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The day they are due to reach Starbase 12, Spock is not surprised to receive a request from T’Saak for a private meeting. He designates one of the small briefing rooms as an appropriate venue, and arrives five minutes early to find her already waiting for him.

“I infer, from this meeting, that you have gathered sufficient data for your needs?” Spock begins without preamble.

“For my own needs, yes,” answers T’Saak. “Whether the VSA will be satisfied with my conclusions, remains to be seen.”

He considers, and reconsiders, and then asks, “May I hear your conclusions?”

T’Saak inclines her head. “You do not suffer from ralash-fam kashek because you have already formed bonds here, with your shipmates. I suspected as much, from the beginning, and the events on Dara V provided further proof. Sulek, who has been living on New Vulcan since the loss of Vulcan-That-Was, and newly married besides, was incapacitated by the nightmares’ touch for 2.5 days, while you were functional after only a matter of hours. If we proceed from the premise that the strength of a Vulcan’s bonds provide a proportional level of telepathic stability and protection, then the connections you have formed here are analogous to full bonds-of-kin.”

“That is… unexpected,” admits Spock.

“Indeed. There is precedent, of course, for Vulcans to bond with humans – of which your very existence is proof. But all of those cases involve singular participants, not a network of psi-null individuals.” The look she directs him is intent and inscrutable. “Furthermore, there is – the Captain?”

Spock nods once; Vulcans do not speak of such private matters, but he owes her this truth. “Yes.”

She gazes at him silently. He feels the stir of anxiety, though he would not be able to explain why. Eventually, she says, “Then I offer you my congratulations.”

“Thank you,” says Spock, sincerely.

Some of the tension in her expression eases. “Spock, son of Sarek,” she says, gentle as she has never been towards him before. “I remember you as a child. I agreed to this assignment because I thought, of anyone, the ralash-fam kashek would hit you hardest. You often had difficulty interacting with other children. I believed that your human blood has merely been delaying the onset of symptoms. It is pleasing to see that family has found you, after all.”

She turns to leave. Spock says, after her, “I grieve with thee.”

T’Saak pauses. “Thank you.” She neglects to respond with the same; it is within Spock’s rights, as the betrothed-widower, but he thinks it a sign of her regard for him that she does not trap him into falseness merely for the sake of custom.

Perhaps that is why he finds himself asking, “Was T’Pring happy?”

T’Saak gives him a strange look, but does not seem displeased by the question. “Yes. She had found – his name was Stonn. They say he could have boarded an evacuation shuttle, but instead he left to find her.” T’Saak looks away. “They managed to send a message to me, before the end.”

“She was not alone,” says Spock. It seems hardly any kind of consolation, to a bereaved mother.

But T’Saak nods as if he has said something important. “No, she was not. It is a terrible thing, for a Vulcan to be alone. And she was not.” She raises her hand in the ta’al. “Live long and prosper, Spock.”

~ * ~

"Look, it's Mister Spock!" shouts Leesil.

Nurse Joyce tells them that most Vulcans look alike to humans, and doesn't the Ambassador look far older than the stern Mister Spock? They quiet down and nod.

Once she's left the room, Norid chirps up, "We know you're not our Mister Spock, Mister Spock."

"Indeed," says the Ambassador, looking very amused. “I would not, after all, be visiting just any group of children.”

"But why aren’t you out adventuring?” asks Palas. "Just last week, Mister Chekov sent us a holo of this new city they found, where all the buildings are made out of candy!"

"Ybetta, yes, I remember that place," says the Ambassador. "It wasn't quite as fun for the people there - they ate a very specific sort of mold, you see, and their slime hardened glucose crystals into something as hard as rock." He gracefully sits down on the mat, looking intently at each of them. "And I’m afraid I’ve gotten quite old; best to leave the adventuring to one’s younger counterpart. He has less trouble with his knees.”

“He doesn’t tell stories like you do,” Navreen reveals in a conspiratorial whisper.

The Ambassador barks out a laugh. “Well, he’s got quite a long way to go yet.”

“But he will be as good as you one day, right?” presses Navreen, as if quite concerned by this.

“Of course,” the Ambassador reassures her. “He’ll learn from the very best, and then he’ll practice lots and get even better. Telling stories, telling stories so well that other people will tell them too – that’s the best way to keep the people you love close.” He is silent for a moment, and then asks, eyes twinkling, “now, what would you like to hear today?”