Seven months later…
"Computer, search for all consular business within the last ten years concerning the Vulcan Science Academy and database management," Sarek said, sitting back slightly in his chair.
The computer returned 1,719 results. "Refine parameters to include only those results that are relevant to collaborative projects." Only 43 results remained.
Sarek was grateful Selden had kept meticulous records of his time as ambassador to Earth. Sarek had been ambassador in his own right for exactly two months as of today, but he found he still needed to refer to his predecessor's personal and professional files for assistance in many situations.
There was valuable information to be had in Selden's logs, if one knew where and how to look. Ambassador Selden had a scientist's appreciation for detail, but even Sarek thought much of the data was extraneous and excessive. Selden had recorded not only his conversations with many high-level bureaucrats and dignitaries over the past 12 years, but also made notes about his impressions of them and other personal details of their lives that Sarek had found exceedingly useful in his early days as Vulcan ambassador to Earth. But mixed among these handy dossiers and elaborate records were also copious notes about Selden's daily diet and meditation schedule, musings on humanity, and even notes about changes in traffic patterns outside the compound's walls.
Sarek was searching for information as a favor to Chairman Lenski. The Federation Council had taken note of the Science Council's efforts to establish a Federation-wide scientific database and had ordered a feasibility study on the establishment of a central library at a neutral site within Federation space to serve as a physical hub for both tangible and digital information.
It was the Council's first mandate of the fiscal year, and by convention, was referred to as Mandate Alpha One: 2227. During the debate session, a joke by the Tellarite representative on the Council had made light of the fact that Tellarites used the same word for "library" and "memory," and news agencies had taken to calling the project "Memory Alpha One" which had eventually been shortened to "Memory Alpha."
There was no formal legislation for the library as of yet — the feasibility study hadn't even begun — but already the idea had widespread popular support. Tellar Prime had volunteered to donate a planetoid at the edge of its sector of space and the Ithenites and Andorians were willing to contribute the engineers and equipment to build the physical infrastructure. Finding the necessary computer engineers to undertake such a massive project as building the largest server in recorded history had proven slightly more difficult.
Vulcan had a reputation in the Federation for producing superior computer engineers and scientists, and Abraham Lenski had personally asked Sarek for information about the Vulcan Science Academy and an informed opinion on whether or not the Academy would be willing and able to accept such a monumental project.
As Vulcan ambassador to Earth, investigating things on behalf of Federation officials was somewhat beyond the description of his duties, but he was quickly learning that most other species operated on an informal and illogical system of favors. As Amanda had once explained euphemistically, he should scratch another person's back in the hopes that the other person would respond in kind.
Sarek skimmed through Ambassador Selden's notes on his interactions with the Vulcan Science Academy, finding several entries that appeared promising, but one near the bottom caught his eye. Without a second thought, he selected the link near the bottom titled, "2219.72 – 0924 Hours; Meeting with Henry Daystrom."
I met with a Terran computing engineer called Henry Daystrom, a junior researcher at the California Institute of Technology. He is typical of humans: given to passionate discourse about his field of study. He is attempting to arrange a meeting with researchers at the Vulcan Science Academy to present his recent discoveries in subatomic structures that would lend itself to the theoretical field of duotronics, a subject that my former colleague and friend T'Vres has been investigating for some years. I informed him I would notify the correct parties.
Sarek was surprised that Selden had been receptive to Dr. Daystrom's proposal. The Vulcan Science Academy had dismissed the possibility of duotronic circuits six years ago, if Sarek's memory served him correctly. He noticed a cross-reference to a message sent to T'Vres, senior researcher in the Theoretical Computer Science Division of the Vulcan Science Academy.
Vulcans admired curiosity, but they did not hold the same regard for distraction. It was improbable that Henry Daystrom was relevant to his inquiry for Chairman Lenski, but he clicked the link to access Selden's message to T'Vres and continued to read their correspondence as it unfolded over a period of five months. What it revealed was mildly disturbing.
T'Vres had been independently working on the same problem as Dr. Daystrom, and Selden had passed along Daystrom's research, which T'Vres had attempted to incorporate into her own. After a short series of trials, she had been unable to make further progress and had co-authored a paper with her colleagues concluding duotronic technology was not unfeasible, but impossible. T'Vres was highly respected and had more than a century of experience in the field of computer engineering, so the Federation had accepted her conclusion and pulled funding from further research into the field of duotronics. At no point had Henry Daystrom been included or consulted.
The last related entry regarding Dr. Daystrom and duotronic technology was dated 2220.01. Deciding it was only logical to follow the story to its conclusion, Sarek opened it and read:
1530 hours – Dr. Henry Daystrom arrived unannounced and demanded to speak with me. His appearance is much changed. He has lost considerable weight and does not appear to have performed any hygiene ritual for some time. He accused me of stealing his duotronic technology and attempting to discredit him. When I explained that I had saved him much wasted effort by referring his research to more experienced scientists, he became extremely agitated. He spoke of disgrace and the loss of his position, then began weeping and speaking incoherently of suicide and of an infant son. Volara contacted the Terran authorities, who had to remove him from my office by force. The authorities have assured me that Dr. Daystrom is not well and that he would be taken to a facility to evaluate his mental health. It seems evident the human mind may be even more fragile than I'd initially supposed…
He read through the rest of the entry, perplexed by his former supervisor's words. Sarek had disagreed with many of Selden's methods and policies, but he had always respected him. But to know now that Selden that had squarely judged humans as being "regrettably short-lived and slaves to their hot tempers and feeble minds" did much to alter his opinion of the man.
Sarek thought of his own exchanges with Henry Daystrom, when Daystrom had accused Vulcans of discrediting him and stealing his research. It hadn't been a fanciful human exaggeration, it had been the truth, as told to Sarek by the Vulcan who had stolen his research and helped discredit him. He began pondering the ramifications of this series of events from seven years earlier.
Sarek held the minority opinion that duotronic technology had been prematurely dismissed, but Selden and T'Vres' actions had put a halt to any additional research. Research into duotronic technology had been omitted from Starfleet's 50 Year Strategic Plan based on T'Vres' paper. It was illogical to consider what might have been, but difficult to ignore that the actions of a pair of less-than-scrupulous Vulcans had potentially altered the technological landscape in such a significant way.
"Excuse me, ambassador."
Sarek looked up to see Selak, his aide, standing in the doorway. It was already 1520 hours, and according to his knowledge of the chaotic traffic patterns of the Bay area, if he did not leave within the next five minutes, there was a high likelihood he would be overdue for his afternoon commitment.
"I trust the car is ready?" Sarek asked, rising to his feet.
"It is, Ambassador."
Sarek smoothed out his formal tunic and touched his breast pocket. It was illogical, but he did it nonetheless, just as he had done every day for the past month. He followed Selak to the carriage porch where Tavik waited with the consular car, shivering from the chill in the winter air.
"What time should I expect your return?" Selak asked, standing by the rear passenger door as Sarek slid into the backseat.
"I cannot say. I do not anticipate urgent consular business this afternoon, as it is the sixth day of the Terran week and few offices are open. You are no longer on duty. I have my PADD and am able to receive any critical notifications."
It took 31 minutes to travel from Sausalito across the bay into San Francisco and arrive at his destination. He pondered the injustice done to Henry Daystrom, but once inside the city his mind became occupied with other matters.
Ahead, he could see the towering buildings of downtown San Francisco, where the new consulate would open in 27 days. It was adjacent to the Andorian and Denobulan embassies and less than half a kilometer from the Federation district. It was not nearly as grand as the compound in Sausalito, but the location was quite convenient. The current compound had been built decades before the Federation was formed, at a time when humans and Vulcans were only casually acquainted. They were allies now, in league with many other planets, and there was no logic in continuing to hide away in a compound with high walls far away from the center of Terran and Federation politics.
The car pulled to a stop in front of a white, square, well-constructed house amid a throng of vehicles and pedestrians. Sarek would have preferred to open the door himself, but he allowed Tavik to do it. He was ambassador now, a position that commanded a certain degree of respect.
Several people glanced in his direction as he moved up the sidewalk, but none overtly stared. Sarek was accustomed to this kind of curious reception outside of diplomatic and political circles. He followed a group of four humans into the house, the two men wearing dark black suits and the two women hobbling along on towering footwear and dresses that seemed insufficient for keeping them warm in the frosty weather. Despite his efforts to maintain absolute control, his mind tingled with anticipation.
Beyond the entry of the house were rows of chairs on opposite sides of an aisle that lead up to a staircase with thick wooden railings and a narrow white carpet running through the center. On the far-left side of the room behind the last row of chairs, a woman in a crème-colored dress and dark hair tucked into a simple bun was speaking with several guests. Her thin shoulders were bare, exposing a small kidney-shaped skin imperfection that Sarek knew quite well.
"Sarek! Good to see you!"
Sarek glanced over his shoulder to find Raymond, Pete and Millie's friend, sitting in in the third to last row. His husband and daughters were nowhere in sight. Sarek nodded politely, preparing to address him, but he saw the woman in the crème-colored dress move out of the corner of his left eye and couldn't resist the urge to look at her. She smiled, revealing a row of white teeth in a smile he understood was entirely meant for him. Amanda.
"I was afraid you weren't going to make it," she said, broadening her smile.
He cocked his head. "You look well."
Amanda made a small face and glanced at her figure in the form-fitted dress. In truth, she looked better than well. He hadn't seen her in 22 days. He had accepted his current posting in part to remain close to her, but with his busy schedule and her life in Oakland, he did not spend as much time in her company as he would like.
"The ceremony is about to start, so I need to go line up with the rest of the bridal party."
"Is there assigned seating?" he asked, glancing around at the rapidly filling chairs.
"No," she answered, patting his arm. "Though I would recommend sitting on the groom's side. Millie has so many friends: I don't want Pete's side to look empty."
Sarek surveyed both sides of the room, noticing that the left was less full than the right. In all his research about wedding customs, he hadn't encountered anything in the literature about specific areas for the bride and groom's guests. Vulcan wedding customs had remained unchanged for more than 4,000 years, but Terran wedding customs were highly variable and unfixed, according to most sources.
He nodded and prepared to leave her, but she ran her hand down his arm until she found his hand. The touch of her fingers pleased him. She grinned. "Catch you on the flip side."
She disappeared through the front entry out into the cold winter air before Sarek could ask for clarification of the term "flip side." Sarek took a seat next to Raymond, whom he had not seen since Amanda's party.
"I heard you're an ambassador now," Raymond said, grinning.
"Thank you. Where are your mate and children?"
"Oh, they're in the ceremony. Pete needed a best man and Millie needed some flower girls and-"
A piano interrupted his explanation. Sarek recognized the instrument from the multi-cultural art museum, but the song it played was much less vibrant than the demonstration he'd heard previously. Between Amanda's tutelage and his own informal research, he believed he knew what to expect from Millie and Pete's wedding ceremony.
There would be a processional of men and women important to both the bride and groom, followed lastly by the bride and her father, at which point he was to rise until instructed by the officiant to sit. Everyone turned in their seats to see a mature woman in a pale blue suit marching down the center aisle. Millie's mother, he presumed. She was seated in the front row on the right, then men in dark suits began walking down the aisle with women in crème-colored dresses identical to Amanda's. They were slow and purposeful and the women carried small bunches of purple and white flowers.
Amanda appeared last, moving slowly next to Raymond's husband, Mark. He knew from his discussions with Amanda in these last months that Millie had appointed her "maid of honor," which according to Amanda meant "jumping through hoops" and "putting up with more than she should because of the sacred bonds of friendship."
Mark and Amanda arrived at the end of the aisle and stood flanking both sides of the grand central staircase. A man in a white suit, whom Sarek presumed was the officiant, came next, followed by his daughters, Maria and Kayla. They carried wire baskets and flung purple and white flower petals along the white carpet, and once they reached the end of the aisle, a hush fell over the room and the pianist abruptly ended the song, only to switch to a separate tune.
"Here comes the bride," Raymond murmured, rising to his feet. Sarek and the rest of the congregation joined him.
Miss Rogers appeared on the arm of a slender man with gray hair — her father, if he understood the custom correctly. Her dress was peculiar and impractical; it had sheer sleeves and fit so tightly against her torso that Sarek wondered if she could breathe. In juxtaposition to the top half of her gown, a massive lace skirt flared around her hips and descended to the floor, grossly exaggerating her proportions. How could she possibly sit in such a garment?
What followed was a relatively simple affair in which the officiant offered a blessing and both Pete and Millie addressed each other. Unlike the Vulcan tradition of ritual blessings and oaths, their vows were full of anecdotes, personal and unrehearsed. Millie began to cry when she told Pete she looked forward to growing old together and Pete laughed awkwardly and clutched her hands. Millie put a ring on Pete's finger and Pete added a second ring to Millie's left hand. Then the officiant invited them to kiss, which they did, resulting in much excitement from the captive audience.
After the ceremony, Sarek followed Raymond to a nearby room full of round tables and chairs and bedecked with elegant place settings and white and purple sashes and flowers. An enormous cake sat on a table on the far wall, next to a long table with a light purple tablecloth. They sat together and were soon joined by his daughters.
"Millie's dress broke," Kayla announced.
"Yeah, daddy stepped on the back and it got ripped," Maria added.
"Oh really?" Raymond replied, giving them an anxious look.
"But Miss Grayson is fixing it."
Mention of Amanda caused Sarek to look up. Their informal telepathic bond was still weak, but she was nearby and he could faintly detect her panic and frustration. After several minutes, it faded and Pete and Millie entered the room to much cheering, with Amanda and the rest of the bridal party just behind. Pete, Millie, and their families sat at the long table and Mark and Amanda joined Raymond and Sarek.
"This day has been teetering on the edge of constant disaster," Amanda groaned, slumping into the chair next to Sarek. "The caterer's replicator broke so he had to call in a team to make all the quiches by hand and I don't think there are enough. Millie also wanted holographic images to play as she walked down the aisle, but the staff only told us this morning that the mansion is too old and can't handle that kind of power output without special backup generators."
"Don't forget the pearls!" Kayla announced.
"Ugh, and Millie's grandmother's pearl necklace broke at the rehearsal dinner last night. It was her something borrowed. I had to take it to get restrung first thing this morning. Thank goodness for these girls and their sharp eyes. They helped me find all the pearls."
Sarek only understood a fraction of what Amanda said in context. Quiche? Holographic images? Pearls? Something borrowed? Despite her evident irritation, he watched her, enjoying the movement of her mouth and the way her eyes illuminated.
"Anyway, before I forget, I need to go outside and make sure all the car arrangements are taken care of so they can leave right at 1930 hours for their honeymoon. Care to join me?"
Sarek would have preferred to remain indoors where it was warm, but he would brave the cold if it could offer a few private moments with her. She led him out through a side entrance into the icy afternoon. At the front of the house was a long, black car with a sign saying "Just married" in the rear window. She breathed a sigh of relief.
"The next time I agree to be someone's maid of honor, slap some sense into me," Amanda sighed, wrapping her arms tightly around her body and shivering.
"I fail to see how slapping you could impart additional sensibility," Sarek replied, shrugging his overcloak from his shoulders to give it to her. He did not like the cold, but with certain semi-meditative techniques, he could adjust his body temperature to cope. Amanda on the other hand lacked that sort of mental discipline, and she was also poorly dressed for the weather in a thin gown with exposed shoulders.
Her mouth drifted open as she eyed his offering. "I'm too short for it. The bottom will drag the ground."
"A minor inconvenience."
She chuckled and turned around, allowing him to slide it over her shoulders as she stuffed her arms into the sleeves. "I didn't get the chance to tell you earlier, but you look really nice."
"As do you."
"And sorry for my rant. It's been a very stressful day. Anyway, what did you think of the wedding?"
"It was fascinating."
"Yes. Might I ask, is there no winter version of your current ceremonial uniform?"
"Uniform?" she laughed. "Oh, you mean this dress I'll never wear again? It's not a uniform: it's a bridesmaid's dress."
"You are uniformly dressed with the other female members of the bridal procession. Is that not the correct usage of the word uniform?"
"Bridesmaids often end up wearing the same dress out of some really old tradition. I'm not sure, but I think it had something to do with confusing evil spirits or acting as decoys in case rejected suitors attempted to crash the wedding and steal the bride."
"Steal the bride?"
"Like I said, it's a really outdated tradition that sort of stuck around for centuries."
Sarek thought of Vulcan bonding customs and his appearance at T'Rea's wedding. Bride stealing wasn't necessarily outdated in the Vulcan tradition, but he decided not to disclose that fact.
"I really should go back inside, but it's so nice to just be alone with you, even if it is freezing out here."
Sarek shared her sentiment, but a short time later, they were forced to return to the festivities when Amanda decided it would soon be time for the buffet to begin. When someone said there wasn't enough champagne for all the tables, Amanda disappeared to hunt down the caterer, leaving Sarek alone once again.
"Thank you for coming to my big day," said a bright voice from behind him. "I'm so honored to have an ambassador at my wedding." He turned to see Millie, standing triumphant with her hands on her hips and flashing him a wide smile.
"You honored me with your invitation, Mrs. Adams."
Millie's smile softened, becoming warmer. "You're the first person to call me by my married name. It feels nice."
"Many blessings to you and your new family."
"Thank you. So, have you decided what you're going to do yet?" Millie asked, taking a step forward and lowering her voice.
"I still haven't said anything, but I don't know how much longer I can keep my mouth shut," Millie said, forcing a frown. "She's my best friend."
Sarek didn't reply. He did not prefer to have such a private conversation in such a public place.
"She deserves to be with someone who will make her happy." Mille's cheerful expression faded into one of quiet caring. "You deserve to be happy too."
He gave a small nod of his head. "I shall take it under advisement."
Millie sighed. "Just remember what we talked about."
The evening wore on, exposing Sarek to even more peculiar human traditions. After the meal, Millie and Pete began dancing and soon every human in attendance took turns sailing around in an open area. Despite all attempts to get him to join them, Sarek remained resolute in his decision to avoid participating. Vulcans did not dance.
He only caught glimpses of Amanda as she darted between the maze of tables, ensuring the servers were doing their jobs and locating certain guests for Millie. An hour later, both Amanda and Mark made speeches and there was a ceremonial cake cutting that culminated in Pete and Millie literally forcing yellow cake into one another's mouths amid squeals of laughter. Humans weddings were very odd indeed.
At 1900 hours, Sarek excused himself to the entry hall to check his messages. He was replying to a query from the Vulcan Transportation Ministry when he became aware of shouting in the dining room. He looked up from his PADD just as the partygoers erupted in cheers and laughter. He sent his message and returned to find Amanda pushing her way through a crowd, red-faced and radiating embarrassment.
Amanda sighed, flexing her ankles and wondering if her blisters were bleeding yet. Her head hurt, her feet hurt, and the underwire of her strapless bra was digging into her skin. She'd been running around trying to manage everything and had been unable to talk to Sarek for more than five minutes at a time. But today was Millie's wedding; it wasn't about Amanda.
But everything with the caterer was finally settled and the evening was starting to wind to a close. In exactly 17 minutes, the bride and groom would be hopping in a car and driving to the shuttleport for a two-week honeymoon in Thailand and Amanda could put this whole stressful wedding business behind her.
Figuring she had a few minutes, she glanced around the expansive dining room, but Sarek was nowhere in sight. He was hard to miss, what with being so tall and being the only person wearing royal blue robes with a large pendant. She constantly missed him.
She'd decided to forgo the opportunity to teach on Andoria to stay on Earth with Sarek. She told herself there were other things that factored into her decision, her friends, her family, her students, her house, her eventual acceptance to graduate school... but if she was being honest with herself, Sarek was the real reason. She had started grad school a month ago and stayed busy enough, and she'd supposed ambassadors were also very busy people, but she hadn't expected them to be quite as occupied as Sarek was.
She had never felt so close to someone, or more far away. He was occupied during the week from morning to night and worked most weekends, including many Sundays. She'd attended more than a dozen diplomatic functions with him, but that wasn't the same thing as spending quality time together. The time they did manage to steal for themselves was incredible. There was no adequate word for the way she felt when she was with him. The best she could come up with was "complete," which was such a silly sentiment because she'd never believed in the idea of soulmates.
It had been months since their unexpected tumble into bed. The hairs on her arms stood up and she blushed at the mere memory, but that was all it was: a memory. They'd kissed and touched hands on several occasions when safely out of public view, but that was as far as they'd gone since the night of her going away party.
Everything else felt dull and one-dimensional after the experience of sharing their bodies and minds. She wanted to be with him, to be close to him. She craved him, but was too shy to express it. She didn't want to come across the wrong way, but she wanted more.
She had begun to wonder if his new job as planetary ambassador had made him reassess their relationship, not that they'd ever formally defined what their relationship was. Maybe having a human girlfriend just wasn't "suitable" for someone in his position. She scowled, swiped a glass of champagne from a nearby table, and took a hearty drink.
She'd been down the rabbit hole of self-doubt so many times. Sarek cared about her and she cared about him and that was that. Things were moving much slower than she'd like, but maybe that was the way Vulcans did things.
She polished off the rest of the champagne and set out to find Sarek. The wedding would be ending soon, but the night was still young. She was just about to leave the main dining room when Jenny stopped her. "Where are you going? Millie is about to toss the bouquet."
Amanda groaned. She'd begged Millie to forgo that ridiculous tradition. "You go on. I'd rather not."
"Oh, come on!"
Jenny grabbed her by the wrist and despite Amanda's protests, dragged her to the corner of the dance floor where Millie was already turning around to pitch her bouquet of hydrangeas and roses over her head and into the crowd of women on the dance floor. Amanda and Jenny were at the back, so she decided she was probably safe. She could be a good sport and participate with little risk of being the unlucky woman to actually catch the thing and have to endure teasing about when her wedding date was going to be.
Unfortunately, she hadn't taken into account that Millie had played tennis all through high school and college and had exceptionally toned arms. She hurled the flowers back at a perfect angle and Amanda could tell they were going to land nearby. Women and girls started to scramble to be in a perfect position to catch it, but Amanda did the opposite, stepping back to get out of their way.
She wasn't fast enough. Though Amanda tried batting it away with her right arm, the bouquet hit her in the chest and the pin holding the purple ribbon in place around the stems snagged on the lace in her bodice. The crowd roared with laughter and excitement as Amanda struggled to free herself from the flower arrangement tangled in her dress.
Millie's bouquet toss had ended up being something more like pin the tail on the donkey. It would have been less embarrassing to just catch the damn thing. She finally managed to get the bouquet loose and fought her way through the mob, trying to push through the teasing and jokes.
"Amanda?" Millie called. "You really caught it?"
"No, it caught her!" someone yelled.
Amanda bit her tongue and forced a smile, but Millie's face was aglow. Millie pushed through the crowd, giggling and wringing her hands. "I have such a good feeling about this!"
"It's a ridiculous tradition," Amanda muttered.
"You never know what might happen," Millie said, rolling her eyes playfully.
There was something in her tone that set Amanda on edge. "I should make sure the driver is ready for your departure."
"Oh, don't be sensitive," Millie cooed.
"I'm not, I just- yeah."
The crowd was starting to break up and return to their tables and Amanda set off for the main entry. To her surprise, Sarek was standing in the doorway, watching her. She looked down at the flowers in her hand and immediately wanted to get rid of them. Throw them away, burn them if she had to. She knew Sarek had been studying human weddings in preparations to attend Millie and Pete's, and she wondered if he knew about the tradition of the bouquet toss and the superstition that the woman who caught it would be the next to get married.
"Are you well?" he asked.
"Fine." She could feel the mortification burning her face. "I'm just going to make sure the driver is ready."
"May I join you?"
She took a deep breath. "I'd like that."
They walked through the front room where the wedding had taken place. The event planner had already collected up the chairs and restored the mansion to its original layout.
"The wedding appears to be coming to an end."
"Yeah, Millie and Pete are leaving in a few minutes."
"Do you have plans for the rest of the evening?"
Amanda's heart began to beat faster. "No. Do you? I know you stay very busy and-"
"I would like to engage your company," he interrupted.
"Your tone indicates doubt."
"I would love to. I miss you."
"Amanda, they're getting ready to leave and Pete can't find one of his bags!" Jenny called from behind her.
Amanda uttered an irritated sigh.
"Attend to your duties," Sarek said, lightly touching the back of her hand. "I shall arrange our transportation."
The next half hour was full of frantic scrambling to find Pete's luggage and happy goodbyes as Pete and Millie drove away and the rest of the wedding guests trickled out of the mansion. Amanda was trying to coordinate with the event planner when Jenny interrupted her. "You go. I can take it from here. Oh, and don't forget your flowers!"
Amanda had set the bouquet on one of the tables, hoping it would be forgotten, but when she found Sarek waiting by the entry, hands she was shocked to see he was holding them.
"Where'd you get that?"
"Miss McIntosh believed you would forget them and gave them to me so that you might retain them. Were these not the flowers the bride carried during her wedding ceremony?"
Amanda swallowed and took them gently, not daring to make eye contact. "They are."
She donned her coat from the cloakroom and they left together. Once inside the consular car, she turned and asked, "Where should we go?"
"I had a thought that we might visit the new consulate and assess the progress of its construction."
It wasn't exactly what Amanda had in mind, but she supposed any time with him was better than nothing. Sarek received an urgent message and began dictating something into his PADD about some meeting he was due to have next week. She pulled at the straps on the backs of her shoes with her index finger, gently feeling the blisters on her feet as she watched the traffic through the window.
They arrived at a dark five-story building just north of downtown near the government district. The architecture looked unremarkable, excepting the three high arches over the sidewalk leading up to the main entrance. The construction workers had gone home long ago, but Sarek had an access card.
They entered the building and found a tall, covered atrium overlooked by two balcony floors. On the balconies were intermittent doors, suggestive of private offices. A wide staircase led up to the upper levels and a bank of lifts was off to the right side next to a circular reception desk. It smelled new, like lingering dust and paint and the sweat of workers.
"It's very big." It was such an obvious statement, but it was also the truth. It was much bigger than she'd imagined it would be.
"But it's also empty. When are you officially moving everything over from the compound on Sausalito?"
"Construction is scheduled to be completed in 27 days, and I have planned three days to transfer the equipment and furniture from the current compound."
She eyed the stairs, wondering how there could only be three levels. "It looked so much taller from the outside."
"There are two additional private floors that will house myself, the staff, and any visiting Vulcan dignitaries."
"So, you'll be living here?"
"It's very nice. I'm sure things will be more convenient being located in San Francisco too."
"There was no logic in sequestering ourselves in a compound in Sausalito. At our first meeting, you said, 'I don't know why we distance ourselves from each other.' I agree with that sentiment."
"I said that?"
"It sounds like something I would say. Do you remember everything that comes out of my mouth?"
"Vulcan memory and recall is exceptional; however, it is not perfect. That being said, people often have a tendency to remember things that are important to them."
His confession shocked her, but she tried to hide it behind a sly smile. "Are you saying the things I say are important to you?"
He took several steps forward to stand beside her, folding his hands behind his back and gazing at the staircase. "I do not believe any of this would have been possible were it not for you."
She bit her lip, hating the blush that was streaking across her face. "I didn't do anything."
"You have done more than you realize. I would not be ambassador if I had never met you."
"You're so smart and people respect you. You could have been anything you wanted, with or without me."
She saw his mouth open from the corner of her eye. He gently touched his chest, but his hand fell away with unusual awkwardness. "Perhaps we should go."
"You can take a compliment you know. It's ok. I won't tell."
"I thank you for your confidence." His jaw clenched slightly and she almost got the impression he was agitated or nervous.
"Is everything ok?"
"A very imprecise term," she finished, crossing her arms and wondering what was the matter.
She took a deep breath; she was starting to feel anxious herself. "I'm not ready for the evening to be over. I hardly see you anymore."
"I regret that I have been occupied with adapting to the ambassadorship. But I am free for this evening, and I am content to spend it in your company."
She glanced around the empty room and took his hand. A familiar, warm sensation spread through her fingertips, but it was different somehow. The energy between them seemed more vibrant and active. Their faces slowly drew together into a light kiss, but Sarek quickly pulled away and smoothed his cloak.
He seemed reluctant and preoccupied, and it bothered her. All she wanted was a little intimacy, but he was acting like a shy schoolboy.
"Would you like to come back to my house?"
He seemed to think to himself for a moment. "That would be acceptable."
"Acceptable isn't the same thing as wanting."
"No, it isn't."
"So do you want to come?"
Sarek, you seem… off."
She sighed. "Tell me what's wrong?"
He cocked his head but did not look at her. "Nothing is the matter."
She didn't believe him. They rode back to her home in Oakland, discussing the things they'd done in the three weeks since they'd last seen each other. It was nice to talk, but it still felt stilted in a way. When they reached her house, she let herself out of the car and started up the sidewalk, but Sarek said, "You have neglected to take your flowers."
He came up behind her and presented her with Millie's bouquet. She mumbled a word of thanks. Once inside the house, Amanda pulled off her coat and kicked off her shoes with an almost perverse amount of pleasure. She stretched her calf muscles and wriggled her toes, noting the angry red blisters on her little toes and heels.
"Are you hungry? Thirsty? Can I get you anything?" she asked, looking over her shoulder to Sarek.
"I am quite satisfied." He glanced at the bouquet on the entry table and added, "I believe those would last longer were you to place the stems in a light solution of nutrients and water."
"You're probably right."
Amanda grabbed the flowers, made her way to the kitchen, and cut open the silk wrapping on the stems that had served as a soft handle. She dug through her bottom cabinets for a vase and upon finding one, turned to fill it with water from the sink only to notice Sarek was watching her.
"It is an odd custom to cut away the reproductive organs of plants for decorative purposes."
Amanda paused for a moment before bursting into laughter. "I've never thought about it like that, but when you put it that way, I agree."
"Would it not be more economical to retain the entire plant?"
"It would, if I knew anything about cultivating temperamental rosebushes."
She added two spoonfuls of sugar and white wine vinegar to the vase and began trimming the stems.
"It smells of an organic acid," Sarek said, taking several steps in Amanda's direction.
"That would be the vinegar."
"What is the function of the vinegar in the solution?"
Amanda's jaw dropped. "You mean you don't know?"
"If I knew I would not ask."
"Am I really about to have the chance to explain something science related to you?"
"I know little of Terran plant biology. Most Vulcan plants would optimally survive for a period of four to six days in a solution of salt when removed from their root system."
"There might be some Earth plants that would, but most do well with sugar. The problem is, bacteria also grow well in a sugar solution, so that's the point of the vinegar, to keep it acidic so that bacterial growth is inhibited."
She chuckled to herself, feeling a bit proud as she arranged the last of the flowers into the vase. They really did look quite nice. She set them on the table and collected up the silk and ribbon to toss into the reclaimator when Sarek said, "Miss McIntosh informed me that coming into possession the bride's floral arrangement was associated with a superstition that that individual would be the next to take matrimonial vows."
Amanda almost choked, but managed to collect herself enough to say, "You once told me in no uncertain terms that superstitions are illogical."
"Well, ok then." She scooped the silk and ribbon she'd cut from the bouquet and tossed them into the reclaimator. She placed her palms on the counter, leaning forward slightly to stretch her calves.
"It would be illogical to believe that the act of catching a bouquet would be the cause of a marriage proposal, but the two events could happen independently by chance."
"What are you talking about?" Amanda asked, turning around to face him.
What she found gave her the shock of her life. Sarek was standing in the middle of her kitchen fumbling in his breast pocket before pulling out a small circular object to examine it. A ring.
"I have done extensive independent research, but concluded that modern human betrothal practices are extremely variable. A month ago, I enlisted Miss Rogers, or Mrs. Adams, as she is now known, to assist me in understanding how I should proceed. She explained that I should purchase a ring, and knowing that you had no fondness for diamonds or bulky jewelry, she recommended I should choose something with a simple gold band and a small, unique stone."
Amanda didn't dare to breathe. She gripped the counter behind her to steady her balance. "Are you proposing to me? In my kitchen?"
A tiny expression flashed across his face before disappearing behind the calm mask he typically wore. "She also recommended that I should select a private setting that held some significant personal meaning for the both of us. It is illogical to attach sentiment to a particular location, so perhaps I am a poor judge of what place would hold significant personal meaning. I selected your kitchen because it is private, insulated from the winter weather, and the site where you first openly expressed your regard for me."
He looked from the ring to Amanda. She felt too shocked to move, but somehow, she found herself drifting in his direction, throwing her arms around his neck, and pulling him into a deep kiss. Unlike at the consulate an hour before, he didn't pull away. When they finally broke apart he said, "It would be illogical to assume your display of affection was indicative of affirmation."
She stared at his face, recalling a flood of memories. She remembered how stiff and formal he'd seemed the first time they'd met in the hallway of Piedmont Academy. How awkward and standoffish he'd been at social gatherings. She hadn't even known him a year, but it was amazing how much her impression of him had changed. She loved him, and now he wanted to marry her.
That was an overwhelming thought. In many respects they were still strangers, but they seemed to have a profoundly deep connection.
"If you wish to take time to consider my offer…" He looked down at the ring again.
"I don't know how to be an ambassador's wife," she blurted.
"I did not know how to be an ambassador. Then I met you."
She started shaking and tears blurred her vision.
"It was not my intention to cause you distress. Perhaps I should go."
"No!" she snapped. "You're not walking out of my kitchen that way a second time. I'm not upset, I'm just… surprised. It seems like we started growing apart and now- now you're asking me to marry you."
"Miss Rogers had indicated the element of surprise would be well received. I am beginning to believe she was mistaken."
Amanda barked an involuntary laugh. "No, this was really nice. I just wonder- are you sure?"
"I decided you were the only woman I wanted to have for a mate the night you allowed me to meld with you."
Streams of salty tears finally trickled down her cheeks as she kissed him again, quickly and firmly.
"Why do you cry?"
"Because I'm happy."
Sarek's eyes narrowed. "You may take as much time as you wish to consider my proposal."
"I want to say yes, but I haven't even met your family. You haven't met mine either, besides Clarissa I guess. And we've never lived together. What if the fact that I sing in the shower gets on your nerves?"
"Why would one sing in the shower?"
Amanda closed her eyes and smiled. "What I'm saying is, we don't know each other very well. We don't know how we'd be together."
"There are many aspects of our lives and respective physiologies that make us poorly suited to one another, and yet, I have touched your mind. It stands in stark contrast with my own, but I believe such contrast makes us uniquely compatible. I do not need to know everything about you; I know enough to be certain of my decision. I should consider myself fortunate if you were to agree to become my mate."
"Then yes," she whispered.
"You are consenting to be my bondmate?"
"Yes," she replied more firmly, wiping away her tears. "This is crazy, but yes."
He held out his right palm, showing her the ring. A dazzling opal of reds, greens, and blues was mounted on a simple gold band. It was a very unconventional engagement ring; he had no idea how perfect it was. "I believe you are entitled to this."
"It's customary for the person asking to put it on the other person's finger," she teased, tracing her fingers over the backs of his hands.
"The third finger of the left hand. Yes." He pinched the ring between his thumb and forefinger and Amanda lifted her hand, allowing it to slide into place.
Their fingers inevitably brushed from the action, sending a euphoric sensation running from Amanda's hands all the way to her spine. Whatever uncertainty she had evaporated as he drew her into a kiss.
He had said he would think himself fortunate if she would agree to marry him, but as his hands slid over her cheeks to meet their minds together, all she could think was that she was the lucky one. She was a very fortunate Earth woman indeed.
At long last, it's over. Like most stories I've written, I'm sorry to see it end. That being said, I had made a promise to myself and a few of my readers that I would get it finished before Star Trek: Discovery debuted, so here it is, delivered under the wire with about 28 hours to spare. It may be that canon will come along and shred this story into nonsense, but I'm ok with that if it means new Star Trek adventures and glimpses into Sarek's life and Vulcan society. Thank you so much to everyone who has stuck with me over the last nine months while I juggled writing fanfic and school. On to the next thing. :)