With no title, of course.
Planet Vulcan, Stardate 2238.57
Spock understood that his mother was not Vulcan, and could not be held accountable for her obvious sadness when he came home from school to find her sitting at the table with her hands pressed to her face. He was a child and therefore did not have perfect control of his emotions either, though no less so than his classmates, of that he was positive. He had cried when the shatarr he’d tried to make into a pet had died, so the posture was not unfamiliar to him.
His mother did not look up as he approached, so Spock was left hovering at the table uncertainly. He reached out hesitantly to put a hand on hers. She had removed her gloves at some point, and her skin was soft and pinkish-pale under his fingertips. He felt the sucking depths of her sadness at once, felt it under his own breastbone as though it were his own sadness.
Spock’s breath caught in a sniffle, and then he was crying as well, fat, hot tears streaking down his face. Full-blooded Vulcans did not cry – it was an inefficient waste of resources on a desert world – but Spock was not, as his classmates were so fond of reminding him, a full-blooded Vulcan.
Uncurling from her slumped posture, his mother wrapped him up in her arms and pulled him forward so she could rest her cheek on the top of his head. The embrace was not appropriate, even among close family, and the heat of their bodies quickly made it stiflingly uncomfortable, but she held onto him with the desperate strength born by her grief. Spock sobbed against her chest, and she into his hair, though he still didn’t understand why they were crying.
A rustle of movement drew them apart. Spock looked up to see his father standing in the doorway, tall and severe as ever, his face – of course – emotionless as he surveyed the scene before him. Spock’s mother sat back and let go of Spock’s shoulders. She took a moment to drag her thumbs over Spock’s cheeks, wiping away the hot rivers of saline still leaking freely from his eyes. Brushing her hands off on her robes where they fell over her knees, she repeated the gesture on herself, and then patted gently at her cheeks. She set a hand back on Spock’s shoulder, her thumb resting just above the collar of his school uniform, as though she sought to feel his pulse.
“Husband,” she greeted.
Spock felt a pang of embarrassment rippling through his mother’s grief, though she did not apologize or voice her discomfort at Sarek’s arrival. It was plain to Spock that she had meant to take her grief somewhere private, but had ‘lost track’ of the passage of time. Spock took his gaze away from her swollen eyes and looked up to his father.
“Wife,” Sarek said after a moment. He transferred his dark eyes to Spock, though he did not immediately express his disappointment over Spock’s unwarranted display of emotion. Instead, he looked back to Spock’s mother and observed, “You are… upset.”
The word had no direct translation in modern Vulcan. The closest would be that she was emotionally compromised, but that was not sufficient to express the depth of her grief. Spock approved of his father’s use of the Common vocabulary in this instance.
Spock’s mother took her left hand away from his shoulder and curled it together with her right, setting them both in her lap. Her back straightened. “My mother has died,” she explained, though her words were partially obscured by a hitch in her breath, and she started to cry again. These tears were quiet, slow and thin as they trailed over her cheeks and disappeared under the curve of her jaw.
After a long moment, Sarek crossed to the table and held out his hand, first two fingers extended. “I grieve with thee,” he said solemnly, and then surprised Spock by placing his other hand on his shoulder. It was a gesture of comfort that had not been offered to him since he began primary school.
Far more surprising and unsettling than his mother’s sadness was the sudden swelling of his father’s grief. He did not make a sound, and certainly he spared no moisture in the expression of his grief, but it was just as deep, and far darker – crushing, hot like the sand of the Fire Plains of Raal. It took Spock’s breath away. Even as his mother reached out to run her two fingers over Sarek’s, Spock unthinkingly reached up to cover his father’s hand with his own. He couldn’t understand what he was doing, but he wanted to cool that hot flash of grief.
Sarek jerked his hand away sharply, head tilted to look down at Spock. “What were you doing?”
“You are sad,” Spock answered, simply. “I meant only to assist.”
“Peculiar,” Sarek said. He transferred his attention back to his wife and said, “I will arrange transport back to Earth so that you may pay your respects in the human custom.”
He left without waiting for Spock’s mother’s agreement, his hand held stiffly at his side. Spock knew that there would be a discussion later on Spock’s apparent transgression, though he could not understand what he had done wrong. It was the Vulcan way to strictly control emotion. It was also the Vulcan way to accept aid where it was necessary and warranted. To deny the need for assistance was illogical and a matter only of pride, which – Spock had been assured – Vulcan’s did not cultivate.
“Thank you, Spock,” his mother said into the ensuing silence. “I know embraces are not logical, but your mother really needed the hug.”
Spock tipped his head. “You are human. Humans require physical contact to maintain a state of psychological and emotional balance, is that not so, Mother?” This was the reason his father had given him when explaining why he engaged in significantly more physical contact with Spock’s mother than a Vulcan normally would, even in the confines of the private home.
His mother smiled at him. “It is so, Spock.”
“If that is so, expressing gratitude over the fulfillment of a necessary biological function is not logical,” he pointed out.
(mind the cut)
Perhaps emboldened by his statement – though it had been only a statement of fact – she reached forward and smoothed her hands over his head. He could still feel her grief. Where Sarek’s grief had been hot and heavy, hers was somehow deep and suffocating. It was – or so Spock postulated, having never experienced the sensation himself – what it might feel like to be plunged into one of the oceans of Earth. Yet on top of her grief, there was a lighter, warmer sensation. Spock had experienced this from her many times, and believed that it was love.
“For a seven year-old, you’re very clever,” she said.
“While I am academically ahead of many of my classmates, my intellect is not significantly beyond the expectation for Vulcan children of my age group.”
Though her face was still wet with tears, she laughed. “If you say so, it must be true.”
“Mother,” Spock explained patiently, “My ‘saying so’ does not change the veracity of the statement. It would be equally true if spoken by any other.”
“Of course.” She ran her fingertips around his collar, straightening it out, and then brushed her hands over his shoulders to smooth out the fabric. Spock reached up to take her hands. As he had done with his father, he sought to soothe the ongoing turmoil of her grief. Her breath stuttered, but she smiled at him, squeezing his fingers before gently drawing her hands from his.
After she had gotten up from the table and left to refresh herself, Spock went in search of his father. Statistically, the most likely place Spock would find him at such an hour would be the study. When he was not seated at his desk, Spock went through the rest of the house in the order of highest probability. There was only a five percent chance that Spock would find him in the gardens near the sehlat enclosure, but nonetheless, that is where he was found. Sarek stood at the fence, gazing into the stone enclosure where I’Chaya rested in the shade. Once the second sun had set, he would venture out and join Spock in his room, where he would doubtlessly beg for attention for some time before settling into his assigned duties of protecting the exterior access to Spock’s room.
“Father,” Spock said as he approached. It was an illogical habit that they cultivated for his mother’s benefit. Sarek had doubtlessly heard his approach, and as he already knew that he was Spock’s father, calling him such was redundant. Nonetheless, his mother did not have the acute hearing of a Vulcan, and so they announced themselves in this manner so as not to startle her.
“Spock,” Sarek returned, inclining his head. Spock wondered if Sarek was also contemplating the illogic of their family greeting.
The wall surrounding I-Chaya’s daytime enclosure was a stone construction that had a similar appearance to steep stairs, though not the same purpose. Rather, it was to keep curious children far enough away from the enclosure that they could not inadvertently entice I-Chaya to attack. I-Chaya had been Spock’s guardian since infancy and would never behave violently toward him, but might not be so discerning toward an unfamiliar figure – no matter the size – leaning over his enclosure. Regardless of the wall’s intended purpose, Spock stepped onto the lowest of the ‘stairs’ so he could see over the wall more easily. It was a concession to his height, otherwise he would just be staring at the stones.
“Father, I interpreted our interaction in the kitchen to be incomplete. Am I correct that you desire further conversation on some matter?” Spock said after a moment of watching I-Chaya’s familiar profile while he slept, sides heaving with his breath. Sehlats had evolved four very efficient lungs to combat the low oxygen content of Vulcan’s atmosphere.
“You are correct,” Sarek said. “Humans are often incapable of conversing on non-related topics when they are emotionally compromised. It is a concession I make for your mother in her time of grief,” he explained as though Spock might attempt to task for him it. “Explain your actions.”
Spock did not need to ask for clarity on the question, though it did make his heartbeat speed up incrementally, sparking a flutter of discomfort in his side along with a sensation not dissimilar to gastric distress. “I sensed your grief.” He kept his voice smooth and calm, belaying the curious upset in his cardiac rhythm. “I concluded this was likely in response to mother’s loss. I intended only to assist you in calming it.”
It was absurd as soon as he said aloud, and he couldn’t imagine why he would have thought that Sarek, a fully grown, full-blooded Vulcan, would require the assistance of a child to control his emotions. At the time, Spock had been nearly overwhelmed by the dual inputs from his parents and had only meant to help, exactly as he would have with any other issue that he was qualified to address.
Watching I-Chaya so he did not have to look at his father, Spock finished, “If I have erred, you need only tell me so.”
Sarek was quiet for a moment as he apparently meditated on Spock’s answer. “As you are well aware, you are a unique being, Spock. As such, your development has been unpredictable. The conclusion I have drawn based on our interactions is that some combination of your Vulcan and human genes has resulted in an expression of empathy. I do not refer to the human terminology wherein one human recognizes and sympathetically expresses the same emotion of another, but a rather a more precise form of emotional telepathy.”
Spock absorbed the information, mulling it over. All Vulcans, by virtue of their touch telepathy, had the ability to sense the emotions of others. Spock had always assumed that his own ability to sense emotions was no different from that of his peers. He felt his eyebrows drawing together and forcefully relaxed the muscles of his forehead. “Explain,” he requested.
“Among your peers as well as those five years your senior, you are in the top 94.67 percentile in your telepathic abilities. You will be tested to confirm my hypothesis, but I believe you also display far higher than average empathic abilities, perhaps owing to your human parentage. Since achieving optimal control of my emotions, I have never encountered another Vulcan outside of the temples of the mindhealers who could sense my emotions, and none at all who could manipulate them without my permission and assistance. Humans very rarely manifest a similar ability, though I understand that it is restricted only between pairs called Guides and Sentinels. Vulcans do not exhibit these genetic phenomena. For these reasons, I conclude that your apparent empathy is merely a hybrid genetic quirk, and not a manifestation of this Guide ability.”
Sarek turned finally to regard Spock. He had the dark-almost-black eyes that were common to Vulcans. Spock had heard members of other species refer to them as unfathomable. Spock’s eyes, on the contrary, favored his mother’s genes. He had been told they were ‘expressive’ too often to ignore, but he didn’t shy away from his father’s gaze.
Clasping his hands behind his back in an imitation of his father’s stance, Spock said, “I was unaware that this ability was not common among our people. I will modify my behavior accordingly.”
Sarek nodded. “That would be appropriate. To another, your assistance may be interpreted as malicious interference.”
“I understand,” Spock said, trying not to let on how badly the concept frightened him, but he could tell that his cheeks had flushed. It was unlikely that Sarek would interpret the coloring of his skin as a reaction to the late afternoon sun, but he did Spock the kindness of letting the reaction go unremarked.
“When we return from Earth, I will see to it that your empathic abilities are properly tested and recorded.”
Spock hated the incessant tests, but he understood that he – as the first and only of his kind, a hybrid – had a responsibility to submit to them for the sake of scientific study. Logically, the findings and conclusions made by the Vulcan Science Academy regarding his unique physiology may one day prove advantageous for a future human-Vulcan hybrid, or even to himself, should he later develop some unexpected condition.
“I will comply,” Spock said, though his consent was not necessary.
Sarek dipped his chin marginally in an abbreviated nod, and then returned to the house without another word. Spock certainly should have followed. His mother would soon have their evening meal prepared, and he had a full study schedule to attend to, a schedule that would only become more pressed with the upcoming departure from Vulcan. Rather than stepping off the lowest protrusion of the wall, he climbed up the steep incline and dropped into I-Chaya’s enclosure. He could have gone around to the gate, but as he had been already on the wall, it was more efficient to climb over.
I-Chaya woke from his slumber and stretched luxuriously before rising to his feet and trundling out of the shade to greet Spock. The sehlat was in his prime, and large even for a member of his formidable species. When I-Chaya stood with his head up, Spock could walk under his neck and barely brush the bottom of his chin. However, I-Chaya did not often stand with his head up, as his spine more easily accommodated a neck-down position. He butted his head into Spock’s chest, and then repeated the motion until Spock lifted his hands to scratch behind I-Chaya’s ears.
“You are spoiled,” he told the sehlat, who could neither understand him, nor respond. It had been many centuries since the secret of communicating with the sehlats had been lost, though Spock occasionally – illogically – wished that it had not been. If Vulcans could be said to have friends at all, I-Chaya was certainly Spock’s only example of one. “I will depart shortly and not return for some time. You will be cared for by a member of my father’s staff, as you have been before. They will not be so indulgent with caresses,” Spock warned him.
Uncaring, I-Chaya huffed out a hot breath, his nose moistening the front of Spock’s robes. If his father’s assessment of Spock’s empathic abilities was correct – and Spock had no reason to doubt Sarek’s conclusions – then he would have to become even more diligent in his control. Touching of any sort would be strictly out of the question, and if his abilities strengthened, as telepathic abilities often did, even being in close proximity to another Vulcan could be a serious breach of their privacy.
“I will indulge you for another three minutes only,” Spock told I-Chaya, leaning over so he could rest his cheek on the top of the sehlat’s head.