The trip to the wilderness preserve held Tobias's attention. It was his second time through a transporter, and as before, the device made him feel strange all over. Next, they boarded a skimmer for a breathtaking flight into a land of volcanic activity. It was an eerie side of Vulcan that he had never before seen. As soon as the skimmer set down, he rushed out, eager to get a close look at the bubbling mud pots near the stone cabin that would be their home.
The healer sharply called after him. "Tobias! The supplies must be unloaded and put away!"
A new impatience in T'Sora's tone made him turn back and share in the work, for the dreaded, paralyzing threat of her nerve pinch hung over him like a dark cloud.
Once their belongings were unloaded, the skimmer glided off against the red sky. Tobias followed its progress until it went completely out of sight. Then he gave his attention to the healer and found her strange eyes looking at him. A cold spasm of fear squeezed his heart, and he thought with fresh longing of Dorian Wren. Homesick and lonely, he turned his face from T'Sora and walked off toward the mud pots.
"Do not wander far," she cautioned. "Remember the dangers I told you about."
Tobias pretended to agree.
Warm water roared down on Spock, and the ground shook. Every inch of him was soaking wet. Disoriented, he sat motionless, trying to make sense of his situation before he made any move. He was still seated when the downpour eased up and rapidly came to an end. In the sudden quiet, he found himself perched on the rim of a geyser located at the west end of a small, volcanically active canyon. Sulfurous-smelling steam rose from countless fissures in the canyon floor. Other geysers could be seen spouting water over a staggering luxuriance of vegetation. There were even trees-a hardy stand of wild figs, and several in-du-ka with narrow, red leaves.
Obviously he was still in Shi'yon'Kahr Preserve. Just as obviously, he was lost.
Spock stood, and wiping the moisture from his eyes, studied the dark peaks encircling the canyon. He must gain high ground and search for T'Sora's camp. There was no way of telling how long he-or rather, Tobias-had gone missing. He could sense the healer's deep concern, and it seemed to him that she was unwell.
He began to set out, then hesitated. Why had Tobias left the camp? Perhaps he had good reason. It might be wisest to stay secluded in this canyon for a while. There was plenty of water here and an assortment of edible...
No! He would find the camp. Surely he was capable of handling whatever he found there. Once moving, he turned eastward. His hair and clothes soon dried as he left the steamy canyon floor and hiked into the rocky hills more typical of Vulcan. The most dangerous predators avoided the heat of day, when even flesh-eating plants were sluggish.
Higher and higher he climbed, drawn ever more urgently by a tension that he preferred not to name. The yearning stirred in him like hunger as he reached the top of a ridge and searched the vista. Ancient statues stood like sentries in a vast lava field.
Spock clenched his hands in frustration. He had visited the site as a child, but it was not the valley of T'Sora's encampment. Where was she?
Behind him, a pebble stirred.
He whirled toward the strident voice, mouth opening in disbelief. T'Sora stood at the bend of a trail, her normally placid features rigid with fury.
"I told you not to wander off!" she snapped.
Spock closed his mouth and swallowed hard. "Healer," he managed to say, "I am not Tobias. Nevertheless, I apologize once again for whatever trouble he has caused you."
There was a strange, ringing silence.
T'Sora worked to compose herself. "Never mind. It is enough that I have found you." Her hand trembled as she offered him a kernel of pleej. "Here, take this quickly. We must return to camp."
Hoping the herb would help calm him, Spock crushed the kernel between his fingers and inhaled its dust.
A shudder convulsed T'Sora, and for a moment her shoulders slumped. Even under the first distracting effects of the pleej corn, Spock noticed and said, "Healer, you are ill."
She nodded weakly. "It...will pass." In straightening, she grasped Spock's forearm and the burning contact seemed to grip his insides. "I will feel better when we reach camp. Come with me."
Spock followed, walking with his eyes on her slim back, occasionally stumbling over rocks, all but blind to the trail. In his mind's eye he kept seeing a frail Avitian, and remembering the helpless agony of taking what he dared not take in order to survive. Why thoughts of that pon farr now? As he followed T'Sora, he recalled the terrible depression that had swallowed him afterward-months of blackness like a living death.
He struggled to put those memories from his mind. Unless he brought himself fully into the present, he would be of little use to the sick healer, or to himself. He arrived at camp wearied by the interior struggle. His body throbbed with erotic stirrings as he entered the stone cabin with T'Sora. The healer sank into the nearest chair and bent forward, covering her face with her hands.
"Can I be of assistance?" Spock asked, torn between his concern for her and an urgent need for meditation.
T'Sora lowered her hands and looked at him, her lovely features drawn with weariness. "No, no. Now I will be alright. Sit down, Spock. Let us talk about you for a moment. There is something you have been wanting to ask me."
How well she knew him. Perching rigidly on the edge of a chair, he grasped his knees and said, "I want to know the true purpose of this trip."
"I have already explained," she replied smoothly. "We have come here for my health. I need rest."
Not fully satisfied, Spock asked, "Then coming here has nothing to do with me?"
T'Sora hesitated, a crease appearing between her arched brows. "Sometimes a change in environment can be beneficial in cases...such as yours."
"Mental cases." He could not help but say it.
"Even if that were so," chided the healer, "it would not be cause for shame."
Spock was silent.
"You have other questions," she said. "Questions about your condition."
"Yes," he admitted with some difficulty. "I...do not know how much longer I can bear this division within myself. There are times when I feel as if the Other...and his base needs...are gradually taking me over." Looking T'Sora squarely in the eyes, he dared to say, "At such times I even...fear for your safety."
His face went hot and he watched the healer rise. As T'Sora went to a window and gazed out at the cloudless afternoon sky, his throat tightened with the need to clarify and console her. "It is not that I doubt your ability to heal me..."
"No." T'Sora turned around, her violet eyes glistening. "Please, Spock. Let us both be...as honest as possible." She drew a slow, shaky breath and continued. "You want me to rid you of Tobias, but I cannot do that. Listen to me. You, Spock...and Tobias...are but dual aspects of a single katra. There can be no division of what is fundamentally one. There can only be re-integration. Spock is Tobias. Tobias is Spock. Do you understand?"
"No separation?" Spock's mind balked at the healer's words, yet at his deepest level he recognized their profound logic. Perhaps he had known the unpleasant truth all along.
Once again, the healer sat near him. "I will speak plainly to you, Spock. Your re-integration could have been accomplished by now, only something is preventing the assimilation, something more than the simple variance of two personalities. I believe the trouble is in you, rather than Tobias. It is true that Tobias is immature and lacking in discipline, but those qualities should make him receptive to the stability you can offer. It is the wish of every child to grow up. However, you view him with deep distaste. There can be no union until you lower the barriers you have erected inside yourself."
Numbed, Spock said, "But I have tried...for weeks."
"Yes, I am aware of your efforts. Haven't I explained that you must cease all such efforts or you will make no further progress? Spock, do not resist. Open yourself, instead, to the goodness that is in Tobias. When conditions are right, you will come together naturally."
The healer's words were difficult to accept. He was not aware of any goodness in the Other. He did not see how they could reach a state of accord, particularly now, with fleshly urges working away at him like a fever.
Suddenly he felt the need to say, "You...and your father...are not like other healers that I have known. You are...so very compassionate."
Her eyes warmed enticingly and her full lips stirred. "We are part of the ancient Rominahr healing tradition that allows some emotional latitude. Compassion is encouraged as an aid to successful treatment."
He was wondering how far that emotional latitude extended into other relationships when she withdrew to the privacy of her room.
Shadows were gathering in the corners. Beyond the common room window, the sky had faded to purple, with a narrow band of orange showing at the horizon. Longing for the healer's company, Spock watched the last glimmer of light disappear. And only then it came to him that she had not addressed his concern for her safety.
A tap at T'Sora's bedroom door drew her from a much-needed meditation. Curious, she rose from her cushion and bade the halfling to enter. Both Spock and Tobias had previously intruded upon her privacy, but of the two, Tobias was much more likely to do so...especially when he was craving pleej.
The door swung aside, and he stood before her holding a metallic object in the palm of his hand.
"Yes?" T'Sora prompted.
Leaving the door open, Tobias warily said, "You will tell me that I should have asked before I brought this along. But what is it?"
She recognized the old figurine from the common room at Shi'yon'Kahr, but decided not to reproach him. "It is an ancient charm-meant to ward off the Eater of Souls." Seeing questions in his eyes, she directed him to a chair and sat on the edge of her bed before initiating a discussion on spirituality. It was not the first time he had shown interest in such matters. Watching for his reaction, she told him, "There is another who finds this subject equally intriguing. His name is Spock."
Tobias bolted to his feet. "Him? Spock is the Eater of Souls, and he's after mine!"
"Oh, but you are mistaken," she said as calmly as her condition allowed. Here in the confines of her bedroom, the fever was rising. "If you treat him kindly, he will join with you. He will be your friend. It is called...assimilation."
"Spock, my friend?" he said, obviously frustrated. "He wants no part of me." And tossing the figurine aside, he slammed into his room.
Late that night T'Sora lay in bed, staring into the darkness. Though the cabin was warm, she shivered and pulled her blanket higher. In the next instant, she was burning hot. Throwing back the covers, she got up and restlessly paced the room. What had begun as a minor distraction, had grown into a relentless ache for satisfaction. It did not help to know that her male patient was so near at hand. Only a wall separated them, only a wall...and the rigid ethics of a Vulcan healer.
If only it were a simple matter of self-preservation! But she could not save herself without also trying to save Spock/Tobias. She dared not come to them before they were ready, or the damage might be irreparable. Yet if she did not mate soon, what little remained of her control would crumble away. What would become of Spock then? Yes, Spock. For only he truly mattered to her.
Earlier, Tobias had set aside his qualms and entered her bedroom. Was it a sign? And Spock had spoken of "base needs" that made him fear for her safety. Why now? An uncertain logic urged that she go to the halfling and test his willingness.
T'Sora gazed at the starry Vulcan sky visible from her high windows. Somewhere in the distance a LeMatya screamed, and she shuddered at the wild sound. Throwing on a silken wrap, she went out into the hallway. The halfling's door was shut. Her hands trembled as she worked the latch and pushed. The door resisted her. Though she shoved harder, the door held firm. Barricaded, she realized with a surge of frustration. How could that be? Vulcans never barred their doors, but Spock was not entirely Vulcan, and as for his replicate...
"Tobias!" she cried out. No answer came, but suspecting that he was awake, she made her voice especially gentle. "Tobias, please open the door. I...need to come in."
"Why?" demanded a distrustful voice. "You're going to punish me for throwing your little Soul-Eater."
T'Sora sighed and considered breaking down the door. She had no patience to deal with the childish Tobias now. Why was he being so uncooperative? On Helexia, he had experienced fleshly pleasures and enjoyed them. Did he not feel her need?
She tried again. "Tobias, I have no intention of punishing you. I give you my word as a Vulcan. Now remove the barricade and let me into your room."
There was a maddening delay, and then sounds of furniture scraping over the floor. Tobias cracked open the door and peeking out warily, asked, "What do you want?"
T'Sora fought an urge to grab hold and show him what she wanted in a very direct manner, but such behavior might further alienate him. A male could not be forced.
Fire surged through her veins, and each breath felt as dry as dust. "Just let me in," she managed to say. Then a sob escaped her.
She could not remember the last time she had sobbed, or if she ever had, and it was frightening. If she could weep so easily, she could also lose control in other ways. Perhaps it was already too late for her, after all.
Eyeing her with suspicion, Tobias opened the door and edged back into his well-lit room. T'Sora regained some composure and followed step for step, coming to a halt beside the bed.
"You have been lonely here," she said. "The way of life on Vulcan is very different from what you knew on Helexia." His deep-set eyes glimmered fearfully. "You have needs. The normal needs of a human male, and other urges that you have not yet experienced. But Spock has. Spock knows."
"I don't want to talk about him," he said, visibly trembling.
"Then we won't," soothed the healer. "This entire subject is awkward, not lending itself to ordinary speech. Some things are better left to a private language." Her eyes took a slow, hungry tour of the nervous halfling, remembering every contour covered by his sleeveless black undershirt. As a healer, she had seen him stripped to the waist. She could well imagine how his masculine growth of chest hair would tease her fingertips. With that thought, her right hand slowly rose and touched the halfling's face. Tobias began to pull away, but she grasped his arm with her free hand and pulled him so close that their bodies touched. His eyes widened as T'Sora's heated thoughts coursed through the fingertips at his temple.
The attempt at seduction failed. Tobias reacted with a staggering wave of fright, and by the time T'Sora came to herself, he was gone. Tearing through every room, she searched fruitlessly for the halfling. At last she threw open the cabin door and ran outside. The childish fool! Where was he? Standing under the stars, she let out a shriek of pure frustration.