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an upbeat kind of dirge

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Her first order of business: telling her staff that she is Dr. Grayson and they will correct everyone on that fact, no matter their standing. No outdated Standard English honorifics and certainly no convoluted Vulcan honorifics with particles for every unlocked marital achievement. (Your esteemed husband has been appointed to the VSA’s board of governors, marking him a scholar among scholars! Your biological son has lived seven years and completed the ritual of don’t-die-in-the-fucking-desert! You have reached your 50th year and have raised TWO SONS though only one is of your own blood and a traitor-deserter-outcast-freak, while the other is homeless—that’s something!)

No, she completed that doctorate, dammit, and she is a doctor. She may never reach Sarek-levels of JUST SAREK THANK YOU, but she will be Dr. Grayson again and no one will take that from her.

Her second order of business: everything else.

*

If it had been her who died in the destruction of Vulcan.

She thinks about it, sometimes, when she can’t sleep at night. She thinks about her study in their home, her massive desk with the sealed drawer that she, Sarek, and the boys knew to open only when one of them died. They had each outlined plans for their sudden/eventual deaths: the boys when they each left home, and she and Sarek updating theirs with every major change in their lives. Everything that needed to be “in writing”/filed with an office had been filed, but there were other things, little things that they had each taken care to write down at some reflective point in their lives.

She knew her plan was the most careful. She was the most careful. 

She knew, as they all knew, that she would be the first to die. She thought it would help if they didn’t have to think too much about it—if, while she was alive, she took the time to state exactly what she wanted and leave her men to mourn her in the fashion she chose so they could continue with the rest of their very long lives.

Really, it was for their benefit, and all prompted by an incident when Sybok was 14. 

Sybok had rescued a lizard on I-Chaya’s patio and then the lizard had died, even after he nursed it to the best of his abilities. 

Sarek had said, “Bury it—you have an exam in the morning.” 

Amanda had elbowed Sarek and suggested holding a funeral for the lizard later in the week to give Sybok some closure.

It was a good idea until Sybok enlisted five-year-old Spock to help with the logistics of the lizard funeral and Spock, even then, had taken the job very seriously. 

“Have you decided on the burial shroud for Lojal, Sybok? I have collected various pillowcases from the linen closets for your consideration. If you cared for your lizard, I would suggest this one because—”

“I CAN’T DO THIS, I CAN’T,” Sybok had sobbed before running to his room and leaving the lizard funeral to Amanda, Spock, and I-Chaya. 

As Spock stumbled through a very chipper song on his lute and Amanda pat the dirt over the lizard and his shroud, Sarek stepped onto the patio and observed the scene. 

“Is that song appropriate for mourning rituals?” Sarek asked.

“It is the only one I know,” Spock said as he carefully plucked the strings and hit three wrong notes in a row.

“Hmm,” Sarek replied. “At least you are practicing.”

“It fits,” Amanda said. She gave Sarek a hard look and said, “Lojal was very cheerful and he and Sybok had many good times together.”

“Of course, my wife,” Sarek said. His cheek twitched. She glared even more.

LOJAAAAAAAL,” Sybok sang-cried from his room above them. 

“He was too distraught to attend,” Amanda explained.

“I will speak to him,” Sarek said.

I-Chaya whined at Spock’s music and when Amanda turned back to their lizard funeral, I-Chaya had dug up Lojal to chew on his desiccated body.

“Spock, go inside,” she said quickly.

Spock had already seen I-Chaya chewing on Lojal, though—had been watching it thoughtfully, which she’d have to handle later—and asked, “Will this mangling of his remains affect his place in the afterlife? Is there an afterlife?”

Amanda smiles at the memory now, all those years later, and turns on her side in the very large bed in the fairly large house she and Sarek owned in San Francisco. A few months after the destruction of Vulcan and she’s only just remembered her desk and that drawer, all their very specific plans for Sarek’s life after hers ended. Now Sarek was gone, the desk was gone, the planet was gone, and this was all Amanda had mooring her to her life on Vulcan: the memory of what was and what could never be again.

*

Starfleet Academy is glad to have her—who’s she kidding, they’re glad to have anyone. 

She notices at staff meetings that she’s not the only old crone pulled out of retirement to rebuild the Academy. That’s really the whole story of how she’s offered the chair of the linguistics department. 

She has a staff made up of second years who take turns working in the department office part-time while trying to make up for the entire body of knowledge lost with their dead classmates. They have a harder time than most in working for her. Amanda thinks she’s a benevolent overlord, but she isn’t the most revered and adored figure in—not post-Vulcan, but post-Vulcan-that-was. Post-Vulcan-Prime, not post-Vulcan-culture. 

(It kills her that she hasn’t formulated a better way of explaining that in Standard, not that weeping, belligerent, reactionary people across the Federation who didn’t lose their homeworld would care to differentiate between the two.)

In any case: working for her is a pain in the ass. They field calls all day long and sort through her endless correspondence to prioritize what does/doesn’t need her attention. Eventually Amanda has to hire someone like a press secretary to formulate diplomatic answers for the department as well as a permanent non-student to handle all the shit people talk about her in the media day in and day out. Here she is, trying to train new waves of students the practical application of the study of linguistics for a career in Starfleet and develop a position on how her department (how Starfleet, if she’s perfectly honest) will handle the new language of grief that will define the fate of one of the Federation’s founding planets, and everyone takes issue with it because she’s not Sarek and she’s not really Vulcan and she’s not really a diplomat and—

What she wouldn’t give to be at least 5’7” out of her heels.

*

She doesn’t remember Sarek dying. 

She remembers the howling, infinite noise of the planet crumbling, every inch of it caving into itself, and she remembers the light of the transporter swirling around her. She remembers Spock looking back at her, nodding, making sure she was behind him. Her last image of Vulcan is of her son’s face, the desert and red rocks filling all the space behind him.

Then, they were in a transporter room on a ship so new it’s blinding her after the sandstorm’s red and orange dust. Security officers and medical officers helped the elders who came with them, T’Sai and the others, off the pad while someone with a distinctly Southern growl barked, “JIM. MEDICAL. Don’t you dare set that wrist on your own—this isn’t fleet week.”

She came back to herself, didn't see Sarek, pushed a few strands of her hair out of her face. She and Spock were the last ones left on the pad, so she closed the distance between them and gently touched his arm.

He whirled around and scanned her face, his eyes wider than she had ever seen them. He was afraid to touch her, so she took his hand with both her own.

She hadn’t had to shield herself against him since he was four years old. Now, his feelings ripped through her with a scream like they’re still on the planet and it’s still crashing down and maybe she had been too numb to feel all of it like this but now she felt it and Spock tore his hand away from her grasp. He rested his hands on her shoulders and said something, but she couldn’t hear him—her mind, it’s all his thoughts mixing with her own, grief and guilt and relief and it wasn’t you it wasn’t you it wasn’t you FATHER it wasn’t you it wasn’t you.

“Mother,” he said again. She heard it. She heard the pleading in his tone, saw it in the lines cracking their way through the dust caked on his face. “I have to be on the bridge and continue formulating our plan of attack. Please accompany Dr. McCoy to medical and wait for me there.”

“You’re both coming with me,” the doctor said. McCoy’s eyes rested on her for a long moment before they moved to Spock so he could add, “Captain.”

“Bones,” someone said from behind him. “Bones, don’t.”

The doctor helped Amanda off the pad and Spock took her arm possessively, but loosely to diminish their contact. She pat him on the arm, hoping he understood. Understood that she understood? Sure. 

“Doctor,” Spock said as they walk. “When I return to the bridge, I would appreciate if you would accompany me. I need all senior officers on board to join me in a planning session.”

“I’m coming, too,” someone in front of them said. Amanda looked away from Spock at the blond in the blue jumpsuit, his arm around the waist of a man in yellow, both of them trying not to look like they needed each other’s support as they walked.

“Fine,” Spock said, his voice tight. Fine has variable definitions and too much welled up in her throat at the memory. “Both you and Lieutenant Sulu, as well as Lieutenant Uhura and Ensign Chekov.”

“Spock, what’s going on?” Amanda whispered. “We’ve had earthquakes in Shi’Kahr before, but never—”

“It was not an earthquake, Mother,” Spock said. “I will explain once I have met with the other officers. There is much we do not understand at this juncture.”

“Hold on,” McCoy said next to them. “This is your mother? Jim—did you know?”

“That I had a mother?” Spock asked, too sharp.

“Bones, don’t,” Jim said with a glance back. He looked forward again, turning a corridor towards the noise that must be medical during a crisis, but then he spared another look back at her. 

She was used to his look, the thoughtful, considering one Terrans gave her when they learned what she was: wife of the Vulcan ambassador to Earth and mother of the first surviving human-Vulcan hybrid (who changed his mind and was cutting off circulation to her arm with his death grip through her sleeve). Her story has been public domain for so long that she did what she always did—she let him look so he could come to his own conclusions.

He turned away and said nothing. Spock tightened his hand around her arm and McCoy took over, directing them to different areas of medbay to be checked out.

Sarek, in all that, was a lacuna, an absence. She didn’t want Spock to notice, nor did she want to admit that, as they talked around her, she kept looking to her periphery on pure reflex. Her body thought it would see Sarek there and she could shoot him a look. He would raise his eyebrows and say everything, or nothing, and she could hold Spock tighter and try to put together the pieces of this puzzle.

Spock led her to a biobed and helped her up while McCoy calibrated his tricorder. Sarek still darted around the edges of her vision, as if she would see him if she could only turn her head quick enough.

It wasn’t working.

*

Everyone hates her.

Cindy, her assistant, assures her that’s not true.

“No, it’s fine,” Amanda says as she reviews the messages Cindy has filtered for her from the dreck. “It makes me feel young again.” She looks at Cindy for a moment and says, “I wasn’t much older than you when I met Sarek and mortally offended people with the fact of our relationship.”

Cindy only smiles a little and says, “Not everyone hates you, and those who do don’t do it well enough—not without betraying that they’re stupid hacks that don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Amanda loves Cindy. She should have hired an assistant much sooner.

If the fact of Sarek’s absence wasn’t enough of a tear in her side (a wound that had scarred over ugly and puckered and she could never would never hide from anyone as long as she lived), Sarek had become more popular and more beloved after his death, so much more than when he was alive. He had been criticized by the media constantly for his rigid adherence to Vulcan standards when he was the Federation ambassador from Vulcan (that made sense), as well as his disgusting liberalism (how dare he and his wife, whoever she was, use science to blur the classically divided lines between human and other species, “humanoid” as they were), his inflexibility and stubbornness and condescension.

Fair enough, the critics could have those last three.

Of course, once he died and his wife (this Doctor Grayson who wasn’t even a real doctor except in the non-medical sense, which was shocking in the 23rd century) showed her hand in taking over his political role, Sarek was anointed a savior and no one could ever hope to fill his shoes—NO ONE, NOT EVEN HIS WIFE, as if that qualified her for anything.

When she and Sarek began their life together, she didn’t try to envision specific details about their life together. She had all her faults, Sarek had all his faults, they had Sybok, and they might have other children, natural or adopted. She thought of her future tinged with sweetness, if nothing else. If nothing else, they would have that and each other.

Then the entire goddamned galaxy full of assholes, and whole other timelines full of assholes, stepped in to ruin everything. They had taken that hope for sweetness but they hadn’t taken her.

*

Very early on, Amanda decided that she wouldn’t have a separate memorial service for Sarek. Rather, she would organize one for the Vulcans lost and take five minutes for Sarek there. She checked with Spock and Sybok, who agreed in their own ways: Sybok with a quick ok sent from whatever star system he was in at that time, and Spock with a stony nod and an offer to help however he could.

Translation: please don’t ask me. So she didn’t.

She’s Amanda Grayson, though, and while she knew that “organize a memorial service” meant that it would be broadcast across the Federation and require a borderline ludicrous number of people involved, an almost infinite amount of attention to Vulcan (and Terran) protocol, and so much more patience than she had ever developed, she didn’t expect that every day would involve hundreds of people so angry at her, angry for every reason she could imagine and even a few she couldn’t until they screamed at her about it.

Her favorite was when the Times and what remained of Savarun, the largest Vulcan news source that had survived via their San Francisco office, teamed up to present a point/counterpoint feature in which Amanda was simultaneously too Terran and too Vulcan to present a fair and balanced tribute to the victims of the Battle of Vulcan. 

She didn’t have the heart to break it to them that there was no one left of Vulcan Prime with the strength to commemorate all that had been lost. The human wife of Sarek, in Vulcan but never of it, was the only one who accepted the task. If this was as much heat they could blast on her for commemorating all her husband had done and all his people had and would contribute to the Federation, then she welcomed it. 

A grievous blow to one’s happiness and stability had the strangest side effect of bringing all kinds of people out of the woodwork. Immediately after the Battle of Vulcan, when she had no choice but to accept San Francisco as her home again for the time being, friends and colleagues and classmates and students she hadn’t heard from in decades began to contact her and... none of them wanted anything.

Or none of them wanted her luck or notoriety to rub off on them.

She had a lot of quiet, off-book lunches around then.

Just as Amanda was writing her sixth memo on why a specific Terran flower was absolutely not allowed on-premises for the service, a message from Cindy appeared at the corner of her screen.

Visitor: Captain Kirk? She doesn’t have an appointment.

“Winona Kirk doesn’t make appointments,” Amanda said when Winona had strong-armed her way into the inner office with a smile, Cindy sputtering in her wake. “It’s been a while.”

“It’s been years, Grayson, and didn’t I tell you: fingers. It drives them crazy,” Winona replied.

Amanda sat back in her chair and shook her head as she thought about how long ago that first assignment was: Spock’s whole life and then some; almost Sybok’s entire life ago. So long, but not nearly enough.

“So,” Amanda said, but Winona laughed and took the words right out of her mouth.

“Can’t two infamous widows get a drink in the middle of the afternoon?”

“That’s such a sad joke,” Amanda mused, but she didn’t say no to the drink. 

Once she had gathered her things to leave and stepped out from behind her desk, Winona took a long stride and gripped Amanda’s upper arm hard. Amanda’s fingers tightened around her purse strap and she looked at Winona, who lifted her chin up higher but couldn’t quite meet Amanda’s eyes. 

“It’s so soon, Grayson, but,” Winona began. “You have to laugh at them because no one else will.”

Amanda rested a hand on Winona. She could hear the size of the galaxy and how much of it Winona had seen by herself.

Two drinks later, Winona wrote her private comm address on a napkin, sprinkled some gin on it, and said to the bartender, “Sweetie, I need a new napkin, this one’s totally unusable.”

(“Well, private for hookups,” she explained as Amanda realized, with some comfort, that no one ever changes.)

Amanda was drinking gin for the first time in longer than she wanted to admit (unless Winona bought her more, in which case it was only polite to say, right?) and allowed herself to be distracted for a moment or two while Winona worked her magic. It’s nice, she thought. This is nice. 

She wondered, suddenly, if Winona had friends. Winona seemed to belong to the “rather be feared than loved” school of interpersonal relationships, but then again, Amanda hadn’t seen her face-to-face in decades, only in moments of triumph and tragedy significant enough to be broadcast in Amanda’s face and worlds at large.

“So,” Winona said, her face turned towards Amanda but her eyes on the bartender who slipped away. “Let’s talk.”

Of course Winona doesn’t do friends. Amanda kept her fingers wrapped around her glass, but she felt herself switch instantly into business mode. She knew better than to show it bothered her.

“At the moment,” Winona said, “I have the semi-honorary, very real yet simultaneously very fake position of fleet captain in Starfleet. During the Battle of Vulcan, I was with the fleet in the Laurentian system and had the most active duty and battle experience, so I...” Winona smiled and waved as she said, “kinda, sorta, well, took control of the ships out there and made all the on-the-ground-so-to-speak decisions including deploying ships for survivors, checking out the Romulan and Klingon borders—all sorts of shit that needed to be done but couldn’t actually be done because nearly everyone else in and above my pay grade was busy comparing dicks.”

“I didn’t know that,” Amanda said. “Why didn’t I know that? Why haven’t you been all over the news with this?”

“Because death and destruction sell better than competent officer does her job, with extreme competence,” Winona replied. “Also swearing. Those logs will probably never end up in the lower grades’ history texts.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Winona said. “Well, no. You can be sorry or you can help me—I think you know that already, though. Are you pre-apologizing for letting me down gently?”

“Not yet,” Amanda replied.

“All I want,” Winona began, “Is to make my honorary bullshit title less honorary, more permanent. I want the fleet captain position: my own ship commanding my own fleet of ships. I’ve paid my dues and this is the kind of infrastructure shift that Starfleet needs to make for the next five years while the new cadets move through the Academy.” She leaned in closer to Amanda and whispered, “There’s a reserve fleet. At least five ships that barely exist on the official rosters that will be sent on special deep space missions while the fleet I commanded during the battle will be used for close defense. You’ve met Chris Pike, right?”

“Yes, he—he was the captain during Spock’s first mission after the Academy.”

“Well, the word is that once he recovers, they’re moving him into the rear admiral position to oversee the special deep space missions.”

“And you want the public defense ships,” Amanda said.

“I deserve the public defense ships,” Winona hissed. “What I did during the Battle of Vulcan? I’ve been doing that my entire career and I am—” She inhaled sharply and said, more under her breath than to Amanda, “I’m so tired of the shadows. I’m tired of the modesty. I don’t want to be Starfleet’s dirty little secret anymore. I know the kinds of negotiations captains undertake to make sure I’m in charge of their engineering sectors because if I’m there, they live. These idiots probably think it’s superstition, or that I’m some kind of talisman. No, it’s not that at all. I need them to admit that I am the best officer Starfleet has—I can do more.”

Amanda ordered them another round and rested her hand on Winona’s. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I’ll help you.”

“It won’t be more than a statement from the Kirk family,” Winona said. “Finally using all that public figure bullshit and good will that I didn’t want the boys exposed to when they were young.” Their new drinks arrived and Winona focused her eyes on them. “I’m playing you right now, Grayson, so thanks for the drink reward. I appreciate it.”

They clinked glasses gently and Amanda let her have it.

*

There were too many injured people in sickbay and the surrounding lab for Amanda to keep her biobed as long as McCoy wanted her to have it. So, once he followed a quick line of officers out of the lab, Amanda sat up and...

What could she even do?

She looked around at the injured among the busy personnel and spotted the elders Spock transported out with her. She had known them well during her time on Vulcan, but she felt strangely separate from them now. That was deliberate, she thought, the way Spock steered her towards this bed for their checkups while he allowed the doctor to lead the others across the room.

One of the orderlies rushed over and said something about his instructions from the CMO, but she shook her head and motioned to where she would be. He looked guilty all the same; he must have been even younger than Spock. She didn’t want to imagine that she and Sarek’s fellow councilors were the oldest people on board. This ship couldn’t be the only response team to what was happening on the planet. There had to be others.

Did Spock know? Did Spock know what’s happening? In a flash, it became a question about Sarek and how he was always the person in any given situation who knew what was going on and what had to happen next. Now that person was Spock. Had the power shifted that quickly from father to son, the fall of one and the rise of the next? How did she miss that, or had it been building up in front of her all this time?

She didn’t think Spock would be like Sarek. Nothing about him suggested that he wanted the kind of responsibility his father wielded on the public stage.

It was too much at the moment, all that psychic absence making itself known and almost taking over her body. She must have stumbled, but someone caught her arm.

“T’Sai,” Amanda said when she realized it. She was leaning on the much older woman’s arm and realized her other side was also being supported—another counselor, Selok, a distant relation of Sarek’s, whose brow was always knit like there was an odor of bad cheese offending him somewhere. Amanda knew T’Sai from councilors’ gatherings and from her time as Headmaster at Sybok and Spock’s school.

She had been the one who suggested Sybok and Spock might have more fulfilling lives were they to spend them on Earth rather than Vulcan. Two boys, nine years apart, and she suggested the same thing about both of them. Funny, that.

“I would not trust that doctor either,” T’Sai said, speaking in Vulcan but using the Standard doctor, not the Vulcan physician/healer to make a point. “But he may have had a point that you should lie here a while longer.” She looked up at T’Sai, who gripped her harder and said, “The shock is real.”

That orderly came over and helped her back to her biobed that was genuinely hers, apparently, and when she opened her eyes again, the other Vulcans had gathered at the stools fixed around a station near her. She kept her eyes half-lidded and watched them stay close to her.

When she woke up again, she sat up, had some water, and felt herself much more collected and in control than before. T’Sai approached and looked back to the other elders before she spoke to Amanda.

“We grieve with thee,” she said.

Amanda nodded to her, to the other elders, and let them gather around her to discuss what they should do next.

*

That first drink with Winona was months ago. Starfleet had delayed the start of all new missions for an initial 12-month period while undergoing intensive restructuring with the Federation. It had taken months of shock, interviews, research, studies, but soon there were rumors of a draft promotions and honors list floating around the secure mailboxes of select Starfleet personnel.

That was when a wild Spock appeared in Amanda’s office.

“Dr. Grayson, your son—” Cindy says as Spock barrels through.

“Leave us, please,” he says to Cindy, who doesn’t even have a foot in Amanda’s door.

“Thank you, Cindy,” Amanda says as the door closes behind her. She gets up from her desk and asks, “What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

“Jim hacked the—”

“Who? Jim Kirk?”

“Of course, who else?”

“I know a lot of—”

“You cannot allow Winona Kirk to manipulate you.”

Manipulate me?”

“She is using you.”

“And I allowed it.”

“I am sure, and I assured Jim of this, that you would not have agreed to such a blatant abuse of our family’s public status and our recent loss had you known what Commander Kirk intended.”

“Of course I knew. She's Captain Kirk now, by the way.”

“I don’t understand,” Spock says. “Mother, do you know Winona Kirk?”

“Do you?” Amanda asks. “Because I barely know Jim Kirk, given the five minutes he’s deigned to speak to me in the past when you’ve brought him around.”

“That is irrelevant. Does it not strike you as odd that you allow this woman into your confidence—”

“I don’t like the tone of that, Spock.”

“—and your plans for several confidential and high-level maneuvers within the Academy, and she never mentions the role her son, a captain in his own right, would have if her machinations—”

Machinations? Spock, this is ridiculous. You’re going to have to support at least one of your accusations before your interrogation into my work and my colleagues goes any further.”

Spock begins his argument again: Winona was using Sarek’s death and Amanda’s vulnerability to propel herself into the limelight as a fellow widow because she had something to gain.

“And like I told you,” Amanda says, “She checked with me before making that statement and I allowed it.”

“Why would you do that?” Spock asks.

“Spock, I don’t need to explain myself to you.”

“When it is my father’s death used as a bargaining chip and my career with Starfleet that may be impacted as a result? Yes, I would say it is very much something that you should explain to me.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” she admits, “But this is about the fleet captain situation, isn’t it? And the reserve ships? Are you worried they’ll pass Jim up for Winona? They aren’t at all on the same experience level—he’s barely a captain, never mind capable of accepting a field promotion to fleet captain. How could Winona’s—”

“Jim will be made captain of the Enterprise and the Enterprise is still the fleet's flagship. The possibility that they will hide their flagship and their hero on a deep space mission seems laughable at best. If she is named fleet captain of the close defense Federation fleet, there is a very real possibility that Jim, who will have his field promotion to captain made official in the upcoming honors list, will have to report to her and that will not work for him.”

“Right, thank you for reminding me of the other bone I wanted to pick with you in those three incredibly insulting minutes, Spock,” Amanda says. “Tell me again what their relationship has to do with their respective promotions? It’s a boon for both of them that they can use to bring their names to public attention. Public attention means more funding, more attention from the admiralty, more favor within any hyperorganized bureaucratic structure. You should know this after teaching here, remember?”

Spock looks away from Amanda. She wants to take his hand and lift his chin, bring his eyes back to look into hers. She suddenly understands why people learn that she’s the mother to “that Commander Spock” (as if there are others) and stare at her before making an excuse as to why they were surprised, exactly.

“I will admit,” Spock says. “It may be more of a personal matter than one which speaks to Commander Kirk’s qualifications as a potential fleet captain.”

She nods thoughtfully and turns away from Spock so she can pace the room and COMPLETELY FREAK OUT BECAUSE HER SON HAS LOST HIS FUCKING MIND OVER A BOY. Hang on: Spock has lost his mind over Jim Kirk AKA his field-promoted first officer during the Battle of Vulcan AKA the first officer he exiled on Delta Vega and then choked for a good lifetime and a half in front of the Enterprise’s other senior officers AKA that cadet who cheated on the Kobayashi Maru and given Spock so much grief just before the Battle of Vulcan. 

That took her back: Spock's call the week before the destruction of Vulcan, the way she had recapped all that to Sarek, about Spock having dinner with someone when he had spent his whole life on Vulcan raising his eyebrow archly at any of his peers who showed anything resembling a flirtatious interest. Here he was again: dinner with someone who deserved a separate call and explanation, but first Spock had to spend a whole call discussing an impertinent cadet who had crawled under his skin rather than the person special enough to share a meal with him. 

Two people, she thinks, one who deserved Spock’s circumspect attention to time and detail, and Jim Kirk, who had driven him into her office, cheeks flushed and talking to her about his career as if Jim Kirk’s unhappiness would unravel his entire life. What if she hadn’t been here? What if Winona had come out of the woodwork anyway, but she gone to anyone else, literally anyone else—would Spock have rushed into their office and—

No, of course not. If he had to prepare for a meeting with anyone but his pushover mother, there would have been references to files and commendations in the field, public reports, sources, but Spock and his friend had seen this preliminary list, freaked out, and Spock had ridden in to beg his mother to save his boyfriend and this is the best day.

It’s also the worst day because this means Spock displays familiar, Sarek-levels of stupidity (e.g., HELLO I WOULD LIKE TO INVITE YOU TO THIS FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM I HAVE JUST INVENTED BASED ON FIFTEEN MINUTES OF ARGUING WITH YOU). A less generous person would blame it on Vulcan, but the blame remains entirely with her son, who apparently taught ethics at Starfleet and thought ethics wouldn’t apply when his boyfriend was on the line.

He’s so like Sarek right now she might scream and fly out the window into the atmosphere to burn up, screaming.

She stops pacing and faces Spock again. “I think we should do our best to distance ourselves from the Kirks for the time being.”

“I cannot do that,” Spock says.

“Spock, you know there isn’t anything I can do for Jim. I did let Winona Kirk maneuver herself so she could get her name out there and keep her field promotion, but that’s not a machination. She’s very qualified and has taken these responsibilities in other conflicts, so I’m not sure why you came to me.” Spock looks away and she adds, “She deserves this, and your friend deserves his promotion, too. If they have to work together—”

“I must speak to Admiral Pike,” he interrupts. He’s not making eye contact and she thinks that for the first time in her life, he wasn’t listening to what she said. “Admiral Pike will be the one who oversees the potential fleet captain, and he may ensure that Jim will not be assigned into her jurisdiction. If the Enterprise is, in fact, assigned for close defense of the Federation, perhaps Jim can report directly to Pike.” He looks to her then and says, “They aren’t like us, Mother. They can’t—they’re very Terran, and can’t separate the personal from the professional.”

It takes her decades of learned restraint to keep herself from laughing right then and there.

He’s so young, she thinks. Spock is so intelligent, so brilliant, but so young and inexperienced, so unbelievably up his own ass that, for a moment, she’s glad she will never be in space under his command. She hopes there’s someone in his next command, anyone among the senior officers, who is at least 40 and has the authority to laugh in his face at moments like these. She wonders if Uhura, who she met for all of three minutes in the middle of the Battle of Vulcan, the person who somehow got Spock out of his office to eat dinner, will be in his command. Will she find the words to point out that, sometimes, he’s a complete moron?

She would love to laugh at Spock, but this is honestly the first time either of her sons has been this mad—so illogical—over another person in a way she knows too well. She wishes it could have happened earlier, when the stakes weren’t so high, but Spock was busy, wasn’t he, becoming who he is. If she says now, by the way, can I now properly meet Jim for more than 10 minutes outside of a Federation disaster situation and are you two sleeping together and is that why you burst into someone’s office completely out of your mind trying to protect him from ever being sad? What about Uhura? Sure, it’s stupid to date a student, but I think I liked her better because she didn’t turn you into a total idiot and WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY SON? 

If she says that, he might stop and shut himself off, and never let this boy (Winona’s son, lord, she has so many questions, SO MANY) get close to him and make him who he has to become.

*

At some point, a security officer led her to the bridge of the Enterprise: another explosion of light after the relatively sane brightness of the science labs and medbay. Spock updated her on the situation and the theory he had developed with the other senior officers.

“It explains the strength of the weaponry and the collapse of Vulcan,” Spock said.

“When you beamed down to get us, you said the planet had only seconds left,” Amanda said. “Is it...”

“Gone,” he replied. “They created a singularity within the planet, one with enough strength to take it and the debris around it.”

“Debris? Do you mean the VSA’s satellites?”

“There was a distress call,” Spock said. “A majority of Starfleet’s ships are engaged in another system and when the distress call came, the cadets at the Academy had to answer. The ships with the cadets were destroyed in Vulcan space—all but this one.” 

Amanda wanted to take his hand again, his arm, his sleeve, anything, touch his hair, anything, but this was work—this was a captain struggling against the impulse to scream obscenities in every language he knew, flip five tables, and drink in his quarters until everything was better.

(She wondered, for a moment, if Spock had ever been drunk—if he could get drunk. Sarek never did and never tried, and Sybok was essentially drunk on feelings every minute he lived on Vulcan, but Spock—she didn’t know.)

She gripped his arm and soothed him for a moment before she took a step away from him again.

“T’Sai was in the katric ark,” Spock noted after a moment. “She survived. How was the final count of persons in the ark decided?”

“It wasn’t,” Amanda said. “Your father came to get me. He hadn’t told me about the distress call, just that there was a situation developing and we had to retreat to the katric ark.”

“There was not enough time for panic or evacuation,” Spock said.

“I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know: I had just come back from the city when it started. I don’t think anyone knew what was happening.”

“Except Father,” Spock replied. “He is always the first to know.”

“He was usually the one to start it.”

Spock’s shoulders stiffened and he looked down and away from her. She asked, “What?”

“He is past tense.”

“Spock.”

“I did not realize it until you said—”

“Spock, it’s difficult, we were talking about things he had done, completed actions.”

Spock closed his eyes and said, “May I tell you about the different stations and officers here on the bridge? It has been some time since you were on a starship of this class.”

She touched his arm lightly and said, “Of course. Tell me.”

“Well,” Spock said as he took a few steps over to a young woman in an operations’ uniform. “Closest to us and likely of most interest to you is our communications officer, Lieutenant Uhura.” Amanda smiled as Uhura stood up and smiled back. “Nyota completed her studies this year, graduating with a specialty in xenolinguistics.” Spock added, “You may recall reading her thesis earlier this year when it was submitted for publication to New Studies in Morphology. Nyota, this is my mother, Dr. Amanda Grayson.”

Amanda watched as Uhura tried to find the best way to show sympathy and excitement, finally settling for a tight smile and, “It’s such an honor to meet you, Dr. Grayson, though I’m so sorry it’s under these circumstances. My greatest condolences for your loss.”

“Keep her, Spock,” Amanda said, “Her syntax is excellent.”

Uhura laughed and looked away. Spock looked down, too, and he might have blushed under other circumstances. 

It was her, Amanda realized. Dinner person. A matter for another video call person. Something in her chest ached a little when she remembered that Sarek owed her a new scarf: they had bet on whether Spock had met this mysterious blush-inducing I have dinner plans person at the Academy or somewhere else. “Somewhere else” had been Sarek’s guess and of course he was wrong because Spock had barely left his room the entire time he lived and studied on Vulcan, so of course he wouldn’t venture out of his comfort zone when he was an instructor.

(Did he say she had just graduated? Did her son the ethics instructor introduce her to someone who made him blush and had just graduated from the educational institution where he was an ethics instructor? Oh, Spock.)

“Can I just say,” Uhura began, “That your work on the Universal Translator... I mean, no one has written such a documentation of their theory and process in such a compelling manner. I came across your volume in the series of the translator’s history when I was still choosing tracks in secondary school—I had picked it up by mistake in a store—and I—it was like falling into another world that I haven’t left since. Your efforts in translating your Standard language and Terran culture into Vulcan language and culture, framing the academic in the personal and vice-versa, which of course has been done before, but—yours in particular spoke so much to—” She pressed the back of her hand to her mouth for a moment and said, “I’m so sorry, again, I—this isn’t the right time at all. I had hoped for the chance to meet you, ever, but never like this.”

“It’s all right,” Amanda said. “What does the captain have you doing here?”

Uhura waited for Spock’s nod before she said, “Romulan and Klingon. If you had told me when I first entered the Academy that I would specialize in the two cultures and languages of the Federation’s greatest threats and antagonizers, I would have never believed it, but the complexities within complexities, and possibilities for discovery and research were too enthralling not to specialize in, if—if that makes sense.”

“It does, Lieutenant, very much,” Amanda said. “Of course there’s lots to research within Federation member planets, but there’s no substitute for the relevance and sense of urgency that—”

“Captain Spock!” the navigator called out. “Detecting unauthorized access to water turbine control board.”

“Excuse me,” Uhura said as she sat down at her station again and flipped a number of switches. Amanda watched her for a long moment and had to ignore that ache in her chest, that Sarek couldn’t be here right now and telling her what he thought. Amanda loved her, but Sarek was so much harder to impress and (though he would have denied it) irrational in his likes and dislikes when it came to new people. He might have liked Uhura, though, for her almost Vulcan attention to form in circumstantial language. He was strange like that, admiring people who could cloak themselves in a different outfit for every situation.

At least one good thing would happen today, and it was meeting Uhura.

“Bring up the video,” Spock said as he strolled to the front of the bridge again. The video was thrown up on the main screen in black and white.

“Security, seal the engineering deck. We have intruders in turbine section three. Set phasers to stun.”

Amanda moved back between the science consoles. Spock stood up straight and came back to her, his momentary calm switching back to harried in that instant. “What’s wrong?”

“Jim Kirk,” he said. “Jim Kirk will be the death of me, or I him, but that is the only way this can end.”

“Kirk? Not—not Winona and George Kirk’s Jim Kirk? Not CHILD OF TRAGEDY Jim Kirk?”

“Jim Kirk who cheated on my Kobayashi Maru scenario this past week, and Jim Kirk who Captain Pike named First Officer before he—it is a long story, Mother, but yes, that is the same Jim Kirk, the only Jim Kirk, the one who I—who has made his way aboard the ship again—”

“He left? Your first officer left the ship in the middle of a crisis?”

“As I said, it is a long—”

The turbolift opened and Spock marched over to speak with the security officers, a man in a soaking wet fur coat, and a young man with his father’s face of 25 years ago and his mother’s—

“You’re the genius, you figure it out.”

He was goading him. He was goading Spock, goading him about the loss of Vulcan and the loss of Sarek. This little shit—no other word or phrase in any language Amanda knew would work but that one—was goading Spock and Spock was losing.

“Back away from me,” Spock intoned.

“You feel nothing,” Jim yelled. “It must not even compute for you!”

If there was more, Amanda didn’t hear it as Spock punched Jim in the face, grabbed him by the shirt, and physically threw him into the center of the bridge to disorient him, trip him on the tiny steps between levels, punch him in the chest again and again, and throw him against the navigator’s console hard enough to crack the display. Amanda looked around wildly because no one was moving—not the guards, not the doctor from earlier who knew them both, not any of the two dozen people on the bridge, not Uhura who covered her mouth and watched in horror. No one moved or said a word as Spock—

Spock had pinned him to the navigator’s console and he wasn’t hitting Jim anymore, but Jim wasn’t groaning or crying out. He was coughing. Spock was choking him.

“Spock!” she cried.

Nothing happened, not for a long moment, so she yelled again, louder, “Spock!

Spock turned and stared at her. Behind him, Jim coughed and wheezed, his neck marked in red between the red of his cuts and scabs, and the black of his shirt. He sat up and stared as Spock turned away and staggered towards McCoy.

“Doctor, I am no longer fit for duty. I hereby relinquish my command, based on the fact that I have been emotionally compromised. Please note the time and date in the ship's log.”

He left and no one moved to follow him except Uhura, who he brushed off with a quick shake of his head as the doors to the bridge opened. Uhura met Amanda’s eyes and she looked so hurt and defiant in that moment. Then she averted her glance, swiped at one of her eyes carefully, and walked down a level to where the new captain had assumed the chair. 

Amanda followed Spock out. 

*

“You have lunch with Captain Kirk today,” Cindy reminds her as Amanda tells her to add a writing deadline to her schedule a week or so from now. “She should be here soon.”

“Remember, don’t show fear when she comes by,” Amanda replies as she scans through more messages. “She’s very good at sensing fear.”

“It’s fine,” Cindy lies.

Not five seconds later, Winona Kirk appears in the doorway and leers at Cindy, who smiles politely but seems paralyzed from the neck down. “I’m early,” Winona says.

“Sounds like you already know where we’re going,” Amanda replies.

“Only the finest dumpster diving for Captain Kirk and Dr. Grayson.” Winona winks at Cindy. “I know how to class up this joint real good.”

Cindy nods and keeps smiling.

“I’ll be just a minute,” Amanda says, so Winona starts walking around Amanda’s office, giving herself the tour for the thousandth time. “What else do you have for me, Cindy?”

“Admiral Pike’s office would like to schedule a meeting with you this week, regarding updates to your security detail.” 

Amanda looks puzzled and Cindy nods. “Right, I said the same: she doesn’t have one, but apparently that’s... the meeting. That you will be assigned one.”

“Winona,” Amanda asks, “Is Chris Pike actually—”

“Oh, not in the slightest,” Winona replies. “Not his area at all, but you’re a delicate desert flower who’s been blown very hard—”

“That’s vulgar,” Cindy says.

“And the powers that be feel that you need to be told possibly upsetting things by a familiar face.”

“Who better than the man who took my son to deep space and brought him back with all his limbs intact? It’s a good choice, I can’t blame them in the slightest.” 

Cindy nods and takes note, but Winona flips through a bound book from one of Amanda’s shelves and says, “You should be way more insulted by that.”

Amanda laughs and says, “We’re such shatarrs—it always makes me laugh.”

“We’re what?”

Shatarrs—a lizard that lived on Vulcan. They lived in pairs: one inside guarding their young and one outside maiming anything or anyone who came near the lair. I-Chaya loved to hunt them, when we let him.” She laughs again as she remembers, “I-Chaya brought one home once, barely alive, and Sybok fell in love with it, but it died soon after. We had a lizard funeral.”

When Amanda looks up, Cindy and Winona are staring at her: Cindy mildly horrified and Winona horrified and delighted. Winona notices Cindy’s look and laughs. “Boys are going to bring home terrible things, it’s just a fact of life.” She crosses her arms over her chest and says, “Wish I had a girl to test that theory. I don’t like the idea that boys are the only ones who bring home shit that needs to be defanged, but I also don’t have any empirical proof.”

“I didn’t bring home animals when I was young,” Amanda says.

“I brought in a snail once,” Cindy says. “Just once.”

“What? Why?” Winona demands.

Cindy purses her lips for a moment, and then says, “My aunt said, you know people eat snails, they’re very delicious, and I was stupid enough to ask how, and then she stuck a fork in it, ripped it out, and fed it to our dog.”

Winona, again, looks horrified and delighted, but Amanda reaches out and pats Cindy’s hand. “I’m sorry, Cindy. That’s hilariously terrible.”

“It is, isn’t it?” Cindy says. “I know. It’s—ugh, pets, who needs them.”

“Sehlats are good pets for that reason,” Amanda says as she looks back to her screen. “Stick a fork in I-Chaya and you would probably lose an arm, if he even noticed.”

“Yum,” replies Winona. “What are you even doing, by the way? Can it really not—”

“I’m shifting a few things around so I can write a long letter back to Sybok today,” Amanda says. “There’s a function tonight I have to attend, apparently, and I’m trying to convince Sybok to let me send a shuttle and get him because two decades and six months and his father’s death and his home planet’s destruction is now too long to go without seeing my son.”

“Annnnnnd forget I said anything,” Winona says. “What about the other two?”

“Jim is mine now?”

“Scuttlebutt says they’re close as can be,” Winona says, though she considers it and revises: “My internal scuttlebutt-to-standard translator interprets that as doing a lot of things to a lot of each other’s orifices. Also, I happen to know for a fact that if you smiled at either of my boys, you’d imprint on them in a second.”

“I can’t look at my schedule anymore,” Amanda sighs. “Cindy, please, work some magic and clear out 4.45 to 6 so I can do something about Sybok. While you’re rescheduling, don’t be afraid to play the grief-stricken barely-holding-it-together card if you need it—a few stifled sobs, too.”

“I’ll let you know how it goes,” Cindy says. She can’t hide how much she’s beaming at the chance to fuck with the people who call her constantly to fuck with her

“I’ll get her home by three, Mom,” Winona says to Cindy, who has already retreated to her desk in the waiting room and begun to bury herself back in her work. “Nice kid. Good to know only animal torture flusters her; I think that’s a solid line to have.”

Amanda’s carrying with her the memory of her conversation with Spock about the honors list. If Winona knows anything about that whole situation (how Spock says her son wants her out of the running for the permanent fleet captain position she deserves because Jim has too many personal and depressing memories held against her), she hasn’t let on at all. Amanda’s not sure what Spock has done about it, if anything, or if she should even say anything because she might be too involved. And how does one fix the Kirks, exactly? She doesn’t want to do that, but if she doesn’t do something, Winona may get shut out of her promotion entirely.

“Have you heard from Jim lately?” Amanda asks as they walk to their usual lunch spot.

“Didn’t I just ask you that?” Winona laughs. “No, I haven’t. It’s nice of you to ask, though, every time we see each other. We don’t talk like you and Spock do.”

“Spock and I don’t talk the way we used to,” Amanda replies. “I—well, he’s very busy preparing for his next mission. It’s less than a year away and I can’t blame him at all for focusing on everything that needs to be done. Also, I hope this doesn’t make you uncomfortable, but are our sons are dating? Or sleeping together? Jim is a great boy, but did I ever tell you about the communications specialist Spock was seeing? I met her for one brilliant moment, and then Spock just throws her off and—it’s not that I don’t like Jim but—is it all right to be friends with your son’s ex-girlfriend? There we were, in the middle of a horrific disaster, and she was so eloquent and—also, I think he started dating when she was a student, but he’s never told me. Winona, he doesn’t tell me anything. It drives me insane that he’s finally become interesting and he won’t tell me damned thing.”

“You’re the only other mother I know,” Winona interrupts. If there’s more to it, it’s lost when the restaurant door opens and the business casual din inside rushes at them and drowns out the rest. They’re shown a table near the back, away from the windows, which is always open for them even though neither of them asked for it. Maybe it’s Cindy working some assistant magic when Amanda isn’t looking, or maybe it’s a setup for their eventual assassinations. Hard to say, really, and hard for Amanda to care when she puts off lunch almost every day and this is so convenient.

“Did you hear what I said?” Winona asks when they’ve sat and ordered drinks.

“I’m the only mother you know,” she repeats.

“Right. The rest? No? Okay. Maybe you can—okay, is this just me, or is it a mom thing, because I don’t know and the books don’t know and my annual psych evals don’t know, but.” She shifts in her seat like she doesn’t want others around them to hear. Amanda leans in a little as Winona asks, “When your kids were young, did you ever imagine what they would be like?”

“Of course,” Amanda says. “Yes, I—we talked about it constantly. Neither of them surprised us, I think. We always knew Sybok would take a slightly different path than anyone expected, and Spock. Well. I suppose the same goes for him. I thought Spock would keep teaching after his tour. I think Sarek hoped that Spock would become a public servant like him, and that’s sort of what Spock’s doing now. It's what diplomats do, isn’t it? Build up a service record they can exploit later to show how they have and haven’t lived full lives as the citizens they hope to represent?”

“First of all: wow, skipping that. Second: I never imagined a path for Jim,” Winona says. “Sam, sure. He’s smarter and I’d get messages all the time from him and his teachers about this award and could he go to this special program for gifted kids, now he gets grants and speaking engagements at grown-up science fairs, blah blah blah. No one ever talks about how Sam’s so much more like his father than Jim. The whole time I knew him, Iowa was all about keeping his head down, studying, publishing, with no time for my nonsense.” Winona sits back in her chair and says, “Now Jim? I never imagined what he would become. I thought he’d stay in Riverside forever, like the rest of George’s family, fixing cars with a usual drink and a usual spot at his usual bar.”

“He’s here, though,” Amanda says.

“I know, he’s always around and I’ll be damned if people don’t run into me every five minutes and casually mention what Jim’s doing and have I spoken to him lately—”

“No, Winona, he’s here,” Amanda says. “He and Spock just walked in.”

“Did you plan this?” Winona hisses.

“No, but I think I know who did,” she replies as Spock approaches their table, flanked by Jim and a pair of waiters carrying two extra seats. He has Sarek’s smile, she realizes, and it jars her like the sensation of falling as she’s about to sleep.

*

Amanda followed Spock off the bridge and resisted grabbing him. He was determined to outpace her, or he didn’t notice that she was following him, but soon she realized where he was headed. 

“Clear the room,” he said to the operators behind the glass, and Amanda stepped aside as they rushed out. She followed him inside and kept her distance as he walked around the pad then stepped on the spot where Sarek was supposed to have materialized. 

“I hadn’t spoken to Father for two years before today,” Spock said. “Not directly, not—not without you there, not without using you as a reason for interacting.”

“I know,” Amanda said.

“Did he tell you?”

“You’re both very obvious. You’re also very bad at lying. You should probably work on that.”

“Vulcans do not lie.”

“They may not call it lying but believe me, they lie. They lie a lot, for reasons as selfish as Terrans and everyone else in the Federation, and probably beyond, too.”

“He said once—when I started that fight in school.”

“Oh, I remember. You don’t forget your gentle, quiet son beating the crap out of an older bully.”

Spock swallowed hard before he said, “Father said that because he was the ambassador to Earth, and he had to observe and understand human behavior, it was logical to marry a human... to marry you.”

Amanda stared at Spock, who wouldn’t lift his head to meet her eyes, and she’s torn between so many reactions: laughing hysterically, resurrecting Sarek to kill him all over again, screaming at every single person in her family because Sarek, Spock, and Sybok are, actually, the stupidest people who have ever lived, and she wants to sob because she never had the chance to tell Sarek that he was a complete fucking idiot and probably stunted their son’s normal emotional development the one time she left him on his own to talk to Spock.

“It’s not true,” Amanda said, finally.

“Perhaps he lied to you as well,” Spock said.

“Not for almost thirty years,” Amanda replied. “Not when you have a marriage bond, not when—you’ve had a taste of what we faced when we were married, all the xenophobia, all the species purists who thought you were an abomination, and—it’s strange, the things you don’t want to expose people to because you love them, and the things you’ll withstand only because you love them.”

Spock said nothing, but he crouched on the pad, one knee on the floor, his fingertips touching where Sarek would have stood if he had made it, as if there was even a little of the dirt from the bottom of Sarek’s shoes he could collect on his fingertips. Anything, she realized; he would have taken anything Sarek given him. She felt so much anger at Sarek, such a fury for making her watch this. They would never be close now. Spock would never love Sarek, not the way he loves her and Sybok, and not the way she and Sybok love Sarek. 

She sat on the edge of the transporter pad, next to him but still not touching him. Spock stood up and paced to the other side of the pad. She didn’t need to look to know that he was standing where she had materialized hours before. “There is a man out there,” Spock said after a time. “One who I have never met, who destroyed our planet and everyone and everything on it. I hate him. I hate that he took my father, our planet, our entire world. I can’t feel logic anymore, not about this. I don’t understand. I hated Vulcan, Mother, because they would not have me, and now I hate this man for taking it from me. Vulcan would not have me on my own terms, and Father was surprised that I—that I could not stay there. How could I not hate him as well for wanting me to be less than I am?”

“It’s anger, Spock,” Amanda said. “And I feel it, too. You didn’t hate your father.”

“I think I did,” Spock said.

“You can love someone and be angry with them,” she said. “You can’t live without anger. If you pretend it doesn’t exist, it’ll eat you alive.”

For all his anger at Sarek, Amanda still had the sense that he didn’t trust her judgment as quickly as he would trust Sarek’s on any given subject. Maybe it was because he was so desperate for anything from Sarek that anything offered he would take—didn’t he take the chance as a seven-year-old to camp out alone in the desert for 10 days to prove that he could do it? 

Then again, didn’t Sarek and his cronies offer Spock a backhanded slap and a spot in the VSA, the best science institution in the Federation, and didn’t Spock tell them to fuck themselves? 

Point is, Spock stood behind her on the pad, quiet for a long time, before he said, “There are things I must do.” He stepped off the pad, gave her a hand up, and embraced her tightly before he left for the bridge again. 

*

“Mother,” Spock says as he sits on Amanda’s left and Winona’s right, Jim across from him with his gaze fixed at a point somewhere on Spock’s forehead. “I thought you took lunches earlier than this.”

“I had a few things to take care of before I left,” she says as she takes Spock’s hand and grips a little too tightly. He can take it, that asshole. He’s just like his father. She drops his hand and smiles at Jim, her best beatific mother smile. “And how are you doing, Jim? Haven’t seen you in a very long time.”

“Doing great, Dr. Grayson." Jim smiles like he's proud of himself for remembering she's Dr. Grayson, and he asks, "You weren’t in the linguistics department when I was a cadet, were you? Swear I would have taken one of your classes if they had been offered.”

“That’s so sweet of you to say,” Amanda says. They are both so much better at this schmoozing thing than their table partners. “I did teach there before Spock was born, and taught for some time on Vulcan, but it’s only recently that I’ve rejoined the world of academia.”

“Well, I’m sorry it happened under the circumstances they did,” Jim replies. “Did you ever think of coming back before this?”

Jim’s attentive eyes locked on hers, disconcerting in their attention and intensity. Winona waves down a waiter and orders herself another drink. She can hear Spock hmm slightly—really, can he get drunk? Does he wish he could?

“Actually,” Jim adds, “Why did you come back?”

“You know how it happens,” she replies. “First there’s a crisis, then a need develops. Sometimes there’s no choice except to throw yourself into the fray.”

“I definitely understand what that’s like,” he says. He’s so good at sounding so much older than he is, and so genuinely sympathetic. “So. What’s everyone ordering?”

“Jim, why are you and Spock here?” Winona asks. She turns to Spock, though, and says, “I don’t know if Jim mentioned this to you, but we’re not exactly the sit-down-and-eat-together kind of family.”

“I assure you, it—”

“Spock, are you about to lie?” Amanda asks. 

“I was genuinely unaware that you and Commander Kirk would be here today,” Spock replies.

Jim runs his hand over his stubble and laughs the laugh of someone who just realized his usual lunch destination had experienced a sudden shift because his friend was incapable of lying about a setup, which could have saved them a lot of time and lunches surrounded by all the ribbed-neck collars that frequented this place in particular.

“And it’s Captain Kirk, Commander,” Winona adds. “That much is official.”

“Not Fleet Captain, then?” Spock asks.

“That’s confidential, Commander, but for the sake of brevity, fleet captains still go by Captain, the same way no one is calling Chris Pike Rear Admiral Pike, hilarious as that would be.”

“My apologies, Captain. Have you been designated a vessel or assignment yet? I ask as a friend of your son, and I am interested in learning more about you.”

Amanda bursts out laughing and has to hide behind her napkin until the tears come.

“Mom,” Jim says while Amanda tries to stop laughing and Spock tries to vaporize Amanda with his eyes. “Spock’s worried that I’ll somehow be compromised if my ship ends up under your—whatever—purview—as fleet captain. Could you please let him know that’s bullshit?”

“Spock, that’s bullshit,” Winona assures him. “It’s bullshit because Pike has agreed to supervise the Enterprise no matter where she's assigned, and I was always going to ask someone else to do that. If either of you had been Starfleet officers for longer than the time it’s TAKING MY DRINK TO GET HERE.” 

The waiter was standing several feet behind Winona’s shoulder, waiting for a less dramatic and intrusive point to come in, but clearly that wasn’t going to happen.

“Thanks,” she says to the waiter as he runs off again. “As I was saying: the admiralty right now, because of that shitshow that haunts us all, will approve an amendment to 619 that includes what they used to call a conflict of interest policy. Sort of a pre-emptive strike against invoking 619: if, upon assignment, an officer believes additional factors may cause duress and compromise said assignment—”

“I’m sorry, I have to interrupt,” Amanda says. “Maybe this is my living in ancient texts speaking, but how has Starfleet not had a conflict of interest policy in place until now?”

Winona’s thumb motions at Spock, whose eyes narrow ever so slightly before he reaffirms his composure.

“Terrans, of course, have known for a long time that emotions run high and there need to be guidelines in place to protect people from themselves,” Winona says. “Historically, the Vulcan ambassadors kept a clause like that from being added to Starfleet regulations because it was illogical—Starfleet was about science, exploration, and rising above that sort of thing.” Winona looks at Spock again and Amanda can see the two of them locked in a contest of wills that she did not expect at all. Winona adds, “Now that the collective Vulcan psyche has been put through a figurative blender, we emotional Terrans have gotten our way and 619 will be amended.”

“And you were just going to let me sweat it out?” Jim asks.

“Right now, Jim? At this table? I think you’ve got the cooler head.”

Amanda watches Spock, who looks down at his lap, folds his napkin, and says, “I apologize, but I must excuse myself. Perhaps we can all gather at another time and enjoy another meal together.”

“I’ll talk to you tonight, Spock,” Amanda says as she takes his hand (hot, clammy, his joints tense from clenching his hand into a fist under the table).

He squeezes her hand slightly, then slips away and leaves the restaurant. Amanda looks at Jim, who watches him go before he turns to Winona with a cold smile. “So, Mom. That was Spock. Did you like him?”

“He has good intentions,” Winona replies as she looks into her drink like it’s the only company she has. “Your dad did, too.” She puts her drink down, though, and asks Jim, “Did he really think we wouldn’t be able to work together? Where’d he get that idea?”

Jim looks carefully at Amanda, but says nothing.

“Hold on there,” Amanda says. “I didn’t know any of this was happening until Spock came into my office and yelled at me for—well, for a lot of things.”

“No, not that,” Jim says. “I mean for... well.” Jim takes his turn at breaking eye contact and traces his thumb through the condensation of his water glass. (Some womanizing party animal the legendary Jim Kirk turned out to be, talking about another man’s feelings with a pair of mothers over his non-alcoholic lunch.) “He was a happy kid, wasn’t he? I see it a lot, the way he comes up against a wall when people—when they’re not happy, or have weird relationships with their parents, or don’t keep in touch with their families, or get divorced. You should see the shit he gives Bones, who’s got all of those and a little kid he doesn’t see very often.”

“I think I understand that,” Amanda replies. “We did keep a lot from him when he was younger. We didn’t show him how awful people could be about our family.”

“Well, here’s the blowback,” Jim says. He doesn’t say it, but something in his face when he looks at Amanda suggests it—strangely enough, the way she can sometimes feel Sybok’s thoughts that he doesn’t express. She thinks, Spock wants to protect him

She wonders if Spock has actually felt that before, about anyone.

*

Spock had let himself into Amanda’s house and turned on all the lights. She was still a little startled, though, when she came into the living room and saw him sitting in a corner by the window, staring ahead, meditative but for the anger radiating off him even at that distance.

“Hey, honey,” she says as she closes the door behind her. “Everything all right? I didn’t think I’d see you tonight.”

“Mother, you made a fool of me,” Spock says.

“Excuse me?”

“I left lunch and went directly to my office at the Academy to confirm what Captain Kirk had told us. I discovered it was all true, and that the new clause was supported by the latest research contributed by Grayson, A., Chair of the Starfleet Linguistics Department.”

“What are you talking about?” she asks. “This is the first I’m hearing about it. I mean, yes, I submitted a paper to the department as part of taking on the chair but—Spock, I promise you, I didn’t know it would be used like this. You know I haven’t been back at the Academy in such a long time. There used to be procedures to use one’s work in policy, and this—”

“Your paper on the new language of grief,” he continues. “I may have read correspondence I shouldn’t have, but someone will be coming by your office to speak to you about its contribution to the amendment to 619. You suggested the new, unprecedented levels of destruction and resulting levels of grief will mean that the consequences will be tangible, as seen in the Enterprise’s logs from the day of the Battle of Vulcan.”

“Spock, please explain why you’re upset about this. This will help everyone in Starfleet. We’ve all suffered such devastating loss, as directly as our family and as indirectly as everyone who lost their friends in all that—that carnage.” She steps closer, but Spock sits up straighter, his shoulders a crisper line under his casual commander’s shirt.

“I don’t know, Mother,” he says. “I don’t know why I’m upset, I just—I am upset. I am angry and I am angry at you and I cannot articulate the reasons but I am angry and cannot help it and I can barely control it at this moment.”

“I know. I know, don’t you think I know that?” She sighs and has to figure out what Spock wants, if anything, what he needs to hear. He doesn’t want to discuss anything calmly, he wants something, and the faster he gets it, the sooner they can go back to how they were. (She hopes.) 

“This new regulation could help you, too. When I got back to my office, I read it in full and it sounds like—if you’re serious about Jim Kirk, about being his first officer and staying—close to him, it’ll enact safeguards so that your work won’t be compromised.” She sits on a couch near him, still too far for her liking, and says, “That day you came into my office with all those accusations—you had never spoken to me that way. I couldn’t believe you were the same Spock. I had never seen you that way over someone else.”

“What was wrong with the things I said?” Spock asks. She sees that he’s folded his hands together, palm to palm and fingers straight up, all pressed against his mouth. Had Sarek done that? She would have remembered. No, Sybok. Sybok used to do that, when he needed to center himself again. She can feel through their bond, though, that it’s not helping. “I believed Winona Kirk was using you for her professional gain. I believed her history, as Jim as related to me, where she was a mother who abandoned her children with an abusive step-parent that drove his brother to leave home and nearly drove Jim to suicide when he—he was just a child. What part, Mother, of protecting my friend from being under her power again was I wrong in trying to prevent?”

She has nothing for that. She doesn’t. She can’t change the Kirks’ history, or anything that happened to them, or anything that they’ve done to each other, but she can help Spock.

“I don’t think I was wrong when I said we should distance ourselves from the Kirks,” she says. “You may be right about Winona and Jim—only they know for sure, Spock. You can handle how you’re reacting to this, though. You’re—it’s clearly so much stress, falling so hard for one person after losing your father, and wanting to protect them and yourself from being hurt by anything.”

“I will care for Jim for as long as he will have me,” Spock says, refusing to meet her eyes.

“And what about Uhura?”

“Pardon me?”

“You heard me. Uhura. Nyota Uhura. Your communications officer on the Enterprise. Where has she been all this time?”

“It’s a long—”

“Yes, Spock, it’s a long story and believe it or not, I’ve lived a longer one than you, one that started before you and has continued right beside you, and I’ve been wondering in all this madness for Jim Kirk: where’s Uhura?”

Spock meets her eyes and says, “She didn’t need me. Jim did.”

“She wanted you.”

Spock looks away and stares at a spot on the floor near Amanda’s feet. Eventually, he meets her eyes again. Yes, hadn’t she told him, You can love someone and be angry with them. You can’t live without anger. How good of him to take her advice, finally.

“You are right: this is about caring for Jim and protecting him, but it has nothing to do with Nyota and nothing to do with my father’s death. My father may have provided for us and given me great privileges that I used to the fullest in building my career, but he didn’t—he never cared for me, not as you care. Not as Sybok cares. And even Jim, who—who when we first met was not the most sympathetic or generous person—even Jim has shown me more genuine feeling in these short months than my father ever did.”

“You can’t say that,” Amanda says. “You can’t speak about Sarek like that, Spock, you can’t. You can’t think so little of him and how much he loved you.”

And then, Spock yelled.

“You CANNOT,” he says, standing up and switching right into the formal voice with none of its implied restraint, “Tell me I have feelings, that I have Terran feelings—human feelings and a disposition to express them in a human fashion—and then presume, even demand, that I express them according to your specifications.” His eyes narrow at her as he says, “You cannot tell me how to feel about my father’s death and our relationship.”

“And you can’t deny that he never cared for you! You can’t ignore the—”

“He lied to me,” Spock says. “The fundamental fact of our relationship was fixed to his relationship with you, the reason I exist, the reason we are a family, and that was founded on a lie.”

“Oh, Spock, not this again.”

“Yes, this again. This again and for the rest of our lives because my father had the opportunity—”

“Don’t say my father like that,” Amanda says. “Don’t reduce him to his role, as if he—”

“Again! You cannot tell me how to feel and how to express that!” Amanda holds up her hands and wants so much to stand up and walk away (sometimes the only way to end a fight with Sarek was just walking away), but she stays. “He had one moment in which he could be honest with me, completely honest, and show that our family wasn’t two Vulcans pitted against a Terran and Sybok, but that we—” Spock looks away and inhales sharply before he can finish. “That we had one bond in this world and it was how much we loved you.”

Just as Amanda’s heart starts to break again and crumble at her feet, Spock adds, “And he lied about that. For as long as he lived.”

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m sorry this is what you remember. I’m sorry. If it had been me—”

“Don’t,” he says softly.

“If it had been me,” she insists, “You would know it then.” Spock shakes his head as she adds, “There’s never enough time, not for everything we want to do.”

“It’s late,” Spock says. “Jim is waiting for me. I have to go.”

He hugs her briefly, doesn’t let her cling, and leaves in an instant.

*

She doesn’t hear from Spock. 

For the first week, he doesn’t call. 

The week after, she calls him. She calls him every few days and he always picks up, but he says he’s on the way to a meeting or a special event—once, he actually uses the phrase a thing as Jim whispers something at him just out of her hearing.

It goes on like that until she’s summoned to meet with Chris Pike, who she catches during his physical therapy. Physical therapy seems to consist of walking around his office with a cane and avoiding his nurse—male, for the record, so Pike seems to feel better about tossing his bravado out and shouting as loud as he wants.

“Hey, thanks for dropping by.” His nurse walks slowly next to him and Pike allows him to intone some kind of mantra for approximately six seconds before he says, “Kyle, shut up. Amanda, please, sit or stand there and watch my legs embarrass the hell out of me, but you should probably sit so one of us can be comfortable, huh? Great. Everything’s great. Everyone is great. Hey, have you heard from Spock lately?”

Since he offered it, she does take a seat. In fact, she places the chair so it faces the rest of the office that Pike is using for a fairground and he shoots her a look. “Gee, thanks. I wasn’t self-conscious at all.”

“You’re doing very well,” she notes, “Considering the torture.”

“Tell me about it,” he replies. “Springtime for Chris, that’s what you’re watching right now. Amanda?” Pike sighs for full effect. “I—shit, how do I describe myself. Tactics: that’s my thing. I’m not really a scientist, not like the way Spock knows something about every science but his true love seems to be sticking his head in computers and making them work better.” Pike interrupts to turn and shout, “Kyle? Son? You’re gonna have to stop breathing down my neck or I’ll saw off my own leg and you’re gonna have to report that as a FAIL, okay? Two steps in front or behind me, and no talking.” 

Amanda looks at Kyle, who smiles at her. She’s pleasantly surprised to see his same shit, different asshole nonchalance before he looks back to Pike’s legwork.

“Anyway, I’ve noticed this distinct correlation between Spock arguing with you and Spock losing his goddamned mind.”

“Should I remind you that correlation doesn’t imply causation?”

Pike smiles at her, a mean little thing, and keeps flexing his legs as he walks the perimeter of his office. 

“Thanks for the reminder, though here’s a list of the couple of things your son’s been up to since Jim Kirk casually mentioned to me a few weeks ago that Spock wasn’t talking to you.” He stops walking and leans on his cane, staring at Amanda in the most dramatic fashion possible.

“He’s refused his honors. He’s refused his assignment as Jim Kirk’s XO to the Enterprise. He’s resigned his commission and his position on the Academy faculty. However, he has applied to join the resettlement project on the new Vulcan colony.” 

“He left Jim?” she asks. “What happened there?”

“I was hoping you could tell me,” he replies.

“Well, I can’t,” she says. “We haven’t had time to speak.”

Amanda folds her hands and takes a moment to think about everything. She hears Pike sigh as he keeps moving around the office, muttering to Kyle, “But that hurts. I thought we lived in the future, Kyle. We’ve got flying cars, so why does this hurt?”

“I’ll speak to him,” Amanda says. “Though, fair warning: Spock is stubborn. If he wants to resign from Starfleet for now and participate in the new settlement, then there’s nothing any of us can do when he sets his mind to it. He’s... he’s very single-minded. He doesn’t take direction well.”

“Amanda, for the purposes of clearing ourselves of liability and from being subpoenaed at a later point should, say, your son or Jim Kirk end up in the middle of yet another disaster, please keep in mind that you can’t tell me things like the youngest first officer in the active fleet doesn’t take direction well.” Pike looks at her carefully and says, “You’re Starfleet now. We’re a family. We protect our own.”

“That’s a dangerous attitude, Admiral,” she replies.

“Dangerous until your son and everyone he cares about come under its protection, am I right?”

“I understand the rhetorical appeal to filial loyalty, but I wonder whether you understand how that kind of attitude can suggest preferential treatment to Starfleet officers over the greater good they swear to uphold.”

Pike... he’s very good at staring. After a moment, he nods at Amanda and says, “You’re absolutely right, and that wasn’t my intention. I apologize.” He shifts his weight on the cane and says, “I told you, what, five, six years ago, when we came back from Spock’s training mission? I speak for Starfleet when I say that we’re lucky to have him. I, personally, think he can accomplish more folded within our ranks and applying his knowledge and practical skills to the new civilizations the Enterprise will encounter, and that will make its way to the Vulcan colony.”

Hadn’t Sarek said exactly that, years ago, talking about Spock’s future on Vulcan? Why they had to stay on Vulcan—Spock was so gifted in the sciences and Vulcan was where his abilities would be used to their fullest. Sarek had been wrong about that, and Spock himself had lashed out against the offer to study at the VSA. Here they were, years later, and Spock had fit somewhere for the briefest of moments—now he had outgrown Starfleet, too.

“I’ll speak to him, but I won’t ask him to rejoin Starfleet,” Amanda says.

Amanda rises from her seat and leaves Pike’s office, only to find Winona leaning against his assistant’s desk and listening intently to what she was saying. They look up when Amanda steps out and Winona raises her eyebrows. “We’re all on the search for Spock, I take it?” Winona asks.

“Are we?” Amanda asks.

Pike steps out behind Amanda and sees Winona at the desk. “Oh, hell.”

“Have you been looking at your ship’s rosters at all, Chris?” Winona asks. “Did you notice our golden boy doesn’t have a first officer listed?”

“Yeah, we’re working on it,” Pike sighs.

“You’re working on it?”

“Yes, Captain, I’m working on it.”

“Are you pulling rank on me?”

“You wouldn’t hit a guy with a cane, Kirk, not in front of witnesses.”

“I absolutely would hit a guy who uses a cane, and I’d use his own cane against him, especially if it’s you. Kyle likes me better. He’ll never tell.”

“I have to go find my son,” Amanda announces. “Please don’t murder each other.”

“Murder’s too easy,” Winona says, fixing her eyes on Pike.

“Linda, what happened to taking appointments?” Pike asks as Winona slips into Pike’s office. “And what happened to never ever ever letting Captain Kirk in here? Linda this is the one I meant. Dammit, no one listens to me.”

*

She knocks at Spock’s front door and Jim answers. “Is he here?” she asks.

“Yeah,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck. “He’s debating how much decorative shit he should take to the windowless box the Corps of Engineers will set up for him on this new colony.”

“Surely they can make windows now,” she says as she steps inside.

“Building a new settlement on a barely inhabited or explored planet where ten thousand different factors could change the atmospheric conditions within minutes, days, weeks? Windows aren’t really a priority. Anyway.” He points his thumb towards the bedroom and she smiles at him as she walks to the back.

Spock sits on the bed, surrounded by impractical things, and looks up when she enters. “What did you bring with you when you moved to Vulcan?” he asks. “I brought so much when I entered the Academy, and now all of this seems garish in the face of people who have nothing.”

“You’re right, less is more,” she says. “Can I sit?”

“Yes, of course,” he says. “Clear a spot, I suppose.”

“Hey Spock,” Jim calls from the front room. “I’m going to campus—Linda thinks my mom might be murdering Pike? You could stop this all if you tried! I’m really leaving now! For campus! But soon I’ll be gone forever! I’m joking because your mom’s here! This is totally your decision and I respect your autonomy! Okay I’m really going now! Bye, Spock! Bye, Dr. Grayson!”

“Amanda’s fine!” she calls back.

“He is still there,” Spock says. “I think I have let him underestimate how well I can hear.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, he wasn’t kidding—I’m fairly sure Winona will kill Admiral Pike soon.” Amanda sits on the edge of the bed. After a moment, she asks, “And how have you been?”

“Pike told you.”

“He did, but I wish you had told me. I think I understand why you resigned.”

“I asked Jim to come with me,” Spock says. “He refused.”

“I’m sorry.”

“He said he couldn’t. He wants to, but—but he has to be on a starship. He has to be a captain. He can do nothing else. He would try, but he knows that he would long for space.”

“You know, he’s much smarter than everyone says.”

“He is,” Spock agrees. “And because I know you will ask, as you always do: Nyota has accepted the senior communications officer post on the Enterprise.”

“And you won’t go with them,” Amanda says.

“I wish Sybok would return already,” he says, lowering his head even further. “He would know what to say. He sees the obvious that I always miss. Jim does as well, but Jim—he knows what he wants, and will do or say anything to get it. He wants me on that ship.”

“And you’ve asked yourself what you want?”

“I know what I don’t want,” Spock replies. “I don’t want to be a member of a xenophobic institution that alleges to prioritize discovery and advancement before all things while disparaging all who defy their established paradigms. Starfleet isn’t much better with its political maneuvers that I will never be observant or objective enough to master, as we learned from my miserable failure to protect Jim when he, of all people, didn’t need protection, least of all from me. What are my options, Mother?”

“Do you think I fit in anywhere?” she asks.

Spock turns the question over silently. “When I think of Father, I think—do you remember my first trip to Earth? Perhaps it was not my first, but it was the first I remember. Father was presenting to the Federation Council and when I think of him, I think of him there, and he is always giving a speech, and we are always in the balcony—you, me, and Sybok. When I think of Sybok, I remember our last day together. He wanted to be outside, see Vulcan for what could—what was the last time, and the four of us spent the entire day outside, eating and talking and playing with I-Chaya.”

She can’t dwell on those memories long. She remembers holding Spock in her lap as he squirmed during Sarek’s speech, because he had behaved so well on the long ride to Earth and during the presentation to all those heads of state, but then sitting and listening quietly to something he didn’t understand—Sybok had taken him outside shortly after Sarek began his address. It was amazing he remembered any of it at all. She can’t think on the last day the four of them were all together, now that she realizes it was the last day they would ever be together.

“How about me, Spock?” she asks, hoping that her voice keeps steady.

“When I think of you,” he says slowly, “I think of Vulcan. Vulcan as it should have been. I think of our home, of your study. I am glad that you have found a place here again because I think it was what you wanted, but I will always think of you and remember our home.”

They’re quiet for a long time. Her hearing isn’t as good as it used to be, but she can still hear the shift of the couch in the front room as someone tries to get comfortable in their eavesdropping. She lowers her voice.

“Winona told me that you would likely be assigned a deep space mission: exploring new planets and civilizations,” Amanda says.

Spock nods. “Five years.”

She laughs and asks, “So where do you see yourself in five years?” He smiles a little, too, as she adds, “Are you building or exploring? On the ground or on a ship? Alone or—not?”

Spock straightens his shoulders and says, “Whatever I decide, you must come to some of the functions Starfleet will hold for the Enterprise’s launch. Nyota attends every one with us, hoping to see you again. She admires you very much.”

“Right: I was asking Winona if that was awkward the other day but of course she doesn’t know—anyway, you have to give Nyota my addresses so she can stay in touch on her mission, because I absolutely will be stealing her for the Linguistics department during every leave. That’s going to happen, Spock, so make sure you put us in touch.”

“We separated on good terms,” Spock says. “It’s fortunate that you mention working with her or she would have had to take terrifying measures herself to make it happen.”

“Terrifying measures? I seem to remember someone’s crush on their advanced computational science professor when they were a teenager, if those extra credit assignments were anything to go by.”

Spock smiles, but he’s distracted, his head bowed as he looks at his hands in his lap, thinking about something. Amanda says something about making tea and gets up, but then Spock says, “The problem inherent in our discourse, yours and mine, is that we have defined our lexicons and decision-making processes from fields very much opposed in methodology and results. You come to me with conjugations, definitions, equivalencies, shifts in meaning through tone, inflection, context, intention. Those work for you, but not for me.”

She blinks. “All right. I... that might be true...”

Spock nods, more to himself than Amanda, and says, “Excuse me.”

He heads to the front room and Amanda tries to look without looking. She can see Jim stand from the couch and hears him say, my ride’s on the way, before Spock interrupts him without saying anything. She looks back to his things placed very deliberately on the bedspread, smiles when she hears Jim laugh and yell NERD loud enough to reach her.

“I’m getting coffee!” Jim calls down the hall. “You want any, Dr. Grayson?”

She gets up and heads into the kitchen, where Spock had been leaning his chin on Jim’s shoulder. As she comes in, Spock stands up straight again so he could pretend he was helping in the two-man task of synthesizing coffee. 

“Wait until I tell Uhura, actually wait until I tell your mom,” Jim says as he punches a code into the wall unit. 

“That isn’t necessary,” Spock says quickly.

Jim, I have recalibrated my trajectory and the factors influencing my orbital determination,” Jim mimics as he hands Amanda a full cup of coffee. Spock might look embarrassed, but Amanda focuses her attention on Jim for the moment.

“What’s this? A starship captain with no love for celestial mechanics?” She looks past Jim at Spock and adds to him, “A science officer who has some use for metaphors?”

“Believe me, from now on, no one will take celestial mechanics as seriously as I do,” Jim replies. “All important future announcements will be presented on star charts with equations, solve for—I don’t know—renewing the initial five-year mission for another tour.” He laughs at Spock and says, “You know, like sixty or seventy times.”

“I can leave here, walk down the street to Admiral Pike—”

Jim doesn’t have to say, you won’t, not when their expressions say it so clearly for them.

*

It takes one last, short note to Sybok to get him back to San Francisco:

Your brother is leaving for a deep space mission. Please come back soon.

He finally agrees to let a direct shuttle bring him from Efros to Earth.

“And what the hell were you doing on Efros?” Amanda asks the second she’s trapped him in a hug she’ll never release him from.

“You’re choking me, first of all,” he says. “And can I hug my brother? My taller than me little brother who is going exploring.” Sybok releases Amanda and takes Spock by the shoulders. They look each other up and down; Spock raises his eyebrow at Sybok’s beard and Sybok finally pulls him into a hug as he laughs. “I didn’t believe it was you until you looked at me like I was out of my fucking mind. Oh, I’ve missed that. People have given me that look all over the galaxy, but no one does it as well as you.”

Spock hugs him right back and says, “I am so fortunate this is my legacy to the unexplored planets we are about to visit.”

“Spock, don’t leave. Please stay. I’ve missed your bitchiness. You have no idea how empty my life has been without your little sarcastic eyebrows and—” Sybok pulls away and asks Amanda, “And when did he get this tall? Wasn’t he waist-high when I left?”

“If you think you’re ever leaving for that long again, you have another thing coming,” Amanda warns him.

“I would have been here sooner,” Sybok tells them. “Right after Vulcan. I would have, but as I got closer to Sol, there—there’s so much grief in the systems surrounding where Vulcan had been, and I—I had to stop and help.”

“We have so much to catch up on,” Amanda says. She tugs at Spock’s hand and says, “Tell Jim about dinner tonight, and tell him to bring whoever he’d like.” She knows Jim now, and she’s careful not to say your family or your mother, just—whoever he’d like, because if Jim bothers to like them, to think of them, then that’s who he counts as close as family.

At Amanda’s house, Spock sits on the floor of the room Sybok has taken and tries to make sense of the electronics Sybok has brought back with him from the edges of the Federation, people whose technology had been influenced by other empires and collectives Spock has yet to learn much about. 

Sybok goes through the house with Amanda, ostensibly to re-learn it, but mostly he wants to know what he’s missed.

“I’m sorry I stayed away.”

“Was it because of us?”

Sybok shakes his head. She loves the beard, she really does, but he could do with a trim, and a haircut, too. She won’t push it (yet). “It’s hard to explain without hurting your feelings,” Sybok says. “I just. I couldn’t be on Vulcan anymore. Or Earth. Or any of these stupid core planets, obsessed with so much garbage that none of them actually care about but can’t stop pretending to care about—it’s difficult. I had to get away. I had to see what else was out there.” He smiles, then, and says, “Of course, about five years in, I realized people were essentially the same no matter where I went.”

“The rest was just confirming your theory.”

“And helping,” he says. “I think I helped a lot. I tried, anyway. I’m a pretty good healer now. I think now that I’m here, I can actually contribute something, maybe even make myself useful as a counselor.”

“Spock was thinking about joining the Vulcan colony,” Amanda says as she remembers what Spock had said—that Sybok would know what to say and would tell him what to do (if Spock hadn’t already decided). “He resigned from Starfleet, actually, for about eight hours.”

Sybok laughs and asks, “Spock? Living somewhere without constant universal network access, five years behind the latest Starfleet technology, with no goal except to help others? We could have sold tickets to that.” He shakes his head and adds, “I don’t mean to make him sound like a brat.”

“He’s a brat,” Amanda agrees.

“I missed our brat,” Sybok says. “And who’s Jim?” 

Amanda’s mouth drops open as she struggles to explain in less than 30 hours’ worth of slides and charts, but Sybok waves his hands. “I’m kidding, I just wanted to see what you’d do.”

“Sybok, please know what when I roll my eyes and say I’m so glad you’re back, I don’t mean it sarcastically. I’m so glad you’re back.”

“I figured something was up when Spock began casually mentioning this Jim person 40 or 50 times in every letter to me.”

“I don’t want to talk about it—they’re together, they’re happy, they’re going to space, and now I can get back to work.” Sybok raises his eyebrows and she can almost see him as a skeptical and amused seven-year-old again. “I love you both dearly, but if you think I’m going to drop everything to become your quiet mother and offer couples' counseling when it's convenient—no, okay? Just no.”

Sybok stops so he can take Amanda’s hands and say, with total seriousness, “I understand what you’re saying, but I object.”

“To what?”

“We can’t let Spock and his captain leave without insisting that Jim make him an honest man. You know, before he absconds with my little brother’s virtue to deep space. Maybe at dinner tonight.”

“I’ll think about it,” Amanda says. “You know his ex-girlfriend will be there, too.”

Their tour of the house has finally led them to the back garden. Sybok pushes the doors open and says, “The look on his face will be worth the twenty birthdays I missed, and a lot more.” 

After a moment, Sybok asks, “What do you think Father would have said?” About the prank, about my return, about our lives, about anything, please, anything goes unsaid.

He’s not gone, though. Not when Sybok has his eyebrows and Spock his cheerful demeanor (hah), Spock his height and Sybok his slow considering walk, Sybok the good memories and Spock the complicated ones. He can’t be gone, not when their sons are still alive and she’s still here. She’s still here to make sure diplomats all over the Federation can angrily switch off their commlinks and hiss, “Sarek,” under their breath because that ambassadorial dick seems infinitely preferable to Dr. Grayson come back from domesticity with a newfound passion for tearing into their bullshit for fun. She no longer has to worry about whether using the wrong respectful particle will guarantee the boys’ place in a lower module at school or render them social outcasts—

It turns out they were never going to be anything but outcasts. Those ten minutes of their lives when they tried to hack it as a normal family, though? She wouldn’t trade them in for anything in any world.

“Sarek? Hmm,” Amanda says. “He would have played along if he knew what was good for him. Maybe something about the proven stability in forming a spousal bond.”

“Oh, Spock would have bought that.” Sybok nods to himself, suddenly a little sad. “It would have been amazing.”

Maybe it’s a sign that she’s old, or still grieving almost a year after Sarek’s death, or the bond actually broke her brain when he died, but Sarek doesn’t feel gone. She still blames him for five or ten things every day, and wonders what he would have done when she’s faced with difficult decisions. She thinks the memory of him is strong enough to keep her company for the next couple of decades until she kicks it, too, or a new murderer from another dimension ends her life to Make a Point.

“We’ll make it work,” Amanda says. She smiles at him and the prank, your return, our lives, everything goes unsaid.