Final Slips

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters!

Amanda doesn't call it snooping. She calls it searching for sufficient data—that is, when Sarek catches her in the act.

She is so absorbed in scrolling through the subspace video logs in the study that she does not hear him come in—though just before he opens the door, she senses his presence. So much for trying to hide her purpose, then. Even as he walks into the room, he knows what she's up to.

"Eighty-nine!" she says loudly, partly because she is genuinely surprised, but also because she hopes to pique Sarek's curiosity long enough to keep him at bay while she finishes her investigation. "Spock called the same number eighty-nine times in four days. Tell me that isn't significant."

Instead of answering, Sarek raises an eyebrow in an uncanny resemblance of his son. He walks around the desk to the subspace communications console and stands beside Amanda, his fingers swiftly rushing over the touch pad, his gaze looking through the most recent log.

"As you can see," he says with a touch of asperity, "most of those calls were unanswered. Considering the power failure in San Francisco in the aftermath of the earthquake, repeated attempts would be likely before finally being able to connect. I fail to see how multiple calls have any significance beyond that."

Amanda knows she is gloating but the pleasure is too keen to stop.

"So that's your logical explanation, is it?"

Sarek opens his mouth to speak and Amanda cuts him off.

"Seventeen."

"Seventeen?" Sarek asks, and Amanda reaches around him and punches up another screen.

"The calls were answered seventeen times. In four days, Spock talked to someone seventeen times."

Sarek sighs.

"He has many colleagues at the Academy—"

"He has seventeen calls to the same number. He has four calls to other numbers—all four begin with the Academy prefix."

Sarek laces his fingers together and sits down on the bench next to the console.

"And those seventeen calls?"

Amanda is ready for him.

"They were to a private comm. I knew he had made one long call that second night home, but I had no idea about the other ones!"

"And why should you know about them?" Sarek asks--impatiently, Amanda thinks--and she dials back her enthusiasm.

"I do appreciate Spock's need for privacy," she says. "It's just that I'm…worried—"

Sarek starts to stand, and Amanda quickly adds, "And curious."

There. Now she has given a reason for snooping that any Vulcan can understand—if not condone.

Sarek reaches out his hand toward the console and says, "Now that your curiosity has been satisfied, I will delete the log records."

"Wait!" Amanda blurts out. "I'm…not finished."

Sarek cocks an eyebrow and she says, "If I back-dial the records, I can see who the number belongs to—the user profile will be there---maybe a holo, too—"

"Amanda."

She hears the rebuke in Sarek's tone even as she feels his displeasure through their bond.

"Spock has a right to his privacy, just as you do," he says. For a moment she considers arguing with him—Spock is their son, he is alone and far away from home, the owner of the comm might be an important reference point some day—but she knows Sarek is right. What if she did know who Spock was calling? Could she ever actually use that information? She tries to imagine herself speaking to Spock about it and fails.

"Very well," she says, rising and taking Sarek's hand. "Go ahead and wipe the logs."

She sighs, and Sarek reacts to her mild sorrow with a faint frown. Broadcast this way, her emotions can be as irritating as a splinter to him, she knows, but she is, after all, human.

Sarek squeezes her fingers and says, "When Spock is ready, he will tell you what you want to know."

Such pronouncements about the future are not typical of Vulcans, and Amanda knows what it has cost Sarek to make it. She looks up in his eyes, then, and links her elbow through his.

"I'm sure you are right," she says as she reaches over to the console and hits the delete button. "Now, just the other day I was thinking about that little Moroccan restaurant you and I used to visit…"

X X X X X X X X

He should have eaten more before leaving his parents' house, and now he seems to be—as Nyota would say—out of luck. The selections of foodstuffs for sale in the shuttle port are both unappealing and expensive. With a shrug that is more mental than physical, Spock resigns himself to a hungry ride back to San Francisco.

The shuttle to Earth is only half as crowded as the one he had taken home. None of the passengers—all Vulcans—take any notice of him as he shepherds his duffel in front of him as he walks down the narrow aisle.

Several rows back he stows his duffel and then looks down at the woman sitting beside his designated seat. An electric jolt darts through him and before he can stop himself, he takes in a sharp breath.

The noise catches the attention of his seatmate and she looks up at him for the first time. She is younger than his father—with striking long, curly dark hair and irises so black that her gaze is unnerving.

Dimly, Spock is aware that another passenger trying to board is waiting for him to sit—and with a quick nod of apology he moves out of the aisle and settles himself awkwardly in his seat.

"Your business on Vulcan is concluded so quickly?" the woman says, and Spock swallows and answers, "My visit corresponded to a scheduled break for students at Starfleet Academy. Classes resume tomorrow."

"And you are a teacher there? At the Academy?"

Spock turns his head quickly and gives a slight frown. "And a programmer. But I thought you knew—"

The Vulcan woman does not move, nor does her expression change, but Spock senses a change, an expansion, in her attitude towards him—a warmth that catches him off-guard.

"Spock," she says almost softly, "your thoughts are your own. I was careful not to intrude. My only concern was the bond, and how to shield you and T'Pring from any lasting ill-effects."

Only a few times in his life has Spock been so flustered that he could think of no response. This is one of those times. His thoughts are a whirlwind of shame and relief—images of this Vulcan healer, T'Quill, one hand resting lightly on his psi points, her other hand touching T'Pring—and T'Pring herself, coldly beautiful, her distaste only thinly and rudely disguised—an overheard conversation between his Father and T'Pau once the annulment was final--"Spock must make his own decisions now." Was this only yesterday? Spock feels a rush of annoyance with himself for being so distraught.

T'Quill seems to recognize Spock's difficulty and she says lightly, "If you do not mind, I wish to switch from Vulcan to Standard now. As you are fluent, the practice will help me reorient myself for my sojourn on Earth."

The abrupt change of language and topic have the desired effect.

"How long will you be on Earth?" Spock asks, and T'Quill pulls out a chronometer from her pocket and thumbs the tiny screen.

"Unknown," she says, "though when I go, I am usually there for some months."

Spock is genuinely surprised and his tone of voice shows it.

"Indeed? I am…astonished….that a Vulcan healer would find much to do on Earth."

T'Quill continues to thumb her chronometer while she answers. "Wherever Vulcans and humans are together—"

And then she seems to think better of her slip of the tongue, and she eyes Spock. Is she referring to his parents—his mixed heritage? Or is she making a broader statement about the difficulties of living among humans? Either way, Spock feels a tendril of resentment.

"I meant no offense," she says, and Spock is irritated that he has shown his emotions—or that, as a powerful telepath, she has picked them up despite his shields.

"I enjoy my time on Earth among humans," T'Quill says. Her words are matter-of-fact, and once again Spock is caught off-guard.

"I particularly enjoy their humor," she says. "And you—do you enjoy your time among the humans of Earth?"

For a moment Spock considers what to say. He thinks about the large project waiting for him at the Academy, the annual re-programming of the Kobayashi Maru. Despite Starfleet's insistence that each iteration of the program be more challenging, the cadets' responses have remained the same for the past four years—most becoming rattled and frantic, or rattled and belligerent, or rattled and hopeless.

"Some of my colleagues and students are interesting," Spock says carefully, "but most of the humans I know are…predictable."

T'Quill looks for a long time without blinking.

"Indeed," she says at last. "That has not been my experience with humans. They seem to celebrate the chaos and randomness of their lives—what they call serendipity."

"Luck," Spock supplies, "is the more common term."

T'Quill nods, clearly filing away this information for later. "Now, perhaps you can help me adjust this chronometer. When I travel I always set my chronometer to correlate to my destination. I see that you have already done so."

Spock looks down quickly at the chronometer on his wrist. "I never changed it," he explains. "It is still set for San Francisco."

"Curious," T'Quill says. "Then it is as if you never left. Or perhaps, you were always ready to return."

X X X X X X X X

For the rest of the journey T'Quill alternates her time between light sleep or reading the news feeds on her comm. Other than a few words to update her about the earthquake, Spock is silent, reading notices from the Academy and revising his syllabus to accommodate one less lab day—Nyota has sent him a message that the phonology lab needs some minor repairs. Her words are cool and professional—and he finds them oddly discomforting.

Perhaps because of this he finds himself rereading two earlier notes, ones sent as soon as her power was up and she was able to get a message through. The first is anguished—her desperation clear even to him—"Where are you? No one can find you," she had written.

The second is furious, coming after he had hung up her voice mail a dozen times before finally leaving her an actual message explaining his absence. He recognizes the tone from memories of overheard arguments between his parents, or from the rare times when his mother was truly provoked with him. Her note had prompted a late call to her comm—and a long, confusing conversation that even now he picks apart for meaning.

"The worst part was not knowing where you were, or if you were hurt," she had said angrily. "You should have told me that you were going to Vulcan. Then I wouldn't have worried."

And Spock had at first tried to reason with her. "If I had been on Earth, we would have been out of communication because of the power failure, and you still would not have known where I was or if I were hurt. I fail to see how my being on Vulcan—"

"I would have known you were okay, but instead I spent several miserable days imagining you hurt somewhere, in a hospital, unable to speak—"

Her voice had cracked and Spock's throat had tightened. The video reception was still inoperative, but the crucifixion in her voice conjured up such an image of misery that he was glad he could not see her. In a moment she breathed out softy and added, "Please don't do that again. I need to know….if you are safe."

They had spoken twice more before the end of his visit—once to tell her of his travel plans and arrival time—he wouldn't make that mistake again--and one other late-night call after his parents had retired; a brief, impulsive conversation where he had suggested that he might cook a meal for her when he got back—to celebrate their having weathered an earthquake without much damage.

As the shuttle makes its final descent, Spock calls up the inventory of his kitchen on his comm and matches it against a recipe he has copied from the cookbook he had given his mother. A trip to the market on the way home is in order. He will have to replace the perishables, naturally, but the recipe also calls for unusual things—preserved lemons, for instance, and cinnamon. Spock vaguely recalls his mother telling him something about cinnamon—but that memory has already dropped off the cliff of his attention.

Instead, he is preoccupied with engineering a way to guarantee that they will have time and occasion for that promised meal. Another late night in the lab, perhaps—making sure that the cafeteria is closed before finishing their work? The odds are good that the lab actually will require more time than he anticipates, but he is not content to leave this up to chance—to serendipity—to luck. The lab will require extra time and care; he will see to that-- probably tonight, or at the latest, as soon as he dusts off the red clay tagine his mother had given him long ago when he had left for Earth, assuring him that he would never be lonely if he learned to cook.

A/N: T'Quill is a Vulcan healer in StarTrekFanWriter's universe—she appears in the story "How the Mighty Have Fallen" and is mentioned in "The Reunion." I borrowed her for this story with STFW's gracious permission.

The red tagine (a shallow round pot with a tall decorative lid) figures in my other fic, "Truth and Lies." That story is set some months after this one—after the Battle of Vulcan. The first few chapters are angsty, but the tagine helps engineer a happy ending.