Chapter 13: O Brother Where Art Thou?
Disclaimer: No money made here.
Under the bright midday sun, the sands of Vulcan are more pink than red, the beige sky arching overhead. In the open flatlands of the desert, the heat is oppressive. What little shrubbery grows here is scraggly and thick-leaved against the constant loss of water. Any animals or insects are burrowed in the sand, waiting until twilight before coming out to hunt.
Or at least that's how it appears as Spock walks slowly along the winding paths of the Enterprise's botanical gardens.
As he often does when he visits the gardens on deck six, Spock appreciates the technical achievement of recreating such a detailed image of Vulcan as much as he finds contentment in the illusion itself. His own computing skills had been integral to writing the program that controls the lighting and the holoprojections along the walls, but Spock is also aware that many of the native plants are thriving because of attention from the helmsman, Hikaru Sulu, who has a keen interest in botany.
More than once Spock has entered the botanical gardens before or after a shift and found the Vulcan program running, obviously activated by other crewmates. He finds the idea oddly comforting that people who probably never visited Vulcan before its destruction choose to do so now—in a manner of speaking.
Stepping off the meandering pathway, Spock feels the slight give and hears the faint scrunch of sand under his boots. The sound gives him away instantly. Standing under the leafy overhang of an indukah tree, Sybok turns and watches him approach.
"The Council has finished their deliberations," Spock says without preamble. "Father contacted me and asked me to let you know that they decided in your favor. You and the other settlers are free to go. If you need help arranging for housing on the colony, the Council is setting up a liaison to assist you."
He starts to head back to the path when Sybok calls from behind him.
"How did you know I was here? I told no one."
Spock stops and looks down at the sand at his feet. On the surface, Sybok's question is straightforward, simple. But Spock hears what he is really asking.
Can you sense me in your mind?
And what that implies: Are we family again?
"I inferred you would be here," Spock says without turning around.
"Your bondmate suggested that I visit the gardens before I leave the ship."
"She was helpful this morning," Sybok says, taking a step towards Spock, "when I saw her at T'Pol's home."
A wave of emotion washes over Spock and he swivels around to face his brother.
"What is it that you want, Sybok?"
His brother's face registers surprise before settling into a frown. Then Sybok shrugs and says, "I do not blame you for being angry. If I can help—"
"I am not angry," Spock says, not sure what he is feeling. "And I am wary of any help you might offer."
Raising one eyebrow, Sybok says, "You are angry, even if you do not admit it. I would be angry, too, if someone interfered with my bond with Tri'eska."
"Any emotions I may or may not feel are none of your concern."
"You don't get to decide what my concerns are," Sybok says. Sarcasm? Humor? At one time Spock would have been able read his tone clearly. Now Sybok is a cypher to him.
"At any rate," Sybok continues, "I may be the only person who can help you. Your trouble with your bond began when I—"
His words drift off and Spock has an image of the forced mind meld—Sybok's fingers reaching for his face, his fury and despair about Vulcan, about Amanda's death, knocking Spock's mental shields aside like a cobweb.
Taking a breath, Sybok says, "I believe I know why there is silence now in your mind."
"You did this." Spock's anger spikes again.
"Not intentionally. I was…shocked…when I saw…what you saw."
His gaze is piercing, almost intrusive, and Spock struggles not to look away.
"I think," Sybok says, taking another step closer, "that I wanted to close down the pain. That I closed down your ability to feel…connected. The same way I shut myself off from you in the past. If that is true—"
At once Spock knows what Sybok is proposing. Another mind meld, to take back the barrier Sybok left behind.
It's possible, Spock thinks. Sybok was always an exceptionally strong telepath with a formidable will. Tilting his head, he says, "Where—"
But before he can say another word, Sybok crosses the distance remaining between them, his elbows bent, his palms out like someone offering a gift.
For a moment Spock hesitates. At one time he would have trusted Sybok with his life—did, in fact, believe him capable of almost anything. A child's notion—but then so is the other extreme, his more recent belief that Sybok can do nothing good.
Taking a breath, he says, "Proceed."
He was always running, even in the shimmering rainbows of midday heat, even though his grandmother's face screwed up in undisguised disapproval when he tumbled through the door or pelted across the room.
"Deportment," she would sniff, and he would skitter to a stop, sheepish, trying to strike a conciliatory pose.
"Sybok certainly has a great deal of enthusiasm," he overheard one of his grandmother's elderly acquaintances say one day.
"The word you mean," his grandmother said, "is energy."
Her meaning was unmistakable—enthusiasm was an emotion, and therefore unacceptable.
His grandmother's house was built in a typical Vulcan style, low to the ground with curved walls and deep overhangs on the windows to rebuff the wind and sunlight. The yard was too rocky to grow much, though his grandmother had set out some large clay pots of succulents near the main entrance.
The inside of the house was equally sterile, though as a child Sybok had not been able to articulate why he found it so unwelcoming. The wooden floors and cool stucco walls were bare and unadorned, the furniture simple, clean-lined, practical. The kitchen—the area of the house where many Vulcan families spent the majority of their time—was too small for a full size table. Instead, Sybok and his grandmother shared their silent meals on the outdoor patio, balancing their bowls in their laps.
Each evening when they finished their soup, Sybok waited impatiently for his grandmother to rise and take their dishes to the kitchen sink, his signal that he was free until bedtime. Usually he sprang up as soon as his grandmother was out of sight, dashing down the stone steps to the back yard, leaping from rock to rock like a mountain sha'amii, running from one side of the yard to the other until his throat was hoarse from breathing in the dry desert air.
Only then did he stop, the wild pounding in his side reassuring him that he would be able to beat back the demons that kept him awake otherwise.
"What are you running from?" his grandmother asked him once, and he was startled to realize that he didn't know.
On the days when he couldn't run—when his grandmother insisted he accompany her on her infrequent shopping trips in the village, for instance, or when she entertained company and parked him at her side on the wooden settee while she served tea—he slept badly, his dreams full of longing and sorrow that were somehow tied up to his few memories of his mother. More than once his grandmother had shaken him awake, scolding him for crying out in his sleep.
"Vulcans do not dream," she pronounced the first time he started to tell her about what troubled him. After that, he kept his thoughts to himself.
For the first six years of his life he saw his father rarely, and then only in the presence of his grandmother. Although neither one said anything to him directly, their animosity for each other was evident—not just through the undercurrent of his family bond, but in the way they hardly looked at each other when they spoke, in the way they canted their bodies away from each other.
By the time he noticed it, he was old enough to know not to ask about it.
And then everything changed.
He heard about Amanda long before he met her.
Your father's human, his grandmother said dismissively, as if Sarek had acquired a pet.
He wasn't sure what this meant, exactly—at least not for him. Would his father spend even less time with him now that he had someone else in his life?
And a human. What exactly was that? Something shocking and disagreeable, from his grandmother's reaction.
Over the years Sybok had spent even less time with his paternal grandparents than he had with his father, so he was surprised when his grandmother arranged a visit. Sarek's father, she said, was seriously ill with Bendii's Syndrome, and tradition demanded that he see his grandchildren before he died. She herself didn't go. Instead, she sent Sybok with a family attendant, a thin young man who seemed to show up for his grandmother's unusual jobs and tasks.
Later Sybok would recall the wonder of seeing the S'chn T'gai estate from the flitter window—the ancient house sprawling across the landscape like a series of cobbled together boxes; a grove of indukah trees clustered between a flat plain and hills as short and stacked as steps.
The circular arena for koon-ut-kalifee in the distance, the tall stone columns casting deep shadows in the late afternoon—Sybok marked them as a destination when he could get outside and run.
But mostly he would remember how his excitement soured into fear as soon as he entered the house and heard his grandfather wailing behind a closed door.
"Wait here," the stooped Vulcan woman who had answered the door said, and he and the thin attendant stepped into the entranceway.
Another loud wail. Sybok lifted his hands to cover his ears but one look from the attendant made him lower them again.
A thud, a shutting door, footsteps—and suddenly the attendant was back.
"I will show you to your room," she said brusquely. "Skon is unable to see you at this time."
That night Sybok slept badly—not because he heard his grandfather cry out again, but because he could not stop hearing him in his memory.
The next morning another woman came to his door—short, white-haired, tired. Sybok knew instinctively that this was his father's mother.
"Lady T'Aara," the attendant said, and she nodded.
"After you have eaten your morning meal," she said, "bring him to the reception area. Sybok's father is here."
His father! Sybok's heart leapt at the idea that his father was down the hall—and quite possibly his human was there as well!
He hurried through his breakfast—slices of fruit and flatbread—and sat swinging his legs until the attendant finished his tea, stood up, and started for the reception room.
Sure enough, his father was standing as he usually did, his arms behind his back, his face unreadable.
But Sybok couldn't keep his eyes off the other person there. What a disappointment! In his imagination a human was a creature far more exotic than this ordinary woman sitting with a cup of tea on the table beside her. Except for a peculiar curve to her ears and eyebrows, she was no different from any other Vulcan woman. What had his grandmother been thinking?
"Speak to your father, Sybok," Sarek's mother said to him, and he pulled his attention away and gave short, cursory answers.
Yes, he liked school. No, he didn't have a pet anymore. No, he didn't have any other particular interests.
A replay of many of the conversations he and his father had shared over the years.
Soon enough, they fell silent.
"This is Amanda," his father said, motioning to the human.
And suddenly she morphed into the exotic creature he had imagined and hoped for. Her face underwent a transformation—her eyes crinkled, her teeth flashed, and she seemed lit by some inner light. Sybok heard her heartbeat thrumming loudly in her throat, saw her cheeks flush pink.
He took a breath in surprise and smelled citrus and herbs in her clothes, her hair.
"Come here," she said, and he was pulled forward like metal to a magnet.
They didn't speak long. In fact, she did most of the talking. But by the time they parted, she had spoken to him not just with words but in louder ways, too—letting him know with her glances, with her gestures, with her tone of voice, with the little flutter he saw in her hands as if she longed to touch him that she loved him.
Not that he would have used that word then, and not even for many years afterwards, but it wasn't necessary to speak aloud what he instinctively knew.
That night his sleep was deep and dreamless.
"I fail to see how this memory helps me regain my bond with Nyota."
Spock's voice, as clear as if he is speaking aloud.
"Patience," Sybok says in the meld, and though he senses that Spock is annoyed, his brother says nothing else.
He shows him another memory, this one three years later.
By now when he traveled, Sybok traveled alone, his grandmother deeming the family attendant unnecessary. During this remembered visit, the transport station in Shi'Kahr was almost deserted, with only a few people sitting or walking along the concourse. Even without scanning the crowd, Sybok knew that his father and Amanda weren't there yet. Through their bond he could sense their agitation—at being late to pick him up, but something else, too, some underpinning of excitement or happiness.
His father, happy?
There it was, unmistakable. Sybok's heart began to race.
We just found out—a baby! Amanda called out silently. Sybok, it's wonderful! You'll have a brother at last!
"Excuse me," Sybok said, sitting hard on a bench beside a startled older man.
The baby wasn't a surprise. In the past three years, Amanda had suffered two miscarriages, and the last time he had been home for a visit, his father had told him that he needed to be especially attentive to her because she was slow to recover from her grief.
A task he had taken on with great seriousness—and joy. Why not admit it now, how much pleasure it had given him to make her smile?
A flower delivered from the garden, an offer to help her make supper, climbing into the chair with her as she read—Amanda seemed to relish the things he did for her.
Vaguely in the past he had registered snippets of conversations he heard between his father and Amanda—talk of medical help, discussions about Vulcan and human phenotypes, an almost whimsical debate about whether to give him a brother or sister…
Theoretical words. Until they weren't.
What was a surprise was how much emotion the news now evoked, not just in his father, in Amanda, but in himself.
He was instantly, intensely angry.
A brother! A boy to replace him. A son who would live with them every day of the year, not forced to spend part of the year apart. His father's son by marriage. Amanda's son by blood.
"Do you require assistance?" the man on the bench asked, not unkindly.
Sybok shook his head and blinked his eyes.
He was still sitting there when Sarek found him.
"Why have you remained inside when you knew we were looking for you?"
Saying nothing, Sybok tamped down the connection between them, shamed by his jealousy and his inability to control it.
If Amanda sensed his dismay, she hid it well, hugging him as she always did and helping him into the flitter. On the ride back to the house she asked him a series of questions that he dodged with monosyllables, the way he had answered his father that day long ago when he first met Amanda.
"I'm going for a run," Sybok said as soon as he had deposited his travel bag in his room. He saw Amanda dart a glance at his father, but neither said anything as he headed outside to the open desert.
The sun was low on the horizon but the heat had not yet started to drop. For the first kilometer, Sybok ran straight into the light, squinting and keeping his eyes cast low. When the sun touched the top of landscape, he turned north and watched the distant hills growing closer.
On and on he ran, until his breath was raspy, until his legs ached and his feet were as heavy as wooden blocks. He pumped his arms and ran on, trying to drive out the image of Amanda holding a baby in her arms, himself standing idly by.
The image embarrassed him, made him feel small and petty. He ran on and tried to do as his father often counseled him—to purge himself of his feelings, or if he had to feel anything, to feel calm and contented.
It was useless. A baby's face—tiny, wizened, Vulcan—swam up and made his side hurt.
Suddenly he stumbled and had to throw himself forward to regain his balance. Concentrate. A fall this far from home might mean a broken bone, a serious cut.
By now the sun had disappeared and the sky was various shades of reds and purples. Soon it would be velvet black—the stars offering only weak light for his run home. With a sigh, Sybok turned back.
A distant yowl of a wild sehlat starting its evening hunt made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Fear shortened his breath and he picked up his pace.
Again he stumbled, this time breaking his fall by landing on one knee. A sharp pain sluiced from his knee to his ankle—a rock, most likely, causing a bruise. He stood up and tested his weight. Steady. Another high-pitched yowl, this time closer. Sybok took a tentative step, then two, and started running again, slower, limping.
Somewhere to his right, he heard a cascade of pebbles. A sehlat sliding down the face of a boulder?
A full-grown sehlat could weigh 550 kilos and had six inch fangs. The undomesticated ones were a very real threat for unarmed travelers in the desert, particularly at night or during the breeding season.
What had he been thinking, heading out for a run this way?
Peering ahead, Sybok scanned for the outdoor lights of the house.
Another noise, this time at his feet. Leaping to the side, he caught a faint glimpse of a k'karee as it slithered into the undergrowth.
And then he saw it, a pinpoint of light straight ahead, bobbing and weaving.
He took off running as fast as he could, the light pulling him onward like a beacon.
"Mother!" he called out loud, and the light flickered and saluted him and split into two. As he drew closer, he saw that both Amanda and his father were walking a few paces apart, each carrying an electric torch.
"What were you doing?" his father said sharply, but before he could answer, Amanda took him in her arms and said, "Are you alright? Let me look at you!"
Even in the dim light he could see the worry in her expression—her eyes damp, her brow creased. And just like that his anger was gone—replaced by his very real remorse at causing her pain.
"I thought I had lost you!" she said as she shepherded him across the dark yard to the rectangle of light that was the open door. "Don't ever leave like that again without telling me what you are doing! Promise me!"
He had, of course, promised.
Theoretical words. Until they weren't.
He undid that promise when he left for good—after he argued with Sarek about being turned down at the Vulcan Science Academy, after the barely spoken accusations about the V'tosh ka'tur.
"Promise me!" Amanda sometimes told him in his dreams, as troubled as the ones he had had as a small boy.
And a final memory—Spock's this time—of standing at the precipice of the katric arc, Amanda's eyes averted from the cataclysm behind her.
I do not wish to see this, Spock says, but his protest fades as they both realize that they have to see it again, together.
In slow motion the planet begins its inevitable implosion. The noise of crashing rock walls and rushing air—the thunderous sound of a world in upheaval—Spock's shout of "Mother!"—and there, over everything else, are Amanda's last thoughts, words and images—like a whirlwind.
Sybok cradling newborn Spock in his arms, his fervent declaration that "This is my baby!" making Amanda laugh out loud; a dozen heartsick goodbyes when she slipped a kiss on the top of his head and sent him back to his grandmother after a visit; an afternoon spent stripping plomeek shoots at the kitchen sink, Sybok retelling her a human fairy tale he had read in the book she had given him—these rose up invisibly in the air like leaves in a storm as Amanda felt her balance shift, felt herself begin to fall.
Sybok! she called out before she disappeared, and on a distant planet Sybok dropped like a stone, felled by the promise he had broken.
I cannot bear it!
The folly of emotion crashed over him and he gasped at that hard won knowledge—how much better to close this off, to not feel, to not see…
Gradually he becomes aware that his fingers are on Spock's face—both earlier during the forced meld and now, here, standing in the botanical gardens, peeling back the layers of guilt and denial until the only emotion left is raw and pulsing and unnamed.
Spock's feelings and his own intertwine like tangled thread.
I left her, someone thinks. I let her go, is the reply.
And suddenly the pain is easier to endure, shared this way, lessened and softened and lightened. A fraction, but a relief, nonetheless.
I'm leaving now, Sybok says, and for a moment Spock feels the same loss he felt as a small child when one of Sybok's longer visits came to an end and he packed his bags to return to his grandmother's house.
I'm leaving, Sybok says, but the door is open.
Vulcan idioms are rare, and metaphors are rarer, but a telepathic bond is often compared to a door that is open to family. Even as Sybok starts to slip out of Spock's mind through the door that connects him, he feels another presence growing bright and strong—Spock's bondmate, filling Spock's mind like a spotlight, like a warm campfire.
When he opens his eyes, Sybok lowers his hand and takes a step back. He lifts one eyebrow in a question and Spock tilts his head as if listening to some internal music.
"Thank you," he says simply, and then turning, walks to the entrance of the botanical gardens and leaves, without looking back.
X X X
They do not talk. When Spock returns to his quarters Nyota is there as he knew she would be. She opens her mouth to speak but he touches her lips with the tip of his finger, silencing her.
No words. None.
He wants nothing to separate them. No sounds, no syllables. Nothing that can be misconstrued or misunderstood. Nothing that can get in the way of understanding.
He pulls her to him and she sways like a reed, like the dancer she was as a teenager. Releasing her, he pilots her to the bed with the touch of his hand.
When he lies down and reaches for her, she slides into his arms like someone coming home.
"I've missed you," she blurts out, and then to stop herself from saying more, she kisses him, softly at first and then with more urgency as he responds.
They speak to each other through the language of touch—lips and fingers, a hand sliding and holding and lifting up tender flesh for inspection and attention. Soon the room is too hot for clothes. Nyota kicks the covers to the floor, unwilling to let anything come between their skin.
No words, but much conversation—tentative at first and then intense and close—their bodies whispering soundless endearments and strokes of encouragement and desire until they've finished their story and lie back panting softly.
Soon he feels her falling asleep, stretched out on the bed, her head tucked under his chin. He folds one arm over her and drapes his ankle over hers, as if to reassure himself that she won't walk away.
Hours later they dress and walk to the mess hall, and only then—once they have stepped through the door into a room buzzing with talk—do they use words to communicate to each other.
Seating himself across the long table from her, Spock says, "He is not staying on the colony."
She understands him at once and he feels her flash of sorrow.
"But the Council said—"
"Some of the V'tosh ka'tur have taken up their offer. Most, perhaps, will ultimately decide to settle here. But the Rihannsu are returning to their homeworld. Sybok is going with them."
Even before he had left the botanical gardens, Spock had known what Sybok would decide.
"Are you sure?" Nyota asks, cupping her hands around her coffee mug. "It isn't too late for him to change his mind."
Letting his gaze settle in the middle distance, Spock searches inward.
"He will never be at home here," he says after a moment. "And he does not wish to be parted from his family."
"But you're his family. And Sarek."
"And we are not parted from him, now."
"But these Rihannsu are outcasts on their homeworld. How can they—"
And then he sees comprehension dawning in her expression.
"They are joining those who are fighting for Reunification," she says, her eyes wide.
"Selek," Spock adds, "will lead them there."
Another wave of sorrow—though he isn't certain if it is hers or his.
"Can't you talk to him?"
"To Sybok? His mind is set."
"Then what about talking to Selek? Tell him this is a bad idea. Try to talk some sense into him."
Spock raises one eyebrow and says, "I have it on good authority that he is unusually stubborn and resistant to suggestion."
He tries to say this with humor, but Nyota sighs, and with a motion almost too quick to see, he brushes his fingers over hers, still curled around her mug.
"We will be in touch with them," he says quietly. "No matter where they go, you and I will know where they are."
"And that's enough?"
Is it? For years he didn't know if Sybok was alive, or if he was, where he was and why he stayed away. The little candle Sybok lit in the corner of Spock's mind is still there, and will be tomorrow and the next day, and the one after that—day after day stretching into the future, like a light shining through an open door.
"It is everything," he says, and it is.
A/N: Whew! My goal in writing this story was two-fold...to explore what makes Sybok tick, and to visit some of Sarek and Amanda's backstory. Did it work more times than not? Let me know what you think.
Sybok's first meeting with Amanda is also described in chapter nine of "My Mother, the Ambassador" from Amanda's point of view.
As always, I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read. Everyone is busy, and with so much entertainment available, I'm honored that you chose to spend time with this little story.
For those of you who left reviews, you are the engine that keeps fanfiction running. Without your support, writers wouldn't bother to put their work here for others to enjoy.
If you are looking for a new TOS story to follow, may I humbly suggest that you check out my story "Changelings." After the damaged space probe Nomad wipes Nyota's memories, Spock figures out a way to help restore them—but his plan changes how the crew sees each other. The first two chapters are up!