The Vulcan council met in a large cave in the hill on the outskirts of the city. Jim had a feeling the location of the city had in part been chosen to be near this cave. Walking in, he noticed sections where the cave had been widened or heightened or otherwise cleaned up, but most of the cave was in its natural state. The rock was a rich red with golden highlights that reminded Jim of a faded version of the rose that he still had tucked behind his ear. For a moment he was able to forget about the confrontation that was coming, caught up in the beauty of the rocks lit by flickering lanterns along all the walls.
Shifting bodies and soft voices from the far end of the room brought Jim back to reality. His stomach clenched with nerves, but Spock sensed his turmoil and stroked a comforting hand down his arm.
Spock was struggling slightly to retain his calm. Finalizing his plans with Jim had been provided a relief from much of his emotional turmoil, but there were still many difficulties to face. Gaining the support of the council was not necessary, even for one of Spock's bloodline, but it would be welcome, as well as an additional layer of protection when facing Starfleet.
Further understanding of his father's words came when Spock found an added measure of calm in helping to sooth Jim.
“S'chn T'gai Spock, son of Sarek, why have you come before us this day?”
The strong voice drew the attention of both Spock and Jim to depths of the cave where the six elders awaited them. Jim radiated surprise and confusion.
“They called us,” he whispered. Before Jim could announce as much more loudly, as he was likely to do, Spock stepped forward and raised his hand in greeting.
“I have come to inform you, as is proper, of my choice of bondmate,” Spock said formally. He held out his hand to his side, two fingers extended. Jim took the hint and stepped forward, crossing his first two fingers with Spock's. “James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the USS Enterprise.”
“A human,” one figure said disdainfully. Elder Solark, Spock believed. He had never been supportive of Spock, though his friend, Stanor, had been far worse. Stanor had died under a rock when the passageway collapsed during their escape from Vulcan.
Spock raised one eyebrow in disapproval. He would no longer submit to such behavior. “I have heard such disdain my entire life, and my father since he approached this council with the intent to wed my mother, but I do not understand it. Such distaste for our foremost ally is illogical.”
Jim let out a snort of approval. When Spock dropped his hand, Jim wound their fingers together and stood at his shoulder. It was an immodest display in Vulcan culture, but Spock allowed it and felt amusement at the barely hidden shock on many of the elder's faces. Except his alternate self, who was almost smiling.
“Is it their emotional surface that you find so unpleasant?” Spock asked politely. “Because it cannot be their intelligence, diligence, and curiosity. Yet, when I was accepted to the Vulcan Science Academy, I was informed that it was unexpected due to the handicap of my human genetics.”
Spock felt Jim's outrage at his description but quelled any outburst with a squeeze of his fingers.
“Explain your logic,” T'Pau ordered in a thick accent.
“Humans can be illogical entities, letting their emotions rule,” Spock began.
“Hey,” Jim protested softly.
“It is that very illogic that gives them an increased flexibility. Their regular exposure to emotions increases their ability to manage their lives through emotional difficulties. While they may become emotionally compromised, most quickly recover. This is a technique which Vulcans would do well to learn if they are to survive recent events.”
“They?” T'Pau asked pointedly.
“I am not human, and not Vulcan. Accepted by neither, should I claim either?” Spock asked forcefully.
T'Pau's eyebrow rose with dignity and surprise. “You are of my bloodline, the one who saved the Council of Elders when Vulcan was destroyed,” she intoned. “You have felt the burn of pon farr?”
“I have known that trial,” Spock agreed.
“Then you are Vulcan,” T'Pau announced firmly.
Spock was shocked. While he had never faced the direct disapproval of his family matriarch, he had long known it existed. Others had used her arguments against his father's marriage of his mother to needle him in an attempt to elicit an emotional response on many occasions. Now he was suddenly welcomed. He wondered if his alternate self had something to do with this change, and a quick glance at the other man showed hints of a smug grin, carefully hidden from the other elders. Those other elders were sharing their own versions of surprised expressions.
“And what say you, James Kirk, son of George?” T'Pau asked, finally acknowledging Jim.
“I say that for a race that claims to embrace Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, you sure are a snooty and insular bunch,” Jim proclaimed. “If so many of you consider humans so inferior, why form the Federation? Why make first contact at all? But we illogical, emotional beings have learned your technologies and improved them, have expanded faster and further, and even saved you from yourselves if the history books are correct.”
T'Pau's solid expression seemed to melt slightly at that reminder. She had been the one to sign the Federation charter, who had stood beside Captain Archer when the Romulan traitor had been found in the Vulcan Council. Jim had chosen his argument well.
“You believe we act counter to Kol-Ut-Shan?” Elder Solark asked.
“Embracing Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations means acknowledging the emotional path as equal to the emotionless path, that Terran intelligence can match Vulcan intelligence, and Andorian, and Klingon. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but none are inherently superior,” Jim replied. “By saying that Spock was handicapped in reaching the Vulcan Science Academy by his human half, you implied Vulcan superiority. By expressing disapproval that Spock chose a human for telsu instead of a Vulcan, you imply that a human bondmate is inferior. Those implications are the very opposite of embracing Kol-Tu-Sha.”
“Kol-Ut-Shan,” Spock corrected. He would have to work with Jim on the human's pronunciation of the Vulcan language.
Ambassador Selek steepled his hands before his chest, his eyes atwinkle, and said, “As I have been saying for years.”
“Yours is a unique perspective,” T'Pau said.
“But no less valid than any other,” Selek countered. “In my years of experience with humans, I have found great possibilities in the theories of v'tos ka'tur.”
“Our race nearly destroyed itself before Surak taught us to suppress emotion and follow logic,” Surent protested.
“But was it the suppression of emotion that saved us, or the following of logic?” Selek said. It was an question Spock had been considering himself since Vulcan's destruction. “I once sought kolinahr, but only found peace in friendship. Perhaps our people do not miss what they have not known, but that does not mean life is not richer with some emotion.”
“That is an argument for another day,” T'Pau intoned.
“Is it?” Jim cut in. “I think that the very point today is whether Vulcans can withstand being exposed to emotion, human or otherwise. Spock choosing a human telsu is only part of the situation, though it is an easy one to point out. The real issue is that your entire race is on the verge of self destructing with grief. Emotion can only be suppressed so long or so well, even for you. You have no training in managing your emotions, no idea how to pass through grief when everyone feels it just as deeply. And that is exactly what you must learn to do. You can't just suppress the loss of most of your race.”
“My father told me today that he feels more at ease on Earth than Shi'masu because of the shared emotions,” Spock added. “Humans are emotional, but they know how to manage them. Our race,” he saw T'Pau nod slightly at his choice of possessive, “cannot manage our grief. If we are to survive to repopulate, then we must learn, and we must look to the other races with whom we share the galaxy to teach us.”
“Humans would be honored to share this knowledge, to help those who helped us to the stars,” Jim finished. “But you must admit the need.”
“And is it your illogical mind that brings you to these conclusions?” T'Pau asked. Spock was in shock, fairly certain she had just made a joke.
“My illogic can be an asset, but in this case I believe it is logic that guides me,” Jim replied politely.
T'Pau nodded. “Spock, you came today before us to announce your choice. I see great possibility in your chosen. However, first I must ask. Why him? Not why a human, but why this one?”
Spock considered her question carefully. “You are concerned it is out of obligation.” A faint flicker of an eyebrow confirmed his analysis. “I am grateful to James Kirk for saving my life, but he has done so before and will again, as I have saved his. It is part of our … friendship.” Ambassador Selek positively glowed. “My choice to pursue a permanent bond rather than requesting rel-san-vek is based on a different foundation. I find our minds compatible, there is much we can teach each other, and a wise elder once told me to do what feels right. This feels right.”
T'Pau stepped forward, stopping just before Spock. She raised her left hand, fingers spread. Spock was surprised. She wished to confirm his words and the depth of his bond with her own mind, a step rarely taken. It was even more amazing in that it implied she would be looking at a non-Vulcan mind when she checked Jim, something practically unheard of. Spock could only nod, and her fingers settled against his psi points. It was not as it had been with Jim, an overwhelming sharing. This was simply a touch, a taste, getting a feel for his mind and his bond.
Whatever she found, when she dropped her hand she turned to Jim and asked, “And you, James Kirk?”
“My life has been off kilter since Nero appeared and killed my father,” Jim said. “Since I joined Starfleet, my friends have been helping me become the man I should have been, Spock most of all. In what we shared the last few days, I have felt more peace than any other time I can recall. I don't want to give that up.”
T'Pau looked closely at him, then raised her right hand. Spock felt Jim's nervousness, but nothing showed on the surface as the human nodded. Spock could not sense their interaction, T'Pau must have blocked him, but something clearly transferred between the elder and the human. When T'Pau stepped back, there was a lightness in her eyes that Spock had never seen before.
“A truer mating of minds I have rarely seen. Spock, go forth with the blessing of our family. Perhaps there are things your telsu may teach us yet.”
When T'Pau returned to her fellow elders, they did not depart as Spock expected. Instead, she looked pointedly at the others and began to speak in low tones that did not carry. There was a pressure in the air as hands touched and words were whispered. A vehement argument broke out, but was quickly quelled somehow. Whatever it was over, T'Pau and Selek seemed to be on the same side.
Spock tightened his fingers around Jim's as T'Pau turned back towards them. What other surprises could she be planning?
Jim's stomach was no more settled, but he stood confidently all the same. He had faced down Nero as a cadet and had handled plenty of negotiations over the last two years. He wasn't going to let a few old Vulcans shatter him. Though he had learned quite a bit about his first officer, his husband. He had made a note to himself to have a quiet talk with the crew about being a bit less speciesist to their first officer. If Spock could be acknowledged as Vulcan, maybe he could be human too.
The blessing was an unexpected surprise, as was the mind touch. She had been so gentle. He wasn't quite sure what it was all about, but based on the expressions of the other elders it was unexpected. That did nothing to comfort him when T'Pau turned back to them. There was a subtle look in her eyes he could not place, though the other Spock, Selek, looked insufferably pleased so it couldn't be all bad.
When Spock's hand tightened on his, Jim leaned a whisker closer until the sleeves of their uniforms brushed.
“James Kirk, for your efforts in saving our race, your race, and the Federation itself, we thank you,” T'Pau began.
Jim had to struggle to keep his jaw off the floor. He was well aware that Vulcans never expressed gratitude.
“Know you are welcome always and may consider Shi'masu your home.”
Jim didn't quite know what to make of that, but he couldn't miss the shock radiating from Spock. He didn't have a chance to ask for clarification, however, because the elders immediately departed. All but Selek, who quickly approached them.
“Congratulations,” Selek announced.
Jim let out a deep sigh, his shoulders feeling like they dropped two inches with the release of air. “Thanks.”
Spock looked at his older counterpart with a raised eyebrow. “Had you any doubts it would turn out so?” he asked wryly.
“I had confidence it would go well,” Selek admitted. “But never that it would go so well.”
“Then you did not suggest …?” Spock began.
“No. That was T'Pau's idea,” Selek replied, confusing Jim no end.
“Fascinating,” Spock replied.
Before Jim could ask just what the hell they were talking about, Selek changed the subject.
“I know there are matters you must attend to before the Enterprise departs in two point eight three hours, but there is an introduction I wish to make.”
“Of course,” Spock replied, and Jim found himself following the two hybrids out of the cave. In the glow of the sunset outside the cave entrance were two women, female Vulcans that looked perhaps a little older than Spock.
“Spock,” Selek said, “I had approached T'Mara and T'Hass about your need for a new mate before Jim stepped forward.”
Spock held his right hand up, fingers separated into the Vulcan salute. “It is an honor to make your acquaintance.” Jim did his best to imitate Spock.
“We were honored to be approached by the family of such a hero,” one woman said, echoing Spock's action. “T'Mara and I lost our mates when Vulcan was destroyed.”
“We grieve with thee,” Jim replied formally.
“It was our curiosity about other cultures that saved us. We were on a cultural exchange with Earth,” T'Mara continued.
“They have a request for both of you,” Selek said.
“While we were honored to be approached,” T'Mara said, “It has been our decision not to take new mates save each other. T'Hass has been my closest friend since childhood and I have never met another with whom my mind fits as well.”
“However, it is logical that we do our parts to repopulate our race,” T'Hass added. “As must you. We propose that we combine our efforts.”
Jim blinked twice, trying to process her words. He turned to Spock and asked, “Did I understand that correctly?”
“T'Mara and T'Hass are offering to bear and raise my children,” Spock replied.
“Both of your children,” Selek corrected with a pointed look that Jim couldn't interpret.
“Me?” Jim asked in utter surprise. “I'm not Vulcan.”
“You are Spock's telsu,” T'Mara replied. “It is proper.”
“Such arrangements have been made before between two couples of the same gender,” Spock replied. “My apologies for misinterpreting your request.”
“Given the rejection Ambassador Selek has described you as facing, it is a logical mistake,” T'Hass said. “It was the rejection that was illogical.”
“We would accept no such disapproval of our offspring. Many of the conservative elements died with Vulcan. Your children will be a reminder of why Vulcan must be more accepting of differences, of change,” T'Mara said.
“Uh, Spock, can we talk about this a minute?” Jim protested. “Not four hours ago we weren't even sure we were going to stay together. Now we're talking about kids? How are we going to manage that on the Enterprise?”
Spock turned to Jim and gently took his hand. “Ambassador Selek informed me earlier today that Vulcans have built a repository for genetic material. Many females are being encouraged to bear children by several males to widen the gene pool. I had thought that through this my line might continue.”
“That's great,” Jim said, knowing that children had been a concern for Spock. He liked the idea of Spock having kids. It was the idea of his own kids that scared Jim senseless.
“With T'Mara and T'Hass' offer, I find the idea of our children being raised together appealing,” Spock admitted. It almost brought tears to Jim's eyes.
“I had a crap childhood,” Jim whispered. “I don't know if I could stand to have kids I never saw. My mother was never around, and Frank … I'd be an awful father.”
“It would not be the same,” Spock assured him. “You do not have to decide now. We have time to discuss before a decision must be made.”
“How? We have to leave orbit soon, and there's no way to know when we'll be back,” Jim said.
“We can leave samples with the genetic bank now. Before any can be used, we must give approval, or our next of kin should one of us die,” Spock said.
“We would raise your children with the greatest respect,” T'Hass said. Only then did Jim notice that her fingers were entwined with T'Mara's. “They should know the Vulcan way, but also the Terran traditions. We have extensively studied both, as well as others.”
“Ambassador Selek has offered to share his understanding of walking the path between logic and emotion,” T'Mara added. “T'Hass and I wish to learn, and our children would be able to choose their path. There would be no disgrace in following one path over the other.”
“I would ensure you received regular updates,” Selek offered. It was something about the eager look in the older Spock's eyes that caused Jim to suddenly decide.
“Let's do it,” Jim said, turning back to Spock.
“You do not have to decide now,” Spock assured him.
“It feels right,” Jim replied. His fingers reached up to brush the flower that still rested behind his ear. Something in the look that T'Mara and T'Hass shared reminded him of the love that must have created that rose. And Selek looked so excited. Those kids would always have two parents and a doting grandfather, even if Jim and Spock were never involved. “And if I don't decide now I'll just spend the next few days freaking out.”
Spock's eyebrow rose to his bangs. “And you will not with the decision made?”
Jim laughed. “Probably. But can you imagine Bones' expression?”
When Jim and Spock materialized in the transporter room, something felt off to Jim, not in the room but in himself. He had just settled down, not just entering into a relationship with his first officer but marrying the other man, with the approval of the Vulcan council, and he'd followed it up by making an arrangement to have children. Spock had certainly made sure the process of depositing the genetic samples for those kids was fun. At the time it felt like a confirmation that it was all real, not just a pon farr dream.
Now it felt like a dream again. After all that, being on the Enterprise with Scotty looking eagerly at him felt completely surreal. Here it felt like nothing had changed. Well, nothing but him, because he could still feel the ring on his hand and an echo of Spock's mind in the back of his own, and he could remember all those impossible events. It seemed as though there should be some obvious difference given how his world had tilted on its axis, and yet here everything looked the same.
“How's my ship?” Jim asked Scotty after staring a little too long. “You finish tearing her engines apart?”
“She's ship shape and ready to go,” Scotty assured his captain.
“Good. The Delgasians are still expecting us.” Jim found the mantle of captain fell into place with ease as he strode to the Bridge. He had worried that with so long out of touch, with so many changes, he might have trouble, but the surreal feeling faded, mostly, and the sense that all was right with the world settled in. As he strode onto the Bridge, that feeling snapped into place. His alpha shift crew was in place, his chair was available, Spock was at his side, and the Enterprise was purring away.
“Mr. Sulu, set course for the Delgasian system,” Jim ordered. “We have an investiture to get to.”
“At warp seven, we will arrive a day after the end of the ceremony,” Chekov cut in, sounding oddly pleased despite the bad news.
“Captain,” Scotty cut in before Jim could comment. He was standing next to Chekov, bouncing with excitement, his grin almost wider than his face. “I'm proud ta announce tha' we fixed the flaw with the plasma conduits.”
“What exactly are you saying, Mr Scott?” Spock asked.
“We can make warp eight now, indefinitely,” Scotty crowed. “Maybe even eight point five.”
“You are certain of your calculations, Mr. Scott?” Spock asked.
“Your Vulcan engineers confirmed my numbers when they helped with the install,” Scotty assured them.
“At warp eight, we will arrive at Delgasian IV at the end of the investiture ceremony,” Chekov chimed in.
“If everything proceeds according to schedule,” Spock interjected.
“What are the chances of blowing a conduit at higher than warp eight?” Jim asked cautiously. If they could arrive before the end of the investiture it would get Admiral Mobatsu off his back. Somewhat anyway.
“Simulations are good ta warp eight point two, but the numbers get a wee bit fuzzy after,” Scotty answered eagerly.
“I would appreciate the opportunity to study your simulations,” Spock said.
“Copies are waiting in your quarters,” Scotty assured him.
“You're sure about that number?” Jim asked.
“Captain,” Scotty said, aghast. “I'd never suggest a number I wasna certain of.”
“Of course,” Jim placated. “Mr. Sulu, warp eight point two, if you please. I'd like to reach the hall before the investiture is over.”
“Aye, Captain,” Sulu said eagerly. Energy all over the Bridge, and likely the whole ship, was high as the stars appeared to stretch around the Enterprise as she leapt into warp.