Two weeks:

T'Kel knew no words for how she felt or what was happening. No newborn did. But she knew the warmth of the sun, the soft feel of her clothes and blanket wrapped around her, the twin lying next to her, and the parents leaning over their crib.

She was picked up and held in a set of strong hands, the sight of her mother and father's faces replaced with another woman, old and gray, who spoke words T'Kel didn't know any more than the ones for warmth and sun and twin.

This woman then passed her back to her mother and father who spoke more unknown sounds, and then T'Pren, her twin, was returned to them as well. Now more hands reached out to hold her, whispering three different sounds into her ear. These, she would learn, were who she was: her family name, her common name, and her áhtia name, her first/self name, private and known only to those close to her.

Then a man, different than the others, held her; gray like some of the others and similar strong hands, but cooler, and different ears and a smiling mouth. His voice rumbled in richer rhythms than even T'Kel's father's. Then another came to stand at his side who was very different. She bore black shining skin with electric blue striping that matched her lidless eyes.

The first older woman came back, touching T'Kel's head and then the older man. T'Kel felt him, the way she felt T'Pren, the way she felt Saavik and Spock, and her older brother, Setik, all of two years old staring with a toddler's somberness at the proceedings. That was how T'Kel learned who her Sa-mekh-rá, Hikaru Sulu, was. This gentle, strong presence in her mind; the sound of his stoicism and patience, his strength and wisdom.

Then taloned hands took her and her mind was touched again. Something felt so secure about her body being wrapped in those talons, as if nothing could break through them to reach her. With that calm Sulu presence and those protective claws curved around her back, T'Kel, for the first time, stilled. That was how she met Rrelthiz, her Ko-mekh-rá.

That was her Naming Day.


Two years:

"Yes, indeed. It is yours. A gift, small T'Kel, from me to you."

T'Kel eyed the tzn'ozv drum set with some satisfaction. It was just like the ones she saw played the other day, except these were perfectly sized for her.

The emolient in Rrelthiz's cape struck T'Kel's nostrils with its strong scent as her Ko-Mekh-rá leaned over her. But the cape kept the Carreon's skin from drying out in Vulcan's heat, or so Saavik and Spock had explained. "Today, T'Kel, I give you the first lesson in retribution. A minor lesson, indeed, but minor is all we need today. Your mother, if she remembers, gave my oldest a gift of paints. She called it 'encouraging his aptitude for painting'. He exhibited his aptitude all over my walls. I promised to return the favor some day. So… I have!"

Which drum first, that's what T'Kel tried to decide. The larger one that stood up like she did? Or the one that sat on four legs next to it? She remembered the musicians she had seen. They played both, first the tall one, then the one with legs. She made a large whack on her new tall drum with her open palms, then beat on the other. The sound was most satisfactory!

Rrelthiz said, "I noticed your interest in music from your father. And your excitement at the drummers at the last holiday. And what else is your Ko-Mekh-rá for, little one? You learn a lesson and receive a gift. I exact retribution on your mother."

T'Kel now remembered the real drummers used sticks, not their hands. She groped along the floor and found not two, but three sticks, two padded, the other one with holes all through the handle. This was interesting!

"I am leaving now, little one."

Experimenting with beating her drums with each of the sticks changed the sound. Excellent. She tried holding all three sticks and put her whole upper body into it this time. The drum pushed back at her and she fell. She'd have hit the floor, but a pair of hands caught her under the arms just in time.

Setik. Of course, Setik. Setik always caught her, from the day she first tried to walk and he, their sehlat, and her twin were her only audience. She'd stumble. Setik would catch her. Setik was her hero.

She looked up as he looked down. "Tenu't," she called him. Her name for him, no one else's. The Vulcan word for blue, the color of his eyes. That was how she had learned what blue was, Mother sitting next to her and pointing out Setik's eyes.

"Tenu't," Mother had said, and T'Kel had repeated it. To her, Setik was Tenu't.

"And I leave for the best reason. Talent needs much practice to be an expertise. Your mother is arriving soon. Indeed, just beginning her time free. You will give her my revenge. Play your drums for her, T'Kel."

Setik saw the drums and left, returning with his small lytherette, and began plucking - in painstaking fashion - a song Father was teaching him. T'Kel did not know how to play this song. But Father often made his own music. She would make her music to go with Setik's.

Her brother nodded in approval and their music was excellent. And her one stick, the one with the holes, whistled as she swung it through the air. Even better, it drew T'Pren from the other room. Her identical twin plopped down on the floor and began singing along at the top of her voice. T'Pren was very creative. If she did not know a word, she made one. This experiment was working well.

"My leaving does not mean you are unsupervised. Do not try to take apart anything."

Not likely, after being disciplined by Ko'Kan, their sehlat, for being caught investigating a computer. How was she to learn if she could not investigate? But Ko'Kan had taken her neck carefully between the fanged jaws and led her away. For some reason, this sight made Grandmother Perrin scream.

T'Pren was singing well, but T'Kel decided it was unfair she had drums and Setik a lytherette, but T'Pren had nothing. So she handed over the whistling stick. Setik showed T'Pren it was a knlur flute - he was most intelligent -and now a new sound came into their music. Father would be very impressed when he returned next month.

T'Kel received a poke from the tip of Rrelthiz's tail. So unfair that she did not have a tail, as she had mentioned to Mother. Then the black throat sac trilled. This sound, she had learned, meant her Ko-mekh-rá was pleased.

"Retribution, T'Kel. It is an important concept. We will discuss this further."

Perhaps, T'Kel considered, one could build a tail! Yes, a way must exist. Now... how?

Rrelthiz's tail swished around her feet and a talon tapped her on the head. "I anticipate your mother's reaction. I am certain our first lesson will be sucessful."

Yes, retribution. She would remember: retribution. But more importantly, the tail. Lacking anything better, she settled with one padded drumstick and poked Rrelthiz back. But Setik and T'Pren waited, and T'Kel decided she couldn't abandon their music to build a tail right now.

Their music must be as good as she and her siblings thought, because when Mother arrived, she gave them a room where they could experiment all the time -- in Father's office, far on the other side of the house. She said they could play music there even when he returned home. In the interim, she would send Grandfather to teach them and they could play their music for Perrin. Unfortunately, duty called Mother away -- and so soon after arriving home! - after, she said, she contacted Rrelthiz.


Seven years:

T'Kel stood with her age mates who had also just completed their Kahs-wan. The large, ancient stone hall looked out from every wall onto the desert where she and the others had returned from only this morning. Cleaned and rested, they rejoined their families wearing the IDIC medallions they earned today. As they had promised, Sulu and Rrelthiz waited for her along side her parents. They told her they knew she'd succeed at both the mental disciplines and the physical desert trials.

She looked at Sulu who had taught her much about his peace and discipline -- the reasons her parents had chosen him as her Sa-mekh-rá. She was about to tell him something she had discovered when Demora Sulu came through the crowd, smiling with real pride. "I hear congratulations are in order, baby sister. Dad's talked about nothing else for days."

So that made two appreciative people who listened as T'Kel described the canyon path she had discovered and plotted over the past four months. Perfect for flying gliders, if they could spare one more day on Vulcan?

"We're here for another two days," Hikaru Sulu told her. "And I've been wanting to try a real sesah glider since I first saw one after your father's fal-tor-pan."

Two days, two whole days to discuss piloting and starships. Perhaps... perhaps Mother would allow her on a shuttle run -- with Sulu along, of course. After all, T'Kel was to accept an adult's responsibilities now, and what was more adult than her own hands at the helm?

And then she looked at Rrelthiz. For a second, her eyes darted to her twin standing with her Mekh-rás, especially Ruanek who leaned down to whisper something to her. Ruanek, a Romulan, and T'Pren's Sa-Mekh-rá because of his importance to her family and her father's insistence they learn about their Romulan nature.

T'Kel's eyes went back to Rrelthiz. Rrelthiz, her mother's long time friend and confidant, and whose culture of honor reflected, in its own way, a similar code to the Romulans. This was how Saavik exposed her eldest daughter to her Romulan blood without a total Romulan influence. And it showed her respect for Rrelthiz herself, her culture, and most of all, their friendship.

Rrelthiz asked Sulu to excuse them and he nodded in understanding. She escorted T'Kel a short distance away from everyone else and lowered her voice. "I know you already have a knife given to you, marked for your ancestral house." T'Kel felt the weight of her favored knife strapped to the small of her back. "But my people always give our children a dagger when they come of age. You are as a daughter to me, so take this as yours."

She handed T'Kel a knife so different than her Vulcan one. A long, slender object resembling a thin tube with a sharp, deadly end. It glittered silver in the sunlight.

"It is a woman's knife. You will learn the difference and its importance soon."

"Rrelthiz..." Saavik had come up behind them and she stared at her old friend.

"We agreed, Friend Saavik, when I became your daughter's benefactor. It will not be for some years yet. But we agreed."

Saavik eyed her daughter who read in Rrelthiz's words something looming ahead of her. Her mother nodded. "We agreed. I know the importance." To T'Kel she said, "I will explain tonight. When you hear of it--" her mother's tone grew dry, "you will most likely greatly anticipate it. For now, however," she placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder and T'Kel felt the import as Rrelthiz did the same on the other shoulder, "you have passed your Kahs-wan. You achieved much today. I consider myself humbled by the honor you bring me as your mother."

T'Kel could not believe her ears.

T'Pren glided over, rejoined with her twin for the first time since the Kahs-wan began, and Saavik brought her into the circle.


Seventeen years:

T'Kel kneeled on the ground, enfixed in her meditations. A shock of black bangs fell from where she had pushed them out of the way, her slightly shaggy, short hair never quite to perfection.

She faced the last trial in the taiy tonight, the coming-of-age rite of Rrelthiz's people, and the first outsider to ever be a part of it. Some Carreons spoke against allowing her at the sacred rite, but Rrelthiz wouldn't budge.

Below in the jungle, within a clearing the Carreons made for their circle, Rrelthiz faced off against the rest. T'Kel stayed hidden in the darkness, her black eyes seeing the light in the center of the circle, her ears picking up the argument. But her mind stayed focus on her meditations.

Really, this test was less difficult than the Kahs-wan or the four month long tal'oth where she survived in the desert with only her Vulcan ritual blade. Although, perhaps it was more properly stated that the Kahs-wan and tal'oth prepared her to pass through these tests. She found food and water in the jungle with no difficulties. She showed the maturity the other adolescents had only just learned. After all, it was only two months ago that she underwent Vulcan's last ceremony for adulthood and received a family sword.

But as she looked up into the starry sky as she had done with her mother for as long as she could remember, she thought of new lessons.

"She agreed to no use of a breathing filter," Rrelthiz argued below. "To no artificial means that would give her the use of talons and tail. She took only her knife, same as the others proving themselves!"

The heavy, moist air and its damp weight pressed into T'Kel's lungs, bred for a desert's hot breath. If her human and Romulan blood didn't show itself, allowing her to breathe around so much moisture, she might suffer real damage. But the ability to survive didn't just include her home environment.

"You request that she not hunt, Rrelthiz! The ritual hunt is sacred! If she does not hunt, she fails the taiy!"

Rrelthiz spun, facing each of the circle, her tail lashing hard. "She is Vulcan. By choice of path and partial genetics!"

Partial genetics. An interesting way to put it.

"That is our point, Rrelthiz! You make it for us! She is Vulcan, not Carreon. She has no place here!"

Out in the jungle, T'Kel picked up the sound of the other teens, returning with their kills. The Carreons below heard the noises too and plenty of pointed looks were aimed at Rrelthiz.

T'Kel pulled her silver knife and rolled it in her hand, remembering again how her Ko-mekh-rá taught her the woman's rites; why this knife was scaled differently - not for a female's hand or strength, but for a female's needs. Not for conquering, but protection, defense of the home, defense of honor... even if it meant the retribution was a family member's or one's own life.

Rrelthiz stilled her tail. A dangerous sign. "Honor once meant too much here for anyone to argue against our fulfilling an oath. I gave my oath to this one who embraces our taiy and the friend who gave birth to her: the one who saved my life and gave my honor back to me when I lost it. Do we now count that for nothing?"

A different honor: demands for retribution and revenge. A people connected differently to their old warrior ways than the Vulcans maintained.

Some of the Carreon stories were so much like Ruanek's about the Romulan code, a people whose blood flowed in T'Kel.

She thought of the stories she had heard of her mother's past, and of how T'Pren had learned when she was ten that the feared Commander Ajeya was Saavik's mother. Of how when T'Kel herself was three, she'd attacked someone threatening her family, flinging herself by instinct at the attacker, biting his hand with the phaser in it until her teeth drew blood and his screams echoed in her ears for days.

Saavik had come to her that night when T'Kel couldn't sleep; not with disapproving lectures, but to hold her small daughter in a cradle of her arms, murmuring words of understanding, until T'Kel's shaking stopped, and Spock, with Setik and T'Pren all curled around her, brushed his fingertips along her temples and helped ease his daughter from her shock.

Of the day Rrelthiz came up on the roof of their home, sitting on T'Kel's left as Saavik sat on her right. And in a hushed voice, spoke of how Saavik taught her true honor and retribution, how T'Kel's mother stepped into a fledging friendship, opened herself by talking of her past, and saved Rrelthiz's life. It bound them forever.

Her meditations were finished.

In a few moments, she came towards the circle, silent despite the heavy weight slung across her shoulders. Each Carreon faced outward, receiving the kill from the kneeling adolescent in front of them, making their declaration of adulthood. Rrelthiz watched her, throat sac rattling, as she approached the Elders circle with her prey on her shoulders. She placed it at her Ko-mekh-rá's feet and spoke, using that inherited ability to be heard by everyone while barely raising her volume.

"I have completed the hunt, Benefactor, out of respect for your culture and mine."

She never knew what Rrelthiz started to say, because two shouts rang over everything else.

"It's a tskranska!"

"Nest-Goddess, save us! It's alive!"

T'Kel glanced down the long length of the captured tskranska, the worst of the Carreon predators. Its spiked tail was bound to its belly by the same vine around its leathery wings. Forefeet and hindfeet tied by more vine, it flexed poisonous talons as it started to awake.

"Yes," she agreed. "It is very much alive."

No doubt T'Pren would have made this next part sound noble, warming everyone present to her will, but T'Kel lacked such skills. She raked over every Carreon who had stood against her with her eyes hard as opals. "I studied the taiy, and fulfilled its law. I present a captured prey. No word, spoken or written, said it must be dead."

She gave them no chance to argue, but rose to her feet. Holding out her silver knife to Rrelthiz, she completed the ritual. "I am T'Kel, I am Lne'rki. My hunt is complete and I stand before you as an adult."

She flinched internally at speaking her most private áhtia name aloud, but this was The Declaration and for Rrelthiz. Her Ko-mekh-rá took the knife, looked from it to T'Kel to her prey. And burst into laughter.

"May the Nest-Goddess help us, indeed! Take your tskranska to some place safe and set it free. I have no patience for treating any coronaries or poisoned bites in this group! Then go to the mud baths for the Cleansing. I'll join you there." She gave T'Kel back her knife with more laughter. "I cannot wait to see how this story is twisted in the retelling! A live tskranska!" she shouted to the Carreon next to her whom she had hated for years. "What did yours bring you, a dead rodent?"

Mud baths. T'Kel kept her nose from twitching at the smells. Scratched, bruised, and bleeding emerald green, she knew Rrelthiz would never risk her health to the mud, so she sank dutifully into the mire.

Her head lifted to the stars. She knew now why her mother agreed with Rrelthiz to have her undergo these new trials. Not just to honor the Carreon's cultural demands, but to show T'Kel a side of herself that she thought she knew -- what with Ruanek such a big part of their lives. But looking into the mirror from this new angle...

T'Kel reverently put the dagger away in the pile of her clothes and kept looking up, finding Home amongst the stars as Saavik had taught her to do.

Twenty-one:

T'Kel wore her SE uniform, not with pride but properly, shoulders and back straight. Vulcans did not display pride in achieving a place in the respected Science and Exploration Division, or for their already showing talents in ship design and engineering.

But then, Vulcans didn't show grieving. Or did they? Even Sarek showed the terrible loss of Saavik's death, but she must remember the effects the Bendii Syndrome had on her grandfather.

Setik had left this morning for his medical studies. Spock was in the desert for a pilgrimage to deal with his own pain. Even T'Pren was gone with Saavik's memorial service over, her studies to be an ambassador not able to wait any longer. And T'Kel was shipping out tonight.

Rrelthiz's voice came from behind her. "I never expected to outlive her."

The Carreon was old; it showed in her body and coloring, but those neon blue eyes held the same vitality and intelligence they always had. Carreons didn't live as long as Vulcans, although longer than humans. Still, with her mother's loss a sharp inner pain, T'Kel swore she must have looked the way Setik did whenever he stared at the very old McCoy.

"I should have thought it could happen," Rrelthiz said. "With as much trouble as Saavik found... but she always managed to survive."

Her tail gave a tiny shake and she made herself 'smile' at T'Kel. "Your mother would be so proud of you, standing here in your uniform with a commendation already on record!"

"I did not join Starfleet," T'Kel argued.

"Indeed, what matter would that have been to her?"

"Starfleet killed her."

A dramatic statement, not worthy of a Vulcan, but she made it anyway and thought it was true. Rrelthiz, however, flicked her tail in sharp, quick movements. "T'Kel, you know you are wrong. People are lost in the SE on missions. It is an unfortunate danger to a space explorer's life."

"Mother claimed the mission parameters impossible. They still forced her to go."

"She never said impossible, only the risk too high and the mission better planned. Command thought differently and convinced her."

"No!" T'Kel gathered control over her voice again. "They questioned Mother's sense of duty. All she did for them and they questioned her."

Rrelthiz stared with a lot of fondness at her ko-fu-tel, but T'Kel got the impression Rrelthiz saw Saavik and not her. "T'Kel, you know as well as I, such an insult would not make your mother go. She chose to go for her own reasons."

"I am unsure." T'Kel looked around the family garden, the fountain giving off the slightest spray. She set it that way purposely for Rrelthiz's sake. The Carreon needed the moisture. She broke a long silence. "Rrelthiz? Answer me, no matter the pain you think the answer will give." She saw the startled response, but knew she'd get the truth. "Did my mother go for me? Did she believe she needed to set an example for me? Of duty and following orders?"

Rrelthiz's tail lashed, but she said nothing until her final gentle words. "T'Kel, picture your mother, the way she was as an officer."

A clear, poignant image of Saavik in uniform, on decks of starships, in command of the Fifth Fleet around Vulcan, in her science labs, and so many cultural meetings... in command of her last team.

"Yes?"

"Did she need to give you any more examples of duty?"

T'Kel's desire to serve amongst the stars, but more -- to find a way to build better ships, to break the barriers of how to do it, to fly them and test their limits -- that light in Saavik's eyes as she listened.

"No, I needed no more."

"And your mother knew it."

Twenty-six:

Rrelthiz's happiness was clearly evident as leaned into her screen, filling T'Kel's own. "Saavik's alive?!"

"Yes. We have brought her home. She needs a great deal of recovery." T'Kel paused, and then said with emphasis, knowing Rrelthiz needed to hear it. "But Saavik is alive."

She imagined how that tail swung happily to and fro. "I should have known, T'Kel! Of course she lived!" Rrelthiz stopped and made a sharp warble. "A Klingon prison camp, you said? Among Romulans?"

"Yes, the full details are unknown."

"When the Klingons are allies? But... that is politics. It is for your father and your twin. They will handle such things! Oh, how Saavik must hate being the target of such attention! But she is alive. That is the important thing. Alive."

"Yes." T'Kel watched those neon blue eyes -- had they faded in the past five years? -- search the house behind her shoulders, hoping to catch even a small glimpse of Saavik. "Rrelthiz, my mother greatly needs healers who are... familiar with her. Perhaps...?" She left it open.

Rrelthiz looked down at her old hands, the talons striped with gray now, the tendons slower than they used to be. "I am too old. What good can I do?"

"Rrelthiz... we need... help."

"Help?"

"I redlined the Hybrid's -- my ship's -- engine capacity to reach Deep Space Nine and then home to Vulcan. An engineer named Sihahs serves on the ship's team. He will rebuild them, while I help in Mother's physical therapy, but the work still calls me away. Setik hovers around Mother until McCoy threatens to remove him."

"Leonard is there?"

"Yes. He has called me Hellcat five times since we recovered Mother."

Rrelthiz chuckled, imagining Saavik's reaction to that hated nickname.

"My father is watched by the Klingons and Romulans, even the Federation. We believe a movement forms against his efforts for Unification, and they look to seize him. He finds no safe escape route home. T'Pren must handle the 'politics' of Mother's imprisonment and Father's enemies alone."

"And how will I be of use with any of this?"

"We have healers to care for Saavik's physical needs. She is in need of more than that. Her mind... she does not react. Not to my being called Hellcat. Not to anything. Her mind remains locked as she made it to protect the secrets she knew."

On cue came McCoy's voice in the background, begging Rrelthiz to save him from this nuthouse.

"I am on my way!" The Carreon stopped again. "Did you tell her...?"

T'Kel lowered her head, and then brought it up again abruptly. "I informed her of my taking the genetic scan. I meant to stay silent, until she was well. She pressed me on the issue. She disapproves of my choice."

"You understand why?"

"Yes. However--" T'Kel almost didn't say it, but -- "What of my needs?"

"T'Kel--"

"A cousin sent me a letter. He wishes to talk to me at a future time. I made no reply, but I will."

"T'Kel--"

"It is Family, Rrelthiz."

The Carreon's throat sac fluttered in a sigh. "When it comes time, I'll help you tell her. Although I insist your father be there or I fear for our safety. I am certain he will find his way safely home. However, I suggest with Saavik's current condition, you do not broach the topic for some time."

"Agreed." Then, "You honor me, Rrelthiz."

"Do not flatter me, little one. This conversation alone has exhausted me. I have no strength to fend off your charming manipulations."

Thirty-two:

T'Kel could not believe the edge of... waiting. After all, what did it matter? It was her choice. T'Pren and Setik approved, her parents approved -- and surprised her with their announcment they had discussed this years ago. Why did she need this last approval so much?

Because it was Rrelthiz.

She stared at the door. Waited.

Finally, it cracked open, and Rrelthiz came out, talons clicking slowly on the floor showing how her youthful speed was long gone. But then, Hikaru Sulu had to lean on T'Kel as he walked the few feet from the door to his chair.

Those neon eyes held her ko-fu-tel's the whole way. T'Kel could not wait anymore. "Your word?"

Rrelthiz thought about this. "More than one word. I cannot believe-" A long sigh. "Yes, I can. You are Saavik's daughter. You had this man so close to you and did not see him until now." At last she teased openly, "I thought you more intelligent than that." She openly laughed. "But indeed, I thought the same of your mother!"

Sihahs now came out from Rrelthiz's sitting room into the misty garden. Patient Sihahs, his brown bangs just brushing the top of his high forehead. His light brown eyes stayed on her opal ones as he crossed the room. The expanse of his broad chest and height dwarfed Rrelthiz. She was glad he had not come out with the Carreon; his big size, looking so strong and good now, would have made Rrelthiz's frailty even more apparent then.

The practice of having Mekh-rás was practically non-existant on Vulcan in the past few centuries. So she had to explain to him that not only did she have them, but why she had them. And then ask him if he minded seeking their approval. He had answered, "They are your family. We need their permission."

Rrelthiz glanced over at him, and then back, noticing something in T'Kel's expression that made her laugh. T'Kel wondered what. "I like him. You need him, he balances you. The way your father and mother balance each other." She took a breath. "So I travel to Vulcan again, to see your bonding." She sighed deeply. "The Nest-Goddess has blessed my life."

Forty-seven:

Sihahs and T'Pren flanked her. In the other room, she heard Rrelthiz's family fill the quiet with a constant blanketed noise. Her mate was comforted by their eldest, the son who Saavik once gave a gift of a paint set. And by the daughter named after her.

Setik worked at the computer, as always quietly steady -- like Sihahs. Normally, T'Kel would make the comm connection, make the proper safety checks on the comm line, enter the right codes reserved for them. But she preferred someone else did it now, and Setik proved himself worthy of being Uhura's sa-fu-tel. Tenu't, are you recalling making this message for she and McCoy?

At last, Saavik was on screen, and T'Kel knew her mother had made more than one check herself to ensure all their safety. After all, Saavik had lately slipped through the Romulan Neutral Zone to be with Spock again.

"Mother," T'Kel began...

So many years of battling with her mother! So many years of arguing! Her childhood one constant need to do what she wanted and ignore Saavik's instructions. Knowing she caused more frustration than her siblings, not wanting to, but being so sure she knew better than Saavik, that her mother could not possibly understand. Even seeing Sarek pull Saavik aside to offer her a warning while Spock gave one to her hadn't quelled her need to rebel.

Until Saavik came back from the presumed dead, hurt and weak, from the Klingon prison. And T'Kel stood steadfast as the constant partner for her mother's rehabilitation back to full strength. Even her taking the genetic scan and Saavik vehement refusal to know the results didn't break that new bond.

"Mother," T'Kel repeated. "Rrelthiz has died."

Saavik said nothing. Someone moved in behind her shoulder, only a chest in a simple, Romulan tunic visible. But T'Kel needed nothing more to know it was her father. Saavik would not lean back that infintismal amount otherwise.

"It happened quickly. Too quickly for you to come."

T'Pren spoke for her then, the way she had when they were children. "She said if you knew, you would try to reach her. And she did not want you endangered crossing the Neutral Zone when it was fruitless."

"Of course," Saavik said softly.

T'Kel had to say this next part herself. T'Pren watched her and Sihahs moved closer until only a breath separated them. "She had me memorize a message for you, Mother."

She heard again Rrelthiz's fading voice. "I am indeed glad you are here, my ko-fu-tel. Give your mother these words."

A quiver ran through T'Kel, invisible to anyone, as she repeated them. Except for Sihahs who put his fingers against the small of her back. "'You are my honored friend, Saavik. Our hearts and our mutual daughter tie us. We will meet again.'"

Saavik said nothing, then nodded in acceptance to her child, brushing fingertips over T'Kel's image. Then with no words, she signed off.

Sixty-three:

T'Kel knew a lot of eyes focused on her. She ignored them and simply waited in her Vulcan tunic and pants, the weight of Rrelthiz's knife pressed against the small of her back. She listened to the Carreon Elder explain the importance of a new life. She closed her eyes, bringing to mind her Ko-mekh-rá's face and voice, and thought of how much Rrelthiz would approve of this. No disapproving looks held weight against that.

It was time. The Elder placed the tiny newborn Carreon, Rrelthiz's great-granddaughter, in her hands.

"You have been chosen as Benefactor. You know our ways and will teach them with a new perspective that will serve the child well. In doing so, you honor your own Benefactor's memory."

T'Kel made the ritual reply, turning slightly so Sihahs could see. She curved her hands carefully around the small back, leaving room between her fingers for the tiny tail to wiggle free. She felt the coolness of the repitilian skin against the warmth of her higher body heat as the little one settled, deciding T'Kel felt secure enough. Neon blue eyes stared up into her black eyes, still questioning exactly who she was. A slight twitch played on the corner of her mouth.

We come full circle, Rrelthiz.