The artist whisked her thumb in a slow arc, smoothing the line that formed the fluid hint of a trapezius muscle. She stepped back, pushing her short, dark locks of hair behind her ears, making them stand out at the odd angles that so naturally characterized her. She nodded, feeling the burn of rightness. Sometimes an idea had to be exorcised, or it burrowed in the mind until released.

But that would mean nothing to the people in the painting if they found out.

Andra Rory turned away. Her eyes found the sister piece. It was finished and waiting on its easel, as proper as the people in it. She felt for the hundredth time that special feeling of completion, wondering again how something so remarkable as this came from a mundane little creature like her. She was damned lucky she was at last established as an artist, and available when this opportunity came along.

A family portrait of the acclaimed Ambassador Spock of Vulcan with his wife, Captain Saavik, also of Vulcan, and their three children, one boy and identical twin girls. She had done the portrait with the family all in the same robes, flowing and ocher colored, painted with the barest lines so no separation was made from one wearer to the other. The family erupted out of this idea of being enfolded into one large cloak. The shades in their skin tones, their hair, and their eyes provided all the contrasting color, standing out against the tawny walls and clothes. They leapt to life off the canvas.

Andra leaned closer, studying the details around the boy’s eyes. It was the family’s eyes she liked most of all. The individual shape and light to them told their audience about the person behind them. Artists always saw Vulcans as a challenge, because without the obvious emotion to the facial expressions, how to convey the person inside? It took a deep understanding of body language to see the subtle details all Vulcans used, and then learn the person’s unique giveaways and gestures.

The children were easier. If she missed some bit of their personality, they told her so. Or told her what she missed in their sibling.

When she first met the Ambassador and his wife, they stood firm on meeting her without the children. But after that first half-hour, Andra knew she wanted this commission, so she insisted on meeting the kids before she accepted. Posing for this painting was going to be difficult for the five subjects; it meant hours of no movement over a period of days. Children rarely did it without fidgeting -- throwing off the pose, or else needing constant breaks perhaps throwing off the artist.

But then, she never worked with Vulcan children before. Setik and his sisters surprised her by already practicing the emotional disciplines. They stood for her patiently, and the sessions went fine once the ground rules were set.

Andra barely stroked the quite dry canvas, and smiled into the painting. Funny to look back at her worries that first day now that she knew the fun of the ground rules. From her side, she promised breaks often enough so they didn’t get tired, but not so frequent that the work suffered. On their side, they promised to stay still when she needed it.

"For example," she had said to the oldest girl, T’Kel. "I may tell you not to move your hands at one point because I need to capture them exactly as they are. But you can turn and look at your sister because I am not painting your face then."

A small eyebrow lifted. "Illogical. Your approach is inefficient." Saavik eyed her daughter with a watchful, knowing expression Andra remembered from her childhood. But then, Andra got that look because she was a younger version of her mother.

The other twin, T’Pren, jumped in, smoothing her sister’s abrupt argument. "I believe she refers to our being identical. Since we are, surely it is a better use of time to have one of us pose while the other is free for the further duties we have?"

Six years old and she talked like that.

"Uh--" Andra had trailed off nonplused and was saved by Spock. After first lecturing his children on rudeness -- even for a legitimate question, one practiced courtesy -- he explained to his daughter that she and her sister differed in tiny ways, and were both needed at the same time. T’Kel straight away asked Andra to catalogue the twins’ differences, and when she had done so -- after all, she was an artist, she noticed such things -- the girl’s eyes snapped with respect.

Although, it was rather easy. T'Kel and T'Pren were mirror twins. T'Kel was left handed, T'Pren right handed. Their natural hair parts were on opposite sides. The older girl's was slighly larger, so naturally T'Pren's left eye was the slightly larger one. Andra really only had to flip the image to get the other girl.

Andra’s smile grew broader. Allowing the children to ask her questions or discuss things with her as she painted was one of their ground rules. Their curiosity was inexhaustible. Setik spent hours over why she didn’t use holopics as models, while T’Pren and T’Kel debated over what they would have been like if they hadn’t separated into themselves. Since Andra had mentioned their being mirror twins, they asked her opinion on their discussion.

"All fetuses start as a single fertilized egg," T’Pren began. Andra almost dropped her brush. "Therefore, T’Kel and I existed as one being before our egg split into each other. Do you think that girl, the one before the egg split, was left handed or right handed?"

How was she supposed to answer that?

After getting nothing from her, Saavik was eventually appealed to as the child bearer. "What was it like, Mother, before we became T’Kel and T’Pren?"

"Peaceful," and they were reminded to stop moving so much from the pose.

Their parents consistently monitored them, making sure their talking didn’t bother her and that all of it was done politely. Not that Saavik and Spock were too strict with their children, or didn’t discuss things with Andra themselves. She reassured them that she always allowed talking. That as much as the body language gave her the clues she needed to the person inside.

Setik for instance. She almost painted him with that quirky way he had of tilting his head to the side and slightly back, like his mother did, but unlike her, he closed his clear, inner eyelids when he was thinking over something. The hard membranes sometimes caught the light and reflected points of it. The first time he did it to her, it threw her off for a good half minute.

But she hadn’t painted that after all. She didn’t like the idea of the mirrored light blocking his eyes, hooded like his father’s, but a sapphire blue. Andra learned Setik passed a maturity test a year ago, and now learned responsibilities he’d assume as an adult of his House. He was the one to show her both the room she could use as a studio and the bedroom made up for her.

He was also the one to point out a small watercolor of hers that his grandfather had acquired years ago. It featured a petite woman with honey brown hair, crouching in a simple dress to pick a wildflower. The woman’s hair fell across the side of her face giving only a glimpse of her profile.

Andra wished she had known the reputable Ambassador Sarek owned any of her work. "It’s my sister," she told Setik. "Her coloring is a lot lighter than mine, but that’s who it really is."

His one eyebrow rose. "I do not think I will repeat that fact. My father and grandfather say it reminds them of my grandmother Amanda," he explained, making sure not confuse her with Sarek’s wife, Perrin, the only grandmother he knew. "It is why Spock asked for you to do our portrait. He was quite pleased when you agreed."

So she painted Setik a step ahead of his parents, an ear cocked for their guidance as he learned his new role. Such a quiet boy, a little prince, or as he told her, "My Sa-mekh-rá McCoy said I am always to act as a gentleman." Andra once complimented Saavik on how well behaved he was, already so self-possessed. Saavik dryly replied that neither she nor Spock could take credit for it as they were both much less tranquil as children. But when Andra asked if he got it from a grandparent or further back, a shadow fell over Saavik’s expression, and she only noted that it was no relative they knew.

T’Kel stood one pace in front of her brother’s left shoulder and was foremost in the foreground. She had one knee raised and the other on the floor, looking like she was springing up from a crouch. I should have painted her the way I usually find her – buried in a computer system or some other machine. She was the one to pick up the items in the paint box, examining them, and in one scary moment, to start taking the box apart to see how it was constructed. She also spent more time meditating and studying the emotional disciplines than her siblings did.

Not that the other kids were perfect. It was certainly nice to know they were all still children, imperfections and all. Which was why T’Kel once came off too superior to her younger sister: "T’Pren, focus on the physical exercises! Our tutors tire of you lagging behind me."

And T’Pren fired back: "With your tone you only show you need to undergo Nath-Pal-Nahr with all the other over-emotional children! Perhaps then you will learn the mental disciplines!"

Setik leapt away from the spat, abandoning his sisters to the authority figures he knew were coming. And they had in the form of the on-the-scene Spock and Saavik. The twins later made very calm, very sincere apologies for disrupting the sitting to Andra who had really enjoyed the whole thing, recalling her own sibling battles.

And yet, T’Kel’s eyes in the portrait burned fiercely protective of her family, challenging the viewer not to invade the family’s privacy or take the consequences.

Andra turned back to her new piece, a sketch of lines emerging two figures from the canvas. She stared into Saavik’s eyes and saw T’Kel’s expression in the other painting. No mystery about where the eldest twin inherited it.

Privacy was one of the rules here, never to be violated.

Andra went from the new painting to one of the early drawings made for detailing physical characteristics. In this sketch showing only the family’s hands, Spock and Saavik touched paired fingers like all Vulcan couples, but in this unique gesture, the children placed their hands between their parents’. Spock asked if he may have it, but courteously refused her request that it be the pose for the portrait.

Violation of the family’s privacy.

Andra again looked at the new piece. They’ll kill me.

One after the other, she studied the sketches tacked along the easel and spread on the side table. A hard thing to do because it only reminded her of the trust put in her to sketch the family outside of the formal setting.

T’Pren with a linguistics tutor, the girl’s knack for languages and speech being encouraged.

T’Kel curled up against the children’s sehlat fast asleep, the only other speed she had besides full throttle. Her fingers loosened from a padd containing letters from Mekh-rás Sulu and Rrelthiz who said they would be there for her at the end of her Kahs-wan.

Setik and T’Pren with the estate gardeners learning about the plants their grandparents first grew here.

Spock with his daughters and son as he taught them music, the children taking advantage of having both parents home and to themselves, jockeying for positions around their father.

And then doing the same thing with their mother as they first stared out into the desert, and then up at the stars, playing a game of asking, "Have you or Father visited that one?"

Sketches of Spock and Saavik showing how they were with Andra, with the children, and with each other. And how their expressions changed subtly when they discussed estate business versus the family versus their work where their minds leapt into directions Andra couldn’t follow.

Finally she looked at the holopics. She didn’t like holopics for models as she had told Setik. The best holopic still lacked the living person. However, no matter how much Saavik and Spock arranged their schedules, the possibility always existed that their work would snatch them away. So Andra had asked permission to set cameras. Just in case.

Which lead to her current problem. One camera had snapped a holopic before Saavik crossed over to turn it off, and that captured image had sent Andra’s brain burning.

She checked again the sketches she did of the wife and husband, but it was the holopics that caught them together, showing what they allowed no else to see but each other.

Which is why Saavik turned off the camera after they remembered it was there.

Andra stared at them in the completed portrait of the entire family. When she first sketched the Ambassador, she thought of Spock’s hooded eyes shrouding who he was, their quiet, reflective state forming his mask of Vulcan calm. She learned she was wrong. He wore no mask. He was a man at peace with himself; he knew who he was and who he was not. That’s what made her so surprised when Saavik said Setik didn’t inherit his early sense of poise from his father or grandfather. It was why she posed Spock with his right hand on his son’s shoulder, because she saw that sense of calm from father to son.

And Saavik... Saavik was more of an enigma. She was the family’s secrecy embodied into a person.

Wait, that’s not quite right.

Spock had depths only hinted at with someone like Andra, and revealed only to the people he allowed close to him. So maybe it was the fact his wife was less famous, less easy to research. Her name and career were splashed everywhere about ten years back when the Romulans attacked a Klingon colony. And again a few years later when her ship defended a Federation outpost where her husband and infant son visited, trapped in the danger with other civilians. But other than such public moments, the woman was hard to learn about, even in person.

For example: Captain Saavik was supposedly half-Romulan, but Andra couldn’t find anything about the woman’s past, such as who her family was outside of husband, children, and in-laws.

And the family didn’t talk about it, not even the children. The closest Andra ever got was asking T’Pren about why she knew the Romulan language. The girl paused for a moment before replying, "Do you ask about my Sa-mekh-rá Ruanek?" But as Andra had no idea what a Sa-mekh-rá Ruanek was, she let the whole thing drop. That was before Setik had explained the concept of what Leonard McCoy called ‘Vulcan godparents’, and Andra realized T’Pren had sent her off on a fishing expedition after this Ruanek, bypassing the question.

She in no way had the guts to ask the parents themselves.

Returning again to the finished portrait, she saw the distinction and depth Saavik exhibited. Her left hand lay on the overlapping shoulders of T’Pren and Setik. Her right was hidden behind her son’s back, just as Spock’s left hand was -- the romantic in Andra imagining that the husband and wife brushed fingers out of view. Looking as calm as Spock, Saavik still was painted with an air of watching the painting’s viewer, measuring. Her eyes, with the slanted eyebrows that were such a converse line to the feminine curve of cheek and eye, spoke with the same expression as T’Kel’s, but tempered with an adult’s experience and control.

Andra sighed. It may be only a painting, but she felt those eyes on her.

She followed the line of Saavik’s arm to T’Pren and stopped. The girl grabbed Andra from her place in the portrait. She stood ready to diffuse parental arguments using her brother’s logical facts after they once again followed T’Kel into trouble. She was the only one painted with a characteristic gesture, which was what caught Andra at this instant. She thought of it as T’Pren’s laugh with the way the girl’s head dipped as she glanced up from the top of sparkling, opal eyes. Something in that spark said T’Pren and the viewer shared a joke. Or that she got one that the viewer missed.

Her father said she inherited it from her grandmother Amanda. Saavik said that by using it, T’Pren was able to make her father and grandfather do anything she wanted, a comment that earned a sour glance from Spock.

In this case, T’Pren reprimanded Andra with a twinkle: Do not be so pre-Kahs-wan. Show some control.

Good god, Andra thought, I’m thinking like them now! What was next? Calling herself illogical for blundering ahead when she knew it was breaking the family’s trust?

That one hurt.

She glanced at the new painting one last time, and began packing her paint box into its usual chaotic state. The painting stopped right here. Anything else would be wrong, and she knew it. The picture burned behind her eyes demanding to be made, but she would have to find another way to do it.

The paint box finished, she turned back to the easel to take down the canvas and sketches. She’d give the sketches to Saavik and Spock as she always intended. The canvas was getting recycled. She froze in half turn. T’Kel stood at the painting, and Setik in the door. Andra’s first thought was a wooly They’re home early. She almost laughed at the absurdity.

Setik said, "T’Kel, do not interfere with Andra’s painting. She is obviously busy."

Andra flinched. Somehow, it was worse that the children caught her.

Black eyes swiveled to accuse her, but out loud T’Kel said nothing. She just stared. Then she called to her brother in her usual economy of words, using her nickname for him. "Look, Tenu't,

Tenu’t, the Vulcan word for blue. The color of Setik's innocent eyes before he saw the painting.

He glanced at Andra for permission, and then came around. Instantly, he scowled, shutting his inner eyelids. They didn’t reflect light this time, but made his blue eyes ice crystals. His small bearing rose with indignation.

Andra looked back at them evenly. "Go get your parents."

* * *

She waited in the same room where she initially met the family. It was a very long wait.

What did she expect? That a notable Federation Ambassador and a Starfleet captain immersed in important work would drop everything because their commissioned painter got caught by their children doing a portrait she wasn’t supposed to?

She felt guilty.

T’Pren came home a half-hour after her brother and sister, traveling with a pair of friends. Another way she was different than her twin: people naturally gravitated to T'Pren. She always had an entourage. T'Kel was more of a loner; she had her siblings as her closest friends and was good with that.

Setik and T'Kel interrupted T'Pren's hello to Andra, and secreted her down a hall while whispering to her about what had happened.

Andra felt very guilty.

She peered down the hallway, but didn’t dare move to follow the children. Their sehlat, Ko-kan, lay in the archway, blocking the path. The six-inch fangs, the exposed claws, the huge body, and the lashing tail -- any thought of getting past Ko-kan withered immediately.

Andra felt like an idiot.

She became extra sensitive to the shadowy forms moving around the rooms. She wondered who told the estate staff to avoid her. Would they listen to Setik? After all, despite his new status after the Kahs-wan, he was still a kid. Did the estate staff take orders from him? Or had Spock or Saavik contacted them? For that matter, was she being made to stew in her disgrace before they made their appearance?

She sighed. She was probably right the first time. Their work wasn’t easily interrupted. They would get to her as soon as they could. If she felt childish, if her guilt concocted scenario after scenario on what they might do, that was her own fault.

The sun set outside and long shadows grew in the room. Computers automatically raised the lighting to balance the darkness, but for this sitting room, lights only bathed the area with gentle pools. Shadows remained.

One pool swathed the shelves of antique books, another of a sculpture set on a pedestal. The sculpture was alien, but Andra always imagined the figure as it reached up to the heavens as feminine. Maybe because the piece was a favorite of Saavik’s. It was just one part of the house’s fine collection, and Andra had been really happy that her painting of the family was staying here instead of hanging in some lofty hall as an official portrait.

She got up from the chair, stiff from sitting so long in one place. She couldn’t take it anymore. She headed back to her "studio", startled when the sehlat snapped up and pushed in front, walking ahead of her the rest of the way. Was the damn thing some sentry over her?

She took a long breath. She had left all of her equipment out, intending for Saavik and Spock to see she hadn’t tried to hide anything further. But she needed something to do. So she’d pack everything up but the canvases, and then get the things in her room together. Hopefully by then, both Ambassador and Captain would be home, and one way or another, this’ll be done with.

She heard voices ahead, Setik and a bit from T’Kel. Probably showing T’Pren the unfinished portrait. They spoke in Vulcan so she didn’t know what they said. She stopped and then yelled at herself. For God’s sake, they’re kids! You can’t be afraid of them!

The sehlat never stopped, but broke into a trot and disappeared in the room where her charges spoke. A clear sign to Andra who Ko-kan really sat sentry over.

She stopped again in mid-step when she got into the room. Saavik was standing in between the large canvases almost blocked from sight. Spock was on the other side of them, listening to the flow of words coming from his children.

But Andra was more startled by the sight of the kids armed with knives. Each one of them clad in desert suits of varying colors, each one of them strapping on the blades differently. Setik wore his in his boot, the hilt reaching almost to his knee. T’Kel sported hers across the small of her back while T’Pren’s was on her left hip for a cross draw.

A Vulcan male passed by, leaving the room with only a nod to her. Seeing him put the knives, with their hieroglyphics and detailed carvings on the handles, into perspective. Andra remembered the Kahs-wan was more than exhibiting emotional controls and mental disciplines. It was a physical trial where the child survived in the desert with a ritual blade as his or her only possession.

So this was all normal. Andra still swallowed at the sight. They were very large knives and, suddenly, very small children.

Ko-kan coming in and their instructor leaving pulled the kids’ attention to her. T’Kel scowled while T’Pren barraged her father with an emphatic speech, adding her gesture of glancing at him from the top of her eyes together with a raised eyebrow. She was giving Spock both barrels to get her way, which her mother picked up on. Saavik came out from behind the canvases and found Setik had crossed the room to stand in front of her. His eyes landed hard on Andra, and his young chest puffed out with filial protectiveness.

Andra smothered a smile even as she noted Saavik darting an amused glance to her husband indicating their son. She watched as the mother touched Setik lightly and his chest puffed out further.

Ah ha, so that’s your problem, little prince! Andra had drawn "Mom" as a sexual being, clearly a no-no high on Setik’s list.

All mirth shriveled as the extensive light of Saavik’s focus shone on Andra, and Spock proved immune to his daughter’s appeals. Setik was prodded from his place as maternal guard, and took his reluctant sisters from the room. Andra narrowed her eyes at the departing T’Pren. You don’t fool me with your righteous arguments, you know. Your brother and sister want a shot at me. You just didn’t want to miss the fireworks.

That left her alone with two people she found hard to face. But she did. She looked up and said simply, "I’m sorry."

Spock tapped the frame of the canvas. "Explain."

When Andra originally met Spock, she was struck by how he concentrated his full attention on their conversation. Unlike the vast majority of people, his mind never wavered, his eyes didn’t dart to somewhere else in the room, and he didn’t half-listen as he formed what he wanted to say. He steepled his fingers, listening as if she was the only person in the room, and her artist’s gaze had taken in how expressively his hands and gestures spoke of him.

Now that same concentration converged on her as he demanded an answer. Saavik stayed quiet, but even so Andra felt that strong presence targeted keenly on her. She imagined how many underlings had squirmed under these gazes. It was made worse somehow by Saavik being in uniform with its braids and piping, and by Spock’s austere Ambassadorial robes. The room became tight around her.

Andra let out a long slow breath. "I don’t know if I can explain. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt the need to do something where you have to do it -- that you have no other choice. It takes up all your concentration -- it’s all you see, and it’s all you think. You can’t even get past it to something else because it shoves all other ideas out, as if it’s something alive demanding you release it."

Saavik held out the holopic with she and Spock almost in the exact position portrayed on the canvas.

"That’s what started it," Andra said. "Something about it grabbed me, but it worked itself around in the back of my mind until I came up with the final idea. Or really, the final idea came up with itself from wherever these things come from, and then I got too caught up in it."

Spock picked up the easel and turned it around. He plucked the sketch with the title "Hybrids" scrawled along the upper left and underlined. Even now, Andra felt the excitement as she took it in her hands. She itched for her brushes.

"Why?" Saavik asked.

Why is this one so important? Andra stared down at her sketch. "Because... well, look at you." She held the sketch up to a corner of the canvas, her fingers sweeping across them both as she struggled with words on how the image spoke to her. "It’s about duality, about the halves of things fitting together. The more you look at this, the more the halves -- or the contrasts -- show themselves."

Her wide spread hand encased both drawn figures. In the portrait, Saavik stood in front of her husband, her back to the viewer, Spock facing her as if the audience interrupted an embrace. The figures were nude except for a dark green drape. It caught around Saavik’s hips and up under her elbow, spilling down in contrast to her skin. Spock’s hand looked natural on her side as her hand did on his arm, helping to hold the silken cloth around his hips. It was if they pulled up what they just undressed from each other.

"First of all," Andra said, almost not aware of them anymore. Only she and the painting were in the room. "You’re male and female, but because of the way you stand so close and you’re touching, you become halves of a whole. And you can’t see either of you fully. You’re half hidden, half revealed."

Only Saavik’s back showed; her front was towards her husband. She was also a bit turned so her right shoulder was at an angle, hiding it from full view. She stood a pace to the right blocking some of her Spock, his chest half covered by her. They filled the canvas, but it stopped below their hips so their legs were unseen.

"In fact, the curve in the torsos almost forms a natural Ying and Yang. And then, there’s your faces." She traced the line of Saavik’s profile showing only the left side of her face, and her head blocking Spock’s right side. "And last, the... uh, expressions."

Her hand dropped, not pointing out the difference in the eyes. Spock provided the Vulcan calm, his facial cast building a wall as a simple fact. The viewer could not come closer. But Saavik’s gaze over her shoulder pierced the viewer over the intrusion, giving Andra what she thought of as both the hidden Vulcan behind the mask with a question of ‘is it Romulan’. The husband’s and wife’s expressions melded together, forming one half of the other: revealed and concealed, peace and fire, Vulcan and not.

Or maybe Vulcan in public and Vulcan in private, modern Vulcan and ancient Vulcan. Andra recalled vividly the knives the children carried a moment ago.

She cleared her throat. "The expressions... show... opposite natures or the opposite sides of one person’s nature."

"We noticed," Spock said dryly.

"Why?" Saavik asked again. "You are so impassioned by this. Why not come to us from the beginning?"

"I knew you’d disapprove of it. The nudity and the intimacy in the pose."

Saavik’s eyebrows went up. "I am hardly disturbed by your painting me with my back exposed. The same holds true for Spock." Andra wondered if he was going to contradict that, but the thought disappeared as she watched Saavik rake over the painting. "Although that is not his chest. He has hair below the collarbone down the length of his torso. And I have a scar on my shoulder."

"As well as one on the small of her back," Spock said.

Saavik’s eyebrows rose again. "I do?"

He nodded. "It is insignificant and located where you could not easily reach it. Here," he indicated on the sketch.

"Interesting that I have never noticed."

"How often does one stare at one's back in a mirror for such details, my wife?"

The artist in Andra that loved this painting chalked more comparisons on her list: the hair of his chest next to the smoothness of her back. Her scars with none on him. "I had nothing of the two of you, so I used sketches of previous models and matched them to your body types as best as I could."

Saavik watched Andra from the corners of her eyes. "It is good to know your cameras did not extend to our rooms."

"I don’t even know where your bedroom is." Then in a rush, "Not that I would have put cameras there anyway!"

Spock said, "All of this answers your concern about the nudity. As for the pose, we have made no objections." He lifted an eyebrow. "Which raises an interesting point."

The bottom dropped out of Andra’s stomach in a sickening rush. "You’re saying if I had asked you, you would’ve agreed to do the painting?"

"Yes. We do, after all, have our own interest in hybrids and the dualities in their nature."

She squeezed her eyes tight, and pressed her lips together trying to prevent from getting ill in front of them. She was standing between the rock and the immovable object with the way they flanked her, but the hard place was of her own making. If she had only asked them! She’d have the finished painting instead of empty hands and a heart pounding nausea in her gut.

"We understand curiosity," Spock said.

"And we understand the need to act on inspiration," Saavik added, making Andra recall the discussions of their work that she couldn’t follow.

"We also understand some needs require actions that go against the rules." Spock did not have to underscore the word some. "In this situation, coming to us with your idea was a better course of action than assuming the worst."

But she had made an assumption and look what it got her. What the hell had she been thinking? She didn’t know them. She knew the children, but then, they were easier to know. Everything the children were was up front in all that they did and said. They didn’t have all the levels and depths of complexities their parents had.

For instance, how surprised she was over T’Kel’s answer to her question, "What sort of things do your parents like to do besides their work?" after hearing T’Pren’s exhausting list of her and her siblings’ interests. The amazing reply "They dance" jumped out of the more expected items like chess, music, running and sparring.

Setik had scowled. With her present insight, Andra knew the boy was one of those children who didn’t want to think of his parents as anything but parents. T’Kel, on the other hand, had been bored with the whole discussion. She could not see how anyone found it interesting that her father and mother danced together. But Andra had itched to get a sketch of it, and assumed they would never let her do such a thing.

And maybe they wouldn’t have. But she could have asked.

"I see that now," she said in response to Spock.

They all paused.

"What then," Saavik asked, "do we do with this situation?"

Andra wet her lips. She felt like the student back under one of her tougher, most brilliant teachers. His favorite saying had been, "I’m throwing you a rope. Whether you use it to pull yourself out of this mess or hang yourself is up to you."

She gestured to the completed family portrait. "I’ve been thinking about this while I waited for you. The portrait is yours, forget my commission."

She waited. They said nothing.

"And the sketches are yours too." Maybe they didn’t remember she was going to do that anyway.

Again they said nothing. She grew very conscious of being shorter than them.

"I was getting offers from other Vulcans. I’ll turn those down and leave immediately."

They still kept silent. She felt caught between two encroaching glaciers, and knew with a certainty she didn’t have their eyes right for the new painting.

She gave in to her worst scenario. "And you’re entitled to put the word out about what I did. People should know that I violated your privacy. My whole industry thinks badly about that."

There, she said it. It doomed her because no one would hire an artist that pried into things she shouldn’t, but she deserved it. Didn’t she?

"An impressive list," Saavik remarked. "Quite comprehensive. Much more than the one I devised."

"Including the destruction of someone’s career," Spock said. "I did not know you thought us capable of such an action."

Andra’s insides sank again. She thought they had stayed quiet because she hadn’t given them enough. Instead, they thought she gave a list for them to choose from.

I just hung myself.

Spock folded his hands behind his back and looked at the new piece, the "Hybrids" sketch once more tacked to the corner. "We will deal with your list in a moment. What were your intentions for this?"

The hurt just got worse and worse. "I’m getting rid of it."

"Destroying it?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but I wasn’t going to finish it. I knew it was wrong if I did. I was getting rid of it when T’Kel and Setik found it."

Spock said nothing about believing her or not. "And what was your original intention for it?"

"It was for me. Only me. I wasn’t going to sell it or give it away."

"To do what with it?"

She thought about how to answer that. "Nothing. Just have it. I can’t stress enough how much I felt the need to paint it. I never thought past that point. If I had, we wouldn’t be here."

"We are, however, here," Saavik said. Like her husband, she looked over the sketch and unfinished canvas. "And as for this, we could take it."

Andra felt a flash of irritation. "I told you I was getting rid of it. You don’t have to do it."

Saavik frowned. "We continue to misunderstand each other." She turned to Andra, speaking as if issuing orders. "Here is what Spock and I suggest. You finish the painting for us. You do so as properly as you did the other with the benefit of not having the children around." Some light sparked. "Setik has a prudish trait. He comes by it naturally." Her eyes rested on her husband who got a definite, defensive rise to his shoulders.

Andra almost chuckled. "Well, we’re all a bit that way with our parents, right?"

That light sobered now in Saavik’s face. "Quite true. Are we agreed on the painting?"

Andra couldn’t believe her ears. "You’re saying you’ll pose for this?" Saavik nodded. "And that when it’s done, you want it for yourselves. Not to hide it because you think it’s wrong?"

Spock interrupted. "If we thought that, we would destroy it now. You do understand that any further ideas or questions you have should come to us. We, in return, will be equally open."

"And I’m doing this pro bono, no commission."

Once more his eyebrow went up. "I do not remember making that suggestion. However, I appreciate your offer."

She cursed herself under her breath. When am I going to stop putting my foot in my mouth? Still, the whole thing was working out ten times better than she ever expected. So she was able to say with some humor, "You know, I was planning this piece for myself."

Spock answered, "Then we have found a suitable reparation for you to make."

She smiled. "So we did."

"Are we agreed then?" Saavik asked.

Andra’s mind was already buzzing with all she wanted to do including finding out how long they’d be able to actually sit for her with their schedules… "You’re being more than fair. Yes, I agree. Are you able to talk about it now because--" She remembered Setik and the girls. "No, wait, you have to get to the kids, don’t you? Their training for their test?"

Saavik shook her head. "T’Pren and T’Kel are supposed to be without us. It is the next step in their training, learning to rely on themselves. They will only be gone a few hours this time. It is quite safe."

"Quite safe," Spock repeated with a look at his wife. "Setik is with them which is allowable as he is not an adult." Saavik’s eyebrows drew closer together. "Ko-kan is with them as well. I am a great believer in taking a sehlat along on such private tests." He raised an eyebrow. "I am more concerned for what our children will do to the desert than the opposite."

Saavik’s brow smoothed. "Quite a logical conclusion."

He turned to Andra. "In any case, we have some time, if you wish."

She felt the familiar hunger returning to her hands. "Then let’s get started."