Disclaimer: Offered freely as a gift for the Spock/Uhura holiday fic exchange on LJ's Spock/Uhura Shippers. I borrowed the characters but everything else is mine.
It takes a year...
The first ceremony was the memorial itself, weeks after the Enterprise limped back to Earth, when everyone thought that the dead could eventually be accounted for. Only later, when Nyota woke one morning to the unexpected vision of Spock still in her bed, asleep, did she realize that all the dead would never be known, that even the Vulcans could not exhaustively find everyone…that all their careful record keeping in the past amounted, in the end, to an exercise in futility.
The sight of Spock actually asleep was such a novelty that Nyota did not move but lay there, her head cradled on her arm, watching his chest rise and fall slowly, deeply, his brow twitching once. Usually she awoke alone, his side of the bed cold already, the man himself long gone—to his shift, to one of the many science labs where he conducted off-duty experiments, or to his own quarters to meditate.
Lately she suspected that he spent more time in his quarters. The dark circles under his eyes suggested what she already knew—that as the list of the dead mounted, as the cataloguing of the Vulcans off-planet during Nero's attack proved more difficult than initially presumed—his meditation was less and less effective, his physical exhaustion more extreme.
She let him sleep.
He wasn't the only member of the crew suffering, of course. They'd all lost many friends—much of the senior class, gone in less time than it took to call out their names at the memorial. A somber roll call, with bells and a missing man formation flyover. Speeches and eulogies—at least, she supposed there were. When she tried to recall the details, what she remembered was standing lock-kneed in the chilly spring weather, the lump in her throat making speech or even tears impossible.
McCoy lifting a glass of bourbon in a toast or a salute that night in a crowded bar near the east gate of the Academy—she remembered that.
Spock conspicuously absent—she remembered that, too.
If Spock wasn't the only member of the crew suffering, he was the one they all looked to as the year moved inexorably forward, the days melting into months, spring slipping into summer, the shock wearing off at last into an open wound of hurt and grief. And to her surprise, eventually moments and then hours and finally days went by where no one mentioned the genocide.
Until, of course, another ceremony, and then everyone mourned with a collective sigh and people cast tentative glances at Spock, knowing that unlike theirs, his memory had not dimmed, that their ability to forget was a blessing he couldn't know.
The second ceremony was Sulu's idea, a shipboard Obon celebration marking six months since the Battle of Vulcan.
"I can't take credit," he said, his usual good cheer slightly muted by the seriousness of the occasion. "My grandmother told me last week that I'm the only member of the family who won't be home to help clean the cemetery this year. She's not a particularly religious person, but since my grandfather died—well, she makes a big deal about what she calls feeding the ghosts. It's mostly an excuse to get us all together at the same time. It's pretty—the dances, the lanterns on the river. You'll see."
And she had. With some help from engineering, Sulu had turned the fledgling botanical gardens on deck seven into a sloping bank along a wide river—or at least, the illusion of one. A narrow, shallow trench of water channeled around the edge of the walls—backed by a holographic photograph of a river—was so convincing that the first time she saw it, Nyota caught her breath.
"I want Spock to see this!" she said, watching Sulu test one of the candles tucked inside a paper luminary. Lowering his hand gently into the artificial river, Sulu let it float away.
"I didn't know Vulcans danced," he said, straightening up, his characteristic grin spreading across his face. "Or maybe you think he will like this part of the ceremony," he said, waving his hand to the lantern on the water, "where we send the souls of our ancestors back to the world of the dead."
He laughed then, as if to say how ridiculous the idea was—a people as fiercely logical and unsentimental as Vulcans participating in an event with overtly religious symbolism.
Nyota didn't argue. Nor did she ask Spock if he wanted to attend.
But when she clicked off her PADD and set it on the table of her quarters that evening, saying that the ceremony began at 2030, he rose silently and walked side-by-side with her down the corridor to the lift, his hands tucked behind his back, his head canted slightly toward her, the way he usually signaled both his interest in and his care for her.
They joined a large group milling about the turbolift, and with a single raised eyebrow, she challenged him to take the ladderway instead of waiting. In less than a minute they were exiting near the entrance to the botanical gardens.
Earlier in the day different groups had danced—not the traditional bon odori that Nyota had seen two years ago during the Obon festival in Sacramento, but a pastiche of folk and traditional and contemporary dances cobbled together on the spot by crew members determined to use the space and time for movement and laughter and release. Many of those same dancers still crowded the gardens, and at first Nyota was sure Spock would back away, his normal distaste for crowds hardly a secret.
She waded forward into the darkened room lit chiefly by the illusion of overhead starlight, picked up one of the lanterns from the table near the door, and made her way to the little current of moving water.
Behind her, Spock followed.
"I'm not sure how to—" she began, glancing into the lantern at the candle stub stuck onto a square of wood.
Suddenly Spock was leaning toward her, holding the lighter he reserved for his asenoi, a tiny jet of yellow flame licking up. She lifted the paper lantern and tipped the exposed candle forward. When it caught and she was sure it wouldn't go out, she nodded, kneeling until she could reach the water. With a tiny shove, she let the lantern go.
For a moment she watched it join others in the makeshift stream. Then turning, she said, "Thank you," but Spock was already gone.
He wouldn't be in her quarters—she didn't even bother going there. Instead, she headed to his, and pressing the call button, waited until the door slid open and he stepped back wordlessly.
As she expected, his asenoi was already lit.
"Would you rather be alone?" she asked, peering intently into his face. In the dim light she saw how troubled he seemed.
"Let me rephrase that," she said, letting her fingers drift to his. "I don't want to leave you right now, okay?"
Her words seemed to call him back from a distance, and he twitched one shoulder, his approximation of a human shrug.
"I am preparing to meditate."
"I know," she said quickly. "I'll just sit here quietly while you do. I won't make any noise at all."
"Meditation is done in private."
"Just pretend I'm not here."
"That is not possible," he said, and she noted the slightest hint of exasperation in his voice.
"It seems to me," she said slyly, "that if you aren't able to block distractions, you aren't very good at meditating."
He glowered at her and she laughed.
"Touche, Nyota," she said. "There. I've said it for you. Now go ahead and do what you were planning. I'm going to sit here as quiet as a mouse."
"A mouse would not be quiet."
"Then as quiet as a dead mouse."
She laughed again, lightly, and settled onto the hard chair near his desk. Across the room, he glanced back at her once and then lowered himself onto the floor, cross-legged, his back straight, his eyes ahead on the flickering asenoi.
For the six months that they had been aboard the Enterprise, Spock's quarters were spartan, with little to indicate that anyone lived there. Nyota turned her head so she could see the surface of his desk—bare except for a single PADD, not even a photo cube or a mug. Her quarters had become their de facto place for recreation and sex and sleep—though he kept most of his clothes here, and he never meditated anywhere else.
The chair creaked as she turned back around and she saw him stiffen.
"Sorry!" she called. She crossed her arms and closed her eyes.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm meditating," she said, opening her eyes again. "Vulcans aren't the only ones who know how."
"Human meditation is not the same."
"How would you know?"
Even to her own ears, she sounded testy. Spock's eyebrows flew up.
"Perhaps I misspoke," he said, and she pursed her lips, not quite mollified.
"You were suggesting that human meditation is inferior."
She wasn't wrong, and they both knew it.
"My understanding of human meditation practices is admittedly limited," he said.
It was as close to an apology as he was likely to give. She nodded.
"Well," she said, "so is mine, actually. I tried it when I was in school, but it took too much time. But I know it offers health benefits for its practitioners. Lowers their blood pressure, that sort of thing. Helps them clear their minds of worries. For some, it is a spiritual thing. At least, that's what I've read."
An odd look crossed Spock's face and he said, "Indeed."
She sensed that he was pulling away, and almost impulsively, she blurted out, "You could teach me."
"Yeah. Why not?"
"A human teacher would be more appropriate."
There it was again, that wall that she bumped into when she least expected it, a reminder that Vulcans and humans were aliens to each other, that their ways of seeing the world, of approaching it, diverged and left them on opposite sides of the road.
"Because I can't learn the Vulcan way?" she said, frowning.
"Because I am still a learner," he said.
And just like that, the wall parted and she found her way to him again.
"How about this," she said, trying to sound both reasonable and impassive, "why don't you give me some pointers and let me try. If it works, great. If it doesn't, I'll leave you alone and not bother you about it again."
"It is not just a matter of pointers," Spock said, standing up and walking to her chair. "Vulcan meditation is central to our sense of who we are. It is not something that can be learned."
"You learned it," Nyota said, feeling annoyed again. "Someone had to teach you."
"The practices can be taught, but the framework that informs what we do is something Vulcans know, the way humans have impulses and instincts that no one has to teach you."
"But you're talking about beliefs and ideas. That's different from, say, a human baby being afraid of falling."
"Not so different," Spock said, his face knit into a frown. "The individuals of a telepathic race are connected to each other in ways that are impossible to explain to outsiders. Our minds communicate to each other; at times, call to each other, even across great distances. When Vulcan was destroyed—"
"I know," she finished for him. He'd spoken to her about it after returning from the Narada—about the echoes of the dying voices that shattered his dreams and made his unoccupied waking moments a torment.
What she did not say was that she was willing to share that burden, to bond with him formally, to promise marriage for when the time came. They'd already talked around the possibility—or come close to talking about it, especially after his disciplinary hearing her senior year at the Academy.
Technically their intimacy had been a breach of regulations—he was her Academy professor in the past, she had later been his TA—but the hearing ended with a slap on the wrist and his determination to discreetly continue their relationship. It was a risk, of course, but it presumed a future together.
Until Vulcan was lost. Then speaking of their private concerns felt inappropriate at best, or foolish.
His emotional distance had been both understandable and painful. With a gentleness that would have surprised the people who had known her when she was younger, she offered him quiet and comfort, a refuge in her company, in her bed, and a resolve to ask little until he was ready. In short, a kind of patience that was new for her—that taxed her, too, and made her feel old.
She stood up and pressed her palms to his—the familiar electricity prickling her hands and then her thoughts.
Do you want me to leave? she asked wordlessly, and she felt him drawing her closer. An image of her cabin—her bunk!—flashed through her mind and she knew he had given up trying to meditate this evening.
x x x
She found out about the next ceremony indirectly, when twice during her shift on the bridge she had to route two subspace messages to Spock's quarters, the first from New Vulcan, the second from Earth. She was alarmed enough that she stopped by his quarters when her shift ended.
She was even more alarmed when he didn't answer his door.
Could he be waiting in her cabin? But he wasn't there, and she toggled the shipboard computer and asked for his location.
"Commander Spock is in his quarters."
She was so astonished that she blurted out, "Are you sure?"
"Commander Spock is in his quarters," the computer said again.
For a wild moment she thought he might be sick—too ill to answer his door. Or hurt, his head gashed open by a fall, his leg bent under him on the floor, broken.
But those fantasies died as quickly as she conjured them up. Two messages in one day—something was up. Bad news about his father? Surely Spock would have sought her out to tell her if that had been the case.
For several minutes she busied herself with answering messages from home—a note from her mother about a job opening as a Starfleet Academy recruiter stationed on Earth—a not-so-subtle hint that rankled her.
A wedding announcement from her best friend from school. A photograph of another friend's new baby.
She answered them listlessly.
Before she knew what she was doing, she was standing at the door to Spock's quarters again, sounding the door chime.
"I know you're in there," she said, pressing her body against the door. "I'm worried about you."
From inside she heard a dull noise, like a chair scooting across the floor.
"Just let me know you are okay," she said.
From the end of the corridor two crewmen came into view, one an engineer carrying a toolkit. As they drew closer, she stepped back from Spock's door and then nodded as the men passed. Their footsteps died away and she leaned toward the door.
Suddenly he was in the open doorway, as unkempt as she had ever seen him. She gave an involuntary gasp.
"You look terrible!"
"I have been…meditating."
"Most of it."
"I was worried," she said, hating the tinge of petulance in her voice but unable to keep it out, "that something had happened. I mean, the subspace messages. I hope nothing is wrong."
Instead of answering, he turned and she followed him into the room.
"My father and Chris," he said, settling into one of the straight-backed chairs. "Each wanted to speak of my mother today."
"What an odd coincidence," Nyota said, pulling a chair close and sitting down. She thought of the last time she had seen Sarek—how careworn he had appeared, how resolute in spite of being bowed by grief.
And she was particularly fond of Spock's cousin Chris, the son of Amanda's sister Cecilia. She imagined him standing by his flitter at the transport station, his dark blond hair ruffled by the wind, waiting to carry her and Spock to his house in Seattle the last time they had been on leave.
"Not a coincidence," Spock said, looking away. "My mother was not religiously observant, but she did celebrate the High Holy Days. Today is Yom Kippur. Because it meant something to her, I—"
He said no more but he didn't have to. She knew the significance of the Day of Atonement, with the emphasis on fasting and prayer, on asking for forgiveness—at least for the humans who observed it.
All too well she knew what Spock thought he needed to atone for.
Taking a breath, she said, "It wasn't your fault. You did everything you could."
He inclined his head a fraction—not because he agreed with her, but to signal that he had heard.
He begged off returning with her to her quarters and she didn't insist.
x x x x
By the time the usual winter holidays on Earth started to roll around, the crew was more like the proverbial well-oiled machine than anyone could have expected. After ten months of working together in close quarters, they were becoming efficient and skilled—not just in their jobs, but in the necessary give and take of relating to each other.
Later no one was quite sure whose idea it was to host an actual shipwide holiday party, though Captain Kirk was happy to take the credit. In fact, the planned gathering was dubbed the Captain's Ball—though a committee headed up by Yeoman Janice Rand took over the details and turned it into something decidedly less stuffy.
The majority of the crew were humans, but Yeoman Rand counted 17 non-Terrans serving on the Enterprise. When she approached them about sharing some of their traditional foods and entertainment at the Captain's Ball, most were pleased—even flattered—except for the three Galadrians who were so shy and retiring that they rarely ventured beyond the computer engineering deck where they worked as a triad programmer.
Even Spock agreed to bring his ka'athyra, and in the week before the ball, Nyota often heard him practicing.
On the day of the ball the shifts were shortened and overlapped so that everyone who wanted to could drop by the recreation room. It was what Nyota had imagined it would be—controlled chaos, with a moving tide of musicians and dancers as people came and went.
"Try this," McCoy said, sidling up to her and offering her a glass of something neon orange. "It's good for what ails you."
"No thanks," she said, showing him the opened bottle of Davarian beer she was sipping. "I don't eat or drink anything that's a color that doesn't appear in nature."
"Stick in the mud," McCoy said, drifting away.
In one corner Spock sat quietly strumming his ka'athyra. Along one wall was a table crowded with plates of native foods, some shipped in from as far away as Andoria. Nyota ambled past, eyeing something that looked like a cluster of dried raisins.
As she reached out to pick it up, she heard the captain's voice at her ear.
"Ignorance is bliss, Lieutenant," he said. "Or do you want me to tell you what that is?"
Darting a glance in his direction, she noted his smirk. For an instant he was Kirk the Academy boy again, the tease who had driven her to distraction more than once.
"I'll take the risk," she said, grabbing one of the clusters. It was surprisingly squishy to her touch, with an unpleasant give that made her hesitate.
"Uh, uh…" Kirk stuttered, and Nyota shot him a dark look and popped it into her mouth.
The taste was sharp, putrid, musty. She bit down and tried to swallow, and then giving up, lifted her paper napkin to her mouth and spit it out. From the corner of her eye she saw Spock look up briefly from his ka'athyra, a definite note of amusement in his expression.
"I warned you," Kirk said.
"Ugh," she said. "What is that? Who brought it?"
"You gave up your chance to find out what it is," Kirk said, "and I'm the one who brought it. Old family recipe, but definitely an acquired taste."
He reached around her and took one of the clusters from the tray. Before he could eat it, however, McCoy wandered up.
"Oh, good, Jim," he said, pinching the cluster out of the captain's hand. "I was hoping you would make some of these."
He stuffed it in his mouth and wandered off again.
A pop and squeal sounded as Scotty turned on a handheld microphone—and everyone in the room grew quieter and then silent as the chief engineer stood on the dais and waited.
"I want to thank you," he said, "for making this such a festive ceilidh. Speaking for myself, I needed it."
The crowd erupted into cheers and applause. Nyota looked around and saw Spock sitting motionless, his ka'athyra held to his chest. She started making her way past a knot of people until she was only a few feet away.
"I guess we all did," Scotty said. "Now, we Scots know how to party—"
Laughter, and more cheers.
"—but it was the greatest Scotsman of us all, the immortal Robbie Burns, who taught us how important it is to remember our friends."
At that, the murmur in the crowd fell silent again. Nyota watched as someone handed Scotty an old-fashioned pewter mug that he raised over his head.
"So I'd like to propose a toast," he said, "to absent friends."
All around the room, people held whatever they had in their hands up high.
"To absent friends," Jim Kirk called out from the middle of the floor, and someone—McCoy, most likely—said, "Here, here!"
Nodding, Scotty signaled to someone working the sound system, and the familiar strains of "Auld Lang Syne" began. The voices rose and crashed and faded away, the crew somber and still until Scotty signaled again and an upbeat tune blasted from the speakers.
But the mood was already broken. Slowly the room began to empty, people leaving in twos and threes, only a few hardy souls dancing or grazing at the refreshment table.
"Ready?" Nyota asked Spock, and wordlessly he stood up and walked with her down the corridor to the turbolift.
The only other person waiting for the lift was Janice Rand—her eyes red-rimmed, her makeup smudged. Nyota didn't know Rand that well—this young woman so anxious to please, so high-strung. Should she say anything to her?
The lift arrived before she could decide.
Spock stepped on first and pressed a button. Looking back at Rand, he pressed another.
Of course he knew where everyone's quarters were. He probably had most of the specs of the ship memorized, too, Nyota thought.
The lift began to move.
To Nyota's alarm, Rand bent forward, pressed her hands to her face, and sobbed.
"Janice," Nyota said, patting the younger woman's shoulder. "Are you okay?"
Under her hand she felt Rand bob her head and lower her fingers from her face.
"I'm sorry, Commander," she said through breathy hiccups, "it's just that—the song made me think about—and I know you lost everything and I shouldn't feel sorry for myself—but, I can't stop thinking about them, all my friends—I feel so selfish when I see how you keep on going—"
The lift doors opened and Spock walked out without looking back.
"I'm sorry," Rand said to Nyota, her eyes bleary with tears. "Please tell him I'm sorry. I hope I didn't upset him."
Nodding, Nyota hurried out.
She didn't catch up to him until he was almost at his own door.
"Wait," she called out, and he glanced over his shoulder as she rounded the corner.
"I need to meditate," he said, his voice drained of any emotion.
"Then I'll leave you alone," she said, and he turned and palmed open his door. "But first," she added in his wake, "we need to talk."
"Another time would be preferable," he said, moving to the small table where he kept his asenoi—the irregular clay firepot deliberately imperfect, the marks of the potter's fingers like slubs around the rim.
"You can't keep running away," Nyota said.
"I am not," he said, a hint of asperity in his tone, "running away. I attended the ceremony."
"I'm not talking about the ceremony," she said. "I'm talking about running away from me."
He did something then that was so uncharacteristic that Nyota was caught up short.
Running his fingers across his brow, Spock sighed.
"Nyota," he said, not looking at her. When he said nothing more, she crossed the distance between them in three steps and cupped his face in her hands.
"Listen to me," she said, and he shifted his gaze to hers. "You're blocking me out. You don't have to do this alone."
Something altered in his expression, like a cloud racing before the sun.
"I am reluctant to impose this on you," he said, and she pulled his face to hers until their foreheads were touching. There it was again, the buzz of connection, the tingle that meant they were tied by something more than a look, a word.
I want this, she told him. I choose this.
I do not wish to be parted from you, he said.
That evening he showed her how to lower herself into the first level of meditation—sitting cross-legged on the floor facing each other, keeping his fingers on her psi points, her hands resting on his knees. At first she shivered—the deck plating under her legs making her uncomfortably cool—her blood pressure dropping, her heart easing its headlong rush.
Attend, she heard him say in her mind, and she closed her eyes and watched as he showed her images from the Vulcan that was no more—desert landscapes defined by distant red mountains; the steady sough of the wind; a thorny succulent growing in the shelter of a rock.
She felt his agreement, and his sorrow.
Show me your home, she whispered, and she felt his hesitation.
She opened her eyes and watched him in the flickering light of the asenoi. Sliding forward, she uncrossed her legs and scooted until she was almost in his lap. Then she leaned forward until she could slip her hands around his waist. He opened his eyes in surprise.
"Close them," she commanded out loud, and he blinked once and then shut his eyes again.
Show me your home, she said again, and this time she saw a low house on the horizon, the color of sand, the sides curved to accommodate the wind, the windows covered with deep awnings.
In the distance she heard voices—and a woman's laughter like a punctuation mark in the conversation.
Where are they?
A warm wind blew across her face and she stretched out her hand in front of her.
Let's go see them, she said, pointing to the house. And suddenly she knew what he knew, that his mother and father were sitting on the back veranda, sharing a pot of tea, watching the sha'vokh circle lazily in the updraft.
Not today, Spock said. Not yet.
She considered putting up some resistance, but she heard him say, Later. I'll take you later.
As if to make up for disappointing her, he took her to a rapid succession of scenes—a crowded city street, oddly orderly and quiet, the passers-by speaking sotto voce, the hover cars whizzing by.
Shi'Kahr, he told her, and she compared his version of the capital city to holographs she had seen before. This could have been a different city; it was so much more vibrant in person.
They stood at the edge of a canyon next, a lazy silver river coursing its way through the bottom.
A garden of gray and green plants; a surprisingly lush water treatment facility; a mountain plateau where he and Sybok had camped several times—and through it all, feeling him nearby without seeing him, the heat and the wind paradoxically leaving her parched and sweaty.
She rocked forward and hiked up her skirt.
I'm so hot, she said, searching the horizon. Where are you?
Her breath was becoming shallow and she felt an overwhelming urge to pull off her shoes, to unzip her uniform.
With an effort, she opened her eyes. Spock's warm breath was on her neck, her arms still twined around his waist. He was watching her, beads of sweat on his brow, his eyes so dilated that they looked black, his arousal obvious, her own making her pant.
"Do you want me to leave?" she managed to say at last.
"No," he answered, his voice raspy, as if they really had traveled through a desert.
Which in a way they had, she thought later.
x x x x x
They faced another desert of sorts when the media on Earth began the anniversary coverage. On the Terran calendar, February 11 marked one year since the Battle of Vulcan. Weeks before that, the news vids referred to it with a steady drumbeat of photographs and remembrances of the lost, countless pundits limning the effects on the current state of xenophobia on Earth.
Nyota stopped taking meals in the mess hall in order to avoid the holovids that blared from the wall screens. When friends back home sent notes asking how she was holding up, she replied curtly that she was fine, that everyone was fine—which was a lie, of course, but a necessary one.
She was especially careful because she was still a novice at partitioning off parts of her mind from Spock. Newly bonded in a simple ceremony on New Vulcan a few weeks after the winter holiday party, she was unsure how to keep her own flood of feelings from overwhelming him. He didn't complain but she knew he was tired with the effort of shielding them both, from maintaining some privacy without damping their connection completely.
She had expected the bond to feel different—something she was always aware of, perhaps as intrusive as a stone in her shoe.
But the healer who officiated at the kal'telan had reassured her that she could control the level of awareness—or would be able to, with more practice, with more time.
Still, when the Enterprise was called back to Earth for the anniversary ceremony, she wasn't certain if she or Spock was more upset. Neither looked forward to whatever was planned—long speeches, large convocations, names read, stories told. A hundred different cultures and traditions meshed into something huge and unwieldy—something that didn't speak to their own experience of loss, she was sure.
"You don't have to go," McCoy said one night over a drink in the recreation lounge. She ran her finger around the rim of her glass and said, "The captain expects us to."
McCoy huffed and rocked his glass until the ice rattled against the side.
"Jim Kirk isn't your papa," he said. "Hell, he probably doesn't want to go either. If he didn't have to speak, he'd stay on the ship and drink with me, like the sensible young man he occasionally is."
"That's what you're going to do? Stay here?"
"Don't forget the drinking part," he said. "This is where I find the fortitude to carry on," he said, lifting his glass as if in a toast, "or at least to forget."
That Starfleet's anniversary service was one of the largest was not unexpected. The captain had raised his eyebrows when he glanced at the duty roster and saw both Spock's and Nyota's names listed as part of the skeleton bridge crew left to man the ship during the ceremony, but he had the good grace to say nothing. Nyota knew people would talk but she didn't care.
The shift itself was uneventful. Even routine maintenance had been postponed until more crew members returned. For several hours Nyota did nothing more than listen idly to Space Dock chatter. Once a Rigellian sloop asked permission to pass five hundred meters to their starboard bow, and afterwards Nyota thought wryly that if she had to spend her career saying little more than "We're being hailed," she would lose her sanity.
Finally her replacement arrived and she stood and stretched. Darting a glance at Spock, she saw that he was busy calibrating something, the image on his monitor taking all his attention.
"I'm off," she said as she stepped into the lift, but the only person who looked up was Ensign Ackers-Rria at the helm.
The mess was completely empty. Selecting a wrap from one of the food compartments, she started to sit—but the silence was unnerving and she did an about-face and headed down the corridor to her quarters instead.
Even the corridor felt empty—indeed, the entire ship did, too. Which was crazy, she knew. More than a third of the crew were still here, somewhere.
Yet she couldn't shake the feeling that the Enterprise was fundamentally different—less alive, less vibrant, less…exhausting.
The word came to her with a jolt.
And then she knew. This was how the ship felt to Spock today—not the exhausting, bustling sift and pool of four hundred minds he usually had to shield himself from, but a softer version, like the echo of a headache.
As she finished her wrap, the door to her quarters opened and he came in carrying several stacked PADDs.
"Did you get some dinner?" she asked, but she already knew the answer. She still asked questions like this from habit or reflex. He didn't seem to mind.
Setting the PADDs on the table, he said, "I want to show you something."
She glanced down at the PADDs expectantly but he stretched out his fingers and she recognized the invitation in his touch. To her surprise, he led her to the door, his fingers entwined in hers in the formal ozh'esta.
"Where are we going?" she asked, and when he didn't answer, she said it again silently.
Where are you taking me?
To the botanical gardens.
The botanical gardens on the Enterprise were a work in progress, the largest trees no more than three meters high, the ground covering sporadic. The little waterway around the perimeter that Sulu had installed for the Obon festival was gone, but he had left the holographic projectors in place. Now they showed a red sky and maroon hills in the distance, a hazy sun touching the top of the furthest mountain.
"Yes," Spock said, his hand trailing behind so that their fingers did not lose contact.
The paths through the gardens were laid out in an irregular labyrinth of switchbacks and meandering turns. By the time they reached the center where several benches were arranged in a semicircle, the illusion that they were on the surface of Vulcan was complete. Still touching Spock's outstretched fingers, Nyota settled beside him on the nearest bench.
"I wish I could have seen it," she said, looking around at the fragrant bushes with tiny whorled leaves, at spiny cactus-like shrubs that smelled faintly of rosemary. Many of the plants like the ones cultivated here were Vulcan, started from stores of seed banks from research outposts and colonies. Once, Spock had walked her through the garden pointing out different varieties, his voice hitching slightly when he brushed his hand over a low cluster of yellow and orange peppers like the ones his mother had grown in thick clay pots on their veranda.
You can, he said, turning her palms up on her lap and letting his hands slide over them.
She closed her eyes and gasped. He had shown her Vulcan before—the landscape, his parents' home—but this vision was something far more intense, something so real that she felt her heart thumping in her throat.
She not only saw and heard and tasted and felt—she was Vulcan—the earth and sky, the insects and reptiles, the predators and prey. The people who lived in the cities and the farmers on the outskirts—she sensed their presence and delighted in their diversity of careers and motivations.
Let go, she heard Spock say, and she felt the two of them sinking together into a deeper level of meditation. An image of an older Vulcan woman swam through her consciousness—T'Nia, one of my Kolinahr teachers, Spock said—and then she saw T'Quill, who had officiated at their recent bonding.
"I don't get it," she heard McCoy say in a memory. "You said this T'Quill was a healer, but Spock called her a priest. Which is it?"
Spock's reply, just as he had given it at the dinner they had hosted for their friends the evening after the kal'telan.
And McCoy's surprisingly sanguine response: "Makes sense to me. Wish I was talented that way."
Spock's amusement at her memory rippled across their bond.
Come, he said, and she set aside her own thoughts and followed him down, down, leaving Vulcan behind, floating and looking at the stars around her, shivering in the cold of space, astonished that instead of emptiness and distance she felt the myriad civilizations on the planets near and far—heard the electric crackle of nebulas—watched as sentient clouds of dust creatures flittered by— fascinating—
This is what you feel when you meditate? Connected to the universe?
But instead of answering, he pulled her even further down so that no light could reach them, a place so palpably dark that she felt her heart begin to race with dread.
Where are we? she called, but she already knew.
As if someone had flipped a switch, she was suddenly in the middle of a maelstrom of sand and dust, her feet almost skittering out beneath her. The howl of the wind, the rumble of the boulders tumbling around her, the smell of sulfur and ozone—and Amanda, standing on the precipice, her eyes wide with undisguised shock as she tumbled backward—
Spock's shout like a wracking sob—
And just as suddenly the vision was gone, replaced by the earlier image of his parents' home, a gentle burr of wind whipping her hair across her jaw, the sound of a woman's laughter fading in and out like a faint transmission.
Looking around, she was startled when she saw Spock at her side—not just sensed his presence as she had before, but saw him, as if he were as corporeal here in this vision as he was sitting on a bench in the botanical garden.
She looked down and saw her own hands, and with a laugh, she stretched out one foot and then the other.
How are you doing this? she asked, and he said, We are doing this together. Come.
He led the way across the fine red sand to the front door of the low adobe-like house. As they drew near, the door swung open and Nyota realized that the dreamlike quality of this vision meant that it was not memory but desire.
Are you sure you want to do this? she called out, but he moved forward as if he hadn't heard her.
The inside of the house was cool and dark, with a smell of cloves and citrus. Spock passed through the small entryway and stepped down a hallway to a kitchen. Behind him, Nyota darted glances at everything. A sprig of greenery tied with a ribbon on the rough-hewn table in the center of the room. A large stasis compartment along the wall opposite a deep sink. A stone pitcher on a shelf.
Everything felt carefully placed, consciously considered.
Another peal of laughter immediately outside the kitchen door.
Come, Spock said, and she peered ahead at the flagstone veranda, now in the afternoon shade of the house, surrounded by a low wall and overlooking a cascade of unusual rock formations. Stepping tentatively across the threshold, Nyota looked around for the source of the laughter and saw Spock's mother standing by a hanging basket of greenery, garden shears in one hand, Sarek at her side holding a watering can.
Mother, Spock called softly and Amanda turned, her face lighting up with obvious pleasure.
Why didn't you tell me you were coming? And you've brought Nyota, too!
Handing the shears to Sarek, Amanda crossed the veranda and let her fingers brush his shoulders.
And you, she said, looking squarely at Nyota. I've wanted to meet you for so long. I know you are taking good care of each other.
Amanda stretched out her hand but the image wavered and blurred. Nyota blinked in rapid succession but the vision was fading too quickly to call back.
She opened her eyes.
"Your face is wet," Spock said, running his fingertip down her cheek.
They sat in silence for a few minutes under the false red sky.
"They're coming back," she said, not sure how she knew but certain all the same. "The crew. I think I…feel them. Their minds. The noise of their thoughts."
"Yes," Spock agreed.
They walked back to her quarters as they customarily did, side-by-side, not touching, his hands tucked safely behind his back. As they passed the turbolift, a throng of returning crewmen exited at once, and Nyota saw how they flicked their eyes uneasily to Spock and then hurried away, the ceremony on the surface reminding them, no doubt, of his particular loss.
Her annoyance flared and then died.
They intended no offense.
She wasn't entirely sure if that was her thought or Spock's. It didn't matter.
Parted from me and never parted.
The words of the kal'telan rang in her mind, as definite as music, as connected to every other ceremony in her life as the molecules of Vulcan, spiraling forever as energy and matter and memory and loss.
Captured again and again in the flame of the asenoi, burning, transformed, transforming.
A/N: For Spocklikescats, who wanted a fic that was AU ST 2009, referred to Vulcan spiritual practices, and referred to duties/ceremonies that the other crew members participated in. Spocklikescats did not want smut, a non-inclusive Christmas party, or a Spock who was a practitioner of regular winter holidays (although Amanda's religious practices could be mentioned.) I hope this gift comes close to meeting those requests!
If you are interested in other Vulcan rituals, Spock and Nyota's bonding ceremony is described in more detail in the last chapter of "Once and Future," as is a ceremony involving the transfer of a katra.
Thanks to all who read; double thanks to everyone who leaves a review.