Author's Note: I know, I know, I know-it's been forever since I've updated. I offer my sincerest, meekest apologies. That said, this chapter was a royal pain. I had it done (or mostly done, anyway), and then it didn't flow right, so I went back and did it again. And then, I saw Into Darkness (*insert fangirl squeal here*) and had to reevaluate some of my future plans for the story. So, I ended up writing it again. And let me tell you, the third time is not the charm. It was actually the worst case of writer's block I've ever encountered. Add that to the fact that I'm moving in two weeks (yikes!), and you have this: a chapter that took two months to post.

On the plus side, I've managed to drag my sister over onto the Star Trek fan bandwagon ;)

Please, please, please enjoy-I worked hard on this one, and even though it's short, I still think it's pretty good-and don't forget to drop me a review! And for those of you who are veteran readers and jumped straight to this chapter, you may want to go back and read the end of chapter five. I made a few nips and tucks, for which the credit goes to Sef's wonderful reviews and insight.


(Ma'bezhun t'Spokh)

"There must be a few times in life

when you stand at a precipice of a decision.

When you know there will forever be a

Before and an After..."

From the seat behind his comm unit, Spock watched as Delta Vega traveled its familiar path into the morning sky. The fourteen days of his scheduled visit had seemed to have passed entirely too quickly for his liking. His mother, he knew, would attempt to talk him into staying a while longer, postponing the inevitably painful goodbye, and if he had any fewer duties awaiting him in San Francisco, he might consider it. As it was, he could think of no less than six pressing assignments to be completed in the foreseeable future: division training for Enterprise crew members would begin in three weeks, paperwork needed to be submitted allowing the installation of on-board sensor rays to be installed, there would be meetings regarding his duties as First Officer, the posting now official, training sessions and briefings abundant.

And that, of course, was only half of it.

He glanced down at the PADD propped on his lap. The screen displayed a message from Rear Admiral Cole, received seventeen minutes and forty three seconds prior. His eyes traveled across the words he had already committed to memory, the congratulatory opening lines followed by the enthusiastic acceptance of not only his candidacy for the Advanced Phonology instructor position, but also Nyota Uhura's for that of his aide.

Had it been only sixteen days ago that he had been so eager to leave San Francisco, to warp sixteen light years away from the Academy, from Cadet Uhura? What a curious concept indeed that he should find himself so impatient to return.

Because he was impatient—not to say goodbye to his mother, or his home planet, and certainly not to endure the grueling twelve hour flight back to Earth—but to sleep in his own bed, drink tea from his own mug, sit behind his own desk. Where there had once been disbelief regarding his appointment to First Officer, now there was excitement. In eighteen short months he would be departing on a prestigious five year mission, aboard the fleet's newest ship, under the command of one of the best and brightest in the field. And until that time, he would serve as instructor to a class of promising cadets, with an incredibly talented young woman to assist him.

Carefully, he probed at the place in his mind once occupied by T'Pring. The sensation reminded him of the loss of a tooth—the strange absence of something once viewed as so permanent, but was now mercifully gone. No longer would he be forced to jiggle and prod the offending object, no longer would he feel a throb of discomfort each time it was twisted the wrong way. It had been removed, carving out a place for something newer, better suited, longer lasting.

He tried not to let Nyota Uhura's face be the first thing he pictured.

His mother's words from the previous evening played through his thoughts like a mantra, a justification for the tumult of his emotions that offered some sort of soothing solace. He no longer had an obligation to fulfill as someone's bondmate, and the likelihood that T'Pau would be able to find a suitable replacement for T'Pring was slim to none. And as Cadet Uhura would no longer be his student, but instead, a colleague, there would be no shame in allowing himself to appreciate some of her finer qualities, no indignity in granting himself a reprieve from the iron-willed resistance he had employed. There was no longer any illogic in cultivating a relationship with her, even if the extent of that relationship stopped at friendship.

Would it be such a bad thing if it didn't?

"I had thought that you might choose to spend your last few hours with your mother."

Spock looked up, sharply; so lost in reverie that he was, he had failed to hear his father enter his room. Sarek took a few steps past the threshold, stopping just short of where Spock was seated. His hands, seemingly of their own accord, found a place at the small of his back.

Spock stood, carefully surveying his father. Many times in his life, Spock had been told that he favored Sarek over Amanda in appearance, and the similarities, indeed, were plentiful. Apart from the obvious Vulcan features, they shared a similar tall, lean build; the same strong hands and long fingers; identical straight-bridged noses, square jaws, pronounced brows. Then, there were smaller things, characteristic quirks Spock had adopted over the years: his father's steady, purposeful stride; an inquisitive tilt of the head; the proud carriage of a son of the house of Surak.

It'd been three years, however, since he had seen his father in any other capacity than simply passing him in the halls, and he was surprised to find himself beginning to pick out the few minute differences between them. His own ears were a touch smaller, his skin tone and the color of his irises several shades lighter; his hair was darker and thicker than his father's had been, even in his prime.

"I did not wish to wake her," Spock replied belatedly.

His father studied him for a moment, dark eyes sharp, before settling down on a settee at the foot of the bed.

"She did not sleep."

He crossed one long leg over the other, settled both hands comfortably in his lap, and at Spock's startled expression, continued, "She will likely not see you again before the Enterprise leaves. The thought kept her awake."

Spock supposed he shouldn't have been surprised that his father had heard about his posting aboard Enterprise; nevertheless, he was. He felt the color rise in his cheeks, the uncomfortable twisting in his stomach reminiscent of that of a chided schoolboy.

That his father still had the power to make him squirm in his seat, even at twenty-seven, was somewhat impressive.

"Arrangements can be made for her to visit San Francisco any time she wishes," Spock pointed out, almost defensively.

Sarek nodded once in acquiescence. "Indeed. Though she is hesitant to intrude upon your life there."

Spock opened his mouth to retort—to deny—but the look his father cast silenced him.

"You left for a reason, Spock. However impulsive some may believe your decision to have been, in order for you to have carried through with it, there was some part of you that craved the independence. Your mother wishes to respect this."

Spock turned his gaze from his father's face, and his eyes fell on a holograph a short distance away. In the picture, he was proudly holding a plaque, the first-place award for some amateur engineering contest, to be sure. Next to him, his mother squatted, arm wrapped tightly around his midsection, beaming; his father was nowhere to be seen. There were numerous other holos, similar in subject, featuring only the two of them. In fact, Spock could find only one in which his father was present.

"She was not the one from whom I craved independence." His voice was soft, nearly inaudible, and he kept his gaze trained on the holo as he spoke; he neither wanted, nor did he think he was able, to look at his father.

A nearly painful silence seeped through the room. After a moment, he heard Sarek rise, heard his heavy boots travel the few steps to the door, and then pause.

"It would be illogical for me to feign acceptance, and it would be arrogant of me to assume that you require it, as the scope of your accomplishments speaks to the contrary."

Spock blinked at the unanticipated praise, and swiveled his head around. His father's shoulders were as straight and proud as ever, though his arms hung loosely at his sides—a hesitant, transitional stance, caught between stasis and motion.

"I cannot deny that, personal opinions and reservations aside, you have far surpassed any expectation I could have laid for you." He cast a brief glance over his shoulder, and caught Spock's eye for the shortest of seconds. "You are quite deserving of your assignment, sa-fu nash-veh."

His fingers trace the edge of the frame carefully, almost reverently. The photograph had been a most illogical demand from his mother upon the arrival of Sybok to their family. She had believed that displaying the image in their home would somehow make the familial unit appear more cohesive—something that he hadn't understood at the time.

His eyes move slowly over the four figures in the picture: his mother, her humanity belied by the sparkle of her eyes and the soft upturn of her lips, despite the traditional scarf wound snugly about her forehead and ears; his father, standing just behind his mother's seated form, face stony and brooding, shoulders stiff; Sybok, positioned slightly in front and to the left of his father, cheeks sunken and eyes haunted by a loss of innocence.

And then there is him. At four years old, the top of his head barely reaches his brother's elbow. His stance is unsure, body and torso cowering back into the protection of his mother's hip, shoulders and neck straining forward, curiosity propelling him towards the camera. His mother's arm is wrapped about his slender shoulders, holding him gently in place. At the last second, just before the flash had gone off, he had twisted around, head turning up towards Sybok, and the image had captured just a sliver of the side of his face—one tiny pointed ear, an expanse of cheek, the corners of an eye and mouth, part of a nose.

A large copy of the image hangs above his parents' bed, and in his younger adolescent years, he had often studied it, musing on its pointless frivolity. Of course they were a family; why would they need a photograph of all things to remind them of such an ingrained fact?

His mother had offered both Sybok and himself a smaller copy of the picture, and while his brother had snatched his up almost immediately, Spock had hesitated, puzzled.

"Mother," he had asked quietly after Sybok had left the room, "why is it that he puts such value in such a disposable item? It is merely paper and ink, is it not?"

His mother had smiled then, a soft, sad smile that he hadn't understood, and reached out to swipe a hand gently across his brow. "Sybok has lost the only family he has ever known. What he values is the reassurance of our presence, and the photo is evidence of that."

Now, his hand hovers millimeters over the transparent glass of the frame, just over Sybok's face. His mother had often said that the picture had perfectly personified Spock's adoration for the older boy, how eagerly he had accepted him into his life, how excited he had been to have not only a brother, but a friend, a confidante.

He presses his thumb down on the glass, blocking out his brother's image. Without Sybok, the picture appears off balance, dysfunctional. It tells the tale of a distant father, mourning the loss of his firstborn, and a mother struggling to hold on to a restless child.

It is an illogical indulgence, the photograph. But, he thinks, he won't be allowed many illogical indulgences during a five-year space mission.

Carefully, he wraps a thick woolen scarf around the frame, and tucks it into the side of his bag.

The transporter station was bustling with midday activity, but Sarek's impressive figure easily carved a path through the crowd. Spock followed along behind him, escorting his mother on one arm, as the trio made their way to the appropriate terminal.

"You've got everything you need, right?" Amanda fussed once they reached the security gate. Her hands flittered absently across Spock's shoulders, smoothing his collar, pressing stubborn wrinkles out of his tunic. Her strange behavior caught the eye of several passers-by, and though the extra attention made him uncomfortable, Spock refrained from shrugging out of her grasp. He did, however, reach up to take hold of her fingers, pressing them down onto his chest to quiet her motions. She looked up at him with large, glassy eyes, and managed a trembling smile.

"I'm sorry," she apologized meekly. "I know, you've got everything under control."

"I have included a sweater in my carry-on, for your peace of mind." He let the corners of his mouth quirk up, just slightly, for her benefit.

Her smile stretched wider, softening the lines that anxiety had etched in her brow. "Good."

She patted his chest once before her hands drifted down to his, a plaintive request. Obligingly, Spock folded her small, cool fingers into his palms, and felt their bond spark to life. A fresh wave of tears rolled silently down her cheeks as he mentally pulled aside the barriers of his structured thoughts. There was a corner that he kept just for her, a place where he harbored her humanity—a fount, of sorts, from which he drew on her strength and wisdom.

A sob shook her shoulders, and he reached out to steady her.

"I will call you upon my return to San Francisco," he promised softly. She nodded mutely, her eyes downcast, and he bowed slightly to catch her gaze. "I will not board the Enterprise for duty without arranging to see you once more."

Her head bobbed again, and he watched as she pulled herself straighter, blinking back more tears. Out of the corner of his eye, Spock saw his father step forward and surreptitiously press two fingers against hers. He knew there would be no more crying until she was once again within the walls of D'H'riset.

Spock took a step back, bending to collect his luggage in one hand. Absently, his mind whispered that he only had three minutes in which to board and find his seat before the shuttle departed. As he straightened, his free hand came up automatically, fingers spreading into the ta'al. He met his father's eyes for one last time, and a look of understanding passed between them.

"Dif-tor heh smusma, sa-mekh."

Sarek inclined his head minutely. "Sochya eh dif, Spokh."

Without another backward glance, he turned and made his way to the shuttle, feeling the weight of his parents' gazes on him the entire time. He swiped his identification card at the boarding entrance, and once in the cabin, stowed his small carry-on bag in the overhead bin above his seat. He sunk down next to a middle aged woman in obvious meditation, and waited in polite silence until the captain's voice informed the passengers via intercom that take off was imminent. Spock watched as, one by one, the travelers in the seats around him slipped into light meditative trances. It was not until the shuttle had exited the Vulcan atmosphere and he had allowed himself one last look at the rust colored sphere that he let his eyes fall closed and his thoughts melt away.

"...I knew there would be no turning back

if I designated this moment as my own Prime Meridian

from which everything else would be measured."

-Justina Chen

Ta'al—traditional Vulcan hand salute

"Dif-tor heh smusma, sa-mekh."-"Live long and prosper, Father."

"Sochya eh dif, Spokh."—"Peace and long life, Spock."