Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek . . . consider yourself disclaimed.

A/N: Hello, all! Sorry it's been so long - I was caught a little off guard by finals (What? When on earth did I learn that?) and somewhere during finals week my creative juices just plain dried up. However, I felt that although this chapter appears short due to its density, you would appriciate the significance it has to the plot. I can't promise when the next chapter will be out (if it comes into existence), but I would like to at least unravel this story to the end for you all. As per usual, I appriciate all of the comments and support you provide via REVIEWS(!), so feel free to enjoy, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Dinner was a tense affair, and an unusually quiet one at that, with all of the Kirk children staring resolutely at their plates as though their mother's meatloaf held all the secrets to the universe. There wasn't even any swapping of food; though that could also be contributed to the fact that Winnona had been too angry to do much fluttering about the table as she had the previous night. It was getting so awkward that Jim was considering "accidentally" injuring himself just to lighten the mood – he knew how funny his siblings found his pain to be. Fortunately, however, Prime seemed generally unaffected by the dreadful atmosphere hovering around the table, and peppered doctor McCoy with questions about how TJ was doing and whether he had enjoyed the pool and so on.

In fact, Jim thought as he narrowed his eyes at Prime, it seemed rather odd. HisSpock couldn't small talk his way out of a paper bag, and although he knew this man had decades of experience as a diplomat, this incessant questioning must have a deeper purpose. When Sarek joined in, Jim became even more certain. He kept his gaze on the meatloaf he was picking apart, but began to listen in.

"So do you believe he is progressing normally, doctor? Height and weight wise, that is?" Prime was asking, as he speared some lettuce. Jim grimaced at his own plate. Usually, he hated the rabbit food Prime and Spock were always eating, but somehow his mother had a way of cooking her anger into the meatloaf. He couldn't explain how; Spock would surely call him illogical for thinking so, but the meatloaf definitely tasted like anger. Or, at least, it was a little burned.

"Well," the doctor, too seemed to be picking at the meat on his plate, choosing to focus on the green beans instead, "as far as I know, he's just dandy." The doctor pulled a face after daring to mix a forkful of green beans and a bite of meatloaf, as though to conceal the anger-flavor.

"And just how much would that be, doctor? I mean no offense, of course. I have witnessed your medical skill on board the Enterprise, and realize you are quite proficient at your profession. However, just how well versed are you in the physiology of Vulcan youth? As far as I know, there is not much literature on the subject. At least, not that Starfleet has access to, I'm afraid."

Bones gave the Ambassador a look. One that Jim recognized as his "I don't like what you just said to me, but I can't think of a specific reason I can object to it" expressions. "Well, I suppose I'm just comparing him to what a normal healthy baby looks like – you know, two eyes, two pointy ears, a nose, a mouth that cries and drools a lot. Are there some special Vulcanish qualities you all have managed to conceal that you're waiting for me to mention? The uncanny ability to irritate Georgian doctors, perhaps?"

Unphased by McCoy's sarcasm, the Ambassadors plowed on. "Have you noticed any overt anger outbursts from him?" Sarek glanced at Winona, "Or as I believe I've heard Winona call them, 'temper tantrums'?"

Winona looked up in surprise at hearing her name. As a result, TJ took the opportunity to push some green beans off of his plate and on to the floor. Seeing this, Josh seemed to decide it was a pretty good idea, and moved to push his whole plate off when Jim swiftly scooped up the plate and carried it off to safety in the sink. Keeping one ear still trained on the conversation, Jim began running the old fashioned water tap to rinse the angry-meatloaf residue off Josh's plate as well as empty his own into the garbage disposal.

"Oh, well TJ's a pretty calm baby." His mother put in, before Bones could think up a good response. "He hasn't really had much cause to pitch a fit, of course, since he's only been here for two days."

Jim saw Sarek share a significant look with Prime. McCoy must have caught it too, because he smiled with false sweetness, asking them, "Yes, gentlemen? Is there anything you'd like to share with the class?"

Spock's eyebrow went up, and his brow furrowed a little. Not much, but enough to let Jim know that his mom wasn't the only one who was irritated. The ambassadors, however, did not seem offended at the doctor's dripping sarcasm.

"Well, doctor," Sarek began, steepling his fingers and leaning forward slightly, "it seems a little unusual for TJ not to have displayed any overt signs of temper thus far. While it is true he has only been here two days, Vulcan children experience their feelings in an extremely intense way. It is their intensity that is usually the reason for a parent's first intervention with the child, using telepathy to help them learn and understand how to cope with emotions such as anger or frustration. At first we did not notice this anomaly in his behavior, because he seemed to have a passion to his emotions, but only in positive or neutral emotions. It is the negative emotions such as anger and hurt that call for telepathic interference."

"However," Prime carried on seamlessly, "the fact that TJ has had no need for telepathic interference thus far brings up the troubling question as to whether he may be stunted developmentally. All Vulcan children should have already begun to experience regular intervention at his age, yet he seems not to need it. The prospect of that and what it implies is not favorable."

Jim tensed. He didn't like where the conversation was going.

Evidently, Bones didn't like it much either, as he asked in a growl, "And what exactly is not favorable about it? I would think that a child feeling only intense happiness would be a good thing."

With an air of perfect serenity, Prime took a sip of water before responding. "Well, it implies that the child had either been very severely neglected by past caregivers, or that he is not Vulcan at all. If he were, his emotions would have spiraled well out of control, or he would have become catatonic."

The children at the table, already keeping uncharacteristically silent, held utterly still as they all exchanged glances. Jim could see the blood drain out of McCoy's face and didn't need a mirror to know he, too, was pale. Spock had stiffened when Prime had made his oh-so-casual proclamation and was now eyeing TJ with a curiosity tinged with suspicion. The Ambassadors, deliberately oblivious to the reactions of the others, plowed on.

"A case of neglect this severe is unlikely, as you yourself have found TJ to be well off both physically and temperamentally otherwise." Sarek stated, tilting his head in thought, "Therefore the only logical explanation is that TJ is not Vulcan at all." As one, every person in the room turned to look at TJ, who was busy happily turning all of his remaining green beans to green mush.

"But if he's not Vulcan . . ." Tad began uncertainly, quieting when everyone looked at him.

". . . than what could he be?" Randy finished for his twin.

"Romulan." Spock had stated it quietly, almost calmly, even. But Jim wasn't fooled. He could tell that even though Spock would refuse to show it externally, the very mention of Romulans was causing him to relive the loss of his mother and home planet. There was a long, tense moment of silence during which all the adults in the room held perfectly still, each awaiting a response from another. Finally, it was Anita who piped up and broke the silence.

"Okay . . . so, does that mean he has germs or somethin'?" Anita inquired innocently, looking at the adults with open curiosity.

"Oh, ah . . . no, sweetheart, TJ doesn't have any germs. It just means that TJ wasn't from Vulcan after all." Jim turned around fully, so that he could see his little sister's face.

Her brow puckered with confusion, Anita tilted her head. "Well then why is everyone acting so weird? Is it bad not to be from Vulcan? I'm not from Vulcan." Before his flummoxed mother could respond, Anita turned and whispered conspiratorially to Prime, "I'm not from Vulcan, right?"

With grave seriousness, Prime whispered reassuringly, "That is correct." Anita, apparently satisfied with the confirmation, turned her attention back to her mother, who was still floundering for a response. Yet, unexpectedly, it was Spock who came to Winona's rescue.

"No, Anita," the young Vulcan began, ignoring everyone else in the room, his gaze focused solely on the little girl, "It is not bad not to be from Vulcan. My mother, in fact, was not from Vulcan. She, more than anyone, believed that love and acceptance of people who were different from ourselves was the key to ensuring peace for the future. My existence demonstrates how strongly she felt that. I understand, of course, that you cannot truly grasp what it is I'm saying, but it is vital that you understand: where you come from is never as important as who you are and how you decide to treat other people." Now Spock looked at TJ, who was enjoying his green bean mush. "TJ is a good child, who I'm sure will grow into a superior adult. That, far more than the planet he came from, is who he is and therefore the way he should be seen."

Spock abruptly stood and for a long moment, stared at his father and Prime, as though daring them to say any differently. When neither Vulcan said anything, instead accepting his speech with only a nod of their heads, Spock left the kitchen. His departure was followed shortly by the tell tale swoosh of his door opening and then closing behind him.

A/N:TA-DA! So yes, let me know what you think via REVIEW! And please, never underestimate the motivational powers reviews can have for us poor, feedback-starved writers. There is a reason it's called FEEDback, after all.