Setik lived in dark times. In the space of a Federation standard year, his family was gone.

 An exaggeration. He breathed in slowly of the garden's fresh air, and exhaled just as slowly. Logic reasserted itself. His family suffered grave losses, true, but it still survived. It was only... coming home brought his mourning fresh to his mind.

Kneeling on one of the meditation stones in the garden's enclosed section, his brown healer's robes absorbed the heat of the sun filtering through the trees. The sun felt good. Being back on his homeworld was good. The empty house was not.

He knew he must face the emptiness rather than bury it. A suppressed problem only festered under one's control causing other damage. He steepled his fingers and closed his blue eyes, making his first entrance into a meditative state.

Where did the pain start?

 Mother died.

The answer surprised him. Logically, the family's problems began with the argument between Spock and Perrin over his view of the Cardassians against Sarek. Perrin objected to the seeming betrayal and made sure Spock knew it. It caused a wedge in the family, and yet, when Setik thought of his pain, he didn't think of this. Was that because he had grown so used to the silence dividing his family in half? Or was losing his mother, Saavik, so much more painful?

The question answered itself.

Saavik being killed with her entire team on a covert mission for Starfleet Command was a horrible, still unhealed, scar. He recalled how, on that third day of the team listed as missing, he, his sisters, and his father had felt the horrible break in their bond to her. Only death caused such destruction, and the family knew before anyone in Starfleet that Saavik was lost.

His mother's death hurt Setik more than he thought possible. He had stood next to Spock recalling stories of how losing Amanda had torn her son apart inside.

"I grieve, Father."

Spock had looked across to his daughters, T'Pren standing silent -- T'Pren, speechless! -- next to her twin, T'Kel, whose fist rapped against her thigh in so small a movement, it was almost undetectable. His voice was hoarse with the loss of a wife whose katra could not even be brought home. "We all grieve, my son."

 Mother's katra!

None of Saavik's family was home for the Katra fí-Salan -- the Souls in the Wind ceremony when lost katras were mourned. If I had been home, Mother, as I will be this year, what incense could I possibly create for your Essence bowl? How I will create that symbol of you?

His father had reeled under his mourning and went into the desert, not returning until he had some control over the pain. For only too brief a time the remaining family gathered together before Spock's belief in Reunification took him into the Romulan Star Empire. The second loss to the family: the father who was very much alive, but his absence keenly undergone.

 And then, Grandfather died. Setik opened his eyes and swept them around the garden, the one Sarek first built for his wife, Amanda. Their grandson knew every plant, how to care for it, the beddings and other garden decorations. Like his father and T'Pren, he had added his own touches, but some of it was the original plants and landscaping from the first days when Sarek and Amanda created it all.

His grandfather used to be a huge presence in his life. He missed Sarek, missed his strength and wisdom, and missed that guidance as much as he longed for Saavik's and his father's. With Sarek's death, Perrin returned to Earth, perhaps for good. That left the estate and responsibility for House and Family on Setik's young shoulders. He thought himself unprepared and unworthy of his new status, but his bloodline was noble and ancient. He was not going to be the reason for it weakening.

And yet, what he would give for his parents' advice or for Sarek to be well and shouldering the burden.

He closed his eyes again.

Losing Sarek started with his failure under the Bendii Syndrome, and seeing that created a turning point in Setik's life. The syndrome was hereditary in some cases. That meant Spock might have it, or Setik's sisters, or himself. And we will not know until we are over two hundred years old. When it was too late.

His concern made Setik follow the cause other healers pursued: If a way existed to diagnose the syndrome earlier, perhaps its growth rate may be slowed, perhaps a cure might even be found. It was why Setik canceled his plans for a career in Starfleet Medical and began studying Vulcan epidemiology. He joined the ranks dedicated to wiping out Bendii Syndrome, his own inner goal being its eradication before it took another member of his family.

But changing his career plans made him apprehensive over McCoy being disappointed in him. All those years they had talked about Setik following his ‘godfather' into a career as a Starfleet physician -- how to tell him his change of mind? In his meditative pose, the taut line of his shoulders relaxed as he heard his Sa-mekh-rá's answer again.

"Boy, you could become a stand-up comedian, and I would still be proud of you. I'd be confused over why would you ever do such a thing -- because let's face it, you'd be horrible at it -- but I'll always be proud you."

His tension came back as his mind naturally went back to Sarek. At least he and his sisters had reached home before their grandfather died, just missing Jean-Luc Picard's visit. Sarek had stared at his grandson and mistook him for his father. "Spock?" the weakened voice had trembled. Then, when Sarek reached out to put a hand next to his grandson's blue eyes, Setik thought his grandfather realized his mistake and was found wrong again. "Amanda," the old man had whispered and drifted back into his tortured visions. It was until his sisters stood with Setik that Sarek recognized his grandchildren; it was the last time they saw him cognizant. It wasn't much longer before he died.

Setik stayed only long enough for his grandfather's Vok-Van-Kal, his memorial service. Then he went offworld, driving himself in seeking answers. He looked amongst the Rigelians who were so different externally from Vulcanoids, but who internally rivaled Setik's own people. He was at this research until two days ago when he returned home to the family's estate. Sarek dead, Saavik dead, Spock hidden behind the Romulan Neutral Zone and in danger, and Perrin gone to Earth; not to mention T'Kel and T'Pren away with their own studies and careers. The house was empty save for the estate manager and staff, and the family's sehlat.

Without opening his eyes, Setik quirked an eyebrow at himself. The past evening, he kept Ko-kan in his room with him, wanting the company as much as the sehlat did. Immature and illogical, but it had helped.

He was lonely. Fatigued from the intense work, in pain from loss, and lonely. That is what he faced, and with his problems in his conscious, he entered meditation.

Hours later, he stretched and entered the house. The returned calm and peace was as it should be. The fatigue banked so it no longer drained him, and the emptiness now under control. And yet, he still lacked his usual vigor. The thought of his work didn't stimulate him at all.

He wasn't concerned. His mental lethargy was being dealt with tonight. On his homecoming, a few people had contacted him. T'Selis, almost as alone as him, and his cousin, T'Sha, both well aware of the empty home Setik returned to find. Descended from Sarek's first cousins, T'Sha and her siblings were raised with as strong a family bond as Setik and his sisters were. And T'Selis.... T'Selis faced the danger and possible loss of her own person in the Romulan Empire.

Both women had diagnosed what was wrong with him in the first few minutes of his greeting, and both offered a remedy. T'Sha's was this evening.

"The most dedicated mind needs an occasional diversion, Cousin. I suggest you accompany Adelek and I tomorrow night. We are attending an it'enhval performance with every dance choreographed to the late composer Serijek's music. And that is not all. T'Pel herself is the lead tamsu, not to mention the second lead being a woman once her protegee. How can you not see such a work that combines the greatness of Serijek with such featured dancers?"

She was most definitely correct. The performance promised excellence, and he did need the diversion. Plus, T'Sha was always good company, and her bondmate, Adelek, was a friend of his since boyhood. Setik always pondered on the curiosity of Adelek's parents giving him such a non-traditional name and yet bonding him at seven years of age. Unlike himself who was traditionally named and unbonded so he may choose his wife. But at twenty-four standard Federation years old, the ways of parents remained a mystery, and he was content for it to be so at the moment. He was quite certain that when he was a father, he would make much more sense to his children.

He checked his appearance one last time, thinking he should trim his growing hair and beard. In a few months, he would take part in the Van-kal Vesht-var, the ceremony honoring Vulcan history and a family's ancestors. He needed longer hair and a full beard to reflect the part of time he would represent, but for attending something as the performance tonight...

In the end, he brushed his hair, darker even than his parents, into trimmed bangs with the rest back behind his ears, the length only a bit past his collar. His beard was too short for needing trimming, but was at least past being stubble. He was under strict orders from T'Sha not to don his healer's robes; she said that wearing them did not allow for a full distraction. She even gave him instructions on the dark blue tunic, black tabard vest and pants she expected to see him wear. He added a gray cloak as the concert hall was open air and drew cool breezes from the nearby desert.

He suddenly stopped and stared at his reflection. Yes, the hair was darker and his eyes the sapphire blue of his paternal grandmother. However, other than that, it was his father's face. As the breadth of his shoulders and chest came from Sarek. It was somehow.... comforting.

He strode down empty hallways and past the closed bedroom doors belonging to his family. He hadn't moved his father's belongings into Sarek's room as he should have. Spock made no indication he wanted such a thing, anymore than Setik wanted to move up to his father's room. In fact, Saavik's personal belongings still inhabited the bedroom she had shared with Spock their entire marriage.

Setik stopped outside his parents' room and almost entered. In the end, he walked away, never crossing that threshold.

He took his seat in the Academy's concert hall next to Adelek at the agreed time, but T'Sha nevertheless leaned over to assure herself he was there and properly dressed.

"Is something wrong with your seat?" Adelek asked her with feigned innocence.

She raised mocking eyebrows. "A family matter, my betrothed."

He shared a look with Setik as T'Sha settled back, satisfied. Setik raised an eyebrow at his friend, companions from before the bonding with his cousin. He must admit; he in no way wished his parents had bonded him at an early age in the Kan-telan ceremony, but it worked for Adelek and T'Sha. He also commended their logic for learning about each other before pon farr called them to Koon-ut-kal-if-fee.

They asked him what other plans he made, and listened as he talked about his return to work as well as dinner with T'Selis and her family on a later night. His gaze drifted in the direction where Saavik's own house was, as untouched as her belongings in the estate bedroom.

"Why do you need another house?" he once asked her.

"I built it for myself long before I married your father," she had answered.

"But why keep it?" T'Kel demanded.

"For your father and I. As a private retreat."

"Which means?" T'Pren asked.

Spock raised an eyebrow, and appalled his son and daughters with his answer. "Child-free housing."

Adelek's voice broke into the memory. "Setik?"

He blinked, the stronger controls every healer needed for their elevated psi abilities clearing his mind. "I am well."

Adelek followed the direction of his gaze, and must have understood his thoughts even though they looked at a wall.

"Do you remember, Setik, when as children, we decided we needed to see that other house your mother kept? You and your sisters, plus Seleren and I, all becoming lost after trying to follow her and your father? The look Saavik gave us? I will tell you this. I had to face a le-metya once and your mother that day. I am still unsure which was worse."

Setik lifted an eyebrow. "You are unsure only because you did not have to go home with my parents. The latter of your experiences was certainly the more dangerous." His attention turned to the stage as the orchestra signaled the beginning of the performance. In a quiet voice, he spoke. "Thank you, Adelek."

The overture was vibrant, whisking away anything but the audience's attention. The first dance was solely T'Pel's. Setik saw the featured tamsu only once before, some years ago... with Sarek, large and powerful in the seat next to him.

 Kroykah.

He focused on T'Pel, eventually forgetting all else except appreciating her flawless talent all over again. T'Sha was correct. He needed this.

The second dance also soloed T'Pel, and the grandness of her skill left no doubt why she was held in such an esteemed class. It elevated him into a proper mood even for the first strains of the third piece: Serijek's classic I Go On. The account of a young woman bereft of house and family, her struggles, and her eventual triumph. He first heard it as a boy when his father played it and thought it was about his mother. He heard again the strings of his father's lytherette, and once more saw the eyebrow go up when he told Spock his idea.

The orchestra blended the trailing notes of the second symphony into the third, and a second woman joined T'Pel on stage during its last steps. She matched her former teacher in the final strains of music until they snapped together in a decisive stance. They remained that way in the beat of silence before the opening chords of the third musical piece, and Setik's heartbeat paused with them. They existed in a timeless contrast and mirror to each other. The second dancer, despite her dusky skin, was lighter than the dark T'Pel, and her ebony hair drifted past her shoulders. But they were the same basic height and build, their eyes the same darkness, and most importantly, they had the unmistakable quality of presence.

Then the music again and T'Pel shifted to a secondary position until she left with a graceful gesture that gave the stage to the other.

The now alone dancer swung into her first motion, riveting Setik to her. From his seat, he watched dark, almond eyes sweep the audience and felt his heart skitter in beat when they passed over him. It was like she saw him, picking him out from the crowd in the dark. His mind couldn't even form a reprimand that he was being foolish.

She wore the abbreviated body stocking and drape typical of the tzeirsa dance style she was performing. The body piece left her arms and legs free, and the cloth tight to her body. The drape was attached to her shoulders and she manipulated it with her hands, enveloping herself in it at some points and in others, using it as a backdrop to her movements. The fabric for the entire costume, including drape, was a muted kind of surface, a bare gloss with the colors changing within it. He knew she influenced its color by using her biocontrols to punctuate the mood in each portion of the dance.

He was a healer. He appreciated more than anyone, with the exception of the tamsu themselves, the strength of mental discipline and biocontrols it took to change different portions of the body -- her torso, her slippered feet, her hands, and each individual finger -- in order to change the cloth into separate colors. No wonder tzeirsa performances were judged not just on the dance itself, but the control within the dance. This woman seemed expert in it.

Solemn heavy beats from the tzn'ozv drums sounded first. He instantly recognized the sound since both he and his sister T'Kel studied how to play them. The person sounding them now was a master like all the orchestra. The deep booms resonated, somber and deep, like the judgment hammer of a tribunal --until a pause followed by an almost screaming note of strings. Here T'Pel left and the remaining tamsu flung herself into the first portion of I Go On: Chaos.

Almost frantic, the music picked up into a full swell with the same somber undertones, but now a harried frenzy on top of it. The dancer's torso and slippers turned a dark, almost black green symbolizing life choked by darkness. Her drape turned into a steely gray from one hand while streaks of black swam into it as different sized bands, painted by the fingers in her other hand. She held the scarf and spiraled, the ominous gray cloak and its shadows enveloping her, encircling her, representing the harsh obstacles trying to bring her down, her environment trying to crush her in its grip. Her steps and movements held the same frenzied, sharp pace, even at times jerked back or abruptly halted as the music represented the enemies and obstacles slamming into the portrayed figure. The dance turned from a life battling to be lived to an attempt at escape.

Black blotches widened on her torso, filled with an ugly greens and yellows -- bruises on her soul from being beaten down. Then, a final chord of all instruments came down against her.

Trickling into the echoes of this, like a soothing whisper to the beleaguered ear, came soft tones that drifted out to the audience, easing the fretful air from the just ended battle. This was the second portion: Healing. The dancer's motions were weighted down as if too hurt to do more. The same small movements touched the stage as before without the frenzy, her head not even lifted to the crowd with her spirit too wounded to meet anyone's eyes.

Above the main chords came low trills similar to warbling birds, and now an underplay of gentle ttiart'e'ti drums, like the graceful, precise steps of the kyih that always reminded Setik of a Terran deer's movement. The whole portion with its sounds of quiet animal life and imitated breezes brought to his mind his father's favorite vista here on Vulcan, the grottos of Earth's North American forests, the Serengeti's plains, and any oasis he had ever seen. Even the dancer's feet picked up this rhythm as the bruises on her costume began to fade. Her motions showed building strength as the music now played out a journey as she moved about the stage, renewing her life's dance.

The third portion swept with fresh lightness and speed: Esteem. The costume became flesh colored while the drape grew into the tans of desert sands and the darker streaks of mountains. Her head slowly came up, and the motions in arms and legs gradually grew into longer, graceful strides and sweeps. The portrayed figure sought out who she was and started finding her stride.

A pulse of string instruments, then bright notes of a knlur reed, calling for the piece to move into Adventure Home. Clear and quick, music and dancer swept into a mounting ascension, taking on a splendor of depth. The dancer reached down and painted her now brown tunic with a slash of white on each side as her drape became shades of the same russet color: the symbol of strength going back to days of painting sehlats on cave walls. She carried herself with more boldness and vigor as she not only rejoiced in a healing spirit and body, but passing minor obstacles that once unified against her. She took the full stage on her path, passing over it lightly, her sweeping motions and strides lifting the audience with her. Finally she began a slow spin, her tunic and soft shoes melting into brilliant white, the symbol of the purity of intelligence, as her drape turned to a mint green and spun in an outer spiral around her. Faster and faster, the tight spin continued, grabbing the audience's heart and holding it mid-beat until a crescendo of music, and the dancer stopped far upstage and facing the audience, perfectly in control.

As the music swelled into a grand march, the tamsu strode to the audience as if it was the High Council and Command itself. With a dancer's poised steps, she rivaled the great T'Pau in dignity and bearing, head high and eyes bright with a surety of being.

Just as she reached the end of the stage, her seeming bow became a dance aptly fitting the name of this segment: Celebration. Achievement, triumph, all the victory and attainment the woman reached as she took off in a bounding gait, movements quick and uplifting. The reaching of a life that overtook the adversity in its way, and nothing more than rejoicing in having reached here. So did Setik with the dancer on stage. Her body costume turned the light, vibrant green for life that the drape previously showed, and eventually red for Vulcan's soil, the cape changing to yellows and orange-reds so she showed the color of a new sun dawning. It rippled and flowed behind her as she matched the rhythm in the music with each movement until her leaps culminated in one grand motion and she was air born for glorious seconds. She showed the soar in a flowing, victorious spirit, her dark hair streaming back. Her head kept the regal lift when she hit the last, majestic portion -- Meaning -- as she at last landed down center, arms aloft and body drawn up in victory.

Vulcans argued on Serijek's actual story, some saying the woman received the acceptance previously denied her while others equally stood fast that the woman reached true meaning: that she needed no one's acceptance but her own. A last group insisted it wasn't about a woman at all, but the achievement of the Vulcan mind. Serijek himself never said, and Setik only knew one thing. He wanted the tamsu to start from the beginning and never let go of her spell over them all.

The humans in the audience applauded the dancer in thunderous waves as they had for T'Pel. Andorians pounded the backs of their seats with fists, and other aliens showed vocal appreciation. The vibrations from it all struck Setik's ear, but he barely acknowledged it. Adelek whispered, "My friend, breathe."

Good advice as he couldn't remember the last time he had done so; he was also clasping the arms of his seat and sitting forward on its edge. He gave thanks for the darkness that covered his lack of composure.

The non-Vulcans in the audience squinted in the dim light at their programs, but he had memorized the boards outside. He knew the dancer's name and savored it in his mind. T'Qet.

The rest of the night, he waited for her to return to the stage. He never had a problem with his human blood before -- he had his father to thank for breaking that barrier. But tonight, he chafed under the human custom of having an intermission. It was interminable, as long as the eternities he waited to see her dance again. He said nothing about it to his cousin or friend, and missed the exchange of knowing glances between them. He heard T'Sha discuss T'Qet and how she was unbonded, but failed to see the studious way she found out the information. As the lights came up again in the audience when the concert ended, he merely stood and said to them, "I must meet her."

T'Sha remained seated. "As I expected you to say, Cousin. However, we do not know her other than her being a tamsu and student of T'Pel's. We cannot make the introduction."

Where was T'Pren when he needed her? His youngest sister was gifted in such things; she knew everyone and how to address any situation. If she didn't know this woman personally, she would know someone who did and know how to ask for his introduction. But T'Pren was serving in her position as a junior Ambassador with the Diplomatic Corps.

He made a decision. "Then I will go to her myself."

He suited actions to words and was a few steps away when T'Sha called after him. He stopped and whirled to stare her down. "T'Sha, if tradition cannot be--"

She interrupted. "If I may, Cousin?"

She slipped the cloak off his shoulders. He was unaware that the blue of his exposed tunic made his eyes snap with distinction in his face. He only gave T'Sha a confused nod and left, too preoccupied to feel a chill.

Halfway across the audience, he saw the crowd of humans, Andorians, even a few Tellarites trying to reach the backstage area. Some of his own people blocked the entranceway allowing no one past.

Once more thwarted, Setik searched through the audience, wondering if another doorway existed. Even better, he saw one of the musicians who was an admirer of his sister, T'Kel. She did not return the interest, but Setik discarded that fact for the moment.

"Sumig," he said and greeted the other male properly. "I commend you on the performance."

Sumig barely accepted the compliment as he asked if T'Kel was present.

"No, she is offworld with her engineering team. They visit Bateau, a small Federation world with a new theory on sensor arrays. As you know, T'Kel joined the Science and Exploration division--"

 Instead of Starfleet for she blames them for Mother's loss.

"--And is quite interested in new areas of starship design."

Sumig said with some intensity, "Surely she must return home for the Van-kal Vesht-var? She promised to take part in it, correct?"

 A Vulcan does not lie. "Yes, she did. She returns in one point seven three months. However, Sumig, if I may change the conversation, I ask you a favor. An introduction to one of the tamsu?"

The other male gave him the same shrewd look he had received from T'Sha and Adelek. "Of course. I understand your position, Setik. These situations are always eased by a mutual acquaintance or, in some cases, a relative?"

Hardly a subtle request. Setik agreed despite the troubling image of T'Kel's disapproval when Sumig arrived at the house by her brother's invitation. But betraying his sister got him through the ring of people waiting for a glimpse of the performers. He would find a way to make amends to T'Kel -- if he was fortunate.

Then he was backstage -- and there she was, T'Qet, standing to one side speaking to a few admirers. Every word in his extensive vocabulary deserted him. What could he ever say that would make her remain after their initial greeting?

No time to select the best words. Sumig was speaking, "May I present a friend of mine? Healer Setik."

With no sign of his inner upheaval, Setik dipped his head in a bow. "Your performance was exemplary, T'Qet."

He gave a passing thought to how Ruanek would rebuke him if he heard Setik use someone's name without permission. However, Ruanek wasn't here; he was working amongst the Romulans with Spock, and Setik very much wanted to use T'Qet's name as if he were allowed it.

She glanced at him over her shoulder almost dismissively, and then suddenly stopped, her exotic eyes looking into his fully. She bowed her head in return. "You pay me a high compliment, Healer. I am unsure my performance warrants it."

"Setik, if you would. After all, I have used your name." She nodded, and he breathed easier. She also stayed so he ventured further discussion. "And your talent more than earns my compliments."

"You often attend our productions?"

No, but he was going to in the future. "My family has always had an appreciation of music and dance. When I heard this evening combined the compositions of Serijek with the forte of your group, I knew I must come tonight."

"You know Serijek's music well?"

Safer ground. "Yes. I believe I heard his work amongst the first sounds in my infancy." It was quite the truth; both Sarek and Spock studied the great composer.

A glow suffused the duskiness of her skin. "I believe I am the same. It is my greatest honor that my teacher allowed me to be part of this production featuring him. What do you most appreciate of his music?"

He didn't get a chance to answer. Some silent signal made T'Qet look around. "I must go. I need to change, and they prepare to close the theater."

His rapid descent in spirit was reversed when she looked at him again. "Many of the performers are going to Sa'kasu's teahouse. Do you know of it?" She waited for his nod. "Perhaps you will be there and we may continue our discussion?"

He dared for more. After all, earning T'Kel's vengeance over Sumig must be worth it. "May I suggest I wait for you here? It is a pleasant walk to Sa'kasu's, and it gives us further time to talk."

"Your wait may be long," she warned.

"I am capable of great patience." He folded his hands behind his back, presenting himself as the epitome of his words.

She watched him for a long second before an indefinable light glinted in her eyes. "Then I accept your suggestion." The nod of her head was much smaller this time, allowing her to keep eye contact. That something indefinable grew. "Setik."

Five minutes into his wait, he discovered his cousin's intelligence exceeded his. She sent his cloak backstage; he needed it for the night air.

The walk with T'Qet surpassed even his expectations. He admired the way she moved as she walked, so graceful and light. Her voice was clear and slightly deep, and her insights showed a strong intelligence. He discovered he deliberately asked questions needing lengthy answers so he could listen to her longer.

Their conversation was lively featuring music in general and favorites like Serijek in particular. At first, it was all they discussed, but at some point, Setik found he answered questions about himself. He wasn't sure how the conversation steered that way, but he was more than willing to talk about whatever she wanted.

"What area of medicine do you practice, Setik?"

At that moment, he was lamenting she wore a cloak, even though the deep red complimented her. He had formed a vision of sweeping his around her shoulders based on McCoy's stories of gallant behavior. Except such thoughts were illogical. Of course T'Qet would have a cape. And he would be chilled without his. "I recently changed my area of specialty. My original intentions were for xenobiology and surgery. I had planned, since childhood, to join Starfleet."

"Are your parents healers?"

A twinge. A flash of memory... of his mother's uniform... his father's Ambassador's robes.... "No, but I had their support." And then he thought of McCoy again. "I did have a role model for my career, but my desire for it goes back further." He hesitated, and knew by it and all the other memories tonight that he was not yet done grieving. "I saw my mother.... injured when I was quite young. I watched as a Starfleet physician helped her when others could not. I suppose, subconsciously, I saw medicine as a way to.... protect my family."

 And yet, I was not there to save my mother wherever she lay dying. Or my grandfather. A sense of failure tightly bound itself with his mourning; failure to do as a man what the little boy vowed to do.

Both T'Qet's expression and voice were warm. "An honorable ambition. And yet--" she cocked her head curiously "--you say you changed it?"

He nodded, pleased that she took such an interest in him. "I altered my specialty to has-sak-tal, specifically the area of Bendii Syndrome. It has meant returning to the Science Academy for a new residence in epidemiology, but I serve on a medical team for discovering an earlier detection system."

"Another honorable ambition. We lose too many people to the syndrome. You must have heard of Sarek's illness and death."

He was about to say Sarek was his grandfather and the reason why he changed his career, but they reached Sa'kasu's teahouse. A few of the other performers arrived as well and greeted T'Qet. She introduced him and asked after T'Pel, but the lead dancer had gone with her husband, Tuvok, on leave from Starfleet.

They entered the teahouse and found a number of the audience waiting. Setik carefully stepped back, giving T'Qet room to receive her due appreciation, but she kept an eye on him, warming him further towards her.

At last she made a polite removal from the group. "Most tables appear taken," she told Setik.

That was odd. He thought he saw at least two available seats in the far corner. Someone must be reserving them.

She continued. "However, a small area in the rear of the teahouse is unknown to most people and therefore is likely to be unoccupied. If you do not mind being away from the main room?"

He did not and thought how fortunate they were that T'Qet knew where to find a table. The backroom was quite private, intimate, as well as being less crowded.

He removed his cape, and caught her watching him as he pulled the back length of his hair out of his collar.

"Do you grow it for the Van-kal Vesht-var?" she asked.

"Yes." He stroked his chin. "The beard as well."

"It will suit you, the long hair," she said. "And the beard. It suits you already."

He resolved never to cut either hair or beard again.

Someone took their order and then they were alone again. The table contained a small firepot built into the surface. He found the effect of its light along T'Qet's features more than esthetically pleasing.

"It is good to hear you are taking part in the upcoming celebration," she said.

He wondered about her intense interest. Surely she was not one of those obsessed with House status? The statement made her appear so. Only the oldest and most noble houses had family members in the early part of the celebration. "Is it?" he asked.

"Yes. A few people from our company such as T'Pel and myself have been asked to work as instructors. I will most likely see you there."

He was guaranteed to see her then, to spend time with her and more than once in the future. Quite satisfactory.

"In which portion of the dance will you be seen?" she asked.

"The first." He no longer thought she hunted for his House rank, so he did not hesitate with his answer.

A spark of firelight caught in her eye. "Then your ride on a khu'unla will suit you as well as your appearance."

He nodded, but suggested lightly, "You may compliment me too soon. Fortunately, I was taught to ride at a young age--" By my parents, especially Mother. "--or I may be more concerned about taking my place in the ceremony."

He imagined what that moment was going to be like. The Van-kal Vesht-var starting with the planet's birth out of fire, music and flame bathing the arena until a globe rose from the pit of controlled inferno. One type of drum -- the hlt'tkaea --mimicking the sound and vibration of approaching hoof beats while the lighter ttiart'e'ti pounded out a warrior's heartbeat. The joined percussions growing until the moment of crescendo sounded with a warrior's call. Charging on their mounts into the arena were the first-born like him, of those families still remaining from that historical dawn of the Great Houses. Ancient weapons like the lirpa, the ah-woon, and snt'trkier held in their hands and strapped to their nomads clothing, catching the flames' light. Then all of them dismounting and encircling the globe, signifying the end of tribal wandering to the creation of the Houses.

"Who dances in the second and third stage?" T'Qet asked.

"My sisters. I have two. T'Kel already practices with the senapa." As Sarek taught her.

An ancient dueling weapon created during the age where house wars almost destroyed the planet, and when nobility and honor barely survived in the violence. It was during this period when blades, even the senapa, eventually succeeded to energy weapons, and the loyal vlaittlya mounts -- heavier and with a better natural armor than the modern khu'unla -- were made extinct by the constant battles. The sehlat almost followed them.

The second born of the families, that meant T'Kel, took to the circle for this archaic age, being bathed in the light at the end as another circle rose above them, encircling the globe with statues of Surak and his followers. The final age, when T'Pren took over for her brother and elder twin, was for the age of peace that continued through the present where the ancient Houses were joined by new ones formed from Surak's followers. Then more performers entered, regardless of House, and celebrated when peace enabled the world to focus on more than violence: the arts, the sciences, and all other professions necessary to support the planet and their culture. Red-hot coals from the fiery globe launched into the night air, one for each world Vulcan exploration first discovered. Then T'Pren and her fellow performers left their circle to join the audience as every person, buoyed by a grand chorus they sang with, cycled through the arena, bathed in the embers from the globe as it still cast orange light on the people of Vulcan.

"Do you already have a partner?" T'Qet asked him.

A partner -- he and his sisters would each need a partner. For every portion of the dance, the partner joined the family member, representing marriage and the generations that followed that union. In a previous Van-kal Vesht-var, his father and mother had danced together.

"No, I do not." The memory lowered his voice and T'Qet grew concerned.

"I apologize. I appear to have said something wrong."

"Not at all." He forced the memory away, smoothing his countenance once more to proper Vulcan lines. He'd rather not dwell on negative thoughts, but he also did not want her to think she insulted him. "My parents once represented our family in the ceremony. And my mother.... recently died."

Her voice hushed as well and her eyes darkened. "And your father?"

Now was not the time to see if she thought Unification branded Spock a traitor. "He is away with his work. I will not see him for some time, if ever." When would he ever see his father again? "I do not mean to sound disapproving. I am quite the opposite for my father."

"And yet his absence is more difficult with the loss of your mother." T'Qet laid her hand next to his, not touching but near. "I grieve with thee, Setik."

The moment lengthened, and he sought no ending for it, but the waiter returning with their order interrupted them. They sat quiet, looking across the table at the other, until the man left.

Setik returned to their previous topic. "You mentioned my partner. I am told that if I do not have one, one will be assigned to me."

T'Qet made a thoughtful sound as she took a small sip from her cup.

"Perhaps," he hazarded, "you may instruct me so I will not harm her with my lack of expertise?"

Reflections from the firepot glowed in her eyes. "Oh yes, I believe I can ensure it's so. In fact, I will make certain your partner is of such experience, she can show you the dance."

His interest waned with the thought she would not be his instructor. "That would be kind." He sipped from his own cup. "However, I have monopolized the conversation. Will you be taking part in the ceremony? Besides being a teacher?"

Her fingers trailed lightly across the cup's rim. "I thought not. I have danced for the second portion in the past."

"So you have an older sibling. Or did another family member represent the first period? And perhaps the third?"

"I have an older brother. My parents had two children, but the second, another brother, died. I was actually born many years after that loss. But as for this Van-kal Vesht-var, I have cousins who will represent the family. Although I have quite recently entertained the idea of dancing in the ceremony in another capacity."

It looked less and less like he'd have the opportunity to see her if she was busy elsewhere. He murmured that anything she did would be of benefit to the festival, and then directed their talking to her other plans.

"Tonight was the last of this particular production," she explained. "We begin rehearsals for our next show. You will want to see it. It is T'Mesana's Life is Peace."

They settled into this discussion, paying no heed to anything else around them until reality thrust itself in the form of an acquaintance, Suraj. Setik began to greet him when T'Qet surprisingly did so.

"I did not expect to see you here," she said.

Suraj was looking from one of them to the other, a curious expression on his face. "I did not expect to see the two of you together anywhere."

 What an odd thing to say. Setik took affront to it; he saw T'Qet did as well. "Have you a reason for finding it so unusual?"

"I apologize for any perceived rudeness. I was simply unaware you knew each other."

"We did not until tonight."

"And you decided that the maxim is true, the past is the past? What happens in one's House....?"

Setik cocked his head back as he regarded Suraj in surprise. To what was he referring? He was one of those who held some repute for House status, and would never associate with someone of a lesser family. It was the reason why Setik cooled their friendship. Was Suraj saying T'Qet was of a lesser family than Setik's? Or.... did he dare believe, as some did, that Saavik's half-Romulan blood tainted Spock's line?

In his peripheral vision, he saw T'Qet's eyes widen and realized he had closed his inner eyelids. They probably reflected some light; they did at times. He opened them. "My apologies, T'Qet. An old habit. I am not always aware I have done it."

She brushed that aside, watching him carefully for another reason. "Setik.... I believe he refers to the fact I was previously married."

"Previously. Not currently?"

"No or I would not be here. My husband ended our marriage when he chose to study at Gol. Does this fact concern you? Or--" She considered Suraj and abruptly looked back at Setik. She pulled back from the table, the warm light in her expression blanked out just as the firepot no longer lit her eyes. "Are you planning to pursue Kolinahr?"

He assured her he was not. T'Selis had taught him his healer's controls, adept as she was from her time at Mount Seleya. But neither of them sought Kolinahr.

And he cared nothing about a husband in the past with no chance to reappear in the future. He had deduced T'Qet was older than he was, although a Vulcan's slow physical aging held back the fact she was old enough to have been already married. As a physician, he knew her already in a fertility cycle could affect his own cycle, especially as it hadn't started. But that was only if the relationship reached as far as being bonded. Either way, their age difference made no hindrance to him.

"I believe Suraj refers to my mother's family." He silently brought recriminations down on the other male. Still, if T'Qet was the type to disfavor a son of Saavik and Spock for the Romulan and Human blood -- or call his father a traitor for his reunification goal, it was better to find out now. He knew, without any egotistic vein, that T'Qet returned his interest. What he didn't know, being inexperienced in these matters, was he saw T'Qet's attraction because she let him.

Suraj interrupted. "I refer to none of these things." He glanced at them again, quizzically. "Do you not know?" His head reared back when they continued staring at him. "I see." He frowned in thought and then nodded. "Perhaps it is better left unsaid, but I think you would prefer knowing the obstacle."

Setik looked across the table at T'Qet as she looked back with the same expression.

Suraj said almost in apology, "Setik, son of Spock, may I introduce you to T'Qet, daughter of T'Pring."

Epilogue

In a dark spot of the Klingon Empire....

The Romulan woman, Ragnhilh, stared around the dank, cramped cell she shared with too many of her own kind. She squatted on her heels with what little regained strength she had. Better that than lean against the dripping, stone wall oozing bacteria as well as water. Or sit on the disgusting floor slick with draining moisture, blood, and sewage. Everyone, including her, shivered in the cold air, their naked bodies wet from the latest torture by their Klingon captures: flooding the cell, forcing the prisoners to tread water until exhaustion caused them to stop and drown. Hjerol died this time, his body by the door, desperate vermin, as famished as the prisoners, daring to come out to eat at him even as the Romulans tried to kill them for food.

Hjerol wasn't one of her people, but Ragnhilh hated losing anyone. Her cellmates sucked in foul air, recovering as best they could before the torture started over again.

 For no reason. We've been here too long for our information to be of any good. Every access code and Fleet movement we know has been changed by now

No reason except their captors' sadistic pleasure, feeding the Romulans' hatred. Even when they were allied, Klingons and Romulans barely got along; their treaties in the past based more on a mutual enemy -- the Federation -- than any sort of kindred spirits. With their alliance gone, long buried loathing came freely into the open. Which was why Ragnhilh and others rotted in these prisoner camps while captured Klingons rotted in Romulan ones. Forget the old policy of "Take no prisoners"; torturing captives fed their unchained prejudices.

"Talk," Ragnhilh ordered with a modicum of her old command voice. Talking kept them going; silence bred inner demons that killed as efficiently as the Klingons.

All eyes focused on her, some with more strength than others. She looked intently into the ones that couldn't meet hers, the ones that were failing.

"This is no way to die!" someone snarled, the violence solid but the volume barely above the sneaking vermin.

Even this conversation was better than silence; every day they had it. Choose the Final Honor, a respectable suicide -- cheat the Klingons by choosing their deaths themselves -- or fight to live, even if they only spit the fact they survived another day into her captors' faces. She preferred the fight, but she honored those who choose differently, killing them painlessly.

She addressed the male who made the statement, wondering what he looked like before the bruises, scars, and abrasions ruined his face. "Only our worst enemies deserve this."

Some looked to the door now where their guards moved around outside; other eyes flamed at the thought of giving back the punishment they got.

The solid sound of the door's mechanism rumbled in the wall, signaling it was about to open. Quick looks darted around, and the ones who could get to their feet readied themselves to rush the opening.

The gray metal door slid open sideways with a reverberating noise, its fast speed giving little time to prepare a charge. Ragnhilh and three others hurtled themselves at it, not caring they had no weight or strength for a real fight.

But the Klingons flung a body into the cell, throwing it right into them and crashing them all to the floor. One large guard aimed his boot for the ribs of one male struggling to his feet, and teeth were bared even as spirits grew more beaten.

The new prisoner lay in a heap, stripped to the skin like they were, showing scars and fresh wounds. Laying face down, she was steeped in the diseased muck coating the floor, but she didn't move. Ragnhilh swallowed hard in anger.

No time to think on that as the Klingon, with a sordid smile of exposed fangs, grabbed the naked woman around her neck and waist, and brought her hard up against him. Bile rose in Ragnhilh's throat at the thought of what might happen next. Ghosts of her own rapes throbbed in her body, and she made the quick decision that saving this woman from that violent indignity, even for a few moments, was a proper way to die.

No need since the woman herself came to furious life. Catching her attacker off guard with her suddenness, her fingers stabbed him in the eye, and her heel came up under his protective body armor, striking his groin hard. His snarl over being blinded was nothing to the explosive cursive as he doubled over, waves of crampy pain keeping him down and vulnerable even as he struggled to get out of the cell. He had no air to move or shout, but his comrades in the hall were watching and swarmed over the woman. She snarled in defiance as they jumped her, but the end was inevitable. Their beating brought the sound of a snapping bone like a phaser shot in the confined area. Ragnhilh hurriedly polled her cellmates in a glance, asking who was willing to die for someone about to be killed, when in shocking surprise, the Klingons backed off.

"You don't get to die that easy," one sneered into the woman's face. They manacled her on one arm only, her feet just off the floor. Ragnhilh's face creased in sympathy at thought of the unbearable pain that was going to shoot through that shoulder very soon.

She was across the cell as soon as the Klingons cleared out. This woman may be new to their group, but she had been a prisoner much longer than Ragnhilh. Her body testified to it as the veteran soldier identified scars and wounds from different Klingon weapons and €̃interrogation' devices.

Before she could utter a word, the woman's eyes blazed as she grew close with a look reserved for bitter enemies. The raw emotion was so overwhelming, it was as if the woman existed only as that. What caused it? Some old House war or some unknown rival from her long career in the Fleet? The woman didn't look familiar, but who knew what they were before here?

She stopped. "Whatever feud you might have with me, you got to leave outside this place. We group together here. " She waited until that angry glance simmered down to a wary, careful watch. Then she stepped into the woman's personal space without ever breaking their locked gazes. "We'll get you through this. If we can."

She wrapped her arms around the bony hips and lifted. The other woman's weight was nothing, a bag of bones covered by skin, that's all. But Ragnhilh's strength was nothing too, except the infinitesimal amount of lift she achieved meant less strain on that shoulder. "You'll have to take over soon by holding on to the chain with your other arm. But rest now. We'll swap as we get tired."

Again she took in each cellmate, asking for volunteers. Who knew how long they could keep this up before the Klingons attacked them again as a whole, but each battle at a time. She focused on this one.

She felt the body against hers sag a bit, and she glanced up from where her head laid against the other's ribs. The woman's head was looking down, and Ragnhilh received a stunning blow at how blank that face was. Nothing showed as if the woman had disappeared from her body, going somewhere inside herself, bottled up against anyone reaching her. Including the Klingons and their interrogation.

 I wish I knew how to do that. I've never seen that before!

"Somebody talk." Her arms were already giving way as her blood mixed with the other woman's flowing freely from a fresh beating.

A youth, barely a man, spoke up. He came in only days ago, his childlike fever dying under being a prisoner, but still too alive with revenge to seek Final Honor. "Is anyone else here new enough that they heard the latest about Spock?"

Everyone recognized the name. Of course they did.

"Not only does he invade our homeworld as he tries putting us under Vulcan's boot heel, he now causes more treachery in the hearts of loyal people! Vice Proconsul M'Ret has defected!"

This repugnant news about the hated Spock returned the defiance in all of them. "Did you hear that?" Ragnhilh called to the woman she was holding, but she was looking at the boy who just spoke so she didn't see the reaction. And she was too intent on listening to everyone's dreams of being the one to kill the traitors and their enemy to hear the barely spoken whisper.

The woman hanging painfully from the wall formed words, names of a family too far away. If she ever was to be the Saavik she once was, she needed her husband and children to free her mind from where she kept it protectively locked. That name, the one the others cursed, triggered her lips to call only in a breath's volume to the people who were the keys to that mental lock. "Spock. Setik. T'Kel. T'Pren." And then with no volume at all, Do not forget me.


Note: The Katra fí-Salan idea first came from Sands of Vulcan. More about the holiday can be found in the round robin "Souls in the Wind" at spockandsaavik.com