Aides and advisers buzzed in and out while the ambassadors pulled each other aside before the day’s session began, seeking information or feeling out the possibility of a confederate to plan tactics against the opposition.
“This place has dulled.”
The sound of hundreds of languages representing the broad range of Federation worlds and their allies mocked the Romulan Ambassador’s statement, especially as a good part of the talk and actions were about them and why they had been called here. But he stood by what he said as his eyes took everything in with the idle practice of a long experienced predator. “It’s been this way ever since Sarek's death.”
Really, since Sarek became too ill to serve as ambassador anymore. Araek, next to him, spoke with a Romulan's love for clashing daggers. “I wish I could have had the chance to go against him.” His eyes fired with the thought of it.
The senior ambassador shot him a glance and scoffed. “Sarek would have eaten you alive.”
His junior forced the same careless expression he always wore, but behind the closed, cocky smile, his teeth ground together on edge. “Once I had--”
“Sarek would have sized you up in an instant and stripped you of your arrogance and trappings. Then where would you be?”
Araek’s fingers itched for his Honor Blade, but he didn’t dare attack his superior. Not when Araek’s own family would stand against him, agreeing that he was nothing more than a pretty holovid, like his father said. All surface with no depth.
The other Romulan jerked his head in the direction of the current Vulcan ambassador. “Look at him. Smart, they're all smart and he's not weak, but that's it. It's a bore! Sarek had steel! He had mettle and wielded it! He weaved around his opponent so they failed before they even knew it. This one--" and he dismissed the current ambassador with the same derisive sound that he gave Araek's chances against Sarek.
This just made Araek wish even more that he had been born at a time when he would have had his chance to go against the great Vulcan. To go against him in his prime, to face that challenge--!
A movement in the Vulcan diplomatic party drew their attention. Araek only gave them a cursory glance at first, a Romulan who knows to check who is in the room and whether they were friend or enemy, but then one of their aides moved. He became like everyone else, drawn and captured by someone with presence.
Tall, stately and elegant, Vulcan. She wore the council's emblem showing she wasn't just a guest, but that she belonged here, even if Araek had never seen her before this.
He heard the beep on their aide's tricorder and held his hand out in demand for the biography that had just been sent to everyone in the Council. But without seeing it, the ambassador next to him made another sound under his breath as if seeing a ghost. "I heard someone ask him about her once....”
He broke into a floor eating stride, not looking or caring if anyone in his party followed him. But Araek kept with him, step for step, the important details he had snatched from the biography running like a warrior’s call in his blood.
Security followed them with every movement. So did a number of the Federation Council. They ignored it.
The Vulcan ambassador rose to meet their approach and Araek’s senior made the barest formalities before going after who he really wanted. “Ambassador--” he looked down at her bio for the first time. “T'Pren, I met your grandfather. I considered him one of the finest and most commanding warriors of this arena.”
Araek couldn’t believe how the Fates had intervened, but here she was. Granddaughter of Sarek! How would she take the very Romulan compliment though?
“Ambassador,” she gave a small bow, “I know the depth of your tribute, and you honor Sarek’s legacy by giving it.”
“He earned it.” The senior Romulan grinned with the shadow of an edge. “So, you believe you understand Romulans?”
“I would not make so bold a claim, sir. It is a standard truth that it is difficult for one group to truly know another. However, you may know of my family line.”
Her mother, Araek suddenly remembered, if he had the name right, was half-Romulan with a formidable Starfleet reputation. What other Saavik could she be?
His senior looked bored. “I know some spread rumors that the impossible is true. The elusive Saavik supposedly has one of us for a parent.”
That was the stock Imperial line on how the Hellguard colony never existed. T’Pren didn’t take the bait, although she dared to poke at the lie. “I misspoke. My parents preferred my siblings and I be made familiar with Romulan nature in the same way as we were with humans. I have had teachings from the earliest stages of my life.”
“Ahkh, teachings,” the ambassador dismissed. “No doubt given by someone who read books and met a few smugglers along the Neutral Zone.”
She gave an interesting look of ducking her head and looking up from beneath her brow. Some secret stayed behind those eyes, but hinted that it was there. “Your point is well taken, Ambassador, but I trust this someone’s knowledge. We are also very experienced in the Carreon culture,” she indicated the diplomatic group who looked like dark skinned Terran salamanders with neon striping. “They hold similar concepts of honor, in both allies and enemies. In addition, I have personal experience with Romulans as well.”
Araek smiled to himself. She had avoided the minefield, but for the first time he wondered who had been Saavik’s Romulan parent. Anyone of note, someone worth using that information against them? But no one knew who it was and the records were destroyed years ago.
The Romulan ambassador paid the barest attention to her return pleasantries. “With all this experience and schooling, I’d be interested in your opinion, Ambassador, on a simple question.” Her dark eyes stayed hospitably on his. “Why do Vulcan and the Federation refuse to turn over Spock for his crimes in destroying our society? Where is the Federations ideal that there can be no interference with the internal affairs of other civilizations?”
Araek couldn’t believe this next piece of bait. After all, T'Pren of Vulcan was the Daughter of Spock, and the Romulan party was here on a sensitive issue. Why risk stirring up other trouble to test Sarek’s granddaughter?
The Vulcan ambassador was on his feet. “If the Empire is calling for the surrender of Ambassador Spock, you must make it to the Council, sir.”
Araek was disappointed to hear T’Pren agree. “My superior is correct, sir.” She nodded in respect to the senior Vulcan. “However, the ambassador has asked for my opinion.” She came back around and Araek imagined the frost that would layer those dark irises and lashes. “I wish to give it, even though I speak only for myself and not for Vulcan in this moment.”
The Romulan ambassador nodded, waiting. So did Araek, with eagerness.
“I agree with you, Ambassador. Any Federation citizen, regardless if they hold a position of responsibility such as my father’s or not, cannot be allowed to disregard the integrity of a society. It is the reason for the Prime Directive that you quoted earlier.”
Both Romulans remained waiting. It couldn’t be this easy.
“However,” she began.
Now would come the icy blast of her disapproval.
But her eyes held light, calm light. “With all respect, the Empire has no grounds for such a violation claim. The reformist movement to which we all allude was begun by Romulan nationals and it was they who invited Ambassador Spock, as well as a member of the Romulan Senate. Their statement on how they would continue after the ambassador’s departure is also a matter of record. Despite Spock’s amended choice to remain, the situation stands: the Unification movement is by the Romulan people with Ambassador Spock’s position one of their creation. The Prime Directive remains inviolate, with the Romulan Empire’s struggle against the movement one of internal politics. We cannot, as you know, interfere in the latter without being asked to do so, lest we give grounds for a charge of violating in your society.”
The Romulan held a mere fraction of height over her, but he used it. Then he threw his head back and laughed. "Akhh! This place gets back a little flavor after all!"
The ambassador's laughter drew T'Pren's attention to the people who craned their necks or eye stalks to catch what was going on, while the other Vulcans kept protectively – and wisely -- nearby.
She saw Araek. He heated under that look. Could those eyes really be the obsidian that they appeared to be from here? And did the one eyebrow really flick up as if asking what he wanted by staring back?
He took a step closer, making sure he was in the light so she could really see him and gave his best smile. Then, when she knew he had claimed her for his attention, he gave her a bow with all the perfect manners and respect, even as he kept the rogue's charm in the lock of his eyes on hers.
He straightened and waited. She glanced up and down his full length as he expected and then returned her gaze to his.
She ducked her head and gazed from the top of her eyes with a small tilt to her head. And stripped him bare of every bit of veneer.
That gaze left him as a boy. A youth playing in a room of grownups.
He drew in a hard breath and wanted to shout. Or charge. Something other than standing here—
--sized up in an instant and stripped of his arrogance and trappings. Left as all surface and no depth.
The Romulan ambassador saw she had looked over, but he couldn’t have realized his prediction for Sarek had been done by his granddaughter or he would have used it. “This is Ambassador Araek. He’s here in a secondary capacity, like you.”
T’Pren’s throaty tones branded Araek with how they reached far below the surface. “I am fortunate for the opportunity in aiding the ambassador, in order that I may learn my duties in this new role.”
“One thing you can learn now.” The Romulan ambassador’s smile took on a different intent. “Don’t think this one experience means they will all be like this.”
“If I did so, I would be as at fault as someone who concluded Vulcans are so one-dimensional as to be nothing more than coldness and stiff disapproval.”
Araek burned more over this mistake while the other Romulan’s grin rose up his cheeks. “Or that the Empire is nothing more than temper with no command of it.”
Araek wanted to mock his superior for his hypocrisy. Dismissing clichés and then earlier giving the standard one for denying Hellguard. But the older man strode away having gotten what he wanted, and leaving Araek’s burn to settle into feeding embers.
One dimensional, that’s what fools like his father thought he was. Oh yes, his family talked about service and honor, but it was by their rules, their game. And he had failed and then was lashed with it by a cousin who manipulated his way into a better place: Araek’s place, filling it better than he did. Arrogance was the best shield against it, arrogance and snide laughter while he found a way around them.
Someday if he could just figure out how to do it, he'd make himself into something more. And it'd be his. And there'd be a good reason for his family to speak his name.
He swallowed. T’Pren watched him, her eyebrows furrowed together forming a bird of prey’s wings. Her head came back as if some surprising results needed further thought. Then she bowed with her head only and those eyes staying on him. Not laughing at him, but not fooled either.
His smile and arrogance slammed around him, giving her derision as he bowed back, making his exit.
And Saavik’s, a Vulcan with blood born and abandoned by his Empire, and thriving in spite of it.
If he had given something away in that one second, she had scored a point. And scored another one by his falling back to acting the foolish rogue. But he had done it too long, it came automatically anymore.
Besides, it didn’t matter. He would barely see T’Pren in this session and any other meetings would be rare, so any lapse meant nothing with as little exposure as they would have with each other.
Although, the thought of those singular clashes across the chamber floor held challenge.
His smile to himself was a real one.