Kal'i'farr heh T'naehm by sixbeforelunch
Summary: On the eve of the Dominion War, two Vulcans come together following an inauspicious arranged marriage.
Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: Vreshm V'rsi T'Lin, Xkasha L'gar Veral
Genre: Family, Het
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: Pi'maat
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes Word count: 11181 Read: 341 Published: 15 Dec 2019 Updated: 15 Dec 2019

1. Chapter 1 by sixbeforelunch

Chapter 1 by sixbeforelunch

"Take my hand."

Suvin gave her his best approximation of the sort of withering stare that a clan elder might employ when one's logic was deeply flawed. "I fail to see the necessity in that." Since completing his kahs-wan some months ago, he had become invested in the idea that he was no longer a child. Unfortunately for him, most of the people around him disagreed with this assessment.

"I do see it," T'Lin said, and held out her hand. The train station in ShirKhar was crowded, and they might easily have been separated. Tourists herded tired children while their partners consulted PADDs and information kiosks. Small clusters of Ferengi and other commerce-minded people spoke in low, excited tones about exchange rates and banking regulations. Worn-looking students clutched their stimulants of choice while they commiserated with one another about teachers and thesis papers. Innumerable Vulcans wore the blank expression of one reciting the elementary disciplines so as to not attack the alien behind them who had stepped on their heel for the third time.

T'Lin, taking Suvin's reluctantly offered hand, guided them through the mass to a waiting area on the far side of the main terminal. It was less crowded here. The only trains that would leave from this track went south, over the Llangon Mountains, through Xental, and finally under the Straight of Ha'zen and into Xir'tan. Very few off-worlders went into Xir'tan. They came to Vulcan for the desert, for the tall spires and venerable institutions of ShirKhar, and for the chance to return home and tell their friends that they had been disdained by the legendarily aloof and prideful Vulcan people. A coastal region, with no cultural attractions of note and a strong custom of hospitality, did not fit their idea of Vulcan.

Suvin, released from her grip, settled with his PADD on one of the benches. They had come to ShirKhar so that he could interview for an intensive engineering program. Over his protests, their parents had refused to allow him to make the journey alone, and T'Lin had been volunteered as a suitable companion. She had seen her brother to the building where the interviews were taking place and spent most of the day in a small library in one of the alien conclaves.

There, she discovered a collection of antique Sherlock Holmes novels, codex-form and in the original pre-Standard English. She could not properly read them, of course. The stories of Sherlock Holmes might be the most widely-read alien work on Vulcan, but only a small group of dedicated scholars were inclined to learn pre-Standard English in order to read them in the original, and despite being the primary source language for Federation Standard, English had changed so much in 500 years that only most of the letters and a few, to her mind oddly-spelled, words were familiar.

The display had led to a discussion with the Terran librarian about the differences between pre-Standard English, Federation Standard English, and modern Terran English, the three languages having a common root but being as distinct as Old High Vulcan, ShirKhari Vulcan, and the Nal'shini language. T'Lin was not a linguist, but it was nevertheless a fascinating topic, though she had found a way to excuse herself once it became clear that her conversational partner intended to educate her on the history of the English language stretching back 1,500 years, beginning with something called the Norman Conquest, which was evidently of great import.

Suvin had not said a word about his interview. T'Lin suspected it had gone poorly. Her brother was not one to keep quiet when there was something good to speak of. She left him to his PADD, and did not even comment on the fact that he was playing a game rather than completing his school assignment.

The next train to Xir'tan would not leave for twenty five minutes. T'Lin connected her PADD to the network and found a news feed. The planetary news was of the usual kind. Tat'Sahr and Nal'shin were locked in negotiations over water rights in the northern Viltan Flats. They had been having the same argument since before recorded history, and the only difference now that everyone had read Surak was that the negotiators came armed with PADDs and not daggers, and there were no eviscerations to give the negotiations added interest.

The extra-planetary news was less comforting in its familiarity. T'Lin looked up from a story about the Changeling threat and saw again the teeming mass of people making their way through the station. Was one of the Ferengi emphatically arguing with his colleague about converting their latinum into local currency really an impostor looking to destabilize the economy? Was one of the students frowning over engineering specifications actually trying to work their way into a classified research project to gain access to military technology?

T'Lin forced her mind from these thoughts. That way lay paranoia, and ever since the Dominion threat had become known outside of military circles, their leaders had been warning them against exactly that.

The minutes passed. T'Lin, inspired by having seen the Sherlock Holmes books earlier, read "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle". It was the traditional Tamevil translation. More recent editions boasted superior translations, better informed by research into early modern Terran culture, but the Tamevil translation remained the most popular. He had captured best what made the stories appeal to the Vulcan mind: the logical deductions and the commitment to higher principle.

She was just finishing the story when the announcement came. It was repeated three times, in Vulcan and Federation Standard. A train had derailed in the Llangon Mountains. Southbound rail service out of ShirKhar was suspended until further notice.

There was a moment of utter silence, and then all at once voices babbled in hundreds of different languages. Even in all the confusion, it was impossible not to catch the word that passed through the crowd like an electrical charge. "Changelings."

Suvin looked at her with naked fear on his face. T'Lin took a breath and steadied herself. The aliens were scared. The Vulcans were too, though they masked it better and knew to shield their minds to keep their emotions from becoming a contagion.

T'Lin checked the news feed again. The news feed offered more information, none of it good. T'Lin skimmed quickly. Catastrophic engineering failure. Sabotage could not be ruled out at this time. A high casualty event.

"How are we going to get home?" Suvin asked.

"Give me a moment," T'Lin said, too sharply. She consulted her PADD again. The government had already issued a statement asking that only genuine emergencies go to transporter stations. They were fortunate that there were fewer people going south than north, and that most of those stranded were Vulcans and not off-worlders. Nevertheless, the planetary transporter systems could never handle the hundreds of thousands who took those trains each day. There would be rationing of access, and emergency responders would be taking priority. Ground cars were nearly useless outside of the cities, unless one had a desert vehicle, and even that would be unable to cross the straight. Shuttles would be rationed as tightly as the transporters, if not more so.

T'Lin allowed herself another deep breath and forced herself to focus.

"We will spend the night in ShirKhar," T'Lin said.

"We have no clan here."

"We have clan." Any member of their clan would be duty bound to offer them shelter in their need. The Clan of the Masutra to which they belonged had few houses outside of Xir'tan, however, and she knew of only one in ShirKhar. It was one that would prove personally...awkward for her. Now, though, was hardly the time to allow such concerns to take precedence.

"Come," T'Lin said and led Suvin out of the station through one of the emergency exits. Suvin's hand now was not offered reluctantly; he gripped her tightly.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"Veral lives in ShirKhar." His family did as well, but it would raise questions she did not wish to answer if she chose the more distant connection before seeking shelter with her own husband.

T'Lin did not know ShirKhar well, but with the help of a map on her PADD, she managed to find the shortest route to the area of the city that they sought. Shortest, however, was relative, and with all of the ground cars in the city taken, they were forced to walk ten point eight kilometers across the city, in the full heat of the ShirKhar summer.

Suvin was silent, speaking only once to ask her how many people had died when the train derailed, a question she could not answer. After that, he lapsed into a contemplative silence. It was gratifying to see him maturing enough to care about the deaths that had happened, and also to process his emotions on his own, but she would not have minded if he had just this once fallen back into his old ways of talking too much about everything he saw. It would have given her something to focus on.

As it was, her mind continually came back to her hasty marriage eight point three months prior, and after a few attempts to re-focus her mind elsewhere, she allowed herself to ruminate on it. She had, after all, been avoiding thinking about it for months. At the time, she had justified herself by considering the topic as not requiring immediate attention. That, however, had certainly changed.

As they walked, she found herself contemplating not the marriage itself, but the day following it, when Veral, awake after many hours spent sleeping as he recovered from the plak tow, had finally emerged from the bedroom and found her seated on the bench which overlooked the sea.

He was dressed in the formal marriage robes he had worn yesterday, and his hair was neatly combed. They stared at each other in silence for a time.

"For--" He cleared his throat. "Forgive me, but...who are you?"

"I am T'Lin, daughter of T'Lyra, your clan kin and--and your wife."

He closed his eyes for just a moment and looked pained. "I see."

"You do not remember me?"

"I remember your...assistance yesterday. But I did not know your name."

"There was a ceremony. It was necessarily brief, but they did mention my name."

"I was not very attentive at the time."

"Of course."

"Where am I?"

"Xir'tan, more specifically the village of Shi'sef. More specifically than that, you are in the house of my cousin T'Fen. She is off world, and the clan appropriated her home so that we might have greater privacy."

"And what is the date?"

"The twenty second day of Irhheen."

"Is there food?"

"There is plomeek soup on the stove."

He turned and walked into the kitchen. She followed him, and watched with incredulity as he ate four large bowls of soup and half a platter of fruit that had been left out for them. She had woken that morning to find the food waiting for them, and had thought it an absurd amount of food for two people, but as always the older ones had greater wisdom. Probably he had not eaten in over a week, and given his size--he was easily two meters in height and solidly built--it was likely he consumed a greater than average amount of calories even on a normal day.

When he was finished eating, he set his utensils and the bowl aside and he stared out of the window. She could feel him very strongly in her mind, but it felt like a presence only. She had no idea what he was thinking, and he did not seem inclined to begin a conversation of any kind.

"Is there anything else you need to know?"

He looked at her as if he had forgotten she was there. "No. Excuse me, I must ready myself return to ShirKhar." He moved toward the bedroom, stopped, and added without turning around, "Thank you." Then he disappeared into the bedroom.

She stared after him. "I will see you in seven years," she said softly to herself, and turned and left the house to go walk along the beach.

T'Lin roused herself from the memory. Despite her words, she had not really expected to have no further contact with him for the next seven years, but she had returned from her walk to find him gone, and they had not spoken since then. She had received a very fine calligraphied document from his family acknowledging the marriage, recognizing her as daughter, and assuring her of their gratitude. It had even been accompanied by the traditional gifts of perfumed oil and fine, handwoven tapestry. It was all done according to the proper forms, not a single courtesy omitted, and not a single familiarity extended.

She did not blame him for keeping his distance. He could hardly view the situation as agreeable. She was not his childhood bondmate, nor someone he had chosen for himself. He had been so close to death by the time they had been brought together that even the ceremony had been rushed. T'Lin had not thought it possible for a clan elder to rush.

They were past the worst heat of the day, but the sun was still high. The further they got from the train station, the more silent the city became, until they reached the Puhku-yut, the Amber Street, a six hundred meter walkway edged on both sides by shaforr trees. It was so called because a shaforr tree with amber leaves had been the first thing grow here after a nuclear strike had turned the entire area into so much radioactive ash. The trees served now as a reminder.

At the end of the walkway, they could see the hospital to the north. Veral would be there now, very likely treating the wounded from the derailment. They turned south, away from the hospital and toward the tall, cramped buildings that housed the large student population of the city.

The lobby of his building was empty when they arrived, but the student names were prominently displayed alongside their room numbers and she found his room easily. They took the lift up several stories, and stepped out onto a hall that was monastic in it's simplicity and silence. She found his door, then hesitated for a moment before going inside.

She looked at her brother, exhausted and dirty from the ever-present dust that could never be escaped in ShirKhar. Even excepting the marriage, they had the right of clan to be here. She opened the door and stepped in.

It was small. The floor was made of dark red stone tiles, and the walls were covered in something which looked very much like the mud-based wall covering that had been used for millennia, but which was in fact a modern compound that would not begin to flake off and need to be maintained after only five years.

The bed was very large, and Xab'rari-style, low to the ground with an elaborately embroidered tapestry displayed on the wall at the head of the mattress. Even her untrained eye could see that it was an old item, of excellent craftsmanship. A meditation mat was rolled up and leaned against the foot of the bed, and the meditation lamp was on the floor beside it.

A table, also Xab'rari-style, was in the center of the room. It stood forty centimeters above the ground, crafted with intricate metal legs and black wood inlaid with a gold and silver geometric design. A single cushion served as a seat. A codex-form book on the ethics of medicine sat on the table, along with a few PADDs.

The shelves built into the wall held a neatly folded formal robe, and a more casual and modern jumpsuit. She moved them out of the way to find undergarments and a sleeping tunic.

"You should not be going through someone else's things," Suvin said, with the smugness that only a younger brother who has caught his elder sibling in a wrong deed can manage.

"He is my husband," T'Lin said primly, but she carefully replaced everything as it had been. She found a glass in the kitchen and filled it with water. "Drink. Then do the school work you should have been doing earlier."

She connected her PADD to the network and sent a short message to her parents telling them where they were. That done, she turned to the kitchen to begin making a meal for them. Neither of them had eaten since they had set out that morning, before the sun had even risen. Veral's kitchen was small, but well stocked. She set out ura flour, plomeek broth, sweet nara spice, and koleem oil.

Her mother sent a message back. It said, "I hope you will not waste this opportunity."

T'Lin contemplated throwing the PADD against the wall and refused to feel shame for the feeling. Surak himself could not have withstood the trial of an overbearing parent without giving way to some emotion.

"Are you making pok tar?" Suvin asked.

"Yes. Do your work."

She mixed everything but the oil in a bowl and let it sit while she heated the oil in a pan. When the oil was hot, she broke off pieces of the dough, formed them into short ropes, and then knotted them and dropped them in the oil. While they fried in the pan, she boiled water for Terran ginger tea, and sliced yon-savas and arranged it on two plates. She was plating the pok tar patties when the door opened in Veral came in, ducking reflexively to get his frame through the too-small opening.

He stared at both of them in utter confusion, and T'Lin was for a moment unable to form any words to explain their presence. She had not expected to see him until the following day if at all. She had been more concerned with feeding her brother than even sending him a message, so sure had she been that he would be at the hospital until very late in the evening.

T'Lin launched into a hurried explanation of their presence, following it weakly with, "I apologize for the intrusion."

"My home is yours."

"Why are you not at the hospital?" Suvin asked.

"I was coming off of a ninety four hour shift when the derailment occurred. I stayed for several more hours, but after a time my supervisor informed me that I was more a hindrance than a help. He sent me home."

He sat on the edge of the bed. She had thought it an exceptionally large bed for one person when she first saw it, but he managed to dwarf it.

"Do you want pok tar?" T'Lin asked, unable to think of anything else to say. She should have sent him some sort of message to tell him they were coming. Perhaps they should not have come at all, whatever comments may have been stirred had she sought shelter from his extended family rather than him.

"No. I want sleep," he said, and laid down.

"We will be quiet, but tell me if we keep you awake." She looked at Veral to see if he would acknowledge her, but he was already asleep.

T'Lin and Suvin ate, then Suvin returned to his studies, and T'Lin tried and failed to read. Eventually, Suvin fell asleep with his head on the table, and T'Lin busied herself with cleaning up the mess of their meal. It was calming to have something to do, but the work of cleaning was not sufficient to keep her mind from going back to the derailment, to wondering how many were dead, and how many might still die.

When she managed to wrest her thoughts from this, she found herself ruminating on what a poor decision it had been to come here. Perhaps she did have the right to come, but it had not been kind. They were married, yes, but they had had no contact since their hasty marriage, and Veral had hardly had a say in the choice of his wife. In the grip of the fever, he could no more have rejected her than cut off his own head. Had he not made it clear by his silence that he preferred to keep their relationship entirely formal?

She heard the bed creak. Veral was awake.

"Am I disturbing you?"

"No. I rarely sleep more than three hours at a time now. It is common among those of us who are students. We train ourselves into a rapid sleep cycle."

"You slept--" T'Lin stopped herself. He had slept twelve hours the day after she met him, but those had been extraordinary circumstances. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes." He reached over and touched Suvin on the shoulder to wake him. "Take the bed."

Suvin rubbed at his neck and complied, crawling into the warmth left by Veral and falling back asleep quickly. T'Lin had reserved some food for him. She set them on the table and sat opposite him, watching him as he ate. He was an odd looking man, with a Rihannsu-like heavy brow, pale skin, and hair that hung limply against his face. In conjunction with his size, it gave him an appearance much like one pictured the child-eating hajan of old mythology.

Yet, she found him somehow pleasing to look at. His intelligence was plain to see in his eyes, and his features, while not aesthetically pleasing, were interesting.

Whatever his appearance, he was a son of one of the most successful houses in the clan, and already known in his own right as a doctor, with a healer's training at Gol already complete despite being just 30. He was someone who under ordinary circumstances would never have been paired with a daughter of a minor house who had done nothing to bring herself to the notice of the wider clan.

She took our her PADD and checked her messages and the news. Her parents informed her that Suvin's school work for the following day had already been sent to him and that she was to see that he did it. The news feed had updated to say that the total dead from the derailment stood at 2,468. It was a staggeringly high number, but given the speeds at which the trains traveled, it was a testament to the safety-minded engineering of the cars that there had been any survivors at all.

Veral was cleaning up from his meal.

"When must you return to the hospital?"

"The day after tomorrow."

"There is no announcement about when the trains will begin running again, but I will see Suvin out of the apartment as soon as he has gotten a few more hours of rest."

"That will be the middle of the night. You need not leave."

"I do not wish to intrude."

"You are not."

T'Lin considered him. Her parents had always spoken of the bond as allowing communication beyond the limited ability of speech, but Veral's mind was as opaque to her as a stranger's, perhaps even more so. With his training, he could shield himself even from a bondmate.

"Is your brother likely to continue sleeping for some time?"

"Yes. He was awake all of last night studying for his interview, and we walked from the train station earlier, in the heat."

"Do you require rest?"

"No."

"Do you wish to see something more of the area? My living quarters are uninteresting in the extreme."

T'Lin found them oddly interesting, but did not say so. Instead, she left a note for Suvin on his PADD, informing him that they had gone out, and instructing him to stay where he was until they returned.

The sun had set and the streets were busy with people enjoying the early evening cool, before the chill of the night fully set in. T'Lin was struck with how crowded everything seemed and how many aliens she saw. The train station had been full of aliens, but it seemed somehow more incongruous to see so many strange creatures in a residential area. Terrans walked past in groups, or in pairs. A Bzzit Khaht passed them walking much faster than its small legs would suggest possible.

He took her to one of the sculpture gardens, where the carved stone was illuminated with multi-colored lights. T'Lin examined an abstract piece of polished crystal which was set off brilliantly by the blue light in the pedestal.

"What is troubling you?" Veral asked.

T'Lin felt herself grow warm. "I did not realize I was projecting."

"We are bonded," Veral said, as though she could forget it.

T'Lin set aside her embarrassment and spoke her mind. "It is very peaceful here, and pleasant. And in the mountains, thousands lie dead. It seems incongruous."

She thought he would comment on the illogic of being troubled by a pleasant evening just because others that she could in no way help were suffering, but he said simply, "Yes. It does."

They left the sculpture garden and walked toward the hospital. It was an impressive structure.

"This building is considered the quintessential example of Man'im architecture. Do you see how the they used both light and dark stone, and how the gradation creates a sense of the building fading away as it goes up? It is thought that this was T'Yra's last great work, though the plans used to construct the building were unsigned, and there is no uncontested record that she was involved at all. Still, it has all of her hallmarks."

"I was not aware of your interest in architecture."

"A hobby only," T'Lin said. "I never desired it as a profession." She looked again at the building, admiring the grace of the design. The doors especially were considered a masterwork of engineering.

As they walked, the tall narrow buildings abruptly gave way to sprawling homes of ornate artistry. T'Lin stopped several times to examine the architecture. The majority of the houses belonged to the High Clan. The House of Surak was here. It was more modest than many others. Before Surak entirely transformed Vulcan society, his house had been a minor one in the High Clan, and in the time since, his descendants had seen no reason to draw attention to either themselves or their property. Nevertheless, it was difficult to pass by his home and not stop for a moment to imagine the man, seated in his garden, writing the words that would ultimately save them all from destruction at their own hands.

"My family home is very close to here. My parents are in residence," Veral said, in a tone that indicated it was meant as an invitation.

"I would be honored to meet they who are my parents," T'Lin said. She wanted to ask if it would not be an intrusion, but of course he would not have issued the invitation had he not been sure that they would be willing to see her. No doubt she was not what they had hoped for their ShirKhar-raised child, but needs must, and they had made it clear that they intended to extend her every honor that was due her. They would, she did not doubt, receive her politely.

Their home was not one of the large, ancient buildings. It was small and new, dating back only eight hundred years if she was judging the style correctly. Having achieved a residence in ShirKhar at all, though, was no small feat, especially for a house of the Clan of the Masutra, a clan that did not even have prominence in Xir'tan, much less in the environs around the capital.

On the sandy soil of the Xir'tan coast, structures were always above ground and often even elevated. In ShirKhar, nearly every private home was partially buried to create a below-ground living area where the family could escape the worst of the heat in the middle of the day. Veral led them in through the back entrance and down a flight of stone steps which led directly into a private sitting area. A servant appeared and disappeared so quickly that T'Lin was not certain the movement she had seen in the corner of her eye had been a person until a pot of tea arrived a few moments later, and Veral's parents entered soon after.

T'Lin stepped forward when they came into the room, and wished uselessly that she was wearing something proper, and not a dusty jumpsuit and worn boots, with her hair in a disheveled braid. Veral's parents were both taller than the average, and his father had some of the upper body mass of his son, but Veral was fifteen centimeters taller than either of them, and clearly a genetic outlier in both height and build.

His mother was not handsome, but she was stately and dignified in appearance. She wore her hair not cropped short as was the present fashion in ShirKhar, but braided, though in a modern style. Her robes too were of a modern design.

"I present to you she who is my wife."

T'Lin raised her hand in the ta'al. "Live long and prosper, T'Kara daughter of T'Er, Skan, son of Veral."

"Peace and long life, T'Lin, daughter of T'Lyra," T'Kara said. "Sit."

T'Lin removed her boots with as much grace as she could manage, and arranged herself on the low cushions surrounding the table. The evening was giving way to full night, and the air had turned cold. T'Lin, accustomed to the warmer nights that came of living by the more humid coastline, wrapped her hands around the warm cup that T'Kara handed her.

"How did you come to be in ShirKhar?" Skan asked.

T'Lin gave him a brief summation of the day, from Suvin's interviews to choosing to seek shelter in Veral's small apartment in the wake of the trains having been shut down.

"The circumstances that brought you here are unfortunate, but we are pleased to receive you," T'Kara said. In the most formal Old High Vulcan, she added "It is an honor to have you in our home."

She raised an eyebrow at her son, and exasperation flickered across Veral's face. T'Lin recognized the expression from her dealings with her own parents.

T'Lin covered over her uncertainty by taking a drink from her cup. She managed only barely to contain a disastrous grimace. They had spiced the tea in the exact way she liked least. Veral glanced at her. He, of course, had sensed her disgust, and yet still his mind was a blank to her. It was growing wearisome to be so exposed without any sort of reciprocity. His mental shielding was far greater than hers could ever be, and should she even attempt to block him out as he so easily blocked her, she would succeed only in giving herself a headache.

Still, she suspected that he was trying to politely maintain a mental distance from her unshielded mind. He seemed only to notice when an emotion or thought flared up with uncommon force.

"They have instituted a blood screening policy at the hospital," Veral said, and she was grateful to him for changing the subject.

"That is absurd," T'Kara said.

"I agree," Veral said. "I doubt it will stand. My faith in the High Command is by no means great, but even they could not be so illogical as to maintain a law as foolish as this."

"Likely they merely acquiesced to a suggestion by Starfleet," said Skan.

"That is no excuse," T'Kara said. "Are we to be the vassal servants of Starfleet, subject to their nonsense even on our own planet?"

Skan said, "I do not share your distaste for Starfleet, but they are increasingly illogical in their reactions to the Changling threat. It is a matter of some concern."

"There were rumors of a coup on Earth," Veral said.

"Rumors only," Skan said. "And whatever may have been attempted, it has clearly failed."

"For now," said T'Kara. "I do not trust Starfleet."

"One wishes they would simply declare open war," T'Lin said, and found herself with three sets of inquisitive eyes on her. She tightened her grip on her cup and continued. "A war can be fought. How does one fight sabotage? How does one fight creeping fear and paranoia?"

"We are Vulcans," Skan said. "We master our fear and paranoia."

"I speak of the emotional races," T'Lin asked. "Unless we cut ourselves off from them, which would be ill-advised at all times but especially now, we must deal with theirs. If the Terrans and the Andorians continue down this path, what might happen?"

"An open war, though, can bring nothing good," Skan said

"And if instead we destroy ourselves for them?" T'Lin asked.

T'Kara shook her head. "You have created a false dichotomy. Open war is not the alternative to self-destruction."

T'Lin saw at once the error of her argument. "You are correct," she said. "My logic was flawed."

She forced herself to swallow more of the tea. The long day, the walk from the train station to Veral's home in the ShirKhar heat, and the shock of the derailments seemed all to catch her at once. The fire was putting off enough heat to overcome the chilled air coming in from outside, and the warmth was adding to her tiredness. She wanted to be in her own home, in her own bed, without the eyes of Veral and his parents on her, judging her for what was in retrospect an inexcusable error in reasoning.

T'Lin straightened her shoulders. She was not a child, to allow wants to control her. She was an adult, who could shake off minor tiredness and deal with the situation at hand.

"The war is coming whether we want it or not," T'Kara said. "It is a matter of time."

"Have you had news from my uncle?" Veral asked.

"No," T'Kara said. "My brother and I are presently estranged once again."

"My uncle is in Starfleet," Veral said. "Though it is not that which has caused the many rifts between him and my mother."

"Solok is a bigot. That Starfleet, which pretends at diversity, even has him is a matter of astonishment to me," T'Kara said.

"It is less astonishing to those of us who, I ask pardon aduna, are less personally affronted by his behavior, and recognize that he is a fine tactician, and very much respected by his crew," Skan said.

"We need not information from Solok to see the obvious. Starfleet has tripled their order for the computer cores that my company provides. They are building a great many ships, as quickly as they can."

"We have all been assigned to additional trauma medicine training," Velar said. "Even the physicians who have completed their primary training. Most of the lessons focus on burn injuries, blunt force trauma, and phaser-induced tissue damage--precisely what we will see in a war."

The conversation moved from the current events to the ancient history that Skan studied. He was a professor at the Science Academy. T'Lin's grasp of most pre-Surakian history was elementary, but they found an area of discussion in architecture, which they both studied as a hobby.

More tea came out, this time it was not spiced. T'Lin did not know if Veral had managed to somehow signal the servant, or if the servant had simply known somehow in the uncanny way that house servants had, but she was not one to be ungrateful no matter what the cause.

When the second pot of tea had gone, T'Kara and Skan stood.

"We will withdraw. I am sure you have your own matters to discuss," Skan said. He looked at his son as he said it, and Veral gave a very slight nod in response.

When they had gone, Veral stood and said, "Come. I wish to show you something."

She followed him up to a balcony that was shaded by a roof overhang. It was positioned so that it would be in shade during the worst heat of the day, but it was clearly designed mostly to be used at night. It was delicately lit by small white lights, and the plants set out flowered and attracted birds nocturnally.

The balcony looked out into city. At this height, they could see across the city, into the desert, and even to the mountains in the distance.

Veral stood at the balcony wall, looking out. He was silent for a very long time, and T'Lin, unable to think of anything to say, remained likewise.

At last, he said, "I am pleased that you are here. I have wanted to contact you, but the time I have to devote to personal matters is extremely limited, and when I have attempted to send you a message, I have found myself unable to express myself. This proximity is better. We can sense one another in more than just an abstract way. It will, I hope, prove helpful if my words are not up the task."

"I cannot sense you. You shield your mind from me."

He looked at her with some surprise and then nodded sharply. "Forgive me. I forget."

All at once, his mind opened to her, and he went from a dull, vague impression to an almost painfully bright presence in her mind. She drew a sharp breath.

"My job requires me to shield my mind at all times. In the hospital, we are constantly touching, intimately and for prolonged periods, not just our patients, but even each other as we work in close quarters. It becomes habit."

"I thought perhaps you did not want--"

"Certainly not. It was not my intention to keep you at a distance." He sounded remorseful. No, that was wrong. He sounded exactly as he had, but now she could sense his remorse.

"You are very kind," T'Lin said. They were close, standing side by side at the stone wall, but not quite touching.

"What has kindness to do with this?"

"You accept with grace that which was forced on you."

Veral went very still next to her. T'Lin almost wished her words retracted, but it was better that they had been spoken.

"I do not meant to say--" T'Lin began, but she stopped when Veral took her hand in an el'ru'esta.

"You were no more forced upon me than water can be forced on a man dying of thirst."

"I do not mean that you did not want me. I mean only that had there been time enough for the decision to be based on anything but immediate availability, I likely would not have been your choice, or that of your family."

"Why do you believe this?"

"You have been to Gol. You are an initiate into the healer's arts and a doctor in training at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the Federation. In either intellect or ambition, we are not evenly matched. And...you left so quickly. You had no desire to be better acquainted with me."

"No. I have erred, badly. I must show you--"

Her PADD chimed. T'Lin jerked away and took it out of her pocket. Suvin wanted to know when they would return.

"I do not know," she wrote. "I am sure you can find a way to occupy yourself."

"Words are too limited for this. I must show you." Veral brushed her temple with his index finger. "May I?"

"Yes."

He was in a particularly difficult part of his training at the hospital when the pon farr came upon him. He tried, at first, to deny what it was. The insomnia he dismissed as stress. The nausea he assured himself was caused by choosing an unfamiliar cuisine at his morning meal. Within a week, though, his emotional control began to slip. He found himself angry at co-workers for failing to cure the incurable, and infuriated with patients for being so stubbornly sick. When his hands began to shake, he could no longer deny the obvious.

He informed his adviser that he must return home. Velok, easily seeing past his vague excuses, said, "I hope your bondmate is close. The admissions committee for the accelerated xenomedicine program will make no allowances even for a marriage. Do not linger. Resolve your condition, and then return."

"I have no bondmate," Veral said, staring down at his trembling hands. "I will resolve this on my own, or I will die."

His bondmate had died five years earlier. Attempts to find him a new mate had proved difficult. His was the worst age at which to find himself unbonded. The majority of his age cohort was married or bonded, and no woman over 60 would consent to tie herself to a child.

He returned home, then, to lock himself away and meditate, knowing full well how vanishingly low were his chances of success, and with the added benefit of full, clinical knowledge of each horrific stage through which he would progress on his way to his inevitable death.

He had no concept of how much time had passed before his father had roused him and informed him that he was to be transported to Xir'tan. The Clan Mother had found him a mate.

He was then beyond all rational thought. The marriage ceremony itself passed in an indistinct blur. It was not until they were alone that he was able to fully understand that someone had been willing to accept him.

Everything else remained indistinct, but for one moment.

She ran two fingers along the back of his hand. "How does that feel?"

It felt like the sudden absence of pain.

He let his hand fall, and looked out at the city. T'Lin touched her face where his hand had been.

"I believe I understand."

"I can assure you that you were very much desired. I do not speak only of--of the pon farr. In the years since my first bondmate died, I have wanted another in my life. I have often regretted the lack, but I have never wondered at it. I know what I look like."

"It would be illogical to reject you for your appearance."

"We allow for a good deal of illogic in matters of marriage." His thoughts turned bitter. "Though not so much that surgery to correct the defects is something that can even be considered."

"I see no defects," T'Lin said. Through the bond she felt his incredulity, and his surprise when he realized that she was telling the entire truth.

"You considered yourself as having been forced upon me. I assure you, that was not the case."

"You left so quickly. And, I allowed my own past pain to influence my view. My first bondmate rejected me."

Veral raised an eyebrow. There was no provision for divorce in Vulcan law outside of a handful of extreme circumstances. A woman could invoke the kali-fee. A man did not even have that. He could not possibly have rejected her. Unless. She saw the realization come into his eyes. "If he declared himself v'tosh ka'tur, he rejected all of Vulcan. Not just you."

"He made it very clear that being rid of me was one of the many advantages of choosing his own path."

"Nirak," Veral said. Fool.

T'Lin did not like to speak of it. "I made an assumption. A wrong one. I am sorry for it."

"It is I who must apologize. It was not my intention to make you believe that I was displeased or did not want to know you. I left quickly because I assumed you would want me gone. I convinced myself that I was serving both of us by allowing you to return to your life as quickly as possible. I am sure that the experience of our marriage was not a pleasant one for you."

T'Lin examined a flowering plant while she considered her answer.

T'Lin had been playing kal-toh with her brother when T'Yri had arrived at their home. She had come into the common room, followed by T'Lyra. T'Lin and Suvin had come to their feet at once, and T'Yri had pointed a bony finger at Suvin and said, "Thou, be elsewhere. My business is with thy sister."

As soon he was gone, she said, "Thou are unbonded."

"Yes, t'sai."

"Thou has clan kin who is in need of a wife."

"I would be most honored to be considered--" She stopped. T'Yri would not have come personally to her home for something as simple as inquiring if she wanted to enter into a negotiation. "He burns."

"Yes. Will thou have him?"

"I--" She looked at T'Lyra.

"Look not at thy mother, child. This is thy choice."

"Who is he?"

"He is thy clan kin, and he is dying. That is all thou need to know."

"But how can I decide if I do not know if he is..."

"Speak."

"Good?" she finished, unable to find a more suitable word.

"Do thou think we would bring before thee someone known to be cruel, or lacking in logic, or given to having no control? He is, as thou put it, good. We wish very much to preserve him."

"I must have him then."

"No contract exists between you. Thou have no obligation. This is thy choice."

"I have an obligation to my clan and to preserve the life of another, if I can." Her hands were behind her back, gripped so hard that they were beginning to ache, but she kept her voice steady. "I will have him."

"Thou knows the risks of a bond formed this way?"

"I do." A bond was best formed under the careful direction of a trained third party when both parties were children. That allowed the two to mature together. Second to that was a third party acting as an aid to two adults who would ultimately form their own bond. Two adults forming a bond without trained assistance carried some slight risks, but was common and generally accepted as safe as long as both had received proper training in the mental disciplines.

A bond formed in pon farr, where the minds enmeshed out of pure instinct, without conscious direction from either party was the most problematic. It tended toward instability, with both minds fighting for control rather than settling into an equilibrium. In extreme cases, it could lead to illness. There were ways to treat the problem, should it happen, but in rare cases even with treatment long-term mental illness remained in one or both.

"And thou knows the risks if he rejects you?"

If he was going to reject her he would almost certainly do so at the marriage ceremony, where she could be protected, but if it happened after, when they were alone, he would kill her, and then die himself. It was not likely, but it was possible. Fear, greater than anything she had known, threatened to overwhelm her. She set it aside and forced out the word. "Yes."

"Know that it may already be too late. Thou may not be able to save him. Will thou still try?"

What would it be like, to see someone die in such a horrific way? To be able to do nothing for him but watch as he began to seize and his brain swelled and he began to hallucinate and finally his organs failed? Could she bear it? She found she could bear better the thought of watching a man die knowing she had tried to save him than going to her bed tonight knowing that he was suffering that fate and she had not even attempted to help. "Yes."

T'Yri's face softened. "I thank thee," she said. "Arrangements have been made." She nodded to T'Lyra. "I leave thee to see thy daughter to the appointed place."

Things moved quickly from there. It seemed as if she had suddenly become unmoored from her normal existence. Her mother put a contraceptive in her hands and sent her to her room to insert it, and by the time she had fumbled through the unfamiliar process, it was time to dress. So vital was every moment that they did not even braid her hair, or bother to fuss with the traditional veils.

The marriage ceremony took place in her cousin's common room. T'Lin stumbled through the traditional words while Veral, robbed of speech by the fever, stared at her with glassy eyes. She had scarcely processed what was happening before everyone was gone and she was left alone with he who was now her husband.

"It was not especially pleasant," T'Lin said slowly, in answer to Veral. "But a marriage never is."

"One has generally met their spouse before the ceremony. One usually has some reason to think their spouse a rational creature and not an unreasoning animal who cannot speak and follows every base instinct."

"I would not judge you for what the fever did to you."

"And after? When I could do nothing but sleep and then acted like a glutton when I finally roused myself from bed? When I did not even know your name, or where I was?"

"It was understandable."

"It was humiliating." He looked up at the sky. "There is the worst of it. I told myself that by leaving and not contacting you, I was being considerate of you. I was being considerate of myself. I did not want to be reminded of my mortification. After I overcame such emotions, too much time had passed, and reaching out to you seemed harder with each passing day. I suppose I illogically hoped that you would be the first to say something."

T'Lin sighed. "Why must my parents always be correct? They have been urging me to contact you since almost the moment I returned home and told them that you had gone. My father said that you likely had left because you needed solitude and time to process your embarrassment, but I assured him that that could not possibly be the case, and that I knew the situation better than he."

Veral hummed in commiseration. "My parents have been much the same, encouraging me to write to you. Would you have come, if I had asked you before now to see me?"

"Yes."

"So we are both fools."

"I will be kinder to us. We are inexperienced, and the situation was not an easy one." T'Lin rested her hand on his. "You are exhausted."

"Yes."

"You should sleep."

"Thank you for my life."

"You have slept three hours in the last one hundred."

"I have endured worse."

"You were sent home for exhaustion."

"I was sent home because a woman was brought in who had taken the katra of her dying daughter and I had to assist her in giving it to a priestess who could carry it until the ceremony. The experience of sharing that grief lingered, and made it hard to concentrate."

"As a healer, what do you recommend as treatment in such a case?"

"Deep meditation." T'Lin raised an eyebrow. "And sleep."

"You are doing neither."

"I would prefer not to waste this time with you."

She ran her thumb across the straight line of his eyebrow and let her fingers rest against his temple. "I will be here when you wake up."

Veral took a long breath and stretched out his neck. "You are not easily distracted from your purpose. I will be certain remember that."

T'Lin watched him disappear back into the house, presumably to find an unoccupied bed. She had promised to remain until he was awake again, so she went down to the kitchen where she found Skan slicing toma and arranging it on small skewers with cubes of fried tofu and roasted plomeek. He handed her one from the platter and she took it gratefully.

"My son?"

"He is asleep." She felt him less intensely now. In sleep, his habit of always shielding his mind had reasserted itself.

Skan handed her a plate and tossed his gloves in the recycler. T'Lin took another skewer, careful to keep her fingers from touching the food. They ate in silence, as was customary.

When they were done, Skan said, "Thank you for my son's life."

"I did only what was logical."

"You took a risk for the uncertain chance of saving just one other."

"It was not a very great risk."

"It was enough. I honor you for your courage."

"I earned no honor. I was terrified." She closed her mouth so quickly her teeth clicked together. She had not meant to say it. She had not said it to anyone, not even her own mother, and why she had said it now to a man she hardly knew was a question she could not answer. Yet, it was the truth, and she was not going to further shame herself by attempting to retract it.

"I understand. And that does not negate your courage." Skan handed her a cup of tea and, seeming to sense that she wanted to be alone, left her.

She took the tea back into the private sitting room and settled onto the cushions. It had grown dark and quiet outside. If she listened carefully, she could hear faint movement in the house. Someone was walking upstairs, and she could hear the sound of a video feed playing, though not distinctly enough to isolate what was being said. Outside, sharva were hunting insects in numbers sufficiently great that she could hear the collective flapping of their wings.

Farther away than that was the low hum of the central part of the city, still active even at this late hour. And somewhere very distant, too far to see or hear, the wreckage of the derailed train was being picked over. Was it the Dominion, or a failure of engineering? Did it matter, if the Dominion had sufficiently disrupted their peace that the question needed to be asked about every accident?

What would it be like when the war came?

She stood up, leaving her tea still warm on the table, and went upstairs to where Veral was sleeping. He did not stir when she entered. The bed was large, but he took up most of it. Still, she stripped off her clothing and got into the bed next to him. He woke then, but only adjusted the blanket to cover her, and wrapped his arm around her midsection before falling back asleep.

When she woke up, it was still night. Veral was seated on a meditation mat, wearing only a thin sleeping garment. He could not have been very deep into his meditations. He opened his eyes as soon as she began to stir.

She got out of the bed. It was cold. ShirKhar nights always were, even in the summer, and she brought the quilt with her, settling on the floor in front of him. He blew out his candle. It was so dark that she could see only the barest outline of him. It made it easier to speak.

"You were not the only one who was...embarrassed that day. I was terrified. I have never before in my adult life so thoroughly failed to control my emotions, but I could not let someone die because of my own fear. So I went, and I accepted you, and then we were alone and I...you do not remember this."

"I remember only what I have already shown you."

"When we were alone, I was so scared I became light-headed. I was shaking. I could not see past my own fear to remember anything my mother had said to me. I was irrational, illogical."

"I assure you, of the two people in that room, you were certainly the more rational."

"I had hardly your excuse."

"Was I frightening?"

"At first. You are powerfully built. Under the circumstances, it was not comforting. I kept asking you to be gentle. I thought perhaps if I said it enough, you would be." He took her hand and began running two fingers back and forth from her wrist to the tip of her middle finger. "It was when you began to--perhaps you would rather I did not say this."

"I know what I was then, even if I do not know the details. Tell me."

"You began to...sob." It had been loud and messy crying, such as she had never heard even from a child.

"Ah." It embarrassed him to know it, but he did not release her hand, or allow himself to ask her to stop.

"I felt pity for you. I ask your pardon for that."

"No. Pity, either to give or receive it, is never shameful. I do not understand why it is often thought to be so. Pity is empathy put into action. It is empathy to know that the knife has hurt your brother. It is pity to bind the wound. The shame is in rejecting that kindness because of pride, or in refusing to offer it because we do not wish to appear weak."

She put this thought away to consider it later. "When you cried, I saw you for what you were, very tired, very scared, and with no words left to ask for what you needed. I was no longer so afraid of you then."

"If I had to be seen in that state, I am pleased that it was by someone who was capable of pity, and compassion, and gentleness. Not all wives are as kind to their husbands in their time of need." T'Lin was surprised at that. "My job has led me to see the very worst of what Vulcan can be," he said, in what was clearly all the explanation she would receive. "But let us not discuss that."

"As you prefer."

"Was I? Was I gentle? Did I hurt you? I wanted to ask you then, but I could not bring myself to speak of what had transpired."

"You did not hurt me. And you were gentle. I begin to suspect that you are incapable of being anything but."

The open window let in a gust of cool air. T'Lin pulled the blanket tighter around herself.

"You are cold."

"So are you. And I have the blanket."

He stood, stooped down, and picked her up, still wrapped in the blanket. He carried her through an archway into a sitting room that adjoined the bedroom. There was a fire pit in the center of the room that began to glow as soon as they walked in. The light was faint, but she could see that the room was set out in an octagon, and that the pit was recessed into the ground and surrounded by low benches. He settled her onto one of them and took the space on the floor next to her.

"Ah," she said, with what she hoped was a calm voice, once the surprise had settled away. "A display of physical prowess to highlight your suitability as a mate. Fascinating, though somewhat misguided."

She could feel his amusement, bright and warm, through the link. "How so?"

"In the modern age, sheer physical strength is no guarantee that you would be able to protect me or my young children. An old woman with a phaser could defeat you."

"I have no stockpiles of weaponry to show you. Well, none that would prove effective in modern warfare," he amended, because every family had ritual weapons stored away for the more archaic ceremonies.

"Perhaps a display of superior mental agility, then."

"I claim superiority in no field but medicine."

"An acceptable field. One which could easily increase the chances of both my survival and that of my children."

"Do you wish me to attempt a seduction with a lesson on organic chemistry?"

T'Lin sat up. The blanket pooled in her lap. She reached out and touched his face, easily finding the meld points. It was a light mind touch, scarcely even a proper meld, but it was pleasant. When they broke apart, she slid from the bench and settled on top of him, bringing the blanket with her, though the room was growing warm. He lay down and she followed, resting her head against his chest. He ran his hand over her braid, loosened the tie, and began to un-weave it until it was free from the braid.

The step of someone outside made them both lift their heads. It was much too loud to be anything but a deliberate announcement of approach.

"Speak," Veral called.

The voice through the door was unfamiliar. Likely the servant. "The brother of she who is your wife has come. And there is news that you must hear."

T'Lin got up. She illuminated the bedroom to find her clothing, braided her hair quickly, and was downstairs in moments. Suvin was in the formal receiving area with Skan. Veral arrived a moment behind her, dressed in the same informal robes he had been wearing earlier.

"How did you know where I was?"

"I did not know. I wanted to be with clan, and I could not reach you, so I searched the city for those who belong to us and I came here."

"What has happened?"

"War," Suvin said.

"The Federation has declared war. We knew it would come."

Suvin shook his head. "Vulcan has declared war. The clans are meeting to pledge themselves in a pact of ahkhan."

"There has not been such a pact in many hundreds of years." She looked at Veral. He was silent and still, but she could feel his shock and his dismay through the bond.

"Come," Skan said, and led them to the office that contained a large view screen. T'Kara was already there, holding a child, Veral's sister, on her hip. Even the two servants of the house had come to watch with the rest of them.

The Federation President was speaking, outlining what had happened in the last day. Starfleet had mined the wormhole in the Bajorian sector. The Dominion had attacked. Starfleet had counter attacked. They were now at war.

Only a few hours ago, she had wanted the waiting to be over. Now she wished desperately that it had never come at all.

The screen blacked out for a moment following the President, and then a formal writ of invitation to a pact of ahkhan appeared on the screen, written in Old High Vulcan calligraphy.

"To whom will they pledge?" Suvin asked. "Will they pledge to the High Counsel?"

"The High Counsel is not a clan," T'Lin said. "It would not be proper."

"They will likely pledge to the Clan of Nal'shin," T'Kara said. "It is high enough that to pledge to them will not be an offense to rank for any of the other clans."

"More likely, they will pledge to the Clan of Tu'nok. They are of a lower status, but ancient, and they are prominent in matters of defense."

The sign of the High Clan followed the text of the invitation.

The silence that followed was so complete that T'Lin could imagine the entire planet had been plunged into deep mourning. Perhaps it had.

"They remain first among us," T'Kara said.

"It could only be this way," T'Lin said. "We may wish it otherwise, but if they wanted all the clans, it could only be this way."

Suvin looked confused. "Does the High Clan not make the most sense?"

"Yes," said Skan. "But the clan that issues the invitation must also give the most. Their children will be sacrificed first."

It followed as he said, but the sacrifice had been even greater than they suspected. The families of the High Clan had each given one, except for the House of Surak. That house, ancient and venerable, had given two. T'Amanda daughter of Saavik and Skon son of Spock had both been sent. Only an infant son of Skon remained to preserve the family should neither of them return. Their line was so revered that they could have given none and all of Vulcan would have excused it--would have preferred it. They gave two instead.

As each clan added their pledge, their words were displayed on the screen. T'Lin could imagine the leaders of one hundred and sixty three clans gathered together in the desert, each one pledging the resources and children of their clan to the fight. Not since before the founding of the Federation had they done this. Not for any of the disputes the Federation had had with the Klingons or the Cardassians or even the Rihannsu. They had left those disputes with the High Counsel and the Federation, and the clans had remained largely indifferent to the fight, allowing their members to fight or not as they saw fit.

One hundred and sixty three clans had been persuaded that the Dominion presented an immediate danger to Vulcan itself. And so they pledged themselves, their resources, and their children to the fight.

The pledge of the Clan of Masutra appeared.

We pledge before these witnesses that we will give water to these clans our allies, under the direction of that clan which has brought us here. We pledge before these witnesses that no metal of ours shall be held back from the fight. We pledge before these witnesses that no adult of ours who is deemed to be of use shall be spared of the fight. We pledge these things before these many witnesses, and may our names and the name of our clan be forgotten for all time if we do not follow this path we have set for ourselves.

Veral turned and left the room. T'Lin looked at Skan, who gave her a small nod, and she followed him out. She found him in the garden, standing with his hands behind his back, staring at a flower that was preparing to open in anticipation of the sunrise.

"They may not send you."

"They will send me. I am a doctor with trauma experience and a xenomedicine certificate, and I have no minor children. Somewhere, my name is first on a list."

She clenched her teeth against the urge to scream. He was entirely right.

Once the moment of emotion had passed and she had regained her composure, she stepped closer to him. "This has been an interesting night."

"Yes." He extended two fingers to her and she responded in kind. "I am willing to go. I am a logical choice, and the threat is indeed great. It is only that I have only just come to know you today. And I...deeply regret the time that I lost by not endeavoring to do so before now."

"You will return."

"I may. Perhaps I will not. War is an uncertain thing."

She straightened her shoulders. "We have had this night. And I will be with you wherever you go."

"Parted from me and never parted, never and always touching and touched."

"Yes."

She drew her hand back. They stood side by side in the garden and watched as the sun rose over a world at war.

end

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