Arriving on the surface in the same condition he'd left in, sans wings, Spock confirmed the success of Mr. Scott's procedure with the Enterprise before heading for his father's house on the outskirts of the single town in which all Vulcans currently lived. They had made a great deal of progress in the last two years, but there was still a long way to go to come close to recovering what they had lost.
Shi'masu was similar in atmosphere to how Vulcan had been. The land was dry and the air thin, at least relative to Earth. As long as it had been since Spock stood on Vulcan soil, it should have been impossible to pick out the subtle differences, and yet he felt as though he could sense the everything that was off, from the point two decrease in gravity to the three percent increase in air moisture.
It was not home.
His father had built a fine home in the traditional style. It held many similarities to the home Spock had grown up in, but somehow lacked that indescribable element that made it home. However, it was familiar enough to be a soothing balm to a mind and emotions that had been overtaxed in recent days. Spock wanted nothing more than to settle into the meditation garden and try and order his thoughts and regain his emotional control, but he knew that was a process that would take longer than the time he had to stay.
Inside, he found a message panel and the indicator that told him there were two messages waiting for him, just as his alternate self had informed him. Settling into the comfortable chair, he triggered the first message.
“Spock,” his father's voice said as Sarek's face appeared on the screen, “I have been informed of your difficulties. I can only hope that you will live to see this message. Selek has assured me that all possible data is being recorded to aid any future Vulcans who should find themselves in a similar situation, though I know your mother would wish you were not at risk in this matter.
“I know that you have several choices. Should you reach Shi'masu in time, know that Selek and I have discussed the matter of a proper choice for your mate. I have bowed to his superior experience as to your needs in finding an appropriate mind mate.” Spock wondered if he should meet the woman chosen for him before making his final decision. His alternate self surely had a more accurate idea of his needs than most and would certainly have chosen better than T'Pring. Even as children there had been no affinity between their minds.
“Another option I have been informed of is the young human woman you have been spending time with these last years.” Spock hung his head at these words and let himself wish there were a way to skip ahead accurately. Nyota was not a matter he wished to contemplate. “I have read her service record and found it exemplary, and those I have spoken with about her have spoken quite highly, both of her mind and appearance. Should she accept your offer, I look forward to meeting at the next opportunity, and welcoming her to our family.
“When I married your mother, many conservative elements our society protested, fearing that somehow a human would weaken us as Vulcans. I have never seen the logic in this argument in the past, and find it ever more specious now. They feared the emotions an untrained human can bleed into the minds around them, and even more that a human mind bonded to a Vulcan mind would result in even further weakening of Vulcan strength.
“It was this concern that resulted in much of the prejudice you faced as a youth. Even when you proved to have one of the finest minds of your generation, the strongest mental gifts, many were not prepared to accept the fact that your human blood had not weakened our bloodline. It was this illogical belief that resulted in the comments that drove you away from the Vulcan Science Academy. I am ashamed to admit that my first reaction to your actions was anger towards you, an anger I refused to release for many years despite your mother's attempts to point out the illogic. However, in time I came to see that the true culprit was the illogical prejudice I had not done enough to counter.
“In experience, I found no such weakening from your mother or you, and in fact have felt that my experience with her strengthened my ability to deal with those emotions that cannot be repressed. I should have expressed as much, to you and others, much sooner.
“At this time, there are many uncontrollable emotions surging amongst the survivors of Vulcan, but grief is the foremost. It is a grief so complex and overwhelming that in the years since Vulcan's destruction we have come no closer to managing or repressing that emotion. I have found that while I am on Earth, my emotions are clearer and under more control than when I am on Shi'masu. I have shared my theory that the grief of every Vulcan is being heightened by our close proximity as once we shared grief with our closest family and thereby weakened it, and the Council agrees.
“It is my belief, though as yet I do not have the evidence for more the speculation, that the addition of humans to our ranks will strengthen our emotional balance, not weaken it. It is my intention to choose a human bride before my next pon farr. I can only hope to find a woman half as loving as your mother.
“If your young woman can bring you such happiness as your mother brought me, then I wish you both well. Or, should you find another suitable amongst your crew, then I wish you the same.
“I know that Selek will update me on your condition, but a message directly from you would not be unwelcome.
“Live long, and prosper, my son.”
The screen blanked and the speaker went silent, but Spock did not move, his eyes staring unseeing at the screen. He did not quite know how to process his father's words. The hatred he had faced all his life took on new meaning and he knew he had a great deal about his father's people to reanalyze.
And then there was the matter of his father remarrying. He had known, intellectually, that his father would have to remarry. Sarek was too young to go long without a wife, no matter how much he loved Amanda. But it was an emotional hit Spock found he was not prepared for. He did not want to think of another woman entering his father's life, a woman who would claim the attentions and emotions of a father he was only just relearning to communicate with, who was only just beginning to admit to those emotions.
Shoving these thoughts aside for later analysis, Spock triggered the second message.
“My son, Selek has informed me that Lieutenant Uhura has refused your offer, but that Captain Kirk has stepped forward. I admit this was not a solution that I had considered, but I find it has its own logic. Whether you maintain your relationship with the captain or chose to seek another bondmate for the future, know that I will accept your choice, and that I will always be proud of you.
“Oh, and the ring your mother gave me is in the box on my dresser.
“Live long, and prosper, Spock.”
That was not what Spock had expected. But it was not unwelcome. It seemed his father's opinion would be one less factor to consider in the hours to come. Though, he was going to have to talk to his alternate self. The time stamp on this message indicated the ambassador had contacted their father about Jim stepping forward twelve hours before he actually did. Fascinating.
Jim threw himself into work after Spock beamed down to Shi'masu, ignoring concerned support from Bones and a curious look from Selek. He was not in the mood, not after that brush off. He had better things to do than wait and worry until Spock divorced him. There were reports to sign, research projects to check on, and he needed a better understanding of what all Scotty had done to his ship's engines. Jim had never approved a complete overhaul of the plasma conduits.
The reports took a few hours, though that was faster than Jim usually managed them. While it was interesting to read about the different projects going on around the ship, a lot of the standard reports were bureaucratic red tape and fluff, making it less than fun to wade through a couple dozen a day. Of course, that was on a good day. On a bad day there could be a couple hundred, usually because half the ship had been shot up because of some battle with someone stupid enough to think the Enterprise a soft target.
At least the reports from Engineering gave him a better idea what Scotty was up to. Those reports were often the first time Jim heard about mysterious little changes that caused incredible increases in engine speed, and sometimes humongous disasters that took a week at a starbase to fix. Those were getting rarer though. Jim still wanted to know why they were completely retrofitting the plasma system with the help of the Vulcans instead of just repairing the parts that were damaged by the high speeds they'd used to get to Shi'masu.
There were some interesting projects he'd enjoy poking his nose into in Stellar Cartography, but Jim wasn't in the mood to enjoy himself. So he skipped the science labs and headed towards Engineering to corner Scotty while neither of them was distracted by the issue of Spock's wings.
Jim only made it halfway to Engineering. The turbolift he'd taken paused mid path to allow another passenger on.
“Jim, I was hoping you would accompany me to Shi'masu now that your initial work was done,” Ambassador Spock intoned as the door slid shut behind him.
“What did you do? Bribe my yeoman?” Jim snapped. He was getting twitchy about the Spock issue, and the last thing he wanted was another emotional conversation with his bondmate's alternate self.
This Spock had learned to smile, and did so now in a subtle quirk of his lips. “No, simply an assumption based on previous experience,” he admitted slyly.
“I have other work to do if we're going to be ready to go to the Delgasian system as soon as Mr. Scott is done mucking with the engines,” Jim said, praying they'd get there soon.
Spock destroyed that wish by halting the turbolift. “Your crew can handle everything to make the Enterprise ready. You have trained them well. But you need to speak with Spock before meeting with the Council.”
“I thought I'd made it clear it was his decision,” Jim spat. He leaned back against the wall of the turbolift and crossed his arms with a frown on his face.
“I had hoped I had convinced you to speak with Spock before he made any decisions,” the ambassador said gently.
“He's the one who left,” Jim snapped.
“Maybe he hoped you'd follow,” Spock prompted.
Jim poked a mental finger at the spot in his mind where his Spock had taken up residence and felt … peace and warmth. What the hell was that supposed to mean?
But Spock was right. There wasn't anything he could do now that he couldn't also do on the flight to the Delgasian system. And he did need to speak with Spock. Maybe if he got what he was thinking out he'd be able to relax about the whole thing. Maybe.
“Fine,” he sighed. He let the older Spock change the destination of the turbolift and guide him to the transporter room.
Ambassador Selek abandoned Jim outside a large house surrounded by gardens. “He is in the garden,” was all he said before walking away. Not that Jim needed anyone to tell him that. He could tell that Spock was in the garden behind the house the same way he could tell that the ambassador paused and looked back after making it about a block down the road.
Being able to tell was kind of creeping Jim out.
So was the palpable sense of grief that blanketed the whole planet. Jim had noticed it in passing the last time they'd been through, but somehow it was more oppressive this time. Maybe that was because of his bond with Spock. Jim knew he was about as psi sensitive as a block of wood under normal circumstances.
He stood by the garden gate for several minutes, trying to gather that infamous courage to leap then look that Pike had so lauded when they first met. However, it was only when Spock stepped around the corner of the building and caught Jim's eye that the human finally opened the gate. As he walked up the path he watched Spock. After a week of seeing the Vulcan with wings wherever he went, Jim found he had to adjust to the loss. It felt like something was missing. Spock's whole balance was different, though there was a logical reason for that. But Jim wasn't thinking logically right now, just emotionally. He missed Spock's wings.
“Captain,” Spock said once Jim was within a few feet.
“Jim,” Jim corrected. “I'm not here as Captain of the Enterprise. I'm here as ...” But he didn't quite know how to phrase what he was here as.
“My bondmate?” Spock prompted. “I understand, Jim.”
Jim shivered a little at the sound of his name from Spock's lips. He couldn't look at the Vulcan anymore, and so transferred his attention to the rose bush Spock was standing beside. It was in bloom, every petal radiant, red and gold melting into each other. It was beautiful, except, come to think of it, he'd been under the impression that roses couldn't grow in the harsh conditions of Vulcan. Maybe Shi'masu was just enough gentler.
That, however, was not what he was here to think about.
“Look,” Jim said, turning back to Spock. He was bound and determined to get this out and over with. “I just have to say … Where we go from here, that has to be your decision. I'm sorry for tricking you, trapping you into this, but I'm not sorry you're still alive. But … I need you to know how I feel.” Jim paused to take a deep, noisy breath and realized he was close to tears. “What we shared was … incredible. And I don't just mean the sex, which was amazing. I mean that being close to you has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and given the choice I'd never give that up. But I know there are a lot of complications, and there're your feelings for Uhura. So, I really hope, no matter what we can stay friends, but really … that's up to you.”
Spock listened carefully, his full attention clearly focused on Jim. However, as soon as Jim stopped, Spock turned away to the rosebush. Jim would have walked away, or maybe even run, except he could feel nothing but positive emotions from Spock. Before he could change his mind and run anyway, Spock spoke.
“My mother told me once that on Earth flowers were given as gifts during courting to express one's emotional attachment to a potential mate.” Spock reached out and snapped a rose from the bush, the bud delicately unfurling towards full bloom. “Roses, especially red roses, were considered the optimal choice unless something else held particular emotional connotations for one or both in the couple. My mother was very fond of roses. However, Terran roses could not grow on Vulcan outside of a greenhouse. My father built her such a greenhouse, but she also spent years attempting to breed a rose that could grow naturally on Vulcan.” As he spoke, Spock carefully snapped the thorns from the stem of the rose. “She succeeded only months before Vulcan was destroyed, but immediately shipped seeds and cuttings to botanists all over the galaxy. One of the volunteer botanists from Earth brought the seeds these bushes grew from.”
Jim wasn't sure what to make of the subject change, but he also knew Spock was sharing something with him that held a great emotional importance. “These are your mother's roses? They're beautiful.”
“She called them Na'k'diwa,” Spock replied.
The last few years had sparked an interest in Vulcan for Jim beyond the bounds of the basic courses he'd taken for his xenolinguistics requirement, but he still wasn't as adept as he'd like. “For my ...” he parsed, uncertain how to translate the last element.
“Beloved,” Spock said gently, reaching forward and tucking the rose behind Jim's ear.
Jim reached up to touch the petals of the rose in surprise. They were soft and velvety under his fingers. The brush of his fingers wafted the rose's scent to his nose, a heady scent unlike quite any other rose he'd ever smelled. “Is that a hint?” he asked softly, catching Spock's eyes with his own.
“While this is not the path I would have chosen before Sardina III, I find now that it … feels right,” Spock replied. “There will be difficulties, but perhaps, together ...”
“Why Spock,” Jim said with a smile, “what a positively human sentiment.”
“I am half human,” Spock pointed out.
“And you are half Vulcan,” Jim said. He held out one hand, first two fingers extended. “But maybe I can just call you mine.”
“An admirable sentiment.” Spock reached out and crossed his first two fingers with Jim's. As their fingers touched, a soft surge of positive emotion passed between them.
Jim gasped softly. “I could get used to that,” he admitted with a wry smile.
“I believe my mother would say that you were not hugged enough as a child,” Spock proposed.
“She'd probably be right,” Jim admitted. “But that's a conversation for another day.”
“We have many days ahead for such discussions,” Spock assured him.
“True.” Jim brushed his fingers against the rose behind his ear again. “Maybe we should see if Sulu would add a bush or two of these to his collection,” he suggested. “I kinda like them.”
Rather than smiling, Spock looked a little nervous. “I have one other gift for you,” he began hesitantly. “I am aware that it is common for humans to wear rings as a sign of their marital status.” He slipped a hand into his pocket and pulled out a gold ring, the band wide and masculine with an oval on the top embossed with a crest. “This belonged to my mother's family for many generations. My father could not wear it because of the sensitivity of Vulcan hands, but my mother gave it to him all the same. I believe he carried it with him constantly while she was alive … I would be honored if you would wear it.”
Jim accepted the ring and slid it gently into his left ring finger. It was a little too big, so he slipped it to his middle finger and found the fit excellent. “The honor would be mine,” he insisted. “But are you sure your father won't mind?”
“He made the suggestion,” Spock said, wrapping his hand around Jim's as if to prevent the human from removing the ring again.
“Then I will be happy to wear it,” Jim assured him.
“Perhaps you would accompany me inside to send my father a message stating just that?”