Saavik being cured meant two things to Amanda. The first was that Saavik must host a gathering in her home for those who had helped her. It made sense, except for the fact that her home was unfinished. The lack of furnishings led to Amanda's insistence that the furniture she had delivered was neither charity nor a gift, but a logical necessity. Saavik argued that, on the contrary, she did not have to have the gathering in her unfurnished home and that Amanda and Sarek giving her furniture was not a necessity. It was a gift and so large a one that it might be called charity, and therefor she could not accept, despite being named guest-friend to the House.

Amanda then launched into a convoluted, unending circle of twisted and unrelated statements that no one could call reasonable, including Amanda herself. That did not stop her from making them, in great volume and unstopping frequency. Sarek had finally interceded and told Saavik to accept the gift under whatever label his wife gave it. Acceptance would give Amanda peace and thereby bring peace to the house.

Amanda also started finding excuses for touching Saavik again; small gestures, a brush on the arm, a hand placed lightly on her back. The unexpectedness of them seeped Amanda's presence through Saavik's mental shields. She had already learned on her own that Amanda needed the reassurance of physical contact, and so she said nothing about them, but gritted her sense of privacy against the invasions, and strengthened her mental shielding to not overwhelm the vulnerable human.

When Amanda died a few months later, Saavik sat in her cabin with only the firepot for company, and relived each of those feather light touches and how that presence had felt.

The second thing that made no sense was her guests' insistence on "telling stories" and especially the sort of story they wanted to hear. After Amanda had shared a few of hers and Sarek's interesting missions, and Kirk and McCoy did the same, she right away turned to Saavik.

"Why don't you tell us one now? Tell us something of interest about you."

She had the perfect thing. "I have received my new orders. I will join the research team in investigating the newly discovered twin jet nebula."

She didn't need to emphasize the last three words; the phenomenon did it for her by its very existence. Spock immediately began asking questions as she knew he would, but his keen interest raised another thought. Is he so interested, he would join the research? If they could get Spock to be involved, even in only a minor role, the gain would be immeasurable.

And she would have contact with him.

It was possible. He was not staying aboard the Enterprise.

Their discussion had Sarek's full interest too, but McCoy's head suddenly dropped against the back of his seat and he gave every sign of being asleep.

Saavik held in a disapproving stare that would melt a ship's hull while she decided if she was allowed to admonish a guest on his behavior. Amanda interrupted.

"The nebula discussion is fascinating--"

That didn't sound sincere at all, since Amanda said with her eyes that she found McCoy's behavior entertaining, even when she shouldn't.

"–but perhaps we can table it for a future time and hear something different. Your shipmates mentioned an incident with a Deltan ambassador. What about that?"

Saavik couldn't be hearing this correctly. Not the part about the crew of the Aerfen mentioning the incident – Saavik knew exactly who would have done that – but the fact that anyone would put it above what she was saying. "Amanda, a twin jet nebula is a discovery of highest interest. It supercedes an incident such as what you have proposed."

"I must disagree. It obviously affects us, since it's someone in diplomatic circles. I've been curious ever since Lieutenant Warfield was unable to finish the story."

Just as Saavik thought: Warfield, aided by Hoskins, no doubt.

"We had some unpleasantness to deal with, and then they brought you in so they could say goodbye." Something dark dimmed the light in those eyes before Amanda managed to move past it.

Apparently Kirk and McCoy agreed on which story they wanted to hear, and she was their hostess, after all. She shared a look with Spock and Sarek of how unreasonable she considered the whole thing, and told them what they wanted to know.

"The ambassador in question was assigned by the Federation to aide the Aerfen in peace negotiations between the Turelans and the Unelitians. However, due to his misconduct, he was removed from duty and a different ambassador was assigned." She stopped.

McCoy blinked. "And?"

She lifted her eyebrows. "I have recounted the incident in its entirety, Doctor."

"But you didn't give any details!"

"I gave those that were important."

"Important!" McCoy shook his head. "You're doing this deliberately, aren't you?"

Kirk raised a hand, looking like he was trying not to laugh. "Take it easy, Bones. Saavik, report."

She tilted her head, but if the captain thought he needed additional information, then she must provide it. "The ambassador arrived on the Aerfen at 19:30 hours. Captain Hunter met him in the transporter room along with Commanders Stuart and Kameko, as well as Lieutenants Hoskins and Warfield, Doctor Aakheltok, and myself."

He held up a hand again, signaling to wait. "Mr. Warfield told us that the ambassador informed you that he was an alien collector?"

"During a banquet," McCoy added.

Sarek's face hardened to stone, and Spock didn't look much different, but Saavik nodded. They had signaled for her not to stop her report. "It is true. I was uncertain of the phrase's meaning, but I was able to discern it by his other statements."

"And he focused on you?"

"Yes, sir."

Amanda still sparkled, but an edge of what turned Sarek's expression hard laid as an undercurrent. "What exactly did he say to you?"

"That he believed someone of my mixed ancestry would be unharmed by his limited ability for Deltan pheromone communication. He stated someone of a Romulan nature knew such intensity as part of their genetics while he had heard Vulcans were capable of managing extreme degrees in mental and physical surges."

She said it calmly now, but reacted differently back then. The ambassador had seemed to hint at pon farr, and the way he had smiled at her as he said it mocked her disapproval. It was the latter that kept her from rising out of her seat and walking out. Doing that would have added to his mockery and she wouldn't give him the satisfaction.

Even McCoy and Kirk lost their levity when they heard it. The doctor leaned forward. "He said that to you?"

"Yes, Doctor."

Amanda's hand gripped her seat. "And what did you say?"

"I replied, 'Do you ask me a question or offer me a proposition?'"

Kirk choked and McCoy burst out in laughter, while Amanda's gleam came back in full force. The Aerfen crew had reacted in pretty much the same way. Saavik didn't understand it then and she still didn't, but it had taken the Deltan ambassador aback, just as she had intended.

Even Sarek nodded in satisfaction. "I commend you on your handling of the situation. You said this ambassador was removed from duty?"

"Yes, sir. Captain Hunter had him step down immediately and reported him to his superiors."

That was putting it lightly. Hunter had been furious.

Sarek again nodded and Saavik left to replenish the refreshments for her guests.

Spock came to her there. "Your assignment to the nebula's team is excellent. You will rejoin the Aerfen afterwards?"

She would. Spock had given her a gift for her new home: a large stellar map, a recreation of the ancient charts made by PreReform Vulcan's warrior tribes to guide them at night. It hung now underneath the statue of the Twilight Eagle, but she was taking it with everything else she treasured when she returned to her ship.

They discussed the nebula until she began returning to the group. Spock stopped her from leaving the room. "Saavik--" He paused. "The forced meld on my part at Srre's... it is your right to bring charges."

She disagreed. "You were required to make the decision for the both of us. It was an action to save my life, and I would have given consent if I was able."

"Most kind."

"And logical."

He raised an eyebrow, but she was practically saying the same thing he had about their shared pon farr on Genesis. So he nodded, and still held her to the spot.

"I have not decided my own choice in my next assignment, although I am most likely working with the diplomatic team on the Klingon peace. Or taking a position with the Academy once more." She waited, sensing there was more. "Perhaps I may contact you? I would appreciate your opinions in either case."

He wanted contact with her again... "I would find that most gratifying."

He nodded, but wasn't done. "Perhaps at some point, you will no longer find it necessary to keep that forged letter."

Why did it seem as if she risked so much to say, "I destroyed it after your first visit to my home. I discovered its lesson does not necessarily hold true in all cases."

He turned to her with an expression that made that risk worth taking. McCoy called out, and Spock walked with her to the other room.

"She won't come."

A cool wind whistled through the four marble aisles at the Hellguard memorial. Only their artificial candles and the subdued lighting at the Hall where Jdehn stood with Arik and Mekhai broke the darkness.

An honor guard had let them pass at the perimeter; they were the only other people here at this hour.

"You are incorrect." Saavik walked out from one of the open aisles without any of them spotting her until she was on top of them.

Jdehn bit off a curse, and Mekhai didn't bother keeping his to himself. He bristled, but at least he didn't make a move. None of them had lost the ability to move silently, but it was creepy having her slip out of the darkness like that. Especially here. At least Arik didn't jump out of his skin like he used to do. He just twitched.

Jdehn didn't say anything else, but turned to the wall at their back: Micar's mural. The Vulcans had actually managed to swap out the entire wall without threatening the integrity of the hospital. They even blended it with the rest of the architecture here. The memorial now represented all of Hellguard's victims.

The lighting touched on each painted face. She almost wished it didn't, but wondered if everyone clouded in darkness would really make it any better.

"You know, just weeks ago, I didn't give any of them one thought. And if I did, it wasn't anything good." She moved closer to the wall so the eyes now looked over her head. Some of them were total strangers to her; she had needed to memorize their faces and names. So it struck her how petite Pekhi had been, how massive Strahinja had become...

"Me neither." Mekhai said. "Nothin' good, like you said."

"I had nightmares too," Arik admitted, saying what they hadn't. "And I didn't talk to anybody."

Jdehn looked over to Saavik who stared stone faced at the mural. "Amanda would tell me what the others were doing, even after I said I was uninterested. It was my only contact."

"Yeah," Jdehn said. She understood. "Yeah. The thing is, I thought we should say goodbye. You know?"

The two males nodded, but Saavik darted a glance from the corner of her eyes. "Logical."

Jdehn nearly grinned. "Don't start." She glanced down the marble aisles. "Although..." If she looked for them, she could see the eery patches of blue-white light glowing from the embedded viewscreens. "I'm letting some things out. My time sense, some calculations." She tore away from those aisles. "So I guess it wasn't all bad."

Mekhai didn't say anything, but she had already noticed he used their old accent less than before. And Arik...

Arik stood straight and tall. The kind of energy that only his smile used to reveal now flowed under the surface, and when he returned her gaze, it glowed behind his eyes.

"Did you go to Mt. Seleya?" she asked. Stupid question, because of course he did. He had changed.

"Vi'hai's family was very good to me. They said, if I wanted to stay here, I could use his house while I studied."

"You taking the offer?"

"I think I will. At least for awhile." He had to come back from far away to look at her. "I need to do this and see where it takes me."

She understood that too. She returned to the mural and reached out to touch it. Despite the warmth of its colors, the stone was cold and the darkness turned what brightness it held to stark severity.

It's like looking at your own gravestone.

"If you need--" Jdehn's fingers fell down the painting until she dug them in the stone. She had started this; now she had to say the rest of it. "If you need anything and I can help... I'm there. Okay?"

Arik was warm as he placed his hand near hers. "Me too."

Saavik faced her and Jdehn choked down on the old urge to raise herself to as tall as she could be against the other female. "Agreed."

Mekhai looked long and hard at Saavik who calmly held his eyes. At last, he said, "Yeah. Okay."

They stood in silence for a long moment with the wind and shadows. Then, Arik, of course, asked the question Jdehn had been asking herself ever since that afternoon.

"Everything that Mal'Shik said... using things we got from Hellguard... or... someday... having children. Did you really disagree with all of it?"

No one answered him.

Saavik's head turned to look down the aisles marking the four ships captured and brought to Hellguard. Without a word, they drew together in the whistling wind.

Thirty-three of them had left Hellguard; they were the last survivors.

They were only four.