Chapter 4: Engarde
If she had expected a somewhat more informal greeting her disappointment showed only in the tiny upward flicker at the corners of her generous mouth and the glow of what Spock took to be ironic amusement in her eyes. She mocked his courtesy.
Still he observed, less than dispassionately, his childhood friend had matured into an extraordinarily beautiful woman conspicuous even to someone who was notorious for failing to notice such ephemeral distinctions.
The pale skin of her face and that one bare shoulder gleamed against a sweep of ink-black hair held only by a fragile coronet of gold wires studded with tiny emerald gem-flowers. Her patrician features were finely cut, her deep set green eyes brilliantly aware, but there was also something ruthless, even slightly cruel in the look she bestowed upon him, a determination that belied her slender body and warned him to be cautious.
"I am honoured by thy service, cousin." She said, finally. "But once we met with less protocol. I would prefer that, at least, had not changed."
She moved over to the statuette, idly tracing the smooth outline as Spock had done. "Thee did not accompany thy Captain when he attended us. My father was disappointed at thy absence."
"There were duties aboard the Enterprise that needed my attendance."
"Of course." The devilish glint was in her gaze as she turned to face him, searching his features – for what he could not tell.
She inclined her head, lowering perfect lids over those wide-set, startling eyes. "It has been a long time."
"Six years, three months and four days."
"So," she murmured softly, "And in six years, three months and four days thee has still to forgive me."
"I … am at a loss, Keh'sarin. Was there something to forgive?"
When she laughed, it was without humour. "An illogical question, Spock? If thee felt there was nothing to forgive why, in all these years since we last met have thee not sent me word? We were friends from childhood. More than friends. Six years ago that ended. By thy choosing."
Spock's eyes hooded, concealing anything of his innermost thoughts. When he replied his words, spoken without inflection, still revealed the injury she had done him. "Were the circumstances of our last meeting – and subsequent parting – not reason enough? We are what we are, T'pavan. I did not see that quite so clearly then. Thee…always had the ability to cloud my judgment."
He looked away, unable to continue the pretence, his dark eyes confused, his thoughts in disarray as if he had suddenly awakened from some disturbing dream. "It was erroneous for me to come here. No useful purpose can be served. I will return to the Enterprise…"
"With no cho'wa, harmony between us?" T'pavan's disdain was now made plain. "Would thee so insult the House of Es'sarhan? Have I so disgraced thee, cousin?"
It was a challenge Spock could not ignore with impunity. Protocol had to be observed, the game of m'hekteth, of honour, had to continue in the Traditional Way, both of them conforming to the rules that governed each movement and each phrase, and protected their individual integrity. Spock inclined his head in acknowledgement.
"I apologise for my impropriety, Keh'sarin." Vulkhanir calm disguised his bitter anguish. "I have foolishly disrupted the serenity of the House, thy kah…for that I ask forgiveness."
T'pavan solemnly met his gaze, her reply obligatory, a ritual politeness. "The fault is mine, cousin. In the Family all is silence. No more will be said of it…"
She lifted both hands, palms out, her expression dispassionate. Hesitating only fractionally, Spock placed his own palms flat against hers, feeling the jolt as their flesh contacted but refusing to let his full alarm show.
"Spock, parted from me and never parted, never and always touching and touched. I have been waiting."
His reply was distant, cool and aloof, but it was only his well-schooled reflexes that kept his agitation in check. "T'pavan, parted from me and never parted, never and always touching and touched. We meet."
"It is time for us to talk, Spock-neha. I would be honoured if thee would be my guest. If it is convenient?"
Again there was no way in which he could refuse. "Of course."