A simple mission: escort Ambassador Spock and his party to Arongotu; provide whatever assistance the Ambassador may require in renewing the trade contract. Simple, easy, routine.

The first problem occurred fifteen minutes and twenty-eight seconds into the mission. The negotiator for the insectoid Arongotu stood in front of the young Vulcans in Spock’s party. His tan pincers and mandibles against his black, segmented body, moved rapidly, the gestures and clicks as much a part of his language as the moist sounds he made.

“I heard Vulcans start career training at young ages. I am so pleased to see this for myself!”

He directed his comment only partly to Spock and mostly to Saavik. She was the female. The negotiator all at once realized he had bypassed another woman, Spock’s diplomatic aide, to reach the students. He lifted his first two body segments off the ground, turning on the rudder leg under the last, elliptical section, and dropped back to the ground. He greeted her correctly, but one ruby eye on his T-shaped eyestalk swiveled so it stayed on the students.

Rebekah Gad returned the gesture, her short brunette hair falling against her very white skin. When she stood up again, her shockingly blue eyes went to Spock. He shook his head, watching the negotiator whose mandibles worked in quick, sloppy movements, the saliva collecting in orifices under his mouth, funneling down to his resin glands to be used later.

The problem came from the Arongotu having pushed through everyone else to reach the younger Vulcans, who had stayed in the background as they were meant to do. The literal pushing didn’t concern Saavik so much. The hall was larger than normal for the planet, and showed outside influence on the native architects. When Saavik first visited the planet decades ago, even the shortest person in the landing party had to permanently duck their head, and they all had to overlap their shoulders in order to fit in the room. The Arongotu found comfort in crawling over one another. Even their vehicles were designed to do it, so no space was wasted in making room until they dealt with other species. The hall nevertheless was cramped with barely a gap an arm’s length long around Saavik or anyone else. The negotiator had to push to get to the people he wanted to reach.

The fact remained he paid too much attention to them.

“Speaker,” Spock said, using the negotiator’s native title. Amber light poured through the translucent resin wall panels in their dark frames, and lent everyone the look of a fairy tale. Spock became the Elder over the younger people of a more evolved Pan, and Speaker a denizen of the mysterious Underworld.

Saavik, however, never paid much attention to fairy tales, even Vulcan’s, unlike Spock. For her, the heavy light meant an amber twilight in the room and made things more difficult to see.

Spock twisted his fingers and hands to mimic the insectoid’s mandibles and pincers, making sure to use male to male gestures. The Universal translator took care of rendering his words to the sounds no humanoid could make. Fortunately, he didn’t need to imitate any of the insectoid’s seven legged footwork, especially as the last leg was used only as a rudder and tail support. The language was already complicated without making up for five less legs.

“I assure you, Speaker, they serve only as observers. Their interaction with me as their teacher will be secluded from our negotiations and cause no disturbance.”

Despite his rigid shell, Speaker deflated. “Truly?”

He spun on his rudder leg again, exposing his six pairs of tightly grouped, diminutive arms pressed against his first section. Saavik stepped closer when his eyestalk pivoted again and focused on the youngest Vulcan. His octagonal red eyes proved his people once lived on the surface under the light of a sun. Unlike Saavik’s communications officer where the species developed completely underground, sightless and burrowing in the dark.

The ten year old Vulcan moved forward, recognizing his request for introduction. A dozen reflections of her opal eyes shown in his crystal ones, as well as her shoulder length black hair that was swept behind the delicate points of her ears. She held her forefingers straight out before her mouth, then closed them in a V over her lips. She then moved her hands out, mimicking his pincers, keeping them in a closed position and held out next to her jaw. Since she was a child and female, she kept her head bowed, but raised her eyes showing that as an adult, she would ascend in rank over his gender in Arongotu society.

Speaker returned her gesture and a fine quiver jiggled his tail. “Such knowledge at such a young age! I see the information on your schooling were rumors! Your youngest daughter, true?”

Spock’s eyebrow shot up and the girl looked towards her parents, silently asking what she should do. Gad turned her side to the room, checking the reports sent to the Arongotu on her tricorder. But Saavik knew without looking that the report listed the observers in the party, but That information concerning T’Pren’s connection to Spock and I is not.

Saavik strode into the space between Spock and Speaker, and, in that way, between the insect and her daughter.

“I am curious, Speaker,” she emphasized any gestures that spoke of her gender over his, “how you came to know of that relationship?”

His clicked pincers and wet mutterings came in quick response. The translator gave these as a laugh.

“There speaks the protective instinct of the mother for the young! As well as the captain for those under her protection. We understand. We are, after all, a matriarchal species. But my knowledge is benign. We hold a personal interest in you since it was your party who first contacted us. The USS Rider, correct?”

She nodded. “I was one of the party, yes.”

“Imagine our surprise, Captain, to find such life outside our own!”

Imagine the Federation’s when I penetrated the shielding minerals throughout the surface of this planet.

Suddenly, they not only found life on a world supposedly barren, but a thriving culture, hidden until Saavik put together information on those minerals and sensor technology further developed. And the Arongotu found themselves in the neighborhood of three major powers.

“My great-grandmother’s memories speak highly of you, Captain. We researched public information on your life as it has been four generations since your last meeting. Such good news that you chose to bear twin females to carry on for you. As well as adding a male to the work force.” One pincer gestured to Spock. “You truly used the same choice for breeding stock each time?”

Saavik waited the two seconds it took for Spock’s other eyebrow to climb and join the first. Usually she was the target for statements on who was lucky enough to marry whom. She spared a moment to arch her eyebrows at his dry look.

The ruby eyes swiveled on their eyestalk, one staying on T’Pren as the rest traveled up the grown young male next to her. “This is not your son, correct? What career have you chosen for him? And the other little female?”

Of course. That was the reason for the negotiator’s obsession, when another species would have paid scant attention. He was face to face with something he had never seen in his own people.

“It’s true, yes?” he asked her. His eyes went up and down one young Vulcan to the other. “They are...?”

Saavik confirmed his every dream. “Students.”

“Students,” he repeated, hushed. “And the careers you embedded in your own young are?”

Spock folded his hands behind his back, knowing Speaker would prefer Saavik explain.

She paused. Did she risk their standing with the gender sensitive Arongotu by answering him fully? She decided she didn’t. The Federation had listed these details from their first meeting.

“We do not implant a child’s profession into his or her genetic coding, Speaker, anymore than we deliberately choose the gender. Our children, as well as these students, choose their careers themselves.”

Speaker’s eyestalk dropped back into his head with a snick. “Yes, yes, of course. I had forgotten. So the information wasn’t rumors. Amazing!”

His mother had been told their people needed males and an arbitrator, so she choose a mate and created Speaker, weaving the skills, knowledge, and even inherited memories into his DNA when he was a larva. From birth, he was fully ready to perform his role and started working when he was one. Schools and the concept of education were total unknowns to the Arongotu, as foreign as being bipedal and mammal.

He cared more about that than the fact Saavik hadn’t chosen to have two daughters. Good.

She saw the tendrils lining Speaker’s mouth quiver. He whispered, “A student at... how old is she?”

Spock caught her eyes, then moved to the side away from Saavik so that the Arongotu had to turn from her. She waited to see if it would work. Speaker must recognize Spock’s authority on behalf of the mission. Saavik could, if the two year old Arongotu’s inexperience made it necessary, enforce Spock’s decisions being female and familiar from her first landing here. But she had her own duties.

They were terribly close to the Romulan Neutral Zone. In fact, Arongotu inhabited the slim frontier between the Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans. Their neutrality in the past meant they traded with all three governments. Never anything major: minimal trade in dilithium, minerals, and alloys kept the planet from going unnoticed entirely. If the Federation didn’t keep watch over the Arongotu’s claim to their own world, one of the Empires would have overrun it by now.

If only the Arongotu didn’t see embracing everybody in trade as the only way of life.

That made the other part of Saavik’s mission. Since they had destroyed the Klingon civilian colony Narendra III, the Romulans kept to themselves. Even before that, the Federation had heard little from the Empire since the battle at Tomed in 2311. The quiet spread to their trade contract with the Arongotu, and Starfleet hoped Saavik would find out the Romulans and the insectoids had lost interest in each other. If so, she and Spock would suggest they consider Federation membership again.

The whole thing would go more smoothly if Speaker didn’t consider Spock only as Saavik’s choice for breeding stock.

The irony.

That Spock must establish himself as an ambassador when, in reality, he wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t agreed to mentor the Vulcan study group on this mission. He never would have been sent to handle such a minor, already established trade contract otherwise.

Speaker did turn to Spock and listened in rapturous silence, his pincers and mandibles stilled.

“T’Pren is ten years old, measured in Federation years. What you will find the most amazing,” Spock said, “is the minimal amount of education dedicated to career training in this stage. It is why she has an observer’s status on this mission, and only for indelicate meetings such as this. As opposed to Seprix here who is nineteen and two years into his dedicated career studies. His work will duplicate much of Rebekah Gad’s, whom you have met.”

Saavik nodded, satisfied. Spock held Speaker enthralled, and was already moving him away from his interest in the students to the contract renewal.

Interesting. The Arongotu do not know of the family tie to Seprix. Granted it was distant and through a betrothal.

One miniature eyebrow shot up on T’Pren’s forehead in response to Speaker’s comment on her confusing status of reaching some adult responsibility when she turned seven -- in reality, when she passed her Kahswan. But Vulcan also considered her still a child and just beginning her education in her career path. On Earth, she wouldn’t even have that status. Saavik knew her youngest child burst with questions and everything else she’d like to discuss with the Arongotu, all made further tempting by Speaker wanting to talk with her. But T’Pren, Saavik noted with satisfaction, kept quiet, maintaining her place only as an observer.

And experiencing more than she expected this quickly.

Of course, if T’Pren didn’t have such discipline, she would never have earned her place in the study group. Coincidence put her here after her father and mother were already assigned. Vulcans didn’t indulge in nepotism, and even if they did, Saavik and Spock did not.

She swept her landing party with a critical glance. The moist noises coming from Speaker’s tendril lined mouth made one of her ensigns turn a queasy shade of green. The humidity in the warm air drooped his uniform as well as his shoulders. Her look got him back to attention with the contents of his lunch still in his belly.

Not every world’s life forms were beautiful to the human eye; that didn’t make them a lesser people. And if this ensign wanted a career in Starfleet, he’d better learn that now.

Or he will not serve under my command.

Her communicator signaled her, and she dropped back behind her people to answer it. Spock discussed how Starfleet patrols cut down on the piracy in the neutral worlds, and she nodded to show she recognized an opening for later discussion on Federation members being protected along the Neutral Zone.

“Saavik here.”

“Captain! We have a Romulan ship coming into orbit, paralleling us on the other side of the planet.”

Backs tightened along the line of the landing party. The comm officer’s voice had reached their ears.

“Identification?” Saavik asked. She was not going to jump to conclusions until she found out they weren’t talking about a freighter. She still signaled to Spock, letting him know another issue had arisen. He kept an eye on her as he listened to the negotiator discuss the schedule for the next few days.

“We’re working on that now, Captain. It’s a cruiser, a refit on the older K’Tinga-class, not the new Amarcan-class we saw at Narendra III.”

You did not see those ships at Narendra III, Lieutenant, Saavik thought. If you had, you would be dead.

“Identify that ship, Lieutenant,” she ordered.

Spock excused himself from Speaker when the negotiator said he needed to prepare for their initial meeting, and reached her side when the comm officer came back.

“Coming through now, Captain. It’s the Liusaidh. It’s supposed to have a sister ship, the Aminta, but there’s no sign of it. It could be cloaked or assigned somewhere else. Both ships are under the command of --”

Saavik already knew the commander’s name. So did Spock. His head came up and their eyes met as the name came over the communicator.

“--Commander Ajeya, Captain.”

The tight backs in the landing party grew more tense; Ajeya’s fearsome reputation preceded her.

Saavik had met Ajeya when the Romulan woman had captured her, saying she followed old orders to execute Saavik and any other half-Romulans born on Hellguard. But Saavik had expected the capture and prepared for it. The ship she’d served on then, the Armstrong, rescued her and took the Romulan as a prisoner at the same time, leaving Ajeya to swear she would escape, and when she did, she would someday hunt Saavik down again.

Ajeya had escaped on the way to her trial.

Still looking at Spock, Saavik asked, “Have the Romulans raised their shields or armed their weapons?”

“No, Captain. They must have seen us since we saw them, but they just settled into orbit and contacted the planet. Shields are down and they seem content with keeping Arongotu between us.”

T’Pren and another Vulcan girl started leaving the room for their assigned quarters now that the more sensitive negotiations were about to start. Spock signaled them to wait nearly simultaneously with Saavik.

“Captain! They just beamed a party to the surface!”

“Location?”

“The Arongotu command center. The same coordinates where they first had you beam down.”

Ajeya had to know it was Saavik’s ship in orbit. But did she know Saavik was on the planet?

“Have they attempted to contact you?”

“No, Captain.”

Regardless, the safety of her ship and the diplomatic party were her first priority, not to mention the Arongotu themselves. “Yellow alert. Scan for cloaked ships and find the Aminta if it remains out there. I want a security team standing by in the transporter room and keep this communication line open until further notice.”

She closed the communicator and the distance to Speaker in almost the same amount of time. “Speaker, my ship informs me that a Romulan landing party has transported to your command center. Their ship maintains an orbit around this planet.”

“Ah good!” Saavik heard his small arms scratch against his shell. “They’re on time. That bodes well for their negotiations.”

She stepped in front of him as he started to move off. “Perhaps you are unaware of it, but the Romulan Empire has increased hostilities with the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Their arrival here at the same time as ours further aggravates the situation.”

“I am sorry to hear you think so.” The tendrils around his mouth did hang straight down, and the scratching became a nervous tick-tick-tick tapping sound. “However, these hostilities have nothing to do with us. The contracts are separate. We have always maintained this throughout our history. I am handling your contract, and another Speaker in another location will handle theirs.”

“Even so, I am certain you will understand that I must consider the safety of those under my command. The students will return to the Contact, and a team of Starfleet personnel will need to transport down.”

What that really meant was trading the inexperienced ensigns for the security team waiting in her transporter room. She opened her communicator.

“You insult us?” Speaker lifted his first two body segments off the ground so he reached her chin. The snapping pincers and drooling mandibles might have intimidated others, but both Saavik and Spock knew not to take an alien appearance and turn it to something it wasn’t.

Speaker was upset, maybe even angry, but not attacking.

“I have told you, Captain! Your hostilities are not here! These are our contracts and the contracts have always been peaceful!”

“As we well know,” Spock interceded. “The accord your people have kept with us and the Romulan Empire is not in question. We seek to not extend the hostilities to your world through our presence here. It is the reason Captain Saavik takes these measures.”

“If she removes personnel, Ambassador, she shows she does not believe what I have said is true. If the Federation cannot place their faith in our history with them, then perhaps it is time we end our association.”

Starfleet Command would have plenty to say about a captain who lost a minor, easily re-negotiated treaty. Not to mention, inflamed the situation with the Romulan Star Empire at the first appearance of one ship and no signs of aggression. And possibly push the Arongotu into the Empire’s hands.

Especially when they told her to find out the Romulan situation on Arongotu.

So Saavik argued. “Seeking to prevent further hostilities with a third party is not meant as a distrust towards your people.”

“It is if you believe yourself unsafe with us! You, of all people, to distrust us!”

Spock said, “A compromise then. We will keep our party on the surface as we previously agreed. This includes the student group. However, we request a team of additional personnel be transported here as well.”

As Speaker’s eyestalk rose to its full extension and his eyes swiveled independently of the other, looking at everyone in the Federation party at once, Saavik stared at her husband for contradicting her security measures. She reminded herself, No signs of aggression have been made. Something Spock balanced with the Arongotu reaction.

“Agreed!” Speaker shouted. “As long as all your people keep their distance from the Romulans.”

The Arongotu body word for Vulcan was for the pincer to outline the pointed ear shape in the air. When he said Romulan, he snapped his pincer while making the same shape. The harsh sound better represented Saavik's thoughts that any word she knew.

“I assure you,” she replied, “we have no desire to do otherwise.”

The previously ill looking ensign whispered to the person next to him, “I thought this mission was routine!”

How many times have I said, no such mission is routine.

***

Saavik released T’Pren and her fellow student to Kyle Nachson’s watchful gaze as they made their way to their quarters. He had served with Saavik aboard the Armstrong, and came with her to her Vulcan command assignment. In some ways, he was unofficially Saavik’s protégé, but he had no idea why she took the time to smooth the rough edges he had learned at a difficult orphanage on one of the Federation’s colonies.

T’Pren did.

Vulcan’s sun had bleached his dark blonde hair and tanned his light skin. The light from the intermittent, overhead lights caught both as he looked around the long corridor lined with resin sculptures. The skin was tight over his cheekbones and his green eyes darted everywhere, but when he saw her looking up at him, the corner of his mouth crooked in the familiar sideways smile and he winked at her.

T’Pren was used to escorts, when they were necessary; she had to be with her family’s sensitive work. So Nachson’s presence didn’t cause her to even lift an eyebrow. What did spark her interest was all that she had gotten from this mission already, even as an observer. An introduction and the chance to stretch her research to actual interaction with Speaker. The negotiations already changed with renewed Romulan interest.

The only thing that hadn’t happened, so far, was time with her parents as her parents. T’Pren had anticipated sailing off with not just one, but both Saavik and Spock, instead of remaining behind in her network of caregivers. She had thought it meant a chance to be with them, and without having to share them with her brother and sister.

Spock and Saavik, however, are the mission leaders. My status may be one of minimal observation, but I come under their leadership as a member of their team. And despite all the hard work it took to earn this place, she was fortunate to have it.

Serving under her father reminded her of something Pavel Chekov once said. He had watched Spock teach T’Pren the Universal Translator, praising her when she grasped what he said. Chekov had complained about the difference in the lessons he had received earning Spock's response, “I am T’Pren’s father, not her teacher. It affords leniency and compliments.” Chekov had looked over to Saavik and declared, “Ve vere robbed.”

Being now in the role of Spock’s student instead of his daughter, T’Pren understood what the Admiral had meant.

Nachson’s voice broke in. “You’re not worried about this ship in orbit?”

T’Pren’s look at him questioned whether he had learned anything from his years with her mother; the other girl’s look questioned his intelligence.

The corner of his mouth started to rise, but he pulled it back to match their solemn expressions. “I apologize. I could have worded that better. Of course you wouldn’t worry. Worry will not affect the outcome, and therefore is illogical.”

T’Pren gave him a nod of approval, but the other girl remained skeptical.

He asked her, “How might I have better stated what I said?”

Her air showed she knew far better, at her fourteen years, than he did. “We must accommodate for the ship in orbit, but it is not a crisis.”

“Yes,” he said, his face straight. “I see.”

“The statement would still be illogical as the Ambassador has already told us this.”

“Yes, of course. I am gratified by your explaining this to me.”

Now T’Pren became skeptical as the other girl nodded. Her narrowed eyes dragged away, unable to catch him smiling, but he did it when she turned away. She didn’t see it any more than she saw the phaser on the back of his belt.

His communicator signal came at the same time her ears picked up the sound of someone coming. She started telling Nachson what she heard, but he held up his hand.

The deep baritone of Saavik’s science officer, another Vulcan, spoke. “Sensors indicate--”

T’Pren paid no attention to the rest of it, or to Nachson pushing both girls into a dark alcove partially blocked by a golden, hive carving. From the first sight of the group coming around a corner into the hallway, she held her breath and pressed against the wide sculpture. The honeycombed surface gave her small peepholes to see out.

Romulans.

“Just let them pass,” Nachson barely whispered, but she didn’t pay attention.

They were nothing like she expected. She knew Ruanek, an exiled Romulan, all her life. He was, in fact, one of her guardians, linked to her at her birth.

But these people weren’t like the warm Ruanek. Or perhaps they were a Ruanek he never let her see. Their uniforms emphasized the weapons they each carried and the Bird of Prey emblem that held the homeworlds in its talons. The woman in front even tapped the hilt of her Honor Blade, and dragged her other hand through her dark hair, revealing a scar running next to one eye.

She must be their leader.

She set the pace, and despite her medium height next to the others’ longer legs, she had them hustling to keep up with her. Her boots slammed down against the hard floor, and T’Pren felt the slight vibration travel into the golden sculpture next to her cheek.

“Damn every one of these bugs for getting me dragged here!”

T’Pren silently thanked her father for insisting she learn the Romulan language. Otherwise, she’d miss out on what this very interesting woman was saying.

“Tell me how nothing is happening within the Empire that I can spare a ship, my time, and my crew to negotiate treaties that don’t supply a planet for a year! These--”

T’Pren knew those words were curses, because she heard Ruanek use them before, and then look surprised when she repeated them in her two-year old excitement over learning something new. He refused to tell her what they meant, though, and muttered under his breath that she could learn them from her mother. T’Pren was younger then. She knew he meant it as a joke because he laughed, but she didn’t understand it and didn’t know he never intended for her to repeat it. So she told it to Saavik at the first opportunity. Saavik hadn’t appreciated it the way Ruanek had.

One Romulan male kept in step with the commander, wearing the same rank insignia that she did. The other two stayed respectfully -- and safely -- a couple steps behind. This Romulan laughed and brushed against the woman, and when T’Pren saw him do it, she thought that he, at least, showed some bit of Ruanek. Something about the eyes when he laughed were the same.

Not that they looked anything alike. This male was older, his jaw narrowing down from wide cheekbones, and his eyes some light color. T’Pren still considered herself fortunate for the hive carving keeping her from his view. He did not remind her of Ruanek that much... but he did laugh in the same kind of way.

The illogical thought T’Kel should be here crossed her mind. Her twin, somehow, seemed better equipped for this moment. She always plagued Ruanek for information on the Empire. Saavik did not appreciate that either.

The Romulan with Ruanek’s laugh spoke to the other commander. “You never had much time for diplomacy, Ajeya.” He grinned as he said it.

The woman’s head turned sharply to him and her mouth parted.

Why is she surprised? He appears to know her. Perhaps he has never spoken informally with her prior to this?

But then, why did Commander Ajeya look at him like this? She looked... the way T’Pren, coming unheard into the room, once saw Saavik look at Spock. And for a second, the male started to return the look along with a smile, but he stopped like it hurt.

It hurt Commander Ajeya that he didn’t return it, T’Pren saw. And they moved away from each other, no longer walking so closely side by side. T’Pren’s eyes rounded as Commander Ajeya slapped a fist against her thigh.

I must tell T’Kel that a Romulan commander used the same gesture she used to make!

“Isn’t that why you’re here, Diartr?” Ajeya asked. “You handled the damned bugs before. And you’re on the rise in Ki Baratan.”

“If I do this wrong and we lose this pitiful contract, the planet might decide to join the Federation. Then I’ll be what’s on the dinner menu in Ki Baratan.” He glanced over his shoulder at the people trailing them. He did it in the opposite direction from where T’Pren watched, but she still took a slow step back into the dark. “You get some excitement with the Federai ship in orbit. You acted like you ran into it before. Or was it the captain?”

She knows Mother? T’Pren had thought the Arongotu kept their buildings reasonably warm, but now she felt a chill.

Ajeya shrugged after taking a long look at him. “You didn’t think it worth noticing? You wear that rank and you don’t react to a Starfleet captain having a Romulan name?”

The whole party turned down another corridor.

“Create a problem with Starfleet, Ajeya, and Narviat will have your head as a side dish with mine. The Empire can’t afford it with...”

T’Pren heard their voices trail behind them, but she focused on the rifle strapped to the last male’s back until he was too far away to see anymore.

She at last dared to move, only her head though, and saw Nachson’s phaser in his hand. He kept his eyes in the direction the Romulans went as he spoke into his communicator to the Contact’s communications officer.

“Okay, we’re clear. No, no problems. We got lucky, they didn’t even notice us. I don’t speak Romulan so I can’t tell you why, but their commander looked pis--” He looked down at T’Pren and the other girl. “--uh, upset about being here. I recorded the whole contact for the captain. You can cancel that security backup. What, repeat that. All right, I’ll tell him when he gets here to guard their doors, then I’ll head back to the council chamber. But tell the captain the Arongotu told the truth about keeping us separate. S’jair probably sees it on the scanners, they’re headed away from our assigned areas. Flag this hallway as a problem though.”

The girl next to her went from looking after the Romulans back to T’Pren. Her winged eyebrows drew together as she repeated the glance from one direction to the other. T’Pren guessed at its meaning.

I do not see the Romulan blood within me either.

***

Her father poured over that recording two days later, and not for the first time.

Spock leaned back from the desk in his quarters and took stock of the situation. The negotiations... progressed, barring Speaker’s proposal today for a reduced amount in the dilithium supply. Nothing drastic, except the Arongotu never before backed away from the previously agreed trade.

Did it suggest the Romulans requested their supply be increased? He had to consider it. The difficulty came with Speaker keeping to the rule of the contracts and their parties having nothing to do with each other. Getting information on the Romulan negotiations proved impossible.

Nor could Speaker tell him what Ajeya was thinking.

Spock pressed his steepled fingers to his lips. The quarters the Arongotu gave for his and Saavik’s use amounted to a glowing, white box. The glaring, stark light streaming in through the walls was thankfully broken by the light gray of the minimal furniture. Otherwise, even eyes bred for Vulcan’s bright sun would strain under the intensity, and his inner eyelids still closed against the glare.

At least the room came with the luxury of its own climate controls, so they could keep the warm temperature without the humidity. He had taken off his heavier, outer robe, and relaxed in a thin tunic. It was the only relaxing thing at the moment.

Ajeya meant that promise to kill Saavik, which made her lack at an attempt baffling. Spock was certain she watched and waited for what she considered the right moment.

A few things might explain her having made no move yet. Commander Diartr being the Romulans’ primary negotiator, for one. According to Spock’s record search, Diartr was once married to Ajeya. The marriage ended, as Spock knew, after Ajeya’s assignment to evacuate the failed Hellguard colony, and ensure the half-Vulcan hybrids died.

She had told Saavik at their first meeting that she intended to carry out those old orders. She had lied. She gave birth to Saavik, and now she wanted dead the one person who remained the only evidence of Ajeya taking part in Hellguard’s rapes.

As she once told Spock:

I did it. I sold my honor. It cost me my husband, and might cost me my children...

The recording showed Diartr didn’t know who Saavik was. If Ajeya did want to keep this a secret from him, she might not risk an attack with her former mate present. After all, she did tell him she didn’t care about the USS Contact and its captain.

Spock knew better.

In the recording, a sliver of T’Pren came into view on the right side of the screen as she took a step away from the hive carving. Away from the Romulans.

T’Pren.

Ajeya had demanded to know, during her confrontation with Spock, if Saavik had children, claiming it’d be more evidence against her. That was before T’Pren was born. Did the Romulan still mean to extend her feud to his children?

I return to where I began, Spock thought. What was Ajeya planning?

Saavik came through the door, and Spock caught himself trying to shut off the computer before she saw it. He stopped himself before the illogical motion was noticeable.

The action would only further draw her attention.

He knew Ajeya was Saavik’s mother, but Saavik did not. He had managed to keep the information from her despite their deep marriage bond. He was an ambassador, and she was Starfleet. At any given time, they needed to keep certain information confidential, even when their minds were open to the other. So they sectioned such information in a mental area where the other knew not to go.

Hidden in this area was Ajeya’s confession.

Saavik removed her uniform jacket and went to hang it out of the way. She trailed her fingers up his right arm as she passed, his thin tunic barring the full impact but still allowing him to feel the casual intimacy. He heard the embedded wall closet open, and pictured the dark square it made against the bright wall.

Saavik being at the closet brought her up behind him with a clear view of the computer.

“Commander Diartr?” she said. “Our thoughts are much the same, husband.” She sat across the desk from him.

Despite what they faced, or maybe because of it, he took the opportunity to speak lightly. “You see your request for another chair has been granted.”

“The benefit of having a celebrated status with the Arongotu. It has earned me this, if not their acquiescence to Federation membership.”

“And gave the Arongotu much to discuss with your statement that we both required a chair. Speaker broached the subject after your departure this afternoon.”

They could use her quarters on the Contact, but they both preferred to be in the middle of the situation. Although the idea of Saavik safely onboard her ship, with all its protection, appealed to Spock. But it would mean a battle with Speaker... and Saavik.

She leaned into one hand. “Then he continues to recognize your authority?”

“He would not question a ranking female, especially one of celebrated status, over such a matter.” But that was teasing, and they had serious things to discuss. “However, he does understand my role on behalf of the Federation. Even the issue of a decreased supply does not threaten the contract’s renewal. Or the Federation’s standing here.”

“Not losing a neutral world to the Empire will please Starfleet Command. Although some in Starfleet anticipated establishing a base here, rooted in their belief of Romulan disinterest. Their conversation with me this afternoon held some disappointment.”

“The downside of anticipation. We can take solace in one fact.”

Her eyes lit up. She had guessed what he was going to say. “The Klingons are not here.”

He nodded. “The Arongotu would not be able to separate them from the Romulans. I have additional news as well. Speaker found your report on the Federation’s protection against piracy in the frontier quite fascinating. Especially as you noted personal experience.”

“Then my years in the border patrol had benefit.”

“And not for the first time.”

She glanced towards the door joining them with the next, smaller room. “T’Pren?”

“She, along with Seprix and Tg’Ir, use the library facility placed at our disposal. They have assignments due by the end of this evening.”

For a moment, she closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she stared quietly for a moment at the white, impersonal wall.

“I do not understand her,” she admitted at last. She didn’t need to say she meant Ajeya. Her head leaned to one side, and Spock took a slow, slight breath. Cocking her head that way was a gesture she had inherited from her mother.

If you knew the truth, my wife, you would be pleased your mind does not work as hers does.

“Why Diartr’s record?” she asked him suddenly. “Why not hers?”

“I researched both and merely closed hers before your arrival. I also believe he may be one reason for her current reticence.”

Saavik abandoned her seat for the arm of his chair. He shifted over a little so she sat comfortably against his left side without unbalancing them both. Without her uniform jacket, she was clad in the sleeveless, open necked top worn underneath it. Her bare arm touched against his tunic. The feeling of her pressed to his side was heady, and he complimented the Arongotu for their policy of close quarters.

He still quirked an eyebrow at her. “You abandon the chair it took you so much to earn.”

“So I did.” He watched as one corner of her mouth gave the hint of curling into a smile. “I trust you will forgive me if I do not stand on your shoulders to use the second computer station.”

It stood a few feet above his since the Arongotu preferred stacking themselves on top of each other.

Saavik started the short recording again, paying close attention to Ajeya’s interaction with Diartr.

“You said one reason, husband. I am certain we have both deduced the first reason,” she brought up her log from the Armstrong, “is the presence of the Contact in orbit.”

Spock nodded. “Her previous attack occurred when she believed in the ploy you utilized. She remained at a distance until it appeared the Armstrong left you with no support.”

But when Ajeya did attack, she almost succeeded. If Armstrong and Saavik’s landing party had worked a few seconds slower, she would be dead.

“Now the Contact is in orbit, and I have both you and my crew around me.”

He nodded again. “Not only is an attack more difficult, she risks an instigation with Starfleet at a time when the Empire cannot afford to bring such attention to itself.”

“Not to mention, the Arongotu.” Saavik had paused the recording of Ajeya talking to her former husband. “Your reasoning over Diartr?”

“Their marriage ended over her service at Hellguard.”

Saavik’s head swung sharply towards him. “She told you this?”

Be careful, Spock warned himself. If he revealed one fact too many, Saavik would put everything together.

“She did,” he said. “To emphasize she did not care about the cost of following her extinct orders. Commander Diartr apparently was against the Hellguard projects.”

“That speaks well of him.” Saavik shut down the recording. “Her willingness to pay such a price unfortunately speaks against her having learned the absurdity of this vendetta.”

Spock looked up at her. “Did you really think it was possible?” he asked softly.

“No. Although she did tell me she sought to destroy all those born to Hellguard, and yet, she has made no attacks on the others. One explanation for her behavior is her decision not to complete her obsolete orders.” Her glance at him turned sly. “Someone once told me there are always possibilities.”

He raised both eyebrows. “Clearly our situation has proven such a statement is nothing more than arrogance. I suggest you say so to whomever made it.”

“Perhaps I will.”

She picked this moment to rest her head against his, and with her mind open to him, he sensed the fine edge hovering around her. Caused by second guessing Ajeya and through her, the reappearance of Hellguard.

He brushed his fingers against his mate’s cheek, and she leaned into them. The contact freed a warm, soothing current between them.

“My wife,” he whispered. “Do not be alone on this planet. Not while she is so close.”

“There is a guard at the door,” she murmured in return.

Her hand reached in and slipped into the one against her cheek. Spock’s eyes closed with the touch of her head to his as well as her fingers in his palm. Saavik’s telepathic skills were only slightly above average, but the bond was powerful between them, and his own skills were very strong. He would freely open his mind to her at any time, as she had done for him, especially if the contact meant easing that edge.

Besides, their times together were too far apart.

The moment made him forget that he left unburied what he had kept hidden for years, and it floated into her notice. It was not the whole thought, Ajeya is your mother, but it was enough of it.

Saavik jerked back, staring at him, and then turned back to the computer. Spock saw the second it fell into place.

“You kept this from me?” She shot to her feet. “You knew and never told me!”

“My wife--”

How long, Spock? Since that first attack? You have known since then?”

“Saavik...”

Her violent expression made her controlled voice all the more worse. “You can have no good excuse for this. Do not attempt to offer one that is fabricated.”

She was gone without one more word.

“Saavik!”

He knew the guard at the door would go with her, that the man might even stop her to ask what was happening, and give Spock the chance to catch up to her.

But he found the guard stiffarming him back into the room and Saavik disappearing alone around the corner.

“Wait, Ambassador. The captain said it isn’t safe for you where she’s going. You need to stay here, sir.”

 “And your captain’s safety?”

“She took a phaser with her, sir, and she said she’s calling for backup. Now, Ambassador--”

He didn’t listen to the rest. A phaser. Exactly what he didn’t want to hear.

Saavik didn’t leave to get away from him.

****

“So you finally figured it out.”

Saavik didn’t need overwhelming light, like that in her Arongotu quarters, to see the mocking smile in Ajeya’s eyes and curving her mouth. The widened section of corridor where they stared each other down was lit with only small pools of illumination from overhead, almost Klingon in its darkness.

“Or did Spock finally tell you?”

Ajeya’s smile soured as she said that name, as if it held a concealed razor that had cut her tongue. Then the grin came back, even more taunting.

“But no, why would he say something now after hiding it for so long? You do know that he’s kept this a secret from you all this time? Makes me wonder why, what’s he afraid of? Coward.”

Saavik ignored these jeers, including the insult against Spock. Everything in her focused on one thing: her Romulan parent suddenly had gender, a name and a face. After all these years... Every act and moment of cruelty on Hellguard, the reason for all the times she bled and starved and lived her hellish childhood was Ajeya.

“Is it true?”

The question took Ajeya offguard, but only for a second and it deepened her smile. She began circling Saavik who, for her own protection, mirrored the action so they sketched an orbit that mimicked the one their ships made around the planet.

“You’re barely armed. Not very smart.” Ajeya’s one hand rested on her disruptor, but she tapped her Honor Blade leaving no doubt which weapon she wanted to use.

Is it true?

Saavik had been heading for the transporter room to beam up to the Contact and retrieve a dagger from her weapons collection when she found Ajeya. Her hand moved, when Ajeya’s hands moved, to the phaser fixed at her side.

“Of course it’s true. Would I go through this trouble if it wasn’t? To think you actually believed that story about my old orders.”

At least she looked nothing like Ajeya. I am not her.

“Then why tell me it at all?”

Ajeya’s smirk revealed teeth like bared fangs. “Advantage. I’m fueled by knowing what you are. I denied you that.”

So many times Saavik pictured this moment, but those times grew less and less until she thought she’d left it behind. Now Ajeya proved right; seeing her and knowing who she was brought everything back and made it worse. When Saavik had turned from Spock, the thing inside boiled as an erupting core, a sun with solar flares. Face to face with Ajeya, it changed, burning white hot, stable, more dangerous.

“Then you have lost your advantage.”

“And gained others.”

They moved through the spots of overhead light, one moment passing through the soft brightness that still cast their eyes into shadow, the next hugging darkness. Their eyes fought to quickly adjust from dark to light so they could watch the other.

Something in the feral smile across from her seemed familiar, but Saavik grasped that by making her circle, Ajeya maneuvered her unprotected back in the direction from which the Romulan came. That danger overrode thinking about familiar smiles. If Ajeya had allies waiting to spring, Saavik wouldn’t know it until too late.

She cut back and forced Ajeya backwards as well so they once more stood on their own sides. One part of her mind focused on her enemy -- my oldest enemy -- watching for any warning sign, while a second part now concentrated on the Romulan corridor and a third calculated How many steps behind me is Spock? How long before he figured out which of the different mazes she had taken?

They stopped their relentless circling.

“Look at you. So tamed, a pet Starfleet keeps on a leash.”

The fire burning inside stayed controlled under the discipline of her will, but it still burned, wanting release. It felt ancient and right, from the deep places in the two cultures that conceived her, and it fed on Hellguard’s memories.

“Your hands are too clean, and your heart too soft,” Ajeya scoffed.

No deep space officer escaped being dashed against the universe’s jagged edges, and Saavik felt the urge to fling the insult back at the Romulan by reminding her where she had been abandoned.

She would not allow such a lapse of her control. “Your tactic is not working. Insults will not cause me to lose my ability to think clearly. You will not have that advantage.”

The tension thrummed between them, a taut wire connecting them both and straining as it stretched tighter with each second they waited, ready to snap. The air vibrated with it, pulsing into them both and pulling them towards each other. They stood against it, waiting one nanosecond more, and further strained the line of tension. When it snapped...

“So you’re here to punish me?”

It is my right. Saavik didn’t say this either. She would not be distracted.

Until a sigh escaped Ajeya, the sound of an old soldier seeing the end of the war. “It will be such a relief when you’re dead.”

And Saavik could only think the same thing for the same reason.

Ajeya’s hand slipped around the hilt of her Honor Blade and held. Saavik’s hand stayed as it was on her phaser, steady. The invisible wire strained more, pulling them together...

“I should have killed you at birth.” Merely a statement of fact. Ajeya drew her knife, held it in her right hand, with the disruptor ready at her side in the other.

...pulling...

Honor Blade?” Only an observation. The desire to destroy each other banked to a simmering. This became yet another battle a higher Command deemed they fight, so they settled, ready, two veterans in the calm before the strike.

Saavik drew her phaser, and held it down at her side. Ajeya planned to use that knife; that was why she kept it in the hand she had proven in her first attack was her dominant one. The disruptor was meant to stun Saavik and leave her without the chance to keep the blade from slicing her to death.

...pulling...

A lighter shadow moved in one corner to their left, and a small, pale form edged into a bit of light.

T’Pren!

Discipline clamped down, keeping Saavik in her stance and turning her face to stone. Reveal nothing to Ajeya!

The girl stared at Saavik with wide, black eyes that sat in stark contrast to her colorless face. Her mouth parted but didn’t breathe. Cold, in a wave that was painful, twisted Saavik when she saw herself in her daughter’s expression: not Vulcan, not Starfleet...

Ajeya. T’Pren’s expression reflected like a mirror the Ajeya in Saavik.

T’Pren...

No time. She didn’t need her officer’s training or experience to tell her to get the innocent away from the battlefield. Her maternal alarms electrified her and the battle changed again: disable the Romulan long enough to get the child away.

T’Pren looked from Saavik to Ajeya with the same expression for different reasons.

She knows. The girl had heard what Ajeya last said or perhaps something in what she saw between the two women... she knew.

No time for that either. Make Ajeya circle again. Put her back to T’Pren before she sees--

T’Pren’s eyes narrowed and fired, and her jaw set into new lines Saavik never saw before in the girl. Her breath came now, slow and hard rises in her chest and between teeth revealed by slightly pulled back lips. The same expression her mother made at the same approximate age of ten years old.

The same expression both Saavik and Ajeya made in their brief, first battle before Armstrong made its rescue and capture.

Not T'Pren! She never showed signs before of inheriting anything of Hellguard, and Saavik thought one of her children, at least, was free.

As her eyes locked on Ajeya’s, trying to discern if the Romulan noticed what had happened in the last two quick seconds, it penetrated that they were blue. A stormy blue flecked with black, but definitely blue.

Setik, Saavik’s first born, had blue eyes, a different shade but still proving she carried the recessive gene for it. Now she stood face to face with its origin.

Ajeya’s expression narrowed -- seeing something in Saavik’s? -- and she tapped her Honor Blade against her leg. Saavik caught the slight motion, the gesture she used to make when she struggled with hard emotion before learning her controls...

.. the same way T’Kel, T’Pren’s twin, had.

Ajeya and her crime was in all of them. They never would be free of her.

Get T’Pren to safety. But would T’Pren ever be safe as long as Ajeya was alive? And if Saavik killed Ajeya, didn’t she become her?

Questions for your meditations! Do not be distracted.

The invisible wire hummed and pulled. Ajeya’s muscles bunched and Saavik made ready. She had to fire her phaser before Ajeya’s disruptor brought her down.

T’Pren slipped between them.

No!

Ajeya hung in the poised step before the lunge she had been about to make, looking like a wolf stopping in mid-spring. She took an unconscious half-step back from the tight figure that glared up at her from a height that just reached the top of her ribs.

A snarl came out from between her clenched teeth. “You don’t belong here.”

Saavik’s one hand moved slowly, sheltered from view behind T’Pren. She would grab the girl and fling her to safety if need be.

“I do belong here.” T’Pren switched from foot to foot in a more controlled version of her mother stomping defiance on Hellguard. Something else to haunt Saavik’s meditations later, if they survived this. “My place is with my mother. A true Romulan will understand this.”

What is she doing!

Ajeya’s face dropped to fully stare into the one lifted up to her. Her dark hair, lighter than T’Pren’s ebony, fell around her, further blocking her from Saavik’s view. Saavik didn’t see the small swallow go down her throat.

“I am T’Pren, daughter of Saavik.”

It hung in the tension, the usual familial litany seemingly cut off.

“I am not your equal,” T’Pren went on, no falter in her position despite those words. “I will not, however, be driven away by intimidation. I faced a le-matya during my maturity test. I did not show it fear, and I will not show it to you.”

Ajeya’s lips twitched, still hidden from Saavik. “Do you think I make war on children?”

Yes. If she didn’t, she and Saavik wouldn’t be standing here.

Ajeya lifted her Honor Blade to tap that small, defiant chin in a gesture similar to ruffling the child’s hair. Her eyes lit with laughter that T’Pren could see, but Saavik couldn’t. She should have noticed the slight easing in the way Ajeya moved, or perhaps even recognized the tilt to the head. But she didn’t. She saw that blade raised to T’Pren’s throat.

The wire snapped.

It made Saavik attack. In one motion, she snaked the arm with the phaser around T’Pren’s chest and swept the girl behind her. At the same time, her free hand snatched at Ajeya’s fingers holding the knife, and pressed the nerve junction in the ball of the thumb. The Romulan’s hand sprang open, and Saavik stole the knife.

She made the two motions fast, taking advantage of catching Ajeya offguard, but she couldn’t get out of the way in time. The disruptor struck backhanded across her face, the front sight cutting her high on the cheekbone to the eyebrow. Blood spurted into her eye, but her pain controls kept her head clear and steady. She slashed at the hand that tried for her wrist, and shoved Ajeya back, trying to bring the phaser up.

But the Romulan was a second ahead, her disruptor almost ready. Saavik rolled her shoulder under it, following through with the motion of her phaser so the two weapons struck and their arc pushed their aim overhead. The contact jarred tight trigger fingers and both fired into the air, the phaser shot slicing through the disruptor, destroying it.

She stabbed at Ajeya’s abdomen, causing the other to jump back instead of getting the butt of her ruined disruptor down against Saavik’s head. Saavik had her phaser aimed and almost fired when Ajeya charged.

She hit Saavik with her shoulder under the rib cage and drove her full force into the hard wall. Air exploded out of her lungs, giving Ajeya the chance to shove her off and kick Saavik’s wrist hard with her boot heel. The crack of bone reverberated off the walls. The phaser dropped from the useless hand, and the Romulan took the opportunity to rain blows on the body. But Saavik blocked the blows, and Ajeya wanted that knife.

She tore at Saavik’s hand with both of hers, but Saavik had her wind back and the pain from her ruined wrist shut off. She drove her forearm, above the broken wrist, under Ajeya’s hands, and, with her other hand locked around the Romulan Honor Blade, drove them up high above her head.

Their faces glared into each other, both pairs of eyes seething, Ajeya’s clenched teeth hissing with her breathing and the blood now congealing in Saavik’s eye. It ran down her face into her mouth where it mixed with the metallic tang already there from when T’Pren first appeared in the corridor. They stayed locked until Saavik rose to her extra bit of height. With her longer reach and her arm pushing against those wrists, Ajeya’s tearing grip at the knife slackened.

It left her body open again.

Ajeya hit her ribs and stomach hard, then went for Saavik’s legs, striking at the knees, but Saavik expected it and twisted her body, pulling the other off balance. She drove her elbow into Ajeya’s face, earning a second’s respite before the Romulan charged again. This time, she kept Saavik’s knife hand low and trapped between their bodies. She butted her head into Saavik’s jaw, once, twice, until Saavik blinked against the growing darkness, forcing it away. She felt the other’s nails digging into her skin until blood flowed over the knife’s hilt, loosening it. Then it came home to Ajeya’s hand.

The Romulan shoved away, giving herself room to use the dagger. Saavik knew how to fight with and against a knife, but she also knew that it was Ajeya’s Honor Blade. It was part of her body, part of her everyday survival in the Romulan fleet.

The blade went for her heart, and she leapt from it, her boot landing on something. Not her phaser; she knew, without moving her eyes from Ajeya, where it lay out of reach on the floor. Just as she knew exactly where T’Pren stayed under cover, watching with the same pale face.

She kicked the thing under her boot forward to get it in her peripheral vision, and seeing what it was, rolled under Ajeya’s next feint and came up with the ruined disruptor.

Ajeya was on top of her, bringing the knife down into her shoulder. Saavik could only lean forward, shoving against the other to make the blade miss. It still bit down along the shoulder blade, slicing through sleeveless top to the bone.

But she struck with the still hot, broken end of the disruptor, swiping it along thigh and hip, drawing her first blood. Ajeya stumbled back and Saavik came up. The Romulan recovered, showing her own deadly control, and proved the Honor Blade was hers with fast series of sweeps and stabs that were all one movement. But Saavik was no novice. And as much Ajeya wanted her, she wanted Ajeya, not to mention her fighting for the daughter at her back. It gave her an edge the other didn't have, and matched the Romulan's daily combat for survival.

For a moment, they met equally. She countered every attack, and blocked every blow as they moved in and out of light. They met against each other as if they gave an exhibition of advanced skill, fencing in something as beautiful and deadly as a sword dance.

But Saavik fought against a well crafted knife with the stump of a disruptor, handicapped by the loss of her dominant hand, and Ajeya lost more blood through her deeper wounds than Saavik did. Her uniform was soaked through, and her leg didn’t move as it should, just as Saavik’s one arm didn't from the broken bones and cut shoulder. Their pace began faltering, and their reactions slowed. Smaller cuts showed on both of them and blows made it through their defenses.

They came at each other once more and locked again.

Father!

The sound of hard running feet seeped through a second before hands reached in and tore them apart. Ajeya shouted with fury, and even Saavik strained to break free from the hands that she knew were Spock’s.

She suddenly looked down the muzzle of a fresh disruptor and Diartr’s narrowed eyes behind it. His finger tightened on the trigger. He had ended his marriage to his wife, but clearly, Ajeya was still his and Saavik had attacked her.

“Diartr, kill her!” Ajeya shouted.

Some perverse notion made Saavik mirror her slapping her thigh. He caught it, as she meant him to do. She didn’t know her head leaned to the side as she glared back at him, unflinching. It took him a beat, then the disruptor pulled away, almost forgotten in his hand. He stared at her as if seeing a ghost.

“Diartr!” Ajeya lunged for his disruptor, but he grabbed her and held on, even though he obviously was still unsure. She almost broke free of his hold, but someone else came to Saavik’s side: Nachson with a phaser, held out and aimed at the Romulans. And Seprix stood guard over T’Pren where she had picked up Saavik’s phaser and had started aiming it at Ajeya when Spock had arrived.

Above it all came numerous tick-tick-tick sounds, layering over each other in a riot of nervous clamor. The Arongotu, drawn by the earlier shots fired or Ajeya’s shout or the noise of their fighting. The sound drove home the rest of their situation: the ships they commanded, and the governments that commanded them.

They had to get out of here before their personal battle ruined their standing on the planet or sparked the powder keg between the Empire and the Federation.

Diartr pulled at Ajeya, even as Spock pulled at Saavik, but she only backed away one step at a time. As long as Ajeya kept her eyes on her, she wouldn’t turn her back.

Tick-tick-tick...

It was the only thing that made Ajeya go with Diartr. They disappeared the way they came, Ajeya unwilling to turn away from Saavik, until the last possible moment.

Saavik did the same, making sure the Romulan didn’t come after them, until she had to retreat with everyone else. She pulled out of Spock’s grasp, keeping on her feet until they reached a lift and slipped away.

***

“Curse me for a fool.”

Ajeya was glad Diartr was behind her on the other side of her ship’s cabin. His bitterness was difficult enough for her to bear. The fact he had said these exact words years ago, when he had discovered what she had done on Hellguard and ended their marriage, was worse.

“She’s yours. Isn’t she, Ajeya?”

She whirled on him. “Don’t talk about her like that! You make her sound like something she’s not.” Her wounded leg throbbed and her head suffered under the loss of blood. The pressure bandage worked, but she needed to seal the wound with the medical kit Diartr had smuggled into her.

He crossed the distance between them and grabbed her arms. “She’s yours, Ajeya! You can’t deny that!”

“She’s my mistake, that’s the only thing she is! One I asked you to help me erase.”

“I almost did before I realized what I was about to do.” His voice grew harder. “You weren’t planning to kill her child.”

It wasn’t a question.

She couldn’t stop the grin from spreading when those black eyes and so serious little face came back to mind, so defiant in refusing to show fear. Ajeya remembered the first time she stood up to someone; she had picked too big a target as well.

“Diartr, do you know what a le-matya is?” The word teased at her memory, but wouldn’t come forward.

“No. What does that have to do with this?”

“Nothing. And yes, the child is safe.”

“Good to know you won’t kill your own granddaughter.”

She started to deny that relationship, but he cut her off. “That leaves her mother. Prove to me Saavik has wronged you, and I will gladly kill her.”

She said nothing, suddenly tired of the argument before it really began. She removed the bandages from her leg and hip, and started to seal the deep, jagged tear Saavik cut across them.

“Here, give that to me,” Diartr said. He took the medical kit gently from her hands. “You’re making a mess of yourself.”

Now she couldn’t speak for a different reason. He sat her down on her bunk, and his dark head bent over her. He cut away the blood soaked uniform, clearing the entire area around the long wound. She inhaled sharply when his fingers probed it.

He looked up. “Did I hurt you?”

“No.”

The wound hurt, but that wasn’t the reason for her reaction. It was feeling his touch again. She had dimmed the lights in the sleeping area, mostly as a relief after the brightness the Arongotu insisted on down below, and partly so she couldn’t clearly see Diartr’s harsh expression. Now, though, the soothing light wrapped them in intimacy. She became very aware they sat on her bed.

She caught some of the flash from his white teeth as he said, “You know, you wouldn’t have so many scars if you learned how to do this right. Lean back more.”

The pain numbed as he sealed the injury, then tingled with the new, healing skin. Her hand reached out to slide into his thick hair when he spoke again. The smile was gone, and the skin drew tight over his wide cheekbones down to the chin.

“Don’t think I didn’t notice you didn’t answer me earlier. When I asked you what this Saavik has done.”

A very different ache weighed her down. Saavik was still alive, and once again she came between Ajeya and her mate.

She cost me you, Diartr. Isn’t that enough?

Maybe that was why she sounded so tired as she answered him. “You saw for yourself she wants me dead. Since when can’t I get rid of a threat?”

“She’s claiming her right for what you’ve done to her. You would do the same, Ajeya. How long have you known she’s yours?”

She snatched the medical kit from his hands and leapt up from the bed. The newly healed wound twinged, but she ignored it as she threw off the remnants of her uniform and began healing the smaller injuries.

Diartr stood and crossed his arms over his chest. “You want me to kill a Starfleet captain and do it in a way so that ship doesn’t bear down on us, then I want to know everything. I can’t see her finding out about you first. It’s easier that you found out about her, but how? I read her record. Impressive, and now that I know the truth, I can see you in it. But it doesn’t tell me how you knew. Was it the name?”

“What does it matter how I figured it out! I told you she’s a threat!”

“You told me a lot of things.”

She knew what was coming next. She jerked on a black robe and pulled too hard on the belt. It didn’t help get rid of what was building inside. She felt him move until he stood next to her, his mouth thin and tight, and like any time he ranted at her, his voice came out low and biting.

“You told me she was ours. You came to me, you slept with me so that I would believe the baby was ours. I used to put my hand on your stomach so that I could feel her kicking, and said she was just like Rakkas, another little girl anxious to get out. My mother joked that Ehiil lazily let you carry him until the healers made him come out, just like all boys, and we laughed. Do you remember that?”

“Diartr, if I had told you the truth--”

“Then you came back from another assignment and the baby was gone. You told me she died in childbirth, and I mourned for her! You held me while I tore myself apart over losing her! Why did I believe you this whole time that she had died when everything else you said was a lie!”

“What difference would it have made? You couldn’t do anything if you had known she was alive.”

“You’re wrong. I could have brought her home.”

Ajeya felt the blood actually drain from her face. “Are you insane? Bring her home? You act like she’s the same as Ehiil and Rakkas. She’s not! She wasn’t a child, you can’t think of her like that! She’s a project that went wrong!”

“Listen to yourself! Ajeya, you gave birth to her. Even if she isn’t mine, she’s yours.”

“No, she’s not. She belonged to the scientists, she's just another lab animal in their experiments. Like I was only another piece of equipment.”

He yelled after her as she stalked away, “Don’t act so innocent. You raped that Vulcan. It wasn’t some clean and sterile experiment, you raped him and you act like it was nothing!”

Her ravaged expression and hoarse voice stopped him in his steps. “Don’t tell me what it was like. He was in my head, Diartr, did you ever think about that? You can’t know what that fever does to them, and what it’s like inside your mind.”

“He had a wife. They weren’t married yet, but they probably would have been soon. They had a mental link to each other. He kept trying to block what was happening from it, but the... mating drive they forced on him made him unable to stop the link from working, anymore than he could stop himself from being in my head. Her face was in his mind the whole time, and he kept thinking how it would be different with her, how it was her right to be with him, and not mine. He saw your face in my mind too, and some part of him thought he wronged you.”

He asked me what wife would do this to her true mate. I made myself laugh at him and said why did he need to know? He looked insane and said, It satisfies my curiosity.

The same words Saavik would use years later.

“He -- He never hated before, he didn’t even know what the word really meant, until me. He hated me. That was in his head too.”

“Ajeya...”

“I can still feel him sometimes, and because of it, in some way, I know him better than you. Don’t you think I know what -- what a mockery that makes of us? And what a travesty it was, after you being with me when Rakkas and Ehiil were born, to have him next to me when -- when...”

He waited, then said it for her. “When Saavik was born.”

She swallowed. So did he.

He spoke softly. “I don’t remember us considering Saavik when we talked about names.”

“I didn’t name her,” Ajeya mumbled. “The scientists did. I didn’t want to know.”

“Did you see her?” he asked.

“I tried not to, but they brought her to him and I saw her then. They took her away right after that.”

“So you didn’t hold her and give her the gift of her name, and neither did he. What sort of birth is that?”

Damn it, Diartr! Why won’t you see that we didn’t want this, not you or him, not me!”

He slid a lock of her hair through his fingers, watched it under the light, before he carefully laid it next to her cheek. “Then why did you do it?”

She tried to lean into that hand, but it was already gone. “You know why.”

“Power.”

“No! To save my House from a Praetor stripping it of everything it was. My mother is dead! My father is a servant for the vermin that infest his House after it was stolen from him! How could I see that happening and not do something to stop it?”

“And you think Hrollaef would want his House if he knew what did you to save it?”

“If the Hellguard project had worked, no one would be complaining about any of this!”

He seized her chin in a tight grip, eyes all at once burning. “Wrong.”

She grabbed his wrist and saw the bruises Saavik had left on her hand. “Diartr! Tell me you didn’t want better for Rakkas and Ehiil when they started out in the Fleet. You were the one who killed their patrons once we were in a position to get them someone better!”

He let go, and she dropped her hand. “I did. Those people deserved the deaths I gave them. You still haven’t told me why Saavik deserves the death you want for her.”

If I touched him again, would he pull away? He stood so close, she could feel his heat.

“She’s a threat to me. Besides the vendetta she’s claiming, she’s a weapon in the wrong hands. If the wrong people find out about her, they’ll use her to destroy everything we’ve rebuilt. You might be safe, but what happens to me or the children then? Do we fall on our Honor Blades?”

He stayed quiet a long moment while he thought over the real truth in what she had said. When he answered, he looked like he already mourned for her and their children. “I’m sorry, Ajeya, but if we end up redeeming ourselves through Final Honor -- and you know I would take it with you -- it will be because of what you did, not any fault of this Saavik. I will not kill her for a crime you committed.”

There it was. The answer she always knew he would give, as if seeing her House destroyed and having him sever their marriage wasn’t enough punishment for Hellguard.

But he must know, he has not convinced me anymore than I can convince him.

He started for the door.

“Kiyhu.”

He turned at her use of his most private name. The waves in his dark hair, the strong lines to him, the ease with which he moved... he still made her heart hammer.

“Don’t go.”

He gave a sad, small laugh. “Only you would ask that after all this.”

She looked away. She didn’t want to see his bitterness come back. “You’re probably right.”

“Then why?”

Because I’m hurting and I’m tired, and I can’t stand to watch you walk out on me again.

He was suddenly around her, standing next to her side as his arms folded across her chest and waist, and he buried his face in her neck.

“a'Eshni,” he whispered, using her secret name. His warm breath stroked her skin. “You are the great love of my life. I became passionate about things because you’re that way. It made me want to be the same.”

Her eyes squeezed shut.

“I left,” ,is breath now was near a cry, and so was hers, “because I didn’t know the Ajeya who was capable of doing what you did on Hellguard. I couldn’t recognize you, and I couldn’t be married to that. I was afraid of that part of you coming back again, and she has. She was down on that planet asking me to kill her daughter.”

She bit back the words that Saavik wasn’t hers. Something else was more important: him.

“But she’s not here now, Kiyhu.”

He only burrowed further into her, the way he always had when he was troubled and they were together.

“Stay with me,” she said.

“It won’t change anything.”

“No, it won’t.” She drew closer into the shelter of his body. “But stay.”

***

It was a day before Saavik talked to Spock. A day of slipping aboard her ship to her cabin and healing her injuries; of making sure the fight with Ajeya stayed quietly between the very few who saw it. She didn’t know what the Romulans did to ensure it went no farther than Commander Diartr, but Seprix had been a problem. Finally, he listened to her explanation that this was best handled by her rather than escalate a personal situation to major trouble with the Arongotu, and between the Federation and the Empire. She reminded him of the current tensions following the loss of Enterprise at Narendra III. This appealed to his youth’s sense of duty, to Vulcan and his betrothed’s family.

It also helped that he had granted Speaker’s request to talk with T’Pren, something against their guidelines, and leaving her without an escort, something forbidden. It made him want to serve his duty right this time.

Saavik had plenty to say to the escort as well.

Nachson had been easier: a shrug and a “As you say, Captain”, he handed her a medical kit and off he went.

Spock was there for her talk with Seprix, staring at her significantly the whole time. They said nothing to each other.

All this had really happened last night. The day was for the Arongotu, hearing their accusations about finding green blood in one of the corridors and worrying a Romulan had been attacked. She assured them that no one in her crew instigated any assault against the Liusaidh crew.

She didn’t need Spock’s eyes boring into her to know the thin line she walked with those words. Her conscience was loud enough on its own during her meditations.

With the Arongotu slightly mollified, she sat again in the glowing white box she shared with her husband. Speaker was frowning, so to speak, on her beaming off the planet, even for short periods of time. She traded staying on the planet, unless an emergency required her to be on her ship, for his never again speaking with T’Pren alone, then leaving her in a corridor at the first sound of her mother’s voice.

So she sat in the glowing room, her sense of right and wrong bandying words like betrayed, justness... and guilt.

She knew the danger of upsetting the situation here, and how close she had come to doing that. She vowed she wouldn’t come that close again. She believed in the Federation’s ideals. As an officer, she had bled for them and shed others’ when absolutely necessary. That was part of her Starfleet oath, to be the front line so that all the others in the Federation could live peacefully in those ideals. She held fast to that oath, or she never would have taken the responsibility that came with her uniform.

She included her crew in that responsibility. No one serving under her would suffer for a personal struggle.

She held fast to another oath as well: Ajeya must pay for her crime. She had learned that as an infant when she had discovered the truth about her birth.

She saw no need to put away one oath for the other. Spock saw it differently. The only argument he conceded was the threat to their children.

Some in Starfleet and Vulcan believed as he did. The rest would unofficially agree with her. Officially, if she carried out her vow against Ajeya, Starfleet would abide by the principle that its officers must never put themselves above the law.

Vulcan... if it discovered she had done such an action, the High Council would act in the same way as Starfleet.

Through these thoughts came a surprising one.

Her father was Vulcan.

Such a trivial thing or so it seemed, but she had never known it before: her father was Vulcan. Her mother was a Romulan, the first Romulan figure in her life and the one who begat all the torture on Hellguard.

Moving as if against her will, she went to the mirror built inside the closet door. Illogical. I know my appearance. But she stood in front of the mirror and stared. She touched the healed gash Ajeya had opened next to her eye, and was pleased it had left no scar. The features weren’t Ajeya’s.

Were they her father’s?

She turned away, and tried to put it from her mind. She didn’t want to think about him. She didn’t want to think about him because that led to thinking about what had happened to him. What Ajeya had done to him. What she had done that had conceived Saavik.

She glanced back at the mirror and set her mind. She did not necessarily look like her father. But this resulted in a more disturbing thought: she might look like someone else in Ajeya’s family.

More illogic. I make assumptions based on no facts.

Spock entering their quarters was almost a relief. Except a Vulcan would not feel relief, but to be Vulcan was to be her father, whose death and shame centered on her. Although, what was her other choice?

She was either Ajeya or Ajeya’s victim. Damn.

“Saavik.”

She sat down heavily. Under the circumstances, she was not ready for this... debate.

“I would rather not talk, Spock.”

“That is beneficial as I also prefer you not talk. I would rather you listen.”

If the situation had been any different, they would have seen the warning signs they gave.

“Will you be apologizing for your concealing the truth about Ajeya? I do not intend to hear anything else.”

“Heed me, Saavik. I am not a repentant consort that you can easily dismiss. I know you have reason to think as you do, but I did what I thought best. I will not be put aside for it, and I will not leave. You must deal with me, because I will not allow either of us any other option.”

She recognized that tone. He meant what he said; he would stand there until they resolved this. She admitted, silently to herself, that she welcomed the chance to break down the barriers between them. She admitted it to him by answering.

“I do not require a lecture on the damage I potentially might have caused. I am well aware of it and have ensured it has not happened. The Arongotu are appeased, my ship and your diplomatic party remain uninvolved.”

“And our daughter?”

T’Pren had watched her clean off the blood. She had looked the perfect Vulcan child, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the bloodstains and had stayed nestled in the personal space between her parents.

“I spoke with T’Pren, as you heard since you were in the room. I also assisted her with her meditations.”

Because the girl had trembled, a bare shiver but there, as her trying experience caught up to her.

“The fact she needed such assistance at her age speaks on the seriousness of what happened. She should not have been exposed to that situation.”

“You are concerned for her, which is only right, so I will ignore the suggestion that I would ever want one of our children nearly killed! I have never wished them exposed to anything remotely associated with my past or its possible dangers. It is you who has insisted they learn what it means to be Romulan and it is that which put T’Pren in jeopardy. You can not have forgotten what she told Ajeya or her replies to my questions. Distraction, Spock! She put herself in danger because of your lessons on an unexpected action and the use of the correct words being as effective in opposing violence as defensive violence itself.”

When Saavik had insisted T’Pren should not have been involved at all, nor should she have picked up that phaser, the same set expression came over the girl’s face that Sarek had at his most immovable. But she still looked up at Saavik with wide eyes.

“I thought it my place to be with you.”

“If you are so convinced,” Spock said, “your position is correct, then why did it disturb you to have T’Pren see you as she did in that corridor? And why will you not discuss Ajeya with her?”

She had overheard her youngest child dictating a letter to her brother and sister, vaguely hinting, as it was unsecured, at her... discomfort over discovering who Ajeya was and what had happened afterward. Saavik had also overheard another part as well: “Mother and Father are so cold to one another.”

She had walked in at that point, to see T’Pren to her meditations.

“As I said, Spock, I do not need your lectures.”

He paused. “No, my wife, you do not.” His voice trailed off. “Nor do I.”

Their talking ground to a halt. She no longer looked at him, and finally spoke into the difficult silence.

“I was wrong to say what I did regarding T’Pren. You no more wanted her in that situation than I, and it was because of me that she was there.”

She listened to his own apologies, but so much still caused the...coldness between them. Most of it left unsaid; that had to change.

"Spock... you did not care to tell me something as important as Ajeya. We haven't shared enough, endured enough together, even then, for you to see what I had the right to know?"

Now his voice had life. "No, I cared enough not to tell you. I was selfish, but not in the manner you suggest."

She looked up from staring at her hands pressing hard together, surprised and confused.

“I did not want you lost to this desire to avenge yourself and your father."

She recoiled at the last word. It was one thing to think it, and so much more to hear it out loud from someone else.

“My wife, I have seen you build your life one year after the other, despite the handicap of those first ten years and your being a half-Romulan in the Federation, until you have all you do now including that which we build together. I did not want you to chose revenge at the cost of that life.”

He drew up the other chair close to hers; their legs brushed together and she felt the welcomed jolt his touch always gave her. Except, this time, it flashed like lightning revealing a barren landscape, and she saw how deadened she had become.

His eyes went to every detail of her face before grabbing hers. “I do not want to lose my wife as Diartr has his.”

“That is unfair! You cannot compare my actions to hers.”

“True, I cannot. I refer more to how those actions caused her to change. I agree Ajeya has earned punishment for her crimes, but it is what those crimes and her continued vendetta has done to her honor and nobility that keeps Diartr away.”

Would I lose you? Because it was the one cost she would not pay.

“It is one thing to defend yourself, Saavik, or fight a battle one must for the greater good.”

“Both those categories constitute Ajeya’s removal.”

She knew him so well, every line and plane of that beloved face, every working of that mind that always drew her, even the subtleties in the deep voice. She saw he was as conflicted by all this as she was.

“Perhaps you’re right. However, consider this. I have at last understood the full implications of a statement she made, one I did not tell you in full when we first discussed Commander Diartr. Saavik, do you realize Ajeya has never declared a feud against you? She said so herself when you spoke with her on the Armstrong.”

“And you find this significant?”

“I do. It will mean ensuring your safety, as well as the children’s, without further bloodshed.”

“You speak as if I would hesitate to follow this suggestion.”

“Because it will equally bind you as well. You will be unable to seek her out as you currently plan.”

She could not have heard him correctly. “And allow her crimes to go unpunished? No!”

“You prefer violent revenge? Jeopardizing who you are with the risk of becoming her?”

Spock hung waiting for her reply, but she wasn’t ready to give it. After a long moment, he pulled back, and after another, she saw him look from her to the open closet door diagonal to her chair.

“The answer to your question is yes,” he said. When she glanced at him in question, he nodded his head to the mirror that he couldn’t see, but knew was there. “Your appearance favors your father.”

She jerked from her seat and slammed the closet door closed. She pressed a steadying hand to it and made her voice even. “Your talk with her continues to surprise me.”

“I thought you preferred I not keep it from you.”

She stiffened. “Do not be harsh.”

She regretted the words the moment she said them. She had been harsh with him; she couldn’t ask for any different.

Spock, however, gave her just that. He drew in a slow, deep breath, then drew closer until they almost touched. “You do not know how you appear, standing there as if I struck you. Or what it does to me to know I caused you to look that way. Let me ask you with no harshness. Do you want to know what I do?”

She gave the smallest nod after hesitating for a heartbeat.

“You favor him strongly, especially around the eyes. It was what made her suspect who you are.”

“Did she tell you his name? No, do not tell me. I prefer not to know.”

“You cannot know, because she does not. She refused to learn it and always refers to him as the Vulcan.”

“To make him a nonentity.” That stabbed at her, as much as Spock’s comment about the mirror, although she didn’t know why.

“That was my theory as well. And if she had told me his name, I would have gone to your Vulcan family, and told them how fortunate they are to have you as one of their own. So when you learned who they were, they dared not place the burden of his death on you.”

Husband.

“How,” she asked, even softer now, “did you know about Ajeya, since I do not look like her?”

“I had the benefit of being able to observe the two of you and saw, as you did, the absurdity of her risking what she did for the sake of retracted orders. Then there is the gesture you repeated deliberately in front of Commander Diartr.”

“Was that all?”

“No. There is also this one.” He cupped her cheek and straightened her head from how it leaned. “And other similarities. Do not draw back, my wife. The most striking resemblance is how you have the honor she lost. Hellguard, and her choices there, destroyed it in her. You survived it.”

His hand would have slipped away, but she put hers into it so the back of it lay curved into his palm.

In the end, she spoke. “Never again keep such a thing from me. It is my right to know.”

His voice was rough. “Agreed.”

She touched his face, so he could feel the bubble of warmth breaking through. “Is it? Spock, you never asked the Klingons to change, in all your efforts to establish peace with them. Nor have you ever asked the humans close to you to not be human, even when their actions are something you would not do yourself. You accept who they are.”

Her voice lowered in entreaty. “You have said you wished I would accept my Romulan tendencies, that I would see the strengths in them. This is part of it. How can you talk of Vulcan accepting the Sundered again when you can not accept this part of being Romulan? Ajeya is Romulan, Spock, and this is the judgment against her. Accept it for what it is, not for something you would do.”

His eyes darted around, not in turning away from her, but in thinking over what she said. “You make a valid point. I might see this as a matter of difference in our natures, or in the cultural formative years, and accept it must be that way. If it were not for you embracing this. You set aside all reasons against this right of Challenge, and declare your actions justified for the benefit of our family. I do not doubt your desire to keep us safe. I only question your refusal to see no other way. It is how Ajeya was lost, and you welcome it.”

So these were her choices after all. She saw their hands curled into each other, and knew she could have him, their children, Starfleet and Vulcan, or she could have the one thing she had sworn to do her entire life.

“Welcome it? My husband, I have embraced nothing, and I am not lost. I merely do what I must. I am in complete control.”

He reached past her and opened the door to the mirror again. Her reflection was a blow. She was flushed deep olive, and her nostrils flared. Her eyes danced with something savage and ugly. Her body, where it did not touch him, stood balanced and in contained readiness to strike.

In control, yes, but not a Vulcan’s control. It was not even a Romulan's whose soul was intact. It was what T’Pren had seen in that moment, and caused her to stare aghast at Saavik with the same expression Amanda once had.

She closed the door very slowly and stepped into him, feeling his other arm come around her, and pull her closer. She pressed their joined hands to her forehead, and he paired his first two fingers, and slipped them through her other hand so they touched hers. The touch of skin to skin tingled a current through them both.

"Would you end our marriage as Diartr did his?" She had to know.

His face touched hers, and his mouth lay just above her own. "This is a difficult time for us, and it has harmed us both. But your actions are not hers, and we are..." His voice dropped. "Always touching..."

Their marriage vows mixed with his actually touching her... "And touched."

And never parted. Never."

Those words made the tightness in her chest ease at last. It did not blind her, however. If she sought revenge, it would taint what they had together.

At least, there is the satisfaction of Ajeya being tortured knowing I am alive and well. It didn't feel satisfying.

But she had told Ajeya, right after her capture on the Armstrong, that her career brought her much, while the feud did not. More importantly, her family... she fought a different battle for them now: to keep them untainted and hold their respect.

In a matter of time, Ajeya's enemies will have her.

No! another part argued. She is a survivor; she will stay out of their reach. But what that voice really wanted was to destroy Ajeya herself.

She whispered. “What is this alternative you suggest?”

***

The next morning, they walked boldly together into the conference room used for the Romulan trade negotiations. Commander Diartr sat alone at a conference table which ironically was a remake of the one from the USS Rider where the Arongotu first sat down with the crew.

The Arongotu loved history. Their life spans were short, which is why four generations had died compared to Saavik having only lived her youth since her first contact with their people. History and passing it down through genetic shared memories kept their culture alive.

Diartr and his guards sprang into readiness, and Spock was certain they would have fired if not for the two Arongotu leading he and Saavik into the room.

“Commander Diartr, good news,” said the negotiator for the Romulans. The fact she was a female and earned the Rider table spoke of how importantly the Arongotu considered renewing healthy trade with the Empire, and returning themselves to a neutral planet.

“Ambassador Spock and Captain Saavik have explained to me the unease between your parties. They have a solution which they assure me will prevent any further tensions. At their suggestion, we came early before our own talks continue, giving you time and this room.”

Diartr checked the impulse to reach for his disruptor again at the announcement of who was the Federation Ambassador. Spock’s regard for him rose once more. It took strength of will not to insist the Vulcan be given over to the Empire for his crimes. It showed the Romulan knew the bigger game he had to play. Spock counted on it.

Diartr’s eyes found Saavik and stayed there.

She barely acknowledged it; she was focused on what she had to do, but Spock noted the surprising sadness that darted across the man’s expression.

Next to the female, Speaker’s body talk was much more rapid, showing the difference in experience.

Excellent news, isn’t it, Commander? No further tensions! But they require Commander Ajeya be present.”

Diartr’s eyes tightened and went from Saavik to Spock. He pulled his communicator, but he didn’t call the ship.

His Arongotu negotiator snapped her pincers a little harder when she spoke. “As your female commands the ship, her agreement is necessary. You can see the Federation comes without guards and unarmed. They do not ask you to turn over your weapons, but I am certain you will agree your guards are unnecessary.”

The same look from Saavik to Spock before Diartr focused on Saavik again. This time, she nodded and after a last pause, the Romulan jerked his head at his security. They didn’t like it, but they obeyed orders and filed out of the room.

Only outside the door, Spock knew. Still in jeopardous proximity.

“As you do not require our further mediation for your talks, we will also wait outside. With a team of people, if we are needed,” the female negotiator continued. She addressed Spock. “You agreed. This must not take time from the trade talks.”

He promised her it wouldn’t. Diartr finished telling the Liusaidh to have Ajeya beam down as they approached the table. Saavik, without thinking, took her old place as the Rider’s first officer at the right hand of the head of the table. It put her across from Diartr.

He asked Spock, sitting at the table’s head, “She said you explained the ‘unease’ between us. I find that hard to believe.”

“She believes we are each concerned with the other profiting by having the Arongotu reduce trade in the competing contract.”

“Vulcans aren’t supposed to lie, Ambassador.”

“So I have been told. However, I have told no lie, Commander. We have both discussed this possibility with our negotiators regarding the proposed reduction in dilithium. In actuality, the Arongotu experienced problems with their mining. They expect regular trade to resume in approximately one year.”

Diartr nodded and smiled in a half-hearted way. “The reputation of your cunning proves true.”

He tapped a few times on the chair arm in the silence as they waited for Ajeya, but based on that finger drumming, Spock estimated he would not be quiet for long.

“Captain Saavik.”

Twenty-one seconds.

She raised her eyebrows in expectation. Diartr might have mistaken her silence; her husband did not. Last night, she had pressed against Spock in their bed, holding onto him even as she slept. Spock woke at one point to find her gone, already in her morning meditations. She stayed there until it was time to leave. He left her alone, knowing what this meeting would take from her.

Her preparations served her well, however. She sat calm and in control, but Ajeya had not arrived yet.

“I suppose you wouldn’t believe anything I’d tell you.” Diartr almost spat it at her. “I’d be just another Romulan telling you lies.”

“If we had met a mere thirteen years ago, Commander, you would be correct.” Her voice took on a small measure of softness, and Spock knew who she remembered. “However, a Centurion taught me I should no longer allow my childhood to prejudice my opinion of everyone in the Empire.”

Diartr leaned across the table. His one hand played with the surface, suddenly unsure of what to say, and Spock saw how his other hand gripped the chair arm.

“We have met, indirectly.” He tried to smile. “You were not born yet, so I don’t expect you to remember.”

The only negative sign Saavik gave was the pause before she spoke. “So you knew from the beginning of Commander Ajeya’s involvement in Hellguard. We had thought otherwise.”

“No! That is not what I meant. I didn’t find out until maybe a year after you... you supposedly died.”

“Died?”

“At birth. I -- performed the mourning rites for you.”

“You -- Why would you--”

Ajeya did not hide the pregnancy from him, but she hid the full truth of it. The poor man. “Saavik.”

But she didn’t need Spock to tell her. “You thought I was yours,” she said to Diartr.

He nodded, only once and slow. “If I had known you were alive, even after finding out the truth about everything else, it would have been different. I want you to believe that.”

The scientists who arranged Saavik’s conception and Ajeya herself never would have allowed it. Spock kept this thought to himself. So did Saavik. Her eyes darted around Diartr’s face, and at one point, she looked away from his intense expression before sitting forward.

“Commander, I appreciate the regard you show me. I want you to believe me.”

Diartr fell back in his chair. “But you think I’m lying.”

“No, I do not. If I did, I would not have talked with you at all.”

“Then what is it! You’re not saying something!”

“Out of respect for the one who performed mourning rites for a lost child.”

He rubbed his chin, watching her, measuring. “Say it.”

She looked at Spock, and he wondered if Diartr understood how much she didn’t want to say something to hurt him.

“The question remains, Commander, if you truly wanted me, why did you not search for me? It was a simple matter to confirm my death, once you learned about Hellguard, and you must have seen they would have done all that was possible to ensure I was born alive. It was the purpose of the project. You merely had to contact those in command on the colony, and come for me when the project was abandoned.”

He opened his mouth to deny it, and stopped. His eyes widened.

“Perhaps it was not so easy to accept that Vulcan’s child.”

Or perhaps, Spock thought, you did not want to lose your last bit of faith in your wife. The paradox of knowing her lies and still hoping she told one minimal amount of truth.

Spock understood paradoxes. Any decent person would think the Hellguard project should never have happened, but if it hadn’t, Saavik never would have been born. Spock did not want that unknown Vulcan to go through the horrors he had. But without that horror, Spock would be bereft of his wife. One of the very few people he could not live without.

Saavik was still trying to explain herself to Diartr. “Commander, no one blames you for not asking that question.”

Spock saw she was wrong. Diartr blamed himself.

The whine of a transporter, boots striking the floor, the door forced to rush open, and Ajeya blasted into the room. She took in Saavik on her feet and Spock rising to his, but she really looked for Diartr. Seeing he was all right, she came into the room warily and took the seat on his left. Saavik, for some private reason, moved down one chair to sit across from her, and Spock moved to sit next to her.

Like her husband had done, Ajeya glanced at each one again. “What is this?”

Diartr answered, quiet. “I’m sure we already know the answer to that.” He shifted in his chair, facing Spock and Saavik, but leaned towards Ajeya.

He has made his choice.

“Or at least partly. You must be concerned about your children, especially after what appeared to happen the other night.” He looked pointedly at Ajeya.

She surprised everyone at the table by grinning, almost against her will. “Did that little one really face a le-matya during her maturity test?”

Spock didn’t know what was more unexpected: the question or that she so calmly asked him. He remembered T’Pren’s words about causing a distraction, and began to understand. He weighed the affection and amusement in Ajeya’s expression, and decided on the truth.

“She did. A newborn. She walked around it.”

Ajeya chuckled, so he told the rest. “T’Pren has learned the art of not lying by omitting to tell certain details of the truth.”

The chuckle grew, and Diartr’s gloom lightened. Ajeya shook her head, maybe imagining some other small girl, and Spock caught his second glimpse of the woman she had been before Hellguard.

“Why did you name her T’Pren?”

She looked at some point in the air between them, and Saavik turned away before she snapped out why Ajeya wanted to know. Spock had to answer again.

“She is named after a Vulcan woman important to Saavik. Why do you ask?”

“I thought I heard it before. It’s not important.”

Ajeya had been at the beginning of Hellguard’s evacuation. She might have met his daughter’s namesake.

She lifted her eyes so they saw she spoke honestly. “Your children are safe.”

Spock already knew it, based on his and Saavik’s plans, but he was still pleased to hear it.

Ajeya set eyes on Saavik. The faded spark died, and so did the glimpse of what she had been. Her face hardened, almost the same as Saavik’s, but hers showed blazing emotion.

“What’s the rest of it?”

Spock knew exactly what it took for Saavik to sit across from Ajeya and maintain that control. Her fingers wrapped around her chair arms and her face was carefully stone. He’d usually never ask a victim to sit across from the person who so severely wronged them, and he hadn’t asked this time. He told Saavik she didn’t need to come. She insisted she would not avoid the confrontation.

The surrealness, negotiating for his wife’s life as if it were another trade contract.

“The rest of it, as you say, is the prevention of further attacks. This was the second --”

Diartr’s head swung sharply to Ajeya.

“--and its severity intensified from the first. There cannot be a third.”

Ajeya didn’t smile at Saavik; she bared teeth. “Frightened?”

She only received the same set expression and it disappointed her. Saavik’s preparations still served her well, especially as Ajeya did not understand her, and couldn’t see what Spock did.

He had told Saavik: “Consider this detail. Ajeya does not hate you for yourself. What Ajeya hates and fears is discovery.”

“This is at my insistence,” Spock said. “If such a point makes any difference. More important were my actions last evening in recording your involvement in the Hellguard project. If Saavik is killed, a copy of this file will be sent to certain parties in the Empire, ending your attempts to keep it hidden.”

Ajeya scoffed, although Diartr showed the first signs of concern. “The Praetor has higher priorities than coming after me for that.”

“Who would you most fear losing?” he had then asked Saavik.

“You,” she had replied immediately. “But Ajeya has already lost Diartr.”

“Perhaps,” Spock conceded. “Even if this is true, you have enemies within the Fleet and Senate who will find it of interest or so you once informed me. However, it is not these parties to which I refer.”

“And who else would be as important?” he had asked.

Saavik broke her silence that began when Ajeya entered the room. “Rakkas and Ehiil.”

The impact was so strong, Ajeya sat in shock for the first second, her mocking blasted away. Then her chair rocked on its legs from the force of her jerking to her feet. Diartr getting up with her and being so close made it worse.

“It cost me my husband,” she had told Spock, “and might cost me my children if they learn of it...”

Discovery. Diartr divorced her when he discovered the truth, giving Rakkas and Ehiil some unknown reason so they did not abandon their mother.

The shock was gone and she lunged at the table. Saavik’s hands tightened more on her chair, but she stayed in her seat.

“I will kill you both before you have the chance to get anywhere near them!”

Not hate, fear -- fighting to avoid losing the last part of her family she had.

“Our deaths will not prevent the file from being sent. Copies are in the hands of very powerful allies. You cannot stop them all.”

Uhura had complained, to accompanying nods from Sulu and Chekov, “Don’t give me something and tell me not to read it.” But she had agreed to do as they asked, saying she already knew too much that kept her up at night.

Saavik had sent other copies, including one to her close friend, Rrelthiz. Spock had heard them talking for quite awhile about retribution.

Diartr put a hand out, stopping Ajeya. “I don’t like being threatened, and I especially don’t like my family threatened. Not in any way. You must have realized I’m going to make the same sort of file and put it in the hands of my allies. If anything happens to Ajeya, that file goes to Starfleet Command... saying Saavik is the one who most likely assassinated her and why.”

The pause came before threatening Saavik, but he made it all the same. He must, Spock thought.

Saavik knew it too. She prepared to answer, but Ajeya shouted, “Wait!”

She was so far across the table, her face was a hand’s length from Saavik. “Someone else in my Empire could kill you for things you’ve done, Evaste!”

Saavik’s false identity when she discovered Dralath’s planned attack on Narendra III. How did Ajeya discover it?

“I will not take the blame if that happens or because you cheated someone and they got their revenge. What reassurances are you giving?”

Saavik said nothing; Spock did. “Clearly, this is not blind retaliation. Allowances will be made.”

From clenched teeth, Ajeya spit out, “Then I have other ‘allowances’. No choosing alternative targets. I have a father, and as much as I would love to see Rakkas and Ehiil use you as so much target practice, my family is off limits. That includes Diartr.”

Later on, Spock knew, he and Saavik would discuss what it was like to hear of that extended family. Grandfather, sister, brother: terms that would never be claimed, by any side.

Saavik rose to her feet. Sitting gave Ajeya the power position and she could not afford to appear weak. “As long as you understand the same holds true for Sarek, although the idea of your discovering how formidable he is would be equally interesting.” She placed her hands flat on the table. “You are also forbidden from killing Spock and claiming you served his Imperial death sentence.”

A spark came into Ajeya’s eyes, and her lips twisted into ugly pleasure. “I admit I thought of it.”

“The provision, in addition, protects any friendships. You must also agree that no allies will carry out such attacks for you.”

“And if my ship must go against yours because it falls under my orders, it’s not a violation.”

Saavik nodded. “Otherwise, our crews are no more alternative targets than any others we have named.”

Their words fired like a salvo of shots. The cunning it displayed, seeing the gambits the Romulan might use to outwit their agreement.

I have created a Cold War...

Ajeya shrugged. “I only want you.”

“And I you.”

Ajeya still hated it, and said nothing for so long, Spock thought she might have decided it was worth telling her children rather than let Saavik escape her forever. At last, she leaned back and her face set in decision. “As long as that’s all understood, agreed.”

“Agreed,” Saavik echoed.

Diartr met Spock’s look and held it. “The matter is settled then.”

And they were better off not pushing those checked Romulan tempers further. The Arongotu came back in, and he and Saavik rose to leave. She turned her back on Ajeya who had to get one last word.

“Soft. Concocting this whole thing... Take your agreement -- you’re not even worthy of my time.”

With no change in expression, Saavik pivoted back and leaned over the table. She motioned Ajeya closer and whispered, too low for Spock to hear. Ajeya’s head reared back and stared down the line of her nose. Another hereditary gesture Saavik had which is why she refused to do it now.

Last night, Spock had watched her fight those inheritances, the ones she knew were Ajeya’s and those she imagined might be her father’s, until she drove herself into a stiff position, beseeching Spock, “What may I call simply mine?”

She resolved that within herself, returning to some ease in her movements. She still would not make a gesture Ajeya made across the table from her.

She started leaving again, stopped and finally looked at Diartr. “Commander, it has been my honor and privilege.”

He watched her walk out.

Spock saw him do it, which was how Ajeya caught his attention. She stood there, outmaneuvered and resenting it. Anything he said would only make it worse.

“Ambassador?” He turned back. She no longer looked beaten, but straight backed and proud like the warrior she was. “I gave my word and I will abide by it. You will never see me make another attack.”

Cunning... Saavik had seen it and had whispered that she was not fooled.

Ajeya’s smile was slow and feral.