Limping slowly, Spock re-entered the main living room of the old ShiKahrii house, his face quite calm as he regarded his granddaughter, T'puchan.
The child sat demurely on the floor stool where he had left her a moment before, nervous fingers clasped together in her lap, the full bowl of riman fruit wine untouched on the corner of the low, black lacquered table where Spock had originally placed it. The bowl's obvious instability should have prompted him to move it to a less vulnerable position, yet he left it where it was, indifferent to whether the dish fell or not.
From outside, the muted voices of T'puchan's parents wafted into the room on a draught of hot air, as the couple made their way through the garden and back to the street. A companionable sound, one that seemed to merge with the busy hum of insects and the soft tinkling of wind chimes, it made Spock feel curiously alone.
Without a word, dismissing the quick shiver of apprehension, he took the floor stool opposite the girl-child, conscious of the faint alarm on the mobile features that so closely mirrored his own. Although she did not have the startling beauty of her mother, his daughter, there was something wistful about her solemnly pensive expression that called to him from across the years, reminding him of the forlorn boy he used to be. He picked up his own bowl and sipped at the syrupy riman, aware of the heavy silence that lengthened between them.
Small talk had never been his forte and although he had spent a great deal of time among Humans, it now seemed that he had apparently learned nothing from the long association. The effortless eloquence and lack of formality the Terran species utilised in dialogue had never come easily to one used to a more prescribed upbringing. He had learned the skill eventually but, it seemed, he had now lost even that most enviable of qualities - as he had lost the man who had finally taught it to him. The small stab of pain came and went, suppressed immediately. However, he could not squash his memories as easily as he did his emotions.
He cleared his throat, and immediately the child fixed him with a look of mingled fascination and awe.
"I --- hope that our time together will be --- interesting, Granddaughter." He stopped abruptly, realising how stilted he must sound to the six-year-old but his undoubted intellect refused to provide anything more. He realised belatedly that he was clearly out of his depth. It had been a mistake to accept charge of the child for the day; indeed, he remained uncertain why T'pavahna had made the offer. It could hardly be for want of a short-term guardian. No, he thought silently, the more probable reason was pity - for the hollow-eyed, uncommunicative man he had become!
Until his return to Vulcan two months before, he had never met his only grandchild, a separation that now stretched dauntingly, unbridgeable, between them. The same situation had existed with T'pavahna. He had been away so often and for such long periods of time that they had never become anything but strangers to one another. He had never known his daughter and now this child of his child was a mystery to him. He knew it for a fundamental deficiency within his own nature for on Vulcan there existed no such thing as a generation gap. Although he recognised that the ultimate responsibility, the obligation, to put the child at ease was his to make, the task, especially now, seemed an inordinately difficult one.
However, while he had been absorbed in his own thoughts T'puchan's attention had wandered. Spock followed her gaze and found her staring at his ka'ithirah, placed upon a chest by the far wall.
"Dost thee play?" He asked quietly, hoping that she did not. However, T'puchan answered his question with a slight inclination of her head, the glossy wings of black hair falling forward to hide her face.
"Only a little, Grandfather. My fingers still lack skill."
He could have left it there but something in the way she gazed at the old lyrette caused him to add, "Indeed? Perhaps I will be allowed to make a judgement of my own ---."
If he had offered her the planet, it could have been no greater gift. Her whole face came alive, reminding him of her mixed parentage, the fact that her father was a human. "Thee wish to hear me play?"
T'puchan rose excitedly to her feet, forgetting in a single moment the year of formal training she had already undergone, and in the process knocked the delicate kaolin bowl of riman to the floor. The bowl shattered instantly, spilling the spiced liquid over a wide area. With one hand pressed against her mouth, T'puchan watched the stain spread in wide-eyed mortification.
"Forgive me, Grandfather," she whispered, recognising the value of the bowl, the loss of something beautiful and priceless.
Spock saw her distress, the shame her recklessness had bought, and knew that his was the blame.
"The fault is mine, child. The bowl has no importance - and the riman is easily removed."
In the sai'en, his place of preparing and cooking food, he rinsed a piece of clean material and found himself staring at his long fingered hands as they mechanically twisted and wrung the cloth. Even now, though there was little pain, the skin looked slick and smooth, a legacy of the grafts he had needed after ---.
However, that memory he refused to dwell upon. With a distinctly conscious effort he dried his hands, ignoring the lack of sensation in his palms and fingers. The physician was extremely gifted, the grafts had taken well, and the destroyed nerve endings had started to regenerate. He had recovered enough dexterity to prepare a meal, and to dress, but the lyrette remained beyond his abilities - might very well continue to do so.
Spock shut his eyes, stifling the small, desolate cry before it was fully borne, turning his thoughts instead to the plans he had for this day, filling the hours that would otherwise stretch agonisingly ahead. They could visit the ShiKarii museum, or one of the temples, or stroll through the parklands that surrounded the city. By the time they returned T'puchan's parents would have arrived to take her home. The day would be over and he would be alone again with his unresponsive hands - and his memories.
Settling his features into their previous mask, he went back to the lanai, the Vulcan-style living room, silently accepting T'puchan's hesitant apologies a second time. She took the cloth from his benumbed fingers and knelt beside the sticky pool, carefully gathering up the shattered fragments of the bowl. Spock watched her uneasily for a moment but it soon became clear that he was no longer required. He turned instead to the lyrette - the cause of all the mischief.
He ran his unresponsive fingertips over the instruments soundbox, imagining the smoothness of the wood, the richness of sher'skah, the inlaid fineness of li'pon. How many times in the past had he watched his own father take up this same instrument, handling it with reverence as he uttered the ritual words acknowledging the long ago craftsman who had created this gift of enchantment and delight, a source of both exaltation and tranquillity. Even now, he could see Sarek place his hands with meticulous care, ready to draw out the fluid notes, the lilting cadences with a skill very few could emulate. Only slowly did he realise that T'puchan had rejoined him. She looked up at him, obliquely set eyes dark in her triangular face, tentative now, uncertain that she was intruding on a private moment.
"Ssa'ka-et. Tsa-ai, neh -- Please, take it." He offered her the lyrette and with solemn respect, she took the treasured instrument in both small hands, sinking cross-legged to the floor. Spock drew up one of the nearby stools and settled upon it.
The lyrette was obviously too large for her small fingers and, moreover, it was tuned to the ancient, complicated, Stepped Mode of the Tarhana Mountain tribes but she managed to coax out a sequence of notes that rang upon the breathless air in crystal purity. Spock nodded in approval, although each resonance caused him a torment of pain-tinged pleasure. His anaesthetized fingers itched to take up the lyrette and show her how it could sound but he restrained the impulse. He knew that his hands only deceived him with earlier memories. Determinedly, he pushed away regret.
"What dost thee play at home?" He asked softly.
Again she bent her head, tongue-tip lodged in the corner of her mouth as she changed the lyrette's setting to some easier scale and began to play in earnest.
Spock leaned against the stout wooden chest standing by the wall, one of the few pieces of furniture in the room, resting his head back and staring in silence at the hot, burnished sky he could see beyond the archway, listening intently as T'puchan played.
On Vulcan, the highest esteemed music was that which sent the listener into contemplation. The silence that followed was an essential part of the music. It was believed a true musician could make the audience forget the circumstances that brought them there, forget who and where they were and permit fusion with the All. There could be no doubt that T'puchan had such a gift. Her struggling fingers had the power to hold him captive, right and left hands already willing partners, dragging him from the black despair of the last months. True, she still had not acquired an adult player's technique, but that did not matter. The fire was there, the zeal, and the necessary yearning for discipline that set aside the genuine artist.
With sudden awareness, he came back from meditation to the big, austere central living room and its sense of quiet serenity, to find that T'puchan had stopped playing to observe him. He allowed his mouth to relax in a faint imitation of a smile.
She looked back gravely, "A'nirrhan, ites sek-ur djauah. Thee were far away, Grandfather."
He inclined his head. "I was thinking."
The small, winged brows, dark as his own despite her father's fairness, drew together. "Dost thee play, A'nirrhan?"
Spock felt himself freeze into stillness and it was only with great effort that he finally managed to answer. "Once."
Aware that she had made some error but uncertain what it was, she began to apologise. "Forgive me, Grandfather. I did not mean to disturb thee."
"No," he said, a little more gently, conforming to the strict rules of etiquette that bound them all. "The fault was mine, T'puchan. Speak no further of it."
To forestall the next question he could see already forming, he said quickly, "I commend thy teacher. May I enquire ---?"
"The lady T'pavan has taught me most, A'nirrhan" He should have known; T'pavan, distant relative, friend-from-childhood, a Daughter of House Es'sarhan, and head of a Family that bore an ancient lineage equal to his own. She had also been his bond mate and was the mother of his child.
"Thee hast played well, T'puchan. I am honoured."
"It is I who am honoured, A'nirrhan!"
Spock inclined his head, feeling the bleakness nibble at his mind once again, as he took the lyrette from her and placed it back on the wooden chest behind him. "Perhaps thee would like to visit the parklands? There is time before thy parents return."
"Very well, Grandfather Spock."
She brightened as soon as they left his gardens and entered the broad, tree- lined, pedestrian way. All about them was the calm efficiency and aesthetic beauty of ShiKahr, the city of his birth. Unlike the hodgepodge design of many Tehr'n cities or the symmetrical waterways of Nevas'ashar, Vulcan's sister-world, the buildings here were precisely ordered, severely geometrical. The ascetic lines were softened only by delicately blossomed flora riotously trailing over high walls, discreetly separating the private households and gardens from passers-by.
T'puchan, at first grave and subdued, perhaps overawed by his austere presence, soon lost a measure of her restraint, buoyed by the sudden freedom of this unexpected outing, and some inner joyfulness that would take more than Vulkhanir decorum to stifle entirely. Spock recalled absently, her mixed parentage, the reality of her upbringing within what amounted to a royal household on Vulcan's sister-planet.
With ironic equanimity, he allowed the unconfined, unconsidered chatter to wash over him, remembering his own tormented childhood, the doubt and pain of not knowing how he should behave. While such freedom had never been his, he could not resent T'puchan's high spirits although he was unable to evade entirely the oblique glances from fellow pedestrians. Yet, when she reached to take his hand he stiffly declined, explaining coolly that such demonstrations in public were a breach of protocol. It was not his only reason, however, to forbade such intimacy. His hands, injured as they were, mocked him, shamed him with their lack of response, and reminded him of all that he had lost.
His rebuff did not silence her for very long, for she was too interested in all about her for that. This was her first visit to Vulcan, so different from her own planet and yet so alike! She launched herself wholeheartedly in the role of sightseer, her enthusiasm impossible to disregard as she asked questions, pointed, touched, and examined everything that caught her attention. Her inborn humanity showed in every toss of her head, every wave of her hand and in each charming smile that she bestowed upon him. Spock tried, unsuccessfully, to remain strictly aloof, fearing rightly enough, that she would awaken the buried curiosity, the ability to find in all things something fascinating that had so enriched his former life. He did not wish to remember that other life, did not wish to recall the past spent almost exclusively with hi friend and Captain, James Kirk.
It therefore came as something of a revelation to find himself willingly kneeling in the scorched red earth of the lush band of park and wood lands that served as a buffer between the raw desert and the urban city area, calling out the names of various fauna and flora to the receptive, wide-eyed, sensitive little girl. He rose to his feet, the muscles of his injured leg protesting, sudden colour staining his pale cheeks.
"Granddaughter," he began warily, but the child had already jumped up to investigate something else, stopping to touch a flower here and a fat succulent there, until she disappeared within a thick stand of ruby-leaved kor'ian trees.
Spock knew what she would find, for this place had been a haven of comfort for him as a boy, a place to run when he needed something to bolster his dwindling courage from the difficult path he had chosen. He followed T'puchan a little more slowly, his leg dragging tiredly as he pushed through the smokey indigo foliage, dark shadows sliding across his skin. Eventually a small rise brought him in turn to a slight hollow surrounded by thick vegetation that enclosed it around like a living wall, shielding the place from the outside. A path of stepping-stones overgrown by salmon -pink moss led to the centre of the glade where a diminutive pavilion stood, its screens thrown back and open to the hot breeze. It was a shrine, constructed of stone, raised a foot or so above the ground, the emphasis placed on the harmony between city and nature. It called to a part of Spock that he thought suppressed long ago.
T'puchan waited for him in the shade of the narrow colonnade, a shaft of bright sunlight illuminating her in a blaze of fiery vermilion as she knelt lightly upon a cushion, a very young sehlat nestled in her lap. Beside her, Lady T'psehir'lii, the Keeper of the shrine, watched him approach luminous dark eyes alight.
Spock elegantly bowed, one eyebrow raised as he glanced at his errant grandchild. "I apologise for disturbing thee, Lady. We ask forgiveness."
"I am not disturbed, Son of Sarek," She bowed in return, indicating a further cushion left for him to occupy, her voice almost drowned by the tinkling of wind-chimes that transmuted the hot breeze into song. "It has been known to me for several months that thee had returned. I had expected thee sooner."
Spock inclined his head acknowledging the gentle rebuke as he lowered himself stiffly to the cushion, favouring his wounded leg. On his first visit to the temple at the age of five, Ee-chiya in tow, T'psehir'lii had been sitting almost exactly as she sat now, back straight, eyes calm and all-seeing, her ageless face serene. Despite the intervening years, she appeared not to have changed at all, remaining untouched by the passage of time. Her hair, braided with tiny star-shaped me'metl blooms, was still black and lustrous, her mind still sharp, her serenity unshakeable. She had been an unexpected ally, a friend and counsellor, the years that separated them having little meaning. Repeatedly, troubled by his unique difference and what appeared to be insoluble problems, he had returned to the shrine hidden away among the screening smoke bushes to ask and be answered. Possibly, it was his unconscious desire to return that had made him bring T'puchan to the parklands.
"Lady, I am shamed."
"In the Family, all is silence, Spock-neha." She inclined her head, dark eyes radiating a tranquil warmth. "No more will be said of it."
For a long moment, she allowed her gaze to linger upon T'puchan's dark head, the sehlat cubling still at ease within the child's encircling arms. But soon her gaze returned to Spock.
"I see suffering upon thy face, child-neha. Thy heart is not at rest."
"It is so, Lady." And Spock felt the pain of loss strike at him, so deep a pain it could hardly be borne. "I grieve for the loss of a friend."
"This also I have heard." Her voice was low, compassionate. "Would thee speak of thy grief?"
Spock glanced at T'puchan, relieved to see that both child and cubling had fallen asleep, curled around each other like nest mates, but the words still came hard, diffidently, as if to speak of the pain would make it infinitely more real.
To be a serving officer in Starfleet was a hazardous occupation; to be part of the exploratory fleet was to expect danger on a daily basis. It came from any number of directions; marauding Romulans, deviant spores, rampaging super beings, or the environment of space itself with its attendant risks; warp core breaches, radiation poisoning, and a host of other perilous states and situations too numerous to mention. Spock, in his long career aboard the Enterprise, had met with quite a few including his own death and subsequent rebirth! Through all of the dangers, Captain Kirk, had led what appeared a charmed existence. He had cheated fate so well and for so long that it seemed he would live forever. However, paradoxically, the Guardian Angel who looked after Starship captains had called a halt only after Kirk retired from active service.
The Captain, Spock, Scott, and Chekov had attended the inauguration ceremonies of the Enterprise B among a blaze of publicity and press interest that, naturally, Spock had evaded by shunning the bridge. Not long after setting out the ship had received a distress signal. A space anomaly known as the Nexus had swept in from nowhere, capturing two passenger transports in the subspace flow. The Enterprise B, in an endeavour to free the ships, had also become imprisoned. Kirk, acting alone to get the engines back on line and save the ship, had been sucked out through a breach in the hull. His body had never been recovered. Spock, who had been touring the extensive science laboratories, found himself caught up in the aftermath of the disaster as the deck he was on disintegrated in a welter of fire and hot metal.
"Thy Captain died as he had lived - unselfishly and with dignity," The Lady of the shrine murmured quietly, bringing him back from his memories.
"So I was informed."
"His life was not wasted, is this not so? A true Vulcan would find such an end acceptable. It was kaiidth, his destiny."
"No, he could have lived. If I had been there ---."
T'psehir'lii's eyebrow rose. "A moment more, Spock-neha? Death is part of life and cannot be turned aside. Thee knows this."
"It is how we are taught."
"It has been said in the past that I was always a poor student."
T'psehir'lii inclined her head and there was a moments silence which seemed to widen around them until, at last, the Keeper spoke again, "Once, as a child, thee came here disturbed because others said thee were not truly Vulcan. Thee did not want to be different."
"That is so. Yet I am different."
"Indeed, neither Vulkhanir or Tehr'n, but a mingling of the two. Thee believed a choice had to be made, did thee not? And when this Tehr'n, Kirk, offered thee his friendship, was there a choice also?"
" There was a choice." Spock agreed.
"And now, thee regrets this decision, perhaps?"
"By no means!"
"Was there joy both in the giving and the taking within this alliance?"
"Then is it not illogical to grieve? Thee lost nothing. In truth, thee has gained considerably. Remember thy friend as he was in life. Forget him not and he lives still."
T'psehir'lii's serene gaze held him motionless as he digested her words. "I have much left to learn, Lady."
"Indeed, but it is a poor teacher who expects perfection immediately."
Spock inclined his head. He had feared that once the ache of his grief had passed, he would lose Jim Kirk entirely. Many times since the accident, he had felt Kirk near him, so close that once or twice he had actually looked over his shoulder expecting to see him there. That could never be, he knew, but within his memory and the memory of all those others who had known him, Captain Kirk would live on. For Spock to turn his back on what he had shared with Jim would be a dual betrayal.
"All life is one, Spock-neha, inseparable like grains of sand in the desert, different manifestations of the same source. Thee hast not lost thy friend for he is all about thee."
"I shall try and remember, Lady." The sehlat cub had awakened and was trying to wriggle up onto his knee, its rope-like tail whipping frantically at his thigh.
T'psehir'lii's eyes lit with an inner fire as Spock took the cub into his injured hands and held it gently against his heart.
"His name is I'seyin, Gift of Life, Spock-neha. He needs a home if thee is willing."
Spock hesitated, not feeling ready for this new responsibility but the cub and T'puchan seemed to have a different view. The child, roused from sleep, was looking at him longingly,
"Please, A'nirrhan. Please."
Her insistence was hard to deny, and Spock found that he was unable to stand long before it, though he guessed the cubling would cause him dear in endless patience and time.
"Very well," he capitulated at last and gave I'seyin into her eager hands, hoping that he would not come to regret the act. It was time to leave. He raised his hand in the formal salutation. "Peace and long life, Keeper."
"Live long and prosper, Spock." She regarded him keenly in return. "If thee considers this teacher has something left to teach, then give up thy own belief - and learn."
Spock inclined his head in acknowledgement of her advice and turned away from the shrine with T'puchan trotting at his heels. He did not look back as he left the hidden glade but followed the path of carefully placed stepping-stones until they were again in the open parklands.
What was left of the day passed with extraordinary swiftness due mainly to their joint interest in I'seyin, who kept them both busy. Then, abruptly there came the sound of voices from the garden and Spock's whole day crunched to a halt. The child heard it, too. Her parents had arrived. She looked across at him and then down at the prick-eared bundle of soft fur that was contentedly gnawing at his left sandal. A small silence held them. Finally, she said, "I thank thee, Grandfather. It has indeed been an interesting day."
"I have been honoured by thy company, Granddaughter."
She looked up at him mischievously as if they shared a secret. "May I visit again?"
Spock considered, one eyebrow flaring upwards. "Perhaps it would be the wisest course. I'seyin will need distracting - if I am to keep the rest of my sandals intact."
He crossed to the old wooden chest by the wall and took down the lyrette once more. Holding it in his scarred and disfigured hands he realised that the music did not have to stop, it could continue even if different fingers worked the strings.
Without hesitation, he gave the priceless instrument over to T'puchan. "This lyrette has been held by our Family for over a thousand years, passed from one generation to the next. I ask that thee accept it now."
The child looked at him with wonder, obviously appreciating the worth of the gift - and how much it had cost him. She fingered the polished wood as he had done, delighting in the feel of it as she held it close.
"Grandfather --- may I keep it here?"
"Here?" Spock questioned, one eyebrow climbing swiftly upwards.
"Yes. It belongs here and thee can show me how to play it when I visit. It will be mine, but thee can look after it for me."
His voice was sombre but a smile curved his lips as he inclined his head, "A logical solution, Grandchild."
"Indeed." Delicately, with a shy grace, she reached up and placed her small fingers between his larger ones and this time he did not dissuade her or try to pull away. "Shall we be friends now, A'nirrhan?"
Spock acquiesced. "No doubt we will."