Thuray's indigo skin blanched to a white-pale blue around the lips. "The Security system has already been disengaged!"

Araek snarled and slammed his fist against the massive doors. "Then why the hell aren't they opening? T'Kel, damn you, open them now!"

"I am attempting--" The coding panel shot sparks as she tore it bodily out of the wall. She ignored the danger with no change in her expression or in her obsidian eyes. She just shoved her long fingers inside. Circuitry exploded, staining the clean light walls of the Starfleet station with black, violent streaks. Sparks caught in the long bangs that swept across her forehead and more burned her Vulcan SE uniform. Her jaw only firmed more and she plunged her hands heedlessly even deeper. Her sensitive nose flared as the smells of burnt metal and flesh joined that of Araek's sweat and Thuray's cold fear.

Spock's breathing grew ragged and he clasped his head. "Aduna!" He staggered and went down to one knee, his gray ambassador's robes pooling around him.

Setik's healer enhanced reflexes caught his father before he hit the deckplate. "Hold her!" he commanded. Not as a healer, but as their son. "You must not let your bond--"

Spock's eyes rolled and he collapsed forward in cardiac arrest. Around him, his children reeled. Araek paled and whirled to grasp his betrothed, T'Pren, as she sagged.

Setik's advanced mental shields let him recover faster than his sisters and he shouted hoarsely for assistance. The med team shoved past the Security team's phaser rifles and dove in, defibrillator bursts ready. Setik reached for the psi points on his father's face, the brightness of his blue eyes standing out even more because of his dark hair and beard. "My mind to your mind--"

T'Kel's fingers had kept working as if separate from the rest of her. Now she rasped and fell against the bulkhead, fighting the threat of blackout and clutching her damaged hands to her chest. "There--"

With a grinding shriek, the great doors forced themselves apart.

"Araek!" shouted Thuray and threw himself inside.

"Go--" pleaded T'Pren.

The Romulan ambassador swore bitterly and drew his Honor Blade. He lunged through the doors after Thuray, Starfleet Security boiling furiously into the room, right on his boot heels.

The loud shouts that came back into the hall hit hard on the sharp ears of the Vulcans forced to wait. "Secure the area!"

"Initiate lockdown!"

"Sweep it!"

Spock shuddered horribly under Setik's fingers and his eyes snapped open, wide and dark and full of alarm. Very few things could affect a Vulcan's control, but this ranked amongst the first of them. "Aduna!"

"Body down--"

"Call it!"

"K'tk!"

The K'tk. The gloriously beautiful K'tk: the males with their steel blue elongated bodies and their wings of black and purple like royal robes, and the females looking like nothing less than living sunsets: majestic orange coloring their bodies with wings of gold, black and scarlet.

The damned K'tk.

They had used Spock four years ago to be their champion with the Federation. They asked him to be for them what he had been for the Klingons. They had proven to be more like the Cardassians, when Spock had infamously spoken against Sarek. This time, he had publicly gone against his wife.

Then, as suddenly as their large wings could separate into two pairs, the K'tk had attacked.

As violently they opposed having boundaries, they besieged their new enemies' ships.

As fast as K'tk circular knives could be in their dexterous fingers, thousands of people were already dead.

With the same danger with which their poisonous quills jutted into position on their articulated tails, Spock's own daughters, their consorts, and others aboard their ships had been taken prisoner.

Now the K'tk infiltrated the heart of a Starfleet station. Just when it looked like the war was over.

T'Pren drew herself up from the decking at this crude, bits-and-pieces way of being told what was happening inside the office. Her features grew hard and terrible at the lack of sensitivity towards her father and the disorganization in experienced officers. Anyone who had ever crossed Ambassador Sarek would recognize the expression his granddaughter had now.

Behind that expression, she, like Setik, clamped down on a gale force of emotion before it rendered her useless. All the emotion did was tell them what was wrong:

The K'tk had slipped past the station's security. The bond with their mother had been broken.

And they did not need emotion to tell them what that meant to them.

"It's dead! Repeat: the K'tk is dead!"

"Another body! No--count two! K'tk! Both dead!"

"Aduna," Spock whispered.

"Found!"

"Call it!"

No reply.

"Call!"

Setik was forced to stay poised on that knife's edge of silence. They had found his mother. Was she--?

Thuray's wild grieving keen tore the air, punctuated only by vicious, sorrowful Romulan cursing.

"No . . . no lifesigns."

One of the young human officers lowered his head at the news and sobbed.

Setik paled to the color of death and threw himself through the doors, heedless now as to his father. The med team charged after him, shouting orders through their comms to Sickbay.

Setik was pushed back into the hall. Security barred him from going into the room. He was a civilian healer only temporarily attached to Starfleet Medical.

Living K'tk still might be hiding, waiting.

Not even Vulcan or Trill ears had always heard K'tk wings when they hovered overhead. And they could change direction in mid-flight and strike faster than the naked eye could follow.

The two great eyes that covered most of their heads were actually 20,000 tiny joined eyes containing mirror-like tissue. That gave them a field of vision approaching 360 degrees that needed only a hint of light to see.

More than a hint spilled into the room from the bright hallway.

A few more guards quietly moved to block Spock's path in case the venerable ambassador tried to go into the unsecured room.

But he only rolled slowly onto all fours. "Aduna," he breathed raggedly against the deckplate. "Aduna."

The chirp of a Security comm opening seemed unnaturally loud.

"Lieutenant Commander Hanson to the President."

Spock squeezed his eyes shut, dizziness rising like a wave up in his face. With it would come a great roaring of wind to fill his whole soul.

Setik had seen it happen before.

Hanson searched for the words. "Sir . . . sir, I . . . ."

"Aduna--"

"Sir . . . sir, I report . . ." Then, his voice clipped and formal, Hanson said it. "I report that Admiral Saavik, Commander for the Security of the Exterior, is dead."

And Spock wept quiet tears with no shame.

......................

"Father . . . ."

Spock stared unseeing at the little patch of sunlight on Saavik's office floor. The room was dead silent. Modern technology no longer made noise as it worked. The computers, the ventilation, all silent.

Dead silent.

The bitter irony of it was: Saavik had always preferred the silence. Now it was a choked presence, like the atmosphere of a Vok-Van-Kal memorial service.

They had almost lost her once before, during the five years she was in a Klingon prison camp. Back then, whenever Setik thought of her, he first remembered his boyhood oath to protect his family. And how he had made that oath after seeing Leonard McCoy and healers like him repeatedly save his mother and father.

But this time, he thought about finding Saavik watching him play a game with his boyhood friend, Adelek. Her face had held a quizzical expression. He had been too young to know then that his mother had no concept of childhood play. It was outside the scope of her universe. Watching one of her own children playing amazed her because it brought the foreign concept into her realm.

He had taken her hand and pulled her from where she had watched him to show her what he was doing. She had listened with the intenseness she reserved for scientific presentations.

Looking back now, he realized she hadn't studied the game. She had watched him playing.

Her children knew how to play.

He controlled the sudden agitation in his healer's hands and looked at T'Pren.

His sister swallowed and nodded, disentangling herself from Araek's fingers clinched around hers. Setik watched as she let go; how fortunate he would be if he could touch his wife’s hand at this moment. If T'Qet could be here with him.... if Sihahs could be with T'Kel at this moment....

.... Spock would still be alone.

How very.... solitary his father looked. So many lost: his parents, Kirk who Setik had never known, and McCoy who had such an influence on his life. Now Saavik.

Ruanek was too far away and Spock refused to disturb him. The exiled Romulan -- and T'Pren's Sa-mekh-rÁ– was going to be furious when he found out.

The only other people here were Saavik's friends. Her husband only knew them through her: Akhilend'r, Thuray's grandfather, and Ragnhilh, the Romulan Commander who had shared Saavik's imprisonment in the Klingon camp.

T'Kel had inform them of Saavik's death before they heard it circulating through the allied fleet. Both of them drew the same hard mask over their deep grief, and both said they better served Saavik's memory at their posts.

But it left Spock alone amidst the pristine surfaces and Starfleet furniture. The warm colors looked bland and dull now that it was robbed of Saavik's presence.

T'Pren smoothed her ambassadorial robes of dark cerulean, shades darker than either Thuray's or Akhilend'r's skin. Her long black hair was once more in place in its upswept coiffure, giving her the same dignity Sarek and Spock carried. And she moved quietly to her father's side and knelt beside him with the grace she had inherited from Saavik and Amanda.

So regal, so serene.... and underneath it: loss.

She hesitated a moment and then gently laid a hand on his arm.

Slowly Spock's eyes focused as the presence of his daughter's mind registered through the contact and he turned an infinitely dark gaze on her.

"Father, Setik needs to talk with you."

He merely nodded.

Setik edged forward and spoke quietly. It still ravaged the silence. "Father, I require your permission to override Mother's last Directive."

Spock stared at his son, uncomprehending.

Araek bristled instantly and lunged to his feet, his golden brown eyes, a shade lighter than his hair and goatee, glittering in righteous Romulan anger. "You would desecrate the Final Word of the dead?"

Setik's eyes were frigid arctic blue and his black hair in its clubbed ponytail struck his collar like a hammer as his head snapped around.. "You have no Right of Voice, Ambassador. This House is not yours to speak in."

Araek's skin flushed darkly.

T'Pren shot to her feet and gave her brother a cold stare. "He is my chosen, Setik. He has a place at myside in this House."

Setik's eyes narrowed. "A mere bedmate--"

Araek's hand clenched around his Honor Blade and he took a dangerous step forward. T'Pren held up a hand in front of his chest and her eyes snapped. "You insult me, my brother."

But Setik did not step down. "I do not intend to do so. I state a fact which Araek has made public a number of times despite its private nature."

"He is my betrothed, Setik!"

"He is your choice for betrothed!" He looked to the Romulan. "To my knowledge, you have never accepted the ceremony nor chosen to bond despite my sister's intent. Am I incorrect?"

Araek fumed while T'Pren looked to her twin for help. But the close relationship the sisters had included they're being honest with each other. T'Kel looked back into that identical face and refused to lie.

"Enough."

They blinked in surprise at the harshness in Spock's tone, and then lowered their gazes respectfully under his piercing eyes. T'Kel moved forward next to him in silent apology.

Spock reminded them, "I speak for this family and you will hear my voice."

"Yes, Father," said Setik obediently, his cheeks tinged in his otherwise pale face.

T'Pren looked uncertain, but a glance at her sister standing there so steadfastly by Spock somehow settled her. She bowed her head. "Yes, Father."

Araek colored and looked away.

"It was a mere 3.57 years ago when both T'Kel and T'Pren, along with Sihahs and Araek, were rescued from K'tk imprisonment. We were not sundered then, we will not be so now. And you will not disgrace your mother's memory with such displays."

Spock still was firm, but he no longer reprimanded them. He informed them, "I spoke the names of T'Qet and Sihahs into the House flames when we agreed to the betrothals that made them a part of this family. Saavik...." His voice caught on her name and he paused for a beat before he continued. "Saavik forbade me to speak Araek's."

Hurt flashed on the Romulan's face before bitterness took its place and he turned to leave.

"She took that honor herself."

Araek utterly stilled and then slowly turned around. Both Setik and T'Pren's eyes were wide.

Spock met each of their eyes with his own steadying gaze. "He was three times tested and each time, he proved himself, including aiding T'Pren and Thuray in saving both mine and Saavik's lives. Though she had . . . difficulty . . . with certain elements of his behavior, those elements that spoke of the Romulan immorality that plagued her childhood, Saavik found she could not in all logic deny him further." His voice softened. "Araek and T'Pren arrived only yesterday, and we had intended to give our approval at our scheduled dinner tomorrow evening."

Araek covered his mouth with his hand and scrubbed his jaw with it to hide his sudden swelling of grief.

"His voice is recognized in this House." Spock lifted his gaze and turned it sharply on Setik and there was a darkness in them. "Now, tell me why I should not heed my wife's."

Setik's tones were clipped and he would not look at Araek. "It is Starfleet procedure to require an autopsy in such an event as this."

T'Pren's dark eyes flashed. "You trouble Father over a technicality? The K'tk assassinated our mother for her destruction of their fleets -- for the forced peace treaty and the boundary she imposed on them. Whatmatters an autopsy now? She is dead."

Setik's posture stiffened to brittleness. "I seek the truth."

"What truth? There is no question that they murdered her!"

"There is."

Spock was on his feet instantly, eyebrows hard together. "Explain."

"I examined the bodies of the K'tk assassins myself. They did not die as we initially supposed: meaning, in their attempt to kill her. They died by their own hands."

"What?" said Araek softly.

Setik turned cold blue eyes on the Romulan. "Their deaths are, without doubt, suicide."

Araek shook his head. "So? They were instructed to take their own lives upon completion of their assignment. What of it?"

"I have reason to put forth the hypothesis that they did not complete their assignment at all. That, in fact, they self-terminated because of their failure."

"Setik . . ." breathed T'Pren. "Setik, what are you saying?"

Setik looked at his father. "I examined mother's body myself. The K'tk assassins were each equipped with a circular blade, yet the only lacerations I found were on their bodies, the lacerations which initiated sufficient blood loss to end their lives." He took a step closer to Spock and the intensity of his eyes grew. "There is not a single mark on hers."

Spock stilled.

Araek shook his head. "No, no, then they used some other means of killing her. Hypospray or--"

Setik's eyes were like ice. "A hypospray leaves a pressure mark against the skin where it was applied. I found no such mark on her tissue. Nor were there any devices capable of acting as a hypospray on any of the K'tk or anywhere within the vicinity of her offices."

"Perhaps," said Spock, and took another breath. "Perhaps they administered it another way."

"I scanned the entirety of her body, Father. There are no entry marks of any nature on her. Nor is there any residue of a contact poison. Or signatures of inhaled or ingested toxins. In fact, there are no symptomatic evidences of any sign of foul intent."

"External checks?" demanded Araek. "What have her environmental tests returned?"

"Systems checks of her office replicators, as well as of all replicators her ID lists her as using, have returned normal. Security reports analysis of all surfaces, objects, and ventilation tests within the entire structure of the building are also without question."

"What of her residences?" asked Spock quietly.

"All tests negative. I have widened the areas in question to all places mother was known to have been since the K'tk treaty went into force."

Araek rubbed his hawk nose worriedly. "What of personal contacts?"

At another time, Setik would have noticed how the Romulan unknowingly copied Spock's wording.

T'Kel said nothing during this. She stood as fixed and quiet as she had since she moved to Spock's shoulder. When Saavik had been nearly lost before, T'Kel's memories focused on how she and her mother had clashed.

The way Spock and Sarek could clash.

What memories did his sister think of now that Saavik really was dead?

Setik answered Araek, "Starfleet records are most thorough when it comes to so highly a placed personage. Security has already been detaining and questioning anyone she is recorded as contacting within the last two weeks. However, as both of you and T'Pren well know, due to the nature of her position in the Security of the Exterior, as well as the extreme sensitivity of Father's charge, and of past.... events.... not all of her activities or contacts are possible to track."

"Thuray--"

"Has already confirmed what is in his knowledge to confirm."

Araek breathed out hard.

Setik turned to his father. "Without any external evidence, I cannot discover the cause of her death. Medical scans are not capable of performing the detailed biological procedures I need. I must have an autopsy clearance if I am to possibly recover any tissue traces that might remain in her systems." His voice lowered. "If I can determine the reason for the cessation of life functions, it is possible it will provide sufficient direction for investigation. As it is now, I can offer no focus for a search that may cover a suspect period of seven point four months, and extend parsecs in potential physical locations. I quite possibly require the need to examine every contact she had of any duration or seeming significance throughout both. I must have your override of her Directive."

Spock gripped his hands hard behind his back and turned to stare at the light patch on the flooring. "It was my understanding that her Directive was in accordance to standard Starfleet procedures."

Setik actually felt tired. "It was. However, she altered it."

"Why?" said T'Pren quietly.

Setik looked at the ceiling. "Mother is not known for her logic where it concerns the medical field."

"A childhood shadow," murmured Spock.

Setik's face grew stern. "Making ‘why’ then irrelevant to the decision."

"Perhaps."

They all looked over at Araek's interruption. He scowled defensively and crossed his arms. "You are thinking as Vulcans, not Romulans."

Setik stiffened. It was the last thing Araek should have said. "This is not the time for arrogance."

“I agree, Setik, it’s not. Saavik is -- was half Romulan. How do you know the change stems from Thieurrull?"

Setik narrowed his eyes. "I fail to see why this would be relevant."

Who was Araek anyway to say a Vulcan influence should be disregarded? Like Ruanek, Araek looked like a throwback to some Vulcan ancestor: his coloring was lighter and his browridges much less pronounced.

 It didn’t matter. He gave Setik back a heavy scowl. "You are telling me the Security for the Exterior of the United Federation of Planets is going to determine so important a thing as her Final Word solely upon childhood?"

Spock shook his head and turned. "We are past the ability to determine her reason, Araek."

Araek flushed at the dismissal. He looked away. "Are you certain of that?" he said tightly.

That got eyebrows raised.

T'Pren moved to her chosen's side and touched his arm. "Tell us your thoughts."

He hesitated, eyeing Setik.

"You are part of this house," Spock said quietly. "Speak."

Araek studied the floor. "When did she alter her Final Word?"

Setik blinked and frowned ever so slightly. He at last took a step back. "It is standard procedure in Starfleet to update a personal Directive at the annual examination or upon change in rank or deployment. And I fail to see the relevance in this, either."

"When may tell you why. Romulans alter their Final Words often. Rank change, ship change, alliance change, before a battle." Araek met Spock's eyes. "Or when they feel their enemies breath on their necks."

Spock strode instantly over to the nearest computer terminal. "Yes, I have seen it myself. So has Saavik. Especially serving so closely with Ragnhilh during these recent years." He keyed Saavik's file, punched in his authorization for the classified section and accessed her attached Directive.

And inhaled.

"She altered her Directive at 0235 this morning."

T'Pren paled. "Araek is correct." She looked at him with a mixture of respect for his insight and aversion for her mother's last moments . "It tells us why."

Spock turned and his eyes sparked. "She knew. She knew they were coming." His fist clenched. "Perform the autopsy, now."

...............

The phaser rifle didn't so much as even waver.

T'Pren held up her hands placatingly and spoke in her softest, most compelling tones. "Thuray--" And froze as the ugly end of the weapon snapped around to her.

The Andorian's eyes were wild with grief and rage. His white hair was tangled and his slender antennae were almost deformed with emotion. His labored breathing filled the entire Sickbay facility.

"I . . . will not . . . let you near her!"

Araek eyed the grip the other had on the rifle and very carefully eased his hand off the hilt of his blade. "Thuray," he said softly, and almost winced as the rifle swung to sight on him. "Thuray, you need to listen to us."

"No!"

"Thuray," said T'Kel, keeping very still, "she knew they came for her."

Great tears rolled down his blue cheeks. "No!"

Spock turned hard eyes on the Andorian. "Thuray, she knew. Araek found the evidence." He held out the data padd. "She knew and she altered her Directive."

Thuray darted forward, snatched the padd and moved instantly back to his defensive position between them and Saavik's body. He thumbed it on and scrolled frantically. And then stopped. And gave an anguished howl of betrayal.

T'Pren's face softened. "Thuray, it is not your fault."

"I was there! I was there and she sent me out! She sent me out!"

She swallowed. "Thuray, we need your help."

The phase rifle began to shake. "Why? Why would she do that?" he demanded in agony. "I would have protected her! I would have--"

"Died with her," said Spock without mercy.

Thuray sobbed in utter despair.

A despair that threatened to engulf Spock as well. His eyes slowly darkened. Unwillingly, he found himself staring at her body. Shrouded with only a standard blue med cover, half in shadow, his beautiful, powerful aduna lay still and silent.

It was so . . . wrong.

He felt a primal surge in his chest.

It was wrong.

He could hear his heart beat and his breathing began to rasp.

She knew they were coming. She knew they were coming and all she did was send Thuray away. And changed her Directive. Her Directive.

Absurd.

A terrible darkness threatened to consume him entirely.

As if the treatment of a mere body was more important to her than her saving her own life.

It was more than wrong. More than illogical.

It wasn't the Saavik he knew. In the face of an attack, Saavik would have raised her office's defensive shields. She would have had her Security forces ready. She would have been armed.

And she would have merely delayed the assassination.

Because they would have waited.

Waited until she was vulnerable again.

Because according to K'tk law, it could happen but once.

But to do nothing . . . to do nothing!

It wasn't the Vulcan and Starfleet Admiral he knew.

There was no logic to this. A Vulcan or a Romulan was capable of sacrificing themselves if necessary. They were both capable of taking their own lives to cheat an enemy of killing them. But both would have fought to the last breath since sacrifice or suicide was unnecessary.

Even as a child, who knew well what it was to be hunted, she would have done something. Even the adult Saavik still held such an aggressive survival drive that--

Spock's mind cleared instantly and his breath caught.

Her survival drive.

No one knew Saavik better than he did. And he knew no better survivor than Saavik. No one.

And yet she had done nothing. Nothing save protect Thuray and . . . .

Deny a standard Starfleet procedure.

Saavik, who had an . . . obsession . . . for adherence to procedure when it did not threaten life, denied a standard procedure for autopsy.

Araek exchanged a glance with T'Kel, and their stances grew sleek. Poised to jump.

Araek had asked "Why?"

Thuray staggered and collapsed against Saavik's bed, inconsolable.

But Araek had not fully appreciated his own question. And they had not answered it. How could they? She was beyond recall. And she had left nothing for them--

The Security officers prepared to lunge.

Nothing except an altered directive.

At 02:35.

The when may tell you why.

Then the Andorian's rifle came up and T'Pren made a wordless noise. He pressed it bitterly against his forehead and howled.

"No, Thuray!" T'Pren cried. "Mother would not want your death!"

Araek and T'Kel swore while Setik shouted for restraints.

"Mother's katra!" T'Kel’s shout was part command, part plea. "You may carry it! You were the last one with her!"

But Thuray did not carry Saavik's katra. And Spock knew why.

And it was imminently logical after all.

"She lives.... " He grabbed the phaser rifle in one fist before the Andorian registered he was moving. T'Kel and Araek rushed forward, and Spock pushed Thuray into their arms.

"Setik! Assemble your instruments and team.” His eyes searched Saavik's face for any sign, but he didn't need one. He knew.

He checked the others now struggling to hold the wild Andorian until T'Pren rendered him unconscious with a nerve pinch.

"She lives."

.............

T'Kel joined Spock in the doorway. "Father, how did you know?" she asked softly.

He kept his eyes on his wife, watching Setik and the other medical staff with sharp attention.

Jim Kirk would have loved Saavik's latest gambit against the K'tk. McCoy would have yelled at her to stop scaring him to death and Kirk would have sat back with a brandy, asking her to go through the details again, all the while teasing "Well, Bones. If she's giving you a heart attack, heal thyself."

Uncommon people: As Sarek had once noted, everyone he kept close to him was an extraordinary individual, from the moment and the ways they entered his life.

Saavik exemplified that statement.

Because Spock himself was manifestly not ordinary.

"You remember Ko-Kan," Spock said to his daughter.

T'Kel's eyes abruptly softened at the mention of the family sehlat who had died only a year ago. "Of course, Father."

He nodded and clasped his hands casually in front of his robes. "Your mother is like her."

T'Kel's dark gaze glinted at the comparison.

"To Vulcan, to most of the Federation, your mother is the sehlat guarding them."

She nodded slowly.

"However, to enemies, she becomes a le-mayta on the hunt."

T'Kel's face sobered. "I have seen her be this way." She might have shivered if she gave into her Human or Romulan blood. Instead, she checked the bandages on her healing hands.

Spock inclined his head. "It is why she is so formidable in the Security of the Exterior."

"And yet?"

"And yet, there is the natural tendency to forget the le-mayta when what one sees is usually the sehlat."

"You speak of her dual natures--the Vulcan and the Romulan."

"I do."

"Mother would not care for that insight."

"Logic is not always . . . pleasant."

"The K'tk, as in the war and the treaty, did not see her trap."

Spock nodded respectfully. "I have found your mother's mind to be quite . . . fascinating. Even during her first ten years, it was fiercely logical. It needed to be for her to survive. However, it also entails her viewing logic as a weapon. If, at times, it does not fit the need, she will use a more effective version."

"Her trap was most logical."

"It was." And nearly too good. The pain of thinking her lost still ebbed out of his heart.

"Perhaps her logic even bears a certain . . . Romulan manner."

Spock grimaced at his daughter. "It disturbs me greatly to hear you speak of logic so."

T'Kel's eyes glinted. "I am the child most like her."

An insight she never would have gained or be willing to admit if Saavik had not returned from the Klingon prison camp. Or if T'Kel had not stayed at her mother's side for the slow rehabilitation process.

A second chance. Now a third.

Spock thought of Sarek and found himself.... wishing.

His dark eyes returned the glint. "Which has ever explained certain aspects of your character." He sobered and he studied his wife again. "Araek was correct to question if her Romulan nature played a part in her changing her Directive. It did. However, Saavik will be correct when she argues her solution was logical as well."

"You speak of how you discovered Mother's plan."

He nodded. "Araek failed, as we all did, to truly answer his question. Why did Saavik change her Directive? Our initial answer, the one we acted upon was correct: Because the K'tk were attacking. However, we stopped there."

T'Kel lifted an eyebrow in understanding. "We needed to ask, ‘Why did Mother refuse an autopsy?’ We knew one fact: the K'tk attack would not stop until they declared her dead. Added to Setik's initial findings on no cause of death, we conclude she created an appearance of death. And by doing so, the autopsy becomes a threat to her life."

"Brilliant."

"Yes. Father, if Thuray had not stopped us, would Setik's scans have discovered --" She paused and then calmly interrupted her thought. "Forgive me, Father. Such a statement was speculation. Time spent discussing what has not happened is fruitless."

"Indeed. I could also speculate on how much time was lost to Thuray's outburst, time that nearly caused your mother's appearance of death to become a reality. Instead, I use the time to appreciate what has happened. Your mother is alive. And you," he held out his hand without splitting his fingers in greeting, "are pleased by your similarities to her. That was not always so."

She almost protested she was not a child, but then didn’t and brushed her fingertips to his. A subtle relaxation in the way she stood showed the left over tension from everything that had happened was at last leaving her.

Spock nodded to himself, feeling his own body ease. Except for one small fact.

He looked back again at the bustle of medical personnel around Saavik's bed. "Her skill in formulaic problem solving has always been advanced."

"But not her use of such disciplines," T'Kel said quietly. She frowned thoughtfully and then arched an eyebrow. "Perhaps a part of the training she requested when she was given command of Vulcan's forces? We have experienced a lesser skilled aspect with her before -- when she was captured by the Klingons seeking separation from the Federation alliance. She initiated a Vulcan command lock of all higher brain functions and successfully prevented classified strategic information from being . . . removed for years."

Spock closed off the memory of what she had looked like after the prisoner exchange. Of how they had felt the familial bond break and thought her dead for years.

Such memories served no purpose at this moment either.

"This was a far more delicate use, one normally reserved to students of Gol and Seleya. It is also a recent discipline. It did not exist when I studied there. The ability to place the body and mind into, in essence, a fragile stasis . . . ." Spock shook his head. "More than a coma, deeper than a healing sleep." He studied his wife intently. "I am most curious as to how she learned, let alone successfully performed, such a profoundly skilled technique. Your mother's psi skills are considerable, but not to such a level."

T'Kel rightly didn't take that as an insult. It was a simple fact. Saavik herself had stated it on occasion.

"Most curious." Spock's lips thinned. "It is a sudden curiosity which T'Lar shares."

T'Kel's eyes widened. "T'Lar?"

He nodded. “I received word from T’Selis after your mother awoke.”

T’Selis was a Vulcan healer and adept of Seleya as well as having Ruanek as her consort.

“We needed contact with Gol and Seleya for instructions on this trance. Even though T’Selis was our contact, she needed instruction with this discipline as it is so new. T'Lar boarded a vessel and is en route here."

The ancient T'Lar was supposedly bedridden. Very few people saw her, and rumors had spread for years that she was already dead. And if she wasn't, she would be soon. And yet, alive perhaps by sheer will as much as modern medicine, she risked traveling light years.

He turned serious eyes on his daughter. "T'Lar is most . . . intrigued . . . as to how your mother learned that which is normally reserved for her own Adepts."

T'Kel drew up in her uniform. "Is Mother . . . in trouble?"

Spock almost smiled. "In a manner of speaking. To become the sudden . . . intense . . . interest of Gol is never without . . . concern."

T'Kel eyed her mother, watching Setik tend her. "Perhaps it would be wise for Mother to go on extended leave. Some place secret."

Spock was amused. "The Admiralty and the President are inclined to agree with you. They fear T'Lar may . . . take their sehlat home. It is certainly a possibility. Your mother respects and listens to very few people in the manner that she heeds T'Lar. And it was with her mentoring that Saavik learned the mental lock. If T'Lar commands her to Gol, she will go."

T'Kel's dark eyes glittered. "Starfleet is her path."

"As Vulcan's fleet is yours."

She merely nodded. Despite the wrong reasons for her joining them, the VSE was her path. "She would obey, but she would be . . ." Her mouth almost flickered. "Displeased."

Spock was amused at the thought of that understatement. "She would."

T'Kel flicked that eyebrow up again. "I wonder what T'Lar would think upon finding instead a le-mayta chained to her doorway."

Spock raised an eyebrow back at her. Then he straightened as Setik looked up from consulting with the others on his team. When he found his father watching and inclined his head in a nod, Spock felt the last of the pain fade away.

............

"Aduna," said Spock gently, his fingers moving from touching the side of her face to slipping into her soft dark hair. She was well, but deeply fatigued from maintaining the stasis trance for so long.

Her eyelids fluttered open and her gaze slowly focused on him. Her “Spock....” was more of a breath than a word. So was his reply, “I am here.”

She laid gentle fingers to his chin and her lips parted softly at the touch. So did his. “Spock.... adun.... I did not know.... the bond would sever.”

He hushed her concern. “The price is nothing in exchange for your life. And the bond was dormant, not severed. It was restored with your return to consciousness.”

He brushed her temple with soft fingertips, stirring their bonding so it was more alive to her tired senses. Her eyes warmed with a tender, Vulcan’s smile for him to see.

After a moment, he raised his voice to normal levels. They did, after all, have an audience in the room. "I am beginning to think your name becomes you." He bent and drew the thermal blankets closer about her. "In an entirely Human way."

Saavik's eyebrow barely lifted against milk white skin. "Indeed?" she managed.

He nodded, dry humor making his eyes bright in spite of his own exhaustion. "A Terran cat, large or little, is reputed to have multiple lives in the same manner you have exhibited."

"I am not the one who was.... reborn through the Refusion."

"Regardless, according to my calculations, I believe you have but three left."

Her mouth turned ever so slightly at the right corner. "That . . . many?"

"I would not let your Aide hear that."

Thuray moved into her line of sight and glared down at her hotly with all the righteous indignation of a young male. "Your Aide heard it."

Saavik sighed at the still hot hurt in his eyes and reached out weakly.

His antennae stiffened with surprise, and then he blushed a dusky cobalt as she touched the back of his hand.

"Forgive . . . me, Thuray."

His antennae drooped mournfully. "Will you always . . . send me away?"

Saavik's eyes darkened. "I will not . . . lose you."

He gripped her hand tightly, disregarding the convention not to touch Vulcans. Spock almost stopped him, but didn't. Saavik had given her permission when she touched him first.

He looked down at her sadly. "What life do you save, alone? Give me the honor of serving beside you--in life or in death."

Saavik's face was pained. "Thuray . . . ."

His face became immovably firm.

She sighed deeply and studied him affectionately. "Your . . . grandfather . . . will have my ears . . . on his belt."

His white teeth showed in a sharp smile. "Only if you do not agree."

Spock considered the two of them a long moment and nodded once. "She agrees."

Saavik gave him a stern glower. "Indeed?"

His eyebrow lifted. "Indeed."

Araek joined them, leaning casually against the Sickbay wall. "If I understand my Vulcans correctly," he told Saavik, "he calculates a substantially reduced rate of your . . . tendency . . . towards trouble in the presence of someone more . . . shall we say . . . safely predictable?"

Both Thuray and Saavik narrowed their eyes at the Romulan.

He flashed them both his best grin.

Then sobered and inclined his head deeply to Saavik.

"I am pleased you are alive." He eyed Spock and the way he still touched Saavik's hand. "That's not a private gesture in public, is it?"

Spock merely flicked up an eyebrow. “To quote Surak: the cause is sufficient. It is the making note of the gesture that is the violation of our privacy.”

Araek's white teeth flashed, then he turned his head to give his betrothed and her siblings the same look before giving a mock shudder. "For the record, we could use more Romulans in this House."

Saavik's eyebrows lowered. She gave Spock a look.

"I believe, aduna, it was your choice."

Saavik took a deep breath and looked back at Thuray. "Perhaps . . . it would be wise . . . if you maintain your presence . . . with my family. . . as well as in my duties."

The Andorian's eyes went wide in sudden desperate desire but he looked away. "Andorians do not . . . have a place in Vulcan Houses."

"In the event . . . you have not noticed . . . my House is somewhat . . . nontraditional." Saavik said dryly. "And Andor's.... conflicts with Vulcan were over a century before.... Akhilend'r's birth."

Hope flared in the young male's eyes.

Araek snorted and gave Spock a wicked wink. "You are a . . . trusting man, Ambassador."

Spock knew how Thuray loved Saavik.

He turned tender eyes on his wife.

He also knew how Saavik wanted only him.

"If I am a trusting man, Araek," he gave the Romulan a pointed look, "it would appear to be a character flaw T'Pren has inherited."

Araek barked a laugh.

Setik joined them, T'Pren and T'Kel with him. T'Pren went to Araek's side and T'Kel rested recently healed hands against Saavik's bed. Her brother had finally gotten her to take the time to stop at Sickbay. The skin was so new, it still bore a touch of green as her body continued to mend her hands.

Spock had a good idea what his daughter was about to say. She wore a fresh uniform and she could not miss how Saavik's eyes brightened at the sight of her. "I have received word from my commander. Your tactic has beem successful. By allowing the K'tk the overconfidence of believing you were dead, our combined forces have traced the assassins’ source and their party is imprisoned. The border is secure once more."

Spock had already received this report. But he had surmised the importance of T'Kel, their one child serving in a fleet, telling Saavik herself. For both mother and daughter.

Another border. Another Neutral Zone to defend. But this was not the time to convince the K'tk they should seek real peace. Perhaps in T'Pren's lifetime.... just as Spock brought it to the Klingons.

Perhaps his youngest daughter guessed at these thoughts, because she suddenly met his eyes and hers were bright and shining.

She took a step closer to her twin next to the bed. "There is more, Mother. With their latest failure, a growing number in the K'tk have voiced their weariness for this conflict. They have venues to go without boundaries. The war will soon be over."

"Mother," T'Kel said, and in that one word, her intensity said she had something special for Saavik. "Both Starfleet and the VSE are speaking of the refocus on exploration again."

Saavik relaxed into her pillow, but she and T'Kel shared in the same undercurrent of knowing that discoveries waited for them.

Setik fixed his mother with a stern healer's look that he had learned from McCoy. "It is time you rested."

She studied them all and then turned a wry exhausted gaze on her husband.

"I only have . . . three left, adun."

Spock bent and brushed a lock of dark hair behind one ear. “Then I suggest you sleep. You will require your strength."

Her eyelashes drifted close. "For me or for them?"

Spock's eyes positively glinted. "For T'Lar."

Saavik's eyes snapped open again.

Spock took her hand in his and kept it there. "Be peaceful, my wife. The High Priestess of Gol is merely.... curious."

That didn't seem to help as Saavik impossibly whitened further. "I cannot satisfy her curiosity. The mission where I learned the discipline is classified. And the little I may tell her will only heighten her desire to know."

"Because of the source?"

"My teacher is from a place.... parallel to here." She lifted an eyebrow over the teasing light in her eye. "I must agree with those who have seen your counterpart, Husband. The beard does suit you."

He knew instantly what she meant. Jim and McCoy had teased him for too long about his counterpart in that other universe. The doctor even made a comment about it again when Spock’s son had grown a beard.

T'Lar's curiosity could be nothing next to his now. "And how did you come into contact with someone from there? Was it your counterpart? How did they come to know this discipline and under what circumstances did they come to teach you?"

Saavik's eyes sparked at his sudden intense interest. "As I stated, my husband. That is classified. And I am supposed to be resting."

Araek grinned shamelessly at Thuray. "Welcome to the House. You still got that phaser rifle handy? I believe we're about to be down the last three lives."