by Gamin Davis

    (As Appearing in More Future Visions, Currently            Out-of-Print/Published by Jim & Melody Rondea

    Pre-TOS, K&S, T'Pring, Sa, Am; h/c, angst [G])

    Summary: Spock's post-"Amok Time" reflections on his childhood,     as told to Kirk, specifically on his relationship with T'Pring and a         bonding neither of them really wanted.

   DISCLAIMER: For lo, the Deity Paramount doth own these                characters; I do but
   frolic briefly with them in their playground

It had been just over a month since Spock’s pon farr and his near-murder of Kirk at the ceremony on Vulcan.  Spock’s physical recovery was complete, but Kirk was still gradually helping him through what remained of the shock and the various other tangled emotions left within him by the incident.  He still spent the majority of his off-duty time in his cabin, meditating or simply reflecting on the ceremony and the emotions he had felt since then: shame, anger at himself, a new awareness of the depth of his affection for Kirk-and a suddenly heightened fear of losing Kirk and his friendship.  At least, Spock noted, the nightmares had finally stopped.
Spock knew he should be asleep at this hour, but he had once again found himself thinking of the ceremony and apparently lost track of the time.  Somehow, it did not seem to matter.  As he often had, he thought of T’Pring and her part in his present turmoil-for he had by now realized that she must bear at least part of the blame for it, however “logical” her reasons might have been from her own point of view.
Spock could still see her face as it had been when she explained it to him afterwards-calm, serene, and apparently indifferent to the pain and grief that Spock had been in no condition to control or even hide.  She may or may not have heard his protests to T’Pau against being forced to kill his closest friend, but Spock was by now convinced that it would have made no difference to T’Pring.  All she cared about was Stonn.
What would Spock say to her if he ever saw her again?  He knew from the anger and resentment stirred within him by her memory that, in the mercifully unlikely event that they met again, he would say nothing.  It would be pointless.  T’Pring would not understand his emotions in the matter, and he would only succeed in humiliating himself; she had never understood that part of him-never really even tried.  Spock realized that his current antipathy was as strong an emotion as he had ever felt toward her, and she had made it clear now that she felt nothing toward him, and possibly never had.  Such were the hazards of childhood bondings performed at the insistence of others.
As he reached once again for inner peace and his usual tight emotional control, Spock felt within himself a growing need to discuss the subject with Kirk.  At first, he shrank from the idea in embarrassment, instinctively wanting to hide such illogical, negative emotions from his friend; T’Pring was a part of the troubled childhood that Spock had long ago determined to conceal completely rather than risk the possibility of pain or humiliation by admitting to.  Yet, Kirk had already seen him in the madness of pon farr-surely the most negatively and destructively emotional state he was capable of-and it had not changed his feelings of respect and friendship for the Vulcan.  Spock told himself finally that Kirk would understand this, also.
He sighed, glancing over at the chronometer near his bed; it read 0420.  It was unlikely that Kirk was even awake, but he had specifically instructed Spock to feel free to come and talk to him “any time he felt like it.”  Any time, because Spock had asked, wanting to be certain.  Spock decided that he might at least see if Kirk were awake.  He got up from his bed and padded on silent bare feet across his cabin and through the bathroom he shared with Kirk, not bothering to contact him first because he had no intention of waking his Captain if he were still asleep.
The door to Kirk’s cabin whooshed open to admit Spock, who stepped through and hesitated, looking around and noting a light coming from within Kirk’s bed chamber.  Somewhat encouraged, Spock waited until his body had adjusted to the lower cabin temperature, then tip-toed cautiously through the darkened study until he reached the partition wall of the bed chamber.  He peeked briefly through the partition’s latticework and found Kirk lying on his bed in his black undershirt, uniform pants and socks, reading a book.  Spock started around the edge of the partition, then pulled back, reminding himself that he had not yet even acquired Kirk’s permission to enter.  It could very well be that the Captain’s previous invitation had not included the right to invade his quarters at odd hours and scare him half out of his wits.
At last, he spoke, and his voice sounded loud in the silence of Kirk’s cabin, even though he tried his best to speak softly.  “Captain?”
Kirk jumped and sat bolt upright, so startled that he almost threw his book across the room.  “What the--?  Spock, is that you?” he demanded, looking up and around.
Spock stepped slowly around the partition again to face him.  “Forgive me-I did not mean to startle you,” he asserted apologetically.  “I would have contacted you first, but I did not wish to wake you unnecessarily.”
Kirk had by now recovered.  “I woke up half an hour ago and couldn’t get back to sleep, and I have an early shift today, anyway, so I figured I might as well stay up,” he informed Spock calmly.  “What’s your excuse for being up at this hour?  I gave you the day off.”
“I…never fell asleep,” Spock admitted, dropping his eyes uneasily.
Kirk set his book aside and leaned forward slightly, regarding the Vulcan anxiously as he realized that Spock would not have come to him unannounced in the middle of the night like this unless he was seriously troubled by something.  “Spock?  What is it?”
With some difficulty, Spock forced himself to meet his Captain’s eyes.  “Not long ago, you asked me to…come to you…if I wished to discuss anything related to the ceremony or the pon farr,” he began tentatively, taking one more cautious step toward Kirk.  “If that offer still stands, I…would like to talk to you about something.”
Kirk heard the tightly controlled voice and saw the embarrassment and apprehension behind the dark eyes, and he smiled encouragingly at his friend, motioning for him to enter.  “Come on in and sit down.”
Kirk studied Spock as he slowly approached; the Vulcan, too, was all in black-undershirt and uniform pants-though his bare feet combined with his tense and hesitant manner to give him an odd air of vulnerability.  Kirk moved over to make room for him as he neared the bed and sat carefully down on the edge beside his Captain.
“Now, then, tell me-what is it that’s bothering you?”  Kirk prompted gently.
Seeming somewhat relieved, Spock turned finally toward him, folding his hands in his lap.  “T’Pring,” he told Kirk, then.
Kirk marvelled at the amount of emotion-disappointment, pain, and anger-that he perceived behind the one word, realizing also that Spock apparently had no idea how much his voice was revealing.  Kirk thought he could already guess why thoughts of T’Pring had been troubling his friend, but he also knew that it was too soon to assume anything, yet; if there was one thing he had learned about Spock, it was that things were not always as they seemed.  Besides, Spock obviously had something concerning her to get off his chest, and Kirk certainly did not want to interfere with that by interrupting.
Spock saw from Kirk’s expression that he was, as always, more than willing to listen to whatever his Vulcan friend had to say.  “From your reaction to my condition after we beamed up from Vulcan, I would gather you have some curiosity about her yourself,” he concluded.
“Yes,” Kirk replied carefully.  “However, until now, you weren’t interested in elaborating-and I wasn’t about to ask you to if you didn’t want to.”
“I know.  But there comes a time when…such things…must be faced and dealt with,” Spock continued, growing gradually more determined, despite the remaining hesitation in his voice.  “I have been so concerned about…what I did to you…that I have not until recently begun to consider T’Pring.  There is…much emotion within me toward her now, all of it unpleasant. I should warn you of that at the outset, in case I…fail…to keep it fully suppressed.  I have behaved so irrationally around you during and immediately after the pon farr that…to lose control in your presence again and possibly humiliate you…”
“Never mind that,” Kirk interrupted kindly.  “You just talk.  I’ll listen.”
And listen he did, for well over an hour, as Spock-again encouraged by the lack of reproachfulness in Kirk’s voice or manner (something he was still unaccustomed to in his life)-gradually poured out what he could of the pain and bitterness he held within him toward T’Pring, re-awakened memories and emotions which he had kept buried within himself for far too long.

                                             *     *     *     *     *     *

Some two weeks had passed since the successful completion of Spock’s Kahs-wan Ordeal and his choice to follow Vulcan philosophy; Sarek had now begun trying to train his son in the mental and telepathic skills he would need to know, and it was becoming increasingly obvious to Amanda that the best she could do to help was stay out of their way.  Today, as they had been almost every day since the Kahs-wan, when Spock was home from school, Spock and Sarek were in the garden, continuing Spock’s instruction in telepathic skill and control.  The lessons sometimes lasted for hours, almost always leaving Sarek and especially Spock drained, so Amanda had adopted the habit of bringing them down a drink-and-snack tray.
Since it had been roughly an hour and a half since this afternoon’s lesson had begun, Amanda had once again prepared a tray with cool drinks and some assorted finger foods as snacks.  After making sure she had everything, she picked up the tray, carried it outside, down the steps from the terrace and into the garden, being careful not to spill anything.  She found Sarek and Spock seated on a stone bench, facing each other, obviously still involved in the lesson; they sat still as statues, eyes closed, Spock’s small hand positioned against Sarek’s face, and Amanda watched curiously as she waited for them to break mental contact.
As usual, it was Spock who disengaged first, pulling his hand away and physically withdrawing from his father as far toward the opposite end of the bench as he could go.  Sarek opened his eyes finally, waited for them to focus, sighed, and shook his head disappointedly as he looked down at Spock.  “Control, Spock.  I have told you repeatedly, control is as important in mind-melding as it is in everything else.”
Spock, still trying to recover, could think of no response worth making to his father’s reproachful tone.
“I take it things aren’t going too well.”
They finally became aware of Amanda’s presence and looked up at her.  “Regretfully not.  Spock has failed to make any real progress beyond the most basic mental techniques,” Sarek asserted levelly, making a rather transparent attempt to mask his dismay.  “Invariably, he either cannot sustain the meld, or, if he does manage to sustain it for any length of time, loses control and cannot break it off.”
“Well, speaking of breaking, how about a snack break?”  Amanda suggested then, setting the tray down on the bench between Sarek and Spock.
They each took a glass of juice, Spock with a mumbled “Thank you, Mother”.  Spock was still trembling slightly and could barely hold his glass still in his hand, and it was all Amanda could do to resist the urge to reach out and hold it for him as he drank.
“How long was he able to sustain it, this time?” she asked, then.
“Almost nine minutes, which I suppose indicates some improvement.  However, a Vulcan child should learn much more quickly than Spock seems to be.”
Spock finally found his voice.  “Father, I will learn more quickly-I promise.”
“Now, Spock-it is possible that your telepathic skills have been impaired by your Human blood,” Sarek reminded him, as gently as possible-though to Spock, he only sounded patronizing.  “In which case-“
“No!”  Spock protested, straightening abruptly and quickly regaining control of the indignation he knew his voice had revealed.  “I am not Human, Father.  I am Vulcan.  I can learn anything a full-blooded Vulcan can learn.”
Sarek remained skeptical, but he was also pleased with Spock’s determination-though there was no clear evidence of this, or any other emotion, in his facial expression.  “I trust so.  However, that remains to be seen,” he returned quietly.  Having eaten as much of the finger food as he wanted, he stood up, preparing to leave.  “I suppose that is enough, for now.  Amanda, I am going to meditate for a time; I should be through before dinner,” he announced, then.
They communicated silently for a moment-long enough for Amanda to be sure that Sarek was as aware as she was that Spock, too, needed time to rest and recover-then Sarek turned to go.  Amanda turned her attention to Spock, who was still nibbling on a raw vegetable stick and sipping his drink.  When he had finally finished, Amanda picked up the tray and looked down uncertainly at the child’s bowed head.  “Spock-are you all right?” she asked worriedly.
Spock sensed her concern and looked up at her solemnly as he responded.  “Yes, Mother.”
But the shame and confusion in his eyes indicated otherwise.  Amanda hesitated, not knowing what to do for him-or if it was even permitted for her to do anything in the way of providing him comfort.  Sarek had already warned her against “interfering with” Spock’s education as a Vulcan, though he had not so far specified what he meant by that, and Spock himself had changed since the Kahs-wan.
Very seldom now did he seek her out for a reassuring hug or even a talk when he was troubled, and, though his schoolmates continued to find excuses to taunt him, he now did his best to appear unaffected.  Sarek’s afternoon telepathy lessons did not allow Spock much time to regain any lost emotional control, beginning as they did immediately after his daily return from school, but it was not clear to Amanda that that was the only reason for his behavior.
At length, at a loss as to what to do or say and receiving no clues from Spock, Amanda, too, finally turned to go.  She had gotten all the way back up to the terrace before she realized that Spock had followed her and turned toward him, puzzled.  Assuming the mind-meld had left him exhausted, which was not unusual, she asked, “Would you like to go to your room and rest a while before dinner?”
The embarrassment and uncertainty remained in Spock’s eyes, and for a moment, his face colored slightly green.  When he finally spoke, it was the first time in two weeks that he had allowed Amanda even a glimpse of his inner turmoil.  “I…do not know.  I am not really tired enough for that.  I think-“ he paused, moving a little closer to Amanda’s side.  “Mother, it has been so long.  What if I can never learn the proper mental techniques well enough to mind-meld?”
“You will.  You just need more time,” Amanda assured him, smiling encouragingly.
Spock did not feel very comforted, but he knew his mother believed in him enough to believe he could do anything he set his mind to-however difficult it seemed-and that did help.  If only his father was as supportive…but clearly, Spock had not yet proven himself to Sarek.  He had to make Sarek see that his Human blood would not keep him from learning and doing whatever he was required to.  In the mean time, Spock silently accepted his mother’s attempt to comfort him.
Amanda turned finally and continued inside with the tray, Spock walking close by her side, still not knowing if she had given him what he needed in the way of reassurance.

Later that night, after dinner, Sarek called his wife and son into the parlor to talk to them about something he knew would concern both of them.  He and Amanda sat down on the sofa and Spock stood before them.  “Spock, do you remember our discussion yesterday on the subject of bonding?” Sarek began inquiringly.
“Yes, Father,” Spock replied; deciding Sarek was testing his memory, he immediately began to recite the previous day’s lesson in telepathy.  “We discussed the different types of bonding: parental, matrimonial, fraternal…”
“Yes,” Sarek interrupted abruptly, coming quickly to the point.  “Quite correct.  At the moment, I wish to discuss matrimonial bonding.  Within a few months, Spock, the time will come for you to be bonded-joined mentally-to one who will eventually become your wife.”
Spock nodded thoughtfully; that, too, had been discussed yesterday, though not in much detail.  He had not realized, however, that the time of bonding would come so soon.  “That is why I must learn the mind-meld,” he concluded.
“Precisely.  At your age and training level, I had already performed two successful mind-melds.  You must try harder, Spock, or you will be unable to bond properly when the time comes,” Sarek reiterated.
“Yes, Father,” Spock responded again.  Then he asked curiously, “Have you chosen someone for me to bond with, yet?”
“I have.  That is what I wish to tell you,” Sarek revealed carefully.  “Her name is T’Pring, and she is the same age as you.  She comes from an excellent family-her father is a colleague of mine at the Science Academy.  I am informing you of this now because I have arranged for you to meet her and her parents tomorrow.  I wish you to become acquainted with her before your bonding.”
“I will look forward to meeting her,” Spock returned agreeably-then he hesitated, suddenly apprehensive.  “Father-does she know I am half-Human?”
“Yes, my son, she knows,” Sarek assured him, his voice conveying understanding.
Spock brightened visibly at the idea that his future bond-mate already knew of his mixed heritage and still wanted to bond with him.
Sarek observed his son’s expression, too satisfied to scold him for the anticipatory pleasure and excitement evident on his face.  “That is all, Spock-you may go,” he told Spock finally.
Spock, relieved, turned and hurried away to the other side of the room to occupy himself with Amanda’s book collection.
Amanda, meanwhile, listened to the conversation in silence.  She had been privy to most of the selection process-Sarek’s compilation of a list of his acquaintances with daughters of bonding age, his gradual elimination of families who were, for various reasons, unsuitable, and his further elimination of families who flatly refused to permit their daughters to bond with a half-Human-and she knew that T’Pring’s parents had been the only ones left on the list.  Sarek had gone to great lengths to convince them that Spock was an exceptional child, despite his Human blood, and would make a worthy bond-mate for their daughter.
Amanda had voiced her objections early on, knowing even as she did so that it was an argument she could not win, and Sarek’s response had confirmed that belief.  She had since resigned herself to going along with it (or so she told herself), but she still liked to remind him from time to time that she was strongly opposed to it.
Sarek regarded her expectantly now, waiting for her to voice her usual reservations.  “Have you nothing to say, my wife?” he questioned.
Amanda shrugged, sighing.  “What’s the point?  You know how I feel about this.  Vulcan or Human, Spock is still only seven years old-and he should be the one to choose his bond-mate.  But since I apparently have no say about this matter, anyway, I don’t know why you bother to ask me what I think.”  Her voice was heavy with resignation and had a bitter edge to it.
“It is your right as Spock’s mother to be concerned about his well-being,” Sarek admitted quietly, aware that Amanda had felt increasingly unwanted and unneeded since Spock’s Kahs-wan.  “However, in this instance, I believe your concern is unjustified.  I would not have chosen T’Pring if I were not certain she would be the best possible bond-mate for him.”
They got up and headed for the parlor door.  “I know that, Sarek; that much I understand,” Amanda returned sincerely.  “But…what about love?”
Sarek half-turned toward her, raising an eyebrow at her, though he was not really surprised and had wondered when she would bring up that subject.
“I wish…I would have preferred…that Spock have a bond-mate who would love him and take care of him,” Amanda continued carefully, when Sarek showed no intention of stopping her.
“I would suggest, Amanda, that you not be so quick to draw conclusions,” Sarek cautioned coolly.  “Vulcans are capable of such emotions, and you have not even met T’Pring yet.  What makes you so certain she would not ‘love and take care of’ Spock?”
They passed through the door then, and Spock, still pretending to be occupied with a book, could hear no more of their conversation. He fought for control over his inner turmoil and jumbled emotions as he considered his mother's words; she loved him, Spock knew, but he could think of no Vulcan who felt any such emotion for him (with the possible exception, he hoped, of Sarek).  Spock decided he could live without the emotion, if necessary-T’Pring’s acceptance of his Human half would be enough.
He sighed softly, closing the book, putting it back up, and going to sit on the sofa.  There, he assumed the meditation position that Sarek had taught him-sitting on his knees, his head bowed slightly, eyes closed, and hands folded before him-and reached for the mental disciplines he was still trying to master in order to clear his mind and think logically and unemotionally about T’Pring and his coming bonding.

The next day, Spock ran home from school so fast that his schoolmates were given no time for their usual after-school taunts.  He stopped finally just inside the garden gate, long enough to catch his breath, then continued a little more slowly through the garden until he had reached his mother, who was watering some flowers.  She greeted him with the same warm smile she always had at the ready for him when he returned from school; usually it was sorely needed, but today--because Spock had avoided a confrontation with his schoolmates--he noted it gratefully but without comment.  "Hello, Spock.  Aren't you home a little early?"
"I ran," Spock informed her, then asked anxiously, "Is T'Pring here yet?"
Spock fairly radiated eagerness and anticipation, despite his efforts at control, and Amanda was torn between a desire to encourage his hope and trust in Sarek's judgement for as long as possible and a desire to fully explain to Spock why she objected to their Vulcan custom of childhood bonding.  In the end, of course, she chose to support her son's hope and optimism, since revealing her own views on the subject would be pointless; it would only confuse him--and, as Sarek was forever reminding her, this was part of the Vulcan way that Spock had chosen to follow.  "No, not yet.  Your father will bring her and her parents with him when he comes home," Amanda told him finally.  "In the mean time, you'd better go get ready."
"Yes, Mother," Spock responded, hurrying on toward the house.
Amanda followed him inside to make her own preparations shortly thereafter, and within half an hour or so, Sarek had arrived with his guests.  Amanda heard the voices as they entered the parlor, hastily finished dressing, and hurried out of her bedroom and down the hall to Spock's room; he had changed into a sleeveless blue jumper with a matching short-sleeved shirt underneath and was now brushing his hair.  After sliding the door open, she stuck her head inside.  "Quickly, Spock --they're here!"
Spock nodded acknowledgement.  "I am ready, Mother," he announced, going to join her.  Together, they went into the parlor; Amanda moved smoothly and quickly to Sarek's side with Spock in tow.
Sarek introduced her to T'Pring's parents first.  "Salar, T'Priane--I wish to present Amanda, she who is my wife."
As Amanda touched her first and second fingers to Sarek's, nodding to each of the others in turn, she saw Salar and T'Priane exchange speculative looks--as if they had just been reminded that they had agreed to this arrangement against their better judgement.
"And my son--" Sarek paused, looking around, and realized Spock was hiding behind Amanda.  "Spock, kindly step forward," he directed quietly.
"Yes, Father," a muffled, disembodied voice responded, and Spock inched his way shyly around the folds of Amanda's dress until his head peeked out from behind her.  He hesitated a moment longer, then stepped away from his mother's side, striving to hide his sudden embarrassment.
Sarek indicated the child standing sedately between Salar and T'Priane.  "Spock, this is T'Pring."
Spock and Amanda both focused their attention on T'Pring.  Amanda thought to herself that she had never seen a more beautiful girl-child of T'Pring's age.  Her hair, the same ebony black color as Spock's, was pulled up into a bun on top of her head, from which a single, ribbon-like pony-tail hung down and draped around one shoulder.  Her eyes, too, were black, and her face perfectly oval-shaped.
She did indeed seem perfect in appearance and manner for a Vulcan child her age--but something seemed wrong about her, something Amanda could not identify; she glanced down at Spock, but he seemed not to have noticed whatever-it-was that seemed amiss to her.  Amanda finally dismissed the notion as a meaningless initial, gut reaction born of her protectiveness for Spock and her continued dissatisfaction with the whole idea of the bonding.
Spock regarded T'Pring apprehensively for a time, finally moving toward her cautiously.  T'Pring approached him with much more confidence.  "I am honored to meet you, Spock," she told him politely.
Spock had never been addressed in that manner by anyone his own age--or, for that matter, by any adult outside his family who had ever seemed sincere.  However, he buried these thoughts deep within him as he responded.  "I am honored also, T'Pring."
Salar leaned down to speak to his daughter.  "I am informed that Spock is a schoolmate of yours.  Have you never seen him before?"
T'Pring looked up at him briefly.  "No, Father.  I believe Spock is one class level behind me," she pointed out respectfully.  Her voice was almost emotionless, but when her eyes returned to Spock's face, he knew he had not imagined the odd edge to her voice, for something resembling condescension was evident in her eyes before she carefully suppressed it.
Spock suddenly felt very conscious of his Human half as he noted T'Pring's comportment and her comparative expertise at controlling her emotions, but it occurred to him also that perhaps she could help teach him that control, too; if they were to be bonded, would it not be logical for her to do so?  Suddenly inspired, he asked, "Would you like to go outside?"
"If you wish," T'Pring replied, neutrally but agreeably.
Spock led her out of the parlor, down the hall and out the door to the terrace.  The four adults lingered for a time, watching through the parlor windows as Spock and T'Pring made their way carefully down the steps into the garden.  "Your son comports himself with dignity, Sarek," Salar observed.
Sarek raised an eyebrow at the surprise apparent in Salar's voice.  "Have I led you to believe otherwise?"  he questioned challengingly.
"No," Salar admitted, choosing not to elaborate.
They continued to watch Spock and T'Pring go down the steps.  At one point, T'Pring appeared to momentarily lose her balance; Spock instinctively reached out a hand to help her, but T'Pring jerked herself away from his touch as if it had been fire--or as if he had some contagious disease that she was afraid of contracting.  Spock made a rather obvious effort to cover the hurt and embarrassment that was his first initial response, turning resolutely away from her and proceeding down the steps.
Sarek and Amanda looked at each other, and Sarek's mind spoke to hers.  Spock seems to be getting along well with her.
Compared to what?  Amanda's mind responded dubiously.
Sarek sensed the distrust that still filled her and again sought to reassure her.  Compared to how he gets along with his schoolmates.
But it was clear from the expression on Amanda's face that this did little to allay her fears.
By some unspoken mutual consent, they all turned away from the window and headed out to the terrace.  There they watched from the railing as Spock and T'Pring walked further into the garden, presumably becoming better acquainted.
Salar and T'Priane, too, kept their thoughts to themselves as they looked out over the garden, their eyes following every action of Spock and T'Pring as closely as possible, communicating mentally as they watched.
Salar, why did you agree to this?
It was logical to do so.  His family is of the House of Surak, his line of direct descent.  Surely no greater honor could befall our daughter than to marry into such a family.
But his bloodline is no longer pure.  He is half-Human.  T'Pring will bear children contaminated with Human blood!  T'Priane's mind protested.
Not enough to be a cause for concern.  Sarek has assured me that the influence of his Human blood is minimal, Salar's mind reproached, striving to reassure his wife.
T'Priane, however, was not convinced.  He did not assure me.
I believe the advantaged outweigh the disadvantages.  In any case, it is done; our only concern now is to insure the development of their relationship.  Salar's mindvoice was neutral but determined.
As you wish, my husband.  T'Priane's mind conveyed reluctant acceptance.

Below in the garden, T'Pring finally broke the long silence that had fallen between her and Spock since their departure from the house.  "Spock, has your father ever told you why he married a Human?"
Spock turned to look at her suspiciously.  "Why do you ask such a question?"
"I was merely curious.  I have never known anyone who had a Human mother."
T'Pring seemed genuinely interested, and it did not occur to Spock that he should not now take her words at face value.  "I think perhaps I am the only one," he replied, sitting down on a stone bench as they started past it.
T'Pring remained standing beside him.  "What is it like?"  she asked, then.
"To have a Human mother?"
Spock was uncertain of how to answer her.
T'Pring rephrased.  "I know she can have no part in your training as a Vulcan.  Do you learn anything from her--or, as your mother, is she more ornamental than useful?"
Spock bristled inwardly at this and almost lost the control that he had until now managed to maintain without too much difficulty.  "Yes, T'Pring.  I do learn from her; I learn things that you would have no knowledge of and would never have the opportunity to learn," he retorted carefully.
"No doubt."  T'Pring did not mention that she wondered what relevant knowledge Amanda could possibly have to pass on to Spock that was not readily available to her or any other Vulcan.  She returned instead to her original question.  "But you have no idea why your father married her?"
This time, Spock refused to let the intrusiveness of the question bother him.  "Father knows.  That is all that matters," he returned coolly.
T'Pring appeared momentarily startled at being so efficiently rebuffed by Spock as he got up and walked away from her, but then she followed him determinedly.  They continued to walk through the garden in silence for a time, then she spoke again.  "I merely thought you might know, since I have been told that everyone else does."
Spock stopped without turning toward her.  "Perhaps 'everyone else' does not know the truth," he countered.
"Perhaps," T'Pring agreed neutrally, deliberately going around in front of him to stand facing him.  "But my father says that the marriage was an experiment and that you are part of the experiment," she continued challengingly.  "As you have said yourself, you are the only Vulcan with Human blood on our planet.  Do you not think it is possible that you are here because of an experiment?"
"I…do not know," Spock admitted reluctantly, lowering his eyes, no longer certain whether T'Pring was deliberately trying to goad him into a visible emotional response or merely obsessively curious.  Something born of his Human half told him that his mother would never have married his father and gone through the difficulty of adapting to Vulcan culture simply for the sake of an experiment--but Spock did not know for sure.  He knew also that marriage with a Human was just the type of "experiment" that Sarek might consider logical.  At length, he looked back up at T'Pring, defiant but controlled.  "T'Pring, 'curiosity' alone does not give you the right to ask such questions."
"No.  However, I do have the right to learn as much as possible about my future bond-mate," she pointed out quietly.
Spock was startled--and immediately confused and embarrassed by the emotion--but covered the embarrassment instantly, knowing T'Pring was right.  "That is logical," he admitted factually.
"I am honored."
Spock wondered for a moment if she really were--then quickly told himself that it did not matter; there was something else he wondered about, however, that did matter to him.  "Are you really willing to bond with me?"  he asked.
"It is my father's wish.  He says that I should be pleased because bonding with you will bring honor to our family," T'Pring explained, though it was clear from her tone that she did not quite understand why she was expected to feel that way.
It was one sort of confusion that Spock could empathize with.  "It is my father's wish, also.  He has not told me why he chose you," he revealed cautiously.
His attempt to express sympathy was met with a momentary expression of indignation in T'Pring's eyes before she managed to suppress it.  "Do you object, Spock?"  she demanded.
Spock almost told her of his inner wish to have her help in mastering the techniques of emotional control that she seemed to have already learned--almost.  But, at the moment, T'Pring's expression and manner were so forbidding that he did not dare.  "It is my duty to obey my father," he replied evasively instead, unconsciously repeating the first thing he remembered Sarek ever teaching him.
"As it is mine to obey my father," T'Pring echoed, a note of resignation entering her voice.  "We will be bonded, so it is best that we each learn to accept what we cannot avoid."  Spock nodded, and T'Pring decided to change the subject.  She turned from him finally, wandered some distance away, and began to look around at the flowers and greenery as if she had never noticed them before.  "This garden is most interesting.  It is something like the parklands outside the city, but with many more flowers," she observed, genuinely curious.  "Some of them do not even seem to be Vulcan."
Spock hurried after her, only too pleased to be able to enlighten her.  "It is true, T'Pring--some of them are not," he told her, as he caught up with her.  "This is Mother's garden, and some of the plants were brought here from Earth."
It was immediately clear that this piqued T'Pring's interest.  "I have never seen Terran plants, except on computer tapes at school," she admitted, in an obvious invitation for Spock to elaborate.
"I could show you one, if you wish," Spock offered readily.  At T'Pring's nod, he led her further down the stone-paved path through the garden to one of the Earth species whose name he had memorized.  T'Pring had never seen anything like it; it was relatively short and roughly cylindrical, with green vertical stripes and outcropping branches, covered with needles and brightly-colored flowers.  "This one is called a cactus," Spock informed her.
Fascinated, T'Pring reached out to touch one of the flowers, ignoring the needles.
"Be careful--the needles are very sharp," Spock cautioned her.
T'Pring took heed of the warning, withdrawing her hand, and looked up at Spock again.  "There must be many more.  Do you know about them, also?"
Spock nodded.  "Mother has told me about most of them.  Do you wish to see some more?"
"Yes," T'Pring replied, following Spock off through the garden again.  After a moment, she spoke again.  "Your mother taught you about all these different Terran plants?"
"There are not actually that many because not that many of them will grow here, but, yes, she did," Spock responded, continuing on his way without looking back at her.
"Then perhaps I should apologize.  It would seem that your mother does have some part in your learning."
Spock turned toward her briefly, raising an eyebrow at her in startlement, suppressing the triumph and exoneration he felt in response to hearing T'Pring retract her insults to his mother.  "I accept your apology," he returned coolly.
They spent the rest of T'Pring's visit in the garden, Spock doing his best to acquaint her with as much of the Terran flora as he could.  Encouraged by what she saw in the garden, Amanda invited T'Pring and her parents to stay for dinner; Salar and T'Priane declined, however, ostensibly because they already had other plans.  No goodbyes were exchanged between Spock and T'Pring, partly because they knew they would probably see each other again soon--only looks: T'Pring, intrigued but still coolly speculative, and Spock, now hopeful of gaining her acceptance but still somewhat apprehensive.  Their expressions were not lost on Sarek and Amanda, who were instinctively concerned; Salar and T'Priane, however, were either not concerned or deliberately ignoring them.

Spock's manner was quiet and subdued for the rest of the night.  When it was nearly time for him to go to bed, Amanda--increasingly worried and no longer able to keep it to herself--went to him as he sat reading a book on the sofa in the parlor.  "Spock," she said softly.
Spock marked his place and closed the book, setting it aside.  "Yes, Mother?"  he prompted, looking up at her.
"What do you think of T'Pring?"
Spock hesitated, and for a moment, his face again took on the expression Amanda had seen in his eyes just before T'Pring left.  "I think she is not very pleased with the prospect of bonding with me," he admitted reluctantly, at last.
"She will be--give her time.  You've just met," Amanda tried to reassure him, though she was none too certain of that, herself.
Spock heard the lack of conviction in her voice; his eyes remained troubled and he fell silent again, thinking of something else T'Pring had said and wondering again if it were true or if she had merely been trying to provoke him.
At that moment, Sarek entered the parlor.  "It is time for you to go to bed, Spock," he announced.
"Yes, Father," Spock replied, getting up to return his book to the shelf before leaving.  As he started past Sarek toward the door, he paused, turning cautiously back to Sarek.  "Father…may I ask a question before I go?"
"Very well.  What is it?"
"Am I an experiment?"
The question took Sarek and Amanda both completely by surprise.  Sarek met the horrified expression that immediately appeared on Amanda's face with an expression of controlled astonishment, then he raised an eyebrow at Spock.   "Where would you get such an idea?"  he demanded.
"From T'Pring.  She says her father told her," Spock informed him.  "Is it true?"
Sarek looked at the innocent, troubled and confused expression in his son's eyes and knew that the complete truth would only confuse him more.  When he was older, Spock would come to understand that his father's marriage to Amanda and having a child by her had been an experiment only in the sense that both were aware it had never been done successfully before; they had not, however, been married specifically for that reason.  That would hardly have been logical.
He had to make Spock see that, since some explanation was obviously required.  "If she mentions that again, you are to ignore her.  Neither she nor her parents are aware of the facts in the matter, and their opinions are based solely on rumor," Sarek counselled quietly.  "One does not take a bond-mate simply as an 'experiment'; our bondings are for life and must be carefully considered by both participants.  I married your mother because I determined that it would be logical and mutually beneficial to do so."
Spock bowed his head, considering this, but Amanda could see that he was still puzzled.  She stepped forward and knelt beside Spock.  "I married your father because I love him, just as I love you," she told him gently, cautiously putting an arm around him.
Spock looked at her with gratitude and pain in the dark eyes that were so much like Sarek's, yet so much more expressive--clearly longing to respond to his mother's attempted embrace, but of course not daring to in Sarek's presence.
Sarek sensed that Spock had had an unsettling first encounter with T'Pring and would perhaps need to talk to his mother; it was just the type of thing in which Amanda excelled, always seeming to know the right thing to do to restore Spock's self-confidence.  His need for that solace, though it only manifested itself occasionally now, had not been entirely negated by the results of the Kahs-wan Ordeal, and Sarek had realized by this time that his carefully thought out, logical explanations were not always going to be enough for a child who felt pain, loneliness and other Human emotions every time his peers reviled him for being less than Vulcan.  "Amanda, I will wait for you in my study," he announced finally.  "Please see that he goes to bed within the next half hour."
Amanda nodded understandingly, knowing that Sarek was deliberately allowing her and Spock to have the time alone together that they both needed without any unnecessary expressions of criticism or disapproval, and allowed him to see her gratitude.  Sarek nodded just perceptibly in acknowledgement, then left them alone.
When he was gone, Amanda and Spock simply looked at each other in silence for a moment, uncertain of what to do next.  Finally, Amanda gathered Spock into her arms, not knowing even then what his reaction would be; Spock, however, let her hold him without understanding why--knowing only that he felt safe and secure in his mother's embrace.  Here he found no fear of taunting or ridicule, never had to prove himself as a Vulcan, and the aching loneliness that he was forcing himself to learn to keep suppressed was--however briefly--nullified.  No matter how much scorn or contempt he inspired in his schoolmates or other Vulcans, she loved him, believed in him, and encouraged him.
At last, they parted.  "Spock?"  Amanda prompted uncertainly.
Abruptly, Spock became aware that he was behaving in a very illogical and un-Vulcan manner.  As comforting as it was to know that Amanda would never chastise him for such emotional displays, he was determined to master the techniques of emotional suppression that were expected of any full-blooded Vulcan.  Besides which, as Spock was quickly learning, he could not live his life as a normal Vulcan with a Vulcan wife and expect someone to hold and comfort him every time he was in some kind of emotional difficulty.  He knew the Human part of him needed that badly, but he also knew that he would have to learn to do without it.  "I…am all right, Mother," he managed to say, then.
Amanda stood up reluctantly.  "Ready for bed?"  she asked, still obviously worried about him.
Spock nodded silently.
"Let's go, then."
Spock preceded her out of the parlor, down the hall and into his room, then Amanda continued down the hall to the next door--which led to Sarek's study--sliding it open and entering cautiously.  Sarek was standing quietly, waiting for her.
"That did not take long," he observed, raising an eyebrow at her.
"He didn't want to talk about it.  He just wanted…to be held for a few minutes," Amanda told him hesitantly.
"Hmm.  I trust he will outgrow that."
Amanda did not dare to respond to this verbally, but her instinctive refusal to accept the idea was clearly evident in her eyes.
Sarek pretended to ignore it.  "I assume you wish to discuss T'Pring."
"That's a safe assumption," Amanda returned dryly.  "What would make her say such things to him?"
Sarek shook his head, equally puzzled.  "I will speak to Salar about that tomorrow; I do not think it will be repeated," he assured her quietly.
"Are you sure, Sarek?  Is it worth the risk to force him to bond with someone who thinks so little of him?"
Sarek stepped slowly closer to her.  "Amanda…" he began carefully.  "…I believe…I hope… the possibility exists that Spock's Human blood will give him some immunity from the pon farr.  Until we are certain, however, we must prepare him as any other Vulcan child would be--and that means bonding.  With T'Pring.  There is no other choice."
"And have you considered the possibility that Spock might change his mind--fall in love with someone else and want to bond with her--between now and his first pon farr?"  Amanda questioned.
"That will not be possible after he is bonded.  That is why Vulcans are customarily bonded as children; as time passes, the bond strengthens, and by the time of the pon farr, it is impervious to any…external distractions," Sarek explained patiently.
Amanda sighed in resignation.  "So we'll never have the chance to find out what kind of girl he would have preferred as a bond-mate," she concluded regretfully.
"That is not the Vulcan way, my wife," Sarek reminded her.  "It is best of I choose for him.  Experience has taught us that…it is unwise to allow the male to wait until pon farr is approaching to make his own choice, as they frequently do under those circumstances."
"Yet if you'd been bonded as a child, we never would have gotten married," Amanda pointed out slyly.
Sarek refused to allow himself to be diverted.  "Nonetheless, Spock must be," he insisted.  "In any case, it is done; the choice has been made.  The sooner you accept this, the better it will be for you."
"And it has to be T'Pring?"
"You just met her, Amanda.  Give yourself--and Spock--time to get to know her," Sarek advised.
It was by now obvious that nothing she could do or say would change Sarek's mind, so finally, Amanda gave in.  As they left the study and headed for their bedroom, she sent up a silent prayer that Sarek would be right and T'Pring would be the sort of bond-mate that Amanda wanted so desperately for Spock.


A week passed, during which Spock's telepathic skills continued to gradually improve.  Though his progress was still not quite the norm for a Vulcan boy his age, Sarek tried not to chastise him unnecessarily, sensing now that Spock was doing the best he could.  His mind-melding skills were still unreliable and Sarek remained concerned that Spock would be unable to bond properly when the time for that came, but Sarek reminded himself that that would not be for four months yet.  There was still time, and Spock possessed a strong will for one so young--much like he had been at Spock's age.
On the last working day of the week, Sarek met Spock at the gate as he hurried home from school, delaying their daily mental instruction long enough to announce that he had arranged an outing with T'Pring's family, a picnic in the parklands to take place the next day.
It was late the next morning when T'Pring and her parents arrived, and Sarek and Spock entertained them while Amanda finished preparing a picnic basket for herself, Spock and Sarek--T'Pring's family having brought their own.  Then they all got into Sarek's aircar and headed out for the parklands.
These consisted of a three-hundred-yard-wide strip of land that surrounded ShiKahr, bordered on the city side by thick groves of trees and the remnants of a wall that had provided protection in pre-Reform times, and on the outside boundary by bushes and thorny brambles that served to keep out the various wild animals that roamed Vulcan's deserts.  There were picnic areas under the trees, but the rest of the area was largely flat and empty, except for sparsely scattered recreational equipment; there were flowers, too, though not as many as in Amanda's garden.
The ground was atypically green with the genetically-engineered grass that was the only species that would grow on Vulcan, difficult and expensive to produce and only used for public areas such as the parklands.
Spock had come there regularly with Amanda, who liked to spend time there because the setting reminded her somewhat of Earth, but this was the first time that someone else had ever invited  him there.
Their aircar was parked in a designated spot alongside the road, and both families quickly gathered up their picnic supplies and started toward the trees.  They had parked as close as possible, so it did not take long to locate an unoccupied, yet secluded and shady spot; Spock and T'Pring reached it first, and while the adults spread out a blanket on the ground and began setting out food, they went off by themselves.
"Don't go far," Amanda cautioned.  "Lunch will be ready soon!"
"We won't, Mother," Spock promised, as he and T'Pring continued deeper into the trees.  When they had gone far enough away to be allowed some privacy, T'Pring made a rather obvious attempt to engage Spock in some light conversation.  Spock was reluctant at first, remembering their first encounter all too clearly, but he also knew that her curiosity was genuine--and that she was the first of his peers to ever want to talk to him when the situation did not require it.
After a time, T'Pring became impatient with Spock's unresponsiveness.  When he finally withdrew physically from her and went around behind a tree, seemingly hiding from her, she stalked after him, circled around and placed herself in front of him.  "I have told you, Spock--I will know you before I bond with you," she insisted.
Spock looked up at her, giving in finally.  "Then is it not also my right to know my future bond-mate?" he demanded.
"Of course."
"Very well, then--we agree," Spock retorted conclusively.  "And the first thing I wish you to know about me is that you are wrong; I am not an experiment."
T'Pring was for once visibly startled by Spock's boldness, though at the same time, she knew that he must have consulted with his parents on the matter and that this could either be a fabrication calculated to pacify Spock or a simple statement of fact.
While she was still trying to think of a suitable response, they were interrupted by Amanda's voice: "Spock!  T'Pring!  Lunch time!"
Spock and T'Pring hurried back to the spot where they had left their parents and sat down on the blanket, Spock between Sarek and Amanda and T'Pring next to her mother.  They ate in silence, as was the custom, and Spock found himself paying more attention to T'Pring and her family than to his meal.  He had never noticed before how closely she resembled her parents; all three had the same ebony-black hair and eyes, the same coolly dignified manner--and Spock could not help thinking, as he looked at T'Priane side-by-side with her daughter, that he was seeing a preview of T'Pring as an adult.  He speculated that T'Priane's hair must be very long, because she wore it in a braid that coiled twice around her head and hung down her back.
T'Priane abruptly became aware that Spock had been watching her and shot a stern look of warning at him; Spock knew that look as the same one he had often seen on his father's face and quickly tore his eyes away, turning his attention instead to T'Pring.  Any hopes he had of finding some encouragement in her facial expression, however, were quickly dashed as he looked into her eyes.  They betrayed no emotion but curiosity as she returned his gaze, still clearly sizing him up.  And then Spock noticed that T'Priane and Salar, too, were surreptitiously watching him in the same manner.
Spock wished suddenly that he could see himself as they saw him.  He knew that he physically resembled Sarek more than Amanda, but he could not suppress the feeling that his Human half broadcasted itself in everything he said or did.  He wondered what T'Pring saw when she looked at him.  Did she see him as a Vulcan--as his schoolmates refused to?  Surely she did, or she would never have agreed to bond with him.  Then why, Spock asked himself, were she and her parents looking at him as if he were some sort of lab specimen?
Spock looked up at his own parents for guidance.  Amanda's expression told him that she was aware of his discomfort but could do nothing to ease it, as much as she longed to; Sarek merely raised an eyebrow at his son in a way that made it clear that Spock was expected to deal with this himself.
As soon as Spock had finished eating, he got up and hurried away, wanting nothing more at that moment than to be out from under the scrutiny of T'Pring's family.  Only Amanda and T'Pring seemed to take any notice of his departure, for with the meal now completed, Salar and T'Priane immediately initiated a conversation with Sarek.  Then Salar turned suddenly to Amanda.  "My compliments, Amanda; the s'vahnya was excellent," he told her, referring to the vegetable casserole dish with the pastry-like crust that had served as the main course.
It was the first time either of them had addressed Amanda directly since their arrival, and she was startled and sufficiently pleased to break off her efforts at watching Spock as he moved further and further away, returning her attention to the conversation.  "I'm…relieved that you think so.  I'm afraid I'm still learning to make a lot of these Vulcan dishes, so meals at our house are always an experiment," she admitted hesitantly.
"I assure you, you have mastered s'vahnya," Salar reiterated.  "I have seldom tasted better."  He turned to T'Priane.  "Do you not agree, my wife?"
"I preferred the crehvas," T'Priane responded neutrally, referring to a sort of fruit compote that was usually served as a dessert, though Amanda had served it as a side dish.  "However, it was quite palatable…considering it was made by a Human."
Salar shot her a warning look.  "What T'Priane means is that…there is always room for improvement," he corrected carefully, turning back to Amanda.  "I have no doubt that you will soon be as proficient as any Vulcan in our culinary arts."
Amanda gritted her teeth at the rather backhanded compliment, forcing herself to bear it in silence because she knew that the response she would have liked to make went against Vulcan custom and would only have embarrassed Sarek.
"I have told her myself that she excels in that area; apparently, she needed a second opinion to confirm it," Sarek put in calmly.  There was kindness in his eyes as he looked at Amanda, who allowed him to see that she was aware and appreciative of it.
"S'vahnya is one of Spock's favorite foods," Amanda ventured, at length, mainly just to keep up her end of the conversation.
"Indeed?  Then I will teach T'Pring to make it for him."
Amanda studied T'Priane uncertainly, suspicious of the half-challenging edge to her voice that made it sound more like a threat than a promise.
At that point, T'Pring got into the conversation.  "Mother, if Spock is accustomed to eating s'vahnya made by a Human, perhaps Lady Amanda should teach me," she suggested quietly.
T'Priane opened her mouth to protest, then apparently thought better of it and said something else, instead.  "We will discuss that later, T'Pring.  Go now and see what Spock is doing."
"Yes, Mother."
Amanda watched worriedly as T'Pring got up and went off after Spock.  What really bothered her was that she knew T'Pring had been trying to be polite and that the child expected her to take it as a compliment.

While they continued to talk about nothing in particular, T'Pring finally caught up with Spock.  He had gone out into the open area and was approaching an unoccupied exercise area.  "Spock, is something wrong?" she asked.
Spock turned toward her, inwardly resenting the innocent bewilderment in her voice without knowing exactly why.  "Why were you looking at me in that manner?" he demanded defensively, fighting to keep the irritation out of his voice.
If the emotion or his efforts to suppress it showed, T'Pring appeared not to notice.  "In what manner?" she questioned, still puzzled.
Now, Spock, too, was confused.  Had he simply misinterpreted something a Vulcan would have accepted as normal?  It seemed the only logical explanation for T'Pring's reaction--but something within his Human half continued to insist otherwise.  "You were looking at me as if…as if I were some sort of alien creature," he tried to explain.
For her own reasons, T'Pring chose to forego the obvious response.  "I was simply studying you.  You are still a subject of much curiosity for me, you know," she reminded him.  Then she chided, "You see things with far too much emotion for a Vulcan."
Spock turned away again, surveying the various pieces of exercise equipment and choosing the balance beam, a single rectangle-shaped length of metal a few inches thick and held roughly three feet off the ground by a support at each end.  He walked over to it and climbed onto it with some difficulty, being just barely tall enough to mount it without help.  "I am learning to control it," he muttered, carefully positioning himself on the beam and preparing to stand up.
T'Pring watched him in silence for a moment, thinking.  Apparently, what she had heard from his schoolmates (after going to great lengths to seek out their opinions) was true; Spock had not mastered the accepted methods of emotional control even enough to maintain it at a consistent minimum level--but he did seem to have the spirit and determination to overcome that flaw.  "You have no one but your father to teach you," she observed.
Spock had walked the length of the beam and now executed a cautious but flawless pivot-turn, pretending to ignore the undercurrent of pity behind her voice.  "Not really.  My instructors at school have attempted to do so sometimes, but…they do not really have the time," he reflected quietly, beginning to walk back the way he had come.
"It is not their place to do so.  But you are laboring udner two disadvantages: your mother cannot help you, and you are half-Human."
"I know," Spock replied, his voice edged with regret.  "But there seems to be little I can do about either.  Father says that if I continue to do my best, I will eventually learn."
"If you wish it, I could help you," T'Pring offered.
Spock looked up at her finally, gazing into her eyes and trying to discover what could have motivated her to say such a thing, but T'Pring's expression was completely unreadable; he could only conclude that there was no hidden emotion there to find.  Her proposal was clearly based solely on logic--perhaps a desire to minimize any embarrassment he might cause her once they were bonded.  He stopped and sat down on the beam, wanting to face her as directly as possible.  "I…wanted to ask you that, myself," he admitted hesitantly, "but…I was not certain if…"
"You would have felt ashamed if I had refused," T'Pring concluded, her voice still betraying no emotion.
Spock nodded sheepishly.
"Then you will be relieved to know that I intend to bond only with a true Vulcan.  If you are my father's choice, it is my duty to see that you are Vulcan," she told him factually.
Spock was taken aback by having his initial pleasure and gratitude to her for granting his secret wish with such apparent willingness so suddenly dampened.  He felt within himself now the same tangle of emotions he so often felt when his schoolmates teased him or Sarek scolded him, but he kept them carefully hidden from T'Pring.  She had, after all, merely proven the accuracy of his previous conclusion.  He found himself making the same assurances he was forced to make in those other situations.  "I have told you.  I will learn.  I am as Vulcan as you, T'Pring."
Before she could respond, Spock scooted off the balance beam to land lightly on the ground, suddenly having lost interest in the balance beam as he realized he would never be able to concentrate well enough to complete the few moves he had so far mastered on the apparatus.  As he moved away, trying to decide whether or not to chose another piece of exercise equipment, he saw T'Pring climb up onto the beam; she stood up, walked to the end, did a perfect pivot-turn, and launched into a series of somersaults and hand-springs that left Spock feeling almost dizzy.  He thought to himself that this must be what his mother meant when she talked about "showing off".
Presently, T'Pring neared the opposite end of the beam and prepared to dismount, but her feet were slightly off-target as she came down out of the back-handstand-walkover that should have begun her dismount, and she missed the beam entirely, landing gracelessly but on her feet on the ground below.  Spock barely resisted the urge to laugh because it seemed to him poetic justice, but his inner and very un-Vulcan gloating was ruined by T'Pring's lack of reaction as she steadied herself and walked away from the balance beam as if nothing had happened.  Upon further thought, Spock took this as a pointed reminder that gloating was illogical; as a Vulcan, he should be above such things.  But still…
Spock realized abruptly that T'Pring was coming toward him; he turned and began to move rather hurriedly away from her and the exercise area, further out into the open, grassy central area.  T'Pring, of course, ran after him.
"I was told to stay with you," she informed him, puzzled by his continued running away from her.
Spock kept walking, pretending to ignore her.
"Spock, it is not logical for you to avoid me.  Why do you keep trying?"
Spock could think of at least a dozen possible answers to her question, all of them charged with a plethora of Human emotions and none of them appropriate for the present time and place.  The response he gave, therefore, was quite evasive.  "I will not try again.  If you will remember your promise to help me."
"I will," T'Pring assured him.
Then both fell silent, walking slowly across the lawn and observing the activities of the scattered children and families as they passed by.  Spock observed them especially closely, and with a twinge of envy; the children were not "playing", as his mother had told him Human children would do in such a setting…but they appeared content, and not somehow isolated from each other and their surroundings.  So unlike him.
Spock sighed inwardly, reflecting on what he had learned so far of T'Pring.  She comported herself exceptionally well, seeming incapable of losing control of her emotions, and Spock was pleased to be allowed to learn that control, himself--but something about her was amiss.  Spock had somehow expected her to be different, to treat him with the respect he had so far failed to gain from his schoolmates…but so far, she had aroused only anguish, disappointment and indignation within him.
Yet, Sarek had chosen her for him.  Sarek had promised him that T'Pring would accept…no, Spock reminded himself, Sarek had said only that she knew of his mixed heritage.  But surely Sarek would not expect him to take as bond-mate one who looked down on him, as she seemed to!  Both his parents had advised Spock to give himself time to get to know T'Pring; he decided now that he would do that, even though what he knew of her so far was not very encouraging.  Then, however, if she had not changed toward him, Spock would have to talk to his father.  Perhaps another bond-mate could be chosen.

It was almost dusk when the outing finally ended and they returned to Sarek's home.  Sarek and Salar, after having spent the day watching their children pass the time together with such apparent willingness, pronounced the outing a success as Salar's family said their good-byes; Spock, however, was not present for most of the conversation and retired to his room for the evening after politely explaining to his guests that the day's activities had exhausted him.
Only Amanda noticed his unusually subdued manner and the troubled look in his eyes as he left the room.  She watched him worriedly until he had disappeared into the hallway, knowing all was not as Sarek thought and becoming determined to speak to him about it.
Alone finally in his room, Spock tried desperately to attain the meditation state which, Sarek had taught him, was the accepted method among Vulcans for achieving--and if properly done on a regular basis, maintaining--inner peace.  But Spock still did not have consistent control of the necessary mental disciplines, and the end result was, as usual, unsatisfactory.
In the end, Spock had to settle for lying down on his bed, staring fixedly at the ceiling, and trying to sort out his thoughts and emotions as he suspected his mother would have--a difficult job for a Vulcan whose inner Human emotions only confused him.  Logically, he understood his father's view that bodning with T'Pring would bring him honor, and hopefully--at long last--acceptance by his peers.  But a part of him wanted…something more.  What that "something" was continued to elude Spock, and he frustratedly, impatiently, forced himself to bury those illogical longings within himself again.
As she had expected, Amanda's talk with Sarek accomplished nothing.  She was unable to convince him that whatever was bothering Spock would not be overcome as he became better acquainted with T'Pring, and Sarek would not be budged from his position that T'Pring was the only choice possible as Spock's bond-mate.  And Amanda, forced to realize that she had no alternative to T'Pring to offer herself, gave in once again.  Spock had chosen to follow the Vulcan way--even, as difficult as it was proving to be, in this--and she could only stand by helplessly and watch.  Once again, all that was left to her was hope--hope that Sarek's choice would prove to be the right one for Spock.


More time passed.  Days became weeks as Spock slowly grew more adept at the mental techniques Sarek tried to teach him, but his control was still flawed and mind-melding continued to be difficult and tiring for him.  Sarek did his best to hide his frustration, knowing now that Spock was probably progressing as quickly as possible and not wanting to discourage him.  Spock, however, could see it in his father's eyes after each daily instruction period was over.  It hurt deeply to think that this was another matter in which he was rapidly disproving any professed ability to become a true Vulcan, like his father, but he kept the shame and anguish buried deep within himself.
T'Pring visited frequently, and Spock spent much time merely studying her manner and the careful control in her voice, gradually learning enough to appear oblivious to the still-recurring taunts of his schoolmates.  T'Pring, however, remained aloof and indifferent toward him, as if she still viewed him as a necessary evil that she was required to tolerate; Spock saw only resignation and a cold, almost clinical curiosity when he looked into her eyes.
Amanda endured it all with great difficulty, bound by her promise to Sarek not to interfere, and often spent her nights fighting tears as she reflected on Spock's ongoing troubles.  He had never been a happy child and possibly never would be, but T'Pring and her form of "help" only seemed to be making things worse--bringing more pressure upon him to be more Vulcan than he was.  Somewhere deep within Spock was a part of him that was a lonely, confused little boy--something both Sarek and Spock himself tended to ignore--and Amanda could not help thinking that this was all happening too fast for that part of him to adjust to and accept.
However, Sarek had often scolded her for her tendency to think of Spock as a Human child, and, though they often argued on the subject, Amanda knew that Spock wanted to be Vulcan and would force himself to do whatever Sarek asked of him--no matter how painful--locking any emotions that might stop him deep within himself.  Thus they both wanted the bonding with T'Pring.  But Amanda reserved the right to maintain her own opinion on the matter; she still did not trust T'Pring.
Two months after that first outing, Spock was still disturbed enough about the situation to want to discuss it with Sarek.  He waited until late one evening, after they both had had a chance to recover from the daily lessons in telepathy, and confronted his father just before bedtime.  Sarek had retired to his study and Spock and Amanda were in the parlor when Spock got up suddenly--making sure Amanda did not see him--left the parlor, went down the hallway and knocked on Sarek's closed door.
"Enter," Sarek's near-monotone voice responded, from within.
Spock slid the door open and cautiously walked inside to find Sarek just stepping out of his meditation chamber.  "Father, I must speak to you about something," he ventured, timidly but with determination.
"Speak, then," Sarek returned, going to sit down at his desk.
Spock followed him, placing himself before Sarek with his hands clasped behind his back in the customary attitude of respect and submission.  "It is about T'Pring, Father.  I wish to ask…is it possible for you to choose another bond-mate for me?"
Sarek raised an eyebrow at him, the only outward evidence of his surprise.  "Why do you ask me this, Spock?"
Spock mentally shrank away from the veiled disapproval in his father's voice, but he forced himself to continue.  "I would prefer…to bond with someone other than T'Pring."
Sarek briefly raised both eyebrows at him now, still showing no other emotion.  "Why?"  he demanded, a note of challenge entering his voice.  Unless Spock's reasons were far more logical and convincing than he expected, he knew what his answer would have to be.
Spock hesitated, knowing his true reasons were emotional and would likely be deemed unworthy of consideration.  "I do not believe she truly wants this bonding, Father," he explained at last, rather evasively.  "I had hoped her attitude toward me would change as we became better acquainted, but…she still seems…embarrassed to be around me."
Sarek could see that his son's pain was genuine; having carefully observed them during her visits, he knew also that Spock had done nothing which should have brought T'Pring any embarrassment.  "Did she say something uncalled for again?"  he asked, then.
Spock appeared uncertain of how to respond.  "She has been…helping me…at least, trying to.  It is not her words, but…how she looks at me when she speaks," he tried to elaborate, fumbling over the words as he found himself getting closer and closer to the emotions behind them.  "It is…the same as when my schoolmates look at me."
Spock's reasons were indeed illogical, by Vulcan standards, and would have come as little more than an insult to Salar and T'Priane, if it had been possible for Sarek to act on his son's request--but he took no joy in once again being forced to deny Spock's emotional needs.  T'Pring had been the only choice possible--the only hope.  Not for the first time, Sarek wished he could have given in to Amanda's wishes and allowed Spock to choose his own bond-mate when he was older.
But his unique Vulcan/Human physiology made the onset of pon farr completely unpredictable; the first, limited in intensity, might come as soon as he reached puberty (in some four to five years), much later (it was not unusual for a Vulcan not to have a full-intensity pon farr until young adulthood)--or not at all.  Bonding him now was necessary, therefore, as he had tried to convince Amanda.  "Spock," Sarek told him regretfully, at last, "I am afraid it is too late for second thoughts.  The arrangements have been made, and there is no one other than T'Pring available to bond with you."
Spock sensed the concern behind his father's voice, but he knew from Sarek's expression that he would not be able to change his father's mind.  Still, he had to try once more.  "But I do not wish to spend my life with T'Pring," he protested.  "Please, Father…"
It was all Sarek could do to ignore the pleading expression in his son's eyes.  "Enough, Spock.  I have told you, it is done," he interrupted.  "I suggest that you now devote yourself to learning to accept it."  His voice sounded harsh in his own ears, perhaps because he was suppressing so much regret and frustration.
Spock bowed his head despondently and turned to go.  He slid open the door, hesitating a moment when he saw Amanda there, then continued on to his room.
Sarek had followed him, and now he and Amanda stared at each other through the open door.  "How much did you hear?"  he asked.
"Enough.  He left the parlor so suddenly that I thought something was wrong…Sarek, why did you refuse him?  Can't you see she's hurting him?"  There were tears in Amanda's eyes as she spoke.
"I have told you, he must be prepared in the same way as any other Vulcan.  And what should I have said?  Would you have me tell him the full truth…that I cannot choose another bond-mate for him because no one else would bond with a Vulcan who is half-Human?"
Amanda could hear the anxiety and regret behind the carefully measured tones of her husband's voice, and she knew that he, too, ached on Spock's behalf.  "No…no, of course not," she admitted understandingly, stepping closer to him.  "But isn't it obvious by now that she doesn't want to bond with him, either?"
Sarek bowed his head, reaching to take her hands awkwardly in his.  "Amanda, there is nothing more I can do, except hope that T'Pring's…condescension…will pass with time," he returned quietly, but the conviction in his voice was feigned.
"And what if it doesn't?"
Amanda's question hung ominously in the air between them, unanswered because Sarek no longer knew what to say.  He released her hands in order to wipe some of the tears from her face, then--not knowing what else to do to comfort her--silently drew her against him.
As Amanda responded, laying her head on his shoulder, she looked down the hallway--and what she saw there made her gasp audibly in agony.  Spock was still there, standing outside the door to his room, watching them both with the most terrible expression of shame and unguarded anguish that Amanda could ever remember having seen on his face.
"What--?"  Sarek looked down at his wife in puzzlement--then he, too, saw Spock, though not for long.
As soon as Spock realized that his father had seen him and the open emotion in his facial expression, he turned away and hurried into his room.
"Oh, Sarek, he heard us say--!"
"I know," Sarek interjected gently, trying to calm her.  He thought quickly; something would have to be said to Spock to restore his shattered self-image--if he had not, in fact, said too much, already.  Once again, logic would not be enough.  He stepped back from Amanda in order to look into her eyes.  "Perhaps we should both go to him, this time," he suggested.
Amanda nodded, and they went together to Spock's room.  She knocked softly on the door.  "Spock?"
Spock's response was too muffled to make out clearly.
Sarek slid the door open and entered first, then Amanda came in and closed it behind them.
Spock, sitting on his bed and looking out the window, turned briefly away to look at Sarek, then turned abruptly back to the window again.  "That was why you would not choose another bond-mate for me--no one wants me because I am half-Human!"  he declared accusingly.
"Spock, you are not to blame for this," Sarek tried to assure him.
Spock finally turned to him again.  "But, Father, I am blamed.  Everyone…my elders, schoolmates, even T'Pring…blames me…says I am not a true Vulcan…"
"Then you will change their minds," Sarek told him firmly.  Spock's voice pleaded for understanding and consolation, and Sarek felt sadly ill-equipped to fulfill his needs.  "You will start with T'Pring.  She should be the least difficult to convince."
Spock turned away again.  Sarek's advice was constructive and logical, but it did nothing to ease the dull ache within him; he did not know what it was--only that it seemed to have something to do with always being alone, different, inferior…and with the emotions stirred within him by contemptuous schoolmates, and by a bond-mate who continued to behave as if bonding with him would force her to marry beneath herself.  "T'Pring would never bond with me if the choice were hers to make," he returned coolly, his voice edged with bitterness.  "And yet, she said that bonding with me would bring honor to her family!"
"And so it will," Sarek stated factually, coming closer as he realized that he had brought his son no solace and became determined to try again.  "You are part of an ancient and honored family that traces its lineage back to Surak.  There is nothing within you that could alter that."
Spock looked back at him, startled by his father's persistent efforts to reassure him, unconvinced but too emotionally exhausted to argue any more.
"Good night, Spock," Sarek said finally, knowing he, too, had said all he could say.
"Good night, Father," Spock replied faintly.
As Sarek left the room, his eyes met Amanda's briefly and inquiringly, wondering if she would approve of his attempt to console Spock--since she, after all, was the expert in that area; she looked back at him encouragingly.  Satisfied, Sarek continued through the door.  Then Amanda went hesitantly to Spock's side.
Spock was aware of her presence, but for a long time could not decide how to react.  It was not until she turned to leave that he realized he did not want to be alone; he certainly could not sleep now, and he did not yet trust his telepathic ability enough for him to attempt to meditate in his current emotional state.  He turned abruptly toward Amanda.  "Mother, wait…"
Amanda turned back to him, startled.
"…please stay a little longer."
She sat down on the bed beside him.  "I'm here," she assured him gently, then waited for Spock to make the next move.
Spock began to move closer to her.  "I have tried to do everything Father has asked…and still I am not Vulcan," he observed, in a puzzled, mournful voice.  "Why?  I have completed the Kahs-wan ordeal successfully.  I am learning the mental disciplines.  I…try…to control my emotions.  But still they call me 'Earther' and 'outworlder'…and now this.  Mother, I do not know what more to do."
There was little evidence of his Vulcan half in the boy who by now had drawn himself up against his mother's side, wanting only her touch--and her confirmation that he was not completely worthless.  Amanda put her arms around him and pulled him, unresisting, into her lap--something Spock had not allowed her to do since before the Kahs-wan ordeal.  "All you can do is your best, Spock," she told him kindly.
"But what if my 'best' is not good enough?"  Spock asked, uncomforted.
"Then you make your best better," she returned encouragingly.  "Those who matter will understand and appreciate your efforts, even if it seems to you that you've failed."
"Even T'Pring?"  Spock questioned again, dubiously.
Amanda made herself say it, even though she was far from sure that it was true.  "Even T'Pring."
This time, Spock simply accepted his mother's wisdom and the hope it offered him for his future.  He curled up tightly in her arms and eventually fell asleep as Amanda continued to hold him in her lap and rock him.


Weeks passed.  Spock never again voiced his protests against the bonding, realizing gradually that it was pointless; for Sarek, the matter was closed--and though he longed inwardly to share his ongoing doubts with Amanda and receive the kind of encouragement she was capable of providing, he knew that it would only cause his mother pain because she could do nothing to alter the situation for him.  Slowly, he learned to accept his fate, devoting himself more and more fully to mastering the mental disciplines, improving his emotional control, and in general trying to make himself a more worthy bond-mate for T'Pring.
Sarek, however, gave no indication to Spock that his efforts were producing the desired results; his attitude toward his son still consisted mainly of controlled impatience, increasingly tempered by resignation.  Amanda was forced to watch Spock withdraw from her more and more in his efforts to emulate his father, knowing it was what he wanted--but knowing also that it would be difficult and frustrating for him, aching to give comfort that he now would not accept.  And as for T'Pring, she acknowledged Spock's efforts, but never appeared particularly impressed or appreciative.
On the day before the bonding ceremony was to take place, Amanda found herself in the rather uncomfortable position of having to entertain T'Pring while Sarek and Spock were still engaged in what would be Spock's last opportunity to polish his telepathic abilities before the bonding.  At length, Amanda recalled that Sarek had given her permission to watch this final lesson, and though that had been before either of them knew that T'Pring would be there, he had never withdrawn that permission; she announced her intentions to T'Pring after the usual snack tray had been prepared for them.
"May I go with you?"  T'Pring asked immediately, intrigued by the idea of seeing how Spock handled a mind-meld before he entered her mind tomorrow.
Amanda was reluctant to agree, but it was difficult for her to refuse permission without seeming to be insulting T'Pring.  After all, she had been reasonably polite and had done nothing during today's visit to really deserve it; apparently, Sarek's repeated "discussions" with Salar about T'Pring's treatment of Spock and Amanda had finally induced Salar to pass the repriimands on to his daughter.  "All right," Amanda acquiesced finally.  "But I don't want Spock to be disturbed.  Stay where he can't see you."
"As you wish, Amanda," T'Pring agreed quietly.
"Let's go, then."
T'Pring followed Amanda outside and down into the garden, then they went to watch Sarek and Spock.  T'Pring, in accordance with Amanda's request, positioned herself behind a nearby tree and watched from there.
Spock and Sarek sat unmoving on a stone bench, in their usual position, facing each other.  Spock's hand was carefully placed on Sarek's face in as close an approximation of the normal mind-meld position as his disproportionately small hand was capable of, and there was an expression of determined concentration on his face.
Amanda quickly placed the snack tray on the edge of the elevated flower bed nearby, then returned to her original position and waited silently, watching her husband and son anxiously; she estimated that some twenty minutes went by before Spock inevitably broke off contact, withdrew from Sarek and sat trembling at the opposite end of the bench.  As always, Sarek recovered first, drawing several deep breaths and releasing them in heavy sighs.
"Sarek?"  Amanda ventured uncertainly, stepping closer.
"Yes, Amanda…I am all right," he responded slowly.
"And Spock?"
"Disturbed, perhaps, but unharmed," Sarek assured her, looking up to face her.
"How did it go, this time?"
"Reasonably well, all things considered," Sarek replied carefully, aware that Spock was listening.  "At least, now he is able to sustain the meld; this one lasted nearly half an hour, which should be more than sufficient to complete a bonding."
He began to look around, and Amanda realized instantly what he must be looking for.  "The snack tray is behind you," she told him.
"Ah."  Sarek located the tray and set it before him on the bench.
Spock glanced sidelong first at Sarek and then at the tray.  "Are we finished, Father?"  he asked uncertainly.
Sarek nodded, reaching for his glass of juice.  "For the time being," he asserted quietly.  "I will have to give you specific instructions regarding the bonding, but it is best if we wait until we have both recovered before we deal with that."
Spock accepted this silently, saying nothing more.  As Sarek started on the finger food, Spock reached gingerly for his glass and drank thirstily but as quietly as possible.  Sarek had eaten all he intended to eat when Spock was still picking hesitantly at his food.
At length, Sarek got up, addressing Amanda softly.  "Come, Amanda--there is something we must discuss."
Amanda knew from the expression in his eyes that it was something serious; she glanced down once more at Spock and said, "Be sure to bring in the tray when you're done."
"Yes, Mother," Spock responded faintly.
Amanda turned then and followed Sarek away, forgetting for the moment T'Pring's presence.
As soon as they were out of her line of view, she came out from behind her tree and slowly approached Spock, not wanting to startle him while he was still recovering from the mind-meld.
Gradually, Spock became aware of her presence and looked up.  "You are still here," he observed.
T'Pring ignored the disappointment edging his voice.  "Not for much longer.  My father will be coming for me soon--I must go to bed early tonight," she informed him neutrally.  "Your mother said I could watch you.  I trust you have no objections."
Spock shook his head, though without much conviction or enthusiasm.  "Father says I am doing well and should have no problem with the bonding," he told her, again with only forced conviction.
T'Pring cocked an eyebrow at him.  "One would hope so, Spock.  Tomorrow is the day--an important one for both of us," she returned coolly.
Spock took this as a compliment, and his expression brightened a little; he indicated the snack tray.  "Do you wish to eat something?  I have had enough."
T'Pring went to sit down near him in the spot where Sarek had sat.  "Perhaps a little--I do not wish to spoil my dinner," she acquiesced, rather reluctantly and as if she were according him a great honor by consenting to sit with him.  Spock watched in silence as she consumed half the remaining finger food, then she spoke again.  "Do not be concerned about the bonding, Spock.  My telepathic abilities are more advanced than yours, and I will help you if you have trouble."
Spock willed himself to ignore the patronizing tone of her voice and merely replied, "Thank you, T'Pring."
"Father says it is my duty," she responded, a little too politely.
And again, Spock fought to remain oblivious.  "I must go inside now and return the tray," he announced then, keeping his voice neutral.
T'Pring nodded understandingly as Spock got up and gathered up the tray, then they both headed toward the terrace steps.

Amanda and Sarek, meanwhile, were up on the terrace, though so far, Sarek had done more pacing than talking.  "Sarek, what is it?"  she demanded finally.  "Are you really so worried about the bonding ceremony?"
Sarek stopped pacing finally and turned to face her.  "Perhaps--illogical as it now seems," he admitted reluctantly, coming back to stand before her.
"But why?  You said his telepathic skills were--"
"Amanda, you are not the only one who is aware of Spock's need for…encouragement," Sarek reminded her, interrupting and continuing hesitantly.  "What I did not mention was that Spock's control remains inconsistent and erratic.  During the meld you witnessed, he lost control twice and his consciousness became entrapped within me--I had to take control briefly myself before he was able to continue."
Amanda lowered her eyes uncomfortably.  "I suppose you still think that it's because he's half-Human that he's having this trouble," she ventured, anticipating him.
"I know of no other possible conclusion," Sarek asserted, as gently as possible, knowing from her voice that Amanda already felt guilty.  "If you have any other explanation for his failure to attain a normal level of telepathic expertise, I am willing to consider it."
Amanda looked up at him slowly.  "Sarek, he doesn't really want to bond with T'Pring, and she doesn't really want him.  Isn't it possible that her lack of…acceptance…might have something to do with it?" she suggested cautiously.
Sarek sighed heavily, nodding.  "Doubtless that is a factor--but that, too, is a part of the damage to his telepathic ability caused by his…mixed blood.  A true Vulcan would be able to approach a bonding without any undue influence by emotion."
Amanda chose to ignore this.  "Isn't there anything we can do to help him?"  she asked.
"No.  Presumably, his telepathic skills will improve as he grows older, but that will not help him at the bonding ceremony," Sarek answered resignedly.
"You don't think it's going to be dangerous for him, do you?"  Amanda asked then, suddenly alarmed.
Sarek shook his head.  "He may have difficulty, but he is capable of accomplishing the bonding.  Besides, I will be present to assist him, if necessary," he assured her.
Amanda drew some comfort from this, but the conversation as a whole had only increased her anxiety and frustration.
At that point, Spock and T'Pring reached the terrace and Sarek and Amanda fell silent.  Amanda took the snack tray from Spock and all four of them went inside.
Once inside, Sarek immediately went to his study while T'Pring and Spock, who was no longer in any mood for conversation, silently watched Amanda put away the tray and dirty dishes.  Amanda turned finally to Spock, aware of his eyes on her and concerned about his silence.  "Spock?  Are you all right?  What's wrong?" she prompted anxiously.
Spock realized that it would not do to admit to any uncertainties about the bonding in front of T'Pring.  "Nothing, Mother," he replied, quietly but evasively.  "I must go and meditate, now.  Perhaps you could show T'Pring your book collection until her father arrives."
Amanda regarded T'Pring dubiously as Spock turned to go.  "Would you be interested in that?" she questioned uncertainly.
"Spock speaks of your books with much admiration," T'Pring admitted thoughtfully.  "I am somewhat curious to see them--I have never before heard of anyone who had more than one or two kept as conversation pieces."
Despite T'Pring's apparent sincerity, Amanda got the distinct impression that she and Spock were both being humored; for the time being, however, she ignored the feeling.  "All right, come with me," she directed.
It was the last thing Spock heard as he passed through the dining room and into the hallway--and it marked the end of his last complete rendezvous with T'Pring as an unbonded Vulcan male.

Spock's meditation was interrupted by the necessity of eating dinner--his mother had insisted, despite his assurances that he was not hungry--followed by a discussion of the bonding ceremony with Sarek, after which he immediately returned to his room and resumed his meditation.
Spock's continued difficulty with the mind-meld bothered him, and he wondered now if it was because he had so far only mind-melded with Sarek.  Certainly the absolute discipline and control of his father's mind was intimidating to him--made even moreso by the impenetrable wall Sarek kept around his emotions during their mental contact.  "Shielding", he called it…something Spock had not yet learned to do, but which he had been told was a skill essential for telepaths.  Whatever aspects comprised it, the same forbidding aura that Sarek was capable of emanating externally permeated his mind as Spock had seen it; whether this was intentional or not, Spock did not know--which only added to his discomfort.  And he could not help wondering if it would not be the same with T'Pring.
Nonetheless, Spock told himself that he could do this--would do it.  It was required of him as a Vulcan, and he would surely never be considered one if he could not complete the bonding successfully.  Besides…something told Spock that his father would never forgive him if he failed.  Sarek had done his utmost to see that he had the necessary knowledge to complete the task, and now Spock had been told about the ceremony itself: the ritual words he would use in mind-meld to initiate and cement the bond…and t'hyr kalah, the bond-witness, whose purpose it was to insure that nothing interfered with the male's ability to complete the bonding.  And because the t'hyr kalah had to be familiar with the bonding male's mind to accomplish this purpose, it had been made clear to him that Sarek would have to fill that role.
T'Pring herself was still very much an unknown factor in all this, at least to Spock, and he wondered with some trepidation what form the "help" that she had promised (or threatened) to give him during the bonding would take.  It seemed to Spock that if he could handle the bonding well enough to complete it without any help, it would impress her enough to change her attitude toward him--and Spock wanted her acceptance and approval almost as much as he wanted his father's.  If T'Pring was to eventually become his wife, there was a part of him that wanted more from her than mere tolerance.
It was late when Spock finally went to sleep, and he slept only sporadically; his mind was still full of thoughts of the ceremony, and nightmare visions of failure and rejection assailed him repeatedly.  In the past, Spock had never hesitated to flee his room for the safety of his mother's arms (usually having to wake her up--and frequently if inadvertently waking Sarek up, as well) at such times--but that had been before the Kahs-wan ordeal.
Now he was a Vulcan, and his father had told him repeatedly that Vulcans in proper sleep mode did not have nightmares.  So now Spock sought to deal with it on his own, without much success; eventually, he gave up entirely and simply lay awake, waiting for morning to arrive and striving to suppress his inner turmoil.  Perhaps as his telepathic skills improved, his ability to suppress the nightmares would, too.


At last, the day of the bonding arrived.  After breakfast, Spock and Sarek dressed themselves in thick, dark ceremonial robes and went out to the garden to wait for T'Pring.  Because the ceremony was traditionally kept as private as possible, with only the bonding couple and their bond-witness present, Amanda was forbidden to be with them--but Sarek did give her permission to wathc from the terrace.  She saw T'Pring, therefore, when the latter came through the garden gate alone, wearing her own ceremonial robes, and approached Spock and Sarek.
As Spock and T'Pring stood before each other, Sarek regarded each of them in turn.  Spock's face was expressionless, but his manner radiated controlled tension; T'Pring's expression was serene, though her manner suggested something more beneath that calm.  Anticipation?  Curiosity?  Or was it something unreadable that might be less pleasant to contemplate?  Sarek was uncertain.  "Spock, are you prepared?"  he asked quietly, his voice betraying nothing of his own persistent concern.
Spock told himself that he was and answered, "Yes, Father."
"And you, T'Pring?"  Sarek questioned.
T'Pring nodded.  "I am prepared, Sarek," she assured him.
"Very well, then," Sarek concluded.  "Spock, begin."
"As you wish, Father."  Spock stepped hesitantly closer to T'Pring and reached out to carefully touch her face, noting offhandedly that it was easier for his fingers to assume the mind-meld position when the face of the one he touched was the same size as his. 
As he had learned to do, Spock reached out with his mind, touching T'Pring's thoughts timidly and uncertainly.
T'Pring's mind responded instantly.  Open your mind to me, Spock.
It was clearly a command, and Spock struggled to comply, probing cautiously a little deeper into her mind.  I am here, T'Pring.  Will you be one with me?  his mind questioned, half-fearfully.
Yes, Spock--I am with you.  The time has come, T'Pring's mind answered, so far showing him nothing but cool, logical thought, well-ordered for the mind of a child.
And as Sarek had taught him, Spock's mind said the bond-words in unison with T'Pring: Never and always…touching and touched…
Knowing and known…seeing and seen…
Separate and together…our minds are one, our hearts are one…
…joined by choice, as I, T'Pring, to you…
…and as I, Spock, to you.  In accordance with the customs of our people, which stand unchanged since the time of Surak, so be it.
The purpose of this exchange was to formally signify mutual consent for the bonding, but it was only a beginning; the joining of their minds was so far only at a superficial level, and the bond was far from being completed, as T'Pring and Spock both knew.  It was T'Pring, however, who took the initiative in probing deeper.
Spock responded somewhat more slowly, touching and exploring T'Pring's thoughts with the same curiosity that he now sensed within her.  As they went deeper into each other's minds, Spock felt T'Pring's reaction to her discovery of his emotions; apprehension, uncertainty, hope, longing, and the myriad other emotions from deep within him were met with astonishment and distaste by T'Pring, who had clearly not expected them to be so intense.
Spock sought out her emotions with an inquiring touch, wanting to understand the revulsion that was all she had as yet shown to him--all the while striving to show her his determination to prove himself, to overcome the weaknesses of his Human half (and its rampant emotions)…to be Vulcan.  But there appeared to be nothing beyond to explore--only a faint echo of her previous curiosity amid a sea of coldness, almost a void.  T'Pring, what is it?  Spock's mind questioned, in agony.
You.  So much emotion within you… T'Pring's mind exuded disappointment and disapproval.
I am in control of it, Spock's mind assured her, still struggling against the coldness of her thoughts.
T'Pring appeared to ignore his response.  I do not think your mind is that of a true Vulcan, Spock.
Now Spock's consciousness rebelled with a growing fear of rejection, and he began to withdraw back into himself.  It is!  I am Vulcan!
More emotion.  Are you sure?
T'Pring, please… Spock's mind began to fill with images that sprang unbidden from parts of his memory that he had spent much time and effort recently trying to block out: his schoolmates, those perfectly developed, full-blooded Vulcan boys who treated him like dirt, reviling him, refusing to permit him ever to become one of them--all because of his Human heritage.  Abruptly, he became aware of T'Pring's response to this--something bordering on contempt.  Spock's mind drew away in anguish, and his control of the mind-meld began to disintegrate.
But he could not break the meld, for suddenly there was a wall blocking his way--a stern, strong presence only slightly less intimidating than T'Pring's had been.  Spock.  Continue.  Complete the bond, it urged him.
Spock recognized the presnce and felt it pushing him back toward T'Pring; he knew it was useless to resist, but did so, anyway.  Father, please, I cannot.  She…does not understand…
She will learn.  And so will you.
Again, Spock felt T'Pring's mind drawing near, unemotional…uncaring.  The coldness enveloped him again.  No…no, please…his mind protested fearfully, once more.
Spock, you agreed to this in choosing the Vulcan way.  It is your duty…to your family and to your people, Sarek's mind insisted.
And again, Spock's mind was drawn into the coldness.  His consciousness once more touched and intertwined with T'Pring's, but the results were the same as before; being children with minimal training, neither had yet learned the technique that Sarek had demonstrated of shielding undesirable emotions during mind-meld, and Spock's apprehension again collided with T'Pring's distaste, causing him to withdraw again.  But Sarek had left him no place to withdraw to.  His presence had merged with Spock's and made it impossible for him to break the meld without his father's help.
Three times, Spock's mind tried to retreat from T'Pring's disapproval, and three times Sarek's mind thrust him back into the coldness--then, finally, something within T'Pring's mind changed.  The oldness remained, but the distaste and disapproval were replaced by resignation.  Spock's mind mirrored the emotion, and they realized they had found common ground.  My duty to my family and my people, Spock's mindvoice echoed emptily, as if reciting something taught to him long ago.
My duty, also, T'Pring's mind responded regretfully.  I gave permission, and I must accept it.  Do you accept also, Spock?
Yes, T'Pring.  It is done.  We are bonded.
Now, finally, Sarek allowed Spock to withdraw, slowly and carefully guiding him back out of the meld.
A moment later, Spock and T'Pring were fully released from the meld, and spock promptly collapsed.  Sarek knelt beside him, concerned, and examined him briefly while T'Pring stood silently and gave herself time to recover.  After a moment, Sarek looked up at her inquiringly.  "T'Pring?"
But now she was watching him calmly and curiously.  "Is he seriously hurt?"  she asked, clearly out of politeness.
For the first time, Sarek found himself empathizing with his son; her lack of interest in her own bond-mate's well-being infuriated him, even though he had seen the true degree of her indifference in her mind.  Nonetheless, his voice was cool and controlled as he responded.  "I think not.  I will tend to him.  Your father is waiting elsewhere in the garden; I suggest you join him."
"As you wish, Sarek."

When T'Pring was gone, Sarek gathered Spock into his arms and headed toward the terrace steps.  He had not gone far when he was met by Amanda, who had seen Spock's collapse from the terrace and immediately come flying down the steps.  Her eyes were wide with horror as she looked from Sarek to Spock.  "Sarek, what happened?  Is he--?"
"He is unharmed," Sarek assured her gently.  "Only exhausted.  The bonding was…difficult."
Sarek carried him up the steps, across the terrace and inside the house--then, after due consideration, gave in to Amanda's pleading expression and surrendered Spock up into her arms.  She carried him the rest of the way to his room and stayed with him as he slept, while Sarek belatedly decided he should go see his two guests off.  After doing so, he went back inside and spent most of the afternoon in meditation.
Under circumstances during which Spock would have expected to have nightmares, he slept soundly and peacefully for several hours.  When he awoke, Amanda was still sitting beside him, holding his hand.  Spock became aware of a feeling of warmth and reassurance within himself as he squeezed his mother's hand in response; he knew instinctively that her touch was the source of that feeling, and he wondered if it wasn't also responsible for his undisturbed sleep.
"Spock, how do you feel?"  Amanda asked softly.
"Just…tired."  Spock sighed, looking up at her with a shamed expression.  "Mother, I…failed.  Father had to help me with the bonding."
"I know.  I was watching you from the terrace," Amanda revealed carefully.
"Is…is Father displeased?"  Spock asked, keeping his voice controlled, though his eyes were full of anxiety.
Amanda smiled encouragingly at him.  "No, Spock; he knows that all that matters is that you did complete the bonding."
For the time being, Spock chose to take her word for that.  He fell silent again, thinking of T'Pring and what her mind had shown him of her true emotions toward him.  Disapproval, contempt, and a coldness that still lingered in his own mind…Spock strove to block it out, but found himself unable to do so.  It was too soon and he was too tired--and now, for reasons as yet unclear to him, he felt something like nausea growing within him.  Perhaps if he went back to sleep, it would go away.  "Mother, please…" Spock wanted badly for her to stay with him, but somehow could not find the words to ask.
"It's all right, Spock--I'll stay right here," Amanda promised, knowing what he had wanted to say and understanding both the need and his inability to express it.
Her voice was soothing to Spock, and he nodded silently in acceptance, retaining his hold on her hand as he tried to go to sleep again, appreciation shining behind his eyes.  It did not take long; he was sleeping soundly again in a few minutes, and Amanda stayed with him until late in the evening.
Finally, Sarek came to check on them, sliding open the door and entering Spock's room as quietly as possible.  Amanda was still sitting beside Spock on the bed, holding his hand and by now gently stroking his bangs.  "Amanda, I believe you have spent enough time with Spock," Sarek told her, softly but firmly.  "It is time for both of us to go to bed."
Amanda was reluctant to obey, knowing that, for once, Spock really seemed to need her.  "I told him I'd stay," she protested entreatingly.
"You cannot stay here all night; Spock certainly knows that," Sarek pointed out reasonably.
"I suppose so," Amanda agreed hesitantly, slowly releasing Spock's hand and getting up from his bed.  "But, Sarek, I'm worried.  It's never taken him this long to recover from a mind-meld before."
"I doubt there is any real cause for concern, my wife; a full night of undisturbed sleep should be all he needs," Sarek assured her.
"Well…I hope you're right," Amanda returned dubiously.  "Sarek, what happened out there during the bonding that could still be troubling Spock so much?"  she asked anxiously.
"He…had trouble sustaining the meld because T'Pring's mind was not properly prepared to accept the Human aspects of his mind--the depth of his emotions--and it took him nearly an hour to establish a firm enough link to complete the bonding," Sarek recalled regretfully.  "If I had not intervened, he would have broken the meld prematurely…but he did manage finally to regain control and do what had to be done.  His present condition is undoubtedly caused by…" Sarek hesitated.  "…a mild emotional trauma of some kind.  T'Pring is not what he--or I--had hoped and expected.  I have seen her thoughts, Amanda, and you were right about her all along…but there is nothing either of us can do about it now, except believe that the situation between them will improve as they grow older."
Amanda looked back at him sadly.  "But will it?"
"We shall see," Sarek responded neutrally, extending his first and second fingers toward her.  "It is time to go, now."
Amanda slowly went to his side and touched her first and second fingers to his--then Sarek simply clasped her hand as they stepped through the door.
"If Spock is still suffering ill effects in the morning, I will contact Satik," Sarek told her, sincerely trying to reassure her.
Satik was the Healer who served as their family physician, the only one in ShiKahr with any knowledge of Human physiology; unfortunately, he was also one of those who viewed Humans with disdain--and he was not particularly careful about suppressing this attitude in front of Amanda and Spock, neither of whom were very fond of him.  "Oh, do you have to?  I'd rather take care of him myself than have Satik  here making him feel worse than he already does," Amanda exclaimed, in obvious dismay, momentarily forgetting the emotional control that Sarek usually required of her.
Sarek's eyes conveyed understanding and sympathy as he looked back at her, and he decided not to mention that Spock might need more than her emotional consolation and homemade remedies were able to provide if there were something seriously wrong with him related to his telepathic powers.  "I will not contact him unless it is necessary," Sarek assured her gently, instead.  Then they continued on down the hall to their own bedroom.

In the wee hours of the morning, Spock began to grow restless and finally woke up; he was startled and somewhat disappointed to find himself alone, but with some effort, he reminded himself that a true Vulcan would not have needed his mother's presence enough to ask her to stay in the first place.  It was illogical, he told himself; Amanda was helping him by forcing him to deal with his turmoil on his own.  After trying unsuccessfully to go back to sleep, Spock sat up, deciding to meditate for a time--but that, too, proved futile, since he was unable to settle his mind into the proper state.  His thoughts were full of the confusion and contradiction of T'Pring's disapproval and his mother's gentle affection.
Spock strove to concentrate on the more encouraging emotions of Amanda, slowly managing to bring himself a certain amount of inner peace.  Sarek had taught him that Vulcans were touch-telepaths--which explained the mental and emotional impressions he always seemed to receive from his mother every time she embraced him--and had warned him to avoid physical contact with others whenever possible.  It was improper--especially before he had learned the customary shielding techniques--because it violated their privacy by revealing his mind to them and giving him instant awareness of theirs.  Touching, like mind-melding, was not permitted except under certain circumstances, and then only with total mutual consent; this, too, was part of the Vulcan way.
But Spock did not yet understand all of this.  Though it explained why Sarek so seldom touched him, Amanda's touch invariably brought him solace, and Spock knew he had her permission, always.  Perhaps, then, it was his Human half that gave birth to a new need and curiosity centering around his realization that he had never mind-melded with his mother.  Spock considered the idea, knowing at once that Sarek would not approve--but suddenly, at this moment, it did not seem to matter.  He was certain his mother would not object, particularly if she thought it might help him, and Spock told himself that a mind-meld of a minute or two, during which he contacted only the outermost levels of Amanda's mind would not be considered intrusive.  Besides …as it was, he could neither meditate nor sleep; he needed…something…that he could not find within himself, something he was sure his mother could give him.
Reaching a decision, Spock got up out of bed, left his room, guiding himself through the darkness by keeping a hand on one wall as he went (since, as a Vulcan, his night vision was quite poor).  He cautiously slid open the door to their bedroom and stepped inside, tiptoeing silently across the room and watching the bed as he went; from the sounds and shadowy shapes, Spock deduced that Sarek was asleep.  He continued around to Amanda's side of the bed and went to stand before her.
There was just enough light shining through the glass terrace doors that Spock could see her face.  She was asleep, too, and Spock thought briefly of waking her up before attempting the mind-meld, thereby insuring that he had her permission, but he might end up waking up Sarek, too--something he definitely did not want to do.  Instead, Spock simply reached out to Amanda's face, touching it lightly with his fingers in mind-meld position.
Her emotions immediately burst into his mind: love and concern for him, regret that the bonding with T'Pring had been necessary, and the terrible underlying sense of uselessness caused by not being able to help in so many of her son's daily dilemmas because he had chosen the Vulcan way.
Spock knew instantly that his mother cared for him, accepted him, and ached for him when he was hurt and confused, despite her belief that she had no real part in his upbringing now, and he was filled with a need to reassure her.  Mother, I am grateful to you.  You are…important…to me.  You make me believe…that I am important.  I…need you, his mind told her.
Amanda did not respond, of course, but it was not necessary; Spock knew she was asleep and hoped that he had managed to convey the thought in such a way that she would perceive it, regardless.  He allowed himself to feel his mother's love and compassion for him for a few more seconds, then carefully broke the meld.
Amanda's facial expression remained unchanged when Spock was able to focus on it again, but there was a serenity about her features that he had not noticed before the meld.  Spock looked at her sadly, wishing that he could put his arms around her and tell her that he loved her…but, no.  He had indulged in enough of that in the past; it was time now to begin acting like the Vulcan he professed to be.  No Vulcan custom, however, could force him to enjoy doing something that would undoubtedly cause his mother pain.  He finally left the room as quietly as he had entered, being careful not to wake up either of his parents.
And after he had gone back to bed, Amanda's anxieties were broken up finally by an oddly pleasant dream involving Spock…


Sarek, concerned about Spock's trouble with the bonding, its after-effects, and the slow development of his telepathic ability in general, did eventually contact Satik.  Spock was examined and put through a series of physical and mental tests--then, on Satik's recommendation, Sarek sent for T'Seya, an acquaintance of Satik's who was a Ninth Level Acolyte of Gol and student of the Masters of Gol (who had achieved command of the accepted mental disciplines beyond that of other Vulcans and were, in fact, in the emotion-free state of Kolinahr), to help determine the reasons behind Spock's telepathic shortcomings.  There were more tests, and Spock's mind was periodically probed by a mental presence whose cold non-emotion made T'Pring's seem like a walk in the sunshine, by comparison.
In the end, after months of study, T'Seya and Satik agreed, confirming Sarek's original suspicions: Spock's telepathic powers were permanently impaired by the Human genetic factors influencing his mental and psychological makeup, and even with training, it was unlikely that his telepathic skills would ever be equivalent to those of his peers.  Sarek was then advised to discontinue his son's formal telepathic training for two years, allowing Spock's mind to develop at its own speed and encouraging him to experiment on his own, before resuming the training.
It was all very discouraging and humiliating for Spock, though he endured it without complaint, as he knew he would be expected to; afterwards, however, he became even more subdued and withdrawn than he had been before.  And Amanda, forbidden to be close enough to him during the endless testing to provide him any encouragement, ached with empathy for him as she watched him retreat behind the wall of emotional control that he was rapidly learning to perfect in an obvious effort to hide his shame and anguish.
T'Pring's visits decreased noticeably in frequency, as if her mental contact with Spock had drained her of even the curiosity that had been the only real basis for her interest in him--which only fuelled Spock's feelings of inferiority.  Logically, he knew that T'Pring was probably just taking the time to adjust to all the emotion she had seen in his mind, but the knowledge did not really comfort him.  Then, too, there were his condescending schoolmates to be dealt with several times a week, though Spock now bore their insults with increasing impassivity--with the notable exception of insults aimed at his mother, which he still refused to tolerate.
His lack of reaction engendered pride in Sarek (or at least acknowledgement that he was behaving more like a true Vulcan than his schoolmates were) and dismay in Amanda, who could not understand how Spock could be expected to continually ignore insults that invariably left him in deep (if suppressed) emotional--and sometimes physical--pain.  Sarek, of course, shared her concern--but he could find no effective means of avoiding or easing it that did not contradict Spock's training in the Vulcan way.
In this manner, a number of years passed, and Spock entered puberty with the same resignation-veiled turmoil that had been his one constant companion during his childhood years.  Sarek and Amanda soon discovered that, beneath the fragile wall of logic and determined emotional control which he kept around him at all times as if it could shield him from agony and disappointment, their son was subject to the same identity crises that adolescent Humans went through--only for Spock, already confused by his dual heritage and the patently un-Vulcan impulses he felt within himself, it was far worse.  Sarek began to watch him for anything resembling  early pon farr symptoms, but there was no sign of them within him, and Sarek took this as an indication that he should not leave his son in ignorance any longer than necessary.
Spock was fourteen Vulcan years old when Sarek finally decided it was time he was told the terrible Vulcan "facts of life", as Amanda referred to them.  He caught Spock as the latter arrived home from school one day and took his son up to the privacy of his own room, deliberately out of Amanda's sight, telling Spock only that there was something important that they needed to discuss.  Spock, standing stiffly before his father as Sarek sat on Spock's bed, naturally assumed he had again done something wrong and expressed his confusion as to what it could be.
"I am not here to reprimand you, Spock," Sarek assured him quietly.  "I merely wish to explain something to you."  He paused, becoming noticeably uneasy; this would be difficult, he knew, but it had to be done.  "My son…the time has come for you to be made aware of…something every Vulcan male since the time of Surak has had to face," he began hesitantly.  "In school, you have studied the mechanics of sexual reproduction; what I am about to reveal concerns the moral, social and personal implications of it relevant to our species.  Vulcan males engage in…an act of sex…once every seven years.  It is called pon farr--the Time of Mating--and during it, the male is completely irrational.  There are certain physical changes…a chemical imbalance…and if the male is not prepared for sexual consummation by the time the blood-fever stage is reached, he will die."
Sarek paused to let this sink in, knowing that Spock would not fully understand what this meant until he was older--or until he had first-hand experience with the pon farr, Then he continued.  "I am telling you this because males of your age often experience…what we call arrata, 'the Awakening'…that is, subdued pon farr symptoms…which do not require consummation.  Arrata is not fatal.  But I wish you to be prepared for the changes you will feel within you."
Spock had listened attentively, giving no indication of the instinctive but vague apprehension that had begun to fill him as his father talked; he did not know the exact source of this apprehension--only that he had not felt it until Sarek mentioned the pon farr by name.  "What kind of changes?"  he asked now, somewhat anxiously.
"Nervousness…impatience, irritability…other emotions that you will not be able to control.  Physically, you will lose your appetite and be unable to eat…and you will be subject to tremors that will spread and worsen as the pon farr progresses.  Mature males who experience full-intensity pon farrs have been known to do or say totally senseless things and retain no memory of it afterwards…" Sarek trailed off, his eyes haunted as he recalled his own pon farr with more clarity than he would have liked.
Spock bowed his head, thinking.  "That is why T'Pring and I were bonded," he concluded finally.
The sound of Spock's voice brought Sarek quickly back to the present.  "Yes, Spock.  When your first true, full-intensity pon farr comes, you and T'Pring will both know it; you will both be drawn to Koon-ut-kal-if-fee--our ancestral 'place of marriage or challenge'--at the appropriate time, for a wedding ceremony in accordance with our customs," he elaborated.
Spock looked up at him slowly.  "Then we will--?"
"--Consummate the pon farr," Sarek finished for him.
Spock bowed his head again, somewhat intimidated by the reluctance in his father's voice, sensing now that this pon farr was something to be feared--even among Vulcans.  And hesitantly, he allowed himself to express a little of that fear, knowing somehow that this time, the emotion would be permitted: "Father…this 'arrata'…will it hurt?"
Sarek had to force himself to tell Spock the truth.  "It is…like no other pain you are likely to experience in your life--not emotional, but physical and mental--and something beyond that.  To lose one's mental faculties...the humiliation..." Sarek stopped again, becoming aware that his thoughts were again wandering back to his own pon farr experiences.  He looked at Spock and realized that he was perhaps revealing more than was necessary at this time; Spock was staring at him in astonishment, an expression of barely-controlled terror in his eyes.  Sarek realized he had to say something to console his son.  "Having said that, I will point out also that you are half-Human--and it is your Human blood that is the unknown factor in this," he added, as gently as possible.  "It may be that your Human half will protect you from the pon farr, but it is only logical to be prepared for any contingency."
"Then you are not certain my Human half will help?"
Sarek shook his head.  "None of us are, Spock.  Even Satik says that the only way we can be is to watch you for symptoms and mark time--the more that passes, the more likely it is that you have been spared," he revealed regretfully.  "However, if you pass from adolescence into adulthood untouched by a full-intensity pon farr, I believe we will have our answer."
He got up then and left the room quietly as Spock sat down on his bed, lost in thought.  Amanda greeted him outside the door, looking noticeably embarrassed.  "I know I shouldn't have been listening," she began apologetically, "but--"
"It does not matter.  I expected you to listen, this time," Sarek assured her kindly.
"You didn't tell him very much," she noted cautiously.
"I saw no reason to frighten him any more than necessary."  Sarek sighed then and continued in a tone edged with self-recrimination.  "I should not have mentioned the possibility of protection from his Human half, however--quite illogical."
"But necessary," Amanda countered emphatically.  "Spock needs to believe that you believe in that possibility."
"And if it turns out to be non-existent?"
"Then Spock will eventually find out for himself.  In the mean time, I think he still needs that to hang onto."
"Very well," Sarek acquiesced reluctantly.  "If you are convinced that it will help him.  Come--he will need some time alone."


A few days after this revelation, Spock's school welcomed a new student who happened to be in Spock's class.  Spock, thinking he felt some empathy for the boy as an outsider and wanting to try to make friends with him before their schoolmates turned the new boy against him, brought him home unannounced to meet Sarek and Amanda.  Spock led him with some difficulty through the garden and up to the terrace (his guest kept stopping to look around in astonishment at the assortment of plant life), where Amanda was busy tending some of her flowers.  She looked up in surprise as the two boys approached. "Spock--?"
"Good afternoon, Mother.  Is Father home?"  Spock asked formally.
"Yes--he's meditating.  Should be out any time, now."  Amanda's eyes were still on Spock's guest, who was likewise staring at her.  It was the first time she could recall Spock ever inviting one of his schoolmates to his home, and she hoped it was a sign that he was learning to adjust to and accept his place in Vulcan society (assuming, of course, that he had one).  "Spock, who is…your friend?"
Spock's expression was completely neutral as he looked back at her, showing her that he was not yet ready to classify his guest as a "friend".  "A new schoolmate.  His parents just moved here from another city, and he knows no one yet...so I thought introducing myself and my family might be a good beginning," he explained reasonably.
The fact that this logic concealed the longing for acceptance and friendship that was Spock's true motivation for bringing a guest home with him from school did not escape Amanda, though she knew better than to mention it.  "I think that's a wonderful idea," she assured him, smiling.
Spock hoped his father would agree; he had not asked permission, and Sarek did not approve of surprise visits from strangers--invited or not.  "We are in the same class, Mother.  His name is Stonn," he elaborated carefully, then turned to his guest.  "Stonn, this is my mother, the Lady Amanda."
Stonn stepped forward, still staring.  "I am honored.  I have never seen a Human before," he told her sincerely, but with considerably more enthusiasm than Amanda was accustomed to in a full-blooded Vulcan.
That's obvious, Amanda noted to herself.  Aloud, she replied amiably, "I'm pleased to meet you, Stonn.  Now, if you two will excuse me for a minute, I'll go tell Spock's father that we have a guest."  Then she turned and went inside, leaving Spock and Stonn to wait alone on the terrace, but it was not long enough for them to even begin a conversation before she returned with Sarek.
Sarek studied both boys in silence for a time, then he focused his attention on Stonn.  "Stonn, I am Sarek.  You are welcome in my home," he said calmly.
Stonn bowed his head briefly in gratitude.  "I appreciate that, Sarek."
Sarek nodded once in acknowledgement, turning finally back to Spock and deciding that his son's failure to acquire permission before bringing home a visitor could be dealt with after Stonn had left.  "Spock, I would remind you that T'Pring is due within the hour for a visit.  You will have to go soon and get ready," he pointed out.
"Yes, Father," Spock replied, then added quickly, "Father, I would like Stonn to meet T'Pring.  May he stay a while longer?"
Sarek sighed.  "Very well," he agreed reluctantly.  "Both of you come inside, then.  Spock, you may as well begin your preparations; Stonn, I will have Amanda fix you some refreshments while you wait."
They followed Sarek inside; Spock went to his room to get a change of clothes, then went on to the bathroom, while Stonn was made comfortable in the parlor.  Spock came back roughly half an hour later and joined Stonn in the parlor to await T'Pring's arrival.  "Spock, who is T'Pring?"  Stonn asked, at length.
"My bond-mate," Spock returned.
"Oh."  Stonn hesitated.  "I am unbonded," he revealed slowly, his voice edged with embarrassment.
Spock looked at him, unable to completely hide his surprise.  "You are?  But I thought it was customary to bond shortly after the Kahs-wan ordeal."
"It is.  But my father wanted me to make my own choice…and I simply have not chosen yet," Stonn explained.  "Once we get settled and I become acquainted with more of my schoolmates, perhaps I will be able to."
Sarek had listened curiously to their conversation from across the room, but now he went to join them, standing before them a few feet away and off to one side with his hands clasped behind his back.  "Stonn…where did your family live before you moved?"  he asked.
"ShalKahr, on the other side of the Gol desert," Stonn responded.
"I see."  ShalKahr was the closest of ShiKahr's neighboring cities--if a city separated from one's own by hundreds of miles of desert could be considered "neighboring" or "close".
Stonn was still trying to think of something else to say when the door chimes sounded.  "I'll get that," Amanda's voice offered, from within the kitchen.  A moment later, she entered the parlor with T'Pring.  Sarek and Spock stood as she came in, Spock going quickly to meet T'Pring.  He studied her as they approached each other, reflecting that she was growing into quite a beautiful young lady and in fact was looking more and more like her mother every time he saw her.  He was not thinking now of the mere tolerance with which she viewed him; since their bonding, he had not permitted himself to think of it--or of the discordant emotions he had occasionally detected within her toward him, despite her flawless emotional control and the lack of any external evidence of them.  They met in the center of the room.  "T'Pring, you look well," he greeted her pleasantly.
"As do you," she returned politely.
"I have not seen you in some time."
"I have been occupied."
Spock realized that the conversation was becoming forced and quickly directed her attention to the sofa, where Stonn waited somewhat impatiently.  "I wish you to meet someone," he told T'Pring, leading her over to Stonn, who immediately stood up.  "A new schoolmate of mine.  Stonn, I present she who is my bond-mate: T'Pring," he stated formally.
T'Pring stepped forward, bowing her head slightly in greeting.  "I am honored, Stonn."
"The honor is mine," Stonn assured her, a bit more hastily than he had intended.
And for the next few minutes--a seeming eternity to Spock--they studied each other in silence.  Stonn was bigger than Spock, in height as well as in size--stockier and more muscular; he seemed to have more trouble suppressing his emotions than Spock now did, T'Pring noted to herself.  To Stonn, however, T'Pring was exquisite, and he found himself immediately attracted to her.
At the moment, however, Spock was ignorant of their thoughts; he knew only that something about the way they had suddenly focused their attention on each other to the exclusion of all else made him extremely uncomfortable.  He turned abruptly from them and addressed Amanda.  "Mother, perhaps T'Pring would like something to eat," he suggested.
Amanda sensed Spock's discomfort--like him, aware of its source but uncertain of the reasons.  "Of course," she responded, moving rather quickly past the three of them.  "T'Pring, you will be staying for dinner, won't you?"
The attempt to distract T'Pring's attention was successful; she looked around as Amanda passed by, appearing slightly startled.  "I had not planned to, Amanda, but I can contact my father and ask permission, if you wish," she offered mildly.
Before Amanda could respond, Sarek cut in.  "That is not Amanda's decision to make," he pointed out sternly, turning then to face his son.  "Spock, do you wish your bond-mate to remain for dinner?"
His voice and manner made it clear that Sarek, too, was aware of Spock's uneasiness--but then, Spock was usually somewhat uneasy around T'Pring--and reminded his son that he knew by now what was expected of him.  Spock tore his eyes away from his father's face and returned them to T'Pring's ever-serene countenance.  "Please do, T'Pring.  It seems far too long since you have visited for any length of time," he urged, with more graciousness than he really felt toward her.
T'Pring acquiesced.  "As you wish, Spock.  I will contact my father immediately," she told him, once again demonstrating the ability to submit with dignity that Spock so admired in her.
T'Pring's father granted her permission to stay, but, as it turned out, Spock's initial request constituted the last words he was ever able to speak to her that evening; T'Pring spent most of the evening talking to Stonn.  Though there was nothing in her voice or manner to suggest that she had any particular interest in him, he was obviously intrigued by her, and--when Stonn realized shortly after dinner that his parents were probably concerned about his failure to return home from school and quickly apologized for the necessity of his sudden departure--T'Pring announced that she, too, was expected at home.  Sarek, realizing with some reluctance that it was the only thing he could do with night approaching and Stonn unfamiliar with the city, decided to take them home himself, leaving Spock and Amanda alone for a time.
It was an uncomfortable time for both of them.  As a part of his efforts to avoid the terrible feelings of guilt that had begun to assail him any time he gave in to his Human half, Spock had some time ago stopped sharing that part of himself with anyone, including his mother.  Sarek had taught him that, if he was to be a true Vulcan, he had to learn restraint--which Spock interpreted to mean no more touching, no more hugs, no more discussing his emotions with Amanda every time he had trouble dealing with them.
Amanda did her best to give the impression that she had adjusted to the situation, but there were times when Spock could see that this just was not true--and the Human part of him that still craved her love and compassion ached at the idea that he might be hurting her.  Frequently, he felt so torn between the desire to be a proper Vulcan and the suppressed but ever-present fear of losing her love that he questioned which was more important to him; it was one of many questions to which he had so far found no answers.
It seemed illogical to Spock for him to live his life among Vulcans and not adhere fully to the Vulcan way (particularly if it would please his father)…but a part of him needed something the Vulcan way could not provide.  And at times when he felt worthless and unwanted by his own people, Amanda alone loved him, encouraged him, and made him believe in himself again.  It was an impasse, and sometimes Spock could not resist giving in to his own emotional needs--but that was not the case on this night.
Thus when Sarek returned, he found Spock in his room meditating and Amanda alone in the parlor.  Sarek was growing concerned about the increasingly long periods of non-communication between mother and son, even though so far, that always ended at the inevitable points when Spock needed her most.  Amanda might have no part in Spock's training as a Vulcan, but Sarek had no more desire than she had for their son to go through any more pain than necessary; if that meant she still occasionally had to indulge Spock's Human half, well…logically speaking, it was disruptive to his training, but it was also becoming increasingly evident that such "indulgences" were sometimes unavoidable.
Then there was Amanda.  Sarek had learned enough from his experiences with Humans as Ambassador to the Federation to know that a Human woman who loved her son and was forced to bear his agony as if it were her own without being able to assuage it would be plagued by bitterness, feelings of inadequacy, and other emotions that were by now familiar to Amanda as Spock grew more and more reluctant to share the things with her that he was unable to share with his father.
Sarek cautioned himself that he was becoming far too emotional about the matter, reminding himself that Amanda had never failed to be there for Spock when it counted--but his own logic was no more comforting to him now than he supposed it was much of the time to Spock.  As he watched Amanda sitting on the sofa from the other side of the room, he realized abruptly that she was crying.
Even as Sarek went to her side, Spock, still awake, heard the sound in his room and got up instinctively to go verify that it was what he thought it was--though what he planned to do if he turned out to be correct was unclear.  In pajamas and bare feet, he went down the hall, following the sound to the parlor door and peeking around the edge of the doorway.  His parents were sitting on the sofa, Amanda almost curled up in Sarek's lap--and, as Spock had suspected, the sounds were coming from Amanda.  Spock knew those sounds; some instinct told him that they were a Human accompaniment for the silent tears of agony and anger that he himself had sometimes shed when he was certain no one was around to reprimand him.  "Crying", his mother called it…but he had never before heard her do it.
Suddenly, Amanda spoke.  "Sarek, I'm sorry…"
"Shh.  If you must, you must," Sarek replied gently, having expected this for some time.
Amanda, knowing the control he expected of her, was still trying to keep from succumbing completely to her frustration and anguish.  "Are you sure it's all right?"  she asked dubiously.
"Yes, Amanda.  Release this emotion."
Sarek held her as she began to cry in earnest, and he spoke in a soothing tone, but Spock could not help thinking as he considered his father's words that he was humoring her.  Spock did not fully understand why Sarek insisted on requiring her to follow Vulcan customs regarding emotional control.  True, in marrying him, she had--to some extent--agreed to accept his culture and customs…but Amanda was not Vulcan.  She was not even half-Vulcan.  She was Human, and Spock knew it was not natural for a Human to be forced to continually restrain her emotions until they came out all at once for no apparent reason, as they seemed to be doing now.
At length, Amanda spoke again: "I just don't know what to do.  I don't even know what to say to him any more…"
"I know it is difficult, but you will learn to deal with it," Sarek tried to assure her.
Amanda looked up at him despairingly.  "How?"  she demanded.  "Tell me how, Sarek.  I only know how to be a Human mother.  All the things I know of to do for him are wrong!"  She lowered her head again.  "I can't even touch him now without his permission, and he hardly ever gives it…"
Spock realized gradually that they were talking about him--he was responsible for his mother's present unhappiness!  The new knowledge filled him with guilt and frustration; the Human in him longed to run to her and try to return the encouragement she had always given him, but his Vulcan training would not permit it.  It would be an intrusion now--it was Sarek's place to comfort her.  Spock listened intently, anxious to see how his father would deal with her emotional display.
"It will not always be that way," Sarek told her kindly.  "You should know that by now.  Spock has Human needs that logic cannot always suppress; you have told me that often enough.  And, at the moment, you are the only one available to fulfill those needs.  In the mean time, you must bear in mind that it was his choice to adhere to--"
"--The Vulcan way, yes, I know," Amanda finished for him, somewhat bitterly, still not feeling very comforted.  "So my son chooses to avoid me.  Am I supposed to be happy about that?"
Sarek shook his head as she moved back to look up at him again.  "Spock has chosen to be Vulcan--not to hurt you.  All I ask--all Spock would ask--is that you accept it," he chided her gently.
Amanda moved away from him slowly.  "I'm trying, Sarek.  But it's getting awfully hard," she returned neutrally.
"I know.  As I said, you will learn to deal with it; I have seen you deal with such difficulties before, and I know you have it within you to do so."
They fell silent for a time, during which Spock fought to keep himself from going to her side--Vulcan logic notwithstanding.  He thought of his one mind-meld with Amanda so many years ago, for the first time regretting that he had not awakened her first.  He had always wondered if she were really aware of his mental contact at the time, and now, he wondered if--assuming she had known--she retained that knowledge.  His mind called out to her in agony and shame across the several yards or so between his position at the doorway and hers on the sofa: Mother, Mother--it is true.  My mind told you.  Do you not remember?  I will always need you!
Apparently, however, his telepathic powers were not yet developed enough for him to communicate mentally with someone without touching them, for Amanda gave no evidence of having received the thought.  She looked as dejected as ever as she sat on the sofa next to Sarek.
"I am going to bed now, Amanda," he announced finally, deciding to give her some time alone.  "You may join me whenever you wish."
As Sarek got up from the sofa and Amanda nodded in acknowledgement without looking up, Spock momentarily panicked as he tried to decide what to do to avoid being seen by his father; in the end, he simply turned and ran back to his room.  He got as far as his door before Sarek stepped through the parlor door into the hallway and saw him.  They faced each other then, Spock slightly green with embarrassment and Sarek with his hands clasped behind his back and an eyebrow raised at his son in an odd expression of amusement and understanding.  Spock felt a need to say something.  "Father--"
"Explanations are unnecessary, this time," Sarek interjected quietly.  "Go see your mother, if you wish--but be certain you are back in bed as soon as possible."
"Yes, Father," Spock answered, filled with relief as he hurried back to the parlor.
Amanda was still sitting on the sofa when Spock entered, curled up against its arm and facing the window, her head bowed.  No further sounds came from her as he approached, and he assumed she was no longer crying.
Finally, he reached her side; he hesitated then, uncertain of exactly what to do--it was the first time in ages that he had been called upon to comfort his mother.  At length, Spock reached out timidly to touch her arm.  "Mother?"
Amanda's head snapped up in surprise at the sound of the soft voice, and she turned to look at Spock.
"Mother, please…Father is right.  I never meant to hurt you," he continued cautiously, fearful of saying the wrong thing and making her feel worse.  "I only want to be…I have to be…Vulcan.  Can you understand that?"
Amanda nodded slowly.  "Yes, Spock, I understand.  But you need to understand…that I love you and I want you to let me help you when you need help, instead of always shutting me out," she tried to explain.
Spock saw the pleading expression in her eyes and could not bring himself to recite back Sarek's oft-repeated maxim about true Vulcans always trusting in meditation or other accepted mental techniques rather than physical contact or discussion for help in suppressing emotional turmoil.  Too often in the past, these methods had proven unreliable--and Spock was by now beginning to wonder if that would change as he grew older, or if it was another shortcoming of his Human half and therefore unavoidable; Amanda was the only one so far who had ever demonstrated any willingness to share his turmoil without criticism, and thus was the only available alternative.  "I…understand," he admitted faintly, and with some apparent difficulty.  "I promise…to try."
"Good enough," Amanda responded, seeming to brighten a little.
Spock, however, could still see tear streaks on her face and was still heartsick at the thought at the thought that he had been the cause of them.  Presently, he reached out gently to wipe her cheeks with his fingers, speaking formally, with as much control as he could muster, but as if realizing it for the first time: "Mother…you are the only one."
Amanda was puzzled. "'The only one?'"
"Who loves me."
Spock had not been this open with her in months--even years--and Amanda knew of only one way to respond.  She did not know if it was appropriate or if Spock would even permit it, but at the moment, it was the only thing in the world that she wanted.  "Spock…" Words suddenly seemed pointless.  She held her arms out to him uncertainly, not touching him but making her intentions clear.
Spock responded even more hesitantly, likewise opening his arms to her, touching her hands cautiously, too accustomed by now to reprimands for such emotional displays to indulge in them eagerly; he dropped his customary mental shields as he did so, and immediately, he felt Amanda's emotions wash over him.  They were pleasant and reassuring--no bitterness or reproachfulness presented itself to Spock.  His hands moved timidly up her arms to her shoulders, by which time Amanda had pulled him gently down onto the sofa and against her.
Spock allowed her to hold him for some time, grateful to feel her affection and understanding--especially tonight, when he felt deliberately snubbed by T'Pring.  It was not his bond-mate, however, or even Stonn, who filled his thoughts as he fell asleep an hour or so later; it was a dream--an idyllic dream which he had never allowed himself to dwell on when he was awake--of acceptance, friendship, happiness, and a bond-mate who would love him as he was…as his mother did.
Reluctantly, Amanda roused him sufficiently to allow her to help him up and back to his room without having to carry him, tucked him into bed and kissed him on the cheek before turning out the light and leaving--still wishing that someday, Spock would allow her to kiss him while he was awake.


Spock's relationship with his mother did not change much over the ensuing months, but now Amanda seemed better able to cope; she understood that Spock had expressed his love for her and need for her emotional support as well as he knew how, and Spock, too, sensed her new acceptance of the situation.  In return, he tried to bear in mind her needs as his mother, trying also to set aside some part of each day to be with her.  This seemed to satisfy Amanda, even though he often talked about nothing of any significance--or not at all.  It was enough that Spock was allowing her to be a part of his life.
Spock's telepathic instruction was finally discontinued, since it was normally discontinued anyway by the time a Vulcan child reached Spock's current age--and Sarek saw no point in continuing the training any longer; it no longer seemed to have much effect, and Sarek had concluded that Spock would have to gain any further telepathic expertise the hard way--on his own and over an extended period of time, probably years.
Spock never again invited Stonn to his home, for his hopes of friendship between them dwindled with increasing rapidity as time passed.  Stonn spoke to him at school chiefly out of politeness, and their conversation was never about anything of any significance--unless, as seemed to happen more and more frequently, he asked after T'Pring.  Spock, for good or ill, could tell him very little; his parents and T'Pring's had agreed to establish a regular schedule for her visits--once a month (this had been agreed upon after Sarek consulted with Spock), with the frequency to gradually increase as Spock became accustomed to her presence--but so far, T'Pring did not seem to be adhering to it.  Spock had not seen her in over a month, though Sarek again promised to see that the situation was corrected.
Some six months after Spock had introduced Stonn to T'Pring, he became aware of a rumor being circulated among his schoolmates.  At first, he did not know the details--only that it concerned Stonn and T'Pring; Spock was initally inclined to ignore it, since being pointed at and whispered about was not exactly a new experience for him--but he found himself forced to suppress a growing annoyance as it continued day after day.  Finally, he confronted one of his schoolmates one day after school and demanded to know what exactly was being said in this rumor.
The boy raised an eyebrow at him in apparent surprise.  "You do not know?"
"Obviously not, or I would not need to ask," Spock returned coolly.  "Tell me, Sevak.  What is going on?"
"You should be aware of your own bond-mate's activities.  Stonn has been seeing her.  It is said that he was visiting her home regularly until her father forbade it, and now they meet I secret elsewhere," Sevak informed him mildly.
Spock stared at him for a moment in veiled astonishment, but his voice was carefully controlled as he responded.  "Even if you have proof of this, my bond with T'Pring does not preclude her from interacting with other males."
"Then why does her father forbid his presence in her home?  Why does she have to meet with him covertly?"  Sevak challenged.
"I do not know," Spock admitted quietly.  "But I do know that T'Pring would do nothing to dishonor me.  She knows that doing so would also dishonor her and her family."
This silenced Sevak long enough for Spock to turn and walk calmly away, but once outside the school grounds, he broke into a run and kept up the pace nearly all the way home.  His mind was racing faster than his feet as he considered Sevak's words.  He knew that T'Pring and Stonn had developed a sort of rapport during their first encounter; surely that was all it was--no scandal, no dishonor.  His schoolmates, always eager to find fault with anything concerning Spock, had read all that into it.  But it was also true that Spock could not explain the objections of Salar, or why T'Pring felt compelled to defy her father and see Stonn anyway.  He realized then that it was not his responsibility to provide an explanation--it was T'Pring's.

When Spock got home, he went immediately to find Sarek, knowing he had to discuss the situation with his father.  Sarek turned out to be down in the garden with Amanda, engaged in a conversation, when Spock approached, though they fell immediately silent at the sight of the serious expression on their son's face.  "Spock?"  Sarek prompted curiously.
"Father, I must see T'Pring as soon as possible," Spock told him.
"'Must'?"  Sarek echoed, raising an eyebrow at the urgency in Spock's voice.  "I have never known you to insist on seeing T'Pring.  What makes it so imperative now?"  he asked warily.  His first thought was that the pon farr had finally caught up with Spock, and a quick, and a quick glance at Amanda told him that the same thought had occurred to her.
"There is a matter I must discuss with her," Spock responded evasively.
His reticence did nothing to ease Sarek's mind, and he decided that, under the circumstances, he had better press for details.  "Explain, Spock.  What matter?"
Spock realized at once what Sarek must suspect.  "It is not the pon farr, Father.  It has to do with…T'Pring and Stonn."
"'Stonn'?"  Sarek repeated, his eyebrows climbing into his hairline in an expression of undisguised astonishment.  "What has Stonn to do with T'Pring?"
"My schoolmates say that he has been visiting her, that Salar will no longer allow Stonn in his home, and that T'Pring has been seeing him in secret since then," Spock elaborated hesitantly.
"Hmm."  Sarek looked first at his son's anxious expression, then at his wife's expression of alarm, and quickly came to a decision.  "I will look into this immediately.  Spock, come with me; Amanda, this situation may require a personal confrontation with T'Pring and her parents, in which case we will have to go out for a while," he announced finally.
Amanda nodded understandingly, and Spock and Sarek went on up to the house.  Sarek contacted Salar, who agreed to allow them over to question T'Pring, assuring them that he shared their concern.

Half an hour or so later, Sarek's aircar had pulled up outside Salar's home.  Like Sarek's, it was surrounded by a high stone wall with an elaborately carved wooden gate in the center.  Spock, of course, had never been here before, and he looked around in great interest as he followed Sarek though the gate and across the grounds.  They looked nothing like Amanda's elaborately landscaped garden, but more closely resembled a large courtyards, stone-paved with trees lining the wall to provide shade, but very little other vegetation in evidence--only stone benches, strategically positioned around the courtyard.  Salar's house, like Sarek's, was fairly large and surrounded by a terrace, but it was lower and wider than Sarek's.
They hurried across the terrace and were greeted at the door by T'Priane, who led them inside and told them that Salar and T'Pring were waiting for them in the parlor, showing them the way.  She excused herself then, and for the moment, Sarek and Salar looked on in silence as Spock confronted T'Pring himself.  She stood as he approached.
"I require an explanation, T'pring.  Why have you insisted on seeing Stonn?"  Spock demanded.
T'Pring was innocence personified as she returned Spock's gaze.  "I assure you, Spock--as I have assured my father--there has been nothing improper in my conduct with Stonn.  I have been assisting him in his school studies," she explained calmly.
Spock wanted to believe her, but he was not fully convinced yet.  "Then why did your father forbid his visits?"  he asked suspiciously.
This time, Salar responded.  "Because he was visiting too often.  I did not think it proper that she spend more time with an unbonded male than with her own bond-mate," he informed Spock quietly.  "I have mind-melded with her, and I assure you she is being truthful.  I am prepared to permit Stonn's visits according to a schedule which would make them less frequent, if you are agreeable."
Spock had looked at him while he was speaking, but now he turned back to T'Pring, studying her speculatively.  "Very well, then, I see no harm in it," he decided, at length.  "I would, however, ask one favor in return."
Salar nodded acquiescently.  "If it is within my power."
"I wish to see T'Pring more often."
"That can be arranged," Salar assured him.
"Thank you."  Spock addressed T'Pring again.  "And, T'Pring…when you are with Stonn in the future, I advise you to remember that you are my bond-mate."
T'Pring bowed her head contritely.  "Of course, Spock.  I regret the misunderstanding--and that you had to find out through a schoolyard rumor."
Spock no longer saw any reason to distrust her and accepted her apology almost eagerly.  "Nothing more will be said of it," he promised her, as she looked back up at him.
They stayed for about an hour--as long as Sarek thought possible before Amanda would begin to worry--which Spock spent in conversation with T'Pring and Sarek spent talking with Salar, discussing their remaining concern about Stonn and a new visitation schedule for Spock and T'Pring.  Spock continued to study her as they talked, trying to detect any change in her attitude or emotions toward him, but T'Pring was, as usual, unreadable--serene in countenance and manner.  Spock interpreted this as acceptance of their destiny and once again told himself that he, too, accepted.
When he and Sarek finally went home, Spock went to bed early, feeling unusually tired as he became aware of a vague discomfort within himself regarding Stonn and T'Pring.  Gradually, however, he dismissed it as he fell asleep, determined never to think of Stonn again.  If this was to be the only response to Spock's attempts to initiate a friendship, Spock resolved to never again reach out to anyone for that much-longed-for emotion--however painful such self-denial might prove to be.

As Spock had requested, T'Pring's visits increased to twice and eventually thrice a month, since Salar was determined that his daughter see more of her bond-mate than of Stonn.  The rumors persisted among Spock's schoolmates, but he no longer paid any attention to them, remembering what Sarek had told him about rumors seldom being based on fact.  Sarek kept in touch with Salar, who carefully monitored T'Pring's visits with Stonn; both remained instinctively distrustful of a male of Stonn's age who was still unbonded, even though, logically speaking, he could not have "chosen" T'Pring, even if he had wanted to.  Besides which, T'Pring had so far given no evidence of personal interest in him.
Two more years passed as Spock became gradually accustomed to T'Pring's frequent presence, and by the time they were together one or two times a week, Stonn had announced to both of them that he had finally chosen a bond-mate from among his and Spock's female schoolmates.  This immediately set the minds of Spock's and T'Pring's parents at ease, and Spock, too, breathed an inward sigh of relief; it did seem odd that Stonn had gone out of his way to see that Spock knew, too--coming to visit him, while T'Pring was there, for the first time since they had met--but Spock was too eager to see Stonn and T'Pring kept apart not to merely accept it without sparing it more than a fleeting thought.
T'Pring had never changed during this time, and the calm and control that Spock had for so long admired in her and tried to emulate began to annoy him, though he kept the emotion carefully suppressed.  His bond with her revealed no emotion when they touched, as they sometimes did now when they were left alone together--certainly nothing like the affection and concern Amanda's touch communicated--only the same cool detachment and resigned acceptance that he felt toward T'Pring.  And it still hurt, no matter how much effort he spent keeping the pain buried.
As if this were not enough, most of Spock's schoolmates had already experienced the arrata symptoms that Sarek had described, and the fact that Spock had not gave them something new to taunt him about (though how they had discovered it, he could not guess; he was certain that neither T'Pring nor his father would have mentioned it to anyone else)--for surely no true Vulcan would have to wait so long for arrata.
As Spock's inner feelings of rejection and isolation intensified, he buried himself in his schoolwork; he was already a proficient student, and it soon became evident that he was going to graduate near the top of his class.  Sarek began making plans for him to attend the Vulcan Science Academy.  His academic success brought Spock pride, as did anything that made him more acceptable in the eyes of his father, but it did little to ease the dull ache of loneliness that remained within him.  He could suppress it, now--keep it hidden under so many layers of logic and emotional control that even T'Pring could not find fault with his comportment--but he still felt it, along with all the other emotions of his Human half, as strongly as ever.
Amanda was there for him, as always, and Spock still managed to make time to be with her each day, for her emotions and Human wisdom often brought him more solace than Vulcan logic alone.  There were still many questions within him: was he Human or Vulcan?  If he was Human, was he destined to be a source of shame for his father and his people all his life?  If he was a Vulcan, could his mother cope with the absence of emotional expression that he would not be able to allow himself--even toward her--for the rest of his life?
Or was he both and neither, something in between, a hybrid--or, as his schoolmates would have him believe, a misfit, a scientific oddity, belonging nowhere (certainly not on Vulcan)?  Discussing these things with Sarek was impossible, because Sarek openly discouraged him from discussing his emotions or anything related to his Human half; he wanted badly to discuss it with Amanda, sensing that she would understand his turmoil, but somehow could not find the words to explain it to her.
Amanda watched her son as time passed, often without his knowledge.  What she saw was a boy nearing young manhood, or normal height and musculature but thinner than was normal for a Vulcan of his age--externally, every inch his father's son--but behind the mask of logic with which he still tried to shield himself from further emotional pain and disappointment, longing to find someone who would accept him as he was.  She ached with empathy for Spock and eagerly provided whatever comfort he would allow her to give.  She worried, too, about the friction between him and Sarek; their relationship had been deteriorating gradually over the last several years as Spock found it more and more difficult to be the ideal Vulcan that he wanted--and his father seemed to expect him--to be.
She knew that Sarek was proud of Spock's accomplishments, but he also seemed to have grown less tolerant of his son's occasional lapses in control--now that Spock had proven that he could do virtually anything a full-blooded Vulcan could do.  He now would not permit any manifestations of Spock's Human weaknesses, though Spock seemed to accept this; what Spock could not adjust to, and had always found unnerving, was Sarek's reaction on the inevitable occasions when he did accidentally do or say something Human--the penetrating, disapproving gaze that always made him feel completely worthless.
Amanda discussed it with Sarek, to no avail; Sarek was not about to lose Spock's hard-won progress in learning the Vulcan way.  It seemed outstandingly unfair to Amanda that Spock had been forced to accept the scorn of his peers and the apparent intolerance of his father as normal, but there seemed little she could do except try to anticipate Spock's emotional needs and  be there when he needed someone to love him.
When Sarek's duties as Ambassador again took him off-planet, Amanda did her best to make Spock feel that he could relax a little; Spock tried to--wanted to badly, and realized that at least a part of him needed to--but it was still difficult with school every day and T'Pring with him many afternoons.  Nonetheless, Spock did feel a little more at ease now that he was out from under his father's critical gaze.  Amanda could see it in his manner--and in his eyes.  For the first time in ages, Spock allowed himself to be with his mother for more than an hour at a time without feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed about the emotions he inevitably revealed in her presence.  She noticed also that he had taken to stargazing, often going outside at night to sit on the terrace for hours as he looked up at the night sky.
What she was not certain of was Spock's thoughts as he looked up at the stars, though (as she would find out later) they would not have surprised her.  His area of expertise in school had always been science, and he knew the names of every star and constellation that lit Vulcan's sky at night--but it was not the factual details of the starscape that interested him, these days; instead, Spock found himself thinking of the planets around those stars, wondering what they looked like from the surface and what their people were like.  Specifically, he wondered how they viewed outsiders--or those among their own who were not of pure blood.
Were they like Vulcans, verbally espousing a philosophy that favored diversity in combination with itself, yet so protective of their own culture and history that any outworlders who tried to become part of it--along with their hybrid offspring--were ostracized and never truly accepted?  Or were they like…well…like the people of his mother's homeworld?  Earth might be no paradise by Vulcan standards, with its wildly emotional, illogical Humans and violent history…but they, at least, had been known to accept outworlders into their midst.
With both Federation and Starfleet Headquarters located there, the Humans of that planet were accustomed to the mingling of other peoples and cultures with their own.  Even with his limited knowledge of Earth as opposed to Vulcan, Spock occasionally questioned, in the privacy of his own
thoughts, which of the two truly followed the philosophy of IDIC.  If Sarek, his principal teacher in such matters, was aware of the apparent double-standard, Spock had never heard him mention it.
Sarek had been gone a couple of weeks when Spock awoke one morning feeling…strange.  He was not certain if it was something physical or not, but something seemed amiss within him.  With no more definite an idea than that of what the problem was, Spock chose not to mention it to Amanda for the time being.  This was not a school day, nor was T'Pring visiting; it was to be a day for him and his mother to spend together, one of the few that Spock could remember in his life, and he did not want to ruin it by causing Amanda what would probably be needless worry.
Spock forced himself to ignore whatever-it-was, but Amanda noticed it, too.  And eventually, as she was preparing a picnic lunch for them to take out to the garden, she felt compelled to ask him about it.  "Spock…is something bothering you?"
"I think perhaps I did not get enough sleep last night," Spock responded evasively, picking up one of the trays and heading toward the door with it.
Amanda was not convinced, but she knew it was pointless to try to get him to talk about something he was determined not to discuss.  She gathered up her own tray and followed him silently out the door.
They went down into the garden to the picnic area--a beautiful, shady spot where Sarek had had a table-and-bench grouping built, elaborately carved out of a marble-like stone that was gray with threads of blue and green running through it, as an anniversary present for Amanda some years ago; this was one of the few times that she had been able to use it.  She set out the food and they began to eat, atypically engaging in a conversation as they ate--something Sarek would never have allowed.
Spock appeared calm and relaxed as they talked, but inwardly, he was forcing himself to ignore the vague feeling of discomfort that persisted within him.  Afterwards, he remained in the garden, lost in thought as Amanda took the trays back up to the kitchen; when she returned, they went for a walk through the garden.
At length, Spock spoke again.  "Mother, do you not find life on Vulcan…difficult?"  he asked curiously.
"Sometimes," Amanda admitted quietly.  "Why do you ask?"
"Because…I find it difficult, and I am Vulcan.  I was wondering how you cope with the difficulty," Spock explained reasonably.
Amanda smiled at him understandingly.  "Well, I have you and your father to help me."
"Oh."  Spock looked and sounded disappointed, despite all efforts to the contrary, since Amanda's response was not particularly helpful.  "But…Father…" he paused uncomfortably in his attempt to elaborate, ashamed of his distrust of Sarek.  "…Father only confuses me at such times.  He always says the same thing--that I should do what is correct for a Vulcan to do.  And I do, or try to, but it seems so…insufficient.  Mother, I have begun to think that…I can never be a true Vulcan."
Amanda very cautiously slipped an arm around his shoulders as they walked.  "There are worse things than being half-Human, Spock--things like being lonely and unhappy," she told him, sighing.  "I wish I could make you believe that."
The feeling of discomfort within Spock was beginning to multiply geometrically in intensity, and suddenly he was aware of brief bursts of pain in various parts of his body.  Afraid that Amanda would sense this through physical contact, Spock pulled away from her touch, a little more abruptly than he had intended to.  "If I were not half-Human, those emotions would not affect me," he retorted coldly.
However, this sudden, drastic and seemingly unjustified mood change set off more internal alarms within Amanda than any touch-empathic awareness of his physical state could have.  "Spock?"  she questioned anxiously.
Spock had moved some distance away from her, standing very still as he tried to coolly and logically analyze what was happening to him--but the ability seemed to have fled at the first pangs of the mysterious pain.  He felt it in his arms and stomach now, sharp and burning, but mercifully not continuous--and suddenly, he knew what it was.  Whether it was the realization or the pain that then filled him with blind, Human panic, Spock did not know.  But he was terrified.  "Mother!"  he cried suddenly.
She was by his side instantly.  "Spock, what is it?"  she demanded, increasingly frightened.
"Mother…I am ill," he managed to say.  "I…I think it is arrata.  Please…please help me…"
"My God…" Amanda took him carefully in her arms, holding him for a moment.  "Come on, I'll take you inside."
She led him back toward the house, Spock clinging to her every step of the way, then took him to his room; by that time, his body had begun to tremble.  He curled up on his bed, still trembling, and Amanda looked on in horror.  It was her worst nightmare come true--Spock taken by arrata without Sarek around to help--but Sarek had prepared her, making sure she would know what to do for Spock if it happened while his father was off-planet, and Amanda quickly regained as much of her composure as was possible for a Human under the circumstances.  "I'll get a hold of Salar.  T'Pring can be here in ten minutes," she told Spock, starting to get up.
"No!"  Spock protested emphatically, then tried to speak again in a more controlled voice.  "No…please…Mother…do not…leave me," he entreated, with difficulty.
Amanda sat back down, remembering what Sarek had told her: Spock and T'Pring would both know when the pon farr would require them to be together, and it was unlikely that this "awakening" of the symptoms would require consummation, anyway.  If Spock did not want to see T'Pring, it was best to accede to his wishes--and right now, he was simply frightened of the new and painful sensations his body and mind were experiencing.  "All right, Spock--I'm here," she assured him gently.
Spock uncurled himself just enough to move up against Amanda's side, and she held him quietly in her arms for a long time after that, until the tremors had subsided completely and he fell asleep with his head on her shoulder.

The pon farr symptoms lasted for several days, during which Spock ate only twice and stayed in his room.  T'Pring visited once, aware of his condition and wanting to observe it for herself, but she retreated respectfully when it became evident that all Spock really needed was privacy.  Amanda, however, kept herself at his disposal; she took care of him, staying with him whenever he seemed to want company, for as long as he seemed to need it.  Somewhat reluctantly, she also called Dr. Satik, who came over, gave Spock an examination that was as brief as possible, and advised Amanda to keep him out of school until all the symptoms were completely gone.
Spock was still being affected, in fact, when Sarek returned, and it was only after repeated assurances by her son that he would be all right alone for the period of time required to go to Vulcan Space Central to pick up Sarek that Amanda--having flirted with over-protectiveness toward him ever since the arrata had begun to afflict him--was willing to leave him.  After further thought, she chose to wait until she had returned home with Sarek before breaking the news to him.
Sarek knew from her manner, though, that something was wrong, and he questioned her about it as soon as they were inside the house.  "Amanda, you seem troubled.  What has happened during my absence?"
Amanda turned to him hesitantly.  "It's Spock.  I didn't want to tell you at the spaceport…"
"Tell me what?"  Sarek demanded warily, when it became apparent that she was unwilling to finish.
"Spock has been having…pon farr symptoms, she revealed cautiously.
Though Sarek carefully controlled his reaction to this, Amanda saw something of it in his eyes as he spoke.  "Arrata," he concluded gravely.
Amanda nodded.  "So I assume.  T'Pring's been here once since it happened, but Spock didn't seem to want to see her."
"That is to be expected with his first such experience," Sarek reminded her.  "What symptoms has he shown?"
"Nervousness, physical pain…and it's been a few days since he ate," Amanda recalled.  "But nothing you'd really call irrationality, except…fear.  I've never seen him so scared before."
Again, Sarek did not seem surprised.  "Has Satik seen him yet?"
"Yes.  He said it appeared to be a normal onset of arrata, but Spock should stay home from school until the symptoms were gone," Amanda reported, leading him down the hall toward Spock's room.  It's been going on for a little over a week."
They reached the door of Spock's room, and Amanda went inside while Sarek watched from the doorway with the door open just wide enough for him to see through.  She went to where Spock sat on his bed, curled up, trembling, with his back to the door, and sat down beside him.
"Spock," she said softly.
"Mother?"  Spock replied, just audibly, turning with some difficulty to face her.  She was the only one he would have permitted to see him just now.  He had discovered that any movement produced a stinging pain in various parts of his body which his normal methods of pain control seemed to have no power over; now he merely tolerated it--or tried to--as one of the "physical changes" that Sarek had mentioned as being a part of arrata.  "Is Father back, yet?"  he asked, then.
"Yes, Spock, he's back," Amanda told him, unable to keep a certain amount of regret out of her voice.  She had enjoyed this time alone with Spock, arrata notwithstanding, and there was no way of knowing when such an opportunity might arise again.
"Is he displeased with me…for being afraid?"
"No, Spock--that I can promise you," she assured him gently.  "He understands.  Every Vulcan is afraid of the pon farr."
"Even him?"  Spock questioned dubiously.  He had never known Sarek to be intimidated by anything.
"Even him," Amanda reiterated.
Spock lowered his eyes and reached to take his mother's hands in his, pressing close against her, ostensibly in the knowledge that the physical contact tended to quiet his shaking body when he could not control the tremors himself--but he was also more aware than ever of his emotions, and of the fear and embarrassment that were now his principal motivations.  For whatever reason, Amanda's presence was the only thing he had found so far that consistently eased those feelings.  Amanda responded by holding him in her arms.  "It hurts…oh, it hurts…Mother, please make it stop," he pleaded, whispering.
"You know I would if I could," Amanda returned sincerely, but feeling helpless and frustrated.
Spock nodded understandingly, hugging her clumsily in response--the first time in years that he had tried to do so.  "If…if I tell you something, would you promise not to tell Father?"
"Of course.  What is it?"  she prompted.
"I wish…that I could be Human.  I would prefer not to repeat this experience…particularly if it gets worse, as Father says," Spock admitted reluctantly.
Amanda lifted his chin so that he was looking up at her again.  "Would you like to know a secret?"
"Yes," he replied curiously.
"I wish you could be Human, too."
Amanda did not add that this was not the first time--that she had wished that wish repeatedly throughout Spock's life, for the sake of his happiness and emotional well-being, despite her awareness of its "illogic"--but Spock somehow understood it anyway as he looked back up at her.

After Amanda managed to get Spock to fall asleep again, she got up quietly and left his room to join Sarek.  Then they went quietly back to their own bedroom, where Amanda took the opportunity  to voice her own concerns about the pon farr.  "I suppose this means we have to give up any hopes of Spock being immune to pon farr because of his Human half."
Sarek shook his head determinedly, choosing his words with care as he responded.  "The evidence so far is still inconclusive; until Spock experiences a true pon farr--one that requires consummation--it will remain so.  If that does not occur by the time he has reached full physicla maturity, it is still possible that it never will."
"Are you sure?"  Amanda asked dubiously.
"Let us say that I find no cause sufficient to 'give up hope' entirely," Sarek returned, keeping his voice carefully neutral.  "Also, Spock's lack of irrationality is an encouraging sign; I believe he would discover, if he dared to ask, that his schoolmates experienced it to a much greater degree when they went through arrata."
Amanda did not even try to suppress the relief that filled her at the thought that Spock still might be spared the full fury of the pon farr as she had seen it in Sarek.  "Then it's true.  You still believe it's possible," she concluded.
"Yes, my wife.  It is perhaps the first time that I have found myself grateful for his Human half…and regretful that he could not be allowed to develop it more," Sarek reflected thoughtfully.  "Contrary to what I may have led you to believe, I am as aware as you that he will always have that part of himself to contend with, no matter how much effort he spends suppressing it.  I…trust…that his Human half will assert itself when he needs it most."
Amanda accepted this silently, for the time being ignoring the questions that immediately presented themselves to her--such as how Spock's Human half could be expected to be strong enough to counteract the pon farr when everything within and around Spock was telling him to keep that part of himself out of sight and out of mind.  She forced herself not to dwell on it, thinking instead of how badly Spock wanted that protection--and how badly Sarek wanted it for him.  It was the first matter to arise in quite some time in which Amanda felt she could confidently say that all three of them wanted the same thing.


Within four more days, Spock's arrata symptoms had disappeared without a trace, and with nothing more serious in the way of lingering after-effects than a slight but noticeable weight loss and a sizeable backlog of schoolwork to catch up on.  Amanda quickly and enthusiastically set about restoring Spock to his normal weight, and Spock, by devoting virtually all of his afternoons and evenings to his schoolwork, managed to get completely caught up in a matter of days; thus things were soon back to what passed for normal in the household of Sarek of Vulcan.
The ensuing months were increasingly difficult for Spock as he grew more and more dissatisfied with his situation.  He had by now mastered all the accepted methods of emotional control--and his telepathic skills, though they remained rather erratic (as expected), were adequate.  Sarek seemed to realize that he had taught Spock all he could in those all he could in those areas and now tried to save his expressions of disapproval for Spock's more serious errors, though it was perhaps too late to erase the damage his inflexibility had done to his son's self-esteem over the years.  And Spock was still isolated from his peers; his schoolmates were slowly growing beyond the tendency toward verbal abuse and name-calling, now finding more subtle ways to make it clear that they would have nothing to do with him.
And he found no solace in the company of T'Pring.  Their bond gave him no comfort, for there were no emotions within her of the type that would have been reassuring to him--no apparent concern for his feelings, no gentleness, no…love.  T'Pring had never changed; she was beautiful, cold and logical--surely the perfect Vulcan wife--but it was duty and honor alone that bound her to Spock, and the prospect of marriage to her was still very unsettling.  Spock still secretly longed to marry someone who would love and accept him, as his mother did, but it seemed that there was no one like that on Vulcan.  Apparently, it simply was not to be.
For years, Spock had harbored deep within himself, buried under layers of logic and heavily shielded, a dream of leaving Vulcan and making a new--and hopefully better--life for himself somewhere else.  He had shared this dream with no one but Amanda, knowing full well what Vulcan reaction to it would have been; he wanted to tell T'Pring, and indeed would have to, eventually--particularly if and when he actually managed to do it--but he knew he would first have to have it fully planned out.  At the moment, he still had no idea how such a trip could be managed, where he could go, or what logical explanation he could give for it to Sarek and T'Pring.
It was during Spock's last year of school, when he was eighteen and T'Pring had already graduated the year before, that an opportunity finally presented itself.  In a rare event, ShiKahr Secondary School's senior class had a visitor from off-planet who spoke to them one morning before they began their daily studies.  He was a dark-haired, blue-eyed Human in uniform who introduced himself as Lieutenant Henderson and said he represented Starfleet, and Spock listened in rapt fascination as he spoke of space exploration, contact with other races of intelligent life, and the preservation--when necessary--of Federation peace.  When Henderson's speech was concluded, he called for questions, and Spock--being naturally a bit shy, anyway--waited to see what his schoolmates would ask.
Only a couple bothered to respond, and then only to question the military aspects of Starfleet, which sparked a polite but rather heated debate that Henderson saw early on he would not be able to win.  It was only out of a sense of duty that he made the customary announcement about being set up at a table in the hallway in case anyone wanted further information.  One of the reasons Starfleet recruiters so seldom came to Vulcan any more was that previous efforts there had generally proven to be exercises in futility; the Vulcans, pacifists by nature (if not by ancestry), always listened politely to the speeches, then declined to have anything to do with a military organization that used force--however reluctantly--to achieve its goals.
For Spock, however, this was a minor point, and the advantages of a career in Starfleet definitely seemed to outweigh the disadvantages.  It would provide him what he considered a logical reason to leave Vulcan…and it would give him a sense of purpose, of being wanted and needed, that he so far lacked.  Thus, when he learned that Henderson was only going to be there for one day, he made a point of picking up a computer tape of his school records during the lunch recess.  He found Lieutenant Henderson sitting at his makeshift desk, presently occupied with a portable computer terminal and some work obviously contrived to keep himself busy; apparently, none of his schoolmates had been interested.  Spock stood at the desk for several minutes before Henderson noticed him.
Finally, however, he looked up at Spock in surprise.  "Yes?  Are you interested in Starfleet?"  He prompted doubtfully.  The only Vulcans to stop by so far had done so merely out of the inevitable curiosity associated with finding a Human in their midst.
"Yes, sir.  Your purpose here is recruitment, is it not?"  Spock returned calmly.
Henderson recovered quickly, but with some difficulty.  "Of course.  It's just that we usually don't get any…never mind.  What would you like to know?"
"How does one join?"  Spock asked, then.
"In your case, you would fill out an application form for enrollment in Starfleet Academy, I send it, and in a few weeks, you hear back from them on whether or not they've accepted you," Henderson replied amiably.  "Got your records with you?"
"Yes, sir," Spock replied, handing him the tape.
Henderson got rid of whatever-it-was on the viewer that he had been working with and inserted the tape, displaying Spock's records, skimming through them in silence for a time.  "Impressive, Spock," he commented finally.  "You seem to have an unusual aptitude for life and computer sciences."
Spock couldn't help feeling proud of that fact, and he thought it might be permissible, under the circumstances, to allow a little of that pride to show in his voice and manner as he responded.  "Thank you, sir…I try.  My father taught me much of it; he is a scientist."
Henderson nodded in acknowledgement of this.  "And what is it that you hope to do in Starfleet?"  he asked curiously.
Spock carefully kept his emotional and personal goals to himself.  "Naturally, science is my field of choice.  I think also that I would like…a position on one of those starships you described."
"Well, based on what I see here, I see no reason why you couldn't eventually be an excellent starship science officer," Henderson observed.
"Really?"  Spock questioned, startled by Henderson's unexpectedly complimentary attitude.  It was quite the opposite of what he was used to, but Spock sensed the Human's sincerity--clearly, this was not just standard recruitment rhetoric--and felt oddly at ease in his presence.  But he revealed nothing of this as he responded.  "I would find that most satisfying," he admitted carefully.
Henderson smiled at him, pleased to find a Vulcan who was so interested in Starfleet.  "Would you like to fill out an application now?"
"Yes, please," Spock replied, again unable to keep all the emotion--eagerness, this time--out of his voice.
"All right, let me get the form out…" Henderson dug around under the desk and pulled out the electronic notepad with the form on it.  They quickly went through the part requiring Spock's name and vital statistics.  "Now, Spock, I need some background information on your family.  We can start with the name and description of your mother."
"Her name is Amanda; before she and my father were married, she had the surname of Grayson," Spock began dutifully.
Henderson looked up, startled.  "She's not Vulcan, then?"
"No, she is Human--born and raised on Earth."
Henderson made a note of this.  "Go on."
"She has fair skin, auburn hair, blue eyes…and is roughly 5'6" tall."
"All right, good enough.  And your father?"
"His name is Sarek."
Henderson's head snapped up again and he stared at Spock in surprise.  "Sarek?  Ambassador Sarek?  He's your father?"
Spock nodded, mildly puzzled and surprised that his father was so well-known.  "You have heard of him?"
"Almost everyone in Starfleet has heard of Ambassador Sarek," Henderson informed him.  "Of  course, I don't think anyone ever suspected he had a Human wife."
"It is possible he never mentioned her.  Vulcans seldom discuss their personal lives in public," Spock returned neutrally, though somewhere deep within him, the thought that Sarek might be deliberately hiding the fact that his wife was Human disturbed him extremely.
"Yes, I'd heard that, too."  Henderson continued to write for a moment, then looked back up at Spock again.  "So you're his son.  Well, it's an honor to meet you."
Spock bowed his head in acceptance of and gratitude for the compliment.  "If you require physical statistics--"
"No, we have his on file," Henderson assured him, cutting him off.  "Now, one last thing: why do you want to join Starfleet?"
Spock raised an eyebrow at him, the only external sign that the question was unexpected.  Is that information required on the application?"  he asked.
Henderson nodded, waiting.
Again, Spock said nothing of his personal motivations.  "I find the idea of encountering life--especially intelligent life--on other worlds intriguing, and surely there could be no more fascinating subjects for scientific study than those one could find as part of the crew of a starship whose primary mission is the exploration of space," he explained.  He was pleased with the explanation; for an extemporaneous speech, it was concise, truthful, logical, and did not reveal any undue emotion.  Sarek would have been proud of him…if only he had not already made his own plans for his son's future.  Spock forced thoughts of Sarek out of his mind and quickly returned his attention to the Human before him.
Henderson, meanwhile, had finished transcribing Spock's statement.  "Okay, that's it, then.  I'll transmit the application myself as soon as possible, and you should know whether or not you're accepted in about a month," he told Spock, putting away the electronic notepad.
"Thank you," Spock replied, starting to leave.
"Spock, I should point out that, if you're accepted, you'll be the only Vulcan at Starfleet Academy," Henderson warned him.  He'd heard that a ship was being built for an intended all-Vulcan crew complement, a ploy designed by Starfleet to both lure more Vulcans into joining and--on a political front--to pacify Vulcan members of the Federation Council who were worried about anti-Starfleet and secessionist factions on the homeworld, but it seemed pointless to pass on unsubstantiated information.
"I had assumed that, sir.  If I had any reservations about it, I would not have asked to apply," Spock assured him quietly, inwardly touched and grateful for Henderson's apparent concern for his potential feelings of isolation.  The Human could not know that such emotions were hardly new to him.
Henderson nodded again in acknowledgement of this, and Spock sensed that the Lieutenant was pleased with him.  He would have liked to remain and continued to talk, since Henderson was the first Human he had ever met outside his family--and the only person (again, outside his family) who had been able to hold a conversation with him without appearing critical or condescending, even after learning of his mixed heritage--but Spock could find no logical reason to stay.  He turned slowly and left, passing a wall clock and realizing that if he hurried, he might still have time to eat lunch before class resumed.

Spock decided to tell T'Pring first, but it was several days before he mustered enough courage to do so; by that time, the news of Spock's application to Starfleet Academy was spreading rapidly among his schoolmates.  When T'Pring came to see Spock at his invitation and they were alone in the garden--which was where they usually spent their time together, since T'Pring had never lost her fascination for its beauty and its unique blend of Terran and Vulcan flora--it was she who began the conversation.  "Spock, I am gratified that you asked me to come over today.  There is something I must discuss with you."
"Indeed?  What is it?"  Spock asked curiously.
"Stonn told me that you applied for enrollment in Starfleet Academy."
"Stonn?  T'Pring, I thought we agreed--"
"One subject at a time, please.  Is it true?"
Spock sighed, coming closer to her.  "Yes, it is.  That is why I wanted to see you."
T'Pring raised an eyebrow at him in an expression of complete uncomprehension and disbelief--the most emotion Spock had seen her show in ages.  "Why would you do this?"  she demanded.  "Have you finally forgotten that you are Vulcan?"
"Then why?"
"It is necessary.  I have decided that I would prefer to pursue a scientific career outside Vulcan," Spock explained carefully.  "I would like to tell you why…if only you could understand my reasons."
"How can I know if I would understand them if you do not tell me what they are?"
Spock still hesitated; T'Pring's manner was not particularly encouraging, but he wanted her to know the truth…even if it proved meaningless to her.  "You surely know that I am not accepted here, as a Vulcan or even as a Human," he elaborated, with difficulty.  "There is a chance that I will be accepted in Starfleet; however small that chance is, it is more than I have on Vulcan, and I must take it.  Can you understand that, T'Pring?"
But T'Pring's only response to Spock's pleading expression was a slow shake of her head, indicating that she felt no more enlightened than before.  "All I understand is that you are allowing your emotions to drive you to betray your own people," she retorted coolly.  "Sarek told me that you would be entering the Science Academy next year.  Have you discussed this with him?"
Spock shook his head.  "Not yet."
"You know he will not permit it."
"I know.  I will have to convince him to change his mind about the Science Academy."  Spock knew T'Pring's apparent disapproval foreshadowed Sarek's reaction, but it made no difference; if he did not move now and instead allowed Sarek to convince him to go to the Science Academy, he knew he would never again have the chance to leave Vulcan.
"What of your life here?  What of our bond, and your duty as a Vulcan?"  T'Pring's voice was filled with controlled but apparent indignation.
"I will remember our bond--and my duty as a Vulcan," Spock assured her, vaguely aware that his emotions were no longer completely under control; his voice revealed a certain amount of resentment, born of pain, that was not directed entirely at her.  Somehow, though, his breached emotional control did not seem to matter just now.  "When the time comes, I will return to Vulcan for our wedding, as is the custom.
He did not dare mention his belief that he had no life on Vulcan, since Vulcan had never really claimed him--nor did he dare mention the secret hope remaining within him, still shared by his parents, that his Human blood would protest him from the pon farr's fatal effects (and thus negate his bond with T'Pring, freeing him to choose his own bond-mate when he was ready…or perhaps even to choose a wife according to Human customs, though as yet Spock did not know enough about such customs to even consider them seriously as an option).
T'Pring looked at him with veiled contempt in her eyes.  "And afterwards?  Will you then give up Starfleet and return to take your proper place as my husband and the son of Sarek--or do you perhaps expect me to leave my home and my world to return with you?"
"That would be pointless, particularly if I am assigned to a starship.  It is best if you remain here, and I will visit you when I can."  Spock knew hoe that sounded, but there was little else he could do; he was determined never to return to Vulcan to stay permanently--at least, not until he could prove his worthiness to the satisfaction of his father and his people.  However illogical it seemed, he knew now that he could not do that on Vulcan.
"'Visit'?"  T'Pring repeated incredulously.  "Spock, I will tell you what I believe Sarek will tell you: your proper place is here on Vulcan, with your own people," she told him, as patiently as possible.
Spock shook his head, regretful but unwilling to be dissuaded.  "No, T'Pring.  I am Vulcan, but my place is not among Vulcans.  I must accept that, and so must you."
The conversation seemed to be going nowhere, and T'Pring could think of nothing more to say.  Once thing was for certain: if Spock thought he could simply go away, leaving her to wait until some indefinite point in the future for him to return in pon farr, marry her, then abandon her again to return to Starfleet and expect her to endure it all without question or protest (whatever form that protest might take), he was gravely mistaken.
As if aware of her thoughts, Spock suddenly continued.  "Speaking of things that appear illogical, I still wish to know why you were talking to Stonn."
It was clear from T'Pring's expression that she did not appreciate the implication that talking to Stonn was illogical.  "If you must know, Stonn spoke to me first.  He heard about your application and thought I should know about it," she informed him coolly.
"I do not suppose it occurred to him that I would tell you myself," Spock concluded dryly.  "What is his interest in you?  He has his own bond-mate."
"I do not know," T'Pring replied truthfully.  She did not elaborate, however, which made Spock noticeably uncomfortable.

T'Pring gave the appearance of accepting Spock's decision, keeping what he had told her to herself, and Spock turned his attention to planning how to break the news to Sarek.  He was so preoccupied during the following days, both at home and at school, that he almost did not see T'Pring and Stonn talking together in the schoolyard during recess one day a week or so later.  They, of course, immediately fell silent as Spock approached, and he focused his attention on T'Pring.
"Stonn was telling me the latest news of his bond-mate," T'Pring informed him casually.
"What news?"  Spock asked, somewhat suspiciously.
"T'Lyssa'a family is moving away within the next month," Stonn elaborated.
"Unfortunate," Spock commented, though Stonn did not seem particularly bothered by the idea.
"Inconvenient--for her," Stonn corrected tolerantly, cocking an eyebrow at Spock and looking at him pointedly.  "You see, they are moving off-planet.  T'Lyssa's father accepted a position on Thalis."  Thalis was a planet in the Thal system, roughly a week's travel from Vulcan by passenger transport ship, which hosted a Federation colony and several well-known research facilities.
Spock strove to appear unperturbed.  "What is it that you are leading up to, Stonn?"  he demanded, knowing there must be some ulterior motive behind Stonn's words.
"Merely a reminder, and a warning: you, too, propose to leave Vulcan permanently, regardless of your duty to your own people and your bond-mate," Stonn returned mildly.  "If you leave T'Pring to wait alone for the time of your wedding, then leave her again to tend your home and perhaps bear your child alone, it may be that…others will be found to provide her with…companionship."
Spock closed the distance between them.  "Is that a threat?"
Stonn stood up to face him.  "Take it as you will," he retorted, a clear note of challenge evident in his voice.
For a tense moment, they stood eye-to-eye, and Spock was painfully aware that Stonn was still noticeably larger and more muscular than he was; Stonn could well have beaten him to a pulp if it came to a contest between them, but Spock would not permit himself to be afraid.  "Threats are illogical," he declared neutrally, at last.  Then he looked at T'Pring.
T'Pring's expression was innocence personified as she looked back at him; her eyes, cold and serene, revealed nothing.  It was impossible to tell from looking at her what part she had played in this notion, or if she had any part in it at all.
Their eyes met and locked, and then Spock's mind spoke to hers: Have you nothing to say?
What is there to say?  You have made your decision, T'Pring's mind responded.
It was the only one possible, Spock's mind told her, once again.
And if Sarek prevents you from going?
I will not allow him to, Spock's mind assured her.
So be it.  T'Pring's mind conveyed both resignation and resentfulness.
And what of Stonn?  Spock's mind demanded.
He holds no interest for me, at present.  But he is a Vulcan, he is here, and he wants me; I suggest you consider that.
Spock abruptly broke the tentative mental contact and turned away from them, departing in turmoil--which he hid behind the pretense of becoming interested in something across the schoolyard.  It turned out to be the last time he saw T'Pring before leaving Vulcan.  She seemed to be deliberately avoiding him, and no amount of pleading or chastising from Salar or Sarek (neither of whom knew of Spock's intentions) could persuade her otherwise.

Weeks passed while Spock tried to plan what to say to Sarek that would convince him to accept his son's decision to join Starfleet.  It would be difficult, he knew, because Vulcan tradition dictated that the son follow in the footsteps of the father, and Sarek by now expected to enroll him in the Vulcan Science Academy next year.  Certainly he would not approve of Spock becoming a part of a military organization, nor was he likely to understand the emotions behind Spock's choice; Spock had to make his father see that it was logical for him to leave Vulcan, and he feared that that might well prove to be impossible.
The time for what passed in the world of Vulcan public education as a graduation ceremony began to approach rapidly and, though it was not Sarek's way to express pride in his son, Spock nonetheless sensed it in his manner.  Seldom during the weeks immediately before and after Spock's graduation did Sarek exude his usual aura of unapproachability or disapproval, and Spock could not bring himself to risk destroying his father's mood and ruining his graduation by broaching the subject of Starfleet.  Thus the graduation ceremony came and went with Spock's decision unmentioned--allowing Sarek and Amanda to enjoy their son's vresit t'cherna (with highest honors) graduation in peace.
Finally, a couple of weeks into what on Earth would have been referred to as Spock's "summer vacation", Spock realized he could put off discussion with Sarek no longer; Sarek was spending extra time at the Science Academy, taking care of the paperwork and other details of preparing the way for Spock's enrollment, and many of the instructors--so Sarek had told him--were now expecting him.  After due consideration, Spock decided he would tell Amanda first.  She had always been there for him, understanding the emotional needs of his Human half when he could not, and he was sure she would support him in this.
When she found Spock standing out on the terrace one night after Sarek had gone to bed, staring up at the stars--as he did almost every night, now--Spock took advantage of the opportunity her presence provided to take up the matter with her.
"Spock?  What are you doing out here at this hour?"  Amanda asked.
Spock pretended to ignore the concern in her voice as he replied.  "Thinking.  It is quiet here, and…there are the stars, too."  He lowered his eyes and turned around to face her, sitting down on the terrace railing.  "Mother, I need to discuss something with you," he began slowly.
"What is it?"  Amanda prompted warily.
"You know that I have for some time considered leaving Vulcan to make a life for myself elsewhere.  Mother, I have found a way to do it."  Spock's voice was calm, but there was excited anticipation shining within his eyes that he was apparently unaware of.
"What do you mean?  How?"  Amanda inquired, at once startled and anxious.
"Shortly before graduation, a Starfleet recruiter visited our school.  I applied for enrollment in Starfleet Academy," Spock revealed then, hesitantly, watching her curiously for a reaction.
"Spock, you didn't!"  she cried in alarm.  She knew it was not the response he had hoped for, but her mind was racing as she tried to contemplate Sarek's reaction to this.
"I just said I did.  Do you not believe me?"  Spock returned, puzzled.
"No.  I mean, yes--of course.  But not now."  Amanda fought off the shock and tried to regain her composure.  "Your father expects you to got to the Science Academy next year," she reminded him.
"I know that…but I cannot go," Spock told her matter-of-factly.
"I take it he doesn't know about this yet."
"No.  I have not been able to find the right time…or the right words…to tell him.  But I must do so soon; it will not be much longer before I find out if I have been accepted."
It was then that Amanda realized, more from the pleading expression in Spock's eyes than from his words, what he was leading up to.  "What if you're accepted at the Science Academy first?" she questioned dubiously.
Spock bowed his head.  "I do not know.  I only know that…it is not an option," he responded quietly, but with increasing difficulty.  "Father would say that contradicting tradition is illogical.  But, Mother, he never asked my preferences in the matter; I never objected because I knew it was the Vulcan way…and I wanted him, of all people, to believe I was Vulcan.
"However, I will not…endure…another series of academic experiences such as befell me in primary and secondary school."  A touch of bitterness entered his voice.  "I used to think that adult Vulcans would treat me differently than they did as children.  I was wrong.  I will never be Vulcan enough for them because I will always be half-Human, and there are times when I cannot…Mother, there must be a place somewhere where I can contribute something of value and at least be accepted as I am."
Amanda heard the loneliness and longing behind the controlled voice as Spock looked back up at the stars again.
"That place is up there somewhere, and I mean to find it," Spock concluded finally.  He felt Amanda slip an arm around his shoulders, and, after a few minutes, turned toward her again.  "You have always seemed to understand such things," he pointed out hopefully.
"And so I do, Amanda asserted, smiling reassuringly.
"Then, will you help me tell Father?"  Spock asked, making a rather obvious attempt to control his anxiety.
Amanda had begun to wonder when he was going to get around to asking her.  "It's not going to be easy.  He made up his mind some time ago that you were going to the Science Academy.  Between Vulcan tradition and Human stubbornness, it's going to be hard to make him see it your way--but it is your life and your decision," she admitted finally.  "I'll do what I can.  In the meantime, I think it's time we both went to bed."
Spock allowed her to hug him, then got up and followed her back toward the house, wondering whether or not he would get any sleep that night.  It was just the first step in what would probably be a long and agonizing process.  His decision directly contradicted Vulcan tradition and the part of Vulcan philosophy that espoused avoiding violence at all costs, and he knew he could expect Sarek to fight him all the way.  As Spock saw it, however, he had one thing on his side: another tenet of Vulcan philosophy, IDIC, which would certainly support the mingling of races and contact with new worlds and alien life that would be a routine part of his career in Starfleet.

*    *    *    *    *    *

Spock stopped speaking abruptly, filled with shame as he realized he had revealed far more than he had originally intended to.  After a long period of silence, he lifted his bowed head and looked hesitantly up at Kirk; he found Kirk regarding him patiently but with an increasingly anxious expression on his face.  Spock met his eyes briefly, then looked down again.  "Captain, forgive me.  I did not mean to be so…talkative."
"I don't think you would have been unless you needed to," Kirk pointed out gently.
Spock looked up at him sharply, but was calmed by the understanding he saw in his friend's eyes.  "Perhaps," he admitted reluctantly, aware that  he himself had no logical explanation for expounding in such detail on his relationship with T'Pring and his childhood in general, and thus could not confidently deny the possibility of what Kirk was suggesting.  Spock considered the matter; he had the power to erase, though mind-meld, Kirk's memory of everything he had said, and he was sure Kirk would have given him permission to do so for the sake of his Vulcan friend's peace of mind.
For a moment, he thought seriously about doing it--but, no.  He could live with the revelation.  Kirk could be trusted to keep it to himself.  Invading his mind in that manner was not necessary--but Spock needed to be sure that Kirk understood the importance of his silence.  "I trust you can understand, Captain," he continued softly.  "Most of what I have said was never meant to be discussed, even with you.  When I told you of the pon farr, you promised it would remain between us…"
"And I'll make the same promise again," Kirk assured him.  "Don't worry, I know when something's been told to me in confidence--particularly when it comes from you."
Spock lifted his head finally, accepting Kirk's promise.  "Odd.  I have not thought about T'Pring in years," he reflected thoughtfully.  "I wonder now if my mental bond with her was entirely complete or effective, since I also never suspected she planned to choose kal-if-fee for the sake of having Stonn."  He averted his eyes from Kirk, suddenly embarrassed and uneasy again.  "I suppose she was never fully able to adjust to the idea of marrying a…half-Vulcan.
Kirk searched for words that would comfort him.  "Spock…I think you do deserve better than T'Pring.  From what you've told me, I know that thought has at least occurred to you," he observed, cautiously but sincerely.
"It did, infrequently, but I dismissed it," Spock admitted quietly, still not looking at him.  "Such thoughts were pointless and illogical."
"Why?  Because they weren't 'Vulcan'?"  Kirk questioned, challenging not Spock but this aspect of Vulcan culture that seemed to have caused him so much distress.
"That was part of it," Spock asserted, understanding the emotions behind the slightly sarcastic tone of Kirk's voice and finally looking at him again.  "Do you not see, Jim?  There was no one else.  It was necessary for me to have a bond-mate, and only T'Pring was willing to bond with me; I was fortunate to find anyone, 'contaminated' as I was by Human blood.  All my life I have done my best to adhere to the Vulcan way, but apparently that was not sufficient…and yet, there is too much Vulcan within me now for me to ever be anything else--to anyone else."
Kirk made a futile attempt to ignore the agony behind the pain in Spock's voice, settling for grabbing the Vulcan by the shoulders and turning him around to face his Captain.  "That's enough of that, Spock," he said firmly.  "In the first place, this hardly seems like the right time for you to be denigrating your Human half."
Spock was startled by the sudden physical reaction, but he saw Kirk's point.  "True.  A month ago, I would have given almost anything to be Human," he admitted softly.
"And in the second place," Kirk continued determinedly, "I happen to think you're wrong."
Spock raised an eyebrow at him.  "About what?"
"About not ever being anything to anyone else besides T'Pring," Kirk elaborated carefully.
Spock bowed his head in a deliberate attempt to hide his reaction to this, already suspecting what Kirk must be thinking of.
"Look, it's almost 0600--I need to start getting ready," Kirk told him finally, releasing Spock's shoulders and getting up slowly from the bed.
Spock got up also.  "Then I should go," he concluded resignedly, wishing illogically that he could go with Kirk.  Somehow, Kirk was always able to restore his self-confidence at times like this.  For the first time in a while, Spock looked Kirk directly in the eyes as he stood before his Captain with his hands clasped behind his back.  "Jim, thank you…for listening to me for so long," he said sincerely.
Kirk waved him off, smiling affectionately.  "I told you--any time you want to talk, that's what I'm here for."
Spock nodded gratefully in acknowledgement.
Kirk paused then as he started to reach for his clothes.  "Spock…will you let me give you some advice?"  he offered tentatively.
"Of course.  As long as you are aware that I may not follow it," Spock returned calmly, but with a touch of attempted humor--though he was, as always, grateful for any input Kirk had to offer.
"All right, here it is.  First, go down to Sickbay and see Nurse Chapel; I think a few minutes of talking to her will make you feel a little better about yourself," Kirk recommended kindly.  "Then, I want you to go back to your cabin and get some sleep."
Spock considered this.  The last thing he had done before being officially declared physically recovered from the pon farr by Dr. McCoy was fully explain to Christine Chapel what had happened to him; he had not originally planned to, but she had been so gentle and understanding during his recovery, doing her best to take care of him--despite having no real idea what was wrong with him--that Spock had decided she deserved to know the truth.  Kirk had never been told about this, but he knew that Christine was in love with Spock and that Spock harbored a certain amount of emotion for her, as well (enough to confuse him), and it was likely that Kirk had guessed that Spock had revealed it to her.  Besides, she, too, had kept Spock's secret.  "In this instance, I find your advice valid," Spock concluded quietly.  "I…will go see Nurse Chapel as soon as I am dressed."
Kirk grinned at him knowingly.  "I thought you'd see it my way."
The faintest echo of that grin played about Spock's lips as he turned and went back to his own cabin, where he dressed as quickly as possible before leaving for Sickbay.

While Spock dressed, Kirk contacted Sickbay before reporting to the Bridge to let Christine know that Spock was coming to see her, though he was careful to leave the explanations to Spock; the result of this was that when Spock arrived, Christine was waiting for him in the office.
When Spock expressed a certain amount of surprise at having been expected, since he had so seldom had any reason to talk to her except as duty required, Christine responded, "I just spoke with the Captain a few minutes ago, and he mentioned that you might drop by to see me."  She paused, looking at him in puzzlement and concern, and asked, "Spock, is something wrong?"
Spock was suddenly embarrassed by the realization that he had no idea what to say to her, and that, in fact, he had no logical reason to even be there.  "I should not keep you from your duties," he replied evasively, more to reproach himself than to answer her.
"I always have time for you," Christine assured him kindly.  "I know you wouldn't have come to see me without a purpose.  If something's bothering you, you must know that I want to do anything I can to help…but you have to give me the chance."
Spock looked up at her hesitantly, somewhat startled and confused by her perceptiveness, but encouraged by the gentleness of her voice; he drew a deep breath and reluctantly began to speak.  "If...it is convenient, I would like to discuss something with you."  He lowered his eyes uncomfortably before continuing.  "It may be time-consuming.  There are…certain things…that I am not accustomed to discussing, except sometimes with the Captain."
Christine could only imagine what might have driven him to want to discuss something so obviously personal with her, but now was not the time to ask questions.  "I'll tell you what, Spock--I just got here.  I haven't had time for breakfast yet.  You can come with me to the Rec Room and we'll talk there," she suggested gently, coming out from behind the desk to stand closer to him.
Spock sighed.   "Christine…in truth, I have not slept…or eaten," he revealed finally, with difficulty.  "I do not know that you will understand.  I am not certain what it is that I expect of you, now.  Perhaps just…your company."
Nothing could have been a clearer indication to Christine of the depth of Spock's turmoil, and she ached with empathy for him without even knowing the source of his agony.  "When do you have to be on the Bridge?"  she asked.
"I have today off," Spock answered faintly.
"Good.  Now, all I have to do is let Dr. McCoy know where I'm going.  Will you come to breakfast with me?"
Spock nodded, looking up at her finally.  "I appreciate the invitation," he told her sincerely, if still somewhat uneasily.
"All right, let me clear it with Dr. McCoy."  She turned back to the desk and hit the intercom button.  "Chapel to lab."
"Lab.  McCoy here," McCoy's voice responded.
"Doctor, if you don't need me for anything for a while, I'm going to take a long breakfast break."
"A 'long' breakfast break?"  McCoy repeated warily.  "How long?"
"Right now, I'm not sure," Christine admitted, then added carefully, "Spock's going to be with me."
There was a slight pause before McCoy responded.  "All right, Christine--enough said.  I'll get one of the other nurses to cover for you if business picks up," he told her understandingly, knowing Spock had not been himself since the pon farr had passed.  "You two take all the time you want."
"Thanks.  Chapel out."  Christine shut off the intercom and returned her attention to Spock.  "Ready?"  she asked.
"Quite," Spock responded, still standing with his hands clasped behind his back, but slightly more relaxed now than he had been at first.  There was appreciation and a silent plea for her continued patience and understanding in his eyes as he looked at her.
"Let's go, then," Christine directed.  As they started out the door, she spoke to him again.  "Have you talked to Captain Kirk about this?"
"Yes.  It was he who suggested that I should talk to you," Spock asserted neutrally.

They continued on to the Rec Room, picked up food trays and sat down at a table.  "Now--tell me what's wrong," Christine prompted gently.
Spock drew a deep breath, fighting down his apprehension and fear of rejection, and began.  "I assume you remember…what I told you of T'Pring."
"Yes.  Why?"  Christine asked, puzzled.
"I…do not wish to seem intrusive, but I would like to ask you about…your relationship with Roger Korby."
Christine could hear in the uncertainty and reluctance of his voice Spock's awareness that this was still a painful subject for her, but she was determined to play along if it would somehow help him.  "Go ahead," she told him, at length.
"You said you were 'engaged' to him.  Was it because you…felt love for each other…that you wanted to marry him?"
"Oh, yes," Christine reflected wistfully, too distracted by the suddenly re-awakened memories to make any inquiries about Spock's strange line of questioning.
"And now?  Is…the emotion you feel for me…that same sort of emotion?"
Christine, pulled forcibly back to the present, blushed noticeably as she looked at him.  "Yes…and no.  It's…more, or different somehow.  Spock, what are you getting at?"  she demanded, momentarily flustered.
"I did not mean to embarrass you," Spock tried hastily to assure her.  "I only ask because recent events have given me a certain…curiosity…a wish to learn of such things."  Inadvertently, some of his inner anguish and bitterness began to break through his mask of control, surfacing in his voice.  "You should consider yourself fortunate, Christine.  You will never have to know what it is to bond with someone for the sake of duty and family honor, knowing it is unavoidable, yet without anything to sustain that bond.  No…love…no gentleness, no understanding.  Our way of mating involves no emotions."  He looked up at her finally with eyes full of agony, belying his controlled voice.
And at last, Christine understood that it was T'Pring's rejection that was troubling him.  The Human part of Spock was reaching out to her for love and reassurance.  She responded instinctively, reaching across the table to take his hands in hers and squeezing them briefly.  "You don't need her.  You're the gentlest, most wonderful man I've ever known; I care about you, and I'll be here if you ever need me.  Or, if I'm not good enough, you'll find someone else--but it will be someone who loves you," she promised him soothingly.
Now it was Spock's turn to blush slightly, though deep within him, he was aware that this was just what he needed to hear.  "I assure you, Nurse Chapel, you are…quite sufficient," he told her carefully.  Then he admitted hesitantly, "I…would like to discuss the situation with you further."
"I know.  Go ahead, I'm listening."
As it turned out, Spock talked little and ate even less during the rest of their meal, which was by now getting cold; he had begun by speaking of T'Pring, but his attempts to convey the emotions aroused within him by thoughts of her and how she had treated him--and what she had almost made him do to Kirk--were, as his attempts to express emotion always seemed to him to be, hopelessly inadequate.  Eventually, he gave up and focused his attention on Christine, realizing he no longer wanted to think of T'Pring.  He listened to Christine appreciatively as she spoke to him--gentle, soothing words of encouragement that would probably not have been in T'Pring's vocabulary.
Spock knew that Christine was speaking emotionally--out of love for him and complete refusal to understand how anyone could treat him with anything less than respect--but, for once, Spock could not find fault with her for it.  He needed to be with an emotional, illogical Human now--especially one willing to express affection and compassion for him; it was most certainly not a logical (or Vulcan) need, but it was one that he had felt within himself many times during his life.
He was reminded now that Christine loved him, accepted him as he was, tried to understand him, and always conveyed genuine concern for him, even when she could not understand--all of which made Spock  feel a little more important and a little less alone, despite his inner confusion by all those emotions.  By the time they finished eating, Spock's thoughts were all of Christine and he had forgotten T'Pring completely--except, somewhere deep within himself, to once again compare the two of them.  And, in his own adaptation of IDIC, he rejoiced in Christine's differences.


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