To Imagine Gulls

Rated: PG (for very mild swearing)

Disclaimer: All Star Trek characters, settings, etc. do not belong to me, and I am making no profit from writing this. Sepek was created by and belongs to Alan Dean Foster, but much of his character development is mine.

Feedback to: amaguena ; while positive comments stroke my ego, it is constructive criticism that nourishes my mind and soul. Flames, however, will be used to keep my tea warm.

Angst warning: This story has been known to bring tears to the author's eyes.

Summary: We know that when Spock decided to leave home, it was a mess, and many stories have been written about it. This is my own take on what it was like. The title comes from a haiku by Karen Anderson (pity she hasn't written very many): "In the fantastic/ Seas of Venus, who would dare/ To imagine gulls."

Kindly betaed by: SLWatson, to whom all praises flow.

Imploration: I am desperately in need of more betas, especially ones familiar with "The Pandora Principle." If you are at all interested in devoting your time to helping me improve, please contact me at the e-mail above.

It was an afternoon like any other. The red sand shimmered under the red sun that cast its rays through the reddish sky. Heat radiated as both waves and particles. In the garden, there was no breeze to sway the surprisingly lush trees.

The young man sitting on a small bench looked like he might sway. Although he tried to maintain his calm, emotionless exterior, he kept swallowing nervously. His skin was even paler than usual. Despite all that, nothing had happened to him… yet.

"It will be all right. After all, it is my right to make this decision. I am an adult now. I choose my own life path."

Nevertheless, Spock suspected that his father's reaction to this announcement would be less than satisfied. For as long as Spock could remember, Father had expected him to become an Ambassador like himself. Before now, Spock had never told Father that he did not wish to be one. Rather, he had always been fascinated by the Sciences, all of the different disciplines, but most of all, the exploration. Father himself had encouraged this interest, telling him that he would need a second career to work on during the times he was between assignments. Father had even taught him everything he knew about computers, his own second career.

For a long time, Spock had not questioned this, but over the years, a dissatisfaction had grown with the path laid out for him. Many events had conspired to make him finally reject it. Because his parents took him along often, he had visited a variety of different planets, and the chance to explore – as best he could without official training and tools – was always the best thing, ever interesting and exciting because there would always be something new, about visiting new places. Other people, like his brother Sybok, thought that he could choose a different path. His school experiences, especially the way he had been invited to work with Master of Sciences Sorel (a great honor for one so young, Father had said at the time), showed him that he had a talent for Science. The innocent questions of various aliens, mostly Starfleeters, about who he wanted to be would not let him ignore the question. Finally, that business with the madman – it had convinced him that Vulcan was not enough anymore. All of these experiences had made him examine his life's direction, and question.

Now, the questioning had led him to this – to fulfill his desires, he must tell his parents about his decision. Mother would merely smile, and tell him to do as he wished, he was certain. Father, however… Spock's thoughts reran the loop they had been in ever since this morning, when he had decided that he would make the announcement today.

"He will be disappointed in me." The thought vibrated painfully, like a snapped lytherette string. "Still, it is my choice. Nevertheless, he had invested a considerable amount of his time, energy, and resources into raising me to be an Ambassador… do I not owe him for that?… it is an honorable profession, but not what I wish to do. He will be so disappointed… and I do not wish him to be."

Spock's thoughts again took their usual pause before the admission, "I will never be able to go through with this without his support." He took a breath for stability. "I have no proof yet to show him that this is the path for me; I must make certain that he accepts this. Surely, he will understand and accept, eventually, but I want him to understand now. He has always helped me with whatever I needed, because that is what parents do for their children – it is what Father always did for me – yet he will be disappointed. In me."

After a few more rounds of that, he took some respite in imagining what could be. After all, logically, it could be that Father would look at him, and say, "You must do what you consider best." Then he could agree, and Father would look at him thoughtfully, and say, "You must, however, be certain that it is the best. Let us discuss the potential problems." Then, he could say all those things that troubled him, and they would seek answers to those potential problems as a family. It would all be all right.

Shadows striped his body as the sun extinguished itself little by little in the horizon, but his mind had grown tired considering the possibilities, and he still did not know what would happen. Finally, his time sense told him that his father would be arriving in less than five minutes; therefore, he better go inside and help Mother set up dinner.

The old grandfather clock was chiming the quarter of the hour as he came into the house, and his mind easily interpreted the true Vulcan time. Mother smiled when she saw him. "Spock! Where have you been all day?! I haven't seen you." She took a closer look and immediately frowned. "And what happened? You look like something the cat dragged in. Sit down and tell me about it."

Spock resisted her arm pushing him at the nearest chair. "I have been hiking in the desert for a few hours, and then sitting in the garden, Mother. Nothing happened; I was merely thinking. I am fine."

She kept pushing at him, and he had to acquiesce and sit down in the chair. "Heavy thinking, I would say then. Did something bad happen?"

He started to look away – reminded himself not to do so, but not in time. She had seen, and was now truly concerned. "Not… precisely. I shall tell you both about it after dinner."

She assessed him with her gaze for a moment, but she knew when to push and when not to do so. "All right. But Spock," and she stroked his hair briefly, "whatever it is, we'll help you. You can always rely on us. Nothing is so terrible that it can't be eased somehow."

He was grateful for her words. Perhaps he need not worry so. After all, being a scientist was the logical thing for him to do.

Sarek was content as he stepped off the public flitter shuttle to walk to his home. He had just finished a most difficult project ahead of the due date. It had offered many challenges, and he had overcome them all. He felt certain that the people of the corporation for which he had made the system would be highly satisfied.

Now, he looked forward to spending the evening with his wife and son. Amanda's company was always most desirable, and his son had grown to be an exceptional young man.

He was proud to have such a son, even if pride in another's accomplishments was illogical. Just a month ago, Spock had been granted an unconditional acceptance into the VSA, Vulcan's most prestigious institution. Unconditional acceptance was rare, but Spock had proven his worth repeatedly. His progress in his schoolwork had always been exemplary, and Sarek felt certain that his fellow professors would soon see how estimable a student Spock was. Many of the professors already knew of Spock, of course, since his son had been visiting his workplace for many years, but now they would actually know him in their classes. Since the acceptance, many of them had expressed their eagerness to have him as a pupil.

Yes, Spock was doing most well.

It was unfortunate that one tiny flaw remained – Spock had still not quite mastered his emotions yet. Still, he had come far in his fourteen years. Sarek felt absolutely confident that such a wonderful son would soon behave perfectly, and gain maturity and even more friends, and distinguish himself in diplomacy, and in a few years, he would marry, then grandchildren would come, whom Spock would then raise to be worthy members of their House and Clan…

Filled with these visions of the future, Sarek entered the house. Amanda greeted him, her hand pressing eagerly against his. Even after many years of marriage, Sarek still wondered at how well they fit together. Seventeen years ago, he could never have predicted this moment, not with all of his logic – a loving, Human wife, a worthy son, a life most satisfying in its unexpectedness. He never wanted any other.

Through their link, she cautioned him that something seemed to be bothering Spock. He glanced over at his son, an adult now, taller than Sarek himself, yet still so much his child. Spock was sitting quietly at the table, his posture straight, yet slightly tense. He made a mental note to caution Spock again against showing his tensions so clearly, and to find out what was causing it, so that he need not be tense. He strolled over to greet his son, their hands crossing and meeting in the ancient, trusting gesture of welcome. Spock's shields were getting better – he could hardly feel the buzz of worry.

They ate, Amanda's food selection excellent as always, their meal punctuated by quiet conversation. Sarek thought that perhaps some of Spock's tensions stemmed from recent events – he still wished that he could have somehow protected his son. As the meal progressed, he saw tense muscles relaxing slightly, and thought that Spock must be handling his concerns on his own. It was well.

Tradition reserved the after-meal-drink time for serious discussion. Sarek was not disappointed in his expectations. Spock sat up even straighter than usual, and raised his head a little, uncomfortable with whatever he was going to say. "Father," he began.

Sarek shifted his own posture to indicate that he was listening.

"I have decided that I shall not become an Ambassador."

At his side, he could hear Amanda gasp a little, but he ignored that, caught up in his own incredulous response. Could it be that Spock had picked up the Human habit of "joking"? No, his son would never stoop to such a thing, especially about so serious a matter. Still… he raised an eyebrow in query. "You have decided that?"

"Yes." Spock took a breath and went on. "While the profession is an honorable one, I believe that I am unsuited for it."

Ah, that was what it was about. His son could be somewhat doubtful about his abilities at times. It stemmed from his mixed heritage, no doubt. Well, Sarek knew how to handle this. "You need not concern yourself, my son. I am confident that you shall do well as an Ambassador, or in any other undertaking. You have always distinguished yourself, and will, no doubt, do so in the future."

"Father. I do not wish to be an Ambassador. I wish to choose and pursue another path in life."

"Indeed? What path would you choose?"

Spock took another breath. "I would be a scientist, Father. I desire to explore the unknown."

Sarek considered this. He knew why his son was saying these things, and he tried to choose the best way to both reassure Spock and help him see his mistake.

"Spock, I know that you have distinguished yourself in scientific pursuits. As I have told you before, it would be well if you had an additional profession, but your greatest skill lies in your understanding of different cultures, and that is why you are so well suited to become an Ambassador. Perhaps you believe that you cannot prove your worth as an Ambassador, while you have already proven your worth as a scientist. However, this perception is incorrect. You will be highly successful as an Ambassador."

"Father, I do not wish to devote part of my life to diplomacy and another part to science. I wish to explore. I do not believe that I shall have time for diplomacy."

Sarek shook his head minutely. This notion of Spock's seemed stranger by the minute. "Spock, consider what you are saying. I do not believe that you understand me. You should not let your doubts influence your decisions. Think further on this, and you shall, no doubt, see the truth of this." Sarek stood up and left. There was no use in trying to talk of this right now. Young adults always thought that they knew best – he himself had, at that age. After Spock considered his rash words, he would see for himself just how foolish this notion was. Spock would make an excellent Ambassador.

Later that night, Amanda said to him, "Sarek, I don't think you handled that very well this evening."

"My wife." He explained his reasoning to her. "It is merely a foolish notion, an assertion of independence that will go away soon."

She listened, her head bent in the way that meant that she was not quite convinced. "For both your sakes, I hope that you are right. I have this feeling of a powder keg waiting to explode."

Amanda tried to hide her concerns as best she could. Whatever Sarek said, all was not right with Spock. She knew, as Sarek did not seem to, just how long Spock had wanted to be a scientist. She did not think that it was just a "passing fancy," and she worried that Spock might have been offended by his father's implications.

Unlike Sarek, she was not at all convinced that she understood her son entirely. And what just happened made her hesitate even more. "Mother," he had said to her, "I have made some interplanetary calls. I shall pay for them."

She'd been surprised. "Spock, we are your parents, we'll pay for whatever you need."

"No," he interrupted, with a new determination in his voice. "They were expensive calls. I shall pay for them with my own money."

His money, of course, was money that he'd gained from the property his father had given him, to celebrate his becoming an adult. But she didn't point that out. She wondered who he had called, and what he had talked about.

"You have finally talked of this with your parents? What did they say?"

Sepek's curiosity seemed merciless today. S'karn was also waiting to hear his answer. They were his two best friends, but Spock felt tired and drained. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to answer.

"Yes, I have talked to them."

"Then?"

"My father…" it seemed somehow difficult to say this, "did not believe me."

"How could he not? Certainly, he would not accuse you of being untruthful. Did he?" This from S'karn.

"No, of course not. He merely pointed out that I have not considered this enough. He did not believe that I was serious." Spock still felt the sting.

"You have been considering this for a long time."

"Indeed. However, I have not informed him of this fact."

Sepek was looking at him somewhat anxiously. "What will you then do?"

"I have already done it. I considered my options, and I have applied to Starfleet Academy. I am waiting for their answer."

"Starfleet?!" Sepek and S'karn exclaimed in unison.

"Indeed." Would no one understand this?

"But," S'karn struggled to understand, "That is offworld. You would have to leave Vulcan."

"Yes."

They looked at him in silence. Finally, he understood that they were not accusing him, but waiting for an explanation.

"I have previously talked about exploring new worlds. Eventually, I would have to leave Vulcan to do so. The Starfleet would train me for this."

"Still, you do not have to leave right now," said Sepek, as he sat up straight. "You could go to the VSA. They already accepted you, and you know that they have excellent scientists. I shall be studying Geology there, we would attend together…" He shut his mouth, then said, "You are leaving, no matter what." He did not sound pleased.

Spock nodded. "I do not believe… that I could attend the VSA." He did not mention the fact that his father taught there, or that some professors would not respect the opinions of a half-Vulcan. His friends already knew all of that.

Sepek flopped back down and struggled to understand this new development. He had thought that the three of them would always be friends together. They had had difficulties on the way to this moment, all of them. His own mother had died when he was five, and he had channeled the pain of the loss into behaviors hurtful to others. Especially, he had been cruel towards Spock. Later, he had ceased behaving so shamefully, gained control over his emotions, and left Spock alone. Still later, he came to admire the way Spock could deflect the words and actions of others. No matter how many times Spock was taunted or humiliated, he always regained his dignity and self-control. It was a skill Sepek himself lacked, and deeply admired in Spock.

Over the years, he had seen Spock go from the status of a half-breed outsider to the status of an exceptionally good student, with an ability to attract others who did not fit in for some reason. Spock and S'karn, for example, became friends when S'karn's parents moved in from a colony world, and S'karn fell behind in his schoolwork, which was highly shameful to a Vulcan child. Spock had helped S'karn regain his status. Sepek had seen all this, but at the time, could not analyze it as he could now, and he never thought that he would be one of those who associated with Spock.

As he left his previous company of those who did not cease their shameful behavior, a deep loneliness that he could not control grew in him, yet he could not gain new friends. One day, he found himself sitting near Spock, and a conversation ensued. Little by little – for both of them remembered their earlier relationship – trust was established, and a deep friendship ensued. Eventually, he and S'karn also became friends.

Now it was all falling apart. S'karn (older than both himself and Spock by two years) would not be attending the VSA, because he had apprenticed himself to his uncle. Spock was moving away to Starfleet, of all places. A sudden realization hit him that truly, none of them were children anymore. They were all adults, setting out on new paths.

He was startled to realize that he felt the emotion of sorrow at that. He was ashamed of himself for not controlling himself enough. If he were Spock, he would at least have the excuse of not being fully Vulcan, but he did not. Spock sometimes did not realize his own good fortune.

"Spock. We have been friends for a long time. Please explain to me exactly why you are going to Starfleet."

"It is not yet decided, my friend. They could well decide not to admit me."

"We all know that they will – there is no reason why they would not. Tell me… tell us why you are doing this."

Spock turned his head to gaze at a painting by T'rafaa that hung on the wall of the living room of S'karn's home. They were all sitting or sprawled on pillows scattered around the table – S'karn's parents utilized a traditional Andorian very low table. The painting depicted a view from the highest point of Mount Seleya, and gazing at it gave the sensation of nearly falling off the mountainside into the deep red bowl of the desert beneath.

Finally, Spock said, "It is logical. If I do not attend the VSA, then I need an institution that will give me an excellent education in Science – specifically, scientific exploration. The second criterion is that later, it will give me a chance to put the knowledge that I gain into practice. There are several such in the Federation. Starfleet is the best one. While traveling with my father, I have been told that I would be welcome there."

Something flared in Sepek. "Simply, you may be running away. Spock, I know… that some Vulcans are idiots, I used to be one. Nevertheless –"

"I am not running away."

"No? T'Pring, you never liked her, and if you stay on Vulcan, you would have to see her."

"No. It is… true… that some problems would be solved by this. However, I do not know what will happen if I do this. There would be other problems. So long as my father is not willing to assist me…" he trailed off, but Sepek could easily understand the disquiet behind the words, having fought bitterly against a similar situation all his life. He had thought that this would be his chance to get away from all those relatives who took him in, make his own choices, and associate with whomever he chose, not whomever could provide for his needs. Only, Spock wished to go, not stay with him.

Suddenly, just as he was about to express all this, Sepek found himself the recipient of a glance from S'karn that clearly encouraged him to close his mouth. Then S'karn addressed himself to Spock. "None can know the future, but most probably, you shall succeed. I do not believe that that is anything that should bother you."

"Indeed." Spock stared at the painting some more. "The odds are favorable. But there is a wide margin of error. That margin is due to the fact that I do not understand humans. I do not even understand my own mother, and I shall have to deal with a great number of humans if I go to Starfleet."

"Spock, I do not understand my mother, and she is Vulcan," said S'karn.

"S'karn…" Spock hesitated to say something that they all knew, so Sepek finished for him, "Nobody can understand your mother. It is not possible."

"Perhaps she is not a good example. Nevertheless, I know that others are difficult to understand, no matter their species."

"True," said Spock and himself in near unison. How did S'karn always know what to say? He himself lacked this talent. Again, he wondered how he could forge his own life's path without the support, counterbalancing, and example provided by his friends.

"I… have not finished deciding." Although Spock's tone was even, as always, there was something about the tilt of his head that suggested that this thought had just occurred to him. More probably, he had only just acknowledged to himself that his stubbornness was very much based in uncertainty. No, that was not right, either – Spock would display far more embarrassment if he had finally realized that those two things tied together in him. Whatever the cause, the end result was that Spock might reconsider, so Sepek was eager to confirm the idea.

"There are always choices. You could go to Starfleet, or to the VSA, or elsewhere."

"Even remain here and become an Ambassador. It is possible, for I do not know what would come of any of those choices," acknowledged Spock.

"Indeed, although you would make a good scientist. You said that your father will come to support your decision, and I am certain that he will. Maybe not right now, but maybe he simply needs time to consider and accept, logical? We are adults, after all. We choose our life's paths."

"Indeed," "Truly," echoed Spock and S'karn.

"We shall remain friends, whatever happens, not so?" added S'karn.

"Yes, we must take care that we remain in contact, whatever we choose," said Spock, and Sepek also agreed. The three of them shared a companionable silence, and later, the conversation turned to other topics.

The comm unit chimed in its corner of the living room. Amanda hurried to answer, as both Spock and Sarek were out. The chime was that of an interplanetary call. She wondered which of her relatives it could be, or if perhaps a new client was hoping to contact her.

The screen lit up, and she saw an unfamiliar face. The man was dressed in a Starfleet uniform, with the markings of a Captain around his wrists. It must be someone asking about Sarek for his diplomatic skill. Perhaps, if Sarek took Spock with him again, the two could work out the problem between them. The first words out of the visitor's mouth confirmed her guess. "Hello. Is this Ambassador Sarek's household?"

"Yes, it is. I'm Amanda, his wife, and you are?"

"I'm Captain April. The Ambassador spoke of you – I'm pleased to meet you."

"Me, too," she said. Sometimes, it was just a pleasure to interact with humans, for a change. She loved her life on Vulcan, but she was still human.

"Is he home?"

"No, he's out, and won't be back for a few hours. Should I tell him you called?"

"Well, I guess you can just give him the message, it's not that important. I just wanted to call him, and Spock too, to congratulate them."

"Congratulate?"

"Yes, I'm sure that the Ambassador will be pleased to know that his son is welcomed at the Starfleet Academy with open arms. When I told them about him, they were just eager to snap him up. I must say, I was highly impressed with your son, and everybody else is, too."

Amanda was shocked by the implications, but long years of living among Vulcans made her keep the emotions off her face. "So… you are saying that Spock got accepted by Starfleet Academy?"

"Yes," the man was smiling, an open, engaging, friendly smile. "The official message should arrive any time now, but I thought that I'd call ahead and get to break the news a little earlier. After all, you must be very proud of Spock. He's an exceptional young man."

"Yes, we are very proud of him, always. Thank you for telling us."

"Not at all. Goodbye. Uh, live long and prosper."

"Peace and long life," she replied automatically, and he signed off.

She paced her way to a chair, and plopped down. Only now did her mind begin to process the information dumped on her. "Oh, Spock. What have you done?"

During the next hour, she stewed over this unexpected twist. At first, she was almost outraged. "Why didn't he tell us?" Then a semblance of acceptance appeared. "It would be just what he wanted." Sorrow followed. "He's only fourteen, and he's leaving. I won't be able to just go and see my own son when I want." Then stray thoughts began creeping in.

"It's in San Francisco, very close to Seattle. Spock could visit the places where I grew up, visit his human relatives. He could get to know humans a little better."

"If he does go through with this, he'll be one of those Starfleet officers, like the one who just called. He'll face danger every day. You hear about all those ships lost, people dying on safe-seeming worlds. He could die so easily, and he's still so young."

"He can take care of himself. I'd never have thought that he would actually go against Sarek's wishes."

"This will be difficult for all of us."

"We can adjust. This family's been through a lot. Seventeen years ago, could I have ever predicted that I'd even be having this problem?"

" Definitely not."

As Sarek walked in the door, he thought only about meditating as soon as possible. A student of his, a non-Vulcan, had been caught cheating today, and therefore, expelled from VSA. Sarek's day had been made unpleasant by the whole process. Then there had been that remark from Professor Sukur, "Better make certain that your own son knows not to do this." Spock needed no lesson in honesty. He behaved himself better than many Vulcans Sarek could name. Sukur was an arrogant, irrational being, who could not perceive truth if it was presented to him with a label attached, so what right did he have to make such remarks?

Amanda greeted him at the door. "Dearest, I can feel you're tired, but we should talk before Spock comes home."

"Spock?" Sarek had to expunge Sukur's accusation from his mind again. "Is something the matter with him? Has he done something?"

"Oh, not really. I just think that you shouldn't talk to Spock without first thinking about it calmly."

"My wife, I am always calm. What occurred?"

Amanda looked at him searchingly. "Captain April called. I think he commands a ship that you traveled on during your last mission, the Enterprise, I think."

"You are correct. What did he say?"

"He wanted to congratulate Spock and us. Apparently, Spock applied to Starfleet Academy, and has been accepted enthusiastically."

"Starfleet?!" For the first time in his life, Sarek had been startled into raising his voice. "Why ever would Spock apply there?"

"He told you, he wants to be a scientist and explore. Starfleet would let him do that. It's logical, and Spock is nothing if not logical."

"I do not want him to ever go into Starfleet. Such a thing would be beneath him." "It is much too dangerous. He will make a good Ambassador. He cannot wish to go away so very far. It is my duty to protect him, even from himself."

"Sarek, it's not a matter of what you want."

"Never. I told you, this is a youthful foolishness. Perhaps I should let him explore his options while he's young – I am prepared to let him study science alongside with diplomacy. Nevertheless, as his father, I cannot allow him to throw his talent, maybe his life, away like that."

"He's not a child anymore, Sarek. He is an adult. You don't have the right to tell him what to do anymore."

One thing was answer enough. "He is my son."

"Have you considered –" the door opened, and Spock walked in. He glanced at them, eyebrow raised.

"Spock." Not since Spock had been very young had Sarek had to utilize this tone with him. Immediately, Spock responded by adopting the pose of respect in front of him, somewhat tense and expectant.

"Sarek," Amanda tried to gain his attention, but he ignored her.

"Spock, I have received news that I can scarcely credit. Is it true that you have been accepted into Starfleet Academy?"

"I do not know."

"You know very well of this!" "Sukur cannot be correct."

"Father, I do not. I have never lied to you."

"Perhaps you also wish to tell me that you never applied to the Starfleet Academy?"

"I have applied, three days ago. However, I do not know what came of it."

Sarek breathed in, trying to regain control. He should not have started accusing Spock like that. As he labored over that, a new thought welled up in him, shaking him in a different way.

"You never told us of this. Your own mother had to find out when a stranger called. As your mother, she deserves your respect."

Spock broke their mutual fixed stare to glance over at Amanda, hovering nearby, then back. "I respect her, but I have reached the age at which I am not required to consult with either of you over my decisions."

"So when would you have told us of this? Today? Tomorrow? The year that you graduated?"

"I wished to talk to you as soon as I knew the results. Now that I know them, perhaps we should talk."

"Talk." He himself did not know what he meant as he said that. Spock straightened up even more, and spoke.

"As I have previously said, I wish to be a scientist, and to explore. I am well qualified for this, as you know. Starfleet would give me an excellent education, teach me how to do this properly, and give me a chance to put my skills to use. It is logical." Spock's tone was even, measured, but his eyes stared into Sarek's almost pleadingly.

Sarek tried to process this. It could not be that Spock would reject everything he had taught him, reject the logical path, and leave to do some foolishness. Did he consider this an "adventure"? His son could not be so reckless, could not throw away the safety of home for the vagaries of Starfleet. He recalled the great distance from Vulcan to Earth. Why would Spock ever wish to go? He was making a place for himself here, on Vulcan, Sarek could see this every day for himself.

No, it would be illogical to throw away a brilliant career in diplomacy for _Starfleet_, of all things. Only people too weak to stand up for their own beliefs, who liked to be ordered about, went to Starfleet. It was a military organization, after all. From the day Spock had been born, Sarek had taught him to respect life and IDIC. His son would never wish to obey Starfleet, to be ordered to kill. Not Spock.

"You are being illogical, my son, for there is no reason why you should be in Starfleet." Spock's head jerked a little, and he paused for a few seconds before speaking.

"There are many logical reasons. I have considered this carefully –"

"Obviously, you have not. You have not considered this at all. Starfleet would order you to lie, to kill, and you would have to obey. As an adult of this House and Clan, you have sworn an oath not to do such things."

Spock took a half-step closer. "You believe that I could ever lie or kill?"

"They would order you to do it, and you would be required by the oath you give to Starfleet to obey. Which oath drives you – the one to all of Vulcan, or the one set up by the humans in Starfleet?"

"I am Vulcan."

"As a Vulcan, if you give your oath to Starfleet, you will not break it, not if you are truly Vulcan. Yet, this oath would require such things of you that you have sworn not to do. Logically, you should not take the oath that would require you to break your vow to Vulcan." "Sukur would think of you that you are capable of breaking your oath, but I do not, my son. You shall choose the logical path."

"Father, I would not lie, and I would not kill. Starfleet is an organization for exploration, for scientific knowledge. They would not order me to do such things without good reason, and I cannot think of good reasons for such things."

"You are still so young…" "Such reasons do exist. What then?" He realized that his voice was slightly raised, and tried to lower it.

Spock looked at him almost defiantly. "Even Surak said that there are sufficient causes for anything. If there was no choice, I would do what was necessary, and it would not be a breaking of my oath, to Vulcan or to others. You have never objected when those of Starfleet have defended you from those who would harm you, or when whole planets are defended from attackers. Logically, you cannot object if I do the same."

"There is no reason for you to be the one. Not my son." "Others are not Vulcans. They may do what is necessary, but you have a different path that is more logical for you to follow. Yet you seek to turn aside from it, for no good reason at all."

"There are logical reasons!"

"You raise your voice, Spock. You cannot control your emotions, even on Vulcan. No Vulcans serve in Starfleet, for they realize the illogic. Alone, among humans, with their lack of control, how could you keep yourself Vulcan?" "How can you do this to us, to leave us?"

Spock took a deep breath, and visibly calmed himself. "I control my emotions. There are… some mistakes I make. Nevertheless, I can control myself."

"You simply do not know what it is to be among humans for long periods of time. You do not know what you say. You cannot know what you are saying, because you lack the experience. As your father, I forbid you to go through with this." "I shall protect you from your own folly. I must, or I will never be able to forgive myself."

Spock visibly flinched away for a brief second, then straightened again. "I regret that I cannot obey you in this. I am an adult. I choose my own path."

"Spock… This cannot be happening. What of all your progress?" "You must. To do otherwise is a betrayal of your logic, of all that you have been taught, of your vows and your honor. Your place is not as a scientist. It is most certainly not as a Starfleet!" "How can you not understand?"

Spock stared at him. For a brief, relief-filled moment, Sarek thought that he had gotten through to his son. Then a mask dropped over his son's face. "You are wrong, Father. If you would but listen to my reasons, you would see –"

"It is you who are wrong, and Sukur is wrong, and the whole world seems to be wrong today… I must do something, or I shall lose him entirely. I must make him see."

"It is you who are wrong, Spock. If you do this, then you cannot be the Vulcan I have raised. I will not tolerate this breaking of everything you should follow." Turning away, he glanced at Amanda, who was pale and tight-lipped, and said the words that would show Spock how serious this was. "I shall not talk to your son again until he recovers his senses." Then he stalked out of the room.

Amanda reeled in shock from the import of those last words. Beside her, she could see Spock take the three deep breaths that should have invoked his control. This seemed not to work today. His shoulders slumped, no longer proudly straightened. He turned his gaze on her, dazed and shocked, and not really seeing her. Then he wandered out of the house.

Amanda wanted to go after him, or after Sarek, but she remained rooted in place by words and arguments and disbelief. "How could this happen to us? How did it go so wrong?" Nothing, no argument of logic or emotion presented itself to explain away even a little of the blight she underwent. "Your son, your son" resounded in her mind, as it must now be resounding in Spock's. It had always been "our son," or, more often, "my son." With this shifting of responsibility, Sarek invoked an ancient Vulcan custom, even more ancient than the similar human custom of disowning.

There was a difference between the human and Vulcan customs, "but aren't there always?" Sarek had not implied the full disownment, the casting out from home, House, and Clan, the banishing of a child from the heart, the mind, and the planet. "Thank God for small favors." All Sarek meant was that, while formally Spock still remained his heir, he would not acknowledge the relationship, either in private or in public. Amanda thought that, to Spock, the casting-out version might have been almost easier to bear, instead of this quiet humiliation.

Disbelief and pain were slowly giving way to anger. Soon, she saw Spock slip back inside the house and go straight to his room, looking neither right nor left. Sarek was in their bedroom, but she couldn't speak to him right now, not with hot anger crowding her throat and blanking her mind. "How can he do this to our son?" They would have that talk, just as soon as she calmed down enough not to scream at Sarek.

Spock tried not to huddle up on his bed, not to think about the events of the past half-hour. He had never expected any of it, not that his parents would know of his acceptance before himself, not the… conversation with Father, and certainly not this, not the words he had most dreaded to hear all his life. Not Father saying that Spock was not a Vulcan, not his son.

Yet, he had done nothing to deserve this. He was an adult! This was the right path for him, and it had nothing of the illogical or irrational about it, no matter what Father said. No matter what Father did…

After the words had been said, and hammered their way through his mind, he had fled – mindlessly, he had turned into the garden, paying no attention to where he was going. He recovered himself at the old shed where Ee'Chiya used to live, and looked down at the hand gripping the worn plastic as though the limb was not his own. He let go, and went back into the house. At his computer terminal, three new messages waited. One from Master Sorel, a reply to a query about quasar formation, one from S'karn, inviting him to go along to the northern city of Vree'Kahr tomorrow… and a message from Starfleet Academy. He had opened it. The Federation emblem flashed, then an unfamiliar face on the screen offered its congratulations for "making it" to Starfleet Academy, and text followed, which Spock dutifully tried to scan.

Abruptly, it hit him that it was true, that the path to Starfleet Academy had been put before him. He still had the chance to refuse, and somebody else would go, somebody who had the distinction of not being "Spock," with all that that implied.

No.

There was no way that it had all been unreal, that he could still talk to Father and explain. His hands dropped, shaking helplessly, at his sides. He had tried to calm himself, to stand up and straighten, to stop shaking. All he managed was several half-blind movements, before he collapsed on the surface of the bed. Now he lay half-sprawled across it, still unable to quite take control. He did not quite cry.

"Breathe. I am in control. Breathe. This is merely a misunderstanding. Breathe. Cannot I stay on Vulcan now? Breathe. Spock, control yourself, breathe. I can go to Starfleet, they have already accepted me, and this is a good path to take, ahh."

The final wall inside him melted and buckled, and tears flowed. All he could do was not make a sound, the way he had learned a long time ago. He himself could not understand why he was crying. It might have been from the shutting off of possibility, the painful realization that now, he had no other path to choose. It might have been from the even more painful realization that Father did not want him as his son. Who knows what makes Vulcans cry? Spock did not.

One thought still persisted, kept trying to inject balm into the wound. "It should not matter what he thinks of me; I am an adult." Tears kept sliding down his face to be soundlessly drunk by the colorful blanket.

"It does matter, no matter what, it matters."

Amanda had railed and stormed at Sarek, when all that he would say was that, "Spock will change his mind," then gave up in disgust.

She made her way down the hall to Spock's room, and knocked.

The door slid open, and she could see Spock sitting at his computer, the one that Sarek had given him when he was only three. She took a careful look around, and pretended not to notice his slightly swollen eyelids or the damp stain on the blanket she'd had had custom-made for him when he was only a baby. It would only humiliate him more.

He finally looked at her, his gaze heavy. She broke the silence. "Spock… I'm sorry."

"For what?" His voice was as steady as always, not hoarse. She could almost believe he was all right.

"You know for what! Sarek had no right to do that to you!" She took a deep breath – living with Vulcans certainly gave you tools for calming yourself. "I still can't believe that he would do such a thing, that is not the man I married. I've already told him off, and I'll do it again, until he stops this ridiculousness –"

"Mother," interrupted Spock, his voice gentle, "no matter what he does, you will forgive him, eventually. You love him." Tears brimmed in her eyes, and she would have said something, but he went on. "You would forgive me, and he would forgive you. I always thought… that he would forgive me, also."

"Oh, Spock." She went over, and hugged him firmly. For once, he relaxed in her embrace, his arms coming around her tentatively, which told her just how troubled he was. "You both have erred here, I think, both said foolish, harsh words, but you did not deserve that. Can you forgive him?"

Spock stepped away from her embrace, and said quietly, with his eyes downcast, "I… I do not know. He has never done such a thing before…"

Her heart broke to see him like this, but there was nothing she could do, except say, "I hope you do," and envelop him in a hug again.

For a minute, they stayed like this, then she asked, "What will you do now?"

"What can I do? I shall go to Starfleet Academy." His tone was so final that she asked in alarm, "When?"

"The time that I must report there is twenty days from now. With travel time, I shall leave in eight days."

"So soon… I hoped to have more time for us together. You're still my child… our child, no matter what Sarek says," that had not come out right, but she could only plow onwards, "and it seems like only yesterday you were a newborn baby in my arms."

"That was 14.27 Vulcan years ago," he reminded her.

"I know."

Eventually, she left to talk to Sarek again. A cold feeling of dread had inserted itself into a corner of her heart. "Could it be that I'm going to keep shuttling between the two of them like this?"

"Say what you will, but you hurt him, Sarek. All he needed was a few kind words from you. I think that if you explained to him how you don't want him to leave, just asked him to stay, he would have, for you. Instead, you've driven him to a point where he feels like he has no other choice but to leave."

Sarek had already explained his reasoning to his wife, the logical imperative that had made him make the vow against Spock, yet she still seemed not to understand. There was nothing else he could have done to make sure that Spock did not make this wrongful choice, and her emotional reaction was merely complicating the matter. "My wife, of course he can stay. He should stay, and he will, just as soon as he thinks about this. It is logical – he will realize that the course he is contemplating is illogical and unnecessary. All I did was to remind him of what is at stake here."

"Why is an expression of disgust crossing her face?" "You're an idiot, Sarek. I'd never thought to say this, but you are, if you think that what you did will make Spock change his mind."

"No doubt, it will." Sarek could not bear the thought that Spock might leave Vulcan, their family, for the uncertainties of Starfleet life. He knew he was correct. If strong measures were necessary to make Spock see this, then he, Sarek, would do what was necessary, no matter how it tore at him to have to be silent towards his own son. Well, technically not his son right now. Surely, Spock would not choose the silence.

Amanda made a sound of exasperation. "You both think you're so right, but you're both wrong. Sarek, I know you want the best for Spock, but this strong-arm tactic is not the way to get it."

"Why not? Do you not think it reasonable that a son would not wish to risk s'kaal'nia?"

She sputtered. "Of course it's reasonable, but it's not logical."

"My wife, you are human. I find your statement most illogical."

"That's cause you're stubborn as a pig! And Spock takes after you in that! He won't see it the way you do, and you won't consider his point of view even for a moment!"

"He has the same logic at his disposal that I do. When he weighs the s'kaal'nia plus the dangers of being in Starfleet against whatever small gains he thinks he will –"

"He's fourteen. What dangers?"

"Amanda, surely you do not think that his youth will protect him?!"

"That's not what I meant at all! It's just another example of how you won't consider how he sees it, and won't budge from your position. I think it's you who needs to reconsider, and I'll wait for you to do so. But I'll still be speaking to you!" She left.

Sarek was left to consider this sudden retreat into illogic by both his son and his wife. He shook his head, a human mannerism he had picked up.

Although Vree'Kahr was somewhat cool by Vulcan standards, S'karn did not think that the temperature caused Spock's occasional shivers. Something seemed wrong with his friend. S'karn had last seen Spock in his house, two days ago. Then, Spock had been concerned about his future, somewhat dejected for a while by the lack of immediate approval, but still determined and reasonable. Now, Spock seemed almost tranced, or maybe shocked. As they enjoyed exploring the city, his few words were short. He had an air of severe preoccupation about him, and seemed not to notice when he and Sepek exchanged glances of significant communication.

Vree'Kahr was beautiful – even the poles that supported power lines were made of silvered metal and vapor-etched to produce layers of fantastic, ethereal colors that shimmered in the sun and shifted depending on the angle at which one looked at them. They had been walking the lush, decorated, aesthetically pleasing streets for three hours now, and hunger finally made itself felt enough that he suggested stopping for the midday meal. At a restaurant, the three young people obtained a table, which, like all Vulcan public tables, could be made private. S'karn suggested that Spock go ahead and guard their place, while he would refresh himself at a nearby fountain. A surreptitious nod to Sepek assured that Sepek also made the excuse.

They removed themselves to the fountain, and splashed water upon their heads. In between the splashes, they quickly agreed upon a strategy for drawing Spock out. The sun's rays drained off the water in a minute even through the cool atmosphere, then they returned so that Spock could also go and refresh himself.

As soon as he slumped back against the table and they ordered, the questioning started. "Spock, what is wrong with you today?" It was a question of great subtlety, as it assured that Spock could not dodge it, yet could answer it in many ways.

Spock could not decide what to say, so he played for time. "Wrong?"

"You are acting as though something wrong happened. What?" said Sepek.

Wrong. What wrongness occurred. Spock had cried himself out last night into impersonal cloth, but gained no peace of mind. "It cannot be said to be wrong. I have been accepted into Starfleet Academy."

S'karn and Sepek offered their sincere congratulations, but quickly fell silent when he could not keep up the pretense of being unaffected. "Spock," said S'karn, "you should be celebrating. Instead, you are the farthest from celebration." Spock would not respond, hoping that they would cease. S'karn looked at him for a long, thoughtful moment, then his eyes widened. "Spock, what occurred with your parents?"

Involuntarily, he closed his eyes for a moment in shame. He opened them quickly, but he kept his mouth tightly closed, so that he would neither cry nor utter the words. It was not good enough, however, to protect him from the sympathy in his friends' eyes.

"Spock, what happened?" asked Sepek. "We are your friends. We would not tell anyone else."

"I know," he answered past the tightness in his throat. "However, you will, undoubtedly, find out soon enough."

"What did he do to you?" "What did he say to cause you to behave so?" The two questions were almost simultaneous.

Spock could bear it no longer. "Please. Do not ask." If he had to beg for this, he would. He would not speak of his humiliation, not even to them. Especially not to them. The burden was his to fix the situation. An adult would bear everything calmly, and behave in the most logical way, which, in his case, would be to prove that, even in Starfleet, he could remain in control, and achieve far more than in any other way. Only this way could he show everyone how capable he was of doing the right thing. Certainly not by complaining about the nightmarish quality of his life, nor by seeking sympathy.

S'karn's eyes widened. "Will you… have to leave?!"

"What? Oh, yes, but not for the reason you are thinking; only because the Human school year starts soon."

They asked him, then, about the arrangements for Starfleet. They expressed dismay over the quickly upcoming leaving. They were concerned. They suggested visiting gardens and listening to a concert. Spock followed along, knowing that they did this for him. They did not speak of that which he did not wish to speak about.

When the time came to go back to Shi'Kahr, to face his parents again, they walked with him to the front gate. He lingered in their company. Finally, he thanked them, they knew for what, and turned and went into the house. S'karn called out after him, "Spock, remember that we are adults, and choose our own life's paths."

He called back, "I know."

She had watched him pack, send ahead the heavy stuff, wrap up his business, say goodbye to people he knew, promise to write to his friends, and now, stand at the entrance to the Main Spaceport, ready to leave. She didn't want to let him go, anymore than Sarek did, but she understood why Spock would, and why she shouldn't hold him back. Sarek seemed to be in shock – he had really thought that his strategy would work – but being the pigheaded Vulcan that he was, refused to retract his words. The past week had been a morass of hurt and wrongness, because everything she or Spock said to him only made it worse. She tried not to think about Sarek right now – the man hadn't even come to see his own son off. Quarrel or no quarrel, he could have at least done that.

Only she herself and Spock's two best friends were seeing him off. There was a lingering sadness in his eyes, but at least he had managed to deal with himself, more or less. Hopefully, he'd find it in himself to forgive, and to stand down from his own position of pride.

What could she say to him now? When she had pictured the eventual separation, it wasn't like this. All the thoughts of words of wisdom, of a gentle teasing, of a smile for him to carry with him, fled her head. "Spock," she said, and hoped he didn't notice the slight quaver in her voice, "Spock, take care of yourself."

"Of course, Mother," he said, the way he had for many years.

"I mean it. Don't you dare get yourself killed, or I'll… well, I'll think of something horrible." A half-smile, half-sob broke free. "And, Spock… this is still your home, no matter what. Believe me." He nodded. "I'll work on Sarek. He does love you, he's just too… everything… to admit it." She hoped that he heard what she was saying.

A voice announced the commencement of boarding. "Oh, hell, Spock, there's just too much to say. I'll never get it all out. Just remember that we love you, always, and that we are proud of you. And keep warm. Oh, and -"

There was a warmth in his eyes, and she knew that he was still her child, all grown up now. "All right, I won't babble, and I won't keep you any more. Just let me kiss you one last time, for good-bye. And you will come back sometime, won't you? We'll be happy to see you, anytime."

"I – will try." He bent to let her kiss him on the forehead, another old ritual. Then he crossed palms with her, gripping her hands hard. Human and Vulcan, both.

As if in slow motion, she saw him touch fingers with his friends, shoulder his carry-on, turn, and go inside. She watched until she couldn't see the rising shuttle anymore.

"Well," she sighed, "Sepek, S'karn, you want me to drop you off?"

They nodded, quiet and subdued. The ride back to Shi'Kahr was silent. Only as S'karn got out, did he say, "My Lady. I must thank you – if not for you, I would never have had such an exceptional friend as Spock is to me."

Tears brimmed, but did not fall. "Thank you, S'karn."

Sepek, when being dropped off five minutes later, said the same. "It's difficult not only for me, but they try to make me feel better. I should stop feeling sorry for myself."

She went into her own house – which had never been so quiet – lonely – before. Mentally, she searched for Sarek. She found him in Spock's room, and went there to see him sitting quietly in Spock's chair.

"He left?"

She nodded.

Anger dissolved and sympathy flooded her as she saw how bewildered he was. "How did that happen?" said her husband of these seventeen years, an intelligent, logical, diplomatic man. "Everyone makes mistakes, I guess, but I wish…" It was no use. She hurt for both of them, and hurt more for their misunderstanding of each other, and knew that, even if she were to suggest forgiveness, Sarek would only retreat further into his fantasy of having done right.

She shook her head. "You'll figure it out, eventually. I'll go and make dinner." She had to continue living her life, even though it changed direction to flow through this strange land of families in grave predicaments. She had to find a way both to forgive Sarek and to help him through this. She had to face her own emotions: of anger, of loss, of so many things. She had to remember not to bury herself in herself, but to remember that it hurt Sarek, too, and keep a watch out for Spock. So many things to do – no time to feel sorry for herself. And she was glad at least of that. She hoped that Spock, whatever happened, felt the same.