8.

There was silence about the kitchen table. Spock sat looking down at his clasped hands, noting each crease in the skin of his thumbs and curled fingers, and how his previously ragged nails were now neat and clean, and the last scars from small scrapes and cuts had faded away. His body was almost entirely healed now. Almost… There were still significant injuries that would take time to heal, but they were healing. They were healing faster than his mind was. But his mind, too, was healing. If it was not he would not have had the courage to be sitting here preparing to speak candidly to his father, and Jim would not be on a ship bound for Vulcan.

'Spock,' Sarek prompted him finally. His cup of *ahnek* sat untouched. He was holding a broken off shard of *lak-toi* - a brittle, sweet, nutty delicacy – between his fingers – but that too was as yet untasted.

Spock unclasped his hands, and settled them lightly around his own drink, letting the heat pass through the ceramic of the mug and into his skin and bones. He looked sideways, meeting his mother's reassuring gaze. She smiled, and nodded subtly.

The easiest way to speak about this would be quickly and directly, Spock resolved. At least it would be easier – far easier – than telling Sarek what had happened during his month in Oakdale. It was, in human vernacular, the lesser of two evils.

'You have been anxious that I choose a bondmate since T'Pring's rejection of me,' he said, his words coming swiftly, but with precise control. 'I have chosen one.'

Sarek's demeanour lightened a little.

'I am gratified,' he said. Then his brows contracted. 'Your manner indicates an unsuitable choice.'

Spock pressed his lips together. 'The choice is suitable for me,' he said.

'She is human,' Sarek intuited, and Amanda's face spasmed oddly.

'*He* is human,' Spock corrected quietly.

Sarek's face became carved of stone. All emotion had apparently drained from his body – but the *lak-toi* in his hand splintered, and scattered over the table.

'He is of good standing,' Spock continued as if he had not noticed Sarek's reaction. 'He is of age, honourable, relatively wealthy, and successful in his chosen field. And yes, he is human.'

Amanda silently swept up the scattered crumbs with her hand, and left them in a small pile at the edge of the table, but her gaze was narrowly focussed on her husband's face. Sarek still appeared very calm – years of being ambassador to Vulcan would ensure that even if his Vulcan disciplines did not – but she was aware of the turmoil beneath the surface as he attempted to reconcile a stubborn adherence to tradition with a desire for his son's happiness.

'He is Captain James Kirk of the starship Enterprise,' Spock continued calmly.

'Of course,' Sarek said in a monotone, but to those who knew him as well as Spock and Amanda did it was obvious that there was a world of fevered activity in his mind, behind the impassive façade. 'And – you have already bonded?'

'It is a long-term relationship, Sarek,' Spock nodded. 'Neither of us intend to dissolve the bond at any time.'

Sarek was silent for a long time, his hands folded before him on the table as if he was making an effort not to clench them together. Then he asked, 'And the men who attacked you – it is not difficult to surmise their mode of attack from your reaction to it. Were they aware of this relationship?'

Spock stiffened, his fingers tightening on his mug until the heat burnt him. A hurt fury had bloomed inside him at Sarek's words. His only option was to remove himself from this situation before that fury was teased out of him. He put the vessel down with great care on the table, then stood and left the room.

'Sarek,' he heard Amanda said reproachfully, but whatever his father's reply, if he even made one, was lost as Spock shut the front door of the house behind him.

. . . . . .

'Sarek,' Amanda said softly, long after the outside door had closed. There was no reproach in her voice now.

Neither of them had moved since Spock had left the room, but now Sarek raised his eyes, and favoured her with the most subtle of smiles.

'I know, my wife,' he said, and she could not but help smile in return.

Sarek's voice spoke of warm fires and comfort and security to her, and even at times like this she felt immensely reassured just by his stolid presence. She had never lost that feeling of being twenty-five in the face of a seventy year old – although where Spock was concerned she was capable of feeling far older and more mature than her centenarian husband.

'What do you know?' she asked him softly.

She was very aware of the cast of his feelings through their ever-present bond, but the human in her – and the teacher in her – preferred her husband to sometimes state his opinions aloud.

He favoured her with a subtle smile.

'I know it is enough that Spock is content. I know there should be no other consideration than his health and wellbeing.'

'But – ' Amanda prompted him.

'But – I had hoped for the heir to the house of Surak to make a conventional choice,'

'Like you did?' she asked him lightly.

'My choice – was logical. I was Ambassador to Earth. Interplanetary relations – '

'Psh,' she interrupted him with a wave of her hand. 'You fell in love, Sarek, just as Spock has.'

Sarek tilted his head minutely to one side. She knew it was the only concession that she would get, but it was enough.

'I had hoped for grandchildren,' Sarek continued.

That too was dismissed with a wave of her hand.

'That's quite possible in this day and age.' A soft smile came over her face. 'I think they'd make beautiful children.'

'Perhaps,' Sarek acknowledged, then said more firmly, 'Yes, Amanda. If what we produced is any indication, then I am sure that the match of human and Vulcan would be an acceptable one.'

'*That* human and *that* Vulcan,' she amended softly.

After a small pause, Sarek nodded. 'That human, and that Vulcan. Kirk has shown himself to be a character of great integrity – if a little volatile…'

'We humans *are* volatile,' Amanda reminded him. 'But – not as volatile as Vulcans can be.'

'No,' Sarek conceded again. So many more of his arguments with his wife ended with concession than did those of his job.

'Then – will you let Spock know all of this?' she asked him cautiously. If Sarek was going to stick on any point, it would be on the revelation of his feelings to his son.

'I will speak to him when he decides to return,' Sarek nodded.

The emphasis on the word *decides* was not lost on Amanda. She was very familiar with Sarek's subtle judgements on her son's conduct.

'Sarek,' she asked after a moment, recalling precisely what her husband had said to make Spock leave the room. 'You said it wasn't difficult to surmise their mode of attack on Spock. What did you mean by that?'

Sarek levelled his dark eyes on hers. His shielding became palpably stronger. Finally he said, 'I believe that Spock was raped.'

Something inside Amanda seemed to crumple, as if a hand had reached inside her chest and crushed what it found there. A hardness built in her throat, and she clenched her hands, trying to control her reaction in front of Sarek.

'Are – you certain?' she asked when she felt she had control of her voice.

Sarek shook his head minutely. 'I cannot be certain unless Spock himself tells me so. My hypothesis is based on his reaction, his choice of Healer, and the common behaviour of human males in situations such as his. Spock had attempted to remove them from their territory. They would feel it necessary to reassert their masculinity over him.'

'Is – that all you see it as?' she asked, a tremor finally making its way through into her voice, grief for Spock transposing into anger at her husband. 'A psychological case study? Nothing more than a bundle of primitive reactions?'

Sarek's eyes closed briefly. His mental shields were still veiling his mind, but his hurt was obvious.

'No,' he said finally. 'I see it as far more than that, my wife. But – I cannot speak of it.'

'And you felt it necessary to needle him on this?' she asked him sharply, the anger still trembling through her frame.

There was a momentary raise of an eyebrow, but Sarek was familiar enough with his wife's language to understand the metaphor.

'I was not *needling* him,' he said, shaking his head slowly. 'Perhaps it was misplaced curiosity, or a desire to understand. You believe this is difficult for you, Amanda. It is difficult for me too.'

'It's difficult for *Spock.*'

'Yes,' he nodded. 'Far more difficult than either of us could imagine. But an emotional reaction from his parents will not aid him.'

Amanda clenched her hands on the table, then got to her feet and prepared to leave the room. She understood the truth of Sarek's words, but at this moment she felt needed to be alone in order to satisfy the very human emotional reaction that was churning inside her, and to do that it would be best for all to remove herself from Sarek's presence.

'Amanda,' Sarek said gravely just as she began to move from the table.

She almost felt inclined to ignore him – but instead she turned back to him, and waited for him to speak. Instead, he merely fixed her eyes with his, and then reached out a hand. After a moment of hesitation she smiled, and took it, and felt his calm flowing into her, and then his rigidly controlled emotions below that calm, and the sea of discord that his realisation had conjured in him.

'Sarek,' she began, but he shook his head.

'Meld with me, Amanda,' he said in a low voice. 'And together we may understand each other and ourselves – and Spock – better than we do now.'

The invitation to enter Sarek's mind was never an unwelcome one – she felt that she was entering an undiscovered but wonderful country every time she did. She drew up a chair beside him, turned to him, and as he placed his fingertips on her face she opened her mind to his thoughts.

. . . . . .

The Vulcan sun was a balm on Spock's head and shoulders, beating down from almost directly overhead as he walked towards ShiKahr along the sand-scudded road. The burning spire of anger that had flared in his core at Sarek's words was dwindling away. In a way, he was grateful for what had provoked such anger. Just as much as his mother's words had allowed him to see his relationship with Jim more clearly, so had Sarek's ill-considered question. No, his attackers had not been aware of their relationship. No, the method of their attack could in no way have been motivated by that choice. No, his feelings for Jim had nothing to do with what had happened to him.

An image formed before him, hovering in his imagination. He saw the obscured, unpleasant faces of his captors, shaded by dim, artificial light – and then the contrast of Jim, golden and clean and always ready to accept him for what he was. No, there was no connection, no similarity, between Jim and those men. And – he *needed* Jim! That realisation was like a beacon shining from far away, drawing him in, mindless as a moth spiralling in towards a candle. He needed Jim…

He looked up, and almost jumped. *Jim* was there, walking along the road towards him, shading his eyes with his hand as if he was trying to see who it was approaching him in the bright Vulcan sunlight.

Had he managed to conjure Jim out of his thoughts?

He dismissed that fanciful idea almost before it came into his consciousness.

'Jim!' he said, unable to conceal the pleased surprise from his voice.

The human reacted with a broad smile as he recognised his partner. Spock's pace quickened momentarily – and then he remembered himself, and slowed back to a sedate, controlled walk.

'Jim, I believed you to be at least eight hours away still,' Spock said, this time keeping the wonder out of his voice.

'I know – but I crossed paths with the Eldorado, en route to Vulcan at warp seven,' Kirk explained quickly as he reached him. 'I hitched a lift in their shuttle bay.'

He was smiling broadly, filled with nothing but joy at his unexpectedly early meeting with Spock, forgetting the oppressive heat and the thin air and the alien surroundings and seeing nothing but *Spock,* standing on this road and welcoming him after all that had happened.

Spock nodded, taking another step closer, his pace more tentative now he had closed the distance between himself and his captain. Despite Jim's happiness and Spock's willingness to interact with him they both seemed uncertain of quite where the boundaries lay.

'I am glad,' Spock said finally. Then he glanced back towards his parents' house, his expression changing.

'Are you sure, Spock?' Jim asked in concern, following his gaze.

Spock's eyes lingered on the house a moment longer, then he turned back.

'I had not previously told my parents about our relationship. I have just done so. It seemed wise, before you arrived.'

'That good, eh?' Kirk asked, an unusual nervousness entering his voice.

'My mother is quite sanguine,' Spock began, and then trailed off.

Jim took another step forward, sensing that this was the right time to catch hold of Spock's hand. Their fingers touched, and a jolt of sensation ricocheted through both their bodies as Spock's sensitive fingers reacted and his mind projected his instinctive pleasure to Jim. His lips parted briefly, his mind clouding with nothing but physical delight. After a split second he controlled the reaction, relief coming in its wake that he had been able to experience such an intimate touch without any sense of anxiety or revulsion.

'Your father,' Kirk said, trying hastily to cover his own arousal in case it disturbed Spock.

Spock shook his head, keeping his grasp on Jim's hand as Kirk made to withdraw.

'Is more conventional,' he said simply, choosing not to expand on that statement.

'He'll come round,' Jim said.

He understood enough about Spock's father to know that Sarek *would* be difficult – but also that he probably would finally accept what was, after all, a logical relationship. He stood silent for a moment, simply looking at Spock and taking in the set of his face. It was obvious to someone as familiar with the Vulcan as he was that he was preoccupied – but beneath that there was a level of relaxation that he had not seen in him since his rescue from the Oakdale facility.

'We could find a room in a hotel,' he suggested, but Spock instantly shook his head.

'It would be considered quite unconventional for the son of a household to pay for accommodation when his family home is open to him,' he said. 'It would only draw attention, and Sarek – '

'Wouldn't approve,' Kirk said with a wry smile. 'Well in that case, he'll just have to come round sooner rather than later.'

Spock exhaled, and nodded. 'He will,' he said, the clarity of distance helping to give him perspective on his father's reaction. 'Sarek was – surprised – but I am almost certain that he will be accepting. I – was perhaps hasty in my interpretation of some things that he said.'

Jim smiled, and was rewarded by a warm look of welcome in Spock's eyes. Something had changed since they had been together on the ship. That much was very obvious.

'I've missed you, Spock,' Jim said, touching a hand to the Vulcan's face.

'I have not been on Vulcan so long,' Spock pointed out, but he leant ever so slightly in to the touch instead of drawing away.

'No,' Kirk nodded. 'But you've been away for longer than that.'

Spock almost smiled.

'I understand,' he said.

He could feel the tenuous connection between his and Jim's minds, still uncertain, but stronger than it had been in months. It was like glimpsing the beginning of a familiar path, knowing that weeds had grown up through a long absence, but that it would only take a few journeys to wear the path back to its familiar, well-trodden softness.

'This Healer's been doing his job?' Kirk asked, closing his hand more firmly on Spock's and feeling his reactions in his mind as much as seeing them in his body.

'He has been assisting me in identifying my areas of discord and suggesting ways of resolving that discord,' Spock said with a degree of awkwardness – then added, 'It is not usual to speak about the consultation between Healer and patient, even with one's partner.'

'But – you're getting there?' Jim asked in a low voice. 'You *are* getting there, aren't you? I can feel it in you?'

Spock nodded gravely. 'Yes, Jim. I am finding myself again, and – I am ready to let you assist me in the search.'

'Spock,' Jim said in a low voice, drawing closer still.

He reached a hand up to the back of the Vulcan's neck, heedless of the public space they were in. There were no pedestrians and no traffic on this sand-blown road – no one to watch and pass judgement. He drew Spock forward, and the Vulcan did not resist, allowing Jim to kiss him in the most human of ways.

Another barrier seemed to dissolve in his mind as their lips touched, human-cool on Vulcan-warmth… After what seemed like a very long time he finally drew away, satiated. Taking his captain's hand, and quite content with the action, he turned towards home.

(The End ;-) I know people have suggested they want/expect more – but it can be in your imagination ;-))