from the sky and the younger bird settled down quickly. She carried him into the mews and put him into a large cage near the front.

Sela stood at the entrance, watching her. "And how's your prisoner?"

"Sick." Rise locked the door and put the glove away. "Sicker than he realizes."

"Only a fool would stay in the caverns as long as he did."

"He isn't a fool. Arrogant but not foolish." Rise tried to walk past Sela but the woman put her arm up.

"No, you're right. A fool wouldn't be as dangerous to our people as he is." Sela nuzzled Rise's neck, stopping only when her communicator buzzed. "Yes? Very good." She smiled and dropped her arm as she instructed Rise, "Go get him, it's time."

Rise hurried away and into the house. She grabbed the transporter controller then stopped at the main door to drop the estate's defenses on the side near the mews. Then she slowly climbed the stairs and walked into Spock's room as if nothing were amiss.

He was dressed in the robe she had left for him and was sitting in the chair, reading. "Rise."

"You are better today. Our tonics do you some good after all."

He nodded.

"You must take some air. It will help in your recovery."

"I am fine here."

"But there is something I want to show you. Something important." She deliberately chose the tone of voice she had used so long ago on him, when she was Valeris and there was nothing he wouldn't do for her.

He stood slowly. "If you insist."

She saw him sway. "We'll skip the stairs," she said, taking his arm and hitting her transporter. A shimmer and a moment later, they were deposited on the grass outside the mews.

Spock looked around, "What did you wish to show me? Your birds?"

She shook her head.

"Something more interesting," Sela said, walking out of the animal's shed. She walked to where they stood and leaned up to give him a kiss on the cheek. Then she let out a peal of laugher and said loudly, "Oh, Spock, you say the most droll things. It's what I've always loved about you."

Rise took his arm, looking up at him with an expression of adoration.

He looked at them as if they'd gone mad. "What are you doing?"

A rustling in the grass behind the mews caught his attention. Talmek stood watching them. "You betrayed us?" his voice sounded loudly from the edge of the property. "All this time...a lie?"

"Stop him," Sela yelled to soldiers that appeared from the front of the house. "He must not be allowed to compromise Spock!" Under her breath, she continued, "How inconvenient that he escaped so close to where you were being held. What are the odds?"

Spock tried to pull away but Rise held him with an iron hand. He called out to his assistant, "Talmek, this is not what it appears." His voice was weak and he was not sure the young Romulan had even heard him.

"Traitor," Talmek yelled at him before taking off running.

The soldiers began to fire, yelling for the man to stop.

"Your soldiers are remarkably bad shots," Spock observed. "Or they've been instructed to allow him to escape."

"How else would the story get out--that you are in league with us--if he does not get away?" Sela's smile was triumphant. "Your influence has been a problem. Your death would have made you a martyr. We couldn't have that. Much better to discredit you."

Rise felt him sag and glanced at Sela. "And we have done so. Now he must rest."

Sela shot her a surprised look.

"He is sick. All has gone according to your plan. Be happy, Sela." Rise saw her nod finally. She reached for her vest and touched the transporter button.

As they appeared in Spock's room, she heard him say, "So this is your revenge?"

"No, Spock. This is politics. Nothing more."

"You derive no satisfaction from it?"

She eased him down onto the bed. "I didn't say that."

He began to cough--the wracking heaves causing him to fight for breath. He reached for a tissue and held it to his mouth. It came away bright green. He stared at it, then looked at her.

"The caverns are a dumping ground for waste, Spock. The atmosphere down there is poisonous. The deeper you go the more toxic it becomes. You spent too much time there."

"I am dying?" He sounded resigned.

She nodded.

"That's why they do this now. Before I can die for my cause."

"Times are hard for the Tal Shiar right now. They are fighting for existence, even though that may not be apparent to anyone on the outside. You are a threat to them. Alive or dead. Only here, discredited and muzzled can they be sure you will not interfere with their work."

"So you are the one to betray me...again. Did they bring you to Romulus just for that purpose? Or did you hear of their plan and rush to join in?"

"My reasons for coming to Romulus had nothing to do with you." She thought of the mad flight she had undertaken when Cameron had died. Romulus had welcomed her. And held no memories. And then there had been the birds and later the other animals. "I found peace here."

"Peace?"

She nodded. "What I do now, I do as a favor for a friend. Nothing more. Once you die, I will go back to my normal existence."

"So you plan to keep me here until my death?"

She nodded.

"How long do I have?"

"I don't know. The damage to your lungs cannot be reversed. But it could be months or even years before it kills you."

"Or weeks or days?"

"Yes."

He leaned back against the pillow. His eyes were empty of emotion. "I find that it matters little to me now." He looked away. "I imagine you feel the same way."

It was not a question and she did not bother to argue. She quietly left his room and closed the door.

Jorase was standing in the hall. "Why do you hate him so?"

Rise shook her head and tried to walk past.

Jorase reached out and stopped her. "Mistress, this isn't the real you...the woman that takes in every hurt or lost animal that comes along. And not the woman that took me in."

Rise shook her head. "Leave it alone, Jorase. There is too much history between him and me to ever explain it to you." She looked back at Spock's door. "He is getting sicker. Attend to him?"

Jorase nodded, a sad look on her face. Rise, eager to get away from Spock, hurried past her and outside to the waiting animals.

------------*******-----------------

Saavik studied the estate that spread out before her. It had taken her two days to find out the identity of the woman who had taken Spock and another three days to reach where she lived. There was a fence that looked as if it was more for decoration than anything else but she'd been warned by those who had told her where to find Sureya that the estate was known for its state-of-the-art defenses. She wasn't going to blow it now by tripping some alarm accidentally.

She pulled out a small tricorder and turned it on, scanning softly. The estate might look pristine but it was laced with a variety of sensors and alarms. The intricately carved front gate was generating a field of enormous power. Saavik crawled back a few meters in the grass. How was she going to get in?

A sudden shriek overhead made her jump. She looked up and saw a Romulan hawk soaring. It landed on a tree and stared down at her. It screamed again and again. Saavik had the feeling that it was trying to give away her position.

"I'm not food," she muttered. "Go away, bird."

The hawk screamed again. Saavik looked up just in time to see it dive at her. She rolled and tucked, keeping herself hidden in the tall grass. She felt the whoosh of wings, passing just short of her. She waited for the bird to dive again but it didn't. Tentatively she looked up.

"The next time he won't miss," said Sureya, who was now standing at the front gate. "He doesn't like intruders."

Saavik stood up slowly, brushing off her clothes and using the motion as an excuse to make sure the disruptor and knife she'd obtained were still safely hidden.

"Welcome to my house, Saavik."

"How do you know my name?" Saavik asked as she walked to the gate.

"Because I know you." The woman hit a panel and the forcefield dropped. Several dog-like creatures that had been playing at her feet ran out toward Saavik.

She tensed, then realized that their barks weren't threatening when one of them knelt down in a play pose and whined. She looked at the other woman in query.

"They're friendly. Here throw this for them." The woman tossed Saavik a ball. "Back inside the compound, if you don't mind."

Saavik lobbed the ball back through the gate. The dogs chased after it, barking frenetically.

"Well, come in."

Saavik didn't move.

"Suit yourself. But if you want to see Spock, you'll come in."

"He's alive?"

"So far," the woman said in an unconcerned voice. "That could change at any moment."

Saavik walked through the gate. She felt something tug at her weapons and looked down.

"I'm very rich, Saavik. There are few things I can't afford in this defense system." The woman held her disruptor and knife. She tossed them into a slot and they were destroyed. "You won't be needing those."

Saavik felt her hands clenching. "You're right, I don't need those to kill you and take him away."

The woman turned. "I made sure the Tal Shiar didn't catch you in the caverns. The way I see it, you owe me."

"Owe you?"

"For your life."

Saavik noticed the slight scar on the woman's arm where her dagger had stabbed her. "You heal fast."

"Yes. I do."

"Who are you?"

The woman picked up the ball one of the dogs had dropped at her feet and threw it hard. She looked back at Saavik. "My name here is Sureya. You knew me as Valeris. Spock's taken to calling me Rise, which is my real name. So if you want to call me that, I suppose you can." She started walking back to the house. "Come on, I think he's still awake."

Saavik just stared at her. "Valeris?"

Rise didn't wait for her and Saavik hurried to catch up with her. "You betrayed him again?"

"Yes, I did."

Saavik grabbed her by the arm roughly, pulling her up shortly.

A shriek from above sounded and Rise smiled warningly. "I wouldn't do that. Unless you relish a shiarawk attacking you? He's very protective of me."

Saavik let go.

Rise spun and kept walking. "Hurry up, Saavik. I'm sure Spock will be so happy to see you."

Saavik followed Rise into the courtyard the fronted the house. A fountain ran, the sound of water dropping down its many levels providing soft background noise. Flowers grew and there were benches scattered around the area. A black cat sunned herself on the slate walkway while three kittens played around her.

"Freya, you're a fool to bring them out when Shiansu is in this kind of mood." Rise frowned and picked up the kittens, handing them to Saavik, and then scooping up the cat. "Bring them inside," she said, as if Saavik were just a normal guest being impressed into temporary rescue service. One of the kittens, black like its mother, pushed under her chin and began to lick her neck. It tickled and Saavik made a sound.

Rise looked back and smiled. "She likes you." She let the door close and put the cat down. "No accounting for taste, I guess." Her tone was gentler than her words.

Saavik set the other two kittens down but the little black one didn't want to budge. Rise stepped in and gently pried the claws out of Saavik's clothing and skin.

"You look like a cat," Saavik realized.

"So I've been told." Rise put the kitten down then walked up the stairs. "He's up here."

Saavik followed her up and was surprised to see Spock lying unrestrained in a comfortable room. "A prisoner?"

Spock looked up, a mixture of welcome and warning on his face. "Some prisons are more pleasant than others, little cat."

Saavik saw Rise's eyes narrow at the endearment. "Are you all right, Spock?"

He nodded. Then he looked at Rise. Their eyes held for a long time before she finally looked away. He almost smiled. "Other than dying. I am all right other than that."

"Dying?" She grabbed Rise. "What have you done?"

"It is not her, Saavikam," Spock tried to get up and was overcome by a coughing fit.

Saavik let go of Rise and rushed to him, easing him back down against the pillows.

"He has spent too much time in the caverns. The atmosphere down there is deadly. There is nothing anyone can do." Rise turned and left the room.

"I don't believe that, Spock."

He touched her cheek. "It is true, Saavik."

"So she brought you here to die in comfort?"

He shook his head. "To discredit me. She is working with the Tal Shiar."

"Why? Hasn't she hurt you enough?"

He looked down. "I never told you the whole truth about her. I didn't tell anyone, not my mother and father, not Jim, not you. I was going to, but when Rise escaped there seemed no point."

"I don't understand."

"Rise is my daughter."

Saavik stared at him. "But you planned to bond--"

"--I did not know she was my daughter at the time." His look was stern.

"But she did? And she was going to allow it?"

He shook his head. "She did not want it."

"How can this be? A daughter you never knew you had?"

"It is a long story. Suffice it to say that her mother hid her existence from me."

"Why?"

He shook his head. "She is long dead, Saavik. It is useless to speculate."

"Who was her mother?"

"Doctor Christine Chapel. Someone I served with on the Enterprise."

"A human?"

He nodded. "Rise is mostly human, although you'd never know it looking at her."

"I'd barely know she was Vulcan. She looks more Romulan."

"She underwent genetic modifications to make her appear human. They didn't hold."

"I wish I could feel bad for her. But somehow I can't."

He took a deep breath, then closed his eyes for a moment. "You should not have come. Why didn't you go home?"

"And leave you here?" She smiled. "I'm your rescuer, isn't that what you used to call me?"

"It is." He looked very far away and she knew that he was thinking of the Pon Farrs she had helped him through. "But you cannot rescue me this time. I am dying. I shall not leave this place again."

"But your katra?"

He shook his head.

"Spock, it cannot be lost. It must not be lost."

"Perhaps I will be able to give it to you?" He touched her cheek again. "You will have to rescue me again, little cat."

"No. This isn't right." She stood up and went out into the hall. "Rise!"

"In here," Rise called from the bedroom on the other side of the staircase.

Saavik strode in, saw that Rise had opened the windows to air the room. A servant that Saavik hadn't noticed before was making up the bed. She tried not to stare at the women's disfigured face. The woman nodded to her, then went back to tucking in sheets.

"For me?" Saavik asked.

Rise nodded.

"So, I'm a prisoner now too? Along with your father?"

Rise smiled. "So he told you. I wondered if he would."

"He is dying, Rise."

"I know that."

"He must go home to Vulcan."

Rise shook her head. "That's impossible."

"Rise, his katra. Do you understand anything about that?"

She nodded. "I studied Vulcan and its traditions quite a lot when I was young. Spock should have thought of his katra before he came to Romulus." She turned and walked out of the room.

Saavik followed her down the stairs, about to argue more but stopped short by the sight of a blonde Romulan woman standing in the hallway.

"The gate was open. I closed it after me. You're getting careless, Sureya." She pulled Rise to her for a quick kiss, then turned to stare at Saavik. "Who are you?"

"She's a guest, Sela," Rise answered before Saavik could.

"A new friend, perhaps?" Sela suggested. "How good a friend?"

"Just a friend," Saavik answered in perfect Romulan.

Sela looked at Rise. "I need to speak with you. In the courtyard, if you don't mind."

Rise hesitated and Sela laughed.

"You don't want to leave her alone in the house, do you? This isn't a guest, Sureya. This is Saavik. Why are you lying to me?"

"I did not lie, I just didn't tell you her name. And guest is just a nice way of saying prisoner."

"Is it?" Sela frowned. "I find it odd that you should have both guardian and ward in the same house. You aren't going soft, are you?"

"Of course not."

"Nothing you're keeping from me? No little secrets?"

"Don't be silly."

Sela grinned. "Good. Because you know I'd find out if there were. I have informants all over the Federation."

"I know."

Sela stared at Saavik. "You would look better in a Romulan prison." She held up her hand before Rise could protest. "All in good time." She touched Rise's face then pulled her close for a harsh kiss. "I'll see you soon, love."

Rise didn't move. Once the door closed behind Sela, she wiped her lips.

"Nice girlfriend."

"She's not my girlfriend," Rise said, turning on her heel and heading through a door to the side of the stairs.

"Does she know that?" Saavik followed her into a large kitchen. "Tal Shiar. And not all Romulan from the look of her."

"She's half human. But she hates to admit that."

"So she wouldn't like hearing that you're even more human than she is, would she?"

"Or that I'm Vulcan. She hates them nearly as much." Rise looked at her. "You could have told her. Why didn't you?"

"You didn't want her to know who I was. Why not?"

Rise sighed. "I don't want to see you hurt. Sela...Sela likes to hurt things."

"Like you?"

"No. She needs me. Needs my money, my skill with the birds. I'm valuable unharmed. But she'd have no reason not to hurt you."

"What about Spock? Rise, you can't keep Spock here."

"Saavik, go back upstairs. Sit with Spock."

"Rise!"

Rise turned, her eyes were full of angry tears that she blinked back relentlessly. "Leave me alone!"

Saavik reached out for her, intending to press her advantage. "Rise--"

"--I said, leave me alone." Rise's amber eyes became dead, dangerous. "Or I'll kill you where you stand."

Saavik realized that Rise was holding the dagger Saavik had used in the caves. She backed away slowly. "My mistake. I thought you still had some humanity left inside you." She saw her words strike home, then she turned and hurried out the door and back upstairs to Spock.

--------------------------

Spock sat up in bed, trying desperately to stop the coughing that had awakened him from the doze he had fallen into.

There was a soft knock on the door before it opened and Rise slipped in, holding a bottle. "I have some new medicine for you. It is much stronger and will help you rest." She carefully poured a measure out for him and held it to his lips.

He drank it, then sat back, trying not to cough as the medicine worked. "You could have just let me suffer." He studied her. "I would think that would give you great pleasure. To see me in pain."

She didn't look away. "I have seen you in pain, Spock. I've felt your pain...for seventy years."

He nodded. "I am sorry for that, Rise. Of all the things I have done in my life, that one act of violence has haunted me the most."

"But would you do it again?"

"I cannot say that I would not. It might ease my mind to think I would not be capable of it, that I am no longer that man. And you are no longer that woman. But would the people we once were do it again? Probably."

"Yes, I see your point. I am still Valeris, and Rise, and Kitt Thompson, and Tash't'ara and for a brief time Calliope Jones, Magda Cronin, and Inga Swensen." She shrugged, smiled faintly. "In the line of business Cameron and I engaged in, you couldn't afford to use a name for very long."

"What did you do?"

She smiled. "Smuggled. Like Shayla."

His eyebrow rose. "Number One as a smuggler. It is actually not that hard to picture her in that role. She had a profound energy about her and a great capacity for mischief."

"She did," Rise agreed. "I forgot that you knew her too."

"I did. And your mother talked about her. Said that your aunt got the wicked genes."

Rise looked confused.

"Did you think that your mother and I never spoke, never conversed? That there was only the rutting?"

Rise looked down.

"Your mother and I"--he sighed--"we were never really friends. But there was a time when I tried, when she did too. We would talk. I remember much from those times."

"But she ran away. You couldn't give her what she needed."

Spock shook his head. "Or she thought I couldn't. I'm no longer sure which is true."

"Did you love her?"

"I do not believe so."

Rise exhaled loudly and smiled bitterly. "You do not believe so? Either you did or you didn't, Spock."

"It is the best answer I can give you. I am not sure what would have happened if we had remained together. If she had let me know you...be your father. But she didn't." He studied her. "You do not look like her or your aunt."

She laughed. "No, I look like their tabby."

He felt his own mouth lifting somewhat. "I meant before. The young girl I knew didn't look like a Chapel or a Ross."

"I didn't look like you either."

"No, you did not." He shook his head, remembered his plans for her, the feelings he had felt for her. "Had I known..."

She met his eyes. "I know. I should have told you." She laughed bitterly.

"It would have changed much."

"Probably. Would you still have disinherited me, barred me from your house?" She shook her head. "I dreamed of meeting up with you for years after I escaped. Of walking away from you like you did to me when I was in prison. And now I find myself delivering cough medicine instead." She shook her head. "Where is the walking away?"

"It is ironic."

"Part of me still hates you though. Nothing ironic about that."

He considered that. "Does part of you hate Christine as well?"

She didn't answer right away. The she nodded slowly.

"She was a good woman. I'm sure she did what she thought best. But I still wish she had given me a chance to be your father." Rise's expression changed and he realized that the warm sharing was over for now. He continued, "What is, is. I cannot change your mother's actions, nor can you. It is futile to think of ways our lives could be different now."

She nodded. "Life is just a series of choices, isn't it?"

"I think it is. Good ones and bad ones."

She seemed lost in thought. Then she looked up and said softly, "Tell me about the katra."

"What do you want to know?"

"What happens if it is not taken back to Vulcan?"

"Then the person that bore it is truly lost." Spock sighed. "Sometimes it can be entrusted to another."

"Another person?"

He nodded. "Like Saavik. Or you."

She stood up so abruptly that the chair nearly tipped over. "Do not think that I mean to free her or help you myself."

"I thought no such thing," he said hurriedly.

"You had my mind at your fingertips once, it will not happen again." She turned and walked out quickly.

He sighed. Regret filled him. It was the emotion that he felt most often when he looked at her. He wondered if she could feel what he was feeling. "So much pain, Rise. So much hurt."

He lay back against the pillows. He felt his eyes closing and the tight feeling in his chest abate somewhat.

A choice, he remembered her saying that day on the bridge when he had ripped her memories from her. She had been making a choice not to betray her comrades, and he had made a choice to force her to suffer. So many bad choices. He fell asleep before he could begin cataloging them.

--------------******---------------------

"You're restless," Rise said as she watched Saavik pace.

"I'm fine."

"You're not. You're as fidgety as a cat."

"You ought to know."

Rise laughed softly.

Saavik glanced over at her. "He's dying."

"I know." Rise looked over at Spock. He was resting peacefully, the new medicine giving him enough relief from the coughing to let him sleep.

Saavik walked over to him. "I don't remember this being here earlier," she said, as she fingered a heavy blanket.

"He was cold." Rise shrugged.

"And you cared?"

"No. It was Jorase that did." Rise rose.

Saavik was already across the room, blocking her way out the door. "It wasn't Jorase, was it? It was you."

"What of it? He was cold. I brought a blanket. Hardly difficult to do the right thing when it is so small."

"Then do the right thing again. It is just a little bigger of a thing. Let him go, Rise."

"And why would I do that?"

"Because it's the right thing to do. Let him go home. To Vulcan."

"He assures me his affairs are in order." Rise smiled sharply. "It might please you to know that he left you everything. And me nothing. Not too surprising, I guess."

"Rise. Please? I'll give you all of it." Saavik reached out to touch her hand.

"Stop it, Saavik," she said as she pulled away. "I hardly need anything from him. I have plenty of my own. And why would I let him go? If I let him go, he won't stay on Vulcan and die quietly. We both know that he'd be right back in the caves, using his last breath to subvert some young Romulan and training others to take his place." She laughed. "I promised I'd keep him away from all that. Just what do you think my friends in the Tal Shiar would think if I let him go?"

"Keep me as a hostage. The guarantor of his silence."

Rise stared at Saavik. "Keep you?"

"Please, Rise. Please let him go."

Rise shook her head and pushed past Saavik.

"Rise, please--"

"Drop it, Saavik. It's not going to happen."

-------------------------------

Saavik followed Rise around the courtyard. "Can I help?"

"Yes. You can go back inside and sit with Spock. Or take a nap. Or write Vulcan poetry. I don't much care. Just leave me alone."

"I just want to help."

"No, you don't." Rise refilled the water pot from the fountain and carried it over to some roses. "You just want to wear me down so I'll let him go. It's not going to happen."

"Fine. It won't happen."

"Good. We're in agreement. Now go back inside."

Saavik sat down on the bench and watched Rise as she walked among the plants. Her movements were graceful and unhurried. "I'm bored, Rise. All these days cooped up inside..."

"Yes, captivity is boring. You should have thought of that before you tried to break in here."

"I was rescuing Spock."

"Uh huh. That went well." Rise laughed.

Saavik wondered if Rise ever laughed in a way that didn't sound bitter or angry or mocking. "I wasn't counting on you. I thought it was just a rich Romulan."

"As far as anyone knows, that's what I am."

Saavik shook her head but didn't argue. She stretched out on the bench, letting her feet dangle over the side. She had planned four or five different escapes when she first was taken captive but one look at Spock, at the way his health was failing before her eyes, convinced her that he was in no shape for anything but sleep.

As if reading her mind, Rise said, "He's getting worse."

"I know."

"He'll die soon."

Saavik nodded.

Rise turned to look at her. "Do you think we have katras? Mongrels like us? Spock? You? Me? Are we the same as a full Vulcan?"

Saavik decided she didn't like the term mongrel. "Spock put his in Doctor McCoy before he died the first time."

Rise frowned. "I heard that story. I had forgotten it." She seemed deep in thought. "So if he could put it in a full human, then he could put it in anyone. There are tradesmen that work the route between Romulus and Vulcan."

Saavik shook her head. "You can't be serious. It should be family or someone very close. You can't just entrust it to a random stranger."

"Oh, I see where this is going. I should let you take it home? That wouldn't be very smart. You'd be back in no time to make me pay for my sins." Rise smiled sardonically. "What if a random stranger bound for Vulcan is the only option?"

"It can't be."

"It is, Saavik. You can't win." Rise put the watering pot down and picked up some shears. "Go inside. You're starting to irritate me."

"Just starting?" Saavik said with a mocking smile. "I must be slipping. I have not even begun to irritate you."

"That I believe." Rise began to prune the roses, carefully cutting the older blooms for a bouquet and nipping the stalks back.

Saavik considered the roses, then began to really look at the flowers that lined the walks in the courtyard, that climbed the trellises built into the walls of the house. She thought of the beautiful things that could be found throughout the house. "You truly are rich, aren't you?"

Rise nodded. "Filthy, I believe, is the exact term."

"How did you get that way?"

"Smuggling."

"Smuggling? You mean like drugs and arms?"

Rise shook her head. "Orion Syndicate pretty much has that wrapped up. We liked to avoid attracting their attention so we stuck to less volatile cargo."

"Like what?"

Rise looked over, "Like Kanar to a Cardassian outpost that was routinely forgotten by its homeworld. Like erotic entertainment to select occupants of a planet that espoused a more fundamentalist worldview. Anything one world had in surplus and another world desperately wanted was fair and lucrative game."

"So you were a criminal. Not too surprising."

"I prefer to think of it as free trade."

"I'm sure you do," Saavik shot her a mocking grin. "You said 'we.' Did you mean Jorase?"

Rise looked away. "No."

"Then who?" When Rise didn't answer, Saavik asked, "Someone you loved?"

"Yes. Someone I loved."

"They left you?"

Rise laughed, a sound so brittle it sent chills down Saavik's spine. "Everyone leaves me, Saavik. Everyone." Rise set the shears down and stalked out of the courtyard.

Saavik jumped up to follow, but the sudden scream of Rise's shiarawk stopped her. She looked up and saw that he was perched on one of the columns that ringed the courtyard.

"I'm not going to hurt her," Saavik said as she edged in the direction Rise had gone.

The bird lifted its wings, clearly ready to fly at her.

"Fine," Saavik said as she backed away. "Spock probably needs me anyway." As she hurried into the house, she could still hear the bird screaming.

----------------------------------

Spock lay sleepless. Another fit of coughing had woken him, the spasms so intense that he had felt something crack in his chest. He had tried to muffle his coughing, had not wanted to wake up the women. He thought he had been successful until a light rap on the door sounded and Rise walked in.

She held a roll of bandages and several bottles. "You cracked a rib," she said matter-of-factly, as she slipped his shirt off him and began to wind the bandages snugly around his chest.

"How do you know?"

"Because the pain woke me up." She stopped what she was doing, stared at him.

He looked down. "I did not know."

"Lucky for you the connection is one way, Father. You've never had to feel the pain I've known."

It took him a moment to realize what she had just called him. He didn't think she was aware she had done it. "I'm sorry for that."

She nodded, and resumed wrapping the bandage around him. "Wasn't all your fault. In fact, probably wasn't your fault in most cases." She sighed. "Your pain is distracting me. I'm saying things I don't mean."

"Or saying things that are difficult to say in other circumstances?"

"Like what? That I care about you? This is strictly for my benefit."

"Of course."

She tied off the bandage, then poured out a measure of the cough medicine. He drank it obediently, barely noticing the taste. She handed him a second liquid, this one smelling much sweeter.

"For the pain," she said. "Drink it up so that I can get some sleep."

He obeyed and handed back the cup. The liquid spread warmth through him. He could feel himself relaxing and saw Rise's tightly controlled expression also ease.

"Love this stuff," she said. "Works so fast. Drowns everything out."

He frowned. "You sound like you know it well? Were you injured?"

She shook her head, her smile grimly amused. "Injured? No. Damaged? Yes. This helped me forget."

"Forget what?"

She closed her eyes. Touched the pendant she wore.

"When Cameron died? That is what drove you to it?"

She opened her eyes, realized that she was fingering the necklace and let it go. "Something like that."

"But you don't use it now?"

"Not any more. This bottle is only for you. I knew you would get to a point where you'd need it."

"But you no longer do?"

Rise looked very far away when she shook her head. "Someone helped me get past needing it. Helped me build a life here."

"Sela?"

Rise nodded.

"She is using you, Rise."

Rise laughed. "I have no doubt of that. I have never deluded myself that she loves me. But I was a great find for her. I had money, which the Tal Shiar desperately needs, having fallen somewhat out of favor with the senate. And later I had the birds, wonderful gifts to give a high-ranking Tal Shiar official. A shiarawk can do wonders in helping such men and women forget Sela's humiliation the last time she met up with you and Picard. She's still living down having been found unconscious in her office." Rise stood up. "And then finally, when she hatched this plan to discredit you, I was useful as her accessory. The means to bring about your fall. I told her you and I had a past." Rise smiled. "I may have led her to believe that I was a relative of a certain female commander that you seduced and betrayed so many years ago. Sela wanted to believe me. I offered so much. She never seemed to question my story, though I'm sure she did some tracing. But what could she find? That I'd lived off world nearly all my life? That I had been a smuggler? I told her all that. The waters of my past get very muddy the farther back you go."

"So she doesn't know you were Valeris?"

Rise looked at him sharply. "No. She doesn't know."

"Or that I am your father?"

Rise shook her head.

"I was wondering how she would put those things behind her. Why she would help you. Now I understand. She sees you as a loyal Romulan and a half breed like her."

"Just as we all are, Spock," Rise said with a sardonic grin, gesturing toward Saavik's room. "Sela hates being human."

"It does have its drawbacks." He smiled slightly. "So she appreciates finding another kindred soul that seeks to put everything else aside and live in the Romulan way. And then there is that you are also rich."

"Very, very rich. And I am exotic and, according to her, beautiful. I was just the asset she needed and so she helped me live again. She can be surprisingly kind when she wants to."

"She would not be so if she found out you were Vulcan. She hates Vulcans. Hates our logic and our arrogance."

Rise nodded. "I know. She's told me that. She hates humans too." Rise shrugged. "She has probably run scans on me, to make sure I'm Romulan. She's not stupid, despite how easily you tricked her the last time. But my genes are so jumbled now; I doubt that she could make any sense of them. At the genetic level, I look as Romulan as I do anything else."

"If I wanted to destroy you, I could tell her your real origins the next time she's here."

Rise turned to stare at him. "Yes, that is exactly what you should do if you want to destroy me."

He lay back. Let his eyes droop. "I find I do not want that, daughter."

She looked down. "Then you are a fool, Spock."

"No, Rise. I am a man with very little time left. Do not blame me if I want to spend some of that time trying to build a bridge to the child I did not know I had until it was too late."

"I am more than just Rise. I am Valeris as well. Never forget that, Spock."

"I forget nothing," he said, as he felt the medicine drawing him towards sleep.

"Neither do I," he heard her reply just before he surrendered to the darkness.

-----------------------------------

"You helped him last night, didn't you?"

Rise sighed behind her book but did not put it down to look at Saavik.

"You say you don't care, but I heard you get up and go in there."

"He was coughing. It disturbed me."

Saavik laughed. "Right."

Rise lowered her book. "Let it be, Saavik."

"I can't. It makes no sense. You say you hate him, but you are unwilling to see him suffer. How am I supposed to understand that?"

Rise realized that Spock had not told Saavik about the connection he shared with her. "You make it sound as if I'm a villain in one of these old Romulan novels." She put down the book. "No one is purely good or bad. Don't you know that by now?"

Saavik shrugged. "So far, you don't seem that bad. Well, aside from us being your prisoners. Not that you're treating us like prisoners, or that security seems particularly tight here. If Spock weren't so weak..."

Rise ignored the dig. She knew that Saavik would have tried to escape long before this if Spock had been in any shape to run.

"Did you really believe in what you did? As Valeris, I mean?"

Rise nodded, then picked up her book.

"That's not an answer," Saavik said.

"I don't have to justify my actions to you."

"I didn't mean that you did. But couldn't you try to explain to me why you did it?"

"Why do you care?"

Saavik didn't answer right away and Rise put her book down to look at her. Saavik was sitting with her knees pulled up, her chin resting on them, apparently deep in thought.

"Saavik?"

She looked up at Rise. "I'm trying to figure out why I care.'

Rise laughed softly then turned back to her book. "Let me know if you do."

"What you did was wrong."

"I considered peace with the Klingons to be wrong."

"But you were incorrect in that. Look at how we cooperate now."

"Yes, but we have had one war with them already. Who knows how many deaths on our side we'd have been spared if we'd just let them die." Rise shrugged. "Even Kirk felt that way initially. It was not an unpopular sentiment, despite what you may think of my actions." Rise thought of her mother, of Shayla. "They killed people I loved."

"They killed someone I loved too. In cold blood, while I stood by. You think I didn't have cause to hate them as well? But what you did wasn't the answer." Saavik stood and began to pace.

"It's seventy years done, Saavik," Rise said gently. "Valeris was a lifetime ago. Let her go."

"That would be easier to do if her successor weren't holding Spock prisoner. If you hadn't betrayed him again."

Rise stared at her. "Why would you expect me to do anything but betray him?" She closed her book and stood up. "When have I ever given you any indication that I was a loyal daughter?" She laughed; the sound was cold and bitter even to her. "You love him like a father, and that's good, Saavik. That's so good. Because I never will. Never."

Saavik reached out for her. "Rise--"

"--You've said enough, Saavik. Stop before you go too far." She pulled away from Saavik's hand and walked upstairs to check on Spock.

----------******---------------

Saavik followed Rise out into the courtyard. Freya's black kitten saw her and bounded over. Unable to resist, Saavik picked her up and carried her as she followed Rise around the area.

"Saavik, this won't work. I'm not letting him go."

"Did I say anything?" Saavik thought it was a good sign that Rise knew what she wanted before she even said it. Maybe it meant that she was finally considering it.

"You don't have to. You are as predictable as night following day."

"He weakens daily. You've surely seen that over the past few weeks."

"He is dying, Saavik. Weakening is part of the process." Rise headed out onto the grass and turned to go around the corner to the mews and the other building Saavik had seen from the house.

As usual, when Saavik tried to follow her, Shiansu screamed at her. She called to Rise's departing back. "Stop, dammit!"

Rise turned around to look at her.

"Rise, I'm bored. Let me come with you today. I'm sick of the house."

Rise just shook her head. "You can go anywhere you please, Saavik. Except to the mews and the shed. Those are my places. Where I can still find peace."

"Whose fault is it that you can't find it in your own house?"

Rise didn't answer, just turned around and walked away. Shiansu hopped to another column, watching her go.

"Damn it all, I don't care what you say, Rise." Saavik stepped out of the courtyard and started off after her.

The bird's scream turned even shriller as he dived at Saavik, barely missing her. She heard the whoosh of air as he passed. She stopped moving. Shiansu shrieked at her from where he had perched on the side of the house.

"Fine," Saavik muttered through tight lips, as she turned and went back to the house. She tried to put the kitten down in the courtyard but she resisted enough that Saavik gave up and carried her in with her as she climbed the stairs.

Spock was standing at the open window. "You press her too hard, Saavikam."

"You heard that?"

He nodded.

"She has to let you go back."

He sighed as he turned slowly and walked back to the bed. "She will never do that. Better, I think to work on her to let you go. She is fond of you, I think."

Saavik laughed. "I'm not sure I would call that fond." She sat in the chair across from him.

"She did not have to protect you in the caverns. But she did." He leaned forward to pet the kitten.

"She also didn't have to add me to her captured prey list, but she did." Saavik smiled at him. "You want to believe there's some good in her, don't you?"

"Why do you keep trying to get through to her, if you don't believe it as well?"

Saavik shrugged. "Maybe because I'm as big a fool as you are?"

Spock leaned back. "Something happened to her. Something to do with someone named Cameron. He was her surrogate father."

"I thought West was?"

"Before West, I think. And certainly after. He rescued her from prison." Spock frowned slightly, deep in thought. "Something about the way he died..."

"And you want me to find out what it was?" Saavik finished for him.

"If you want to understand her, perhaps it would be wise to start with that. It has something to do with the pendant."

Saavik leaned back. "I'll try. But she doesn't talk to me much."

Spock smiled, his lips lifting faintly in what was for him genuine amusement. "You truly don't realize it?"

"Realize what?"

"She talks to you more than to anyone here. And you, Saavik, you are positively gregarious around her."

Saavik shifted. "Well, that's because I'm trying to get her to let us go."

Spock nodded knowingly. "Ah."

"I don't like her, Spock. She's a monster."

"She is not a monster. She is a hurt child."

"A hurt child that's nearly as old as I am."

"Age is irrelevant, Saavik. Do you never revisit Hellguard?"

She looked away. He knew that she did. It was no longer as near to the surface as it had been. No longer threatening to take over as it had during her childhood on Vulcan. But it was there. It was hers. She would never leave Hellguard no matter how much time and distance she put between herself and that world.

"Have you forgiven her, Spock?"

"It is not that simple." He stifled a yawn. "I am tired now."

She left him to rest and carried the kitten back to the courtyard. The sun was warm and a slight breeze blew. Saavik sat down on a bench and closed her eyes while she waited for Rise to come back.

---------------------------

Rise was exhausted. She'd taken her favorite dogs on a very long walk, then returned for the rest and repeated the experience. Walk, she'd told herself. Walk until you can't think. Walk until you can't feel.

She hadn't expected to find Saavik curled asleep on the bench. Freya and her kittens lay under the bench, as deeply asleep as the woman.

Rise took a step toward Saavik, sure the woman would spring up. But she didn't. Another step and Rise was within reach and her hand was touching Saavik's face gently. Her skin was hot from lying unprotected in the sun.

"Rise?" Saavik looked up at her sleepily.

She pulled her hand away quickly. "You will get burned, Saavik."

"I never burn." She looked at Rise. "You don't either, do you? Not anymore. Did you as a child?"

"If I went without sunscreen. My mother and aunt were both so fair." Rise turned and began to walk toward the door.

"So you'd burn red? Like your pendant?"

Rise stopped in her tracks.

"Tell me about it? You touch it a lot. It obviously means a great deal to you."

Rise turned to look at her. Saavik had her hand outstretched. Slowly, almost against her will, Rise turned and walked back to her. She felt Saavik's warm hand touch her own, clasping it tightly, pulling her toward the bench. She sat, shifting slightly away from the other woman and pulling her hand away. She was already fingering the garnet, the way she did all the time but had not really realized until now.

"Rise, it's okay. You can tell me."

She realized she was pulling the pendant so hard that she was in danger of breaking the chain. She let go of it and began speaking, never looking at Saavik as she spoke.

"This stone was in a ring that was worn by someone I cared about."

"Who?"

Rise didn't answer.

"Who?" Saavik repeated softly.

"His name was Cameron Jameson. He was my aunt's lover...my uncle in all but name. He helped me escape from the Federation after Khittomer. We made a new life, forged new identities for ourselves. I became his daughter. He was my beloved father. I loved him so."

"Past tense. He's dead?"

Rise nodded, felt the terrible pain threaten, tried to close down the gates she was opening.

Saavik touched her hand. "Don't shut down, Rise. Tell me."

"It's too hard."

"Have you told anyone? Ever?"

Rise shook her head.

"Does Jorase know?"

Rise nodded. "She was working for us when it happened."

"Could she tell me?"

Rise shook her head. "She never knew the details. I couldn't tell her." Rise blinked back tears. She didn't cry. She did not cry. "It was my fault, you see."

"I don't believe that."

Rise nodded. "It was my fault. I could have gotten him back." She looked over at Saavik. "I should have gotten him back."

"Gotten him back from whom?"

Rise felt the past calling, could still see the barren landscape of the planet they had settled on, still remember the yells and cries from the wild streets. "We were on Venedia Prime. Have you ever been there?"

Saavik nodded. "Completely lawless."

Rise nodded. "We needed a new base of operations for our smuggling. The planet we'd been on had started to crack down on a variety of illegal activities. There was a firefight with the security forces. We lost most of our personal guard and had to leave a lot of our valuables behind. Luckily we kept the majority of our fortunes in less accessible places. But we had to move fast, so we went to Venedia. We'd heard that there would be no one there to bother us."

Rise stood up. The pain was too much, she had to move. She began to wander the garden, telling her story as she went, only vaguely aware that Saavik was following her. "We'd been there a few months. Long enough to know that kidnappings were commonplace. We'd been on other worlds where that was the case and we had a rule. No ransom would be paid. Ever. Our own security guards would be used to find the kidnappers. To make them pay...in a way so harsh that no one else would think of taking one of us. It had always worked."

"But not this time?"

Rise shook her head as she absently pulled dead leaves off one of the plants. "We had hired more security. They were locals that had been recommended to us." She laughed bitterly. "Recommended I found out later by the very people that planned the kidnapping. They took Cameron. Threatened to kill him if I didn't pay them a substantial amount. They let me talk to him, he told me to play it the way we always had."

Rise stopped. Took a deep breath before continuing. "But we hadn't really played this out before, because no one had ever taken one of us. People on our staff, yes, but not us. We'd always been so careful. So I played by the rules we set. I refused to give them anything and sent our security out after them." She swallowed hard. "They didn't find the kidnappers naturally. And the kidnappers weren't happy with my answer. They sent me Cameron's finger for identification purposes. It was wearing a garnet ring. His ring. This garnet."

Saavik didn't say anything, just stood close to her waiting.

Rise fingered the pendant again. "I should have paid them. I should have just paid them. But I kept hearing Cameron's voice saying, 'Once you pay them, Rise, then they know they've got you.' So I didn't. I sent the guards out for him again. But they didn't find him. The next day he was dumped in the marketplace. When the guards brought back his body, it was barely recognizable, he'd been hurt so." She tried to block out the memory of what Cameron had looked like or of the way she had fallen on his body, howling like a wild animal. Jorase had finally injected her with something to calm her but it had still taken five of the guards to pull her away from the body and drag her to her bed.

"Rise." Saavik was stroking her hair. "Rise, come back."

Rise jerked away from Saavik. "I was crazy. I couldn't think. I couldn't eat. For two months. Then an informant came to see me. For a large amount of latinum, he would tell me who had killed Cameron. I paid him and he told me of my own security force's involvement, of the duplicity of the man who had recommended them in the first place."

She walked over to a rose bush and bent down to smell the pale pink blossom. "I killed them one by one, Saavik. Some died from poison, others met with terrible accidents while enjoying the night off. Some were at their homes with their families. I hunted them down and killed them all in the space of three days. I told Jorase to pack up our house. Before we left, I killed the man who had kidnapped Cameron. I left him in the marketplace in the same shape he had left Cameron. We left Venedia, Jorase and I and the few people I still trusted from my fleet. Wandered for years. Then we came here. And I fell apart." Saavik took a step toward her, but Rise backed up and said, "I don't smuggle anymore."

"Rise--"

"I don't need your pity, Saavik." She started to walk away, but a movement at the window drew her gaze upward. Spock stood staring down at her. "Could you hear?" she called up to him. "Did it make you happy to hear it, Spock?"

"He couldn't have heard you, Rise. I could barely hear you." Saavik's voice was soft in her ear as Rise watched Spock turn away from the window.

Saavik continued, "He would take no pleasure in your pain, you know that."

Rise kept seeing Cameron's face. "I never got to say goodbye." She blinked back tears, unwilling to let them fall.

"He understood. I'm sure he did."

"You didn't even know him." Rise looked up at Spock's window. "He died a prisoner." She turned to stare accusingly at Saavik. "Spock told you to ask me about this."

"No."

"Don't lie to me! He told you, didn't he? You've shown no curiosity about the pendant before now."

"He was concerned for you."

"He knew it would benefit him."

Saavik shook her head. "How could he know that? He knew only that you seemed unable to speak of it with him."

Rise felt something fill her, recognized it as defeat. She stared up at the window for a long time. Finally she turned to Saavik, her face utterly blank. "He can go, if you stand as his hostage."

"What?"

"Go tell him. I want your word and his, Saavik, that you will stay as the guarantor of his silence."

Saavik stood staring dumbly at her.

"This is what you wanted, you idiot! Go. Go tell him. And do it quickly before I change my mind."

Saavik ran into the house as Rise sank to the graveled path and fought back the tears. "It's the right thing to do, Cameron," she murmured. "The only thing to do."

--------------------------------

Spock sat on the bed. He had not been able to hear what Rise was telling Saavik, but it didn't matter. He could tell from her body language that it was something terribly hard for her to speak of, that it had left her shaken. This had not been a good idea if he had only caused her more pain.

He heard someone pounding up the stairs. A second later his door was flung open and Saavik stood staring at him. "She said you could go if I stay here. As a hostage."

He shook his head. "No, Saavik. Those terms are unacceptable."

Saavik fell to her knees in front of him. "Spock, think about what you are saying. Where is the logic of saying no? I'm already a hostage here. And your katra--"

"I will never know that you are all right if I leave you here. I would rather lose my katra than risk your life."

Saavik looked down. "You have to go, Spock. It's the only thing she can give you. It's the only way she can make it up to someone else."

He tilted her chin up. "Rise, you mean?"

Saavik nodded.

"I can't leave you here."

"I'll be all right."

"Romulan security could take you away from her. They will not be pleased to find out I am gone."

Saavik nodded. "I know. But she will fight for me."

Spock lifted an eyebrow. "You want to stay with her, don't you?"

"Of course not. I want to be free."

"I wonder." He studied her. "You may be good for her, little cat. If you were not to be held here as a prisoner, I might agree."

"It's only until you die, Spock," Rise said from the doorway. Her face was expressionless, her voice a strange monotone.

"I might last months. Even years. You said so yourself."

"Then she stays here months, even years. I made a promise to the Tal Shiar."

"And you think that they will just let her go after I have died?" He shook his head.

"They have no reason to hold her. Unlike you, she has done nothing to the Romulan state."

"I was here without permission," Saavik offered quietly as she stood up.

"That is not a capital crime. Especially since you were here to bring him home." Rise fidgeted impatiently. "I can take care of Sela when the time comes. In the meantime, do you want to go home or not, Spock?"

Saavik nodded at him.

He sighed. "It is the wish of my ward that I do so."

"Then give me your word that you will not do anything against the Romulan government when you get back. That you will not speak of what has happened. And that you will not attempt in any way to proselytize to any Romulans." She scowled at Spock. "I know that you will be able to find some loophole in that. Do not do so, or I will turn Saavik over to Sela. Do you understand?"

"I give you my word, Rise."

"And you." She turned to Saavik. "Give me your word you will stay. That you will not attempt escape. That you agree to be his hostage as long as he survives."

Saavik nodded.

"Give me your word, Saavik. A nod is not good enough."

Saavik looked at Spock.

"I can stay here, Saavik. Perhaps she will let you leave in my place?"

Rise frowned. "Choose, Saavik. You worked hard for this. But I'm not going to do it just to watch you try to escape over and over."

"You don't have security to stop me."

"I have more defenses than you can imagine. And more ways to keep you here then you can know. If there are no guards here, I think you now know why I might not trust my safety to them."

"Yes, I know now." Saavik paused, considering. She finally nodded. "I give you my word."

Rise walked into her bedroom and came out with a small device. "It's a camera of sorts. You've never seen this technology, Spock. No one has." She adjusted some settings, then handed it to him. "Set this up where you are. I need to be able to see you whenever I wish."

He wasn't sure he liked this idea. His expression must have conveyed his hesitation.

"It's a deal breaker, Spock. Besides, it will help ease Saavik's mind if she can see you."

He took the camera.

"Say your goodbyes now. I'll be back in a few minutes." She walked out and headed downstairs.

"Spock." Saavik turned to him. "You're really going home."

"And you are staying here. It's not too late to change your mind, Saavik."

She shook her head. "You need to be on Vulcan. For the katra ceremony. They can't afford to lose you. I can't afford to lose you, not again."

He stroked her cheek. "You have always been the one to save me."

"I owe my life to you. I know how difficult I made it for you when I was young and how hard you had to fight for me. I never said thank you. Or told you how much it meant to me."

He allowed himself to smile. "Yes, you did, Saavik. Every time you excelled in your studies. Every time you worked particularly hard at disciplining your temper, you thanked me." He drew her to him, held her close. "But you never had to thank me. Love is a river that runs in two directions, is it not, Saavikam?" He heard Rise coming up the stairs and whispered. "It is time."

Saavik pulled away. Her eyes shone with tears. "I love you, Spock."

"I have never doubted that."

Rise was carrying a hypospray when she came back. She turned to Saavik. "Sit down on the bed."

"Why? I gave you my word?"

"It's not that I don't trust you, Saavik. It's just that I don't believe in putting irresistible temptation in your way. Now sit down."

Saavik sat down and leaned against the pillow. Rise injected her and then waited as the drug took effect.

"I'll be back before you wake," she said as Saavik's eyes slowly closed.

"You did not want her knowing how to contact your ship, did you?" Spock asked.

"I'm not a fool."

"I have never thought that you were."

"You're not going by ship, Spock. At least not at first." Rise smiled tightly. "I have the finest technology, the kind only the incredibly wealthy and very persistent collector can buy. This little beauty"--she pulled out a small instrument--" controls technology that comes from the Gamma Quadrant, or so I was told. A transporter with a very, very long range." She began to enter some coordinates in the machine. "It will take us to just this side of the neutral zone."

"A useful escape hatch."

She smiled tightly. "I like to always have an escape route or two up my sleeve." She checked the instrument. A small screen lit up with several images. She smiled. "They're ready for us."

She put her arm around Spock's waist and pressed a button on the transporter controller. The room disappeared. They rematerialized in a large cavern that appeared to be cut from the side of a mountain.

"The perfect hangar. Easy to defend, impossible to find on sensors unless you know it's here. My ships are very safe." She walked over to a particularly sleek ship. "Especially this one."

"Your personal craft?"

"The Shayla IV. Cloaked of course and incredibly fast, courtesy of some other interesting technology I happened upon. It's amazing what you can find when people know you are interested in such things."

"And can afford them?"

"Just exactly." She turned to a man working inside the ship. "Is she ready, Del?"

He grinned. "Just about, boss. Give me five minutes."

As they waited, Rise seemed increasingly uncomfortable. She looked away, ostensibly studying her ships, but Spock got the feeling she was trying to look anywhere but at him.

"So, this is goodbye?" he finally said.

"Don't get all sentimental, Spock." The sarcasm in her voice stung him more than he expected.

"I was not planning to," he said in a harsher tone than he intended.

"Of course not," Rise said.

"She's ready," Del called out from the cockpit.

"Goodbye, Father." Rise gave him a last look, then pressed the controller and disappeared.

Spock sagged against the ship and whispered, "Goodbye, daughter."

Del stepped out of the craft. "Are you all right, sir?"

Spock nodded.

"We should get going then. It's a long way to Vulcan, although you'd never know it in this ship." Del touched the hull reverently.

"Then yes, let us go."

Spock settled into the copilot's chair, watching as Del piloted the ship out of the cavern. For a while, Spock was caught up in admiring the way the small ship maneuvered. Then he realized there was something odd about the readings he was looking at.

"It is jumping through space-time?"

Del nodded. "Like skipping a rock on a pond."

"That's why it's so small."

"Can't skip a boulder, now can you?"

"I think that would depend on how strong you were and how flat the boulder was. But I take your point."

Del laughed. "Figured you would. We've never completely understood the principle behind it, just that it works. The boss is always getting tech like that. We integrate it with what we have. Make it work. But we never really know how we do it."

"I find that difficult to accept. How do you keep it running if you don't understand it?"

"Hope and a prayer," Del said with a smile.

Spock decided that the man reminded him a little of Mister Scott. He leaned back against the seat just as a fit of coughing overcame him.

Del didn't say anything, didn't try to help him. He just looked over when it was done and nodded at a small hatch. "There's water in there, if you need it."

"I am fine."

"Doesn't sound like it. You need to get that cough checked out."

Spock merely nodded. As he stared out the viewscreen his eyes started to close. The rest of the trip was a blur and he briefly wondered if Rise had drugged him too. But then a coughing fit would start and he realized that it was just his illness taking another turn for the worse.

"Here we are, sir." Del's voice was gentle as he nudged Spock awake and helped him out of the seat.

"The Vulcan planetary defense forces will object to this ship being in orbit."

"Not if they can't see it." Del grinned.

They beamed down onto the street outside his family home.

"That's it then. You're home," Del said as he helped Spock to the door, then beamed back up to the ship.

The door slowly opened and his stepmother looked out at him. "Good god, Spock, is that really you?" Perrin stared at him in shock. "You're sick, aren't you?"

"I am," he agreed. He tried to stifle a cough, was surprised when she took him by the arm and helped him into the house. "I beg pardon, Madame. I know this is an unwelcome visit."

She glared at him. "Well, we're family, Spock. Who else are you going to come to?" She frowned. "How did you get here? I didn't hear a flitter."

"It is a secret," he said, knowing his explanation sounded weak.

"You and your secrets." She sat him down in the room that had been his since childhood. He realized to his amazement that she hadn't changed anything since his father's death.

She saw him looking around and shook her head. "What? Did you think I'd turn this into a study or something? Really, Spock."

He decided to tell her the truth. "I'm dying, Perrin. An illness I picked up. Not contagious, but I don't know how long I will live."

She stared hard at him. "Well, it's not like I don't have experience nursing, now is it? And you can't be a worse patient than your father. Lay down, Spock. You look terrible. I'll get you some food. And I'm calling one of our healers."

"The diagnosis will not change."

She lifted an eyebrow in a perfect imitation of his father. "Perhaps not, but it would be illogical not to have you checked out." She bustled around him for a moment, then left him alone.

He stood up and turned on the small device Rise had given him, placing it in an inconspicuous spot. Then he slipped into the bed and sank into the pillows, thankful that Perrin had not replaced them with the more traditional headrest that his father had favored. Spock had never found it comfortable. He found himself wondering if Perrin had. Curious. Until now, he had never considered her as anything other than the woman who had taken his mother's place at Sarek's side or as the mother of his half- brother Sylar.

She came in with a tray. "I wasn't sure what you liked, so I chose everything your father didn't."

"That was probably the wisest course of action," he admitted as he moved his arms so she could slip the tray over his lap. He took a sip of the tea, lifted an eyebrow. "Terran Mint?"

She smiled. "Picard sends it to me. I showed a fondness for it once and he has never forgotten."

"He is a good man."

"He is." She moved to the window. "If I'd known you were coming I'd have aired the room out. Now it's too hot to open the window."

"The room is fine." He watched her move around the room. "I am surprised that you have stayed on Vulcan."

"After Sarek died, I thought I'd go back to Earth. But there was so much to do in the months following his death I just never got around to it. Then Sylar suggested I attend a chemistry seminar at the Science Academy. I'd forgotten how much I loved going to class. Threw myself into it wholeheartedly. After a few months in the seminar, one of Sylar's colleagues suggested I take some real classes, finish my degree. I stopped two semesters short when I married your father, did you know that?"

He shook his head.

"No, I guess you wouldn't. We never really spoke much, did we? I met Sarek and suddenly my education could wait." She smiled fondly. "And I never regretted it. Not for one moment. But when he was gone, I found that I wanted to go back and finish...for me. So here I am, three years later and I've finished that degree and am pursuing my doctorate. A woman my age." She laughed softly, shaking her head.

"I will be interrupting your routine." He started to get up. "And Sylar-- "

"Sylar has his own home with T'Ren. Now, mind the tray. You'll spill it and I shall get very cross." She glared at him. "We're rich, Spock. There's very little we can't afford. A live-in nurse should be no problem. When it comes to that." She smiled softly. "I'll leave it up to you to let me know when it comes to that."

He stared up at her. "Perrin, forgive me for being blunt. But we did not part on good terms. Your kindness is--"

"Unexpected? Unforeseen? Unimaginable?" She smiled sadly. "Sarek is gone. Sylar and you are all the family I have left, Spock. Well, except for Saavik. But who knows where she is--trying to keep her in one place is like trying to stop the wind." Perrin looked down, her voice uncharacteristically soft. "Now that Sarek is gone, I find it difficult to recall why we disliked each other so much."

Spock nodded. "I also find it difficult."

Perrin nodded. She was her normal brusque self when she said, "Well that's settled then. Finish up, Spock. I want to see clean plates when I come back."

End part 1 of 2