The end of a Vulcan summer is a season of violent contrasts. After weeks of life threateningly high temperatures, when to be on the open desert courts sunstroke even for Vulcans, when the air becomes so parched you feel as if you can't draw one more dry rattled gasp, when it seems the long, torrid summer will never end, then, finally, autumn comes, unexpected even though you knew it would and must. A surprising reprieve from the fiery heat, from bakingly dry days, from hot arid nights that had become your whole existence, to the point where you couldn't imagine drawing another comfortable breath.
On Vulcan, autumn doesn't mean a change of leaves, a nip of frost in the air, but rather violent air shifts, wild storms, sheets of rain that turn the deserts into dangerous quagmires, high winds from mountains to desert that can sandblast the flesh from your bones, electrical storms that send daggers of lightening slashing into the ground, or through anything that stands in their way.
Perhaps that was an omen.
This was when Spock came home for his first visit.
Coaxing Spock home wasn't easy. I spent hours in subspace calls brokering an uneasy truce with Spock regarding his former home. He was wary. Very nearly unwilling. But he had promised. And Vulcans are sticklers for keeping their word.
With Sarek, it was different. He professed indifference to the prospect of a visit from his wayward child. I'd already made it clear before Spock left that my son had to have the right to come home whenever he wished. Essentially I'd threatened to leave myself if he couldn't. And as I had stayed with my husband through an even more difficult time, Sarek held to his tacit promise. He would not say a word against Spock's upcoming visit.
Not much of a word for it either.
Or perhaps, to his son.
He certainly wasn't saying much about it to me.
But I thought to cross that bridge when we came to it. To manifest a human sentiment, I didn't choose to borrow trouble. My first goal was to get my child home. Then I'd broker a reconciliation between my two stubborn Vulcans. After all this time, Sarek had to accept his son's choice. My husband was Vulcan. And 95 percent of the time, being Vulcan meant being logical, reasonable. It was only occasionally that their passions, their tempers came to the forefront, past their control. Sarek had been caught unaware before by his son's unsuspected plans, but now, he'd had time to marshal his disciplines. Time to get used to the idea, to forgive, even forget the worst of that terrible breach. Time to resolve, to rebuild a relationship with his son. So I hoped. Sarek wasn't talking. And I had sworn to myself not to push, not to nag him. It was next to impossible to force my stubborn husband into something against his position anyway. I would let him see his son, realize how good it was to have him back, even if briefly, and let that persuade more effectively than I ever could. Surely even a Vulcan could realize it was better to have a son in Starfleet, temporarily, than no son at all. And that Spock had come back, I hope would prove to Sarek that he could, and would again. Someday for good. To return to the duties and traditions Sarek expected of him.
It all made good logical sense to me. Human common sense. So I harbored a few expectations of my own for that longed for reconciliation. Human expectations.
How often I forget that I am living with, dealing with, Vulcans. Yet it is hard, even for me, to see things through an alien perspective. And even after twenty-plus years of being bonded to Sarek, he is alien to me. Still.
Alien. And as unexpected, as surprisingly unpredictable as the end of a Vulcan summer. At least to human expectations.
And then at last, the Starfleet term ended, and Spock was free to leave Terra.
He came home the long cheap route, shuttling from one Federation government vessel to another, everything from starships, to mail couriers, to tramp merchant vessels hired to carry government cargo, the latter ships being ones to which I wouldn't trust a shipment of books, much less a beloved and very precious son. But Spock refused the first class ticket on a passenger liner I offered, preferring to return home the way all Starfleet cadets do before their first posting, deadheaded where ever space could be found for him. Nothing unusual in that. As his trustee, I periodically reviewed his finances. Though he was an adult under Federation law, he was still a child by Vulcan standards. He had gotten very good, expert, at subsisting on Starfleet standard issue. In fact, he hadn't touched a credit in his personal accounts on Vulcan since he left. I asked him, sometimes worriedly, if he was wearing warm enough clothing, if he was eating properly. I sent him gifts, the kind of "CARE" packages mothers send their sons away at school. He had, after all, been something of a privileged child on Vulcan. Well, let's face it, a very privileged child, for all that his Vulcan control and discipline denied him the ability to feel much of the enjoyment of that privilege. I wasn't sure exactly how standard Starfleet "standard issue" really was. And I had my doubts about how well it would suit a Vulcan, who must have some special needs in that Terran dominated organization. But apparently he found it suited well enough. He would raise an ironic brow at my mother-henning and formally acknowledge the gifts, but said nothing about enjoying them or wanting more. About wanting anything from home. Missing anything. Needing anything. That made me a bit uneasy.
But now that he was coming home, I could at least make his stay here comfortable. I couldn't chivvy T'Rueth out of my kitchen, her kitchen now, and I didn't really want to. She was a better cook than I was anyway, particularly with the Vulcan dishes Spock hadn't tasted since he left. But I put her to preparing a host of Spock's favorite foods. For once we weren't going to eat the mélange of Terran and Vulcan produce that our gardens grew; I arranged for purely Vulcan meals. Spock had surely had enough of Terran foods on Terra. I had the gardeners force and harvest some special crops of Vulcan fruits and vegetables that Spock particularly liked. I made sure his suite of rooms was woken up from stasis conditions, cleaned and stocked with anything I thought he'd need or want. I had his flyer, sitting forlorn in its hanger bay all this long while, pulled out, serviced and maintained, ready to take him anywhere on planet he cared to go. I even called Sofet, on the board of Vulcan Science Academy. Spock had turned down two instructorships there before, and there was no reason to suppose the third would be the charm, but I wanted the offer made anyway. At least he'd have one highly placed mentor from his past life welcoming him home. I couldn't count on his father to do that. But I could rely on his grandmother. I notified T'Pau of his arrival, even though I'd leave him to make his own arrangements to wait on her. It would be improper for me to do that for him. In short, I was fussing. Filled with excitement about having Spock home again. And not making any effort to control any of this.
Sarek watched me flying around in this whirlwind of preparations. He behaved exactly as usual, particularly when his human wife was being overly emotional. He notched up his Vulcan reserve. And he continued to say little.
That was fine with me. I didn't expect him to exactly slaughter a sheep, even if we had one, or do anything similar to the legendary prodigal son routines. I'd settle for him being Vulcan, in the best sense of that. And that's exactly what he was being. I took that as a good sign. A hopeful sign.
It wouldn't be the first time my limited knowledge of what it really meant to be Vulcan tripped me up.
After all my anxieties and all my planning, Spock's actual homecoming was uneventful. He didn't beam down into the main hall with a burst of transporter sparkles – such new technology would never be used or wasted on cadets – at least I hoped not. I didn't quite trust it, nor want to trust any of my family to it. Nor did he let me know of his vessel or exact arrival time, so I could greet his ship, perhaps he feared embarrassingly, at the terminal. No, he arrived uneventfully, taking a cab from the spaceport. The guard notified me when Spock signaled for the unauthorized vehicle's clearance through the security net. I came flying downstairs from my office to see him simply walk through the front, door, dropping a little carrybag at his feet, for all the world as if he were merely coming home from a day's lessons at the VSA. The ordinariness struck me almost as much as his appearance.
"Oh," I said, halting halfway down the stairs. My first reaction was how tall he was. I finished coming down the stairs, and crossed to him, still stunned by the look of him. On a subspace message, one got so used to looking down at the screen, at the little foreshortened figures displayed there, so often just head and shoulders, it was disconcerting to have to look up. And up. And up. "Oh, my. Just look at you."
Spock took me literally and panned down at himself. A Vulcan version of navel gazing. "Is something wrong?"
I laughed at his bent head, wondering if he was being the Vulcan equivalent of cute. He had a mischievous streak just like his father. And, come to think of it, like his mother. "Yes, you brat. You could at least give me a hug after all this time."
He flung up his head at that, wary and defensive as always at such emotional expectations. His silky hair, still cut into bangs and so unlike his father's wiry curls, fell instantly into place. That hadn't changed. Nor his mulish expression at my expecting anything human from him. "Mother."
"Then at least let me hug you."
"If you will," he said, professing indifference. But I think at heart he was not adverse.
I closed the space between us, and flung my arms around him. I could feel him tense. At one time in our lives, this had upset me, this seeming recoil. But now I knew it for what it as. As a touch telepath, he was simply marshalling his shields against betraying his thoughts to me, or mine to him.
I still couldn't get over how tall he was. He still had the weedy look of a Vulcan adolescent, though, and as I closed my arms around him I could feel how lean and sparse he was. He wouldn't get the powerful, stocky look of an adult male until he was fully adult, mid-sixties or so. But as I clutched him to me, I could feel how solid that slender frame was. My child was indeed growing up. He had steel in his muscles, and he felt less like a little boy, and more like a man, Vulcan warm, and Vulcan scented. And yet my child, forever and always. I knew him regardless of what he was, could have picked him blindfolded out of any crowd. He shifted, slightly uncomfortable in that unused to close embrace, and I stepped half a pace back, not wanting to stress him. Then found myself hugging him, fiercely, just once more before I did let go. He didn't often allow this. Who knew when he'd let me hug him again? "Thank you."
"The …gesture…was not unpleasant to me." He said, his eyes softening from control to almost a warm look. A rare concession from him. Perhaps he was glad to be home. Or at least to see me.
"'Affection is a pressure I can bear,'" I quoted wickedly.
"Eleanor of Aquitaine," Spock said immediately, surprising me. He'd done some extra-curricular reading since he'd left Vulcan.
"My, what a knowledgeable family we are. That surely wasn't in your Starfleet curriculum" I teased back, then added, "Sorry, what a poor reference. I don't expect this to be that sort of family gathering."
"I should hope not. Certainly I have not come here with any demands or expectations."
"Just to have you home again is enough for me. For now," I qualified, and shook my head. "You are earlier than you'd said."
"There was a fast diplomatic courier that was not on the original schedule," Spock shrugged, a human shrug. I was surprised at that, he was usually careful not to display human mannerisms. "I was transferred to it, and it cut another half a day from my journey.
"So I can see. You might have called, but I won't scold you. I suppose you hadn't the opportunity. I am glad I stayed home from work today, just in case."
"Surely there was no need for that?" he said, raising a brow, sounding just like his father. Human shrugs aside. Vulcan still, he couldn't understand neglecting a duty for an emotional need.
"Oh, I couldn't have concentrated anyway, I was so excited over seeing you again. How often does my son get leave from Starfleet? And now, I can't get over how tall you are. I'm getting a crick in my neck craning up at you. You are going to be taller than your father, I think." I noticed for the first time how he was dressed. "Spock, that uniform! You can't mean to wear that here."
He looked down at himself again, as if his attire surprised him. As if he'd already left Starfleet behind. Well, I could hope, couldn't I?
"I was required to wear it while in transit, as my travel arrangements were official. But now that I am formally on leave, I can forgo it."
"Then let's get you settled and changed." I shook my head at the outlandish cadet uniform. Like a pair of pajamas. "I certainly don't want your father to see you looking like that."
Spock raised a brow. "Mother, he knows I am in Starfleet. The uniform is merely the outward manifestation of that commitment."
"You don't have to hit him over the head with it." I glanced at him, not sure if he understood the idiom. "Figuratively speaking."
Spock didn't comment on the phrase. Instead he raised his head, almost like a hunting dog scenting the air. In fact, stretching out with a telepath's senses, for a hint of his father's aura. "Is he …home?" Spock asked.
"He's at Council, of course. He won't be back till this evening."
Spock hesitated, stirred, uneasy. "I am not sure…that I should be here. I had much time to consider it, on the journey."
"Hence the long cheap route home."
Spock didn't disagree. "I came to no firm conclusions."
"I'm grateful you're making the effort. Don't give up now. Just give it a chance. For me. Please?"
Spock drew breath, drew the thin Vulcan air into his lungs. And let it out slowly. In acceptance. "I am…here."
"So you are." I took his arm in mine. He didn't pull away. "You'll need to call your grandmother today, and arrange for an audience. It wouldn't be politic not to, though you can wait a couple of days to see her. But for now, perhaps some tea? Are you hungry? T'Rueth has been cooking and baking for days, all the things I've told you about in my letters." He didn't say anything, so I answered for him. "Of course, you're hungry, you're thin as a rail. And we can have a nice chat. You can tell me all about Starfleet. And about Earth. It's been ages since I've been to Terra."
"I have been telling you," Spock said. "In my messages."
"Oh, you know I'm human. I don't have your memory. Tell me again," I teased, "It will be all the same to me."
"Mother," he adjured, but this time with half a smile. "I am somewhat…more familiar…with human qualities now than I was. Such dissembling serves neither of us."
"So I've been busted have I? All my secrets and lies shattered? That's what I get for letting you run away to sea?"
"I did no such thing."
"Poetic license. You've obviously been reading enough to recognize it when you hear it."
"Starfleet curriculum is primarily designed for human abilities. As a Vulcan I had much time free for additional...research. But there was one thing I did not learn on Terra," Spock added with an arched brow.
"Oh, what was that?"
"I really still have no conception of why my father married you."
"Ouch. Brat is right. You have learned too much," I said. "Anyway, all that was so long ago, I surely can't remember any of it. Human memory being what it is." I teased again.
He flicked a brow in resignation. "I have not a Terran memory, mother. I remember your teasing, quite well. Particularly when you wish not to discuss a subject."
"And you have changed, enough to call me on it." He didn't reply, and I took advantage of my position to change the subject. He might be bold enough now to ask such questions, but not to insist on answers that I wasn't ready to give him. "Speaking of change, let's have you change out of that uniform. And then we can have tea and you can tell me all the horrid stories about Terra and Fleet that you didn't dare put into a subspace squirt." I led him away, still arm in arm. And he allowed it. Whether through his perception of my needs or some finally permitted need of his own, I didn't care. It was enough to have him really back. Willing to meet me halfway.
One Vulcan down, one to go.
To be continued…