Sarek watched in awestruck fascination as his tiny, black-haired son, against all the odds, managed to successfully transfer a portion of food from the bowl in front of him to his mouth. Spock had only lately progressed to using the jom'ir, the two, tapered eating sticks used by adults, and was taking such painstaking care not to spill even one morsel that it set Sarek's teeth on edge just to observe the meticulous procedure.
Once again, his own mouth partly open in unconscious imitation, he waited expectantly as the chubby fingers manipulated the unwieldy utensils and Spock deposited another shaky consignment of food between his lips. A sigh of relief escaped Sarek loud enough to be heard by his young wife.
Amanda, totally engrossed in her first child, looked at him across the low table in some surprise. "Nerve wracking isn't it?"
Sarek raised one dark eyebrow, as articulate as any words, making her smile ruefully.
"Indeed," he endorsed dryly. "It is an exhausting process merely as an observer. Our son appears to have abundant patience --- and an amiable constitution. I suspect that was not so true in my case at his age. He must have acquired the trait from thee, my most respected wife."
"I thank thee, Husband," she inclined her head gracefully. "I am honoured by thy courtesy."
"None was intended, my wife." Sarek refuted, "I simply speak the truth."
She laughed, a quick, delightful sound, and before Sarek could deflect her advance, she reached across the table and planted a kiss upon his nose. Aware that he was no longer the centre of their attention, the child shrieked in joyous abandon, yet too young to sublimate his emotions.
" Ni'rih," he cried loudly in his father's direction, while repeatedly banging the jom'ir against the edge of the table and before Amanda had chance to restrain him, upset his bowl straight into his father's lap. Amanda suppressed a chuckle as she avoided her husband's eye.
"I guess he's had enough ---"
"Undoubtedly," Sarek agreed as he wiped at the sticky mess that now stained his once immaculate robe.
Then, somewhere in the cool, quiet depths of the house, a bell began to harmoniously chime.
"Who can that be?" Amanda queried, gently reproving Spock who rewarded her efforts with a smile that showed all four teeth. "Sarek, would thee go? Or perhaps thee would rather see to thy son ---?"
The child in question gurgled demonically, beaming around the fist that now filled his mouth while the other once again drummed on the tabletop with one of the jom'ir.
"I will go, my wife," Sarek said, gracefully rising from the floor cushion in one lithe movement. "The call, most probably, will be for me."
He headed for the archway that led into the siokan, the Tehr'n style room, where the videocom sat behind its masking screen, reaching for the controls as the melodious chime pulsed once more. Instantly the operator's image appeared.
"Greetings to the House of Kah-t'Sarek ansh'oine au T'phra. I have an important message from the Tehr'n Embassy for Lady Amanda."
"Wait one moment ---"
Amanda was both astonished and alarmed. "The Embassy, for me? What on Earth can they want?"
"Perhaps if thee were to take the call," Sarek suggested patiently, "All will become clear."
Amanda smiled. "Logical as always, my husband."
She lifted Spock from his cushion and brushed her lips across his baby-soft hair. Quickly she handed him over to Sarek, before rushing into the hall. Spock stiffened abruptly, affronted by such cavalier treatment from his mother. He grasped his father by the nose and pulled the offending proboscis with all his childish strength. Tears of acute distress welled in Sarek's eyes. Not for the first time, he decided that being a father was not his particular speciality. Children were all very well at a distance, he conceded, but close-up and in the flesh they could be most disconcerting. Sometimes, if given the choice, he would much rather have confronted a room full of enraged le-matyas than be alone with his son. Now, held at arms length, the child squirmed and wriggled, contorting his young body in various, startling ways in an effort to get free.
At last, Amanda returned, face unnaturally pale. She immediately took Spock from her husband. "Sarek, my father's been injured. He's seriously ill."
" And thee desires to attend him, of course." Sarek placed a large, comforting hand upon her shoulder, compassion alight in his dark eyes although his face remained impassive. Gently, he led them all into the siokan, the Terran-style room placing Amanda in one of the large, comfortable, chairs they had imported from Earth. Spock sat quietly upon her lap as if, he too, was aware of the subdued emotions that passed between his parents.
"Yes," She murmured slowly, "I must go to him."
After a moment, Sarek asked gently, "Tell me of the message, my wife."
Amanda swallowed hard, keeping the tears at bay with an enormous effort. "There was a traffic accident, a midair collision. Father got the worst of it. The Embassy said he's been asking for me. Oh, Sarek --- they can't do anything for him. He's going to die ---."
Sarek regarded her in silence knowing there were few words he could offer that would comfort her to any degree. He took her hand, allowing his own calm strength to filter through their mind bond, soothing and kind. He understood how close the bond was between Amanda and her father, even when separated by millions of miles.
The duty owed to one's parents was deeply ingrained in every Vulkhanir child, if not in every Human; Amanda must return home, there was no question about it. He glanced at Spock who was now half asleep in his mother's arms, one thumb stuck captivatingly, if somewhat unhygienically, in the corner of his mouth.
"There is a ship bound for Tehr'a in the morning, the She'mihr. I will arrange for an immediate passage."
"I thank thee, Husband." Impatiently, Amanda dashed a tear from her cheek, trying to think around the sudden numbness she felt and attend to practicalities.
"Perhaps thy mother will take Spock while I'm away? Obviously, I can't take him with me. The climate, gravity and atmosphere of Earth will be too much for him while he's so young ---."
Sarek raised an eyebrow. The possibility of leaving his child with T'phra had already occurred to him, and been instantly dismissed. Spock was, at ten months, still far too exuberant and demonstrative to be given into the hands of his Vulkhanir grandmother. While he fully appreciated her many excellent qualities, the staunch regard she held for the Vulkhanir Way would only reinforce her opinion that Amanda was an unsuitable to raise his son. That opinion, he knew, was unwarranted. Spock had certainly not yet learned to control his childish excitement but he was also unique and the usual training programmes had to be tailored for his use. Sarek had complete faith that, in time, his son would become a model Vulkhanir child.
"Spock will remain with me, my wife."
Amanda studied him closely. Naturally, she had qualms at the thought of leaving Spock with T'phra but it had seemed the only rational solution. "But thy work, the Academy ---?"
"My work can wait." Uncharacteristically he took her into his arms, the child cradled between them, "Thee and Spock are more important at this time."
There was nothing further to be said. They looked at each other for a moment above Spock's dark, sleepy head. Then, Amanda crushed her face into the hollow of his shoulder, allowing the grief to take her at last. Sarek could do no more than hold her gently, brushing her hair with his lips, consolingly murmuring her name.
They set out early the next morning to take Amanda to Space Central, located a few miles from the city, surrounded by desert.
It was spring, the month of Tuya, and the desert was at its most beautiful. Amanda, with Spock in her arms, stared out the window of the sandtrekker, marvelling at the stark beauty of red sands and frosted spires wrought by wind and harsh weather, touched now with the first rays of sunrise. A curtain of gossamer mist filtered the unforgiving light, tingeing everything with a silver glow, brushing the landscape with a mystical air, a scene that had impressed itself upon her memory from the moment she had first seen it.
This is home, she thought suddenly, realising the truth; Vulcan has become my home, and reached wordlessly to touch Sarek where he sat beside her. He glanced at her; aware through the link they shared, of the conflicting emotions that tore at her heart. Tenderly, he placed his hand over hers, offering her the comfort she needed, a silent demonstration of his regard.
Without the need for words, the only sound came from Spock prattling away in his own baby-talk, unusually subdued, absorbed in a minute examination of his bare toes, responsive to the despondent atmosphere prevalent about him.
Their leave taking was, necessarily, formal. Amanda clung to Spock, denied the solace of tears, aware of the many Vulkhanir eyes that watched with deceptive circumspection as they waited in the departure lounge for her flight to be called.
"Live long and prosper, Sarek."
"Mene sakkhet ur-sevah, Amanda. May thee return to us soon."
"Certainly, Husband." She gave him a restrained smile. "Take care of our son and remember --- he is only half Vulcan!"
Sarek did not fail to note the appeal in her voice. "I suspect choice in that area will be limited, my wife."
That made her laugh, more like the Amanda he knew so well. "No, I guess not ---"
She looked around swiftly as a computerized voice announced that the shuttle flight was ready to take off and reluctantly handed Spock over to his father. Tentatively, she glanced at Sarek, her eyes sparkling dangerously as she continued to hold in her emotions. "May I kiss him goodbye, Husband?"
"Quickly then ---"
She stretched up on tiptoe as Spock leaned down, winding his arms around her neck, his eyes wide, huge, and dark with fright, realising abruptly that she was about to leave him.
"M'aih ---" He whispered desolately, though he did not cry, and planted a warm, wet kiss in her ear.
Amanda hugged him for a moment. "Be good my son. I shall return as soon as I can."
Loosening the hold of Spock's tiny arms, she touched a finger briefly to Sarek's lips before striding quickly towards the exit, leaving husband and son to watch as the shuttle sped up into the burnished, ochre sky, taking her away from them both.
"Ni'rih," Crestfallen, Spock patted his father delicately on the cheek with one chubby fist, a dimpled finger exploring the tempting curve of the pointed ear that was so much like his own. "Ni'rih ---"
It was the first word Amanda had taught him to say; the Vulkhanir equivalent of 'daddy', and with a precocious understanding of his supposedly emotionless father, Spock used it to advantage.
Sarek had little defence against the soft plea, yet he could not console the boy in the way Amanda might have done and so, with a calming breath, he strode purposely to where he had left the sandtrekker eager to get home.
When they eventually stepped through the doorway and entered the hall, the house had that peculiarly desolate air that only became apparent when one of the occupants was missing. Sarek paused with Spock in his arms listening to the empty silence. He knew that it would not feel the same until Amanda filled it once more with her singular presence. However, the illusion of emptiness was soon shattered as a shaggy ball of fur burst into the hall from behind them and thrust exuberantly with a broad, dry nose at Sarek's upper thigh.
"'Chiya," Spock cooed, wriggling to be put down. "Ni'rih, Chiya, good boy ---."
The old sehlat rumbled contentedly as the boy wound his arms as far as they would reach around the broad neck, burying his face in the thick fur, unafraid even though the animal towered over him. Sarek looked down at them both, his hand caressing one silken ear, conscious of the serene comfort the aged pet was projecting to them as it sensed their loss. The man as well as the child did not resist that calm warmth as it flowed over them both. However, Sarek collected himself at last, aware that he had duties and responsibilities to execute. Taking his small son by the hand, he led the way into the sai'en, the cooking-place, with the big sehlat plodding respectfully at their heels.
The large room was severe in design with few of the appliances a human woman would have considered necessary. There was a refrigeration unit, a tiny oven and charcoal brazier as well as the recent addition of a mechanical selector. Amanda, Sarek recognized, had found their methods of preparing food strange and difficult during those early months of their bonding but, eventually, she had learned to organize the customary fare with great success. Gastronomy, simple as it was without the great variety of foodstuffs common on other worlds, was still regarded as an art and a discipline, one of the many Ways of T'lala, an expression of the deeper self. The cooking and sharing of food was part of a Tradition handed down to them from the Beginning and thus assumed an importance that was hard to define to any but a trueborn Vulkhanir. It was still perceived by many as an affront to rely on mechanical equipment in whole or part of that preparation, a wilful obliteration of the significance manual provision held. Amanda voiced the opinion that it seemed a double standard, considering the high level of technology that was prevalent on Vulkhanir, a view that Sarek had refuted. Where a machine was a logical extension of one's own talents or intellect it was employed with alacrity and enthusiasm, whether it be a fusion oven or a sophisticated computer system. Allowing oneself to become subservient to a device, conversely, was to weaken the dexterity of both mind and body.
He had assured Amanda that as soon as she had mastered the skills of being a wife in the Vulkhanir Way then, if she still preferred it, there would be all the appliances she wished. However, to his greater satisfaction, she had remained content. It had been his proposal that they install the selector when Spock had been born so that she would have more time to spend with their son.
Sarek's dark eyes took in the boy who clung to his extended finger still unsteady on short, baby plump legs. The pressure of his work had kept them distant from one another for the most part and Spock had become dependant largely on his mother. For ten months, he had known Amanda's sole love and protection, sleeping in a cot in his mother's room, taking his child fears to her, and expecting a kiss or a hug whenever he fell or bumped himself - a show of affection that continued to reassure him. Nonetheless, Sarek recognized that Amanda's seasons with her child were rapidly growing to a close. It was still early to begin instructing Spock in the true ways of his home world but the knot that tied him to his mother, by necessity, had to loosen if the boy was to fit properly into Vulkhanir society.
Spock must learn to sublimate his emotions, vanquish the desire for love, and overcome any urge towards tenderness or warmth until he matured into a man who would consider pain, weariness, grief, or pleasure only from the viewpoint of rational deliberation. To that end, Sarek intended to wean Spock from Amanda's care as soon as it became practicable by placing him, as custom demanded, under the guardianship of Sirak and T'neah. Sarek's nephew and his mate would treat Spock as one of their own, observing the strict formal training that would ensure his son remained impervious to his human blood ---.
"Ni'rih ---" The tugging at his finger brought him back from his thoughts and he looked down into the round eyes of Spock. Ee-chiya, it seemed, who was allowed into the sai'en only on special occasions - and thus expected a treat of some kind - was growing impatient. The big sehlat swayed with anticipation, the short rope-like tail beating back and forth as it whuffed deep in its throat.
Sarek's eyebrow rose. "Be still, old friend. Would thee set my son a bad example?"
The old animal butted at him playfully, rumbling with pleasure, a deep, contented sound that always had the power to soothe and pacify.
"Very well ---" Carefully Sarek poured a measure of lak'ral, the thin, but nourishing fluid taken from the tri'lha plant, into a bowl and set it down on the stone tiled floor.
Ee-chiya, never slow to take advantage, darted in, and began to lap eagerly. Spock, fascinated as always, hunkered down, his head between his knees, watching intently to discover which way the enormous tongue curled as it sucked up the golden liquid. A few drops escaped, spattering his bare toes as he sat by the bowl and, absently, he wiped at the beaded moisture before licking his finger clean. Sarek half filled another bowl and gave it to Spock. Before leaving them alone, he admonished Ee-chiya to keep the child out of mischief. Although the house was immaculate as always, there were everyday jobs to which Amanda had drawn his attention that morning.
He had prepared for his new occupation, as a matter of course, by programming the study computer to construct a scale model of the house, minutely examining every task and establishing the time, motion and energy quotient needed to complete each separate function. The one and most important item he had failed to calculate however was Spock. Spock and Ee-chiya taken together defied analysis.
Once the lak'ral had disappeared Spock, realising that he was alone with the sehlat, set about for something to occupy them. With Amanda, the boy would have been by her side, sharing undisturbed games, learning through play, listening as his mother commented, explained, teased and laughed, cementing the already powerful bond that had been forged with her first born son. Throughout the day, he would have accompanied her as she completed her normal household duties, participating in Amanda's abundant warmth and humanity absorbing, as if by osmosis, the processes that had shaped her into what she was. There were many such peaceful days when the turbulence of the outside world never touched them at all. However, Amanda had now vanished, leaving him with the unfamiliar individual he called 'a'nirih'. It was not a change he relished. Currently, even Sarek had left him, though Spock's keen hearing pinpointed his father's location on the second level of the large and rambling house with unerring accuracy.
Spock's attention focused on Ee-chiya, tugging at the thick fur, the soft ears, and lips, pulled back in a grin to expose the three-inch long canines. The rough, salivary tongue extruded and licked away the moustache of lak'ral about the boy's lips and he chortled gleefully. The tufted, rope-like tail beat against the tiles as the beast purred, a vibrant baritone, enduring the childish play without offence. The aging animal, usually exiled to the wild garden during the day where it spent the hours dozing among the crowded vegetation, was content. The sai'en was cool; the light diffuse, and there was always the chance that wherever the young master happened to be there would be food on offer --- He snuffled at the boy, mouthing him in mock attack, a huge, clawed paw holding him down effortlessly.
Unconcerned, Spock wriggled bonelessly out of the sehlat's grasp. The boy knew the house of his birth intimately but there always seemed something fascinating that he could handle, poke at, or explore. Clinging to the sehlat, he pulled himself up, his eyes shining as he employed the beast like a climbing frame, using his agile toes to ascend quickly to Ee-chiya's back where he sat like a mahout astride a Tehr'n elephant. Although he could speak only in isolated monosyllables, neither had any difficulty in understanding what the other wanted. The large beast was compliant, eager to please, trusting ---
"Move, Chiya. Move!" The boy urged, digging his tiny heels into the sehlat's bulky sides. The animal lumbered to its feet while Spock hung on, baby fists entangled tightly in the thick and silky neck hair. As if directed, Ee-chiya headed straight for the lanai, the traditionally styled Vulcan room, where the asenoi pulsed crimson in its appointed niche, the beast-like shape mysterious and alluring, wreathed in the aromatic smoke of tshkin wood that burned in the shallow receptacle. The boy's eyes roamed over the familiar sight, bowing his head to the Presence in imitation of his father although he still did not understood the motivation for such recognition. However, he found no reason to remain in the austere room and was soon gambolling around the Tehr'n style furniture in the siokan, narrowly brushing past the assortment of cherished ornaments and bric-a-brac from Earth, wedding presents and gifts from Amanda's family.
Sarek's study lured Spock on. Usually locked and out of bounds, the door stood fractionally ajar, inviting entry. It was the equivalent of coming across treasure trove for the inquisitive child. With a squeal of delight, he spurred Ee-chiya forward. Slipping from the sehlat's back he toddled from one enticing object to the next, fingering the priceless lyrette where Sarek had left it the evening before, and toying with a holo-cube on the low desk which portrayed several views of his mother, until, finally, he discovered the computer terminal.
Head on one side, Ee-chiya solemnly watched as the boy balanced precariously against the edge of the low desk and reached for the buttons that formed an attractive display. He touched them gently, one after another with little result, gradually becoming bolder until there came the sound of machinery awakening. A harmonious female voice chimed softly,
I AM RECEIVING. PROCEED.
Spock blinked, startled, and drew his hand away from the enticing buttons as his eyes searched the room for the owner of the voice. He sucked a thumb; dark eyes wide but the voice offered nothing further. Regaining his confidence, he returned to the monitor. Ee-chiya whuffed noisily, nudging the little boy in agitation, ears pricked at the sounds of approaching footsteps. Spock pushed at the huge bulk of the animal protesting loudly,
"Go way, Chiya. Bad boy. Go way."
In response, the computer, waiting for further instruction, said in the same pleasant accents,
PLEASE REPHRASE. I HAVE NO UNDERSTANDING OF THIS STATEMENT. REPHRASE.
"H'rase! Spock echoed stridently, banging his fist on the console in front of him with delight, striking another button set to one side.
PLEASE QUALIFY. WHAT DO YOU REQUIRE ERASED.
At the same instant, information activated by the release button Spock had accidentally touched began to appear on the monitor quickly wiped out of existence by the computer. It scrolled busily before Spock's fascinated gaze for several seconds until he lost interest and touched another key. Immediately the precise, well modulated computer voice, started to thunder,
ALARM. ALARM. ALARM. ALARM. ALARM.
Spock jerked back, freezing for a vital second, before heading for the entrance of the room with Ee-chiya slightly in the lead. Sarek, on his way to investigate all the commotion, collided full tilt with the huge beast and fell backwards. Brawn definitely won over brain and in the ensuing confusion, Spock managed to escape unscathed.
It would have been easy for several adults to lose themselves in the wild and luxurious jungle surrounding the ancient house and Spock, who knew every nook and cranny had no difficulty whatsoever. Frightened by the computer alarm and the sudden appearance of his father, he made instinctively for his own safe haven, a natural structure hollowed out by Ee-chiya among the dense shrubs and creepers where he curled up in a rigid ball, eyes tightly shut against the world.
For the rest of that morning and well past the noon hour, drugged with a subtle blend of subdued light and the rich smell of growing foliage, the child lay enveloped in the dim reaches of the garden, accompanied only by the old sehlat that, after a short while, came to share his refuge.
Sarek was disturbingly sensitive to the tension he felt along his neck and shoulder blades as he searched the house once again, looking now in the unlikely, out of the way places that he had, the first time, deemed an illogical refuge for a frightened child. The door to Spock's room remained open, a discarded stuffed toy, a teddy bear that had previously belonged to Amanda, lying discarded against the far wall where Spock had tossed it that morning. Sarek hesitated on the threshold, dry throated and uneasy as he assessed the sparsely furnished contents consideringly.
"Spock, child where are thee?" He murmured quietly not expecting an answer from the silent room. Nor did he receive one. He rubbed at one winged brow in thought. Where could the boy have vanished so completely? A question he had posed a thousand times since Spock had disappeared.
Sarek thought back, remembering his own father, the admiration and respect he had always experienced in that dignified presence. He had never wanted to escape, or to hide away. On the contrary, it had been a privilege to spend time with either of his parents. However, he realised that equating his own behaviour with that of his son was illogical. Spock, after all, was half human and, furthermore, unique. Fatherhood, he began to realise, was going to be far more intricate and complicated than he had first envisaged when he had volunteered to take care of Spock. It had seemed so simple the evening before. He could already imagine what his wife would say if she could see him, having already instigated fear instead of deference into his son.
Slowly he descended the stairs, wandering through the archway that led into the garden, checking the gate as he walked past. It was still closed and latched, thus ensuring that Spock, at least, was still somewhere in the boundary of the house or garden - but where? His thoughts circled in vain, as he strolled along the narrow pathways of the wild area, experiencing a curious chill when he allowed himself to reflect on his behaviour of the past hour. His displeasure at finding a half-months worth of theoretical research wiped clean in a few seconds had obviously been communicated to Spock, compelling him to hide away from what he must view as an avenging fiend. Although it would take effort to recall the content, the work was retrievable, but the damage to his relationship with the child might never heal.
Sarek leaned against the uneven trunk of a large tree fern, sheltering from the heat in the shadow of its diffuse canopy, and closed his eyes. The brilliant radiance of sunlight burning through his eyelids faded gradually, overtaken by an inner darkness as he began to assemble a detailed image of his son. Evenly, he reached out, and touched the drowsy, animal thought of Ee-chiya, curled up in the abundant proliferation of jungle not too far away. The old beast, friend of many years, had also sensed his annoyance and chosen to evade his master until the tempest had passed. Sarek let his awareness slip further, seeking clarity, remembering with sardonic irony, how the sehlat had pinned him down until Spock had successfully escaped. Evidently, his pet's loyalty had transferred since his son's birth.
He opened his eyes. Of course! Amanda had told him how inseparable Ee-chiya and Spock were. Where one was to be found the other would not be too far away.
Schooling his mind to calmness, he pushed through the thick cover until he drew closer to the hidden nest. He immediately saw sehlat and child curled around one another. Spock lay with his arms entwined around Ee-chiya's neck, rimmed by dappled sunlight, his dark hair tousled, his eyes closed in sleep. Sarek knelt beside the pair, rewarded by a lick from Ee-chiya as the boy opened his eyes drowsily, only slowly making the transition from dream to reality. Sarek gathered him close, holding him reassuringly, burying his face into the child's sable hair as he breathed in a mixture of dry earth, sun-warmed skin and the special, aromatic scent of his child.
"Spock-neha ---" Sarek murmured, softly, and the child uttered a quivering sigh of contentment as he pushed his face into the hollow of his father's shoulder.
Sarek could feel the tiny heart of his son beating strongly against his enclosing hands and suddenly knew how excellent life was.
Sensing that his father was no longer annoyed, Spock snuggled closer. The small voice whispered softly, contritely,
"Spock good boy, Ni'rih."
Sarek agreed. With his mouth next to the boy's ear, he murmured kindly, "Indeed, my son. Thee is a very good boy."
And with a gentleness Amanda knew very well, he carried the child back into the house, pondering deeply on the link that now bound them inexorably together.