She had wanted to be home by the afternoon, but the sun was fading over the horizon. It would be time for dinner when she arrived, and she hadn't heard from her husband in hours. Why hadn't he answered any of her messages or transmissions?
Sarek always said worry was illogical, but she couldn't shake the sinking feeling in her gut. She had tried to tell him that their son could be a handful, but he'd been so calm and confident about his parenting abilities. So had she… and then Spock started walking and talking. She urged the shuttlecar faster.
When she stepped through the doorway from the garage into the rear entry, the house was dark. A beam of light streamed into the hallway from the kitchen, and she heard a weird scratching noise that sounded like one of the pet dishes.
"Ko-mekh?" replied her son's high-pitched voice from the kitchen.
Ko-mekh: the Vulcan word for mother. She smiled. "Spock?"
She strode toward the kitchen, but upon reaching the stream of light, recoiled in horror. The door to the food preservation unit was wide open, and most of the contents of the lower shelves littered the floor. I-Chaya was covered in what looked like dark brown mud and was licking the remnants of kaasa juice from the floor and Euclid, their cat, was sleeping halfway in the pantry with a bloated belly, his tail gently patting the floor in contentment.
"Spock! What have you done?" she hissed.
She scanned the wasteland of her kitchen looking for her son and heard the clang of metal on the stone floor of the kitchen. When he teetered around the central island, she stifled a scream. His face was covered in bruises and his clothes were spattered with food, but he had blood slicked all over the lower half of his face and arms.
He stumbled toward her with unbridled glee, arms outstretched and calling her name. She stepped forward, falling to her knees in shock to clutch him to her chest and scour his body for the source of the blood. He was sticky.
She sniffed his hair, noting the sweet smell of nei-savas preserves. The green slime on his arms was jelly — not blood. Relief compelled her to laugh and she picked him up and held him tightly.
"Spock, what happened to your face?" she asked.
She cradled his jaw to examine the damage more closely, noting a cut on his chin that had been mended with a dermal regenerator. Spock was certainly no stranger to injury, but the bruises were dark.
"Door hit," he mumbled.
His breath on her face made her recoil.
"Were you eating cat food?"
Spock's eyes lit up in joy and he nodded and twisted his body back in the direction of the food bowl.
"Dinner. Euclid and EE-Shaya eat. I eat."
"Yes, I see that."
She never left food down for the animals because Spock would either play with it or eat it, but he'd managed to get into the pantry and open the jugs of pet food. Kibble was strewn across the floor and went a long way toward explaining why the cat was lying in the middle of the food trail with a distended stomach. She was annoyed, but cat food was far from the worst thing her son had ever consumed.
"Did your father feed you dinner?"
Spock shook his head. White-hot anger pulsed through her. She expected a few hiccups and hoped the experience of watching Spock for a day would humble her husband a bit and get him to stop criticizing her parenting, but to let their son go hungry…
"Where is he?"
That didn't make any sense. Sarek barely slept at night, let alone during the day. Dread nibbled away at her anger as she stormed out of the kitchen.
She saw a small light drifting from the front room and headed in that direction.
She hesitated before turning on the overhead lights. The dim glow of the room was coming from a computer terminal and illuminated the room just enough for her to see Sarek's face was also smeared with the thick, green jelly. She slapped her hand over her mouth to stifle a deep, guttural laugh and looked down at Spock.
"There he is!" Spock cheered.
"Shhhh," she said, continuing to snort through her laughs. "Spock, did you do that to your father?"
"He hungry," Spock, said pointing his stubby index finger in Sarek's direction. "Dinner."
"You were trying to feed your father dinner?"
"Oh my sweet, sweet boy," Amanda giggled, pulling him into a secure hug.
Spock started to ask to be put down, but she held her finger to her lips and said, "Why don't we get you cleaned up? Tell me all about your day."
She took him to the bathroom and set him in the sonic shower and began to ask questions about his and Sarek's activities. His vocabulary was growing by leaps and bounds, but she still sometimes had trouble understanding him. The more she corrected him, the better he got, and it made her proud to know he was beginning to communicate effectively in short sentences, though he often still used single words when she let him get away with it. He was more Vulcan than Sarek would like to admit — not yet two years old and an aficionado of brevity.
She was both dismayed and bemused to learn about his naked adventures outside and trip to the doctor, and there was also something about I-Chaya killing "not Euclid" and a screwdriver and a broken door. His trip to the doctor was the result of eating "sharp cereal," and apparently sharp cereal was the result of throwing one of her good dishes on the floor when he wanted the "barkamyak," which she supposed was the leftover barkaya marak from the previous evening.
She sighed. Why hadn't Sarek listened to her about the plastic dishes? Still, it was hard to be mad at Sarek, because she was at the healer or nearby emergency room approximately twice a month because of Spock's misadventures, and she knew what the boy was capable of. Just last week he'd leapt off the back of the couch and she'd been terrified he'd cracked his skull.
Sarek was but a babe in the woods when it came to their son's natural affinity for danger and self-destruction. She knew from her waiting room experiences that she was just one of many in a parade of parents who routinely delivered their toddlers into the hands of physicians for all manner of burns, lacerations, fractures, poisonings, puncture wounds, and other miscellaneous trauma.
When she asked about the computer assembled on the floor of the sitting room, Spock began to chatter incessantly, explaining that Sarek had shown him how to put it together and use it. She couldn't recall the last time she'd seen him so happy, and felt a warm, fuzzy feeling in her chest. Had Sarek found a way to bond with Spock? Or had Spock's exuberant emotions only disappointed him?
"Want computer," Spock said. "Please."
Her eyebrows shot upward. Had her son just said "please?" She'd been working on that for months.
"Are you ready to get dressed for bed?" she asked, scooping up her naked child and carrying him to his bedroom.
"Not bed," he whined. "Not tired. Computer."
She grimaced. Now that his nap schedule was thrown off, he'd probably be awake all night. "Are you ready to go wake up your father?"
Spock nodded and said, "Computer. Putmedownplease."
Another "please." Apparently Sarek's day with Spock hadn't been a complete disaster. Then she noted the bruises on his face and sighed. The sight of her husband slathered with sugary jelly and snoring softly on the couch induced a fit of uncontrollable snickering. Spock watched her with curiosity and started mimicking her laugh.
"Shhhh," she urged, putting her hand to her mouth.
She debated the best way to rouse her husband from his sleep. She wanted to play a practical joke on him and ask Spock to hide and then wake Sarek, demanding to know what happened to their son. She would have done it too, if she weren't afraid of teaching Spock that it was funny to hide from his father.
Part of her wanted him to feel the same terror she had when she walked into the kitchen and thought their son was badly hurt. Too bad Vulcans weren't prone to feeling terror. She rotated Spock to her other hip and ventured forward, shaking Sarek firmly on the shoulder.
His eyelids peeled back, revealing drowsy, unfocused eyes. "Hmmm?"
"How was your nap?" she asked, swallowing her biting tone as best she could.
He bolted to a sitting position, and when he put his hands down to brace himself to stand, he became aware of the nei-savas jelly. His face remained placid while he glanced from her to Spock.
"Spock," he replied.
As he worked the muscles of his face, he seemed to realize it was covered in a sticky substance. It took everything Amanda had to avoid flopping down on the floor into a fit of laughter — never in her life had she been more thankful for the calming techniques Sarek had shown her during the early days of their marriage. This exercise was best carried out with a straight face.
"Spock tells me you both had an eventful day," Amanda said in earnest. "Why don't you tell me about it over dinner?"
"You prepared end meal? What time did you arrive home?" Sarek asked, still pretending like he didn't notice the coat of jelly on his hands, shirt, and face.
"Oh, just now," she explained. "I haven't had a chance to make anything, but I think there might be some cat food left. That's what Spock ate. Of course, you might have to fight Euclid and I-Chaya for it, but I'm sure there are leftovers."
The muscles of his face remained frozen, but by the dim glow of the computer screen, she could see panic and confusion sparkling in his eyes.
"That's right," she thought. "Squirm."
They moved to the kitchen without a word, and Amanda nonchalantly stepped over the open jars, bowls, and decanters strewn over the ground. She caught Sarek's face in the reflection of the door over the glass oven and held her breath. There was something special about watching her husband, an accomplished diplomat and a brilliant astrophysicist struggle to comprehend the disaster their son had wrought on their kitchen while he slept. She grabbed the dishtowel from the hook, wetted it, and tossed it at him. He deftly caught it, gave her a pointed look, and began wiping the jelly from his hands and cheeks.
"Spock thought you might be hungry," she explained. Amanda couldn't hold it in any longer. From deep within her belly a rumbling laugh emerged, igniting a chain reaction of mirth until tears streamed down her cheeks and even Spock was staring at her with nervous curiosity.
"Oh, am I- am I- setting a bad example?" she hiccupped. "For our son? You know, by laughing?"
She didn't intend for the words to be so bitter, but there they were, spoken and raw. Suddenly it wasn't funny anymore. She loved her husband and knew that her husband loved her, but when it came to Spock, they had so many disagreements.
Sarek loved Spock — he would never use the word love, instead claiming that Spock was merely an extension of himself — but he was so cold and unforgiving toward him. Their son wasn't even two years old, and Sarek expected too much. They had agreed to raise him as Vulcan, but Amanda still detested the idea that soon her son would abandon his baby giggles and bright-eyed wonder for muted expressions and exacting inquiry.
"I wish to apologize," Sarek finally said. "I believe I have been unfairly critical of you."
Her jaw fell open. She turned to Spock, and touching her forehead to his, asked, "Can I trust you to play in your room quietly while I clean up this mess?"
"Door broke," Spock exclaimed.
"The force field generator — Spock discovered how to short the sensors using a reflective chip from a children's game," Sarek explained. "Quite ingenious."
Had he just paid their overly emotional, hellion toddler a compliment? Another bombshell.
"I enlisted his assistance in securing the mount more tightly to the wall. I think you will find he is unable to free himself so easily now."
She shot him a sad yet hopeful look and walked over the debris on the floor to the exit that led into the hallway.
"Rubiss cube?" Spock murmured, pointing to the block resting on the counter.
"You solved it!" Amanda exclaimed, picking it up to admire the brightly colored toy.
"It is a puzzle?" Sarek asked from behind her.
"Yes, you didn't know?"
"Want," Spock moaned. "Please."
"I removed it from his possession because he threw it at me in a moment of anger."
"Spock!" Amanda chastised. "Apologize."
"I do not believe he can appreciate the nature of an offense committed so long ago," Sarek replied.
Amanda sighed and strolled down the hallway, with Spock calling "Sorry, sorry, sorry," over her shoulder to his father. She deposited him in his room but kept the Rubik's cube, reminding him that he knew better than to throw things. Spock began to whine, but she walked away without a second thought, engaged the force field on the door, and strode down the hallway, jumbling the Rubik's cube. As she passed her husband she tossed it to him. He was a smart man — surely he could figure it out.
"Of all his wrongdoings and misbehavior, why admonish him for throwing things?" Sarek asked as they entered this kitchen.
His focus was trained on the cube, turning the blocks over with careful consideration.
"I guess you probably figured out he can find more ways to get himself in trouble in one minute than you would think is possible," Amanda began, watching her husband work at the toy. "And sure, he has temper tantrums because he doesn't know how to control his emotions, but first he needs to learn to control his actions. Hurting people isn't ok. He used to bite and kick and it took a lot of work, but he doesn't do those things anymore. It's just patience, Sarek. I thought Vulcans had that in infinite supply."
Sarek was too engrossed in solving the Rubik's cube to immediately reply, and she snapped, "The point is to make each side the same color."
His eyes darted in her direction. "I surmised as much."
She scowled, crossed her arms, and wheeled around to sop up the disaster that was their kitchen. A few seconds later, Sarek was triumphant in his battle with the toy and set it on the counter to begin assisting her cleanup efforts.
"So tell me about the doctor's office," she probed.
Another careful glance, returned with one of her scowls.
"He ratted you out," she explained, fighting off a laugh. "So you might as well skip the meticulously abridged version that omits the really bad stuff."
Her mood improved as she listened to Sarek's version of the day's events that began with Spock peeing on the floor of his office and running around the house naked. She groaned. He was doing that again?
She was horrified to hear about the sa-te-kru, realizing that I-Chaya wasn't covered in dirt but dried blood. It was even worse listening to him recount the tetralubisol incident — though that explained the weird chemical smell — and Spock's encounter with a broken porcelain bowl. She'd had too many close calls with their son to be angry, so she did the only thing she could do. She laughed.
"I did not imagine you would find it so comical," he said, sitting next to her on the floor, propping his back on the lower cupboards.
"It is and it isn't. Spock is a handful, but he's growing up so fast," Amanda admitted, feeling a wave of sadness. "There are days I wish I could keep him small, and then he goes and destroys the kitchen and I can't wait for him to be an adult. Yes, I know it's illogical."
"Spock is in a critical stage of his development," Sarek said. "He is intelligent and-"
"But you want him to be more Vulcan. I know," she sighed, resting her head on the cabinet. "I thought about it all day today, and I know we agreed to raise him as a Vulcan child. It's just hard to accept that he isn't my little baby anymore."
She expected Sarek to deliver some speech about logic and age progression, but none came. He took her hand in ozh'esta, and she felt the warm, calming sensation of the finger embrace elevate her mood.
"Anyway," she finished. "I got offered a part-time position at Shi'Kahr Academy today teaching cultural linguistics."
"Congratulations," Sarek replied. "It is well deserved."
"Yes, well, even before that, I was thinking you were right. A Vulcan nanny wouldn't be the worst thing for him. It still breaks my heart thinking that Spock needs something that I can't give him, but I'm not Vulcan, and I don't know how to teach him to be one."
"You are still his mother, and he still needs you," Sarek said.
Her husband never ceased to amaze her. He could be so ruthless in his logic much of the time, only to turn around and be tender. She squeezed his hand and faced him.
"I know you think it goes without saying, but I love you."
He helped her to her feet and offered to prepare dinner, and she left to collect Spock from his room. She found him lying facedown on the rug in his room, snoring loudly and cuddling with a pleenok puzzle. She carefully pulled him from the floor and tucked him into bed, surprised he was still tired after his sleep schedule had been ruined, though she refused to question it.
"I can't believe I'm letting my son go to bed with a tummy full of jelly and cat food," she moaned, patting him on the arm.
It wasn't unusual to feel like a failure, but she never stopped doing the best she could. She watched him for a short time, peaceful in his sleep. She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead, wondering how many more she would get before her son became a smaller version of his father. As she stood and turned out the lights, she felt tears fill her eyes but was surprised to find Sarek standing in the doorway.
"End meal is ready," he announced.
"Ok, let's go," she said, smiling to push away the moisture brimming in her eyes.
"I shall join you in a moment," Sarek replied.
The request took her by surprise, but she turned and headed toward the kitchen, watching Sarek enter the bedroom in the crooked hallway mirror. She was Spock's mother, but Sarek was his father, and she supposed there were just some things between fathers and sons that she was never meant to understand.
"They grow up so fast," she thought.