Anslem

SUMMARY: The final story in the DS9 novel, JEU-PARTI, sequel to “Orfeo”
and “Eye of the Storm.” Eleven years after his abrupt, late-night
departure, Salene reappears in Jake’s life. He finds a twenty-nine-
year-old Jake whose writing career is beginning to blossom even while
his private life is falling apart. This story is rated [PG-13] for
allusive sexual description; those who object to gay fiction should read
no further.

Obviously, we’ve tried to project a *likely* future, but equally
obviously, the show may render some of our assumptions obsolete. When
reading, please take into account that this was penned during the
fifth season of DS9. Also, despite Picard’s comments in “First
Contact,” we have assumed there is some form of financial compensation
in the Federation. Frankly, anything else makes no economic sense.

Additional author’s note: This story was conceived at the same time
as “Eye of the Storm”–months before the theater release of “Shine.”
Similarities are coincidental.

Acknowledgements to Margaret Wander Bonanno for her novel, DWELLERS IN
THE CRUCIBLE, from which we have borrowed certain details. “The Road
Less Taken” is the work of Robert Frost, and “Ozymandias” the work of
Percy Bysshe Shelley.

DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns all rights to DS9 series characters herein;
Margaret Wander Bonanno has rights to the character of Sethan; all
original characters are the property of the authors. Resemblance to
any individual, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This is a
nonprofit work of fanfiction. Distribution is free, but please retain
this disclaimer and ask the authors’ permission before archiving to
web pages or sites other than the a.s.c archive.

ANSLEM
J & Macedon, c1997

Snow whispered where it touched. If he listened hard enough, he
could hear it tell him secrets. Flakes clung to his cloak: delicate
white stars making obscure constellations on a black void of wool.
They fell in his hair, on his eyelashes, tickled his nose and cheeks.
He had long ago lost any sensation in fingers and toes and the tips of
his ears.
On the horizon, the sun rose. Yellow-white G2 star. He had
always found the quality of Earth’s sunlight all wrong. It fell too
bright on eyes–desert-evolved or not–which were accustomed to the
orange cast of a K1 star. Shadows cut sharp.
There were no shadows now. The sky was slate grey, snow grey.
Like his thoughts.
He clutched the book–a real book of paper and cardboard backing
–more tightly under his arm. The plastic in which he had wrapped it
made a crinkling sound. His attention centered on a child swaddled in
pink like a stuffed pillow; she waded knee-deep in drifts and squealed
in delight, mittened hands threw up puffs to scatter down around her.
She was coming dangerously close to a cord of wood stacked beside the
house.
“Jenny Gwen!”
Her father set aside the snow shovel with which he had been
shoveling the walkway, retrieved her and raised her high on one
shoulder to carry her back with him. She was small. The watcher in
the street knew she would be three years old with the next Earth
month. Her father went back to shoveling. The child returned to
waddling in his wake, pouncing on snow mounds and pulling them down,
obliterating the path he had just made neat. He turned, saw what she
had done and set down the shovel with a solid plunk. “Jenny! No!”
She just laughed, grinning up at him defiantly from the opening
of her parka hood.
It was the child who saw the watcher first.

He had been observing for twenty-seven minutes. Having come this
far, he now stood irresolute fifteen meters away in the middle of the
street. Two words on the inside of a book cover had brought him:
“To Salene”
To be dedicatee of a book was a singular honor. But for him to be
dedicatee of a book by this particular author with whom he shared such
a painful past was a bafflement. A puzzle. It demanded an answer.
Maybe the author had known that. But why now? After eleven years,
why bait the trap now? Not that he had responded immediately. The
book under his arm had been in print six Terran months, seven days. A
series of events in his own life had been necessary before he could
bring himself to make this journey.
Now he stood fifteen meters from Jake Sisko, who had squatted
down to speak to his daughter. He wondered for perhaps the hundredth
time how to approach this remeeting.
The child solved the problem. Pointing directly at him over her
father’s shoulder, he heard her say clearly, “Somebody’s watching us,
Daddy!” And she waved at him, little mittened hand wobbling up and
down rapidly. “Hi!”
Not knowing what else to do, he raised his own hand in return.
At that moment, Jake twisted to look. Letting go of his daughter, he
stood slowly–or perhaps Salene’s mind just cast everything over the
next few seconds in slow motion. Jake walked down the path toward the
street, stopped an arm’s length away as if not trusting himself to
come within striking range. For a long moment, they stared.
Age had defined the lines of Jake’s face, reminding Salene how
brief ran the span of human years. Jake was a man, his height finally
grown into, the roundness gone from his shoulders, his chest filled
out. He was big, bigger than his father. He did not slouch where he
stood any longer. Yet he was still beautiful: that rare purity of
profile which carried no false feature, no blemish but the small
freckle on his right eyelid. Salene had always thought that freckle
saved him from insipidity.
Yet what shocked Salene more than any physical change in Jake,
what nearly sent him reeling back, was the sudden pulsing sense of
Jake’s presence. The bond. It was still there.
Well, what did you expect?, he asked himself sarcastically.
He thought even Jake might have felt something because he frowned
slightly and shook his head, then looked back up at Salene, opened his
mouth, shut it.
The child picked that moment to interrupt. She had waddled down
the path while the two of them had stood staring stupidly at one
another; now she walked right up to Salene to tug on his cloak. “Who
you?” He glanced down at the little face, into eyes that muddy-green
color which sometimes turned up in children of mixed parentage.
“Jenny Gwen–let him go!”
He looked back at her father. Jake had come a few steps forward.
“I will not have her for breakfast,” he said dryly.
“I didn’t think you would.” Jake’s tone ran cold with all the
unspoken accusations of eleven years. “I just didn’t want her to
force any unwanted human feelings on you.”
Such bitterness! Not undeserved. Salene met Jake’s eyes for a
moment, then squatted down to face Jake’s daughter. “My name is
Salene,” he told her.
“Sa-lene,” she repeated and smiled at him. She had her father’s
sweet smile and probably his fine bone structure, though under cheeks
still plump with baby-fat, it was hard to tell. Her skin was fine
Vulcan teak, a little darker than his. The hazel eyes were her most
striking feature. He wondered what her mother looked like. Sarah
Fernandez. It was only a name from the About the Author note in
Jake’s book: “Jake Sisko lives in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, Earth,
with his wife, Sarah Fernandez, their daughter Jennifer Gwendolyn,
three cats and one newt.”
The wind blew his hair and the child noticed his ears, walked
around his side to inspect them more closely, then reached up a
mittened finger to touch the left one. Salene saw Jake tense. “They
are supposed to be that way,” he told her.
Though her hands had a child’s awkwardness, she was very careful
as she explore the ear, then moved around to touch his eyebrow. Like
all children, the differences fascinated her. Her little face was
pinched with perplexity. “I am a Vulcan,” he told her.
She repeated that, too. “Vul-can.” Then she grinned, as if
delighted by something. “Pointy ears!” And she broke into giggles.
“Jenny Gwen!” Jake snapped.
Salene raised a hand, shook his head. “It is all right. She
means no insult by it.”
“I like them!” she said as if agreeing, though he doubted her
vocabulary included ‘insult’ yet. She looked up at her father,
smiled. Jake sighed and let it go. Salene suspected the child had
already learned that her smile could excuse a multitude of sins. She
was utterly charming; it devastated him. Here was what he could never
have given Jake Sisko.
“What are you doing here?” Jake asked him then.
Salene stood, pulled the book out from under his arm. The title
showed clearly through the transparent plastic. ANSLEM. “This.”
Jake glanced from book cover to Salene’s face. “It’s been out a
while.”
“Indeed. And to great critical acclaim–as it deserves. I
understand that it was nominated for the Baytaw Prize? You finally
discovered what to do with the characters.”
“I had help. Somebody pointed me in the right direction eleven
years ago.”
Salene removed the book, opened it to the dedication page, read:
“‘In loving memory of my mother, Jennifer Martin Sisko; and to Salene,
for a clear eye, tactful honesty, and no compromises.’ I am…deeply
honored, Jake.” Closing the book, he looked up. “But this was
undeserved by me. It was a long time ago. You have matured greatly
as a writer, and this story has changed profoundly from the version I
read. I do not believe I contributed much to it, in its final form.
So–I must confess myself perplexed by the dedication.”
Jake had listened quietly while his daughter wound round and
round his legs, as if he were a living Maypole. The adults might have
their conversation, but she would be sure she was noticed. Now, Jake
smiled bitter–an expression new to his face since Salene had known
him–and said, “It’s a writer’s prerogative to dedicate his book to
who he wants.”
“Agreed. But is it not equally the prerogative of the dedicatee
to inquire as to the reasons?”
“You came a long way to ask why.”
I had ghosts to face, Salene almost said, but closed his lips on
it: a metaphor more suited to Jake than to him. Instead, he replied,
“I did not think a letter would do.”
“You thought a letter was good enough for goodbye.”
Only thirty-three years of tight control saved Salene from wincing
visibly. “That was…one of the more short-sighted acts of my life.”
Before Jake could reply, the child piped up. “I’m cold! We go
*in* now!”
Jake lifted her onto his hip, then turn back to Salene. “If you
came sixteen lightyears to ask why, I guess I can give you coffee.
Come on.” Turning, he started up the walk. Salene followed, snow
swirling around him.

The house smelled of pine from a tree in one corner. A tree in
the house? Ah. He had forgotten the month: late December. Christmas
had just passed in most of Western and parts of Eastern Earth.
Red and blue decorations enlivened a dark wood sitting-room. The
place had a rustic air. A fire burned in an archaic cast-iron stove.
Salene moved towards it, felt his extremities tingle as they revived.
A pot of water sat steaming on top. “Why is there water on top of
your stove?” he asked, turning. Jake’s daughter had gone tearing off
up the staircase while Jake stood in the kitchen, pouring real-brewed
coffee into two cups on the breakfast bar. The kitchen was fully-
appointed. Jake must still cook.
“The water humidifies the air. Otherwise it gets dry in here
with the stove going.”
“Where did you find such an antique?”
“I didn’t. Sarah did. Antiques are her hobby, though she took
most of the smaller ones with her.”
Salene blinked. “Took them with her?”
Jake brought over the coffee, set it in front of Salene. “Take
off your cloak. There are hooks on the wall by the door.” Salene did
so, hung it beside the tiny pink coat which belonged to the child.
He turned back then, let his eyes take in his surroundings with
more care: a sofa, a chair with a cat sprawled in it, a pair of lamps,
a bookshelf with real books beside the staircase, a half-full fishtank
with algae all over the sides. The newt? Otherwise, the room was
strangely bare. Christmas decorations, shoes, and scattered toys had
initially hidden that fact. He saw a man’s things; he saw a child’s
things. He did not see anything recognizably a woman’s. “Where is
your wife, Jake?”
A long pause. Jake wasn’t looking at Salene. “We’ve separated.”
At the base of his spine, Salene experienced a shivery burst that
flashed weakness down his legs and spread out low in his abdomen. He
did not have a name to put to the sensation. It kept him silent for
ten breaths, then he asked, “How long?”
“Four months.”
Salene sat down across from the man who had once been–and still
was in his own heart–his dearest friend. “I am sorry.”
Jake looked up. “Really?” His tone made the question sardonic,
not curious.
“Yes. Really.”
The child’s return interrupted any reply Jake might have made.
She gallumped down the stairs, a large stuffed animal in her arms–
some marine mammal. Salene was not well-versed in Earth’s flora and
fauna. Coming over to him, she pushed the nose of the animal right up
against his face. “She kiss you!” The timing was bad; he twisted
away almost violently.
“Jenny!” Jake said. “Come here!”
“Jake, forgive–”
“Shut up, Salene.” But Jake was looking at his daughter; she
glared back, then reluctantly approached. He caught her between his
knees, took the stuffed animal out of her hands and set it on the
floor. She reached for it but he had scooted it well out of reach.
“Jenny. Jenny Gwen, look at me. Do you have your listening ears on?”
Giving up on the toy, she raised her face and made an odd popping
sound with her mouth. “Use person talk, Jenny, not newt noises. Do
you have your listening hears on?”
Dropping her chin, she said sullenly, “Yes.”
“It’s not considered polite to touch Vulcans. Mr. Salene has
been very patient with you, but it’s time now for you to stop. Why
don’t you go upstairs and play for a while? Daddy wants to have a
grownup conversation, okay?”
“No!”
“Jenny Gwen–!”
“No!”
“Jenny, go upstairs. I’m going to count to three. One….”
She did nothing.
“Two….”
She skipped out from between his knees, darted in to snatch the
stuffed animal, then backed up a dozen steps, stopped, as if to see if
he would make good his threat.
“Two and a half….”
“I go!” And she dashed up the stairs.
When she had disappeared, Salene said, “She lives with you?”
“For the time being. Sarah’s on assignment to a new space
station. That’s what she does: station architecture.”
“Then you met on DS9?”
“We met here in Pennsylvania. I was visiting my grandparents.
They told me about a local professor who was interviewing people who’d
grown up on space stations, for planning research. She wanted to make
stations more kid-friendly.” Jake shrugged. “I agreed to talk to
her. Turned out, she’d grown up on one, too. We had some things in
common. She asked me out and we started seeing each other. After a
while, I asked her to marry me.” Jake looked off. “It’s not the
stuff of exciting novels, I’m afraid.”
Salene wanted to ask what had happened to Jake’s marriage, but
did not feel it his place. Eleven years ago he had given up all right
to know about Jake’s private life. He sipped his coffee instead and
stared at the black iron stove.
Silence stretched. Finally, Jake shifted. “So. How about you?
What’ve you been up to for eleven years?”
It was not sarcastic, or bitter. Just a question posed offhand–
like one might ask at a casual meeting between acquaintances. Yet
what he and Jake had been to one another…. Salene had come here
prepared for anger, for abrupt dismissal, even for cold refusal on
Jake’s part to acknowledge him. But to be reduced to a mere
acquaintance!
It was the perfect cruelty, of course. The perfect revenge.
What better way to humiliate a Vulcan than to care less?
Standing, Salene walked away a few steps, moving like a man drunk
or disoriented. Finally he looked back at Jake, whose face was nearly
blank. He did not even have the good grace to look victorious, which
made his victory unassailable.
“What have I been ‘up to’? I have eaten out my heart over you.
Does it please you to hear it?”
Jake blinked. Salene watched the full impact of his admission
register. Blankness disappeared, the eyebrow twitched–almost Vulcan
that. There was a pinched look about Jake’s mouth. Then he bowed his
head and stared hard at the carpet under his feet. “Damn you. You
had to push it, didn’t you?”
“If the other option was to be treated as if I did not matter–
yes.”
Jake stood, stalked over to face Salene. “You could have come
six months ago. Why didn’t you?”
Salene sidestepped that question to re-ask his own. “Why did you
dedicate a book to me after eleven years?”
Jake threw up his hands, turned half away. “I don’t know! But
if you came now, why didn’t you come before?” He turned his head to
glare. “You want to be treated like you matter, but you don’t treat
me as if I matter to you!”
“You matter.”
“Then why didn’t you come?”
It was an accusation, not a question.
“I…did not want to be manipulated.”
That shut Jake up. There were tears in his eyes; he had always
been emotional. Once, Salene had prized that. “I *needed* you,” Jake
said finally.
“I am here.” What other response could he have given?
Jake started to move forward, hesitated, faltered, cooled. He
waved a hand and turned away again, all the way around. “It doesn’t
matter. It was a dumb thing to do, the dedication. I didn’t have any
business doing it; I was just confused. My marriage was falling
apart. I don’t know what I thought that dedication would accomplish.”
The answer seemed obvious to Salene. “You did something you knew
I would have to respond to, either to express gratitude or curiosity.”
He paused, added, “That was why I initially refused to come.”
“So why did you, finally? You didn’t have to; you made it clear
once that you didn’t want me around.”
Salene paused, thought how to answer. He could sidestep the
truth and preserve his pride, but had he wanted to preserve his pride,
he would not have come here at all. “It was never a matter of not
wanting. It was a matter of choosing between two things I wanted too
much.”
For a moment, Jake said nothing, clearly taken aback. Then his
face shut. “I didn’t think Vulcans ever wanted; that’s a *feeling*.”
Salene looked around himself, anywhere but at Jake. “I feel.”
“You said that once, too. I was stupid enough to believe you.”
“I did not lie!” It was a snap, no other description for it.
Reining his temper, he walked back to the stove. It was hot, like
this feeling in his chest. It made his skin tight, made his heart
tight. “When I left you, I left my soul.”
Behind him he heard clapping, slow and mocking, and spun around.
“How *poetic*,” Jake said.
To admit to emotion was bad enough. To admit to it and not be
taken seriously– He was moving almost before he knew what he was
doing. He grabbed Jake by the wrist, jerked him close…and had
nothing to say. At the root of it, this wasn’t about declarations.
Jake had no reasons to believe him. So he leaned in the rest of the
way and kissed him. It was brutal. Teeth bruised lips. He had Jake
by the nape of the neck. Jake had both hands on his upper arms, to
draw him close or shove him away. A wrestling match: each trying to
dominate the other on grounds neither had expected but perhaps both
had wanted too much. Salene could feel the bond pulsing in his own
mind. The wish to link with Jake almost overwhelming–as overwhelming
as this intense desire reawakened after long dormancy. They pushed
against each other like a pair of phalanxes at the clash of shields.
Jake broke off abruptly, jerked his head around to the stairs.
Salene remembered then, too: the child. She was not there. Jake let
out a breath, let Salene go. “What in hell was that?” he muttered.
Salene stepped forward again, back into the circle of Jake’s
personal space–but he kept one eye on the stairs. “Which part? The
anger or the desire?”
Jake set a hand on Salene’s hip–very carefully, as if he thought
Salene might break. “This is insane. It was eleven years ago. I’m
not attracted to men. I have a daughter, and a wife, if we can work
it out. You have a career, and a family that doesn’t want to hear
about me.”
“All true, if not precisely accurate on the details. Only part
of my family would not wish to hear about you.”
“Which part?”
“My elder brother.”
“You said your family would disown you.”
“I was young.” And foolish. But he did not add that.
Jake backed up, raised his hands. “This is going too fast. What
did you come here for? To disrupt my life again?”
“I told you–I wished an answer regarding the dedication.”
“And you got one. My marriage was falling apart. I guess it
reminded me of you!”
“You said you needed me.”
“I did. Then.”
“And now?”
Jake made a helpless gesture. “I don’t know! I don’t understand
any of this! You just…drop back into my life and expect me to take
you on faith.”
“No, I do not.” He wanted to touch Jake again, knew it would be
unwise. “I did not intend what just occurred–but I cannot say no
part of me had hoped for it.”
“What did you think was going to happen if you came here?”
“Honestly? I thought you would not talk to me.”
“Despite the dedication?”
“Yes. I simply felt compelled to see you again.” He let a
faint, bitter smile touch his lips. “The dedication provided an
excuse.”
“So now what?” Jake asked.
Salene shrugged by way of answer. He really had no idea. He had
not thought to get this far. Jake picked up their cups, went back
into the kitchen and poured more coffee. He did not look at Salene.
“Do you want to stay for lunch? It’s still snowing out there.”
“Do you wish me to stay?”
“I wouldn’t ask otherwise!”
“Then I will stay.”

It was a strange afternoon. Not comfortable. After lunch, the
child was put down for a nap. She went reluctantly, might not have
gone at all had Salene not promised a song. She was fascinated by
him. And he was fascinated by her, by the sheer fact of her. Jake’s
child. That she was charming and apparently clever for her age only
added to the effect. When she was finally asleep, he came back
downstairs. Jake sat in the near-empty dining room on the other side
of the kitchen, staring out the front bay window at the snow coming
down in the street. His feet were up on the sill and he had a
steaming cup of coffee in his hands. There was a second chair for
Salene. “I did not think you particularly cared for coffee,” Salene
said by way of greeting, took the chair.
“Started drinking it at the Pennington Academy in New Zealand, but
I didn’t actually get to like coffee till I lived in Rome a few years.
They know how to make real coffee in Italy; they roast the beans, not
burn them.”
“What were you doing there?”
“Going to school.”
“In Italy, not New Zealand?”
“I stayed at Pennington two years. I guess I learned something.”
He took a sip of coffee. “That’s not fair. I did learn something,
but I learned more outside classes than in them. I decided I’d do
better with a degree in something else. If all you study is writing,
you have nothing to write *about*. So I travelled for a few years–
all Earth’s important old cities left standing after the Third Word
War. I went to Leningrad, Calcutta, Nairobi, Istanbul, Mexico City,
Cairo, Athens, Barcelona, Venice, Casablanca. Quite a list, huh? And
those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head.” He
grinned. “Finally settled in Rome. Took comparative literature
there, with a year at Cambridge after. I think I lived in their
library–a real one, with real books. It’s wonderfully Gothic. Nog
thought I was nuts.”
“You are still friends with the Ferengi?”
“Nog didn’t walk out on me.”
Salene rose, stalked away through the kitchen. Behind him, he
heard Jake rise also. “Don’t leave. I’m sorry.”
He stopped but remained turned away towards the sitting room with
its stove and denuded Christmas tree. “There is nothing for which you
need apologize. You are correct. Nog did not betray his friendship
with you. I did.”
“I never understood why. I read the note you left, but couldn’t
you just have *told* me those things? Did you really think I’d be so
selfish I wouldn’t let you set whatever limits you needed to?” A
hesitation. “I’d have taken you on any grounds you named. You were
my friend first.”
“You still do not understand, do you? It was never you I did not
trust! It was myself.” He turned a little to stare at a neat line of
canisters on the cabinet until his eyes went out of focus. “You were
the unwitting victim of my own weaknesses. That is why I left. I
would not victimize you further.”
“Couldn’t you let me decide for myself? If you’d talked to me–”
“I’d never have been able to leave you.”
“That was the idea, dammit!” Frustrated, Jake threw his coffee
cup. It crashed against the wall, the last dregs of coffee streaking
brown on white. Being plastic, the cup itself did not break but the
sound startled them both.
“You’re going to wake your daughter.”
“No, I won’t. A Klingon bird of prey could go screaming through
her room at warp nine and it wouldn’t wake her.” Jake came into the
kitchen to grab a rag, dampen it and go back out to wipe up the coffee.
Salene followed, picking up the cup where it had bounced away against a
baseboard. Jake had finished cleaning up but remained squatting,
staring at the wall. “If you had to leave then to ‘protect’ me, why
show up again now? Do you think it’s going to hurt less when you leave
this time?”
Salene frowned down at the blue plastic of the cup. “Do you wish
me to leave?”
“That wasn’t what I asked.”
“No, but it is what I asked.” He walked over to stand next to
Jake.
Jake did not look up at him. “You got what you came for–a
reason for the dedication.”
“Ostensibly.”
Jake finally turned up his head. “What are you trying to say?”
Squatting down as well, Salene frowned at the wood floor between
his knees. “If you wish me to stay, I will. If you wish me to leave,
I will. I did not come intending to cause you pain. I came because I
could no longer stay away. My own weaknesses again. But I will not
victimize you twice.”
“Why don’t you show me the respect of letting me decide this time
when I’m a victim?”
That made Salene glance up. There was anger in Jake’s face, and
something else. “I want you to stay,” Jake said. “But only if I can
trust that you won’t disappear on me again. If you can’t give me your
word, then yeah, I want you to go, and not come back.”
“I can give you my word,” Salene said solemnly.

II.

Jake was working. Again. He had forgotten that it was time to
eat. That was a common enough occurrence. Salene set Jenny in her
highchair at the breakfast bar and gave her wheat crackers to keep her
busy, walked down the hall to bang on Jake’s office door. Again.
“Jake.”
“Yeah, yeah–I’m coming. Just let me finish this thought.”
“You said that five minutes ago.”
“I’ll be there in a minute!”
Snorting softly, Salene went back to the kitchen. After three
months, he knew the routine: he would feed Jenny, eat something, then
Jake himself would finally appear half an hour from now, looking
shamefaced and offering apologetic variants on, “I got involved.”
Sometimes Salene wondered how Jake had survived alone with Jenny
before he had arrived. When writing, Jake lived in his own world–
especially now as he fought to complete his second novel. But Salene
understood that kind of obsession.
“At least you don’t yell at me,” Jake had said, a month after
Salene had moved in. “Sarah thought marrying a writer would be
romantic, but she never understood. Since I was home all day, why
couldn’t I run errands for her, watch Jenny, whatever? Then she
bitched when I wrote at night because I was busy all day. ‘You never
spend any time with me!'” It was one of the few times Jake had said
anything about the reasons for his separation from Sarah. Salene had
never asked more.
His current arrangement with Jake was ephemeral. It continued to
exist because they refrained from imposing the past or future on it.
After that first day, Jake never again asked Salene if he was staying,
or for how long, or what had become of his career. Once, he had asked
–almost casually–when Salene’s next tour was scheduled. “I am on
indefinite leave,” Salene had replied. That had ended it. Yet Salene
never left the house without telling Jake precisely when he would
return and then keeping to that even if it meant cutting short a trip.
They did not sleep together, nor touch at all except by accident.
Jake appeared unaware of the bond between them; Salene was too aware
of it, and reluctant to tell Jake. Eleven years ago, it had seemed
the right thing to do: his private gift. Now he saw it differently: a
violation, a link put there unasked. And so for the moment, their
unofficial arrangement continued. Jenny had accepted his presence in
their lives; Jake had come to rely on him, if not completely forgive
him; one of the cats had adopted his feet at night. His package mail
was being forwarded here, and his younger brother Solymi was gradually
shipping items from his apartment in T’lingShar. Even the neighbors
had gathered that he was more than a mere visitor.
He also knew it could not last much longer. They were living in
Never-Neverland–but that morning, he had seen Jake flipping through
his financial record, and frowning. Jake was not wealthy. In fact,
Salene had been appalled by how little Jake was paid for his efforts.
Though they lived frugally enough, the advance for Jake’s second book
was nearly gone, that for a third still in negotiation. Sarah paid
the mortgage. The house had been Jake’s idea–“I never had a house,
growing up”–but he could not afford it. Sarah was continuing the
mortgage payments until she returned and they could decide what to do
about the future. Jake seemed to be preparing himself to lose the
place; he had spoken of fixing this or that in preparation for putting
it on the market.
Salene wondered how he might convince Jake to let him help with
expenses; he had more private resources than he knew what to do with.
It was illogical to be forbidden to contribute, particularly in light
of the fact that he now more or less lived here. In fact, he could
buy Jake the house outright, present it as a gift…but did not think
that wise. Jake’s pride would be wounded. Nevertheless it troubled
him deeply to live here at Jake’s expense. Sometimes he simply bought
things and did not tell Jake.
He fetched peanut-butter-and-banana squares from the replicator,
set them in front of Jenny as the comm rang. Without thinking, he
walked out into the dining area and flipped the receive. “Yes?”
A woman’s face on the screen–startled. He knew instinctively
who she was: Sarah Fernandez. Jake’s wife. “Who are you?” she
demanded. “Where’s Jake?”
“Jake is here, writing. Shall I call him?”
She frowned. She was, he supposed, a pretty woman. He might
have been jealous, but he was the one standing in her dining room, not
her. “Who *are* you?” she asked again.
“I am a friend. My name is Salene.”
“Sal– Not *that* Salene!”
He wondered what ‘that Salene’ signified, and how much she knew
about him. He was saved from answering by the child. Having heard
her mother’s voice on the comm, she had abandoned her meal to come
screaming out into the dining area. “Mommeee!”
Fernandez’ face altered entirely. “Hi, sweetie. Where’s daddy?”
“In his office,” Jenny said, even as the office door opened and
Jake came down the hall. He was frowning. His eyes still had that
distracted look he got when he was working.
Salene had stepped back from the comm. Now, he watched Jake
confront his wife. “Sarah?”
There was a long pause while they studied each other. “The
project is done,” she said. “I’m coming home.”
“When?” Jenny shouted, gripping the edge of the comm desk and
bouncing up and down in uncontrollable excitement.
“I’ll be there in two weeks.”
“Jenny’ll be glad to see you.”
“Politic phrasing, Jake. I notice you didn’t say you would be.”
“Sarah–not in front of her.” He glanced around for Salene,
nodded to his daughter.
Coming forward, Salene knelt beside her. “Come.”
“But Mommy–!”
“I’ll call you before we disconnect,” Jake said. “You can talk
to Mommy then.”
Salene took her upstairs to work on a puzzle. In the distance,
he could hear the rise and fall of Jake’s voice, harsh with anger. He
was glad human hearing was less accute; the child seemed oblivious.
After twenty-two minutes, Jake appeared at the door to Jenny’s room.
“Jenny Gwen, Mommy wants to say goodbye.”
She leapt up and was gone on the instant. She had only been
biding her time with Salene anyway, awaiting the chance to talk to her
mother. Why did it hurt so much inside, to see how fast she went? He
looked at Jake. His friend had been crying but not, Salene thought,
in sorrow. “You know,” Jake said, “Every time we talk, I remember why
she’s out there and I’m back here.” Salene stood, shyly set a hand on
Jake’s shoulder. It was the first time they had touched in weeks but
Jake turned away. “I need to go; Jenny doesn’t know how to disconnect
the comm.” And he left Salene standing alone in the child’s room.

They did not talk again until Jenny was put to bed, bathed and
teeth brushed. She had done nothing but chatter about her mother’s
imminent return. Salene sang her a lullaby and tried not to allow her
chatter to affect him. His reactions were illogical and absurd. She
was not his child; it was perfectly natural that she be excited to see
her mother again. Nevertheless he stood for a long while in her
doorway and watched her sleep. Inside, he was hollow.
Jake came up the stairs, stood beside him. “They’re sweet like
that, aren’t they? Nature’s way of making sure their parents don’t
throttle them for being holy terrors when they’re awake, I guess.”
Salene shook his head. “She is not a ‘holy terror.’ She is only
a child.”
He could feel Jake study him from where he had leaned against the
opposite doorjamb. “You love her.”
“Her welfare is of concern to me. If you wish to label that
‘love’, it is your prerogative.”
Jake made a sound somewhere between disgust and amusement. “Well
the ‘concern’ is reciprocated. She’s very fond of you.”
Salene turned away. “Perhaps–the same as she is fond of the
cats and the newt and her collection of stuffed animals. She is not
my child.” And he stamped down the stairs, irritated with himself for
being so transparent.
He headed for his room. He would read before he composed himself
for meditation and then sleep. Jake followed him, caught him in the
hallway. “Hey! What is wrong with you?”
His turn now to jerk an arm free. “Nothing!” He turned away.
If he did not, he would shame himself. Jake let him be. Finally he
said, “She is not mine. I know this. I do not wish to impose, nor
would I ever ask that she chose between her mother and myself.”
“Why do you assume she has to?” The unexpected comment brought
Salene’s head around. Jake continued, “When Sarah and I separated, we
promised each other we wouldn’t tear Jenny apart between us. If I
thought you were trying to turn my daughter against her mother, I’d
kick you out of my house. But kids have big hearts, Salene. And as
far as she’s concerned, you hung the stars.”
“Her mother may have other ideas.”
Jake did not reply; Salene began to move back towards his room
but Jake’s hand on his arm stopped him. “We need to talk.” Salene
halted, kept his face averted but nodded. They did indeed. “Let’s go
out by the stove. It’s cold back here.”
Jake heated cider for Salene–real cider made from local apples–
then made espresso for himself. Two of the three cats had come over
to bump Salene’s legs; the grey leapt up into his lap. Absently, he
scratched her cheeks and ears.
Putting the cider mug on a table by Salene’s chair, Jake said,
“Cats and Vulcans are the antithesis of Klingons and tribbles. If
there’s a Vulcan around, every cat inside a mile comes running.”
It was an attempt at small talk to avoid the larger issue.
Vulcans were just as prone to it, though they liked to call it
something else. “It is our body heat,” Salene said.
“Maybe.” Jake snorted. “But even Nancy likes you and she’s half
wild.” He nodded to the cat in Salene’s lap. “It’s more than just
higher body temperature.”
Salene shrugged. Jake might be correct; he really did not know
why Terran cats gravitated to Vulcans–and the reverse. Salene had
read somewhere that the Terran domestic cat had recently superseded
the sehlat as the most preferred house pet on Vulcan: the only example
in the Federation of an introduced animal replacing a native one in
popularity. And it had happened in only a hundred Vulcan years. Now,
Salene let Nancy’s subsonic purr lull him while he waited for Jake to
broach more serious matters. But Jake’s announcement still caught him
by surprise: “Sarah wants marriage counselling.”
Salene sat up.
“She seems to think we can fix things,” Jake went on, “that we
should try for Jenny’s sake.”
“Indeed, you should try.”
Jake stared. “I can’t believe you want me to go back to her.”
Picking up his mug, Salene turned it in his hands. “Jake, your
commitment to Sarah has precedence. You exchanged vows with her, not
me. It is your duty not to give up on those vows unless it proves
impossible to keep them.”
“What if I prefer you?”
Salene stood abruptly, dropping Nancy onto the floor. He stalked
over to the sliding glass door which opened onto the back porch,
looked out. The back light illumined a line of yellow daffodils in a
flower bed by the house. They were just beginning to open their buds.
“That is not a reason,” he said to Jake.
“Not for a Vulcan maybe–”
Salene spun. “It is not a reason! And you do not prefer me.”
“How do you know who I prefer!”
“You are not attracted to men–as you told me yourself.”
Jake rose, too, came over to stand in front of Salene. “I’m not
attracted to most men, no. But to you?” His eyes flicked over
Salene’s face. “I don’t know. I’d forgotten….” He did not finish
the thought. Instead, he said, “Sarah and I ended up in bed the first
time we went out. Chemistry. I was drunk on it for over a year. We
had great sex. Then I woke up one day and realized I was married to
someone I didn’t *like* half the time.” He paused, glanced down. “I
probably should’ve asked for a divorce then. I didn’t. No Sisko has
gotten a divorce in five generations. I thought I was expecting too
much, wanting too much in one person, and should settle for something
more realistic. Instead, I settled for the wrong things.” He looked
back up. “Being with you again reminded me what it’s like to be
understood. I want someone who understands me.”
“And so you would sacrifice attraction for understanding. What
makes you think the trade would prove more satisfying to you in the
long run? Choose me because you want me, or let us remain friends.”
Jake eyed him. “You told me once that Vulcans didn’t marry for
love or desire, but now that’s what you want from me.”
“I could not marry you in any case; that has not changed. Nor
does it matter why Vulcans marry–it matters why *humans* do. You are
human. You must choose a mate for human reasons.”
“Salene, whatever Vulcans may think, humans aren’t slaves to
emotion–and chemistry isn’t what makes a good marriage. I married
Sarah for chemistry, and it wasn’t enough. Humans can be as pragmatic
as any Vulcan.” He grinned. “I *like* you; that matters more. I
enjoy your company, I value your opinion–”
“But you do not desire me. We may as well be roommates.”
Jake threw up his hands. “*Why* are you stuck on that? As for
desiring you–you’re wrong. I do feel…something. I’m not sure
‘desire’ is the best word for it, but for eleven years I haven’t been
able to get you out of my head!”
Jake’s phrasing cut off Salene’s initial reply. After a moment,
Salene asked, “What do you mean you have not been able to get me out
of your head?” Surely mind-blind Jake was unaware…? But Jake
shrugged, looked embarrassed–as if he had said more than he had meant
to. “Explain,” Salene prompted.
Jake took a breath, glanced quickly at Salene, then away again.
“I’ve thought of you, off and on, ever since you left–sometimes every
day, sometimes not for months. At Pennington, it was bad. Maybe
that’s why I left school to travel. Dad thought traveling was a good
idea. I’d seen so much of other planets, but didn’t know squat about
my own. But to me, traveling kept me too busy to remember. It worked
mostly, till I settled in Rome. Italy reminded me of you, so I left
and went to England. Then on a visit to my mother’s parents, I met
Sarah. She was the first person since you who I felt serious about.”
Jake was not answering the question in quite the way Salene had
meant, but it was the first time since the day of Salene’s arrival
that Jake had talked about his past. Occasionally, he had related
anecdotes but anecdotes made for spotty illumination. So, fascinated,
Salene did not try to redirect him.
“Like I said before, there’s really not much to the story.” Jake
shrugged. “We had good sex, and a similar background; I thought that
was enough. So I finished up at Cambridge and we got married. Dad
was happy for me; I think Kassidy was less sure, but they’ve both been
pretty good about not trying to run my life.” His shoulders sagged.
“Everything was fine for a year or so, then I woke up one day and
realized I wasn’t in love with Sarah, probably never had been. We
started fighting–little things at first. Then out of the blue, she
suggested that we have a kid; she must have sensed she was losing me.
I don’t know why I agreed. Maybe I thought a baby would give us more
in common, and our parents were ecstatic, so we bought this house and
had Jenny. For a while, it did help. But Jenny took a lot of time,
and I was the one who bore the brunt of it.”
Sighing, he went back over to sit down by the fire. Still silent
and listening, Salene followed. “I love my daughter; I wouldn’t send
her back even if I could. But having a child is supposed to be a
partnership, and Sarah always had some project due, or some conference
to attend, or had to stay late in the lab. I did the work, though
having a baby hadn’t been my idea in the first place. I was tired all
the time, and resentful.”
He picked up a piece of cardboard and fed it to the stove. It
was late March and the weather still ran chill enough at night to
light a fire. “About a month after Jenny’s second birthday, Sarah
came home all excited because she had an opportunity not just to
design a space station, but actually to oversee the building. Station
architects don’t always or even often have that chance. To be invited
meant a leap in her status in the field.
“But it also meant she wanted to pack us up and go off for six or
eight months to live on the edge of Romulan space, half of it spent in
pre-station contractor housing. Not very pleasant.” He threw another
bit of cardboard into the fire. It blazed. “I’d spent enough time on
ships and stations, growing up. When we first married, I’d told Sarah
I wasn’t going to raise a family on a station and she’d agreed. But
when this project came up, she kept saying, ‘It’s only a few months.’
Maybe so. A few months this time, a few months next time…and how
often would Jenny get to see a real sky and breathe real air? Pretty
soon, we’d be bouncing from project to project: building stations or
fixing them, or updating old ones. I told her I didn’t want to live
like that. We had…quite a fight. The only thing we settled was
that we needed some time apart. So we decided she’d go alone to the
project and I’d stay here with Jenny. I’d just finished ANSLEM. I
thought of you all the time then, so I dedicated the book to you. I
wasn’t sure you’d ever see it, but hoped if you did, you’d come. I
needed your logic, or maybe I just needed to see you again and realize
you weren’t any more perfect than Sarah, so I could forget about you.”
Smiling wryly, he looked up. “Trouble is, when you did come, it
just convinced me that I’d been right all along: marrying Sarah was a
mistake.” He shook his head. “I don’t want to stay married to her,
Salene–and marriage counselling isn’t going to change that. The only
thing we have in common anymore is Jenny. We haven’t even had sex in
over a year. There’s just…*nothing there* to save.”
Salene slumped back in his chair, tapped fingers on the arm.
When Jake had first said that he had not been able to get Salene out
of his head, Salene had feared that the bond he had set between them
eleven years ago had somehow interfered with Jake’s marriage. He was
still not entirely sure it hadn’t, but after Jake’s recitation, he
felt somewhat less concerned. Now, he tilted his head slightly. “How
much does Sarah know about me? When I answered the comm and gave her
my name, she said, ‘Not *that* Salene.'”
Jake appeared amused. “She’s jealous because you got a book
dedication and she didn’t. She doesn’t know about New Orleans, if
that’s what you’re asking.”
“So what does she know?”
“I told her you were an old friend, and that you’d helped me a
lot when I first started writing. She knows ‘Orfeo’ was written for
you, and that you’re a famous singer. That’s about it.”
“And she never asked why we were no longer in contact?”
“I told her we’d drifted apart over the years and I’d lost track
of you.”
“So you lied. Why?”
Jake shrugged. “I don’t know. I never even told my father what
happened in New Orleans. He figured out after a while that we weren’t
writing any more, but he never asked why and I never told. Believe it
or not, the only person I ever confided in was Dax. My grandfather
guessed, and I think Jillian did, too, but I didn’t tell them.”
“Jillian knew.” Salene flicked his eyes to the fire, narrowed
them. “She saw me leaving, informed me I was being ‘melodramatic.'”
“Jill never had much patience for anything she considered silly.”
“She is wiser than I.” He turned back to Jake. “Why did you not
tell Sarah?”
Sighing, Jake said, “Embarrassment. I felt like I’d…I don’t
know…like I’d *failed*.”
“But you did not. I told you, it was my–”
Jake held up a hand to cut him off. “It doesn’t matter what was
going on in your head. It *felt* like a failure to me, like I’d done
something wrong, or been something wrong. I was the one who got left.
And I wasn’t too sure what to make of what had happened in the first
place. It’s the only time I’ve ever been with a guy, the only time I
ever wanted to. So on the one hand, it was totally out of character.
On the other–” He shrugged. “You were the most *right* lover I’ve
ever had. Wrong species, wrong gender, but absolutely the right
person. I don’t think I ever got over you leaving me.” He looked up.
“How was I supposed to explain that to my *wife*? So I didn’t tell
her the whole truth.”
Frustrated past his ability to suppress, Salene stood and stalked
away into the kitchen, set his cider mug in the reclaimant. “I never
intended you to fixate on me.”
Jake rose, too. “Whether you intended it or not, it happened.”
Salene was abruptly reminded of Jillian’s rebuke, all those years
ago: ‘*Consequences* are what you’re trying to avoid…But life is
full of consequences, whether or not you’re around to see them.’ Had
he really thought the only consequences would be to his life? He and
Jake had shared something precious, built on a fragile trust which he
had then broken. Bond or no bond, he did bear some responsibility for
Jake’s failed marriage; it was not merely inflated self-importance.
Had he stayed with Jake eleven years ago, their relationship might
have failed–but it would have been an honest failure. Instead, he
had left Jake with a torn memory healed over by idealization. All
Jake’s future relationships had been weighed against his perception of
what might have been…a might-have-been untarnished by mundane
reality. Salene had become Jake’s ne plus ultra, and remained the
only one who could prove that image false. Ironically, he might do
Sarah more good by giving Jake what he thought he wanted.
And how much of that, he asked himself, is mere rationalization
for what *you* want?
He came back into the family room, back to where Jake had risen
from his chair, and held out two fingers of his right hand. Clearly
baffled, Jake stared. Taking Jake’s hand in his free one, Salene
folded it into the proper form, then raised Jake’s fingers to his own.
Shock of contact, physical and mental. Through hooded eyes, he
watched Jake draw startled breath. “You would have me as a partner?
I am far from perfect.”
“I didn’t ask for perfect,” Jake said. “I asked for you.”
“Perhaps, but I fear you have conflated the two.”
Jake closed his whole hand over Salene’s: not a proper touch, but
a very human one. “No, I haven’t,” he said. “I know your faults,
maybe better than you do. You always say you don’t have a temper, but
if I interrupt you when you’re working, you get short with me. Or, if
I try to talk to you when you’re playing gadulka, you look right at me
and never answer–like you didn’t even hear.”
“Asking me questions when I am endeavoring to practice is not
conducive to–”
Jake held up his free hand. “I’m making a point, not starting an
argument. You wonder why I don’t cook much any more, but cooking two
meals–one veggie and one not–isn’t easy. I won’t quit eating meat
for you.”
“I never asked you to. And,” he added dryly, “you don’t cook
because you tend to get involved *writing*.”
Jake ignored the correction, went on, “You fuss if I leave things
laying around, but when you clean up, I can’t *find* anything; you
start laundry when I’m in the shower so all I get is hot or cold
water; and you turn the heat way up because you’re cold all the time,
but you don’t have to pay the power bill.”
“Only because you will not permit it.”
Waving a hand, Jake said, “I told you, I don’t want to argue.
That’s not the point; we can fight about it later if you insist.” But
he was grinning as if he had already won the quarrel.
That insouciance annoyed Salene. “I could make a list of your
less than sterling qualities, too.”
Jake grinned harder. “No doubt. But you seem to think I don’t
see you, or know what I’m asking for when I say I want you. But I do.
I know your virtues *and* your faults.”
Yet Salene had faults–and weaknesses–Jake did not know, might
not want any part of. He started to turn away. Jake, hand still
clasped tight around his, did not let him. “Don’t play games with me,
Salene. You started this; you made that crack about having you for a
partner. Okay–I’m taking you up on it.”
Salene’s eyes widened. Jake stepped closer; they were still
almost exactly the same height. Salene could feel Jake’s breath;
Jake’s gaze had dropped to focus on Salene’s mouth. Perhaps five
inches separated their faces. This was the fork in the road. It had
taken them three months to get here–three months to move back eleven
years. Salene stared down the path not taken. “‘Two roads diverged
in a yellow wood,'” he whispered, “‘and sorry I could not travel both,
and be one traveler, long I stood, and looked down one as far as I
could to where it bent in the undergrowth–‘”
Jake snorted. “Do me a favor–don’t quote old, overworn poetry
to writer.” And he leaned in to press his lips to Salene’s.

III.

Jake Sisko might be a night owl, but his daughter was a morning
bird–so Salene had set his internal clock to wake before she did.
She had a habit of crawling into bed to cuddle with her father of the
morning. Salene did not think discovering him there would be the
optimal way for her to learn about his altered relationship with Jake.
So he rose early, opened the stove flue and put a new log on the
fire, then called her down to him when she woke, made them pancakes
from the replicator. After, she sat on his lap and let him read her a
Vulcan story. Jake had asked him to teach her Vulcan: “I think it’d
be good for her to learn a second language this young.” So, when they
were alone together, he spoke to her only in Vulcan. And when they
were alone together, her head on his chest while she listened to him
read, he could forget for a time that she was not his child. He let
one hand stroke her shoulder while he thumbed holobook frames with the
other. She would lean against him, completely trusting, innocently
assuming that she was the center of his world. She was, she and her
father. They might be the only family he had now.
He stopped that train of thought; over the years, he had come to
recognize his own exaggerations. He would not be here at all had
Solymi not insisted. He had not lost his family, not entirely. He
had done something worse: he had divided them. It might have been
easier had they all been able to reject him. Or to accept him. But
perhaps accepting him was asking too much.
There was a crash upstairs and a started shout. “Salene!”
Lulled and warm by the stove, Salene and Jenny both jumped.
Salene swung her down–“Stay here”–and took the stairs three at a
time. “Jake? Are you injured?”
Jake was in the master bedroom at the hall end. Apparently, he
had come scrambling out of the bed, tugging bed sheets with him, and
knocking over the end table in the process. Only half-awake, stark
naked with a panicked look on his face, he was trying to right the
table, pick up things from the floor. Seeing Salene in the doorway,
he let out a breath and knelt down, as if to regain his balance. “You
are still here.”
Salene understood then.
Jake had woken alone–just as he had eleven years ago.
Shutting the door firmly behind, Salene came over to kneel on the
floor by Jake, twitch a corner of blanket over Jake’s lap. Jenny was
not good yet at obeying a command for more than a few minutes. She
would come trailing up here soon. Then he set a palm on Jake’s chest
roughly where he knew the human heart to lie. He looked at his hand–
tan skin against brown–not at Jake’s face. “I am not going anywhere.
That first day, you asked if I could give you my word on that, and I
did. I will not leave you unless you ask me to.” He paused, then
added, “I did not wish Jenny to find me in her mother’s place this
morning. So I rose before she did.”
Turning, still not looking at Jake, he set the table back on its
legs, replaced the lamp and communi and the bookPADD which Jake was
reading–though not last night. On the floor under the table were
three discarded tissues, dry now and stiff. He threw these into the
reclaimer as Jenny shoved the door open.
“Daddy?”
“I’m okay, honey. I just tried to get out of bed before I was
awake.”
She climbed onto his lap, wrapped arms around his neck and kissed
him good morning: a sloppy, imprecise child-kiss. She gave these out
frequently and with profligate abandon–to her father, the cats, her
stuffed animals, probably the newt if Jake did not watch carefully,
and even to Salene. He had never told her not to.
“Why don’t you go back downstairs for a bit,” Jake was saying to
her. “Daddy needs to dress.”
She grabbed Salene’s hand and tugged at him. “Come back and tell
me stories!”
“I will in a moment.” He pulled his hand free and turned her
towards the door, gave her a gentle push. “Go.” And he shut the door
behind her. Jake was already calling up clean underwear from the
repli-dresser, hopping from bare foot to bare foot on the wooden
planks. Cold air had goosepimpled his flesh and he hurried into his
clothing. Salene leaned against the door and watched.
“What’re you staring at?” Jake asked. His teeth were chattering.
“We have to tell her.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jake said from inside a sweater. His head popped
out the top and he tugged at the hem. “At least she likes you.”
“That is not necessarily advantageous. She has grown accustomed
to me in one role: that of family friend. She may feel…betrayed…
if I assume a place that belonged to her mother.”
Jake was shaking his head as he sat to put on slippers. “I doubt
it. I’m not sure she remembers enough. Sarah hasn’t been around for
almost eight months now, and for half a year before that, we kept to
separate rooms. I was down where you’ve been sleeping; Sarah was up
here. Jenny sensed there was something wrong, but I’m not sure she
realized what, or that parents are *supposed* to sleep together.”
Salene crossed his arms. “Terran parents, you mean. Vulcan
parents would not.”
Grinning, Jake stood. “Touche, my friend. Maybe someday I’ll
get used to thinking to make the distinction. But I hope you don’t
plan to keep that particular Vulcan custom.”
Smiling ever so slightly, Salene pushed himself away from the
door, opened it. “Not at the present–no.”
As Jake passed, he touched Salene’s arm. It would have been
insignificant had Salene not been Vulcan. But he was. To touch so
casually was something only a mate would presume to do. Salene
wondered if Jake understood that, or if he did it instinctively. In
any case, he followed his friend downstairs.

But they did not attempt to explain things to Jenny that morning.
Jake went back to his office to work and Salene took her outside to
decide where to plant a garden when the weather turned seasonable. He
wondered if, with a greenhouse, Vulcan plants might be coaxed to grow
on Earth. When he had mentioned the garden earlier, Jake had given
him a double-take, but said nothing. Salene could guess what Jake was
thinking: they would not be in this house long enough to harvest
anything, perhaps not long enough even to plant. But that was one of
several matters about which Salene intended to talk to Jake when they
put Jenny down for her nap.
Last night, this relationship had stopped being ephemeral and
become very, very real. There had been none of the fey feeling of
those two long-ago encounters in New Orleans. It had been as concrete
as the cool black Pennsylvania soil Salene rubbed in his fingers.
Jenny watched, then copied the gesture–less neatly. She grabbed a
fistful, dropped it, then immediately itched her nose with the dirty
hand. “Ela,” he said, gesturing her to him. Wetting his thumb with
saliva, he rubbed her face clean. The hand would require water. “vo-
lae’en kha.” Let’s go in.
He washed her hands in the bathroom sink, then made her try to
urinate, though she insisted she did not need to. He knew perfectly
well that it was time. She would say she did not need to go even
while in the very process of doing so. She resisted toilet training
violently, and now sat on the little plastic seat, glaring at him in
sullen defiance. “Dwe-ack friend!” You’re not my friend.
“Tel’hy,” he corrected placidly. “Dwe-ack tel’hy.”
She crossed her arms and humphed. Behind him, someone chuckled.
Jake had come out of his office and stood watching. “She hates it
that she can’t get a rise out of you.”
“There is not much point,” Salene said. “In half an hour, I will
be her friend again.”
Jake just grinned, stepped past to take care of his daughter.
“How did the gardening go?”
“The soil near the water”–a small creek ran along the back of
the property–“is the richest, although given your report of the
creek’s tendency to flood in the spring, perhaps not the best choice.
The soil by the shed will do.”
Jake pulled up Jenny’s training pants, dumped the contents of
the child’s toilet into the adult one and flushed. Such a profligate
waste of water. But this was Earth. Jenny dashed out past Salene’s
legs, glad to escape the bathroom and return to play–for now, alone.
It would be some minutes before she forgave the adults for subjecting
her to the onerous interruption of waste elimination.
“The house will have to be sold, you know,” Jake was saying while
he washed his hands.
“Is that what you want?” Salene asked. “I was under the contrary
impression.”
“Lights off.” Jake stepped back into the hall; They faced one
another across the width of it. “I can’t keep this place, Salene. I
can’t afford it.”
“I can.”
Jake turned his head away, frowned at the half-open door to his
office. Salene stood in the entrance to the guest room in which he
had slept until last night.
“Jake,” Salene said, “if we are to be partners, then we are to be
partners in all things–including expenses.”
“I don’t intend to live off you.”
“So instead, you have insisted on the reverse. As a guest, I was
willing to accede, although remaining your ‘guest’ for three months,
ten days was something of an absurdity. But I am not a guest now, and
you are not ‘living off’ of me. You have a vocation as well. That
the compensation for it is less than what I receive is an unfortunate
reflection of Terran attitudes toward the arts. Nevertheless, if we
are partners, then we share resources as well as a bed.” Salene
paused. Jake still stared at his office door. “That means we may
remain in this house, if it is your wish.”
“Sarah’s name is on the deed, and on the mortgage. Besides”–
Jake finally turned his eyes back to Salene–“what about your music?
Once you said that choosing me would mean you had to give up your
career. I can’t let you do that.”
“My perceptions then were…immature. I was young. I understand
things now which I did not understand then.” For one thing, he
understood what Seltor had tried to tell him all those years ago when
he had first become chi`pain: ‘Companionship can be found in other
quarters…do not turn aside the chance for companionship even if it
is not embodied in the traditional mate.’
Salene tilted his head, listening. In the family room, Jenny
talked to herself or, more likely, to and for one of her toys. She
was a remarkably *verbal* child. In any case, she was sufficiently
distracted for the moment. “Come,” he said, and gestured Jake into
the room which he had made his own. Picking up his gadulka from its
stand, he threw the strap over his shoulder and ran fingers over the
strings. Jake sprawled in the Vulcan musnud in the corner and
listened to him. The musnud was one of the pieces of furniture which
Solymi had shipped to him. “I cannot marry you,” Salene said after a
moment.
“You told me that last night. I guess I’m not too sure what you
mean then, when you say we’re ‘partners.'”
“I mean precisely that: we are partners.” He played a chord
progression, as if he could find his courage in the notes. “The
Vulcan word is t’hy’la. It is related to the word for friend.”
“Tel’hy.”
“You were listening.”
Jake smiled. “I’ve been known to listen now and then. So what
does it mean, ‘t’hy’la’?”
“Friend and more-than-friend, alter-ego, lover, life-partner….”
Salene let the chords take him into a bit of very old melody. “Its
meaning depends on context. It is a deep word, a hidden word–one you
will not find in a Vulcan dictionary.”
Jake’s eyebrow went up. “What? Vulcans have secrets?” His
voice was heavy with irony.
Head lowered to watch his hands, Salene did not bother to reply.
“So,” Jake said after a minute, “what happens with your singing?”
“It continues. Or will, when I inform the concertmaster that I
am prepared to return to performing.”
“When will that be?”
“When this matter between us is settled. I never set a date on
my returning. At the time, it was not possible.” He hoped Jake would
not ask why just at the moment.
Instead, Jake said, “They won’t forbid you to sing, when they
find out about us? Or will you tell them?”
Salene looked up finally, stilled the strings with his hand.
“They would not have ‘forbidden’ me in any case; I would simply have
received no invitations from a Vulcan source. And…there is telling
and there is telling. This is what I have learned, in the intervening
years. So long as the two of us maintain certain…illusions…I may
make whatever arrangements I please.”
Jake laughed without humor. “Vulcans and secrets! What you’re
saying is that Vulcans have affairs all the time, they just call them
something else?” His voice sounded vaguely incredulous.
“Perhaps not ‘all the time,'” Salene corrected, “but essentially
…yes.”
Before Jake could reply to that, a startled shriek and a crash
interrupted. Jake was out the door in an instant, Salene on his heels
as soon as he could set down the instrument. A terrified cat nearly
tripped him on its way to the sanctuary of Jake’s office.
“Jennifer Gwendolyn!” Jake was shouting. Salene rounded the
corner into the kitchen, stopped cold.
Water soaked the sitting room carpet around broken glass. Jenny
had pulled down the newt aquarium onto herself. She lay unmoving in
the midst of the mess.

Jake had an unfortunate tendency to panic. Perhaps one thing
which drew Salene to him in the first place was the fact that his
emotionalism made Salene feel controlled in comparison. Now, Salene
set a hand on his shoulder to keep him out of the pediatrician’s way
as she ran the regenerator over Jenny’s shoulder. “The cuts and
breaks aren’t as serious as they might have been,” the woman said.
“She was lucky.”
“How could I have been so stupid?” Jake muttered for perhaps the
twentieth time. “I shouldn’t have left her alone that long.”
The pediatrician snapped the regenerator shut and patted Jenny’s
cheek, smiled. “You’re a brave girl!” Then she turned to Jenny’s
father. “Maybe you shouldn’t. But kids have a remarkable ability to
get into trouble, whether you leave them for five minutes or fifteen.
You can’t watch them constantly. I take it you didn’t have the
aquarium put where she could easily reach it?”
“I didn’t think so–” Jake began.
“He did not,” Salene interrupted, then added somewhat dryly, “It
required no little ingenuity on her part to reach it at all.” He
caught Jenny’s eyes. “She used a chair to climb onto the table in
order to get to the shelf. She knew very well that she was not
supposed to be up there.”
The pediatrician looked Salene up and down, unsure as to his
place in this family triangle, then she turned back to Jenny. “So
somebody learned a lesson today, didn’t she? When Daddy says not to
touch something unless he’s there to help, smart little girls listen.
From now on, you’ll be a smart little girl, won’t you?”
Wide-eyed still from her scare, Jenny nodded dutifully. Her
small brown face was stark. The pediatrician lifted her off the exam
table and handed her to her father. “She’ll be fine. Maybe a little
shaky for the rest of today, but fine.”

The newt, unfortunately, would not be. How long it might have
survived outside the aquarium, they would never know. Jake had
stepped on it in his rush to get to Jenny.
The whole mess was still waiting to be cleaned up when they
returned to the house. They had taken Jenny straight to the hospital.
Salene applied himself to the task while Jake carried a sleeping Jenny
upstairs to her room. She had missed her normal naptime but the
pediatrician had given her antibiotics, a relaxant, and a mild
painkiller, so she was groggy and had gone to sleep in Jake’s arms in
the flitter.
Now Salene cleaned up shattered glass and algae-covered gravel,
wondering why Jake had purchased an aquarium of breakable glass. He
did not realize he was shaking until he dumped the last of the wet
sponges into the reclaimant. Delayed reaction. Now that the crisis
was past, it had caught up with him. Jenny could have died; the
falling aquarium could have hit her skull, instead of just breaking
her shoulder. He sat down at the breakfast bar and put his head in
his hands, struggled for control. Jake found him that way a few
minutes later, set palms on his shoulders, squeezed. They said
nothing. Jake put on water for tea, set out crumpets. Tea was a
habit he had picked up at Cambridge. Italian espresso in the morning,
English tea at mid-afternoon.
“I’ve had that newt almost ten years,” Jake said after a while.
“I got it at Pennington. It was the only kind of pet we could keep in
the dorms.”
Salene looked up finally, took the tea cup which Jake handed him.
“You *traveled* with a newt?”
“No, grandpa kept it till I settled in Rome.” He sat down on the
stool opposite Salene. “I *stepped* on it. I kept it alive for ten
years, then killed it by *stepping* on it.”
It was like Jake to mourn even an amphibian.
“You were somewhat distracted at the time.”
“Yeah.” Jake poured milk into his tea, did not appear consoled.
“There is a Vulcan word: kaiidth. ‘What is, is.'” Although he
had to admit, he had never thought to apply it to the demise of a
newt. “Guilt cannot bring it back; thus, guilt serves no purpose.”
Jake just eyed at him. “Telling me it’s illogical to feel guilty
doesn’t change the fact, Salene.”
Salene dropped his eyes. They sat in silence again until Jake
broke it. “Thanks for keeping me calm, at the hospital.”
If Jake considered his behavior at the hospital to be ‘calm,’
Salene feared to see him distressed.
“I could sense you almost,” Jake went on now. “Like you were
inside my head, like some of your control bled over into me.” He
looked up at Salene. “Was that because of last night?”
Frowning at the surface of the brown liquid in his cup, Salene
shook his head. “Not entirely.”
Jake sipped tea. “I didn’t think so.” Remarkably, he did not
appear upset. “I’ve sensed it, off and on, since you got here. I
wasn’t sure what it was at first–or if I was just imagining it–but
it was like I could *feel* what you did, the same as in the mindmeld
back in New Orleans. It’s a result of that mindmeld, isn’t it?”
“No.” Salene looked up, met Jake’s eye, spoke the truth he had
kept to himself until now: “I set a bond between us.”
Very slowly, Jake put down his cup and straightened. “What?”
Now, there was anger. He had been willing to forgive their connection
as an accidental side effect of the mindmeld. He was not willing to
forgive it as a deliberate act.
Salene dropped his eyes to the cup. “Before I left you, in New
Orleans, I set a bond between us. Since I could not give you my
presence, I gave you my soul.”
Jake had risen, taken a step back. His skin had gone grey. “You
mean you did it on purpose *and never told me*?”
“You are mind-blind. I did not believe it would affect you.”
“How the hell would you know? How the hell would you know *what*
it’d do to me?”
Salene did not answer. It was a fair question.
“No wonder I couldn’t ever stop thinking about you! I’ve had
this…*thing*…in my head! And no wonder I’ve never been able to
maintain a relationship with anybody else! You made sure I wouldn’t!”
“Jake, that was never my intention–”
“Shut up! How can I trust what you say? You did something to my
head without my permission!”
Salene lowered his eyes again. He was guilty as charged. “I did
not set the bond to interfere in your life. I swear it on my honor.
At the time, I truly saw it as a gift. My secret gift. I was young;
it was a foolish act, but I meant no imposition. Had I thought it
might bind you, I would never have put it there. But you are mind-
blind. I believed it would bind only myself.”
“But you didn’t *know* that for sure!”
“Given what I know of bonds, it should not–”
“But you didn’t *know*. And you didn’t ask me!”
There was a long silence. Finally, in a low hard voice, Jake
said, “Get out of my house. Break this bond, then pack your things
and get out of my house.”
For a long moment, Salene sat numb: he could not think, could not
feel, could not react in any way. Finally, he said only, “I cannot
break the bond. Only a healer can. Or my death.”
Another long silence, then Jake whispered, “Damn you.”
Indeed I am, Salene thought to himself as he stood, wobbly with
shock. His stomach roiled. “I will…go pack.” He moved past Jake
without looking at him.
It did not take long to order what he had in the two large carry-
cases which he had brought with him initially, along with his gadulka.
The larger objects like the musnud, he would leave. Perhaps he would
retrieve them later. Perhaps he would not. He kept glancing at the
door, hoping Jake would come in to stop him, but the door remained shut.
When he exited the room, Jake was nowhere to be seen. The door
to the back office was closed. Salene used the comm to call for
private transport, though he had no idea where to go. Then he waited
in a chair by the front bay window, looking out at the street as he
had done the first day he had arrived here. After a few minutes, he
heard the office door open. He did not turn. Behind him, Jake spoke,
“Do you have to be present, to break the bond?”
“No.”
“Any Vulcan healer can do it?”
“Yes.”
Footsteps receded back down the hall and the door closed. On
the street outside, a small silver cab set down in front of the house.
Salene picked up his luggage and left by the front door.

He did not know what day it was, or where he was. Nor did he
care. White Terran sunlight came and went. Sometimes he remembered
to eat. He did not really sleep, but dozed, immobile on thin yellow
bed sheets in a room he had rented…somewhere, during the time he
could still think.
His bags and his gadulka sat unpacked by the dresser. Sometimes
he stared at them and thought that he should probably get up and do
something with them. But he never did. He rose only when his body
demanded that he feed it, or that he void himself. Something in him
still cared enough to resist soiling the bed. In a little while, that
part would stop caring, too, he knew. It had happened before.

Someone outside knocked on the door, called something in a
language he knew he should recognize but did not. He ignored the
voice. After a while, it went away.
People in uniforms came some time after that; he did not know how
long. They talked at him. He could not understand them. After a
while, they quit talking at him and talked to each other. Other
people came, put him on a floating cot and took him away. He should
have told them not to forget his luggage, but did not care enough.
Let it be forgotten. Perhaps he could sleep where they took him,
sleep and forget.

IV.

A gentle chime announced a visitor. Jake Sisko left off edits to
his latest novel, rose to answer the door to the little three-room
efficiency he’d rented in one of the renovated Victorian-style
buildings of downtown Bellefonte. His front window overlooked the
main street with its awful neo-Mussolini courthouse squatting on the
hill at one end.
Bellefonte had been an important stop on the iron railway in the
1800s, eclipsed entirely by the urbanizing trend of the late 1900s,
then resurrected in the 2200s as a retreat for crafters and artists,
as well as for stray faculty–like Sarah–from the big university-
center twenty miles to the south. As with most state universities and
colleges after the collapse of the old United States, the university
in central Pennsylvania had been transformed into one in a series of
academic centers, each specializing in a particular discipline.
Students might have a class in Texas in the morning, then hop the
bullet-train to Pennsylvania for their afternoon session, then take a
quick-stop shuttle to Brasilia for an evening seminar.
Ostensibly, the collection of specialists in a field was designed
to foster greater advances through ease of communication and a little
healthy competition. Jake thought it fostered greater insularity;
Pennington had suffered from something similar. He preferred the old
fashioned European university with its multidisclipline approach, even
if many thought it archaic–his wife among them. Sarah Fernandez had
bought thoroughly into the Academic Center System of the Americas.
She had used to introduce him to her colleagues as, “My husband, the
Cambridge graduate,” with an unkind emphasis on ‘Cambridge’ and there
would be smiles all around.
She wouldn’t introduce him that way any longer.
Now, he triggered the door open and, for just an instant, thought
Salene stood on the other side. Then he realized his visitor was too
short and too young and too…something. Mature in the face, perhaps.
Despite Salene’s sharp features, he would always have a boyish look.
Jake was staring at how Salene might have appeared, had he been
allowed to mature normally, and he knew who his visitor was without
being told. “Solymi.”
The other nodded.
Jake stood aside in unspoken invitation and Solymi stepped past
him, into the sitting room. Small and slight, Salene’s younger
brother came only to Jake’s chin and Jake thought about what Salene
had said all those years ago: that his height was a function of his
eunuchism, not genetics. Solymi was duskier than Salene, too, wavy
black hair cut short in a variation on the usual Vulcan style: parted
to the right with bangs swept sideways. His face was narrower, and
his cheeks had a dark shadow of beard. But the gypsy eyes were the
same, the fleshy prominent nose, the unusually straight brows, the
petulant curve of mouth. He and Salene had clearly been cast from the
same mold and, ears aside, Jake had seen their human cousins among the
Romani Rai in the historic quarter of Budapest.
He waited for Solymi to explain his arrival, but Solymi merely
surveyed the sparsely furnished room. “Given your current location, I
may assume that you and your wife have permanently separated?”
“Yes.” Jake said nothing else. Neither did Solymi, and Jake’s
patience was not equal to a Vulcan’s. Finally, he asked, “Did you
want something?”
Turning, Solymi tucked his hands behind his back. Jake had seen
Salene use the same posture at times. “It has been nearly three weeks
since you sent away my brother–yet you still maintain the link which
was the cause for your dismissal of him. Why?”
Jake didn’t like being under inquisition on his own turf. “I’ve
been busy. My wife just got back; we had things to settle.”
“Your wife returned only seven days ago; twelve passed between
Salene’s departure and her arrival…sufficient time to seek a healer
and break the bond. If you were unable to locate a healer in such
time”–his tone said how unlikely he found that–“let me offer myself.
I will break it.”
“You?”
“I am a healer.”
So, Salene’s long-ago predictions had turned out to be wrong.
His little brother was a doctor, not a writer.
Jake turned away, walked to the front window. “Does he want it?”
“I was under the impression that you did.”
“I was mad at him. He didn’t have any *right* to set that bond!”
“No, he did not.”
“I needed some time, to think it over.”
“And your conclusions?”
Jake stared at the flitter traffic in the street below. Spring
had sprung early this year. Tulips made a riot of red and orange and
violet in flowerbeds, and the wind blew pink and white petals from the
dogwoods, dusting the sidewalk like April snow.
“I didn’t expect him to *leave*–not really,” Jake said. It
wasn’t an answer to Solymi’s question.
“Yet you demanded that he vacate your house.”
Turning his head, Jake glared. “I told you; I was angry. I
figured he’d go get a motel room for the night, give me a chance to
cool down, then we could talk about it in the morning. Instead he
took off…God knows where. I couldn’t find him.”
Solymi pulled out the rolling chair from Jake’s desk and seated
himself. Folding hands in his lap, he said, “My brother boarded a
MagLev, which he perhaps intended to take to San Francisco but rode
only as far as Fargo, North Dakota. In Fargo, he left the train and
checked into an inn; he does not remember why and his motivation is
probably irrelevant. After his departure from your house, he quit
taking his medication, so his reasoning would have been questionable
in any case. When the inn owner realized that she had not seen him
for fourteen days, and received no replies to knocks on his door, she
contacted the local authorities, who took him to a hospital in San
Francisco. The doctors there contacted me.”
Alarm ruffled wings in the pit of Jake’s belly and he frowned.
“Medication? What do you mean, he quit taking his medication? I
didn’t know he was sick!”
Solymi cocked his head. “My brother has been ill for most of his
life, to a greater or lesser degree. His medication permits him to
function normally. If he fails to take it–by accident or deliberate
choice–he quickly begins to present severe pathological symptoms.”
Stunned, Jake pulled around a dining room chair to face Solymi,
sat down. “What are you trying to tell me? What kind of pathological
symptoms?”
“Salene has a condition which Terrans term ‘recurrent major
depressive disorder’; it is a noradrenergic dysfunction. Put simply,
his brain chemistry is abnormal. He requires medication to correct
it.”
Jake blinked, sat back a little, too surprised to react yet.
Solymi continued, “You see, I am not only Salene’s brother, Jake
Sisko. I am also his psychiatrist.”

“What do you mean you can’t watch her tomorrow?” Sarah glared at
him from the other end of comm. “Jake, it’s after nine o’clock and I
teach a class at nine in the morning. You know perfectly well I can’t
find a sitter now! And I can hardly take her with me.”
Jake sighed. “Call my grandparents, Sarah.”
“Then I’d have to drive her all the way south of Boalsburg before
class! That’ll take almost an hour in morning traffic even on the
high lane. And just when do you plan to be *back*?”
Jake glanced up at Solymi, who stood out of sight behind the comm
screen. “I’m going to San Francisco; I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
“This is absurd–you have responsibilities. You can’t just run
off at the drop of a hat!”
Irritated, Jake turned his eyes back to the screen. “That’s
right, I have responsibilities! To a friend. He came once when I
needed him. It’s my turn to do the same for him. Emergencies happen.
You just don’t like anything that inconveniences you!”
“Jake, that’s unfair.”
“Then how would you explain it?”
She threw up her hands. “You act like this is some minor little
annoyance! It’s not; it’s a major headache! You know that we decided
you’d have her during the day and I’d take her at night–”
“Again for *your* convenience!” Jake snapped.
“I *work* during the day!”
“Of course you do, so of course I have to work at night.”
“It doesn’t matter when you work! You’re a writer!”
“I’m also your free childcare.”
“She’s your child! I didn’t think you found it such a hardship!”
Jake collapsed in a chair and rubbed his eyes. “Of course not.
But the point remains that the arrangement is convenient for you–more
for you than for me–”
“Oh, yes! *You* get her in the morning when you’re rested; I get
her at night after I’ve put in a whole day at work!”
“Sarah, shut up. Just…shut up. I didn’t call to argue about
our arrangements for Jenny. It wouldn’t even have come up except that
you’re being unreasonable.”
“You’re asking the unreasonable!”
“Look– Do you want me to call my grandparents, or can you find
someone ekse to babysit while I’m gone? This is an emergency; my
leaving is not up for debate. You teach *one* class tomorrow.”
Sarah’s expression could best be described as full reverse, but
she said only, “I’ll call Isabelle,” and cut the connection.
Jake practically slammed down the comm screen into its holder.
Solymi had watched the entire exchange silently. Now, he said, “When
will you be prepared to leave?”
Rubbing a hand over his face, Jake answered, “Half an hour.”

They were beamed to San Francisco. As a doctor, Solymi could
commandeer an unscheduled emergency transport; beaming in was how he
had reached Bellefonte, too. In the waiting area to the psych ward of
the Federation Interstellar Hospital, Solymi left Jake, who collapsed
on a couch and put his head in his hands. Up to this point, there had
been no time to think. Solymi had explained Salene’s condition, then
Jake had packed to leave. Now, he couldn’t avoid thinking.
Why had Salene never told him about the depression? Jake had
seen Salene take pills every evening, had even asked once if they were
vitamins or something; Salene had not gainsaid it. He had not lied
outright, but he may as well have. Why hadn’t he been honest? What
had he been afraid of?
“He dislikes anything he perceives to be special treatment,”
Solymi had said. “Even more, he dislikes pity.” Jake knew that, had
discovered it the first time they had met, all those years ago. But
it was pity for his castration which he had refused then and, when
Jake had learned that his castration had been his own choice, Jake had
given him none. This was different, and yes, Jake felt sorry for him.
But more, he felt angry and betrayed–again. Every time he thought he
knew Salene, something else popped up. What more was Salene hiding?
They’d been discussing a permanent partnership, for pete’s sake!
“I did warn him to tell you,” Solymi had said earlier. “I do not
know why he ignored my advice.”
Jake didn’t know either, except that they had only just begun
discussing the future when Jenny had pulled over the fishtank on
herself and, almost immediately after returning from the emergency
room, Jake had learned of the bond…and thrown Salene out of the
house. But why hadn’t Salene said something earlier?
“The bond Salene set didn’t have any effect on Sarah and me, did
it?” he had asked Solymi.
“No,” Solymi had answered. “You would have been aware of it only
if Salene were in physical proximity to you–a range of perhaps six
meters, for the mind-blind.”
Suspicions confirmed, Jake had just nodded. He had given a lot
of thought to the bond and his marriage, after Salene had left. He
had come to realize the marriage had collapsed under the stress of its
own defects, not the pull of some unknown bond. That didn’t make what
Salene had done right, but Jake couldn’t blame him for the divorce.
Footsteps announced Solymi’s return. Jake raised his head.
Solymi sat on the tan plastic couch opposite, folded his hands loosely
between his knees. “He says he is too ashamed to see you.”
“You told him I was here?” That surprised Jake; he had just
assumed Solymi planned to spring him on Salene.
“Of course I told him,” Solymi replied now, voice sharp. “It
would have been a breach of trust for me not to. He is mentally ill,
not simple, or incapable of making some decisions for himself.
“Sorry,” Jake said and frowned at his hands. “But I didn’t come
all this way for nothing. Tell him I said that. And tell him I’m
still a little mad about the bond, but I’m madder that he didn’t come
back so we could just have it out in a regular fight, and I’m really
mad that he ran off and did this to himself. Tell him also that I
said he’d better not do it again or I’ll come after him next time.”
Solymi blinked, thrown for a moment, then he nodded gravely. “I
shall relay your message.” He rose to leave, paused, added, “You do
understand him, I see. Sometimes he must be…’knocked over the head
with the obvious’–to use a Terran phrasing.”
Jake laughed. He could get to like Salene’s little brother.

Salene looked like shit. There was no other term for it. His
long hair was a tangled mess, he had circles under his eyes from lack
of sleep, and his face was gaunt and haunted. It had that fragile,
distracted look which characterized mental patients. Dressed in loose
hospital grey, he sat on the floor, knees up and back to a wall. When
Jake entered, he glanced up dully but otherwise did not react. If
this was ‘improved’, Jake wondered what he’d looked like when they had
found him in Fargo five days ago.
“Hi,” Jake said, feeling awkward and unsure of himself and
wishing Solymi had come in with him after all. Though he had been
warned, he’d unconsciously expected Salene to look like he always did:
neat and composed–Vulcan. Instead, he looked like shit.
Salene did not speak, though he did not glance away, either. At
a loss, Jake made his way over to sit down by him. “Your brother says
you haven’t eaten dinner yet. What would you like? I’ll program for
us both.” Though Jake had left Bellefonte at ten o’clock, he had not
eaten either. After hearing Solymi’s news, he’d clean forgotten.
But Salene just shook his head, leaned it back against the wall
and closed his eyes.
Jake sighed. Now what did he say? He had never before been
around someone suffering a psychotic episode. It was relatively rare,
psychopharmacology finely tuned by the twenty-fourth century. Most
conditions were diagnosed and treated quickly, easily and precisely,
and while Jake knew a significant mental illness like depression would
bar one from service in Starfleet, most chronic sufferers took their
medication and went about their lives with little interruption…and
with few people any the wiser. That Jake had never guessed about
Salene was evidence enough of that.
He had wanted to yell at Salene: for having kept his condition to
himself, for having set a secret bond between them, even for having
obeyed Jake’s expressed wish that he leave instead of Jake’s real one
that he remain and apologize. But in the face of Salene’s current
condition, he could not be angry. It was too evident in Salene’s face
that he already hated himself enough for them both, hated himself more
than he deserved, more than any being deserved.
“Among the symptoms of Salene’s disorder,” Solymi had explained,
“are delusions that the patient is innately evil and responsible for
all adversity that they face. Reality is distorted, and any sense of
proportion is lost. For a variety of reasons, some personal, some
cultural, my brother is particularly susceptible to this tendency.”
Reaching out–carefully, lest he startle Salene–Jake took his
friend’s hand. Salene tried to worm the hand free but Jake would not
let him. “Stop it; listen to me! I didn’t really want you to leave.
I know I said I did, but I didn’t. I was angry, and I have a temper.”
Salene was silent.
“All I wanted, I think, was an apology. You gave me protests,
explanations, even a blunt admission of guilt–but you never actually
said you were *sorry*. Maybe I should’ve assumed it, but I wanted to
hear it. I didn’t want you to leave, even if I told you to. Humans
don’t always say what they mean. You should know that by now.”
Still Salene said nothing, though he had quit trying to take back
the hand. It lay limp in Jake’s; Jake rubbed his thumb back and forth
over the back of it.
“I left Sarah–for good. I’m living in a little apartment about
ten blocks from our house. I walk there in the morning to stay with
Jenny while Sarah’s teaching, then walk back when she comes home.
It’s a temporary arrangement, but works for now. We’ve applied for a
formal divorce. I don’t blame the bond for that; I’m not sure I ever
really did. I was just upset when I said those things. As soon as I
had time to think about it, I knew better. I’ve never been able to
maintain a long-term relationship because I get too wrapped up in my
writing. That’s my peculiar failing, not the result of anything you
did. Most people don’t understand that; Sarah certainly didn’t. She
wanted more of me.”
“But being a writer *is* who you are.”
Jake almost jumped. It was the first thing Salene had said, the
first indication he’d given that Jake wasn’t just talking to the wall.
“Yes,” Jake said now, trying not to sound too eager. “And you always
understood that–understood the part of me that mattered. The rest
was just miscommunication across cultures; it didn’t seem all that
important…though it does seem to keep tripping us up, doesn’t it?
Maybe we’ll get better at it, with time.”
Salene did not reply again and inwardly, Jake cursed himself.
Too fast. He was moving too fast. Salene had started trying to twist
his hand free once more, but half-heartedly, as if a part of him did
not really want free. Or so Jake chose to interpret it.
He squeezed the hand once, tightly, then let go and pushed
himself up. “I’m hungry. How about some pesto over pasta? You like
pesto.” Salene did not reply but did not refuse so Jake walked over
to the replicator and called up two servings, and iced tea. He was a
little surprised to find a personal replicator here, but the room was
quite nice: a privacy screen hid the bed, there was a couch and chair,
a small dining table, the replicator, a desk with a terminal, a
private bathroom. The decor was muted mauve and grey. For patients
neither violent nor dangerous to themselves, rooms were designed for
comfort and dignity: more hotel than hospital. Only a single sensor
panel in the wall near the door, and another above the bed, gave away
that Salene was under observation and treatment.
Jake set his bowl on the table, and Salene’s in front of the
chair opposite. He pulled out that chair and waited. Salene was
frowning at his hands. Finally he got up and, still without comment,
sat down. Jake did the same. They ate. Solymi entered as they were
finishing and, for just a moment, his expression was startled–as if
Jake had unexpectedly succeeded in teaching his dog new tricks. Then
the expression was gone, replaced by that placid approval which Jake
had come to realize substituted among Vulcans for a huge grin. He sat
down in a third chair at the table and watched his brother. Seeing
them together like this, the family resemblance was striking. Jake
wondered if Saserna shared it. Three peas in a pod. An only child,
Jake had always been just a little bit jealous of Salene for having
not just one brother, but two.
When Salene had finished the last of his pesto, Solymi set a
little plastic cup on the table and pushed it across to him. The cup
held one white pill and one pink-and-yellow one. Salene eyed the cup
with distaste, poured out the pills into his hand. The white one
showed up stark against his tan skin. “My ‘normalcy.'”
“So would a different sort of medication be,” Solymi said calmly,
“had you been born with T’Bet’s syndrome. You have a physiological
dysfunction, not a moral defect.”
Salene ignored that, swallowed the pills, then turned to Jake and
said, “My brother understates the matter. I should wear bells or
clappers, to alert the sane of my approach. We mentally ill are
lepers on Vulcan.”
Unsure how to respond, Jake pulled in his chin and raised an
eyebrow.
Solymi snorted. “And my brother has always been given to
dramatic exaggeration. Never assume malice until ignorance is
disproved. We have discussed this before, Salene; the average Vulcan
is simply ignorant.”
“Even Saserna?”
Solymi did not reply to that, but he looked irritated.
A good deal was going on here which Jake didn’t understand: a
conversation conducted–or a war fought–with him used for dumb cover.
Before he could think how to object, Solymi stood. “Come, Jake. We
should leave for the evening. He needs to sleep.”
“Meaning that I am not behaving myself, so he will send me to
bed–though not without my supper, in this case.”
Solymi’s lips thinned. “You should be improved by morning,” he
told his brother.
“Indeed! The magic pill will make it all better!”
“Salene– Your attitude is illogical.”
“Of course it is! I am insane, remember?” Salene shoved himself
away from the table. The chair fell with a crash. It made Jake jump.
“The insane are not *logical*, brother-healer.”
“You are not insane. You are recovering from a major depressive
episode and, as ironic as it may sound, your hostility is an indicator
of improvement. You know this; you have been through it before. You
will feel better tomorrow.”
“Notice the emphasis he places on ‘feel,'” Salene said to Jake.
Jake kept his mouth shut, afraid to say the wrong thing. “I am
somewhat more than you bargained for, am I not?” Salene asked wryly.
“Perhaps you will change your mind about me.”
Goaded, Jake blurted back, “I won’t. We’re in this together.
Your brother’s right. You’re ill. I don’t blame you for it any more
than I would if you’d caught Tarkalian fever. You’ll get better.”
“But I shall never get *well*.”
“You don’t know that!” Jake paused, caught his breath and
dropped his eyes from Salene’s, added, “I’ll see you in the morning.”
He followed Solymi out.
Without speaking, Solymi led him to a conference room with a
table in the middle of it and a bank of replicators on the wall.
Solymi ordered hot tea for himself, glanced at Jake. “Espresso,” Jake
said. “I need the caffeine.”
Solymi brought over both cups. “Do you still wish to remain?”
“Like I told him, we’re in this together. I’m staying.”
“You saw him at his worst.”
It occurred to Jake that perhaps Solymi had been testing him. He
took a sip of bitter drink to wash away bitter memory. “How much of
what he said is true? Do Vulcans treat him like a leper?”
Solymi leaned back in his chair, studied Jake’s face. “Most are
completely unaware that he is ill; nor do the few who do know speak of
it. It would be a breach of his privacy. But yes, it is true that
many Vulcans are ignorant of and made uncomfortable by mental illness,
and occasionally say something unfortunate, even if not aimed at him.
But then, so do many humans.”
Jake was forced to nod; it was true. *He* had been uncomfortable
with Salene, just now. “We don’t know what to do, what to say–what
not to say.”
“Understandable. Dealing with those who do not react rationally
can be disquieting. Because my brother’s disorder is an affective one
–that is, related to his emotions and his ability to control them–it
is additionally distressing to Vulcans.” He glanced away abruptly.
“I fear they are inclined to see it as a fault, a weakness. But my
brother *cannot* control his depression, and not from lack of trying.
To expect him to is as…idiotic…as expecting someone with defective
optical nerves to be able to see without corrective surgery. He did
manage without medication for nine years–from his seventeenth year to
his twenty-sixth. We had hoped him recovered.”
So–when Jake had first met him, he had not been on medication.
That knowledge made Jake feel a little better, as if he had missed
less. “Why’d he have to go back on it?”
Solymi continued to keep his eyes averted; blankness settled over
his features: an expression Jake recognized as extreme discomfort.
“He…underwent a hormonal shift; all Vulcans in their late-twenties
do. You could perhaps say that we suffer two puberties. As a eunuch,
Salene was spared the more…distasteful…manifestation of the second
but he still retains his suprarenal glands which secrete sufficient
androgens to alter his brain chemistry. It is a dangerous time for
chi`pain. Some few lose their voices. My brother lost his control.
Again. He has been in and out of hospitals since; his illness is now
worse than when he was a child. Last year, he was forced to take an
indefinite leave of absence from performing. He collapsed before a
concert.”
Salene hadn’t told Jake that. More selective truth. Vulcans had
it honed to an art form. They might avoid lying if at all possible,
but they sure as hell didn’t always tell the truth.
After a long silence, Solymi added, “When I received my license
last year, my brother was my first patient. He was, in some ways, my
reason for pursing the branch of medicine which I did. To a human, it
might seem peculiar for me to have my brother as a patient: a conflict
of interests. But the Vulcan is expected to separate the personal from
the professional. Indeed, our kinship is an advantage most of the time,
particularly when I must meld with him–but occasionally, it obstructs.
I may be his psychiatrist, but I remain his younger brother. He does
not always take me seriously.” His voice was wry. “In any case”–he
turned back to Jake–“since learning of the bond between you, I have
endeavored to convince him to seek you out again. For Vulcans, an
active bond can be as effective a stabilizing force as antidepressants,
and preferable to high dosages.”
Several things clicked together in Jake’s mind then. Solymi had
not come to Bellefonte just to reconcile the two of them. Of course,
Jake should have guessed as much; Vulcans weren’t sentimental. Solymi
viewed Jake pragmatically: a source of healing for Salene. But Jake
also understood why Salene had *not* said anything about his condition
earlier, or even about the bond until Jake had asked. He had not
wanted Jake to feel pressured into anything simply for his sake.
Sitting up, Jake wrapped his hands around his little demitasse,
frowned at the black liquid. “You think our bond can help him.”
“Certainly. Your arrival inspired him to eat without excessive
persuasion, then sparked him to react, not simply accept. As I told
him, and as ironic as it may seem, his behavior tonight was a positive
sign. For five days, he has done little but lie in bed or sit on the
floor and stare at a wall. He would not speak at all until yesterday,
or I would have had you sent for sooner. Today he quarreled with me:
a definite improvement.”
Jake was mildly amused to hear a Vulcan call a quarrel an
improvement but, “You think my presence caused that?”
“Your presence and his medication.”
“But if this bond has been there all along, why didn’t it help
him before?”
“Because it was dormant. That is why it had no effect on you.
You would have been wholly unaware of it, unless he was near. For
him, a dormant bond to an absent bondmate has been detrimental–part
of the reason we have been unable to completely stabilize him. Yet I
understand that since coming here, until three weeks ago, he has been
perfectly functional. Your presence”–he paused, as if searching for
the best word–“*centers* him. When the bond is activated, it should
be more effective yet. Tomorrow, I wish to attempt a mindmeld in
order to activate it.”
Jake stiffened; Solymi noticed. “It will not be invasive,” he
assured Jake. “I will not even be present unless you both wish it.
It is usually a private matter, and Salene is more than capable even
now of activating the bond himself.”
A private matter…. Something abruptly occurred to Jake; he
grinned. “I don’t think it’ll be necessary to activate it. I think
it’s probably active already. Maybe that’s why my presence affected
him so much today.”
Solymi’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward, hand outstretched,
fingers splayed slightly in preparation for a mind touch. “May I?”
Jake hesitated. “This will be only momentary, and I will not examine
your thoughts. I am a healer. My brothers inherited a talent for
music. I inherited one for telepathy.”
Jake nodded then, and Solymi’s fingers connected with the side of
his face. As promised, Jake barely felt the touch. Then Solymi was
pulling his hand back, his face flushed dark bronze. “Of course,” he
muttered. “I have been obtuse. That…would have been sufficient,
and you are correct. The bond is active.”

V.

Jake was waked in the middle of the night by a pounding on his
hotel door. He grabbed a robe and answered. Solymi, looking slightly
ruffled, stood on the other side. “Hurry and dress. We are needed.”
And he turned back to his own room before Jake could ask questions.
While pulling on slacks and a shirt, Jake checked his chrono:
three a.m., local time. Seven, his. Of course, he hadn’t gotten to
bed until after two his time in the first place.
Solymi was waiting for him in the hotel hallway and, without
speaking, led Jake to the lift. Jake tried to ask questions, but
Solymi raised a hand in objection, said only, “He is having a negative
reaction to his medication.”
They walked quickly; the hotel was not far from the hospital–
three blocks. Jake said nothing lest he annoy Solymi with fretting.
“You have a writer’s imagination,” Sarah had used to tell him. If he
got the sniffles, he feared pneumonia; if he had an ache, he feared a
tumor. But no catastrophes awaited their arrival at the hospital,
though in some ways, what did await them was worse.
Salene was wandering the ward hallway, refusing to be led back to
his room and casually shoving aside nurses and aids who tried to herd
him in that direction. No one currently on duty had anywhere near his
strength. He was talking a blue streak–in Vulcan–and appeared to be
downright *cheerful*, in a manic kind of way: his eyes were bright,
his cheeks and nose flushed, like a man tipsy on wine. When he saw
Solymi, he called out his brother’s name and came over to grip him by
both arms. He was still talking but Jake couldn’t understand a word,
as much due to the speed of it as to the fact he spoke a foreign
language and Jake had no universal translator. When he caught sight
of Jake, he let go of his brother to hug Jake hard–in front of
everyone. For a human, his actions would have been excessive. For a
Vulcan, they were *bizarre*.
One of the nurses, a big strapping fellow whom Jake had just seen
Salene shove casually into a cart, called out, “Dr. Solymi! Are we
glad to see you.” He came over to them. “He slept about three hours,
then woke up, thought it was morning and started singing scales. We
had a hell of a time convincing him it was still the middle of the
night. He had to come out of his room to see…and now we can’t get
him back in there.”
Solymi listened even while scanning his brother–who continued
talking at Jake in Vulcan, gesturing emphatically. Jake shot Solymi a
helpless glance. “What’s he saying?”
Solymi’s lips were thin. “He is discussing the woods used in
ka’athyra construction.” Snapping the scanner shut, he spoke to the
nurse in a string of medicalese as indecipherable to Jake as Salene’s
Vulcan, then gripped his brother by the arm and said, “Let us try to
return him to his room.” Jake nodded. Salene seemed oblivious except
to shift his attention from Jake–who wasn’t answering him–back to
Solymi. Solymi spoke to him, also in Vulcan, and pointed toward the
room. Salene shook his head. Solymi said something else and Salene
shrugged, then permitted Solymi to lead him back inside. The nurse
and an aide followed, shut the door. The aide, Jake noticed, held a
restrainer. Solymi had noticed as well.
“*That* will not be necessary,” he said, distaste in his voice.
“He is merely over-stimulated.”
“He bruised my arm,” the nurse said.
“He did not do so intentionally. He has forgotten his strength.”
For a wonder, Salene had stopped talking. Solymi maneuvered him
to sit on the sofa and then took the hypo the nurse held out to him.
Salene even bent his neck obligingly for the shot in the juguler. He
definitely wasn’t trying to be difficult; he was just confused and, as
Solymi had said, over-stimulated. His behavior might have been rather
amusing, had Jake been less embarrassed for him.
The hypo took almost immediate effect; Salene’s eyelids drooped
and he calmed. But whatever Solymi had given him did not knock him
out. “Salene,” his brother said, still kneeling in front of him. “Do
you know where you are? Can you tell me the day and the time?”
Salene blinked, slowly. “Earth,” he said, in English. He
glanced at Jake, frowned. “I…don’t know the time, or the day.” He
shook his head, as if to clear it. “I should know them, shouldn’t I?”
Then he sat up, glanced around. “Why can I not remember the time!”
“The time is three forty-six, a.m. You had a negative reaction
to the perfluoxetine; I just administered a neutralizing agent and
tranquilizer. Your senses will clear in another two minutes. We’ll
start over on your medication until we find a level that does not
launch you into a manic episode.”
Not knowing what else to do, Jake had moved into the background.
Now, Solymi dismissed the nurse and the aide, then gestured Jake over.
“Sit beside him and take his hand.” Jake did so. Salene’s skin was
very, very warm–much more even than usual–and he was still flushed,
but the wild look had faded from his eyes. He was back to that faint
bewilderment Jake had seen earlier in the day. Jake reached up to
smooth his hair; it was horribly tangled. “Doesn’t someone around
here comb this for him?”
“He has not, heretofore, permitted it,” Solymi replied. He had
risen to fetch a brush from the bathroom, handed it to Jake.
Salene closed his eyes while Jake began detangling the thick
mass. Lamplight glittered on his cheeks; they were wet. He was
*crying*. “Hey,” Jake said, wiping at the tears. “It’s okay now.”
“It is not ‘okay’!” Salene struck the brush out of Jake’s hand.
“It will never be ‘okay’! I shamed myself yet again!”
“Salene–” His brother gestured for Jake to move, leaned in to
set fingers on Salene’s face. They were as still as statues for
fifteen breaths; Jake picked up the brush. When they opened their
eyes, Solymi nodded for Jake to continue combing Salene’s hair.
Calmer now, Salene asked, “What did I do this time?” like a man
who is not sure he wants the gory details.
“Not much,” Solymi replied, an edge of humor in his voice. “You
serenaded the floor for a while with scales, then wandered about the
ward, arguing–in Vulcan–against the exclusive use of shaforr wood in
ka’athyra construction.”
Salene actually winced; Jake wondered if it was due to Solymi’s
recitation or if Jake had pulled his hair too hard. Solymi’s teasing
made Jake angry, but perhaps that subtle teasing was the way they had
come to deal with it. It was probably better, Jake conceded on second
thought, than permitting Salene to get weepy. That would just mortify
him later. “How much do you remember?” he asked his friend, thinking
of the hug.
Salene shook his head. “Only flashes. When an episode is past,
my memory of it runs together, and sometimes I hallucinate during them
and so am uncertain what is memory and what is fantasy.” He glanced
at Jake, then dropped his eyes. “I should apologize for my behavior
earlier this evening, too. It was unduly hostile.”
Jake gestured to Solymi. “Apologize to him, not me. It was him
you were mean to.”
Solymi settled himself on the carpet, shook his head. “There is
no need for an apology to me, Jake; he knows it. We have been through
this before.”
Salene just nodded. “Solymi is…very tolerant of me.”
“You are my brother.”
And that, Jake thought, was as close as Vulcan siblings would
come to saying, ‘I love you.’ It seemed to be understood. Jake saw
Salene tap Solymi’s foot lightly with the side of his own. Rising,
Jake moved around to the back of the couch so he could better reach
Salene’s hair. Brushing it calmed Salene and gave Jake something
constructive to do. Maybe that was why Solymi had brought him the
brush in the first place. Solymi was, after all, a psychiatrist.
Now, he ran his scanner over his brother again. “The tranquilizer has
taken effect; how do you feel?”
The use of ‘feel’ was, Jake thought, quite deliberate.
Salene seemed to consider. “Rather…blank, actually.”
Solymi’s eyebrow hopped; Jake wasn’t sure if it was an expression
of surprise or disappointment. Standing, he glanced at Jake. “Under
the circumstances, I believe it would be optimal if you remained with
my brother for the rest of the night. Is this agreeable to you?”
Jake shrugged. “I’ll do whatever you think best.”
Solymi nodded, looked down at Salene. “It will be necessary to
take you back to Vulcan. We must re-evaluate your treatment.”
“I know.” Salene’s voice sounded dull. “And you have other
patients, as well.”
Solymi glanced at Jake. Jake could feel him waiting, knew what
he wanted. He would not ask; that would be imposition–but Jake
recalled very well a long-ago conversation in his grandfather’s
restaurant in New Orleans, a conversation about duty and friendship.
“I’ll have to talk to Sarah,” he said. “I have to make arrangements
for Jenny.”
“Jake,” Salene began, “if you have obligations–”
“Shut up, t’hy’la.” He used that word as deliberately as Solymi
had used ‘feel’ earlier. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught
Solymi start. “You need me.”
“So does your daughter.”
“She has a mother. I took care of her for eight months; I think
Sarah owes me a week or two, to go to Vulcan.”
“It may be somewhat more than that,” Solymi warned.
Jake shrugged; he had suspected as much, but thought it best to
take things one day at a time. “I’ll talk to Sarah.”
Solymi left them alone then. They did not speak more than a word
or two after he was gone. Jake pulled around a chair and brushed
Salene’s hair until the tangles were gone and it flowed like cashmere
through his fingers. Even then, he continued. It was hypnotic.
Salene, he noticed, had fallen asleep, head back against the couch.

“Daaaaaddy!”
Jake’s daughter came running, trailing hair and sound, and threw
herself into his arms. He lifted her up, swung her around, kissed her
forehead. “How’s my girl?”
“You’re back.” Her mother approached more slowly, descending the
stairs to the family room one step at a time, like a debutante making
an entrance. Standing just inside the back door, Jake looked up at
her and, for a moment, his body forgot that he wasn’t married to her
any more, that he didn’t even like her much of the time. She had
always been able to do that to him, wrench and twist him inside until
he couldn’t think straight.
They must have just gotten home; she was wearing her drafters
jumpsuit. He could still remember the first time he had met her,
dressed in that tight-fitting blue. He had come to her office for an
interview on station living-conditions, had expected a middle-aged
professor. She had walked in, introduced herself, perched her perfect
body on a stool and started asking questions, making notations on her
PADD. He had spent the next half hour weirdly hypnotized by the slip
and slide of three gold bangles against her brown wrist; by the way
blue fabric pulled taut over her breasts, hinting at nipples hardened
by air-conditioning; by the way her pageboy had kept sliding into her
face until she would sweep it back with a toss of her chin. He had
wanted to put his hand up, touch that hair, brush it off her forehead.
He had left convinced she must think him a total idiot. Three days
later, she had called to ask if she could see him again. For a date,
not an interview.
Now, she came forward to take Jenny from him. “We were just
sitting down to eat. Do you want dinner?”
The question and the unexpected effect of her presence threw him
off-stride. He took a breath, looked around. No need to rush into
it. “Yeah, sure. What’d you program?” Sarah never cooked.
“Chirrasquiles and rice.” She set Jenny in her high chair at the
breakfast bar and gave her plain saffron rice wrapped in a tortilla.
Jake sat beside his daughter. Sarah ordered two plates from the
replicator, set one in front of him then sat down to her own.
It was strange-familiar, eating dinner as they had so many times
before and listening to Jenny chatter–delighted to have her mommy and
daddy at the same table again–but knowing he would get up at the end
of it, put his plate in the replicator, and leave. Part of him did
not want to. Part of him wanted to forget about obligations to a sick
Vulcan who waited a continent away, just stay here, help Sarah get
Jenny ready for bed, then follow her upstairs to the room they had
once shared. Maybe they could repair this marriage. Sarah reached
for the salt; three gold bangles slid down her wrist in a delicate
jingle. It brought such a wave of poignant memory that his eyes
darkened and, for a moment, he could neither see nor think. His body
went hot, then cold; his fingers clinched on his fork.
He must have made some sound. “Jake?” she asked, studying him
with that appraising look, as cold as ice-water on fevered flesh. It
froze any whisper of old lust. For all Salene’s cool control, he had
never looked at Jake like that. His eyes were never cold like that.
“I’m fine,” Jake said brusquely, took the salt when she was done
with it. “I’m fine.”
“So.” She spoke into a pause in Jenny’s chatter. “I assume
you’ll be by at your usual time tomorrow?”
Her question drove out the last remembered fondness lingering in
the corners of his body. All business, his Sarah. She couldn’t even
be bothered to ask how Salene was.
“No,” he replied, “I won’t.”
Taken by surprise, she dropped her fork. The sound made Jenny
jump. They both glanced at their daughter. “Let’s finish eating,” he
said. “I’ll help you get her ready for bed, then we’ll talk.”
Scraping back her stool, Sarah stood. “No. We’ll talk about it
now. This is not going to become a habit, Jake Sisko. If you can’t
be responsible for our daughter–”
“I was responsible for our daughter for eight damn months!”
“Don’t swear in front of Jenny Gwen.”
“I didn’t start this conversation! I suggested that we wait.”
“Wait till when? Till it’s too late–again–for me to find a
babysitter for tomorrow?”
“I assumed you had one! I told you I didn’t know for sure when
I’d be back.”
A crash of plate interrupted them; Jenny had pushed her dinner
onto the floor. Rice went everywhere. “Mommy, Daddy don’t yell!
Mommy, Daddy don’t yell!”
“Jenny!” Sarah screamed at her, then pulled at her own hair in
frustration. “Oh, please, stop it! I can’t take this!”
Chagrinned, Jake had knelt to pick up the plate, start cleaning
up the mess. “Sit down, Sarah. We’re upsetting her.”
“I can’t take this!” Sarah said again.
He looked up at her from the floor. “Sit down.” Standing and
stepping carefully over scattered yellow rice, he put the plate in the
replicator, then came back to pick up his daughter, who was still
wailing. He patted her back; she clung to him, face pressed into his
neck. Sarah had sat and, elbows on the table, put her own face in her
hands. The gold bangles on her arm winked in the kitchen overheads.
“Jake,” she said, voice level, “I cannot take care of her alone–
not any more than you could. You had your grandparents, and your
friend, here to help you. I don’t have anyone. She’s your daughter,
too. You can’t foist all the work off on me. I’m the one who pays
the bills. You have to do your share, too.”
Sarah’s little speech infuriated Jake as much as it humiliated
him, but he clamped his mouth shut. Jenny had quit her loud crying
but was still deeply upset, her little body shaking against him. He
kissed her temple, smoothed her hair. “Shhh. Mommy and Daddy aren’t
mad at you, honey.” He glared at his soon-to-be-ex-wife, said to her
in as level a voice as he could manage. “When I left two days ago, I
told you I didn’t know when I’d be back and, knowing you, I’m sure you
have someone lined up to watch Jenny tomorrow. You’re nothing if not
efficient, Sarah, so don’t hand me the ‘I can’t find a sitter by
tomorrow’ line; I don’t buy it. Now, we’re going to put our daughter
to bed, then talk about this like two rational people.”
She dropped her hands, glared back at him, but nodded. It took a
while to calm Jenny down; Jake gave her a bath and Sarah read to her.
Finally, she was asleep and Sarah and Jake squared off in front of the
old stove in the family room. Sensing tension, the cats had traded
warmth for peace and fled.
Fists on hips, Sarah said, “Now–what is this all about?” She
was a tall woman and did not have to look up at him much.
Jake frowned at his nails. “I need to go to Vulcan.”
“*What*?”
“I need to go to Vulcan. Salene is very ill. I have to go back
with him.”
“Why does he need *you*?” she snapped.
This was where it got complicated; he didn’t want to explain
about the bond, or say precisely how Salene was sick. Luckily, Sarah
was too self-focused to ask questions that didn’t have to do with her.
“I’m his friend and I owe him,” Jake said.
“Until just recently, you hadn’t *talked* to this guy in how many
years? When I called to find him here, you said it was the first time
you’d seen him since before you’d gone to college! Now you say you
owe him?”
“As you pointed out yourself, he came to help with Jenny when I
needed it.” So it was a lie, but Salene *had* helped with Jenny. “I
do owe him.”
“Doesn’t he have a wife to take care of him?”
“No, he doesn’t.”
Her look was skeptical. “I thought all Vulcans married.”
“Not chi`pain, not often.”
“Well what about his family? Don’t tell me he’s an orphan, too.”
“Of course he has a family. But they’re not all on the best of
terms.” He shifted. Why was he standing here trying to convince her
he was right? She always did this to him: put him on the defense,
made him feel like he had to justify himself. Just once, he wished
she’d have said, ‘Yes, Jake, of course you should…. I’m behind you
one hundred percent.’ He might not have divorced her, then. But she
had always tried to run her affairs and his, too. At first, he’d put
up with it because she had given his life direction and her drive had
made her successful. He’d always admired her success. Still did.
But now, her bossiness grated. “I’m going to Vulcan. He needs me;
I’m going. I don’t know how long it’ll take–a month, maybe more.”
“So you leave me holding the bag with Jenny!”
“I had her for eight months.”
“You offered to keep her because you didn’t want to come with me.
I didn’t ask you to do it!”
He frowned at the old black stove. “I didn’t want Jenny to be
stuck in contractor housing for half a year. You know how I feel
about that.” He turned his eyes back to her. “But the fact remains
that I kept her for eight months while you were off at the edge of
Romulan space, doing your thing. Now I need a month or so, to go to
Vulcan to care for a friend. I didn’t come here to debate that with
you; I came to tell you I’d be gone.”
Sarah had turned away to sit down on one of the love seats, stare
at the stove. “What am I supposed to do with Jenny?”
“What’d you do with her for the past two days?”
“I had Isabelle or Larry keep her in their offices while I was
teaching.”
“What about daycare? I know the university offers it to staff.
And there’re my grandparents; you keep forgetting them.”
“They’re too old, Jake! And I don’t want her in daycare. Not
any more than you want her on space stations. But I can’t–” She
stopped, raised splayed hands and shook them in frustration, clenched
them again. “Jake, I can’t do this! You know I can’t! For a few
days–all right. But a month?”
He seated himself, tapped fingers on the arm of his old reading
chair. He’d known Sarah would react badly to the notion of caring for
Jenny alone for weeks, possibly months. She may have been the one to
suggest having a baby in the first place, but her patience was finite.
Day-in, day-out childcare overwhelmed her. He had always been the one
to handle that.
“The other option,” he said now, “is that I take her with me.”
“To *Vulcan*? You won’t take her to a human-made space station,
but you’ll take her to an alien world with high gravity, low oxygen
and heat like that?”
He snorted. “Sarah, don’t be dense. I’ve never insisted that
Jenny be raised on *Earth*, but I don’t want her to grow up like I
did: bounced around from ship to ship, station to station. I loved my
parents, but I hated growing up that way. Spending a month or two on
Vulcan won’t hurt her at this age.”
“Spending half a year on a space station wouldn’t have hurt her,
either, at this age!”
He clenched his jaw and looked off. “And what about the next
station? And the one after that?”
“How do you know there would be a next one? You assume a lot.”
“I don’t want to argue about it; it’s past.”
“No, you don’t want to admit that you don’t see this matter
rationally. How do you know Jenny wouldn’t like growing up on a space
station? I did. You judge what you think’s right for her based on
what *you* wanted. Vulcan is okay because it’s a planet; Deep Space
Seventeen wasn’t because it’s a station. My, that’s logical!”
He stood up, paced around. “Look, do you want me to take her
with me, or do you want to make arrangements yourself?”
“You’re quick with the ultimatums lately, aren’t you?”
“I’m sick of you always arguing with me about *every little damn
detail*!”
“Oh, so I’m not allowed to protest if I don’t like something? I
should shut my mouth and meekly accept the dictates of my husband?
This isn’t Ferenginar, Jake! You listen to Nog too much.”
He glared at her. The only way to avoid arguing with Sarah was
just to refuse to argue. “Do you want me to take her or not?”
She sighed explosively. “No, I don’t! I just got back after
months of being without my daughter!” She stood up herself, stalked
about restlessly, her back half to him. “But I can’t take care of her
by myself, either.” She paused; the pause stretched. “If you took
her, how long would you be gone?”
“I don’t know. It could be a while–a month, two, maybe more–
but if it’s going to be long, I’ll need to come back anyway to get
things, and you can see her then.”
“When are you leaving?”
“As soon as possible; Solymi–Salene’s brother–has to get back.
But I have to make arrangements to be gone. I told him it would take
two or three days.”
He saw her swipe at her eyes. “Give me the weekend. Then you
can pick her up Monday morning. I’ll have her things packed.”
He nodded once, shortly. It would take him the extra day to make
arrangements for Jenny, in any case. He wondered what Solymi would
say about the unexpected addition of a three year old.

“What is necessary, is necessary.” Solymi’s image on the comm
screen appeared thoughtful. “It may in fact prove therapeutic for my
brother. He appears to be…very fond…of your daughter.”
“She’s very fond of him, too. She was upset when he left.” In
fact, she’d been inconsolable for three days–a long time for her. “I
just wasn’t sure what you’d think about it, having her along, I mean.”
Solymi shrugged; it was Salene’s gesture. “It is not the optimal
circumstance, perhaps, but as I said: what is necessary, is necessary.
I recognize that you have obligations aside from those to my brother.”
He frowned slightly. “The family will make arrangements for her care,
when you are unavailable.”
Jake let out a breath and did not immediately reply. Solymi’s
response was so totally different from Sarah’s that it momentarily
threw him; he’d forgotten families could work together to solve
problems instead of just complain when they cropped up. “Thanks,” he
said finally. “She’s actually a pretty easy kid, and well-behaved,
despite the disruption to her life lately.”
Solymi’s dark eyes studied him. “Children are resilient when
they know they are cared for–and her father would appear to make an
effort that she know she is.”
The Vulcan version of a high compliment. “Thanks,” he whispered,
though after erupting at Sarah at dinner in front of Jenny, he wasn’t
sure he deserved it. “We’ll return on Monday morning. I need to get
a ticket for her as well as myself and–”
“It is taken care of.”
“What?”
“Your passage has been arranged; I shall see to the child’s as
well.”
Anger burned. “Solymi, I–”
“Salene said that you might prove difficult on this matter and,
if that were the case, to remind you of a certain conversation
regarding partnership?”
Jake snorted.
“Permit him this,” Solymi added. “His pride is in need of it.”
Put that way, Jake couldn’t argue, and suspected Solymi knew it.
“All right then. How is he?” Jake had worried about leaving Salene
for even a few days but had decided he should talk to Sarah in person.
So the morning after Salene’s manic outburst, Solymi had spent a
session determining how their bond affected them. Apparently each
bond was as individual as the parties involved, its strength dependent
on the length of time it had existed and the regular proximity of the
partners to one another. Although theirs had lain between them for
over eleven years, it had been nascent. In its active state, it was
newborn and weak. Solymi had done his best to solidify it before Jake
had left for Bellefonte.
Now, Solymi said, “He is well, or as much as may be expected. I
increased his medication somewhat. I will lower it again when you
return.”
“Will we have to keep doing that? Measure what he needs to take
by whether I’m with him or not?”
Solymi shook his head. “Unknown, but unlikely. The activation
of a bond always has ramifications for a patient on antidepressant
medication. The bond stimulates neurotransmitters in the brain,
particularly serotonin. Once the bond has stabilized, so does the
patient. Usually.”
Solymi cocked his head and his expression took on that wry edge
Jake had come to recognize meant he was going to say something mildly
shocking, at least from a Vulcan point of view.
“According to research, lifebonds have been found to be critical
in the psychological health of even mentally stable Vulcans. My
brother should never have been permitted to become chi`pain in the
first place since it meant dissolving his original bond.”
Jake scratched his nose. “So you think your family was wrong?”
Solymi appeared uncomfortable. He shifted slightly in his seat.
“I think they were ill-informed. No harm to Salene was intended, but
that does not mean no harm was inflicted. I have my…questions…
about the practice of castration–though less about the castration
itself than about the traditions surrounding it.”
“And that’s why you support the bond between us, even though it’s
not socially acceptable?” He had wondered.
Solymi did not reply immediately. He steepled his fingers and
leaned back in the chair before the comm, glanced off once–perhaps at
a door–then returned his attention to Jake. “A comm link is not the
best medium over which to discuss this. Suffice to say that, given my
brother’s affective preferences as well as his artistic interests and
talents, his selection of you as a bondmate was a logical one.”
Jake supposed that could be translated as ‘I’m not surprised that
he fell in love with you.’
Solymi bent forward, finger on the terminate-switch. “I will see
both you and your daughter Monday morning. Peace, Jake Sisko.” And
he cut their connection.
Jake sat in front of the blank screen and thought a while about
what Solymi had told him and how carefully the words had been couched.
He thought, too, about what Salene himself had said regarding their
relationship: ‘as long as certain illusions are maintained….’
Keeping up appearances. It was all a game of keeping up appearances.
Sudden anger flashed through him, left him weak. How could
appearances be worth a man’s sanity?

VI.

Hell, Jake decided, was a four day space-liner trip with a three
year old. The last time Jenny had been on a ship, she’d been only six
months old; Jake and Sarah had taken her to visit her grandparents on
DS9. That trip had been longer but Jenny had been a good deal smaller
and had slept through much of it. Now, he devoutly wished she was six
months old again, or that Solymi would give her a tranquilizer.
Jake had her by himself. Salene was lodged with his brother.
Solymi had decided that, while Jenny’s presence might be therapeutic
for Salene in small doses, continual cramped exposure to her would
only increase his anxiety. Anxiety seemed to go hand-in-hand with
depression: ‘co-morbidity’ Solymi called it. Salene was as prone to
panic attacks as he was to spells of major depression and, in short,
having Jenny around all the time would have sent him right up a wall.
Although, when Jake was feeling frazzled and uncharitable, he had to
admit that seeing a Vulcan hanging from the ceiling might be funny.
The evening of the third day, Solymi came by to tap on Jake’s
cabin door. An unstrung Jake let him in. Jenny was in a rebellious
mood because Jake refused to let her run up and down the hallway like
a wild thing. Now, she dashed over to grab Solymi’s pantleg and pipe,
“I’m a wild thing! Daddy says so! I’ll eat you up!”
Jake sighed and started to remind her not to touch Solymi–he
wasn’t Salene–but Solymi looked down at her, blinked and asked, “And
will you roar a terrible roar and gnash your terrible teeth and roll
your terrible eyes and show your terrible claws?”
That sent her off squealing with laughter and bouncing on her
trundle bunk. “You’ve read that book?” Jake asked, astonished.
Solymi walked over to lift Jenny easily; she kicked and giggled
and squirmed in his grasp. “She-who-will-be-my-wife specializes in
early childhood education. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is a favorite
among Vulcan children as well as Terran, I must confess. I understand
that T’Var’s THREE SHELLS has become something of a classic among
Terrans?” He looked at Jenny, who still squirmed. “Vulcan children
can be ‘wild things’ from time to time…particularly at her age.
There is a word in Vulcan: shultah. It means a dust devil, but also a
‘wild child’.”
He raised Jenny up over his head and back down; she screamed in
laughter and shouted, “Again, again!”
He did it again and her peals echoed off the walls, then he
turned his attention to Jake while she attached herself to his back
like a small leech. “I believe it would be beneficient for you to
spend some time with my brother. Therefore, I decided I would take
her for a walk around the ship to exaust her energy, then put her to
bed for you. You have three hours, barring an emergency.” And he
left with Jenny still clinging to his back. Jake wondered if giving an
exact time was just Vulcan precision, or if Solymi was trying to
tell him something.
He found Salene sitting up on a cot, reading–reading Jake’s
latest novel revisions in fact. “I feel like I’ve been let out of
prison,” Jake said, then added, “Your brother’s good with kids.”
Salene nodded. “He is.” Setting aside the PADD, he patted the
cot beside him. Jake sat, leaned his head back against the wall. “To
be in such limited space,” Salene went on, “with little to do, must be
difficult for her.” He picked up the stuffed animal which had been
sitting beside his pillow. “But she is a generous child.” She had
‘given’ Salene the orca–her favorite–when she and Jake had boarded.
‘She sleep with you and make you feel better!’ Salene had solemnly
accepted and did, in fact, keep the animal near the bed for Jenny’s
sake. Now he set it back down, turned to Jake. His alto-bell voice
was subdued. “I must apologize for being unable to assist you more.”
“Don’t–” Jake said. “I don’t expect it. We both know she’d
drive you nuts right now.”
Frowning down at his hands, Salene nodded. He still had that
fragile sense about him, but not as much as before. He had gotten up
today, dressed, seen to personal hygene. He’d apparently been able to
concentrate enough to read some. Reaching out, Jake ran a hand into
his hair. It had been combed, but left unbraided; it fell to his
waist. Salene turned his head into Jake’s palm and Jake opened his
arms, let Salene rest against him. They had done this a few times in
the hospital: always silent, the vulnerability too fragile to break
with words. It was not an erotic embrace; Salene needed whatever
steadiness their bond permitted him to find in Jake. But it had never
gone on long, Salene always pulling away after just a few minutes.
This time, he did not and, growing a little stiff and uncomfortable,
Jake tried to shift.
Salene moved, twisted a little to stretch out on the cot, pull
Jake down after. Jake held Salene loosely, wondering where this was
going and thinking about Solymi’s precise delineation of the time they
would have. Their feet hung off the cot-end. Salene’s eyes were
closed; he ran a hand up and down Jake’s side. Tentatively, Jake
leaned in to kiss his mouth; he accepted it, answered by putting his
hand on Jake’s face. Jake wanted kisses, Salene wanted a mindmeld.
They did not, quite, have sex. Salene was unable to maintain an
erection and Jake’s came and went. They took off their clothes, then
cuddled next to one another for a couple hours, sharing thoughts and
simple physical affection: more an expression of intimacy and trust
than desire. Sometimes they dozed. When their time was up, Jake
said, “I guess I should go rescue Solymi,” and slid out of bed to
dress himself. Salene offered fore and middle fingers. Jake wrapped
his hand around them. “Good night.”
“Sleep well.”
Miraculously, Jenny was out cold when Jake returned; Solymi sat
meditating in a corner. His eyes snapped open. Nothing in his face
or manner gave the slightest hint that he suspected what had happened
next door, but he had to know. He had, more or less, set it up. That
deliberate evasion irritated Jake. “Did he ask you to get lost for a
couple hours,” Jake said, “or was it your idea?”
Solymi did not quite smile but amusement pulled the corners of
his eyes. “He suggested that you might welcome some relief from child
care. I deduced the rest.”
“It doesn’t bother you? The two of us?” He had gathered that
Solymi was tolerant, but tonight had gone beyond mere tolerance.
Solymi glanced at Jenny, to be certain she slept. “It is who he
is.” He seemed to be struggling with how to say something, or whether
to say it at all. “I wish for my brother to be…content.”
Translated: I want him to be happy. Jake nodded, shoved his
hands in his pockets. “Do you think his homosexuality has anything to
do with his depression?”
“I am unclear as to precisely what you are asking.” Solymi’s
tone went icy. “Do you mean to suggest that my brother is homosexual
because he is mentally ill?”
Jake waved a hand and shook his head. “No. The opposite. I
wondered if the disapproval may have made him depressed.” Belatedly,
Jake realized that to a Vulcan, the suggestion of emotional responses
could be interpreted as just as much an insult.
But Solymi appeared only thoughtful. “Possible, but unable to be
determined. My brother’s depression is biological–that is, and as I
said before, his neurotransmitters do not function correctly. The
problem can be corrected with proper medication, whereupon he is as
‘normal’ as you or I. Yet there is clear evidence that a connection
exists between the emotions and the body–among Vulcans as much as
among humans. How this functions precisely is a matter of debate.”
His eyebrows hopped. “Of *much* debate. All I can say is that my
brother’s depression was diagnosed when he was young, long before he
gave the family any indication that his…preferences…were atypical.
Of course, it is also true that one’s orientation is fixed young, so
it may be that a subconscious perception of social disapproval for his
equally subconscious preferences triggered a biological predisposition
to depression–”
“But you find that unlikely,” Jake finished.
“Indeed. What is more likely is that social disapproval has
complicated an already existing condition.” He tilted his head.
“Psychology is rarely simple, Jake Sisko. I sincerely doubt there is
a *causal* connection between my brother’s sexual orientation and his
depression, but that is not the same as saying they do not affect one
another. I would be astonished if they did not.”
It was a little peculiar to hear a Vulcan talk so analytically
about emotions without trying to deny that Vulcans had them. Jake
would have loved to know what Solymi thought of Vulcan philosophy,
generally, but now was not the time to ask. “Thanks for watching
Jenny. I hope she didn’t give you much trouble.”
“None at all, and you are welcome. It was my pleasure. Truly.”
He gave a little bow–very like his brother–and departed.

By the next day, Salene had perked up enough not only to get out
of bed and dress, but to join his brother, Jake and Jenny for
breakfast. Jenny was ecstatic, clinging to him and bouncing up and
down in excitement. She had not been permitted to see him more than a
few minutes here and there. Jake had not realized how much she had
missed him; neither, apparently, had he. Jake could tell he was
touched. He picked her up and carried her all the way to the ship
replimat despite second looks from fellow Vulcan passengers. While he
was occupied with helping her pick her breakfast from the menu, Jake
said in an undertone to Solymi, “He seems a lot better.”
Solymi nodded. “Somewhat.”
“Does my presence really help him that much?”
“Joining us for breakfast is not particularly stressful.” His
voice was dry. “But yes, your presence is quite beneficial.” He
flipped through the menu, made his selection. “It is difficult for
non-Vulcans to understand how critical our bonds are. The proximity
and physical touch of a bondmate is…stabilizing. This is why some
Vulcan cultures encourage interaction between bonded pairs even prior
to marriage.” He picked up his plate from the replicator and went to
join his brother, who was seating Jenny in a child’s chair at a table.
In fact, breakfast turned out to be almost more than Salene could
take. Jake could see how he fidgeted constantly with his utensils or
made a very precise business out of eating his meal one serving at a
time in measured spoonfuls, as if his salvation lay in organized,
exacting movement. A parody of Vulcan control. Put simply, he was
strung out.
Solymi watched him carefully but said nothing. Returning from
the replimat, Jake dropped back to walk beside Solymi and say–out of
Salene’s hearing, he hoped–“Too much medication?”
Solymi nodded faintly. “Imagine a tub of water for which you
must maintain a given water level by adjusting faucet strength even
while the drain is open and more water comes from a second faucet over
which you have no control. That is what I am attempting to do with
his serotonin levels. It will take time.” He paused, then added, so
softly Jake could barely hear. “In addition, we shall arrive at Space
Central in seven hours, seventeen minutes. There is the matter of our
family….” He trailed off.
In other words, Salene was just plain nervous about going home.

Vulcan Space Central was *the* main terminal in this section of
space, busier even than Earth’s. He had heard Kassidy as a freighter
captain say that she would rather put in to Vulcan’s Space Central
than any other. “Better organized.” So there were a wide variety of
aliens, but Jake was more interested in the Vulcans.
He had never seen so many. They did not, as a rule, travel much.
Now, he tried to keep from staring, and to keep Jenny from doing so,
too. “Lots of pointy ears!” she whispered, giggling. She had never
gotten over her fascination with Salene’s ears; Jake suspected she had
a bit of a crush on him. More, she hadn’t had much exposure to other
races, so her eyes were as wide as saucers, trying to take it all in.
He was more circumspect.
Like humans, Vulcans came in enormous ethnic variety and, like
humans, tended to run the melanin gamut from cafe latte to Salene’s
tan to white. There were few black Vulcans, which struck him as
peculiar. But then, Vulcan’s sun was orange, so maybe that had
something to do with it.
The architecture itself surprised him more than the variety of
Vulcans. It all felt slightly *off*–the same sense DS9 had given him
when he had first arrived there. Vulcans built in curves. Doorways
were arches, circular counters sat in the middle of walkways instead
of along the side, even the corners curved instead of turning sharply.
Glass in a variety of colors accented the decor, along with plants.
He had assumed that Vulcan would lack foilage. Maybe it did,
planetside. Here was another story. Plants and fountains filled
empty space. On a desert world, he guessed both were symbols of
prosperity.
The fountains were more than Jenny could resist. When he turned
his back for an instant to pick up his luggage, she darted off. He
ran her to ground by a star-shaped fountain. She had both hands in
the water, chasing the fish–and looked ready to climb in herself.
“Oh, no you don’t,” he said, snatching her up from behind.
Several Vulcans had turned away and Jake wondered if Jenny had
inadvertantly broken a taboo. Then he saw one woman put a hand over
her mouth. Not offense. Amusement. He remembered what Solymi had
said. “My shultah,” he told her.
She pulled down her hand and nodded. “Indeed.”
Swinging Jenny up to his hip, he headed back to where Salene and
Solymi waited with the luggage.
They were no longer alone. A young woman of the same ethnic type
as their mother had joined them. A cousin? They all turned at Jake’s
approach. “Where was she?” Salene asked.
“Chasing fish in a fountain. Well, not quite *in* the fountain
yet, but she would have been given another minute.”
“Yellow fishes!” Jenny declared. “Pretty fishes!”
They didn’t laugh; they were Vulcans. But they managed to convey
that impression all the same. Vulcans might not make jokes, but they
certainly did recognize the comic and were not above pointing it out,
on occasion.
Now, Solymi turned to the newcomer and held out fore and middle
fingers. She touched them with her own. It was a ritual gesture made
sweet by gentleness. “She-who-will-be-my-wife: Ismene.” Solymi’s
expression was bland, but his eyes told Jake that he was head-over-
heels in love with the girl. And she with him, from the looks of it.
“Jake Sisko,” Jake said, turning just enough to shift Jenny
forward. “And my daughter, Jennifer Gwendolyn.”
Ismene nodded to him and to Jenny as well. There was something
electric about her and though her face altered not at all, she seemed
to radiate warmth. “Did you like the yellow fish?” she asked Jenny,
who nodded shyly. “Would you like to see some green and silver ones?”
That got Jenny instantly over her shyness. “Yes, yes!”
Ismene held out her hand. “Come with me then.” Jenny squirmed
out of Jake’s arms and Ismene glanced at her betrothed. “We shall
meet you shuttleside: Shul disk, gate thirty.” And they walked off,
Jenny’s hand in Ismene’s, Ismene asking a string of questions about
the yellow fish.
“Boy, she knew just what buttons to push with Jenny.”
Jake could have sworn Solymi stood two inches taller from pride.
“As I said on the liner, she-who-will-be-my-wife specializes in early
childhood education.” Salene, standing out of Solymi’s sight behind,
gave his brother a fondly exasperated glance which Jake read clearly
as, And *you* just think she dropped straight from heaven. It was
such a human expression, Jake bit his tongue to keep from laughing.

They did not go to Salene’s apartment, which would have been too
small for Jenny and Jake, too. Solymi took them to the home in which
he and Salene had grown up.
It was not, precisely, a house. It was a crafter’s shop with a
large residence area above. They parked the flitter on the upper flat
and went downstairs, Solymi leading with Ismene behind, then Salene, a
tired Jenny in his arms. He had insisted on carrying her in the heat
and gravity and thinner air. Jake was doing well to carry himself
despite the TriOx shot Solymi had given him. And this was but morning
in T’lingShar. “You will accustom yourself to it, in a few days,”
Solymi had said. Jake hoped so; he was dying, Jenny not much better–
a little wilted flower, head drooping on Salene’s shoulder. Jake
would have to be sure she drank enough fluids.
It was cooler inside, and Vulcans built with stone to maximize
the effect. Wide, low windows let in stray breezes and electronic
bugscreens kept out insects. The upper hall was dim. But then, all
of Vulcan seemed dim to Jake. Dim and stark. Red sky, orange sun,
dun desert rock, brown mountain ridges and brown wadi-cut plain. On
the shuttle, Jake had stared out the port window in amazement. If not
for the obviously modern and highly urbanized sprawl of T’lingShar
growing beneath, he would have sworn the area uninhabited and
uninhabitable. Odd, how much better one understood a people when one
had seen their world.
Now, he peered down the shadowed hall; it ended in a balcony
overlooking the shop proper. Soft sounds, work sounds, came from
below. There was no chatter. The quiet blanketed so profoundly that
Jake could hear the tap-tap of their footsteps, and the pretty alien
tinkle of windchimes dangling in windows. Even Jenny was subdued, as
if lulled by the calm. When the four adults and single child reached
the balcony banister, everyone in the shop looked up–then stood: an
act of profound respect.
Eccentric and prodigal, mentally ill…Salene was nevertheless
*chi`pain*. Jake had forgotten just what that meant. Solymi and
Ismene drew back to leave him revealed at the rail forefront, Jenny
still in his arms. Jake’s impression was of a king surveying his
subjects. But it wasn’t arrogance in his posture. It went deeper,
ran darker: the summer king who is also royal victim. He bore the
horrible burden of their expectations, rising from his own astonishing
gift. They would kill him with their honoring. Involuntarily, Jake
shuddered.
Jenny saved them all. With the innocent self-centeredness of a
child, she assumed they were greeting *her*. Grinning, she waved down
on them from her perch in Salene’s arms. “We here! I saw yellow
fishes and green and shiny ones, too!”
Once again Jake got the impression of unvoiced laughter, and the
stiff moment dissolved. Luthiers returned to their work, though two
figures–a pale man and dark woman–left off to meet the five of them
as they descended the spiraling staircase. Solymi was greeted with
easy informality, but the two halted awkwardly before Salene. The
woman reached up to brush the curve of his cheek–a mother’s gesture–
then to peer in wonder at the child in the arms of her castrated son.
“Jenny Gwen,” Salene said, “this is my mother. And this,” Salene
nodded to the man, “is my father.”
Back to the shy she had shown initially with Ismene, Jenny
wrapped her arms about Salene’s neck and hid her face in his shoulder.
She gave not so much as a peep. Neither did Salene’s parents, but
whether from disapproval or plain astonishment at the display of easy
familiarity between her and their son, Jake couldn’t say.
Salene turned to Jake. His eyes were dark with all the strain he
kept off his face. Involuntarily, protectively, Jake took a step
forward. “And this,” Salene said, “is her father: Jake Sisko.”
It wasn’t just Salene’s parents who studied him then. Every eye
in the place must have turned his way for an instant; they pierced his
back like a dozen swords.
They all knew. Salene had made no declaration, had called Jake
nothing more than Jenny Gwen’s father, but apparently, every person in
that shop knew who Jake Sisko was to Salene ch’Sethan.

Vulcans gossiped. Oh, they did it sideways and with innuendo,
but gossip was gossip. Over the next few days, Jake received quite an
education in Vulcan realities versus Vulcan myths. It seemed that
Salene had been a topic of no little interest in the crafter’s quarter
of T’lingShar. Neighbors invented excuses to visit Sethan’s shop now
that Salene was home. Jake might not have recognized curiosity as
their motive had Salene not remarked on it–acidly in fact, if a
Vulcan could be said to speak acidly of anything.
The two of them shared a set of rooms, if not a bed. Vulcans had
no such thing as double beds, so Jake and Salene slept on individual
cots in small alcoves off a single sitting area. Even so, Jake was
surprised that Salene’s parents would acknowledge the relationship
that far. They were clearly uncomfortable with it, as were some of
the others living there. Jake wasn’t clear yet on the kin connections
of everyone under Sethan’s roof. There seemed to be an uncle, and a
pair of cousins, all of whom worked in the shop. By contrast, Solymi
did not live at home; he had his own flat. In fact, Jake discovered
rather by accident that Ismene and Solymi lived together.
Jake had gone to see Solymi. Salene wasn’t dealing well with his
return–he spent most of his time in their room and most of that in
bed–so Jake took a shunt to Solymi’s flat in the old city to ask
what, if anything, to do about it. Solymi wasn’t home; Ismene was.
She had been working on some kind of class project that involved
finger paint. Her hands were covered with primary colors and she had
a bright blue smudge across her nose. With her short-short hair, it
made her look like a child herself and Jake was tempted to rub blue
from her face, but refrained. Salene had warned him that, except for
emergencies, an adult male didn’t touch an adult female who wasn’t his
bondmate. Jake had not once seen Salene touch Ismene, though their
easy manner with one another said they were close. So now, Jake just
pointed to his own nose, said, “You, uh, have a streak here–”
She reached up to wipe at it. It smeared. Jake laughed, and
could have sworn that, for just an instant, she smiled back. “Have a
seat,” she said. “Let me go clean up.” Then she disappeared into the
back room.
Jake looked around. Solymi’s flat was small. There was an outer
sitting room, a kitchen area, and what appeared to be a back office
with fresher and the usual sleeping cubicles off of it. Two cubicles.
That was when Jake looked more closely and began to see evidence of
Ismene’s permanent presence: a pair of women’s shoes discarded in the
corner; a bookshelf with children’s books–the paper kind one opened
to look at flatpics; an ivory throw made of a filigree lace, like
tatting. There were two chairs at the table and, from what he could
see, two desks in the back office; two neat piles of notes and package
mail lay on the counter beside a set of silver bracelets and earrings
–different earrings from the ones Ismene was currently wearing.
Was this why Solymi treated Salene tolerantly? Because he bucked
tradition himself by living with his fiancee? But maybe Jake was
making wrong assumptions about Vulcan morality. No doubt, there was
some “logical” reason for the arrangement. He grinned. Vulcans could
argue for anything with logic.
She came back out, took the other chair at the table, folded her
hands–now clean except around the nails–on the top and just looked
at him. But even when Ismene sat Vulcan quiet she still radiated that
same electric vitality he had encountered among Terran preschool
teachers, and he wondered if it was a requirement for the profession.
Then again, given how Jenny could run him ragged, it probably took
that kind of spunk to keep up with a classroom full of them. Children
were energy vampires, sucking vigor out of the adults around them.
“We’ve got to get Salene out of that shop,” Jake said now without
preamble. “It’s driving him crazy. He won’t come downstairs because
there’s always someone dropping by. He’s convinced they’re coming to
…well, not spy on him, but to put an eye to the keyhole, I guess.”
She tilted her head, clearly confused by the metaphor.
“Snooping,” he said. It didn’t get him anywhere; she just shook
her head. “Trying to find out what’s none of their business.”
“Ah. An invasion of his privacy.” She sighed, unlaced her hands
and ran one through her hair, ruffling its neat lines. “I fear even
our people can be guilty of curiosity about those who attain social
prominence.”
“Royalty-watching.” He tended to forget his friend was *famous*,
just like he forgot his father was the Emisary, and Worf and Dax were
Federation ambassadors now. He’d spent his whole life around people
of significance; the shine had worn off a long time ago.
“None would go so far as to ask personal questions,” Ismene
explained, “but they will…be aware…of what transpires in my
father-in-law’s home.”
“And talk about Salene behind his back.”
She just lowered her eyes as if to accept personal responsibility
for this fault shown by others of her race. Vulcans did that, traded
on an overblown sense of community sin. It drove him nuts.
He sighed. “I’m thinking that, even if his flat is small, it
still might be better to stay there than at the shop.”
“Impossible.” Her voice left no room for argument. “His flat is
no bigger than this–” she indicated the sitting area behind them.
“One room in the chi`pain dormitory. For a single individual, it was
sufficient. For two men and their three-year-old daughter, it would
be impractical.” She leaned back. “It may, however, be time to
consider alternate housing. Much depends on you.”
“On *me*?” But his mind was still back on the ‘their daughter’
part. He wasn’t sure what he thought of that phrasing. “How does it
depend on me?”
Tilting her head again, she asked simply, “Do you intend to stay
with him permanently?”
“I– Yeah. Yeah, I do.” He realized that the decision had been
made in small increments somewhere over the past few months. He had
known it was permanent the first night they had spent together–his
later rage at Salene not withstanding.
Now, she shrugged. “Then perhaps it is time for him to consider
moving out of the dormitory and into a family dwelling. He need only
apply to the T’lingShar Housing Authority.”
“They’d *give* him a house? Just like that? Doesn’t he have to,
well, buy one? And what about the fact he’s not married?”
“No one would ask such questions, Jake Sisko; it would constitute
a serious breach of his privacy. As for giving versus buying–Vulcan
property laws do not match Terran. Our single-person or single-family
private dwellings are community owned. All Vulcan citizens have a
right to appropriate housing. It is assumed that one does not request
what is not needed. Nor would this be a house, as you think of it.
The only ‘houses’ on Vulcan belong to clans, not people. He would
receive a larger flat; that is all.” She stopped, leaned in a little,
said, “You are troubled.” It wasn’t a question.
He got up and paced. “This is moving kind of fast.”
“But you indicated–”
“I know what I indicated! And I meant it. I do intend to stay
with him. But we haven’t had much chance to talk about the future.
We’d just started to, before– Well, before the whole mess that ended
up with him…like he is now. But there’s a lot more to it than just
me deciding that I want to stay with him. There’s my daughter. I
don’t know how much Solymi told you about my situation–?”
“He explained that you are newly divorced.”
“Yes, well, her mother and I plan to share custody. But if I’m
living on Vulcan, that’d be a bit hard–”
“Jake,” she interrupted. “Did you expect Salene to live on
*Earth*? What of his music?”
“I know, I know!” Frustrated, Jake made a cutting motion with
his hand. “Believe it or not, I’ve thought of that. I’ve thought a
lot about everything, in the past week or so. I can write anywhere, I
guess. But nothing’s ever that simple, is it? Salene needs to stay
on Vulcan, at least some of the time. But Sarah’s going to want Jenny
on Earth.” He ran a hand over his face, glared out the sitting room
window. It overlooked a park with more fountains. Vulcans and their
fountains.
“Now you see why I haven’t tried discussing any of this with him
yet,” Jake said. “He doesn’t need one more thing to worry about. Or,
well–you know what I mean.”
“What makes you believe he has not also considered the matter?”
Jake looked over at her.
“I would suggest that you *do* discuss it with him. There is
nothing wrong with Salene’s intelligence, and this is a decision which
the two of you must make together. You cannot make it for him–nor
would he appreciate it if you tried. He dislikes being ‘protected.'”
She stood, crossed to face him. “Go back to the shop, Jake.
Talk with him. He is the one to whom you need to speak–not Solymi.”
Jake just nodded, turned for the door, but paused before leaving.
“Forgive me if this is a bad question, but I need to know. What’s the
business with Saserna?”
He watched her face close down in that way unique to Vulcans: the
distant stare and a total evaporation of even the slightest facial
expression. “It is well you asked me instead of one of them.” But
she shook her head. “It may be something you need to know but– Not
now, Jake. I cannot discuss the matter now. Suffice to say that
Saserna’s is a name better not spoken to either Solymi or Salene.”
She opened the door for him, a polite way of telling him it was
time to go. “Ask me later; I will attempt to explain matters, later.”

VII.

Salene had taken Jenny out into the little cul-de-sac courtyard
beside his father’s shop, the first time since his arrival that he had
left the building. Yet Jake had gone into the old city and someone
had to entertain the child; it was no hardship, though sometimes her
energy and the shrillness of her voice grated too much. Today, she
was in a pleasant mood, bringing him “treasures” which she had
discovered: a pretty rock laced with pink quartz, someone’s lost
earring, a red and white tira on a leaf. “Beetle bug!” she crowed, in
Standard.
“Tira,” he told her, in Vulcan. “Tira-da kor shaen.” The red-
winged beetle. “Ate! Is-shaar.” Be careful! They bite. She almost
dropped it in fear and he had to steady her arm, shake his head. “Ita
na-bo, ita se-na-baes se.” Don’t hurt it and it won’t hurt you.
“S’kya-iss na-faar de na-i’shae.” Now, return it to where it belongs.
With almost exaggerated care, she returned the tira to the bush
where she had found it.
“Father told me that you treated her as if she were your own.”
Every muscle in Salene’s body froze, then went weak in a flash.
It was fortunate that he was sitting, as it saved him the ignobility
of having to do so. He turned his head. The figure was a dark shadow
outlined by the sun.
Saserna stepped out of the direct light and came around to face
Salene. Jenny had come back over, too, to see the visitor. Nervous,
she crawled into Salene’s lap and squeezed up close against his chest.
He held her there like a shield. “What do you want?”
Saserna did not answer immediately, as others were passing on the
thoroughfare beyond. Instead, he sat down on the decorative stone
opposite Salene’s and, in silence, watched the two of them. Jenny had
burrowed even closer to Salene and stuck her thumb in her mouth: her
gesture of anxiety, and he wondered if she was somehow able to sense
his own? He forced himself to hold her less tightly.
Finally, Saserna spoke. “I came to say two things to you.
First, I will not sing with you again, individually or as a member of
a choir. Nor will I sing in any festival to which you, also, have
been invited.”
“Is there a logical reason for this, or mere pusillanimity?”
Eyes narrow, Saserna said, “Given that you cannot comport
yourself as befits a Vulcan, to permit you to continue exploiting your
status as chi`pain is a disgrace. I will not sing with you because,
in my opinion, you should not be permitted to sing at all.”
Salene’s breath went out as if knocked. “My comportment differs
not at all from that of several of my colleagues. Even you cannot be
that blind, Saserna. Seven months ago, you deigned to perform with
Talek who, I might point out, shares his flat with sopranist T’Gaylin
–a woman elsewhere married and no kin of his–”
“Silence!”
Jenny jumped in Salene’s arms and made a hiccuping sound like a
sob. Salene hushed her and stroked her braids.
“You speak what is not to be spoken,” Saserna said in a softer
voice.
“And you, my honored brother, are a hypocrite.”
“Neither T’Gaylin nor Talek are my kin. It is not my place to
chastise them. You, however, are another matter. When you insist on
shaming the family, I cannot ignore it. Silence would be interpreted
as my tacit approval.”
“And we certainly cannot have it thought that you might approve
of anything I do.”
“Your sarcasm is unvulcan and your assumptions are faulty. There
is much about you that I did approve, once. Or have you forgotten
that you would not exist if not for my encouragement and cooperation?”
Salene’s restive temper stirred and he leashed it, refusing to
give Saserna one more matter for which to criticize him. “Oh–I would
still exist. And so would my children.”
Saserna snorted softly. “I was referring to your career, as you
well know. I did not insist that you undergo the operation. You were
the one who asked for it–demanded it in fact.”
“But you certainly did not mind naming a brother among the
chi`pain. All I had to do was tell you that I was considering it and
from that time on, you talked to me of nothing else but the honor of
the guild. You readily submitted yourself to a fertility test and
promised me a child of your begetting. No obstacle could be permitted
to stand in my way! Yes, I asked for it; I think I did even wish for
it, though I have occasionally wondered how much of my wishing was
merely a product of yours. Yet in the end, it was not *you* who went
under the knife.”
“I was never offered the opportunity.”
“And so I was the one cut, because you were not offered the
opportunity.”
“Do not oversimplify, Salene. We both know that you had reasons
of your own for making your choice.”
“But even those reasons originated with you. It was you who
suggested that undergoing the operation would eliminate desire along
with pon farr.” He tilted his head. “You were wrong, you realize.”
“Perhaps. But it is *you* who chose to act on impulses no longer
demanded by biology, rather than properly deconstructing the emotional
complex. That displays your own appalling lack of discipline.
“Which brings me to my second point,” he added before Salene
could interrupt. “You spoke earlier of my promise to provide you with
a child. Although it requires me to break a sworn promise, I cannot,
in good conscience, give a child to be raised by a man who is mentally
unstable.” He glanced at Jenny on Salene’s lap. “Whether you should
be permitted to participate in her upbringing is questionable but”–he
stood to brush sand from his pants–“perhaps your rampant emotionalism
will not harm a human child.”
For some moments, Salene could not speak. He had known this must
come, had known that, promises not withstanding, Saserna would find
any excuse possible to avoid fulfilling his oath. That did not lessen
the shock of hearing it bluntly stated. He pressed his chin against
Jenny’s head.
“It is not my illness which is your reason,” he said finally.
“It is your disapproval of my attachments. Do not lie.”
“I have not lied. I said ‘mental instability.’ I consider your
…attachments…to be perfect evidence of that instability, and of
your consequent unsuitability to raise a child. You are sick, Salene.
You should be institutionalized where you could be properly cared for
instead of being permitted to disrupt the family constantly with your
whims and relapses. Our brother does you no kindness by pretending
that you will ever be able to lead a normal life.” Turning on his
heel, he walked away.
Salene sat a long time, Jenny in his lap. Sensing his upset, she
patted and petted his face. Stop it!, he wanted to shout, but held
his tongue. Finally, he managed, “Jenny Gwen–go in to my mother and
stay with her until your father returns.”
“But you unhappy.”
“Go now!”
She scrambled off his lap and backed away. Guilt slammed into
him; he had never before spoken so roughly to her. Perhaps Saserna
was correct and he could not be trusted with her upbringing. He was
not normal and never would be. She should not be exposed to him.
“Go,” he said more softly.
Without another word, she spun and disappeared into the shop.
Rising, he walked out of the cul-de-sac garden into the street.
Pedestrians passed. Flitters whipped by overhead, the sound of their
engines a soft hum. He walked. It had been over a year since he had
simply walked the streets of his home. There was pleasure in it, in
the quiet organization of building architecture offset by the green
interruption of parks and fountains, the tranquility of meditation
halls open to the air. It was a welcome change from Earth’s noise,
yet–oddly–he missed the Terran bustle.
He headed for the city walls, and the ruins beyond: the ancient
city outside the new. Parts of it had been incorporated into modern
T’lingShar, but much spread west and north: a march of great stone
columns and the fallen stone figures of Vulcan kings and magistrates
millennia dead.
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things…
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing besides remains….
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Outside the west gate, he bent to touch a marble face, pockmarked by
time and lichen. No name was left to be read; all that remained was
the arrogance. Men who would be gods. They had nearly destroyed his
world with their bloodletting and their drive for everlasting renown,
like Achilles at Troy–trading a long life of peace for a short life
and undying fame. Yet their names had been forgotten, erased by time
and desert sand and the indifference of history.
Salene stood. Ozymandias. Achilles. Terran poetry and Terran
heros–he had been around Jake too long. Yet it was clear his own did
not want him. ‘You should be institutionalized…,’ Saserna had said.
If they could lock him away, they would not have to be reminded of the
embarrassment.
He set out across the Little Sand for the ruins proper: remains
from Vulcan’s passionate, violent past. He walked alone; it was mid-
afternoon and most people had more sense than to cross the Little Sand
in this heat. He had come without water or headdress or suitable
shoes for hiking. But in a little while, none of that would matter.
The courtyard he sought lay on the edge of the ruins, facing out
onto the flat expanse of the Greater Sand. T’lingShar’s desert was
unusual. Most of Vulcan was rocky red floor and wadi. The Negev, not
the Sahara, Jake had called it. Salene would not know. T’lingShar,
however, sat at the edge of one of the great dune deserts.
Turning back from the yellow expanse, he crossed a courtyard of
cracked tile towards the bloodstone altar at the center, ran his hand
over its moist, green surface. Sun on cool stone surface condensed
what little moisture was in the air, made the rock damp as if with a
morbid memory of the blood spilled here: tens of thousands murdered,
Surak among them. Not religious sacrifice. Political sacrifice–for
expedience, fear, power, or the insatiable pursuit of perfection.
His people had not changed much in two thousand years. They
still sacrificed the marginal and deformed for the sake of fear, or
expedience–or perfection. His own brother would gladly sacrifice
him.
Fingers outspread, he stared at the contrast of living flesh and
inanimate rock. Blood-green stone, bone-white marble, passion-red sky
above. Lifting his hand, he pressed damp skin to his lips, tasted
mineral-bitter moistness, then bent down to the small groove on the
stone’s right side, removed the obsidian knife. It was left here for
pilgrims come to remember what they had once been, and could be again
if not for the wisdom of Surak and the rigorous discipline which
chained the bloodlust hiding at the core of the Vulcan soul. Pilgrims
let their own blood now, instead of that of others, dripped it onto
the thirsty stone to mingle with water and memory.
But for those like him who lacked the control to be properly
Vulcan? All the blood in the world could not erase his imperfections,
so he would give all the blood he had.
He touched the edge of the stone knife; it cut his thumb. He
bared his wrists, then set the point to the big vein. In the midday
heat, with no water, the dying would not take long. Let them find him
here, their modern sacrifice.
But he did not cut. He stared long and hard at the dark bronze
vein under brown skin. Grand gestures and grand passions, suitable
for Vulcan’s past, not Vulcan’s present. If he did this, would he be
any different from the toppled stone faces? Their fame had ended in
obscurity; their descendants had forgotten them. He was not Achilles,
or Jake’s Orpheus. He was tired of tragedy, tired of being their
willing victim; he would not sing that role today.
Wrist unmarked, he slipped the knife back into its sheltering
niche and turned his face into the sudden wind which had come up. It
smelled of rain. Clouds boiled in over the mountain ridge and the red
sky arced with lightening. Wind whipped harder, pressing his loose
tunic to his body. He stared, fascinated. Then the heavens opened
and the rain came down, drenching him in moments. Raising his arms,
he lifted his face into it.

“Where have you *been*? My god, you’re soaking wet!”
Salene peeled off his tunic, then trousers. Even his underwrap
was damp. He dropped that. “I was caught in the downpour.”
“Obviously!” Jake went to snatch a blanket from Salene’s bed.
On arriving here, Jake had expressed surprise at finding blankets on
the beds–until his first night. Now, he enveloped Salene in heavy
felt and rubbed Salene’s arms through the fabric. “You idiot.
Where’d you go?”
“To the ruins.”
“*Why*?” He frowned; still rubbing Salene warm. “I was worried
about you.”
You had cause to be, Salene thought, but did not say. Telling
Jake what he had nearly done would only disturb his friend needlessly.
After a minute, Jake added, “Jenny said someone came to visit and
upset you. She couldn’t tell us who.”
“Saserna.”
Jake stopped, looked up at him. “What’d he want?”
Salene stepped out of Jake’s grasp, turned away. He did not wish
to discuss it.
“What’d he want, Salene?”
Salene shook his head.
Jake walked around to face him. “Where’d you go, this afternoon?
And don’t just say ‘the ruins’. You were gone for hours.”
“I walked out,” he said, “then was caught by the storm. It took
hours before it was safe to return.”
“What were you *doing* out there, though?”
Humans did not know when to stop. “That is my business. Some
matters are private.”
Snorting softly, Jake said, “Yeah? Well, you scared me.” His
voice was rising. “I walked around looking for you, then when I
couldn’t find you, I beeped Solymi and started calling hospitals–”
Touched and annoyed both, Salene set a hand on Jake’s shoulder.
“Shhh. I am here now.” Had he gone through with his plan, what would
it have done to Jake? He would have left Jake alone again, as he had
eleven years ago. That was selfish–and cowardly. “I am here now,”
he said again, held out fore and middle fingers to Jake, who wrapped
his hand around them.
A light scratching on the door interrupted. “That must be Ismene
with Jenny.” Jake moved to answer. “She said she’d watch her.” As
soon as the door was opened, the child exploded into the room,
chattering about the park they had visited–then she saw Salene and
stopped in her tracks.
The last time he had spoken to her, he had snapped. He knelt
down to her level, blanket trailing floor, started to apologize but
did not have the chance before she threw herself into his arms.
It had never occurred to him that she, also, might have been
scared. Securing the blanket, he lifted her up and she wrapped arms
around his neck, gave him her wet kisses.
Ismene’s expression betrayed her amusement. She handed Jenny’s
diaper bag over to Jake. The change in Jenny’s surroundings had set
back her toilet training. “She behaved?” Jake asked.
“Indeed. Although her main concern was as you can see–” she
nodded to Salene with Jenny in his arms. “Keeping her sufficiently
distracted was somewhat challenging.”
She had been speaking to Jake but her eyes had not left Salene.
She would not ask; she would wait for him to tell her. In the doorway
behind, Solymi appeared.
“I went to the west ruins,” Salene said.
“To the courtyard?” Solymi asked.
Salene just nodded. Solymi would know; it was not the first time
Salene had fled to the bloodstone.
“I looked there,” Solymi said now.
“The rain drove me to find a cave.”
“Ah. You came back this time.”
“Indeed. I had…obligations.”
Solymi nodded. “You do.” He glanced at Ismene. “Come.” They
left, shut the door behind.
“What was that all about?” Jake asked, approaching. “What
courtyard?”
Salene twisted his neck to see Jenny’s face where she had laid
her head on his shoulder. She smiled at him around the thumb in her
mouth. Beautiful child. “There is a courtyard in the ruins; I
visited it.”
Jake snorted, probably frustrated by the vagueness of that
answer. “What *did* Saserna say to you?”
Salene eyed him. “Persistent.”
“Well, it makes me mad when you won’t tell me things!”
“Shhh.” Salene laid a finger over Jake’s lips.
Frowning, Jake pulled back. “Then tell me what he said!”
“He said that he would not sing with me again.”
“He came all the way down to the shop just to say *that*?”
“‘All the way down to the shop’? Jake, he and his family live in
the housing complex across the street.”
Jake blinked. “Why haven’t I seen him then?”
“He will not enter the premises while I am present, or permit his
family to do so. At least he has not demanded that our parents choose
between us.” He paused. “No doubt, he was waiting to catch me alone
outside.”
“The son of a bitch!”
“Jake–enough.” He handed Jenny to her father. “It is time for
dinner, and I must dress.”
They did not speak of the matter again until Jenny was asleep.
Salene had hoped that Jake would not pursue it, but Jake possessed a
very human doggedness regarding some matters. Salene was preparing
for bed himself–his afternoon exertion had tired him–when Jake
appeared in the fresher doorway behind. He moved Salene’s hands and
braided Salene’s hair for him. “What else did he say?”
“Who?”
“You know who. Don’t play dense. Even if he just lives across
the street, I still can’t believe he’d seek you out after avoiding you
like the plague for the past week, only to say he wasn’t going to sing
with you again. And I can’t believe that would upset you enough to go
running off to the desert.”
“‘Upset,’ Jake?”
“Jenny said you were upset; don’t try to pretend you weren’t.”
He paused, tied off the end of the braid. “I asked some questions
after dinner, when you weren’t around. You used to run off to that
courtyard all the time; once, you tried to kill yourself there.” His
hands gripped Salene’s arms, turned him around. “That’s what you went
to do this afternoon, wasn’t it? You went off in sandals. Your
mother said nobody crosses the Little Sand in *sandals*.” Jake’s face
was hard. “You weren’t planning to come back.”
“But I did come back,” Salene pointed out.
His own shoulders slumping, Jake let Salene go. “I used to be
jealous of you for having brothers–did you know? My dad has two
brothers and a sister. I never had any.”
“Having siblings is not always a…blessing.”
Jake was studying a dried flower arrangement on the bathing room
counter. “Yeah. But I remember from before, when we were younger–it
was always *Saserna* you talked about then. Never Solymi. It wasn’t
Solymi you were close to.” He turned his eyes back to Salene. “What
happened?”
Salene stepped around him. “I do not wish to discuss it.”
Jake grabbed his arm, pulled him about. “Don’t do that to me!
You’re the one who lectured me about ‘partners’ sharing things. Okay,
it’s time to share. I need to know about your family, dammit. I’m
trying to understand you, and you’re not helping me any. What did
Saserna say to you this afternoon, and why does he hate you so much?”
Salene pulled his arm free, rubbed it. “He does not hate me. He
…disapproves…of me.” Leaning against the jamb, he told Jake about
his conversation with Saserna. Jake was right–he did need to know.
But Salene’s telling only succeeded in angering Jake.
“Damn him!” Jake hit his fist against the stone wall.
Salene grabbed the fist before he could hit twice. “Stop! That
is why I did not wish to tell you. Anger is not productive.”
“Neither’s killing yourself.” Then Jake shoved the bruised fist
in his mouth and walked away to sit down on the sofa.
“Agreed,” Salene replied. “Which is why I am still living.”
Jake studied him a moment, then said, “Okay. But dammit, promise
me there won’t be a next time. I can’t take it, wondering if I’m
going to get a call from a morgue some day, asking me to come down and
identify a body.”
Sighing, Salene sat down by Jake, raised his hands and stared at
them. “I cannot promise. Saserna was correct; I am ill, and when the
darkness comes, it is hard to remember what it is to be normal. The
best I can promise is that I will try.” He clenched fingers, glanced
toward Jake’s cubicle where Jenny slept. “I wish to see her grow up,
among other things. That is what I meant when I told Solymi that I
have obligations, obligations I did not have before. But I cannot
promise I will never relapse. Most likely, I will; most likely, this
condition will plague me for the rest of my life. I will understand,
however, if you cannot live with that uncertainty. And Saserna may be
correct that I should not be involved in Jenny’s upbringing.”
“Saserna is full of shit.”
The words made Salene start and glance over at Jake, who was not
looking at him. “Sorry if that makes you mad, but he makes me mad.”
Then Jake rubbed his forehead. “Look, I know the depression isn’t
going to go away, and I can deal with that. There are things to do
about it, and you do improve. You’re a lot better now even than this
morning.”
“I made decisions about myself, this afternoon,” Salene admitted.
Jake nodded. “I guess it just scares me, not knowing what you’re
going to do next.”
The sound of his voice–strained but trying to be calm–moved
Salene. “I am not so unpredictable as that. My illness follows a
pattern. When I am in the midst of an episode, I am, quite literally,
too depressed to do anything at all. It is as I become better that
there is a danger, and not always then. I have been put on a suicide
watch before. Solymi did not order one this time because he did not
believe it necessary.”
“Until Saserna showed up.”
“Yes.”
Jake gripped his hand, said after a moment, “We should get out of
this house. It’s not doing you any good, and I don’t like it that
he’s sitting across the street, watching. I don’t want him coming
after you again.”
Salene felt his lips twitch. “He will not. He has said all that
he intends to; he will not…harass…me, Jake. That would not be
Vulcan, and above all, Saserna is concerned with appearing *Vulcan*.
Your protectiveness, while appreciated, is unnecessary.”
“I don’t know–”
Salene laid a finger over Jake’s lips. “Unnecessary.”
They fell silent then. Salene leaned back against the couch
cushions and watched Jake, who sat with elbows on knees, hands clasped
and brow furrowed, thinking. At times like this, Salene found it
difficult to keep from touching him, seeking out the bright spark of
his thoughts. It was hard to believe that he was *permitted* to
touch; Jake was his bondmate. For all the grief this pairing had
brought, their connection was nothing short of miraculous to Salene.
After a moment, he set his palm on Jake’s back and rubbed his thumb
against thin cream fabric. Jake twisted to look and whatever he saw
in Salene’s face made him settle his back against Salene’s side.
Belly shaking, Salene wrapped arms around him. They stayed that way a
while.
There were forms of mental touch besides the mindmeld. Bondmates
shared a subconscious awareness of one another. For bondmates who had
shared physical intimacy, that awareness was stronger, and touch
heightened it yet more, as if mental fingers could brush inside the
skin. When Salene let himself hold Jake, he did not feel different,
or lonely, or depressed. For a little while, he could step out of
himself, exist in Never-Neverland–or perhaps, exist in the most real
place of all: human communion. His heart spilled over bright with it.
He was aware, though, that Jake was in need of sexual release.
His friend had been patient, holding himself back, afraid to press
Salene–but humans were not Vulcans, and Jake was no eunuch. Salene
understood desire, but felt it as an undifferentiated pressure in his
chest and gut as much as in his loins: shaking tenderness rather than
pressing need. Yet, a telepath, he knew it was different for Jake.
He rubbed his thumb over the nape of Jake’s neck, then pressed
his mouth to the raised curve of vertebrae. Jake shuddered. “Hey!”
“Shhh,” Salene interrupted.
Nervous perhaps, Jake laughed high. “Salene! I don’t think you
know what that does to me.”
Salene blew against the exposed brown skin above the brown band
collar. *I do know,* he said into Jake’s mind.

VIII.

Salene wondered if Jake could be trained out of his tendency to
take up most of whatever bed he slept in. Salene’s cot was scarcely
large enough to accommodate two, and certainly not if one insisted on
sprawling on his stomach over three-quarters of it. Accommodating
three was out of the question. Yet when Jenny pulled herself over
Salene’s chest to wedge her body between his and Jake’s, he did not
have the resolve to tell her to go back to her own bed. Oblivious,
Jake slept on. She wiggled up to push her nose against Salene’s and
giggle. “You ‘wake!” If she was surprised to find him in bed with
her father, she gave no indication.
“Yes,” he whispered back, then put a finger over his lips, nodded
at Jake’s back. Wordlessly, she snuggled down so that he was nearly
pushed off the cot altogether. He would most definitely have to see
to new sleeping arrangements. This was untenable.
Nevertheless lying with Jake’s daughter tucked in his arm, he felt
content–even optimistic–for the first time in weeks. If Saserna had
sought to unsettle him, he had failed spectacularly. But perhaps it
was unfair to assume a hostile motive on Saserna’s part; he had only
come to say what Salene had known for some time that he would, what
Salene himself had set in motion the day he had left Vulcan for Earth
four and a half months ago. But really, there had been no choice. The
link with Jake was vital to his soul. As vital as music.
Abruptly, he sat up, startling Jenny a little, but she had been
growing restless in any case, squirming against him. She sat up, too.
“We go eat breakfast?”
Slipping from beneath the blankets, he dragged on tunic and
trousers, recalling belatedly that humans kept different modesty
codes. Jenny, however, appeared undisturbed. Perhaps young children
did not much notice. “I shall feed you breakfast, yes,” he said.
“Then I am going to practice.”
He hadn’t sung since falling ill.
They ate quickly; after, she insisted on following him down to
the practice rooms where he settled her in a corner with one of the
educational toys Ismene had loaned them. While on Earth, she had
often listened to him practice and was surprisingly well-behaved, not
interrupting too often to demand his attention.
Now, he sang a few warm-up exercises, then simple pieces which
fell in the low and middle end of his range, only gradually working up
to the high notes. His voice was rough with disuse, and he muffed the
high appoggiaturas, but it was extremely satisfying to *sing* once
again. A knock on the door interrupted him twenty-two minutes into
his practice. It was Jake. “You’re singing!” he said when Salene let
him in.
“Indeed.”
“Daddydaddy!” Jenny plowed into Jake. “Look!” She held up the
nearly completed hologrid. She had been attempting to match colored
geometric shapes to their appropriate slot. When she succeeded, she
was rewarded by blinking lights in the plastic piece. It had vastly
improved her shape recognition in a single week.
Jake knelt. “Very good, honey.” They continued to discuss the
toy. Salene returned to his music, paging through the display screen.
After a moment, he sensed Jake step up behind, wrap arms around his
shoulders and kiss the side of his face; Salene stiffened. “What’s
wrong?” Jake asked.
Glancing at Jenny who, involved in her toy, ignored them both, he
said, “The child.”
“So?”
“Not in front of the child.”
Jake let him go and walked around to face him. He was frowning.
“What’s the problem?”
“I told you before. Public displays–”
“This isn’t exactly public!”
Salene dropped his eyes to the music. “Nonetheless. The child
is present. It is not done.”
“You hug her.”
“That is different.”
“Oh, please!” Jake threw up his hands, then reached out to
switch off Salene’s display stand. Annoyed, Salene glanced up. “You
let her get in bed with us this morning.”
“I thought you were asleep–”
“It’s hard to sleep with the wiggleworm digging her toes into my
back. And like I said, you let her get in with us; this isn’t any
different.”
Salene lowered his eyes, turned the stand back on. “Perhaps. I
am still…uncomfortable with it.”
“Listen,” Jake said softly, moving up beside him to grip his arm.
“I think it’s important for her to see us touch one another. Children
need to know their parents love each other, as well as love them.”
Salene stiffened again. “I am not her parent.” Tension sent his
voice tight and high: a eunuch’s voice. He hated the sound of it.
“You are her parent,” Jake said.
Spinning, Salene glared at Jake. “Don’t–!”
“You know I wouldn’t. Not about that, ever.”
Salene trembled with the attempt to contain his emotions: hope
and humiliation in equal measure.
“You’re my partner, aren’t you?” Jake asked softly. “That makes
you her parent–if you want to be.”
“She has a mother.”
“And now, two fathers.”
Tearing away, Salene fled the room, stalked out to sit on a stone
in the courtyard, fingers pressed to his temples.
Two fathers.
Saserna had taken away Salene’s opportunity to be a father. Jake
had returned it. But was it right? Jenny had two parents already.
He was an interloper.
Steps in the doorway made him look up, afraid it was Jake. It
was not. His mother stood there. “Salene?”
“I am well.”
She came out to join him on the stone, fold her hands in her lap.
“You may be well, but I believe you are also troubled.” It was an
invitation.
Leaning over to rest elbows on knees, he steepled his hands and
pressed thumbs to his lips. She waited. Though she had no music, she
had always understood him best. Solymi understood him also, but from
a learned expertise. He and his mother shared an artist’s soul. “The
child,” he said finally.
“Mmmm.”
“She is not mine, yet Jake calls me her parent. I do not wish to
replace her mother.”
“Is that what Jake asked of you? To be a replacement?”
“No.”
“So.” There was a long silence, then she said, “Traditional
family arrangements do not always suit, nor are they necessarily to be
preferred. There are more important considerations than a genetic
relationship, or lack of one, between a parent and child. Anyone
fertile can produce offspring. To be a parent is something else
again.” She stood. “Perhaps, my son, you should consider what it
means to be a parent before you decide that you are not one. To the
rest of us, the truth of the matter was self-evident from the day that
you arrived here with the child in your arms. Sometimes parents and
children choose each other.”
She returned inside and he sat a while longer, mulling over what
she had said, then rose himself to go upstairs to the room he shared
with Jake Sisko. Jake was there, working at something on a PADD; not
far away, Jenny built a tower from couch pillows, then hopped on them,
toppling them with a squeal. He paused in the door and watched them
both a moment.
Perhaps sensing his presence, Jake looked up, stood abruptly.
“Your mother said to leave you–”
“I…needed to think.”
“I didn’t mean to insult you, or hurt you–”
Salene held up a hand. “I know.”
Jenny had seen him enter but continued with her pillow game, now
trying to belly-flop on them instead. She was likely to bruise her
chin on the floor. He scooped her up and carried her, giggling, to a
place on the cushion-denuded couch, sat her down on the one remaining
cushion, then knelt in front of her. Her giggles petered off, as if
she could sense the seriousness of his mood. Jake had come over to
sit on the floor with his back against the couch front, watching
Salene’s face. Salene met his eyes. “Did you mean what you said, in
the practice room?”
“Of course I did.”
Salene nodded, then looked at Jenny. “On Vulcan,” he told her,
“children were sometimes raised by people who did not give them
birth.” Confused, she tilted her head. How did one explain the
concept of fosterage versus genetic parenthood to a three year old?
He tried again. “Sometimes a child had foster-parents: people who
cared for the child even if they were not related to him or her.”
She still looked utterly confused. Jake was grinning. “You’re
talking over her head.”
Snorting delicately in frustration, Salene said, “How would you
explain this?”
Hauling Jenny off the couch, Jake tickled her. She squirmed and
giggled in his lap. After a minute, he tugged on her ears. “No
points.”
She giggled again. “No points!”
He touched his own ears. “No points.”
“No points!” she agreed.
Reaching over, Jake tugged on Salene’s ears. Salene tried not to
be offended. “Points.”
Jenny bounced up, grinning. “Pointy-ears!”
Then Jake held up his arm beside hers. “Brown skin like
Daddy’s.”
“Yup.”
He touched her nose. “Daddy’s nose, too.” She giggled. “See,
you look like Daddy because Mommy and Daddy made you from our bodies,
and you grew in Mommy’s tummy until you were big enough to come out–
like Nancy’s babies last summer, remember? So you look like us just
like two of Nancy’s kittens were grey because Nancy is grey. You’re
*related* to us. That’s what related means.” He glanced at Salene.
“You’re not related to Salene in the same way. He’s a Vulcan and
you’re a human.”
She actually appeared somewhat disappointed by that. “I won’t grow
pointy-ears?”
“No, no pointy-ears. Yours will stay round.”
She sighed. Jake grinned, looked up at Salene. “Apparently, she
hoped they might change.”
“Apparently.”
Jake looked back down at her. “Sometimes mommies and daddies
can’t raise the babies that they make themselves. So other people
adopt the babies and raise them instead. They become the new mommies
and daddies, even if they aren’t *related* to the babies.”
“They love them just as much?”
“They love them just as much.”
“Why didn’t the mommies and daddies who made them keep them?”
“Sometimes they can’t. Sometimes the mommies and daddies stop
living together–like your mommy and daddy. And sometimes, those
mommies and daddies fall in love with new people and live with them
instead; the new people become step-mommies and step-daddies. They
aren’t related to the babies, but they love them just as much as if
they had helped to make them.”
Jenny Gwen was not a slow child. Salene could see her little
mind working, looking from Jake to him, making connections. “You and
mommy don’t live together no more.”
“No,” Jake agreed.
“You live with Salene.”
“That’s right.”
“So you love Salene now.”
“That’s right.”
She looked directly at Salene then. “You won’t go away from Daddy?”
“I will not go away,” he promised, wondering if she assumed Jake
had left Sarah because Sarah had ‘gone away’ to a space station.
“Then you my step-daddy!” she said.
“In a manner of speaking. I am your de’ab.” He glanced at Jake.
“It means foster-father…a title somewhat more appropriate, perhaps.”
“De’ab,” Jenny repeated. “De’ab Salene!”
“Just de’ab.”
“De’ab!” Abruptly, she transferred laps, leaping at him; he
caught her. “Two daddies! One mommy, two daddies!”
Jake grinned at Salene. “Told you.”
She had a strangle-hold on his neck. “I hope,” he said, “that
she does not find a wealth of parents to be an embarrassment.”
“I doubt it. To her at this age, it just means more presents at
Christmas.”

“What are you doing?” someone shouted over the high grind of
drilled metal.
Salene shut off the drill and looked up at Solymi standing in the
back-room door of the new family-sized flat for which Salene had
applied last week. It was not far from the flat which Solymi shared
with Ismene. “I am attempting to conjoin the two cots.”
Shutting the door, Solymi walked over to squat beside him. “To
what end?”
“It is a human custom to share a bed.”
“Ah.” Solymi rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You do not find
that…intrusive?”
“One grows accustomed to it.” He returned his eyes to his work,
drilled a second hole in the metal frame and slipped a staple in to
seal it. Several of these along the side and legs should suffice.
They were quiet a while then, Solymi watching Salene finish the
joined cot. Like Jake, Solymi was utterly incompetent with machinery.
Ismene was little better and Salene was the one called upon to repair
anything in their flat which required a knowledge of tools greater
than a hand-laser. At last, Solymi said, “Your disposition has
improved remarkably. I do believe that we have found the correct
medication balance–one far lower, I might point out, than you needed
before.”
“Indeed.” Salene stood, nodding for his brother to take the
other side of the cot. Together they flipped it rightside-up and
pushed it against the far wall between the former sleep-cubicles.
Jake planned to use the cubicles for storage, or a closet. Jenny had
her own room here. At the moment, the two of them were out looking
for a child’s bed–and sheets for this one. “So, you consider me
sufficiently recovered to return to Earth?” he asked, looked up in
time to catch the surprise on Solymi’s face. “Apparently not.”
Solymi sat down in front of Salene’s computer. “I believe it
somewhat premature for that. Yes, your medication seems at last to
be measured correctly, but only three weeks have passed since your
return to Vulcan and except for the incident with Saserna, you have
suffered no stressful situation. I wish more time to pass, Salene.”
Suppressing a sigh, Salene propped himself on the edge of the
matressless bedframe. “Jake is anxious to return to Earth,” he said.
Solymi raised an eyebrow. Salene crossed his arms. “He cannot keep
the child away from Sarah indefinitely; they had agreed to share
custody.”
“I see. But what would be the point of your going to Earth?”
Salene blinked. Of course Solymi would not understand. “I had
meant to return to Earth on a semi-permanent basis.”
“But what of your music?”
Salene permitted the edge of a smile to lift his mouth. “Earth
does have music, brother. In any case, I am as yet unready to return
to performance quite yet. Frankly, I’m out of practice. When I do
return, it hardly matters where my abode of permanent residence is,
does it?”
“You and I both know that it would place a significant strain on
your career, were you to reside on Earth.”
Salene nodded. “Hence, this apartment. Perhaps we shall live in
two places, or at least I shall. If Jake chooses to live on Vulcan,
he would likely see far less of his daughter. Sarah might even be
awarded full custody with Jake granted only visiting rights; there is
still a bias towards a child remaining with its mother. I cannot ask
him to sacrifice his role in his daughter’s life for my sake.”
“So you sacrifice your music.”
“No.” Solymi was occasionally obtuse. “There are many possible
venues for performance. In the past, I have been somewhat…elitist.
Pride masked is still pride, a sin to which our people are rather
especially prone, no?” Solymi’s eyebrow flickered. “If I sing a
child to sleep, is that any less worthy than if I draw an audience to
its feet? Both are a gift of music.”
Solymi nodded solemnly, then his eyes glinted. “So you will sing
opera?”
“I will *not* sing opera.”
Even across the room, Salene could sense the mental bubble of
Solymi’s amusement. After a moment, Salene added, “There is another
reason that Jake should return to Earth soon. Sarah is, as far as I
am aware, still ignorant of my arrangement with Jake.”
“You believe it would be a problem?”
“I am uncertain. But she must be told.”
Solymi rubbed the bridge of his nose again, considering. “Then
perhaps it is time to test whether your bond has stabilized. Let Jake
return to Earth with Jenny while you remain here. I would prefer to
monitor you the first time you are separated from him by a significant
distance.”
Salene nodded. “That will be acceptable.”

“You think I should *what*? Salene!” Jake let Jenny down to the
floor along with her latest acquisition: a glitter-streamer. She
could make it spin out behind her when she ran, which she proceeded to
do: round and round the two of them. Jake ignored her. “We planned
to go to Earth together, to go house-hunting–if you still want a
house.”
Jake sounded defensive. He was the one who deeply wished a house
but Salene was not adverse to the idea, and understood Jake’s need.
“We can seek a house at another time, or you alone might look while
there. This is an experiment which my brother wishes to conduct to
determine whether the bond has stabilized between us.” Jenny was
still running in circles; irritated, Salene reached out to catch her
and hold her still. She wailed and twisted against his arm.
“I’m not sure I like the idea,” Jake said, then put hands over
his ears. “God! Just let her go!”
“You know that is unwise.” Salene knelt down to pull Jenny about
to face him. “Stop,” he said to her. “This accomplishes nothing.”
She continued to scream, was working herself up to a point of
upset past reason.
“Salene!” Jake said, loudly. “You’re making her worse!”
“Go in the bedroom, then,” Salene said.
Jake hesitated, then stomped off, muttering under his breath
about checking his messages. It was clear that he was as irritated
with Salene for pushing the matter as with Jenny for her behavior.
Consistency in Jenny’s discipline was not Jake’s strong point. For
the most part, she was an easy child but when she decided to be
difficult–such as now–she had learned that she could often get her
way by raising the decibel level of her protests. Salene intended to
put an end to that.
She was still twisting in his grasp, kicking at him and screaming
at the top of her voice. If she were a Vulcan child, he would simply
meld with her to calm her. Humans required more finesse. “Jenny
Gwen,” he said in Vulcan, “that is not acceptable. I realize that you
feel anger towards me, but kicking is for dreba, not children. When
you cease fighting, I shall release you.”
She kicked again, but weakly, and quit screaming. He let her go.
She wiped her eyes and glared at him. “You’re not my friend!”
He ignored that. “You know perfectly well that running is for
outdoors. It will not be tolerated in the flat; neither will
screaming. I believe you need to think this over in time out.”
“No!”
“‘No’ is not an option.” He picked her up, removed the glitter-
streamer from her clenched fist, and sat her down against the wall
between two as-yet-unpacked boxes. She pouted and refused to look at
him. Fatherhood had its unpleasant aspects.
He left her there a few minutes to calm herself before sitting
down to talk with her about where she could play with the glitter-
streamer, and where she could not. Then he let her return to her
room. Jake had come out of theirs, rubbing his eyes. “I wish I knew
how you can manage her when she gets like that. She hurts my ears.”
Salene regarded him wryly. “And mine. But it must be done.”
“I can tell which of us is going to be the disciplinarian.” He
sat down on their new sofa. “As for me going to Earth to talk to
Sarah–it doesn’t look like I’ll have to.”
“No?”
“I just got a message from her. She says she has a new space
station assignment and wants to know if I can keep Jenny another four
months.” His smile was bitter. “I knew this would happen, once she
took the first one. I wonder who’s going to feed the cats.”
Salene sat down beside him. “It was a recorded message?”
“Yeah.”
“When will you tell her about our arrangement?”
“I don’t know. When she gets back, I guess. I need to do it in
person, I think.”
“So you said before.” Salene considered. “Perhaps you should
travel to meet her at the station instead. I am certain that she
would be glad of the chance to see her daughter.”
Jake thought about it. “Maybe. We’ll see. I’ll have to wait
till she gets there, first. She’s already left Earth.” He snorted.
“As for Jenny, Sarah prefers to have her on her own terms. She likes
the *idea* of being a mother better than she likes being one. When
Jenny’s inconvenient, she leaves her to me.”
Salene, who had surmised that already, said nothing.

IX.

After almost two years offstage, Salene had resubmitted his name
to the concertmaster of the chi`pain guild just last week. There had
been a few moments of blank-screened wait during which he had wondered
if perhaps Saserna had managed to poison the guild against him, then
the concertmaster had reappeared. Would Salene be ready to sing with
the choir by the Rain Festival? Would he be able to solo? How soon
could he return to conservatory rehearsals? To touring?
So. Saserna had not won. Heart light in his side, Salene had
answered the concertmaster’s questions, promised to attend rehearsals,
and given the concertmaster his new address so that he might be sent
copies of the music. If he was not ready yet for a trip to Earth or
the stress of touring, he did need to stretch himself, and to sing for
more than four walls, Jake Sisko, and a child.
He would attend his first rehearsal that evening. Now, he opened
the folder of festival music to practice, flipped through it on his
display stand and hummed parts to himself. The majority of the pieces
were known to him already. Fortunate, as the festival was less than a
month away. He scrolled down to Salet’s “She’taar na-korr,” the aria
which the concertmaster wished for him to solo. The coloratura in the
middle section was diabolical, with places which required him to go
without breathing for a full minute.
Opening his mouth, he intoned the first note of the aria, let it
crescendo until it echoed off the walls, until it swallowed him whole.
He lost himself then to the melody.
To sing was to open his soul to the first music, the primal music
which curled like an unborn child at the center of the universe. The
golden embryo. Sometimes–especially when he sang the old hymns–he
felt less that he made music than that he released it from somewhere
deep inside him, from a place where living began and ended. To sing
was joy. Perhaps he should have been ashamed by such an emotional
response but when the music sank claws into him and lifted him out of
himself, he found it difficult to be ashamed of anything. His one
regret had been that he had no one to sing with, no harmony to press
his against, bear him up, meld him to another in a unity of sound.
Jake could not sing. He could, more or less, carry a tune, but
that was not singing. Salene was unsure Jake quite understood why it
mattered. Writing was a solitary art. Even when Jake sought Salene’s
opinion or input, in the end, he returned to his PADD and chose how to
incorporate that input–or not–alone. And he seemed content with
that. A continual solo. Salene needed harmony.
He heard steps enter the room behind: Jake’s saunter. Bringing
the musical phrase to an end, he turned.
“I love to hear you sing,” Jake said.
Salene bowed his head in reply. If Jake could not sing with him,
at least he could appreciate the music. And it did please Salene to
please him.
“I came to tell you that I’m headed out for a while,” Jake went
on. “Jenny’s in her bedroom. Do you mind keeping an eye on her?”
“Not at all.”
“I’ll be back in an hour or two.”
Salene just nodded. He never asked Jake where he went on these
walks. He had once, only to have Jake reply evasively, “Around.”
Salene had not pressed; Vulcans understood the need for some privacy
with one’s own thoughts.
Salene finished his practice, then went into the kitchen to order
lunch for Jenny. Convincing her to come eat it was more difficult.
She was engrossed in building something with blocks and had her
father’s ability to exclude the world when she wished. Even a banana
and peanut butter sandwich was not sufficient temptation for her to
leave the task unfinished. He finally gave up and sat down with her,
coaxing her into an explanation of what she was fashioning. It
fascinated him, the way her child’s mind worked.
The chime rang. Odd; he had been expecting no visitors. Leaving
Jenny to her creation, he went to see who had come to call, opened the
door to find Sarah Fernandez.
“Where’s Jake?” she asked before he could offer even a ritual
welcome.
“He left thirty-two minutes ago, for a walk.”
“With Jenny Gwen?”
“No, she is here with me.”
She shoved past him. “He left her with you?”
The stress she placed on the last word concerned him. “Yes,” he
replied. “It is hardly the first time.”
“Damn him! Where’d he go then?”
“I do not know; he did not say.”
“And you didn’t *ask*?”
Before he could answer, Jenny came out of her bedroom, face all
smiles for her mother. Sarah swept her up and held her close a
moment, eyes closed. “At least she’s all right.”
Completely baffled now, he replied, “Of course she is. Why would
she not be?”
Sarah opened her eyes to glare at him. “Your brother sent me a
message four days ago.” Salene frowned; Solymi had said nothing of
contacting Sarah Fernandez. But Sarah was still speaking. “I’d just
got to the space station and I had a message waiting for me.” Her
voice was rising. “He told me all about your so-called *illness*.
You’re not sick at all. You’re crazy. And Jake brought my daughter
here with you. He even leaves her with you without telling you where
he’s going!”
He understood then. She did not mean Solymi. She meant Saserna.
Salene could well imagine what Saserna had said.
“I am not ‘crazy.'” The word tasted sour in the mouth, though he
had used it of himself now and then. “I have a condition called major
depressive disorder. I take medication for it. At present, it is in
remission. Jenny is in no danger in my care.”
“That’s not what your brother said. He won’t even let you near
his children.”
Salene could not deny it; he felt his lips thin. She continued
to glare at him. “Where’re my daughter’s things?”
“In her room.”
“*Her* room?” She moved past him, stalked down the hall to
glance into both sleep rooms, saw the joined cots in his and Jake’s,
the sheets still mussed where Jake had not made it up after rising
that morning. She looked back at him. “Oh.” The sound was small and
startled, her face blanched pale. “I understand now. I understand
everything.” Still carrying Jenny, she advanced on him, paleness
giving way to a flush. “How long has this affair been going on? A
year? Two?”
He did not follow. “Affair?”
“Don’t play dense with me, Vulcan!” She struck his chest with
her free hand.
He moved away from her. “Forgive me, but I do not understand
you.”
“You’re having an affair with my husband!”
“You and Jake are divorced now.”
“Yes! Because of *you*, we are!”
In her arms, Jenny was squirming. “Mommy, don’t yell at de’ab.”
But Salene had turned away. In all honesty, he could not deny
that accusation of Sarah’s, either. Jake had divorced her because of
him. There were other factors, certainly, but in the end, what he had
once been to Jake had stood like a shadow behind everything.
He could hear Sarah speaking to Jenny to calm her. “You and
Mommy are going to take a trip, go live on a big space station that
Mommy helped design.”
“With Daddy?”
“No, not with Daddy.” Sarah’s footsteps retreated into Jenny’s
room, then came the sound of packing: drawers opened, items slammed
into Jenny’s carry-cases. Everything would not fit, he knew. “Jenny,
where are you going?” Sarah snapped.
“To talk to de’ab.”
“Stay here.”
“Don’t wanna.”
“Jennifer Gwendolyn! I said stay here!” The door hissed shut
and he could hear the child protesting behind it. He stood staring
out over the balcony rail at the courtyard garden below. Dim panic
unfolded petals low in his abdomen. He should do something, but what?
Sarah was Jenny’s mother; he had no legal right to stop her from
taking her daughter. *Where was Jake*?
Nine minutes later, the bedroom door opened again and Sarah
emerged with two bags slung over her shoulders, case in one hand, a
protesting Jenny pulled along by the other. “We’re leaving,” she said
unnecessarily. “Tell Jake that everything about Jenny’s custody is
going to be re-thought now. He might get visiting rights, but I’ll be
damned if I let him bring her anywhere near you. It’s bad enough that
he’s been having an affair behind my back for God knows how long, but
that he exposed Jenny to it by setting up house with you, even let her
be babysat by a man who’s in and out of mental institutions…! What
he does with you is his business, but I won’t let our daughter be any
part of it!”
Salene had no idea how to respond to that, so he said nothing.
She glanced down at Jenny, who had collapsed at her feet in an effort
to keep from being dragged any further. The child hung limply in her
mother’s grip. “Get up,” Sarah snapped.
“No!”
“Get up this minute!”
“NononoNO!” Jenny yelled. Sarah looked ready to spank her out of
frustration.
“Jenny Gwen, go with your mother,” he said. She shut up and
stared at him. “Go,” he said again, more gently. He did not want
Sarah to take out on Jenny her anger at Jake, and him.
“But you’re not coming!” Jenny said.
“No, I cannot come,” he answered.
“No fair!” She jerked on her arm but Sarah had it fast.
“Sometimes life is not fair,” he told her. “I am sorry.”
Jenny was past listening; she was screaming her lungs out. Sarah
looked ready to scream herself. She put the case down and picked up
Jenny to carry her–still screaming protests–to the door.
“I’ll be back for the case,” she called.
“Do you wish me to carry it down for you?”
“No! I don’t want anything from you! Put it outside and I’ll
come back for it. I don’t ever want to see you again!” The door slid
shut behind her, muffling the sound of Jenny wailing as her mother
carried her away. After a moment, he forced himself to move, to lift
the case and set it outside the door. He could scarcely hear Jenny
now. The silence fell on him, numbing.
Where was Jake?
He let the door slide shut, turned dumbly and looked into the
kitchen. Jenny’s uneaten lunch, cut into neat triangles, still sat on
her highchair table. Seeing it, he collapsed in the open doorway
between foyer and kitchen, back against the arch, knees bent, arms
resting on them. He stared at the floor, at the geometric tumble of
tiny colored tiles, until the colors blurred. He felt a sting in his
eyes, wiped at them, then stared at his wet fingers.
Sudden anger burned away tears and numbness both. He was not
going to give in to the despair this time. If he gave in, he would
lose his daughter, and in that moment, he felt it fiercely that she
*was* his daughter. Not by blood perhaps, but by choice; as his
mother had said, sometimes parents and children choose each other.
Pushing himself to his feet, he bent his head a moment, thinking.
He had no idea where Jake was, and had not thought to ask Sarah where
she was going, if she would even have told him. Solymi would have a
better chance of locating Sarah Fernandez than he would, and a far
better chance of convincing her not to depart the planet until he–and
Jake–could speak with her again.
Going into his practice room, he sat down at his desk and placed
a call to his brother, explained what had occurred and what he wished
Solymi to do.
“Find Jake’s former wife and bring her to my office?” Solymi
asked.
“Or at least prevent her from leaving Vulcan. I doubt that she
has immediate ship reservations off-planet. She had no luggage with
her and therefore, must have a room somewhere in the city. As a
doctor, you can locate her more easily than I could.”
Solymi frowned. “To do so would be a misuse of my professional
status for personal reasons.”
“Would it? I may be your brother, but I am also your patient.
What effect on my mental health do you think losing my daughter would
have?”
Solymi’s frown did not entirely disappear. “You appear perfectly
rational at the moment. But–” he went on before Salene could reply,
“I shall see what I can do. In the meantime, where will you be?
Trying to locate Jake?”
“No. I shall leave a message for Jake, telling him to contact
you.” He paused, then explained, “I intend to confront Saserna.” And
he flicked off the comm before Solymi could protest.

It was the hardest walk he had ever made, from the tram station
to his father’s shop. He made it by sheer force of will, noticing
little on the way, numb to the world around. As usual, the workshop
was busy, but although his nephew Sarroni was there, Saserna himself
did not appear to be in the main studio. Fortunate. Perhaps it would
allow them to avoid a public confrontation.
“Where is my brother?” he asked old T’Shar, cousin to his
father’s mother. She glanced up at him, eyes wide–surprise at his
arrival or his request?–then nodded towards one of the back rooms
that contained the laser-saws. “My thanks,” he replied, headed back
there. A memory of the childhood awe in which he had once held his
brother turned his knees weak and tightened his abdomen but he ignored
it, propelled by something more compelling than mere discipline. He
wanted his child back.
Shoving the swinging door open, he found his father and brother
at the computer. They appeared to be analyzing the density of a new
shipment of woods. Saserna’s jaw tightened. “I shall leave you.”
And he headed for the exit.
“It is you I came to see,” Salene said, blocking his way.
“I have nothing to say to you.”
“Ah, but I have something to say to you.”
“I do not wish to hear it.”
“I am not giving you a choice in the matter–”
“Enough,” their father interrupted, glancing from one to the
other. He ran a hand through the bronze-blond hair he had bequeathed
none of his sons. “Take it upstairs to the private residence.”
Saserna glared. “I said I have nothing–”
“Take it upstairs.”
Saserna turned on his heel and headed out the door, over to the
staircase. Salene followed. Their father did not. Their footsteps
on the wooden stairs were heavy.
Upstairs, they faced off in one of the guest rooms, the same one
in which Jake and Salene had stayed after they had first arrived.
“Now,” Saserna said, turning to face Salene, fists on hips, “what do
you have to say?”
For the first time in his life, Salene did not find his brother’s
posture intimidating. He found it childish. Moving forward, he used
his height against Saserna, who actually took a step back from him.
It was heady, freeing.
“Once, I believed your disapproval of me to be rooted in your
beliefs and your traditionalism. I could honor that, even if I
disagreed with it. Not everyone interprets Surak’s tenets in the same
way. Now I see your motive for what it truly is: petty malice.”
From Vulcan to Vulcan, it was a profound insult; from brother to
brother, it was an unforgivable one. The tell-tale bronze flush of
fury touched Saserna’s neck, cheeks, eartips. “You will explain that
remark.”
“I had planned to. You sent an unsolicited message to Jake’s
former wife, Sarah Fernandez, on the subject of my mental condition–a
message which deliberately misled her into an unfounded fear for her
daughter’s safety. It must have taken no little effort or expense on
your part to find her present location in order to do so, and it seems
that it was not enough for you simply to refuse your one-time promise
of providing me with a child to adopt. You also set yourself the task
of separating me from Jake’s child, as well. I can see no *logical*
reason for such an action on your part. Only an emotional one:
malice.”
The bronze tinge deepened in Saserna’s face. “I told her what I
believed she needed to know for her child’s safety. You have no
business raising children, Salene. I said that before.”
“Ah! Prejudice parading as ethics. You nobly decide what is
right not only for your family but for others’ as well. It was not
your *affair*, Saserna. Jenny is Jake’s daughter–not yours. It was
for Jake to tell Sarah, not for you.”
“Then why had he not told her yet?”
“Perhaps because he had not had opportunity to do so in person.
You have interfered–uninvited–in someone else’s private affairs, and
acted without having all the data. That is irresponsible.”
“She seemed grateful for my uninvited ‘interference.'”
“No doubt due to the manner in which you shaded your revelations.
The fact of the matter is that you know very little about human
psychology, Saserna, and even less about Sarah Fernandez and her
relationship with Jake Sisko. You have done untold harm with your
attempt to be ‘ethical.'”
“I simply told the truth.”
“You did not tell the truth. You told half-truths, and it is
that which I say stems from malice, not from ethics. You are not
concerned with ethics. You are concerned only with destroying my
reputation.”
“You seem quite capable of destroying your reputation without
help from me. You have spent the entire last year doing so. Since
your return, the crafter’s quarter has spoken of little else but your
living arrangements with the human.”
“Hyperbole. The neighbors may gossip, but I suspect that *you*
are the one who is able to speak, and think, of little else. You have
a petty mind. You would have destroyed my career if you could, but
found you could not. Was it learning that I would be performing at
the Rain Festival which decided you on the course of destroying my
family instead?”
His brother’s eyes narrowed and Salene knew that his accusation
about the festival had struck close to the truth. “As you just
pointed out to me,” Saserna said, “the child belongs to Jake Sisko and
Sarah Fernandez. She is your family no more than she is mine.”
“You may not wish to acknowledge it, but I call Jake Sisko
t’hy’la, and the child calls me de’ab. They are my family.”
“Not by Vulcan law.”
“No, not by Vulcan law. And I have not tried to make them so, by
Vulcan law. Yet you know as well as I that what is legal does not
necessarily reflect what is right, or true. Jake is my partner and
Jenny is my daughter, and you will not succeed in taking her away from
me out of some misbegotten notion of what you consider to be ‘ethical’
unless you wish to cast yourself as the voice of the All–something
not even Surak pretended to. You are not a god, Saserna.”
“That, I never claimed.”
Salene ignored the interruption, went on, “Nor am I immoral, or
mad, or incapable of being a father even if I am incapable of begetting
children. But like you or any other Vulcan, I do need companionship to
stay sane. The only difference between you and me in that respect is
that I look for it in a man and you in a woman. If you cannot accept
that, then you cannot, but cease meddling in my life!”
Salene was breathing hard. He had never before said these things
to Saserna, had never dared to defend himself to the brother he had
once idolized, had not, in fact, believed much of it himself until
recently. He had been ashamed of his attachments. Today, he was
tired of being ashamed.
Saserna seemed torn between astonishment and outright anger over
Salene’s outburst. “So. You accuse me of malice and hubris both in
one afternoon simply because I cannot approve of your behavior. But I
do not approve, Salene, and I never will. That does not mean I bear
you malice.”
“Then demonstrate it. Tell Sarah Fernandez the truth.”
“I told her the–”
“You told her only part of the truth. You told her that you
consider me mentally unstable. You did not tell her *why*. Nor did
you tell her that our other brother–who is a licensed psychiatrist–
disagrees with you.”
“I did not tell her that because I believe Solymi to be quite
mistaken in this matter. He has let his emotional attachment to you
interfere with his judgement.”
“And you never permit emotions to cloud yours?”
“No, I do not.”
“That, I do not believe. Your judgement is far more clouded than
Solymi’s, since you have presumed to present as a fact what is only your
opinion of my mental health, your *layman’s* opinion, no less. If not
outright hubris, that would certainly reflect a lack of objectivity. If
you would show that you bear me no malice, then explain your convictions
in full to Sarah in the presence of Solymi and myself, so that we might
present our own points of view as well. That is fair, is it not? I
have asked for no recantation on your part, only that you be completely
honest. If you are convinced that your opinion is correct, then there
is no need to silence ours, is there? The truth of the matter should be
evident to Sarah Fernandez.”
“But will Sarah Fernandez be able to recognize that truth?”
“How patronizing. Or perhaps you are simply afraid that your
truth will prove to be subjective, not ultimate?”
“The truth is the truth, Salene.”
“Then let her hear both our truths, and decide for herself which
of them she accepts.”

X.

Jake heard the story, or most of it, from Ismene.
He had returned to their flat to find the place empty and a note
from Salene on the message board to call Solymi’s office for an
explanation. Fearing that Salene had collapsed again, he called, only
to hear that Solymi was out–collecting Sarah, he found out later–and
Jake should contact Ismene instead. Ismene, at least, was available.
She assured him that Salene was well, Jenny was well, but there had
been an emergency and could he come down to the school? Vulcans, he
had learned, very much disliked discussing the personal by comm if it
could be avoided.
By the time he arrived, she had arranged a temporary replacement
for herself and took him by flitter into the old city to Solymi’s
office, explaining matters on the way. The more he heard, the angrier
he got. “Where does she get off,” he yelled finally, “thinking she
can just swoop in and take my daughter?”
“You were not present, and Salene had no legal right to prevent
her.”
Jake made a cutting motion with his hand. “I don’t blame Salene.
But Sarah can’t just take off with Jenny. We may have joint custody,
but Jenny was in my care by mutual agreement and Sarah would’ve had to
get a court injunction to overturn that without my consent. If she’d
taken her off planet without my permission, it would’ve amounted to
kidnapping!”
“I doubt she was thinking of legalities,” Ismene replied dryly.
Jake snorted, then said, “And Salene went to talk to Saserna
*alone*? What the hell does he expect that to accomplish?”
“I do not know. He did not say. Let us hope first that he-who-
will-be-my-husband has succeeded in finding your former wife and your
daughter. Without that, none of the rest will matter.” She settled
the flitter down into the roof lot and cut the engine.
Solymi had found Sarah, all right. Jake could hear her all the
way in the outer office waiting room. Her voice–especially in
“strident” mode–carried as well as Major Kira’s. In fact, there were
similarities between the two beyond just voices. He had never noticed
before, and wondered if his long-ago crush on Kira had subconsciously
influenced his wrongheaded decision to marry Sarah. The great irony
there lay in the fact that Kira Nerys had taken a profound dislike to
Sarah Fernandez at their one and only meeting on DS9, not long after
Jenny was born. She had told Jake’s father later, “I don’t see what
Jake sees in her.” At the moment, neither did Jake himself.
Setting his shoulders, he opened the door between the waiting
room and office, nodded to the office administrator (Vulcan for
“secretary”) and was nearly bowled over by a small figure that flung
herself at him bodily. Jenny. He caught her in his arms and held her
tight. She had clasped him with arms and legs both, face buried in
his shoulder. Sitting down in one of the chairs behind the desk, he
rocked her, grateful just to have the moment. The administrator
returned to his work; Ismene stood to one side, waiting. In the
distance, he could hear the rise and fall of Sarah’s voice. “How long
has she been here?” he asked the administrator.
“They arrived seven minutes before yourselves.”
“Where’s de’ab?” Jenny whispered to Jake.
He lowered his head and whispered back, “He went to talk to
someone. I think he’ll be along soon.” She nodded but her hold on
him did not relax any. “Can you let Daddy go so he can go talk to
Mommy? Can you stay with Ms. Ismene? I promise I’ll see you again
after.” And Sarah couldn’t do a damn thing to prevent it.
Jenny thought about this, raised her face to his. “All right.”
She kissed him and let go, slid off his lap and permitted Ismene to
lead her away by the hand.
“I shall take her back to the school,” Ismene said. “You may
pick her up there, or at our apartment, later.”
Jake nodded. “And Ismene, she’s to be released to no one except
myself or Salene.” He glanced at the administrator, who was listening
to everything with great curiosity. “You heard that; you witness it.
Jenny is currently in my custody, not in her mother’s. Sarah may not
pick her up unless I’m there to say she can, or she has a sealed court
order.”
The man nodded. “I so witness.” Jake could just imagine him
thinking, Barbarians, to fight over a child. The hell of it was that
he and Sarah had sworn they wouldn’t fight over Jenny. Turning, he
headed down the short hall to confront his ex-wife.
This close, he could hear her words clearly even through the
door. “How can you say that? They were having an affair behind my
back!”
Jake entered. “We were not.” Sarah swung around, face an almost
comical mixture of surprise and aristocratic irritation.
Solymi was leaning against his desk, arms and ankles crossed. He
appeared perfectly calm and Jake envied him that control. He took
advantage of the pause Jake’s arrival made in Sarah’s tirade to say,
“It is quite impossible that my brother and your former husband were
conducting an affair. For one thing, Salene had not been off of
Vulcan for two years prior to his recent trip to Earth; he has not
been well enough. For another, had they somehow managed a long-
distance affair, I assure you, I would have been aware of it. Part of
his treatment included regular mind-melds and other forms of mind-
touch. He could not have kept such a secret from me. He and your
former husband had neither seen one another nor been in contact of any
kind for eleven years.”
“It’s true, Sarah,” Jake added, somewhat unnecessarily. She was
not likely to believe him.
Cornered between them, she had hunched her shoulders, arms
crossed over her breasts. The three gold bangles on her wrist shone
in the light from a desk lamp. Turning to him, she asked the question
that must have been foremost in her mind. “Why didn’t you ever just
tell me you were gay? I can’t understand why you would’ve kept it a
secret. I feel so *stupid*!”
“You’re not stupid.” Jake looked over his shoulder for a spare
chair, sat down and clasped his hands between his knees. “And I’m not
gay. What I have with Salene is unique. I’ve never been attracted to
any man except him. Don’t ask me to explain it–I can’t.”
She threw up her hands. “What does he have that I don’t?”
Jake sighed and rubbed his eyes. “I don’t know. I told you, I
can’t explain it.” He looked up at her again. “I’m sorry.”
Making an apology felt meaningless; words couldn’t begin to
assuage her pain, but somehow, they seemed to calm her. “So there was
never an affair?”
“There was no affair.”
“Then why did you dedicate that book to him?”
“Because he helped me with it, a long time ago. And because my
marriage to you was falling apart, and because I loved him once. He
left me eleven years ago, Sarah. I never expected to see him again,
not really. But I dedicated the book to him for the same reason
people bet on tongo. You were long gone to Deep Space Seventeen
before he showed up in Bellefonte.”
“And if he hadn’t, we might have been able to fix things!”
“I doubt it. We’re too different.” He did not add, We should
never have gotten married in the first place. She didn’t need to be
told she had been a mistake from the beginning. “In fact, when you
called and asked for marriage counselling, *he* argued that I should
at least give it a try. He never attempted to take me from you. I’m
the one who knew it wouldn’t work.”
She had turned away from him and Solymi both; he thought she
might be weeping, but was not sure. Sarah rarely showed weakness
before others and for all that Solymi had been silent, he was still
there. Jake waited but before she could turn back, he heard feet in
the hall beyond, then a scratch on the door, Vulcan style.
“Come,” Solymi called.
The door swished open and Salene entered, followed by another,
older man who had to be Saserna. Jake knew it the same way he had
known Solymi when he had shown up on Jake’s doorstep in Bellefonte.
Three peas in a pod, indeed. If anything, Salene looked even more
like his elder brother than his younger. Saserna was taller and more
solid, lacking Solymi’s slightness, and like Salene, he was large in
the chest: vocal training, probably. He wasn’t as handsome as the
younger two, but perhaps that was merely a function of his sour
expression. He had all the classic pinched-mouth disapproval which
Jake had associated with Vulcans before meeting Salene.
Solymi had stood up straight, uncrossing both arms and ankles;
his eyebrows had disappeared under his bangs: astonishment. Whatever
he had expected from Salene, it was not this. Jake glanced at Sarah.
She had turned back around and any trace of tears which might have
given her away were already erased. She glared at both new-comers.
Salene wasted no words. He turned to Saserna, said only, “Tell
her. The whole truth.”
Saserna glanced over once; his eyebrow flickered and he gave a
little bow. Jake knew now where Salene had gotten that gesture, but
from Saserna, it was mocking, not respectful. Jake would have given
his eye-teeth to know what had transpired between those two, and
Salene would probably never tell him.
“Tell me what truth?” Sarah was saying. She appeared to be as
much curious as angry.
Saserna flicked eyes to her, ran them down her length, over the
tight-fitting blue drafter’s jumpsuit which Jake had always admired,
then returned to her face. His cheek twitched and Jake had a sudden
insight: Saserna was one of those Vulcan men who didn’t approve of the
freedoms of human women. He might never say anything–IDIC prevented
it–but he didn’t approve. He probably insisted that his wife walk
exactly three steps behind him and never speak to other men without
his permission when he was in the room. Jake could just imagine what
Sarah would say to *that*.
Rather than answering her immediately, Saserna took a chair and
folded his hands in his lap. He seemed perfectly at ease though Jake
had the clear impression that he was here under duress. Salene had not
sat down; he had crossed to stand beside his younger brother, near
Jake’s own chair. The lines were drawn. Sarah appeared oblivious.
“What truth?” she asked again.
Saserna gestured casually at Salene. “My brother insists that I
explain to you why I consider him to be mentally unstable. I see
little point in it, but shall indulge him.” He made it sound like a
favor. Jake noticed Solymi shift, just slightly, and wished he could
read Vulcan body language better to know if the movement signaled
nervousness or satisfaction. By contrast, Salene gave away nothing;
Jake could not read him at all.
“Salene’s condition, as you have no doubt been informed”–his
voice was dry–“is an affective disorder. That is, it handicaps his
ability to properly manage his emotions.”
The irony of that, set against Salene’s current perfect facial
control, was obvious.
“As you must know,” Saserna continued, “emotional mastery–
arie’mu–is the cornerstone of Vulcan philosophy and Vulcan social
order. A Vulcan who cannot control his emotions, who insists on
giving evidence of them, disrupts both family and community. He
should be institutionalized in order to prevent such disruptions.”
“There is medication which regulates Salene’s condition, Saserna.”
That from Solymi. “You know it.”
“And here is where we disagree,” Saserna said smoothly. “I say
it does not entirely regulate it, not if our brother’s current
*behavior* is any indication.”
Solymi turned his attention to Sarah, whose face was closed, as
cool as a Vulcan’s. “As I explained earlier,” he said, “my brother
does indeed have an affective disorder and Saserna is quite correct.
Such disorders, which cause a disjuntion in one’s emotional stability,
are particularly disturbing to Vulcans. However, most can be treated
effectively by a variety of medications. Salene’s condition is caused
by a chemical imbalance in the serotonin levels of his brain: a
biological cause. However, this imbalance produces psychological
disturbances rather than physiological ones. Medication corrects the
imbalance and allows him to function normally–just as on Earth, a
diabetic once corrected his or her blood sugar level by regular doses
of insulin. My brother’s condition is presently under control.”
This was the kind of language which Sarah the architectual engineer
could understand: an identifiable problem with a precise solution, like
a formula. Jake was glad that Solymi hadn’t gone into how tricky the
process could be. As he had told Jake on the trip to Vulcan, psychology
was rarely simple, and Sarah understood buildings, not people. Now, she
nodded, but turned back to Saserna. “And why do you say the medication
hasn’t corrected his condition?”
“Because of his relationship with Jake Sisko.”
Sarah blinked. “What?”
“Their relationship is illogical.”
She actually laughed. “I might call it something else, but
‘logic’ isn’t a word I’d apply to any love affair.”
Perhaps irritated by her flippant response, Saserna frowned. It
cut his face into severe planes. “That may be so among humans. Among
Vulcans, their relationship is considered illogical because it is
infertile. There is no cause beyond the emotional for its existence,
which indicates a lack of proper emotional control on Salene’s part–
which in turn indicates his continued mental instability.”
It took her a moment to detangle the implications, then she said
incredulously, “You mean you think he’s unstable because he’s in love
with a man instead of a woman?”
Jake wanted to burst out laughing. Salene was brilliant. He
could not have found a better way of convincing Sarah that Saserna’s
opinion of Salene was biased than to get Saserna to explain Vulcan
attitudes about homosexuality. Two of her best friends were a gay
couple from her department. They had a son only a little younger than
Jenny. Sarah might be self-centered and jealous, but prejudiced she
most definitely wasn’t.
Saserna had pressed his lips together. “Salene’s homosexuality
may be beyond his control–a matter on which I am not entirely convinced
–but indulging it is certainly a display of irrational desire. Logic”
–he stressed the word–“would dictate that he remain unattached. He
refuses to do so, and therefore his behavior is illogical. In light of
his affective disorder, I can only see that behavior as evidence of
continued mental instability.”
Sarah’s mouth hung open; she snapped it shut. “So you mean to
tell me the only reason Vulcans marry is to have children?”
“Yes,” Saserna said at the same time as Solymi’s, “No.” Sarah
glanced from one to the other. Solymi went on, “There are other
considerations only indirectly related to actual reproduction. I will
not go into them.” Pon farr, Jake knew.
“The cause to which you allude does not apply in our brother’s
case,” Saserna argued.
“Nevertheless,” Solymi replied, “You cannot say that Vulcan
marriage is purely for reproduction.”
“But that *is* its primary function.”
Sarah was looking bemused; Salene was studying his nails. Jake
had forgotten the Vulcan tendency to debate a minor detail to death.
“Anyway,” he said before they could get completely off the track, “if
I understand things right–and I think I do–” he spoke to Sarah, not
the brothers, “Vulcan society doesn’t approve same-sex attachments.
So the fact that Salene lives with me is, to Saserna’s mind, evidence
that he’s mentally disturbed.” He did not explain that *any* such
attachment on Salene’s part, gender aside, would have struck Saserna
that way because Salene was a eunuch and from the Vulcan point of
view, no longer had a need to marry. Humans could employ selective
truth, too, and he knew what buttons to push with Sarah.
Her reaction was gratifyingly predictable. “How medieval!”
“It is not ‘medieval,'” Saserna corrected. “It is logical.
There is no *logical* reason for Salene to marry at all, and certainly
none for him to partner himself to another man.”
“Once again, I must disagree,” Solymi said. “There is a logical
reason for Salene to take a mate, whether or not he can father
children. The peculiar nature of Vulcan psychology benefits, and in
some cases almost requires, the bonded state. Otherwise, infertility
of any kind would be a cause for divorce and that is not the case–”
“I’ve heard enough!” Sarah said, raising both hands, pushed past
her limit. “I don’t give a damn about your logic chopping. This is
absurd!”
Salene raised his head finally, spoke for the first time. “Now
you see why I insisted that Saserna explain himself. His reasons for
his opinion of my mental condition are Vulcan ones; I doubted that you
would share them. You feared for your daughter’s safety in my care,
but I am no danger to her. If I thought I were, I would not have
allowed Jake to leave her with me–and if I were, I doubt he would
have done so, in any case. Even when ill, I am not violent. Saserna
does not permit me to see my niece and nephew not because he fears for
their safety, but because he does not wish them to be exposed to my
particular…emotional irrationality.”
Sarah looked over at Saserna to see if he would correct Salene,
but he stayed silent. “So all this comes down to whether or not you
approve of your brother’s lifestyle?” she asked.
“It is not about approval, it is about whether or not he conducts
himself as befits a Vulcan. He does not.”
“It looks to me like it is about approval, whatever you say.”
Sarah ran a hand through her pageboy, ruffling it, then sat down
finally. Her attitude seemed to have taken a complete reversal where
Salene was concerned; she might not be happy about Jake’s relationship
with him, but Saserna’s attitude was altogether too alien for her.
She looked at Solymi. “What do you think about it? You defend him,
but I haven’t heard you say anything about his relationship with Jake.
Do you think it’s normal?”
Solymi shifted slightly. “Define ‘normal.’ There is no such
thing as normal. There is, rather, a range of characteristics and
behaviors which are defined as more or less close to a mean. In that
respect, Salene’s affective orientation is atypical. But then, so is
his musical talent. Whether the atypical characteristic is valued or
deplored is a matter of culture. So my brother is not *normal*, no,
if by that you mean does he conform to an average. He is exceptional
in many respects. But if you mean to ask if I consider homosexuality
a psychological condition in need of corrective treatment–no, I do
not. Neither, I might add, do most other Vulcan psychiatrists and
psychologists. That the general public continues to view it so is
evidence of a lack of proper education–or a lack of open-mindedness.”
This last he directed, almost defiantly, at Saserna.
Saserna had clearly had enough. Standing, he tugged his tunic
straight. His expression had grown even harder and more pinched. “I
will not remain here to be insulted further. I have done what you
asked of me, Salene; ask nothing of me ever again. From this point
on, though we may share the same parents, I refuse to call you
brother.” He included Solymi in his glance. “Either of you. I have
no brothers.”
“So be it,” Salene said softly, would not look at him.
After Saserna left, the silence stretched; even Sarah was subdued
as if aware that she had just witnessed an irrevocable tearing.
Finally, Solymi touched Salene, very lightly, on the elbow. It seemed
to pull him back from the brink of something. Both turned to Sarah,
their faces expectant. “All right, all right,” she said, lifting hands.
Her bangles jingled. “So I jumped to conclusions.”
Salene nodded to her, minutely, as if acknowledging the apology
she had not quite said. Sarah might be fundamentally self-centered
and given to flying off the handle, but she was not unreasonable
unless she felt herself to be threatened. Jake suspected she had been
far more upset by her belief that Salene had somehow seduced Jake away
from her than she had been by Salene’s mental condition. Sarah had
been reacting, not acting, when she had taken Jenny. She did not
really *want* full custody; it would require too much commitment from
her, particularly right now with a new project in the offing. In the
end, it was easier for her to accept things.
Solymi glanced at a chronometer on the wall. “I should keep some
of my afternoon appointments; the fewer I must reschedule, the better.
I assume the crisis is past and the three of you are able to work out
any details yourselves?”
“I think we’ll manage,” Jake said, standing and swallowing a
grin. Psychiatrist or no, Solymi could still be Vulcanly blunt at
times.

The three of them went for a walk in a nearby park: neutral
territory. This was Sarah’s first visit to Vulcan; she studied the
gardens with their different flora, and discussed the architecture of
the nearby buildings with Salene. He knew too much about her to find
her entirely congenial–and he could sense her continued resentment of
him–but at least they could speak politely to one another. When they
had reached a mostly deserted area of the park, Salene turned, hands
behind his back, and came to the point. “Do you still insist on
taking Jenny back with you to Space Station Twenty-Seven?”
She shook her head, did not quite look at him. “No.” She
glanced at Jake instead. “But if you’re planning to live on Vulcan,
we’re going to have to rethink the joint custody.”
Salene replied before Jake could. “We are not planning to live
here, no–though I may do so part of the time, for career reasons.”
Salene also glanced at Jake. “He wants a house. Here, that is
impossible.”
“He’s always wanted a house,” Sarah replied, half smiling. “It
was almost the first thing he said to me after he proposed. ‘I want a
house,’ like it was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Jake frowned. “I am standing here, y’know. I’d rather not be
talked about in the third person. And what’s wrong with wanting a
house, for pete’s sake?”
“Nothing,” Salene and Sarah said at the same time. Surprised,
Salene glanced at her, then added, “Jake and I are more than willing
to keep Jenny while you are on the station. However, should you wish
her to visit or stay with you for a time while there, that could be
arranged with little difficulty.”
“Salene!” Jake snapped. “I don’t want her to live on a space
station! Sarah knows that. So do you.”
Salene bit his tongue to hide any trace of amusement. “Indeed, I
know that it is a matter about which you are not entirely rational.”
Sarah threw up hands as if petitioning the sky. “Finally!
Somebody who agrees with me!”
Jake stopped walking, faced them both down. “I didn’t like
growing up on a station. I’m not going to see my daughter have to
suffer it.”
“Spending a few weeks with her mother is hardly ‘growing up’ on a
station, Jake. In any case, Jenny Gwen is not you. Her experience of
station life may differ. Although certainly, if she does not care for
it, there is no reason to force her to return since other options are
available.”
Jake’s expression was sour with mild betrayal. Before he could
lash back, however, Salene touched his arm. “Come; we should retrieve
Jenny. It is nearly time for the evening meal and I still have a
rehearsal tonight.” To Sarah, he said, “I hope you will join us for
dinner?”
“If Jake’s cooking.”
“I haven’t had time to start anything,” Jake replied, still
sullen.
“I have seen you make a meal in less than an hour before,” Salene
said, steering Jake subtly back across the park. “I expect you will
manage.”

XI.

Dinner was neither comfortable nor entirely uncomfortable. Even
Jenny felt the ambivalence, swinging from wild chattering to a quiet
watchfulness. Her mother had returned her bags to the flat and Jenny
had stood watching as Sarah unpacked them, but Salene thought her
still suspicious. What surprised–and gratified–him was that she
appeared to want to stay with Jake and him. She was glad to see her
mother, but her mother had become too much a stranger over the past
year, and had acted too erratically that afternoon, for Jenny to quite
trust her.
That night after Sarah had left and Salene had returned from his
rehearsal, they readied Jenny for bed, then let her fall asleep with
them. “We shouldn’t make a habit of this,” Jake said as she snuggled
in between them, “but tonight, I want her here as much as she wants to
be here.”
They lay silent a while. Salene rubbed her back. Gradually her
eyes fell closed and her breath became heavy, her little mouth open to
help her breathe. Something currently in the air had clogged her
sinuses, though why a child from pollen-rich Pennsylvania should have
difficulties on Vulcan, he could not fathom. After a while, he said
to Jake, “I admit, I was somewhat surprised–if gratified–by Sarah’s
reaction to Saserna this afternoon. I feared it would not be so
simple.”
“Sarah has her good points, or I’d never have married her in the
first place.” Jake flopped onto his back and folded his hands behind
his head. “But you’ve heard the old adage ‘opposites attract but they
don’t wear well’?”
“No.”
Jake grinned. “Well, you have now. And it pretty much defined
our marriage.”
“Mmm,” Salene replied. Then, changing the subject, “She’s fast
asleep now.” Jake rolled up on an elbow to see, then carried her in
to her own bed.
Thereafter, life returned to normal. The Rain Festival came and
Salene sang on a stage again for the first time in almost two years.
Jenny was too young to attend the full concert, but Salene’s mother
brought her into the hall long enough to hear his solo, then took her
out again. Salene suffered no anxieties and, somewhat grudgingly,
Solymi allowed that he might be ready for short tours. Personally,
Salene was more concerned about the state of his voice than the stress
of touring.
Shortly after the festival, Jake and Jenny left Vulcan for Earth
to search for a house and, for several days, Salene moved back into
his parents’ home in order to be under observation should he react
badly to the separation. When nothing untoward occurred, he was
permitted to return to his flat and Solymi pronounced him stabilized.
Yet the perfluoxetine he took every morning reminded him that his
continued stability depended on chemical aid. He would live life a
slave to a pink-and-yellow pill.
He received regular updates from Jake regarding the house search.
Jake also had news about ANSLEM; the book had gone into a second paper
printing…quite an accomplishment in this era of largely electronic
media. Not that the electronic sales were hurting, either. Jake was
finally beginning to see royalties–small cheques, but Salene could tell
it had increased his confidence in his ability to make a career at
writing. “Of course, you’re only as good as your last set of sales
figures,” Jake would add, as if to remind himself as much as Salene not
to place too much on his current success. Salene was less cynical.
Their time apart ended up to be longer than either had planned.
Salene engaged a short tour and Jake had more trouble finding a suitable
house than he had thought he would. Salene did not return to Earth
until almost a year from the time he had first arrived. The new house
was located south of the university complex rather than north, outside
Boalsburg on a lane running up the side of Mount Tussey ridge. It was
not far from his grandparents’ residence. “In the country,” Jake had
said. In the country indeed. No shunt line came even close and Salene
had to hire a silver cab from the transporter station. Jake would have
picked him up but he had told Jake he did not know precisely when he
would arrive. A partial lie–he could easily have found out–but he
wished to make his way there alone for reasons he did not care to
examine closely. They were sure to be illogical. Perhaps it was some
peculiar re-enactment of the December previously. Or perhaps he simply
preferred to approach Jake on his own terms instead of being collected
like a package.
It was early evening when the flitter-cab let him out at the end
of the lane: a dirt lane! He had little luggage, only a shoulder bag
and his gadulka. Most of his things had already been shipped here
over the past few months. He started the climb up. Once-endangered
elms branched over the lane, their bare limbs pleaching together with
maple and oak in a tangle above. It was snowing lightly; his boots
crunched the icy lace carpeting over rocks and dirt.
He had seen the house already, inside and out; Jake had sent a
number of images and a complete holo program of it before actually
signing the closing papers. He had wanted to be sure Salene liked it.
Salene was more concerned that Jake be content. A house was a house.
As long as it had space for a garden and a room he could use for
practice, Salene was not particular.
He turned a sharp leg in the lane and caught sight of it, nestled
under more trees. Christmas lights blinked blue and orange, green and
red along the slate roof and on the bushes beside the walk; white
electric candles burned in the window. By the light of one, he could
see a cat staring out. Nancy. Jake had inherited all three of the
cats. He had also insisted that Salene make it back to Earth before
Christmas this time. Make it home. An alien house on a cold world,
but it was home.
He picked his way up the front path, reaching into a pocket of
his robe for the key card Jake had sent. He unlocked the door.

The ship dropped out of warp half an AU off DS9. Jake could not
see the station clearly, though, because Jenny had plastered herself
against the viewport. “That’s it?” She was so excited, she squirmed
all over his lap, heels digging into tender places. If she wasn’t
careful, she’d never have siblings. Of course, that wasn’t likely in
any case. He glanced at Salene in the seat beside his. His partner
was trying to work on something–a composition probably; Salene had
finally begun the writing he had always wanted to do–but Jenny kept
inadvertently kicking his PADD. His lips had gone thin in the way
Jake knew meant he was about to lose his temper, though he’d never
call it that.
“The first time I saw the station,” he said to Salene, “I thought
it was ugly as all get out. It looked like some kind of weird crab.”
“And now?” Salene asked without looking up.
“Cardassian architecture grows on you.”
Salene flipped the PADD closed and eyed him.
“The wormhole!” Jenny crowed. Jake could see no more than a
flash of blue past her braids. Salene had leaned forward a little,
trying to see himself. Jake remembered his fascination with the
phenomenon. The wormhole was why he had come to DS9 in the first
place, thirteen years ago. Whimsically, Jake supposed he owed the
celestial prophets. They’d brought Salene to him, though it had been
one hell of a strange ride since. He wondered what Kira Nerys would
say to that.
“There’ll be plenty of time to see it,” he told Salene.
“Yes.”
The station was busy and docking took a while. Impatient, Jenny
crawled from one lap to the other, asking how much longer?, and could
she have a mint?, and she had to go to the potty *right* *now*. Jake
was glad he had put a toddler diaper on her even though she had
protested at the time that she was almost four and a Big Girl now.
“You must wait,” Salene told her.
“But I gotta *go*.”
“I took you half an hour ago,” Jake said.
“I know, but I gotta *go*.”
It went on like that for a bit until she finally gave up–or used
the diaper. He’d check when they debarked.
As it turned out, checking Jenny’s diaper wasn’t immediately
possible. Jake had expected his father, if he could get away, and
Kassidy. He had not expected a mob. It seemed that everyone who could
find an excuse had shown up dockside; Jake wondered if they had come to
greet him, to see the station captain’s granddaughter, or to get a look
at Salene. His father and Kassidy were there, of course, and Jenny made
a beeline for “Grandpa!” But so were Keiko O’Brien, Molly and
Kirayoshi. It was ironic that Molly had the Irish name but Yoshi the
Irish body build. Except for dark hair and almond eyes, he looked a lot
like his father; he also looked as if he had been dragged here at
phaserpoint. Jake grinned, remembering himself at twelve; mass
greetings for near-strangers he hadn’t seen in years had not been his
idea of a good time, either. Jake almost didn’t realize Molly was with
them at first, as she had immediately dropped down to talk to Jenny.
Well, he knew who *she’d* come to see.
Kira was there, too; she kissed him on both cheeks in welcome,
which made him blush a little and he was glad she couldn’t tell. Even
Quark and Odo had shown up, Odo hanging about the edges. There were
other station personnel whose faces he remembered but whose names
escaped him now. Everyone was more or less talking at once.
“I’ll be *four* tomorrow!” Jenny was telling Molly. “I want a
pony for my birthday. We got a *big* back yard for her to run in!”
“You’ll be lucky to get a newt.” Kassidy laughed and picked her
up.
“When do you want her party?” Quark hissed in Jake’s ear, or at
Jake’s shoulder-level, actually. He was trying to be conspiratorial
and not succeeding well.
“I’ll talk to you about it later,” Jake replied.
“So this is Salene,” Keiko was saying on his other side; she
propelled Yoshi forward. “My son plays cello. My husband’s cello,
actually. Miles thinks Yoshi has real talent and was hoping you might
have time to hear him and give us your opinion as to whether we should
try to send him to a conservatory.” And now Jake knew who Keiko had
come to see.
“I would be pleased to do so,” Salene told her.
Things went on in similar vein until his father, acting with the
privilege of command, finally commandeered them for lunch. By that
point, Jenny had definitely wet her pants.

Jenny’s party fell late the next day: a madhouse celebration at
her grandparents’ with too many presents from too many people, present
and absent both. Even Dax and Worf had sent something all the way
from the Klingon empire: a very delicate piece of silver mail made for
a girlchild, complete with plastic knives in holders and a plastic
batleth. Dax must have been laughing her head off when she’d wrapped
that. Salene the pacifist was horrified, though he hid it well;
Jenny, of course, was delighted and played Warrior Princess for the
rest of the evening. She got her newt, too–from Rom and Leeta, of
all people. It was in a tank of unbreakable glass.
Three other events from that visit stood out later in Jake’s
mind. The first was more or less expected: a conversation with his
father.
He had told his father about Salene some time ago. They still
talked, even with lightyears between. The elder Sisko had helped him
through the first weeks after Sarah had left, and there had been no
recriminations for the separation. Jake had told him, too, about
Salene’s initial arrival on Earth, and later, had written a long
letter from Vulcan, explaining their new living arrangements. His
father had accepted it all fairly phlegmatically, had not even seemed
particularly surprised, but Jake had known he was storing up his
questions to ask in person.
They had gone for a walk along the promenade. Usually when his
father appeared publicly, station people would stop him for a piece of
the captain’s time, or Bajorans would ask shyly for a blessing from
the Emissary. Today, seeing him with his visiting son, they left the
two of them in peace. Jake was relieved.
“I really have only one question,” his father said after a while.
“Are you happy, Jake?”
Jake smiled to himself. “Yes.”
They walked a bit further in silence, Jake waiting for his father
to work around to what he really wanted to ask.
“I mean,” Sisko said finally, “are you *completely* happy. I
like Salene, make no mistake. I’ve always like him. But–” His
father tried to shape the idea with his hands. “There’s a *physical*
side to marriage. Marriage is more than just the physical, of course
–I tried to impress that on you–but sex does matter. Salene’s a
eunuch. I’m not asking you to tell me what the two of you do in
private; that’s your business. Just…are you satisfied?”
Reaching out, grinning, Jake wrapped an arm around his father’s
shoulders. “Yeah, Dad. I’m satisfied. Really.”
The elder Sisko nodded. “Then that’s all I needed to know.”

The second event came the evening his father and Kassidy took
Jenny for the night to give he and Salene a vacation. Trying to coax
romance out of a Vulcan was like trying to get milk from a rock, but
Jake had a bottle of sapphire wine and was cooking a fancy dinner for
them both with I’danian spice pudding for desert. After the dinner,
he took Salene, what was left of the wine, a blanket and tissues up
to the same upper pylon where he had first showed Salene the wormhole,
years ago. Using the codes he’d wheedled out of O’Brien earlier, he
temporarily blocked the turbolift, then proceeded to make love to
Salene by the wormhole’s light. Salene’s initial comment was, “Your
choice of locale is…somewhat questionable.”
Jake laughed. “But is it *illogical*?”
“Mmm–not illogical, no, if one allows for sentimental motivations
among humans.”
“And do you allow for them?”
“It would seem that I do.” He shut up after that.

The last event was another conversation. A few days after
Jenny’s party, Julian Bashir ran into Jake in Quark’s. “Before you
leave for Earth, could you and Salene come down to the infirmary? I’d
like to talk to you both. Don’t worry–” he added before Jake could
ask, “it’s nothing horrible, no terminal illnesses.” Bashir had
grinned then and walked away.
Jake worried anyway. He was a writer. His imagination was
finely honed–or just ‘unbridled,’ as Salene put it. When Jake told
Salene about Bashir’s request, the Vulcan merely shrugged and said,
“Then we shall find time to talk with him.”
“Aren’t you worried?”
“About what?”
“About what he’s going to say! Has he found out something bad
about Dad’s health? About Kassidy’s? I mean, it could be anything–”
“Exactly. It could be anything, and as neither of us has any
idea what it is, unbridled speculation is unproductive.”
Salene was right, but by the time Jake managed to schedule an
appointment to meet with the good doctor, he had worried himself into
a chronic headache anyway. Salene was unsympathetic, which made Jake
grumpy. They did not arrive at the infirmary on the best of terms.
Bashir called them into his office, grinning widely, but the grin
disappeared as soon as he sensed the tension. “What is it?” Jake
asked almost as soon as Bashir shut the door. “Is something wrong
with my father? With Kassidy?”
“Have a seat first, please.”
Bashir walked around behind his desk, neatening it up while Jake
and Salene took the pair of chairs in front. Jake had clenched his
hands on the chair arms. Bashir noticed. The grin returned, but at a
lower wattage. “Jake, really. I’ve no bad news for you. Good news,
I hope.”
Then he turned serious, sat down and leaned over the desk to tap
at the top with his fingers, frowning thoughtfully. “Before I begin,
let me say to Salene”–he glanced at the Vulcan–“that if I should
inadvertently offend or step on any cultural taboos, chalk it up to
ignorance, not malice, please.”
So, Doctor Bashir had learned a little tact in the intervening
years. Jake grinned. He suddenly felt less tense.
Salene’s eyebrow had gone up. “There is no offense given where
none is taken. Please proceed.”
Bashir nodded. “At your daughter’s party, I overheard Jake make
a comment to his father about Jenny being the only grandchild he was
likely to get. At the time, I assumed it was a choice you both had
made for personal reasons, but later, it occurred to me you might not
be *aware* that that doesn’t have to be the case.”
Jake felt his breath stop. Beside him, Salene sat very, very
still.
Bashir went on, still nervously drawing invisible designs on his
desktop and talking in his rapid-fire, precise speech. “It would be a
somewhat complex process to produce a viable embryo from both of you,
but not a particularly difficult one. In fact, the technology to do
so has been around for over two hundred years.” He glanced up again
to judge how his words were being received. Salene’s expression was
completely blank; Jake wished he knew what his friend thought.
“How would you do it?” Jake asked.
Given the encouragement of a question, Bashir sat up a little
straighter. “Well, the first step would be to take a DNA sample from
Salene and activate it, eventually creating–more or less from scratch
–a meiotic cell: a gamete.
“That solves the main hurdle. The rest is relatively routine for
same-sex couples. We’d replace a loaned egg cell’s genetic data with
that from one of you. If you were both human, or both Vulcan, we’d let
nature take it’s course then, albeit in a test-tube. But in this case,
I’ll have to help it along by engineering the haploid chromosomes to
produce a viable hybrid. As Vulcan-human mixes have been around for
some time, though, there’s plenty of precedent. After, it would be your
job to find someone to carry the fetus to term for you.” He grinned,
visibly pleased with himself. “Nine months, and voila! Another
grandchild for the captain.”
Jake became aware that Salene was gripping the arms of his chair
so hard that his knuckles were white. He’d lost color, too, like he
might faint right there.
“Doctor, could we have a minute?” Jake asked. Bashir glanced at
Salene, nodded, and went out.
Jake turned to Salene. “Are you all right? Do you want me to
tell him to forget it?”
“No. No, I– No.” He was silent a while. Jake let him be.
Finally, he said, “To my knowledge, this has never been done for
chi`pain. But surely the possibility has been known. Why was I never
told?” His voice was not angry. It was hurt. “Solymi never said
anything of this to me. He must have known.”
“Maybe he didn’t. His specialty’s psychiatry.”
“He is still a healer!”
“Salene.” Jake took his hand, squeezed. “He may not have known.
Doctors can’t keep track of every specialty, and Starfleet doctors are
exposed to a lot of unusual things a regular doctor isn’t. For that
matter, sometimes I think Bashir makes a career of the unusual.”
Eyes unfocused, Salene stared off at a wall. Jake squeezed the
hand again. “Are you listening to me?”
“I am listening.”
“All right then. Yeah, somebody on Vulcan probably should have
figured this out before and offered the opportunity to chi`pain–but
don’t assume your brother has been deliberately keeping you in the
dark. He’s gone to bat for your before.”
“I am aware of that.”
Another silence, then Jake asked, “Shall I get Bashir, or do you
want to hear any more right now? We could go talk this over by
ourselves then come back later.”
“I wish to hear.” Then, suddenly intense, “I want this.” Jake
didn’t miss the use of ‘want.’ He rose, but Salene’s grip on his hand
stopped him; he looked down. Salene’s magician eyes were deep.
“Jenny will be no less my child.”
“I know.”
Salene let him go. He opened the door. Bashir was leaning
against the wall outside, waiting. “Tell us what we have to do,” Jake
said.

Epilogue
(five years later)

Four generations of Siskos occupied the kitchen of the Friends’
School. They ranged in age and color. The eldest was the darkest.
He sat on a stool off to one side, cane against his legs, giving
orders to his offspring like a sergeant to his troops. The youngest
and lightest stood on a stool between father and grandfather, less
help than nuisance. He had three fingers stuck in his mouth while he
watched his grandfather rapidly slice the green pepper.
“The Sisko men always cook,” his grandfather told him.
He looked up, took out the fingers long enough to say solemnly,
“Me, too.”
“Of course. You’re a Sisko.”
No one remarked on the fact he was the first Sisko who would
bleed green on the cutting board if he sliced his finger.
Someone grabbed Salene’s arm and hung on it, diverting his
attention. It was Jenny. “Saba!” she nearly shouted, all excitement.
“Aleta and I are ready to take Seitu to the pony rides now.”
“In a moment,” he told her. “He is with your grandfather just
now.” She let him go to dance back a step and join her friend. They
twirled each other around on the floor of the school cafeteria, all long
limbs and swirling hair, too full of energy to stand themselves. He
returned his attention to the bake sale, spread out on the long counter
which fronted the kitchen area, and tried to ignore the chaos in the
kitchen behind. Cooks–more than just the Siskos–prepared food for the
lunch stands. The stands did not open for another hour, but they had
been cooking all morning.
This was the school’s “Family Fun Fair,” an annual event which
Salene had found to be rather more work than ‘fun,’ by any definition.
But it raised additional funds for the school–quite successfully–and
so justified its continued existence, year-in, year-out. Salene and
Jake had been volunteering since Jenny had first been enrolled in the
preschool. In fact, the “Sisko Special” had become traditional fare
at the lunch booths, and Joseph Sisko had been beaming in from New
Orleans for the weekend in order to oversee its creation ever since
their first Fun Fair when Jenny was four: five years now. This year,
Jake’s father was visiting, as well.
The bake sale was busy at the moment, people looking for a late
morning snack. Humans ate even when they were not hungry, Salene had
learned. His function here was largely to oversee, not deal directly
with the public. There were other volunteers to do that. Most humans
found him somewhat intimidating, aliens being uncommon in central
Pennsylvania even here in the shadow of a major university center of
the Americas. This was not San Francisco, or Paris; the people were
parochial and Vulcans did not share Terran body language or facial
expressions. Even Jenny’s friends were wary of him. He had become
accustomed to being misunderstood, was concerned at times that Seitu
would face the same as he grew older.
His son had grown bored with the cooking and now climbed down
from the stool to eel his way out of the kitchen crowd over to
Salene’s side. Wordlessly, he tugged on Salene’s tunic and Salene
bent to pick him up, absently smooth the loose curls which never needed
moisturizer, unlike Jenny’s. That fine black hair was his genetic gift
to his son, along with the eyes and more obvious racial characteristics.
His miracle child. But otherwise, he saw more of Jake in Seitu. The
boy had Jake’s nose and chin and basic facial shape, and the skin was
creamed coffee, only a shade lighter than Jake’s own. Even his name was
not Vulcan, though it had been chosen because it could be. Seitu was
East African, meaning “artist.” Jake’s cousin Jillian Odowu had
suggested it.
“Jenny Gwen,” he called. She came, dragging Aleta after by the
wrist. “You may take him now.”
Accepting her brother, she balanced him on her hip. “Ready to go
ride the ponies?” He nodded, stuck his fingers in his mouth again.
Jenny pulled them out–“Don’t suck your fingers, doofus”–and bounced
him in her arms. She held him easily; she was a big girl, like her
father. Already she loomed over most of her class, and Salene feared
puberty would come to her early. He wondered how Jake would handle
that, and whether it might not be advantageous for her to spend a year
with Sarah in space. As Jake had long ago predicted, once Sarah had
begun taking on-station projects, she had continued to do so. Jenny
lived with Jake and him on more or less a permanent basis. At some
point after Seitu’s birth, she had even taken to calling him saba rather
than de’ab: father, not foster-father. It was inaccurate, but he had
permitted her to continue lest she feel he was somehow less her father
than Seitu’s. In his mind, she was no less his daughter. She was the
child he had faced down his brother in order to keep. Sometimes
children and parents chose each other.
He pushed back her long braids from her face, ran a thumb over
one of the bright beads; the familiarity was an indulgence which he
permitted himself. She smiled at him. “We’ll be back in a little
while.” And she carried Seitu away, Aleta skipping along in her wake.
He sensed rather than saw Jake come up beside him. “She’s
getting too big.”
“Do you speak metaphorically or literally?” he asked without
turning. He still followed the girls and Seitu with his eyes as they
stepped outside through the sliding glass doors, dodging the crowd.
“Both,” Jake replied.
“It is the way of things; children grow, become adults themselves
and have children of their own.”
“I’d rather it didn’t happen quite so fast.” A pause. The noise
of the fair rose and fell around them. “You know, you’ll likely live
to see her grandkid’s grandkids. I’ll be lucky just to see her
grandkids.”
Salene turned. “Perhaps. But that difference between us is not
something on which I care to dwell, just at the moment. You are living
yet, and so am I. Let the future see to itself.”
“That a Vulcan proverb?”
“No. Merely an observation.” He held up two fingers. Jake
smiled, wrapped his hand around them.

*** FINIS ***

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