Home is the Sailor
When Kirk flew back to the old Fortress, he had to circle the hanger area, because it was crowded with half a dozen or more little craft, though the hanger was empty except for the Terran vehicle he'd long ago eschewed.
Sarek and Amanda weren't home then. Hard to say about McCoy, since he adamantly refused to fly himself anywhere in Vulcan traffic, even in a Federation manufactured vehicle, saying on this planet everyone drove by the seat of their pants like a bunch of wild daredevil cadets instead of via super-controlled traffic guidance. He was having his colleagues pick him up and take him around on his busman's holiday.
Kirk parked Spock's flyer in its usual place, pleased that he had no trouble setting the little vehicle precisely where he intended, and went to puzzle out the other vehicles. He wasn't alarmed that Spock had some sort of setback, because these vehicles lacked the Academy of Medicine's emblazons. Though they did have more personality than any Vulcan vehicles he'd yet seen. One was painted all over in the guise of a lematya. Some were striped. One had a fancy geometric pattern. Most were normal sized, though a couple were almost as small as Spock's flyer. None had warp sleds, but they were all nice craft.
When he went approached the gate, the guards nodded to him, in the first sign of unbending they'd given him. "They're meeting in the garden, sir," one muttered, with a trace of insider confidence that seemed to indicate somehow, with all these new visitors, he'd now risen in their estimation in comparison, a resident compared to invading strangers.
"Thanks. Who are they?" Kirk asked.
"Councilors. Scientists. Just kids." the guard said. "No one to be concerned about." Though his voice was so soft Kirk had to strain to hear it, Kirk didn't miss the trace of mild disdain. It came to him that their disregard of McCoy and their different attitude toward him was somehow related. He, Spock, Sarek were warriors to them, and they showed it. McCoy, Amanda, and these unknown visitors were not anything a guard had to be concerned with.
Slightly appeased by that estimation, Kirk followed the voices, though they were speaking Vulcan, and he couldn't discern the gist of the conversation.
He went through the Vulcan part of the gardens to no avail. To his surprise the voices were coming from Amanda's gardens. He pushed through the shimmer of force screen, that kept humidity and the slightly higher pressure of Earth normal conditions in, and ducked under the trailing ribbons of roses and vines that showered down petals. The voices were farther on, deeper still in the gardens. But he had spent long hours here, waiting out Spock's convalescence. He unerringly followed the winding paths through the rose maze. He came around the last turn, to the center, where a terrace with benches, tables and statuary created a pleasant verdant room, and found a small group of young Vulcans, all in that interim period between eighteen and sixty that put them firmly in the adolescent stage between child and adulthood. It took him a few seconds to pick Spock out of the group. He hadn't worn Starfleet uniform since his arrival, and in Vulcan clothes, his hair cut in a longer, non-Starfleet style, without the sharp sideburn points that Starfleet favored, he was almost, almost just one more of a group of dark haired, casually dressed, young Vulcans. But then Spock detached himself from a knot. "Captain."
"Look at you, down here all by yourself," Kirk said, with unfeigned pleasure, if a little jeaous that Spock hadn't waited for him. Then realized how odd that sounded, since Spock was definitely not by himself. But he meant Spock had made it down presumably under his own power. No parents, no healers, no Kirk or McCoy. Fortunately Vulcans were used to remarks that suffered in translation. None of them so much as blinked.
"Captain Kirk. An honor to meet you again, Sir," another Vulcan said. Kirk recognized Sanjean. Introductions followed, but Kirk rapidly lost track of names and the clan affiliations that were rattled off. Two or three were dressed in the dark slacks and clan shields that Sarek had sported on the Enterprise, apparently fresh from Council. Several were dressed in desert sand suits, of a tan perfect to camouflage their presence in the wild foothills that rose outside the garden gates. A couple were dressed in casual Vulcan clothes of the type Kirk had seen on Shikahr's streets. There were two girls in the group. They had desert clothes on also, their hair pulled back in pony tails rather than the elaborate hairstyles Kirk had noted on most Vulcan women in Shikahr. The desert clad group were all a bit travel stained and sandy, and there were a few small knapsacks on the ground next to their feet. Trays of refreshments had been set out, pitchers of drinks and snacks, but almost all the young Vulcans, particularly the desert hikers, were ignoring the food in favor of snacking on roses, their hands full of buds or petals, with glasses of lemonade in their other hand. The scent of roses hung heavy in the air.
All of the Vulcans were obviously curious about Kirk, some of them looking from him to Spock with a sort of wonder, but none of them seemed to have the negative attitude toward "outworlders" that Kirk had sensed in some Vulcans - Sarek included at times. Perhaps the prejudice Kirk had sometimes encountered was partly a generational difference. They obviously had no prejudice against Terran roses. They'd been stripping all the nearby buds with an appetite that Kirk had almost never seen in Spock. Even the girls were browsing, in between conversation. Maybe McCoy was right, for he'd sometimes speculated that Spock's dual heritage adversely affected his digestion or appetite, resulting in Spock's picky eating habits and skinny frame. Or perhaps in this case, Spock was just over-used to having the Vulcan equivalent of a candy store at his doorstep, because he was the only Vulcan present who didn't have a handful of buds. And the only one not eating.
Conversation suffered upon Kirk's arrival. A few of Spock's guests didn't speak Federation Standard fluently. Several of them were clearly unpracticed at it. Those that did tried their best to translate, but communication soon bogged down. Some of them had questions about Starfleet, that Spock answered in his own language, translating back for Kirk. They steered clear from questions about Spock's mission, no doubt because even his longer haircut couldn't entirely hide the mindsifter burns on his temples, or the ugly scars on his wrists.
Most of them seemed quite happy to rest and eat in the rose garden after what looked like a strenuous morning hike. Kirk gathered from snatches of conversation that that sandsuited group, naturalists by profession, had come down from higher in the foothills, where they'd apparently been doing some sort of wildlife survey in conjunction with the Science Academy and other conservation organizations, when Sanjean and his Council colleagues had arrived. They had followed Sanjean into the Fortress with the apparent hopeful prospect of freeloading lunch after a hard morning's fieldwork.
Spock was curious about the wildlife survey, and they were telling him about it, in slow stages, pausing for Spock to relay their comments to Kirk. No one had a universal translator handy. Spock did his best to translate for Kirk, but it was uphill going. The creatures they'd been studying only had Vulcan names, the times and dates of the study were all in Vulcan, and the institutions who'd requested the study were Vulcan too. Spock was getting a little breathless repeating everything, especially since most of it was untranslatable. Kirk finally held up a hand. "Belay that, Spock. I'm just going to get some lemonade."
He walked off to the set out refreshments, where Sanjean's group was back for refills. They had less problems with Federation Standard.
"You are from Earth, Captain?" A lankily tall Vulcan called Silanjar asked him in nearly unaccented English. "A Terran human?"
Kirk nodded pleasantly, pouring himself a drink, and wishing T'Rueth had included ice as she generally did in the house. For this group of solely Vulcans, she'd omitted it. The lemonade was very warm and sourer than he liked. "Iowa."
That clearly meant nothing to Silanjar. "You are, perhaps, from Lady Amanda's clan?"
"Humans don't generally have clans. Some do, from some countries on Earth - Scots for instance. But most don't."
"How...isolating." Silanjar commented thoughtfully.
"What does your clan motto stand for?" Kirk asked, not entirely with idle purpose, eying the embroidered clan shield. "I know Spock's is the lematya."
"A forge. Not Vulcan's Forge, the desert range, but a smelting forge. My people come from the far side of the Llangons, Captain. We were metal workers primarily, delving in the depths of the planet's core. Spock's ancestors," he said, nodding at him, "had the truly uncivilized habit of crossing their mountains, invading our borders, attacking us, and making off with all our hard-mined efforts. We on the other hand, occasionally grew bold enough to cross their ranges, and try to take their land and water rights as well as our stolen goods back. I regret to report they were far more successful in their nefarious exploits than we were in ours. They often pillaged us. We never quite managed to take ShiKahr from them. " His eyes grew pleasantly reflective. "Although there were some fabulous battles." His gaze returned to Kirk. "Perhaps I should not say regret, because if lack of conquest could be considered a virtue, my clan was by far the more virtuous compared to Spock's."
Almost against his will, Kirk had to laugh at this.
"When Surak first proposed to unite all the clans in peace," Silanjar continued, "my ancestors immediately saw the advantage of joining them, compared to them regularly routing our goods. They signed on post-haste. Paid them a healthy tribute for the privilege too. We've made a virtue of being the first treaty signer, the first ally to Surak. Though I suspect it was originally more a result of lack of where-with-all on the battlefield in facing Surak's former armies, and far less of true interest in peace. "
"I think more than one clan would have to confess to that," Sanjean said, rife with Vulcan amusement. "My people were nothing more than farmers, Captain. My clan spent a good portion of the Pre-Reforms fighting in various insurrections trying to keep from being enslaved by Surak's armies. And too often failing. It was a bitter time, so we had no hesitation signing the peace either. Our lands are the far plains beyond the Sirakvui Spaceport."
"You paid them a tribute?" Kirk asked.
"Oh, Surak returned much of the tributes. Eventually. Once he'd managed to conquer - ah, sign on - all his former enemies and had all the clans firmly in hand, he didn't need his war chest so much. Quite clever of him," Silanjar said. "When he realized he couldn't conquer all the lands of Vulcan in war, he just conquered them all with peace.
"It sounds better in the history books," Sanjean commented, "than the way you tell it, Silanjar."
"Naturally I am a Vulcan, bred to peace, and revere Surak for his uniting of the clans," Silanjar said, a trifle ironically, "But after a long day in Council, sometimes the prospect of fighting the old way with a lirpa, rather than interminable words, seems so much cleaner."
"What will Captain Kirk think?" Sanjean remarked.
"Probably that we are no better than we are," Silanjar returned.
"I think I understand, Silanjar," Kirk said.
"I'm not surprised at all that Spock went into Starfleet," Silanjar remarked, refreshing his glass, and now eyeing Spock over by the naturalists with mild, uncomplicated interest. "It was a logical choice. On land or in space, that clan are all cut-throat pirates at heart."
Kirk choked at that, but let it go, finding it more of an oblique compliment than an insult. He regarded himself as something of a pirate at times. "Is your clan still into metalworking?"
"Indeed we are. Though Vulcan is a bit metal poor now. We run mines and refineries from here to Rigel. and ship the refined goods all over the Federation, though mostly our clients are from the old Vulcan Alliance of planets and colonies."
"And do you make metal goods - such as ships?" Kirk asked casually.
"No, we've never been shipwrights. For that you'd have to go to-" Silanjar suddenly rose to his feet, an arrested expression on his face. Around him, all the other Vulcans rose, or straightened as well, rosebuds set aside or concealed in hands, glasses being set down, faces setting from even marginal Vulcan expressions to studied expressionlessness. For all the world like children having been caught in mischief.
Kirk turned to see Sarek coming toward them across the gardens.
"Respect, Leader," Sanjean said with studied tonelessness, and Silanjar and the other Vulcans echoed him, glancing at each other, some shifting their feet, clearly none of the young Vulcans entirely comfortable under Sarek's eagle-eyed scrutiny.
Sarek's gaze passed over Kirk, and regarded the rest with faint disapproval, if not actual disparagement, and settled on Spock. Spock had raised his head to regard his father, but he, of all the Vulcans there, hadn't risen from his seat. Kirk thought it was probably because he was choosing not to risk a flat out faint. He looked pale, and though he seemed more curious and surprised at his contemporaries' reaction, rather than stressed, still there were shadows under his eyes that hadn't been there half an hour ago. If he hadn't risen for Sarek's arrival as the others had, it was more because he was clearly conserving his strength, unwilling to nose dive into the dirt.
"You look awful, Spock," Kirk said unguardedly, not thinking about how it sounded.
"Somewhat fatigued," Sarek amended with a reproving glance for Kirk. "But I quite concur."
The group of wildlife experts were already making motions and comments that they were overdue at their headquarters, and collecting their things. The one with the least marginal English inviting Spock to join them on their next field trip, including Kirk in the invitation if he felt acclimated enough. They trooped past Sarek with lowered heads and surreptitious glances at Kirk, and in spite of himself, Kirk had to smile. "You know how to clear a room," he said to Sarek.
"When a room should be cleared," Sarek said with a meaningful glance at the rest of Spock's Vulcan guests.
Sanjean and Silanjar and the others took that as cues to go too. "We have not forgotten your offer, Captain, regarding touring your ship, when Spock is well enough," Sanjean said.
"She's still a bit in pieces, Sanjean," Kirk said, ignoring Sarek's pointed glance at that offer. "In another week, she might be more out of her shift and ready for visitors."
Sanjean nodded, and as the group left, Kirk heard him explaining to his fellow Councilors that humans, illogical though it might seem, referred to ships as female.
With typical Vulcan manners, Spock now struggled to his feet, apparently determined to see his visitors out. They walked through the gardens, Sarek vigilant as if half expecting Spock to collapse into a rosebush. But they made it to the gates unscarred. The others hadn't left yet, they had momentarily paused beside a new vehicle parked on the sands outside the gate, a sleek craft with a warp sled, and lines so achingly beautiful to the spacer in Kirk that he felt his mouth water in sheer desire to fly it.
"Whose is this?" Sanjean asked with an admiring glance.
"Spock's," Sarek said, giving the craft a critical once over that told Kirk he himself hadn't seen it himself until now.
"No," Spock said, sounding puzzled, "It's-"
"A gift from your mother," Sarek said repressively under his breath to Spock, with a pas devant les etrangers tone.
"Oh." Spock closed his mouth and immediately dropped the subject. Kirk had to admit, that for all they hadn't spoken much in eighteen years, at times Spock and Sarek seemed to understand each other perfectly.
After a few more admiring comments, the group piled into their own striped and blazoned vehicles and took off.
In the sudden silence of their departure, Spock gave a little soft exhalation of relief. Kirk put a surreptitious arm under his elbow as they walked back in through the gate. Once there, Spock sank down on a bench beside a fountain rather than go further, clearly worn out.
"I think perhaps you require a nap," Sarek said reviewing him critically.
Spock shook his head fractionally. "I am better, with their departure." He rubbed his temples slightly, the gesture once again outlining the ugly scars on his wrists. "My shields are recovering. So many people... suddenly overwhelmed them. Momentarily."
"My understanding from your mother was that this was to be a visit of only a few."
"The others were passing," Spock said, a bit breathlessly. "Sanjean invited them."
"A fine thing for him to make them free of my house," Sarek said, regarding Spock narrowly. "Let me help you to bed, Spock."
Spock had his head down, fingers to his temples again, obviously struggling for control, his breath ragged. "I would rather...sit here in the sun. Where it is warm."
"It is too damp by this fountain."
Spock shook his head fractionally, fading fast, but stubborn in spite of it. "Here."
"I'll stay with you, Spock. If you want me to," Kirk amended, suspecting Spock couldn't make it up those stairs under his own power, and was unwilling for Sarek to carry him.
"Very well. " Sarek relented. "Not too long," he said in an soft aside to Kirk, and frowning again at Spock, took his leave.
Once Sarek left, Spock closed his eyes, and molding himself into the side of the bench, fell almost immediately into an exhausted sleep. A few minutes later, T'Jar appeared, carrying a tray with iced drinks, obviously meant for Kirk. Kirk pointed to Spock, holding a finger to his lips. T'Jar set down the tray and went away on silent Vulcan feet, her departure masked by the tinkling fountain. Kirk poured himself a glass of iced tea. In the heat of the afternoon sun, in this Vulcan part of the gardens, the cold drink was doubly welcome to him. He was reluctantly grateful for Sarek's thoughtfulness.
But that thoughtfulness could be a double-edged sword. It occurred to him, he'd almost rather Sarek still be at odds with Spock. Not quite. He didn't want to wish that breach on anyone, much less his friend and colleague. Or that friend's father.
But in some respects he agreed with Silanjar. Open conflict might not be a desirable thing, but it could make things so much easier. When there was a clear enemy to fight and beat at all cost, sans politeness, sans rules.
And he had to admit, even if Spock wasn't thrilled over the flyer, it made him feel better. Not just because it would be fun to toy with. But because, Starship Captain that he was, he felt a lot more in control with a warp powered craft at his immediate disposal. Fast enough to go anywhere in the Federation. Fast enough to catch up with the Enterprise, should Spock be inadvertently separated from her for a little while. No worry about somehow jimmying Sarek's, if it had come to that.
With a fast, agile craft, he just felt better all around. Some of his anxiety lifted.
He was grateful to Amanda for suggesting it. Though he was sure she hadn't intended it in the sense he regarded it. As a lifeline back to Starfleet.
But there it was. Just in case.
He looked over at Spock, drank his iced tea, and smiled in relief.
To be continued...