Tagan sector, VDS T'Lira
"Do you require anything else from me this evening, ambassador?"
Sarek didn't immediately respond. His present focus was consumed by the woman staring out of the portal into the black void of space. When he felt Sevek's eyes on him, he turned to his aide and replied, "No."
The aid offered a deferential nod. "Very well. I will have the drafts of the statements you requested tomorrow morning."
"There is no need for such expediency," he insisted. He lowered his voice to add, "Beginning tomorrow, I will be unavailable for the next three days, as you know."
"I had thought you would like to review them in the morning," Sevek explained.
"There will be time to revise them prior to returning to Vulcan."
He bowed his head and departed the family quarters without another word, leaving Sarek to return to admiring the sight of his wife curled up in the nook in the corner, her feet tucked underneath her and a book sprawled open on her lap. He often wondered what she found so appealing about fiction. She'd made numerous attempts over the past seven years to explain that made-up stories allowed her to escape reality for a short time or ponder deeper truths, but in the end they had both given up trying to understand their differences of opinion on literature.
"Checkmate," Michael announced. A chess piece struck the board of the three-dimensional chess set with a decisive clink.
"Again," Spock replied.
"I'm tired of playing," Michael sighed.
"I want to play again," Spock insisted, his tone noticeably flat.
Michael rolled her eyes. "Why? So you can lose again?"
Anger flickered in his son's eyes and quickly disappeared. "Because I want to try another strategy."
Sarek knew his son well enough to know the neutral tenor of his voice indicated he was irritated, but he was maintaining his composure. Spock was progressing, and it pleased him.
He was also proud of his ward. Michael had bested Spock at three-dimensional chess five times already that evening. To be fair, he was four years her junior and not yet seven years old but even despite her advantage, Michael excelled at games of strategy. She was extremely intelligent, even if she did struggle to rein in her emotions, and it was his hope that under his tutelage she would become the first human admitted to the Vulcan Science Academy.
Michael sighed and began rearranging the pieces on the board to begin a new game, telling Spock, "One more. Then I'm done."
It occurred to Sarek that he'd become distracted and was annoyed when it took him several moments to recall what he'd been thinking prior to the three-dimensional chess interruption. Amanda. Naturally. His eyes wandered back to the woman in the corner and he found himself struck by a sudden burst of overwhelming affection. He loved her so dearly and yet he had never explicitly told her so. Why?
Sarek loved his wife. It was hardly illogical to love one's mate. She had given him a son. She had readily accepted Michael. Above all, she had agreed to share her life with him, even though it had come at great cost to her.
She slowly turned toward him, closed the book in her lap, and cocked her head in a way that suggested he was welcome to approach her. A soft smile grew on her lips as he drew near and when he was half a step away, she raised her hand, inviting him to stroke her forefingers. He accepted her gesture with a shaking hand, but if she noticed, she said nothing.
"Are you all finished with work for the evening?"
Her gaze shifted to the children. "We should spend more time together. As a family."
Sarek turned to look at Spock and Michael a second time. Michael moved her bishop to the second level, which was quickly captured by Spock's knight from above. He studied the board for nearly a minute, unable to discern his ward's strategy.
In a low voice, Sarek said, "I believe she is allowing him to win."
"If so, it's very sweet of her."
"It is illogical to play without intending to win."
"So it's logical for her to be ruthless and dominate Spock in every single game they play?"
"It helps him improve."
"Only to a point. To constantly lose will only kill his confidence and then he'll never want to play again. By throwing him a bone every once in a while, Michael is making sure her brother will still want to play tomorrow. And that is how Spock will get better."
He wasn't precisely sure what Amanda meant by "throwing him a bone," but it had been years since he'd questioned any of his wife's endless euphemisms. He also ignored her mention of Spock being Michael's brother. Sarek had always found it odd that Amanda insisted on referring to their ward as their "daughter" or as Spock's "sister" when she was neither of those things.
They all cared for Michael and made a sincere effort to incorporate her into the home and treat her as a member of the household, but she was not a blood relation. Precision in his choice of words was never intended to be unkind: it was simply the truth. Yet the one time he had mentioned this distinction to Amanda, her voice had gone soft and steely and she informed him in no uncertain terms that Michael was their daughter and that was that. Humans were so peculiar.
Rather than enter into a debate about the optimal way to improve a child's strategic abilities, Sarek decided to change the topic of conversation. "Did you enjoy our visit to Tagus III?"
Her lips curved into a smile but her eyes remained neutral, indicating her response would lack a degree of sincerity. "It was fine."
Being fluent in Standard, he knew that fine had many variable definitions and uses. It could be a noun when referring to a monetary sum paid in response to an offense, a verb, which was the act of imposing the aforementioned noun, or an adjective, suggesting a thing was free from impurities, very fine in texture, precise, lovely, or adequate.
Seven years of marriage to a human female had taught him that "fine" also had a non-standard definition which meant, "a thing which was hated but endured on behalf of another."
"Did you not find any of the events on the itinerary stimulating?"
"I don't know that stimulating is the word I would use. It was certainly very educational. The children were happy enough to tour the archeological dig sites and the museums. I wish we could have spent more time with you."
"The purpose of our visit to the Tagan system was not for recreation," he reminded her.
"Yes, I know. It was about-" she paused and murmured a little laugh. "Actually, I can hardly remember."
Sarek returned to stroking his wife's fingers. "I was the keynote speaker at the seventy-eighth annual conference of the Federation Scientific Consortium."
She shot him a wan smile. "Oh, that's right."
Silence fell between them. He had so much to discuss with her, but he was unsure how to broach the subject. The tremors in his hands returned and he dropped them to his sides in an effort to evade her noticing.
"Michael's birthday is next month."
Sarek gave a small nod. Most humans celebrated the anniversaries of their birth with gifts, parties, and cakes whereas Vulcans merely marked the day in an administrative capacity. What logic was there in congratulating a person for surviving another full orbit around the local star?
"Anyway, you know how she loves to read and there's going to be a book exchange on Eridani D."
"And you wish to take her?"
"I get that birthdays are a very human thing to celebrate," she added, her voice growing stiff and defensive. "I suppose celebrating in general is a very human thing, but Michael is human."
"I have never claimed she wasn't."
Sarek stole a glance at his wife, noting she was staring intently at the children. He recalled how last year Spock had come home from school the day after his birthday and announced angrily that he didn't want to celebrate the "childish Earth tradition" anymore. It was easy enough to deduce the other children had mocked him for observing such a human holiday.
"Perhaps we could all take a day trip to Eridani D next month," Sarek continued. "In honor of Michael's birthday."
"Really?" she whispered, craning her neck up to look at him.
Her face softened. "I love you, Sarek."
He faltered. He should tell her he loved her also. It was the truth. And yet, the words that finally rolled from his tongue were, "I will make the arrangements when we return to Vulcan."
Amanda hesitated, opening and closing her mouth several times. She finally issued a little sigh and added, "It will be nice to get back to Vulcan. It seems like we've been gone for much more than six days. Do you know how long until we enter orbit?"
"Were we on a direct course for Vulcan, we would arrive in thirty-eight hours, however, there will be a small diversion."
Her jaw tightened and though she tried to conceal it with a smile, his soul was intertwined tightly enough with hers to know she was frustrated.
"The children were only given permission to miss twelve days of school-"
"I am aware," he interrupted, keen to assuage her annoyance.
"I know these diplomatic missions can come up last minute, but this was supposed to be a quick trip to Tagus III," she countered. "I don't want Spock and Michael falling behind-"
"They have already completed the tasks assigned to them by their instructors and T'Sena is prepared to tutor them for an additional four days."
A minor crack formed in her irritation. Amanda folded her hands over the book in her lap and asked, "Only four days?"
"And then we go home?"
She exhaled slowly and asked, "So where are we going?"
A blank expression fell over her face. "Where is that?"
"The Argelian sector."
Her white teeth peeked through the part in her lips as a genuine smile began to take shape on her face. "I first met you in the Argelian sector."
"I know it's illogical to be sentimental, but if we're already adding four days to our trip to visit this Aegena place, would it be possible to stop by Arg-117P? Just for an hour? See the sights? Pet some rikki tikkis?"
Sarek hesitated before answering. "I do not think that will be possible."
"Why not?" Her face began to fall again, heralding the return of her frustration, as well as enormous disappointment. "Is it not on the way?"
"It is not that it is impractical to visit Arg-117P," he replied slowly. "It is merely that it is not on the schedule."
"I follow you wherever you ask me to go," she replied, brandishing a sad frown. "Why won't you just humor me this one time?"
He could not contrive a valid answer to her question other than the truth, which he did not intend to reveal at this time, so instead he raised his hand to resume their finger embrace. She left her hands propped defiantly on her book. Amanda must surely have noticed the visible shaking in his hands.
"What are we doing on Aegena that's so important?" she sighed, finally reaching up to clasp his hands between her palms.
"I cannot tell you at this time." Amanda's face contorted into a bright display of surprise and a tiny amount of anger. He hadn't seen such an expression fly across her features in a number of years. Rather than allow her illogical temper to get the better of her and permit her to say something she would regret, he added, "It is intended to be a surprise."
Her mood shifted and she laughed, boldly and brightly. "Aren't surprises the very definition of illogical?"
"At least just tell me whether we're not going to spend the next four days taking guided tours through local ruins or sitting in the back row at stuffy scientific conferences."
"It is a surprise."
"You're going to have to explain better than that."
"And you must be patient."
"You make it hard sometimes."
She burst into another fit of giggles, which prompted Spock to call from the other end of the room, "Mother?"
Amanda struggled to catch her breath and compose herself. With a hand clutched to her chest she turned to their son and said, "Yes, Spock?"
"It is illogical to laugh."
Something in his comment had the effect of making her sad. Her laughter waned and a tight-lipped smile took its place. "You know what else is illogical?"
"Many things," Spock replied in earnest.
Amanda's smile broadened. "It's illogical not to clean your teeth and get ready for bed when it's this late."
"We were done anyway," Michael replied, moving Spock's knight to the top level to pin her own queen into the corner. "Check mate. You win."
"That settles it then," Amanda grinned, rising to her feet. "Pajamas, teeth, and bed. Now."
Spock and Michael vacated the main room without complaint and Amanda wandered into the rear bedroom. Sarek followed at a cautious distance and stopped in the doorway, pausing to observe Amanda as she began the nightly ritual of removing her jewelry and makeup. She made eye contact with him through the reflection in mirror.
"Are you coming to bed?"
"I thought I might remain awake and meditate for a while."
"You don't seem to be sleeping much these days."
"I have been quite occupied with my diplomatic duties."
"And I noticed your hands have been a bit unsteady."
Sarek bowed his head and entered the room. "It is likely an effect of sleep deprivation."
Amanda's eyes darted back in his direction, then narrowed. Eventually she murmured, "Don't stay up too late."
She retired to bed and Sarek made his way to the side room to begin a prolonged period of intensive meditation. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw her. His mind writhed, desperate to reclaim any sense of order and discipline, but as the hours dragged on it proved to be entirely fruitless. His hands shook and his thoughts burned. It wouldn't be long now.
Amanda tossed back the covers and yawned loudly, stretching her arms toward the ceiling. She didn't need to turn her head on the pillow to know her husband hadn't come to bed the night before. He'd been avoiding sleep for the better part of a week now.
She threw her legs over the side of the bed, donned a light robe, and strolled into the main room of their family quarters aboard the diplomatic vessel. Spock and Michael sat across from each other at the round table, spoons in hand and bowls of plomeek soup resting on the table before them. Sarek sat between the children reading from a PADD.
"Good morning, mother," Spock said, carefully enunciating the words.
"Good morning to you, my sweet boy," Amanda replied, petting his straight, shiny hair as she took a seat next to him. He frowned, set his spoon down, and began the arduous process of smoothing out his barely ruffled coif.
Before he could complain about her constantly mussing his hair, she turned to look at her daughter and asked, "How did you sleep, Michael?"
"Quite well," Michael replied, dipping her spoon into her soup.
"And what about you, dear husband?" Amanda asked, doing her best to keep her tone mild and as unaccusatory as possible.
She already knew the answer, of course. He hadn't slept at all. The full bowl of soup in front of him suggested he wasn't eating either. His hands had begun visibly shaking several days ago and he'd been uncharacteristically irritable and absent-minded. Then there was the son sitting to his right who was exactly six years and two months old as of four days ago. All signs pointed to one obvious conclusion.
She could still remember their awkward conversation in the escape pod all those years ago with stunning accuracy. "For Vulcan males who follow logic, they are afflicted once approximately every seven years with pon farr."
She knew it wasn't a topic her husband liked to discuss. He had literally never uttered the words pon farr since their stay on Arg-117P. They were married now and had shared so much together so the secrecy and shame surrounding this very Vulcan condition seemed ridiculous now. Pon farr had given Amanda everything she currently had, the husband sitting across from her, the precious boy sitting to her left, and in a roundabout way, the delightful daughter to her right. How could pon farr be anything to be ashamed of?
"You should eat quickly, mother," Spock announced, lifting his spoon to his mouth.
"Why is that?"
"Father says we will arrive at Aegena in forty-three minutes."
"Is that so?" Amanda smiled, thinking of the surprise Sarek had mentioned the night before.
"Yes, and father says we're to go directly from the shuttle to our accommodations, otherwise we'll be late for the tour."
"Tour?" Amanda repeated, her heart sinking as she stole a glance at her husband.
"Yes, Sarek has arranged for us to tour a marine conservation project," Michael explained, excitement brimming in her voice.
Amanda couldn't have been more disappointed if she'd tried. She should have known better than to get excited over Sarek's promise of a surprise. Sometimes it was hard being the only one in the family with such a drastically different idea of what it meant to have a good time. It wasn't that she had a narrow range of interests or lacked an open mind, but after the past few days, she would rather do anything than be shepherded around by tour guides educating her on everything from rock formations to warp engines or in today's case, ocean critters on some random planet.
It was part of Sarek's job, to play the appreciative diplomatic guest while planetary leaders and starship captains proudly showed off their domains. As his wife, it was Amanda's job to go along, but as far as she could tell, one starship was just like any other. These sorts of tours weren't allbad of course and Amanda had to admit she had experienced some amazing things over the past few years that few would ever be so privileged to see, but so often she wished she could just take her family to the beach or visit an amusement park without all of them insisting that exposing their skin to a source of ultraviolet radiation was more illogical than recreational.
Still, she did what she always did and tucked away her disappointed face in favor of a smile and told her family she couldn't wait to see the conservancy. And in some ways, it was true. Today she would get to spend time with her family, her entire family, and that was a blessing of its own since it was often just her and the children while Sarek was off doing diplomatic work. Also, a marine conservation project sounded like it would be outdoors, and Amanda loved the ocean and the feel of a sun on her face and wind in her hair.
"Are you going to eat first meal, mother?" Spock asked.
"I guess I should go get dressed first if we'll be at Aegena so soon," Amanda replied. "I can grab a quick snack before we disembark."
"It would be wise to eat a hearty meal," Sarek insisted.
"I should be fine with a granola bar or a banana," Amanda shrugged, rising from the table and casting a downward glance at the untouched breakfast sitting in front of her husband. "But that plomeek soup isn't going to eat itself, you know."
That seemed to silence him. She wandered back into the bedroom and once the door was safely shut behind her, she uttered an exasperated sigh that came out more violently than she'd anticipated. They were taking a four-day detour on their way home to tour a marine conservancy? On a planet she'd never heard of? While her husband was on the verge of a pon farr-induced mental breakdown?
She took her time in the sonic shower, slowly massaging the tension out of her neck as she tried mightily to conjure up some enthusiasm about the upcoming tour. She would need a lot more than she currently had to get through the day.
Wardrobe deliberations took nearly twenty minutes. The days of jeans and t-shirts were a distant memory, having been replaced with more traditional Vulcan dresses and robes for most public appearances. In the beginning she had felt like a little girl playing princess dress up under all those layers of luxurious fabric, like she was portraying a character in a Brontënovel.
She stepped into a flowing, light blue dress and grinned, recalling a conversation from a long time ago about the "objectively ordinary" Jane Eyre and how she wasn't a real person. She'd spent her entire marriage trying to convince her husband that fiction wasn't a complete waste of time. Though he refused to be converted, he was sweet enough to humor her by sitting with her about once a week while she watched a holomovie. Upon further reflection, she realized they were overdue for their regular dose of pretend and decided she would insist on watching a holomovie with him that evening once the children went to bed, if their lodgings on Aegena had such amenities.
She was shoving pins into the elegant bun at the nape of her neck when she felt a shift in the ship, suggesting they had dropped out of warp. It would take the captain no more than five minutes to get the ship situated properly in orbit, so she rushed to finish her hair and get a nice pair of earrings in.
She studied the shape of herself in the mirror on the back of the door, wondering if it would have been wiser to opt for something with longer sleeves. What was the weather on Aegena like? She deliberated adding a set of gold bangles to her bare wrists but decided they would detract from the sky-colored gown with the opulent purple trim and besides, her vokaya necklace and elaborate earrings were making enough of a statement.
"We are ready to disembark." Sarek's voice was flat.
Amanda whipped around and asked, "Is this appropriate attire for where we're going?"
A muscle in his cheek twitched and it took him longer than it ought to have to reply, "It is exactly correct for touring a marine conservancy."
"I should have asked about the weather," she sighed, grabbing a light shawl as she followed him out of the room.
"The forecast indicates the weather will be fair."
"Sarek," she said, reaching for his arm.
He slowed his pace and turned to look her in the eye. "Yes?"
"I was just thinking it had been a couple of weeks since we'd last watched a holomovie together. I know your schedule has been very busy but I was thinking that tonight-"
He resumed his journey toward the shuttle. "I do not believe it will be possible to watch one of your fictional holographic programs this evening."
"Why?" she called after him, lengthening her stride to catch up.
"I anticipate we will be quite occupied," he explained as he stepped into the shuttle.
She was about to bark, "With what?" but caught herself when she realized Spock and Michael were already seated and watching them.
Thirty minutes later the family of four was strolling along an open boulevard with tall resorts on both sides and people of all races moving in an excited yet lethargic manner, like they had everywhere to be and nowhere to be at the same time. These people were on vacation, no doubt about it. Many of them carried drinks and souvenirs and as they walked on a little further, she noticed a few passersby clutched flotation rafts and oversized bags stuffed with towels. They wore sandals and brightly colored garb, making her feel ridiculously overdressed. Amanda sniffed the air and upon detecting a salty tinge, her heart soared. There was a beach.
She should have guessed it from the fact that they were scheduled to visit a marine conservancy, but the idea that they were going to take a detour to a vacation planet with a proper beach resort and not go swimming or sunbathing was too much to bear.
"Amanda?" Sarek called behind her.
She twisted around and realized Sarek and the children had stopped in front of a grand hotel. She had been following the crowd in a dreamy daze, desperate to join them in their day of fun in the sun. Instead she turned and joined her family by the entrance of a towering building with commanding, dark gray pillars and flowers of a thousand different colors growing from vines growing up the walls. It reminded her a lot of the resort she'd stayed at on Argelius II several years ago, only much more upscale.
Sevek appeared from behind Sarek and announced, "I have secured your lodgings, ambassador. If you will follow me."
Sevek directed them to a luxury suite at the end of the hall on the top floor with a glass wall and a view of an azure ocean tucked behind several smaller buildings. He and Sarek remained in the hallway for a private conversation but Amanda barely noticed their absence. After years of living on a desert world, she was entranced by the sight of so much blue streaming in from the windows. She would be content to spend the rest of the morning taking in the scene from the glass wall in the main room. The door buzzed and Michael answered it.
"I have come to collect you," a woman's voice announced.
T'Sena, the children's tutor, stood in the doorway. Amanda choked down passionate annoyance at being permitted to soak in this beautiful view, only to be ripped away from it less than a minute later. It wasn't like she wasn't used to it though. Sarek kept a demandingly tight schedule, even for a Vulcan. There were no idle moments in his daily working routine, so why had she allowed herself to be hopeful to catch her breath and relax for five minutes?
She took a slow breath, determined not to be irritated with T'Sena, who was only doing her job. "I'll get my bag."
T'Sena cocked her head. "Perhaps I am mistaken, but you and the ambassador are not scheduled to attend today's visit to the marine conservancy."
"What do you mean?" Amanda asked. "You just said you were here to collect us."
"I was referring to the children," T'Sena clarified. "The ambassador has given me an itinerary for occupying Michael and Spock for the duration of our visit here on Aegena."
"What am I supposed to do?" Amanda asked, finding it very strange that Sarek would put someone else in charge of watching her children when she was perfectly capable.
"I believe the ambassador has devised an alternate schedule of events for you."
Sarek entered the room before Amanda could think of an appropriate response to this shocking revelation. He glanced from Amanda to T'Sena and the children and said, "You have the updated itinerary from Sevek?"
"I do. I will ensure they tend to their education this evening."
"Thank you," Sarek replied. "I believe you should depart now, if you are to arrive at the dock at the appointed time."
"We're not going with them?" Amanda interrupted.
"No, T'Sena and Sevek will supervise the children for the next three days," Sarek said.
"Three days?" cried Amanda. It wasn't as though she'd never spent time away from them: last year they had spent two full weeks on Earth apart from Spock and Michael, but she'd had considerable notice and time to mentally prepare for that kind of separation.
"It is not so very long and they are in the care of two capable individuals who I trust very much," Sarek explained.
Amanda's mouth fell open. "It's not that I don't trust T'Sena, I just- three days is such a long time."
"You have spent longer periods away from them," he reminded her.
"Yes, I know, but usually I have a few weeks to get used to the idea."
"They are certainly old enough to cope without you for three days," Sarek said, a tone of finality in his voice. "And if we do not permit them to leave now, they will miss the barge that will carry them to the marine conservancy."
Amanda scowled at her husband and knelt in front of the children, kissing each on the cheek and wrapping them into a suffocating three-way hug. Michael was probably too old for this routine, but Amanda didn't care. The girl was starving for human contact and Amanda was starving to give it to her.
"You will be good and listen to T'Sena?" Amanda asked. Why did she bother? What else was she supposed to expect from Spock and Michael? They would listen to their tutor because they liked and respected her.
"Yes, mother," Spock replied.
"Yes, Amanda," Michael added.
Their indifference to this unexpected separation was beginning to upset her—perhaps she'd been more emotional than usual lately—but rather than let her eyes start watering, she forced a smile and stood up.
"I hope you both have a good time," she sighed. "And no staying up late playing chess."
Both of the children mumbled promises to go to bed at the appointed time. "And Spock, no sweets until you've had your dinner!"
"I know, mother," he called, casting a glance over his shoulder.
"Amanda," Sarek interjected, a distinct and uncharacteristically weary tone in his voice. "Let them go. They know what is expected of them."
When the door shut behind them, she crossed her arms and asked, "Now what?"
Then she felt very silly. The surprise. They were in a gorgeous room on a resort planet and he was on the verge of pon farr. Sarek often did all kinds of romantic little things—most of them not on purpose—but this was truly the sweetest and most dreamy thing he'd ever accomplished. Her skin began to flush hot and an involuntary smile broke onto her face.
"There is a shuttle waiting to collect us," he declared, slaughtering the romantic moment with an entreaty to hurry up and move along to the next regularly scheduled event.
"It's been seven years and you still so often respond to my statements with incredulity."
"It's been seven years and you still remind me," Amanda responded, her mind still reeling from the sudden shift in her expectations.
They boarded a shuttle twenty minutes later after walking back through the alluring promenade of vacation goers. The gentle thrum of island music and the smell of the beach and food stands would have driven her mad if she weren't in such a hurry. He walked at such a brisk pace that she nearly had to jog to keep up and by the time they reached the shuttle, she was breathing hard from the exertion.
Her stomach growled as she took her usual seat behind the pilot, a young Vulcan man named Tavek. Sarek stopped in front of her, produced a banana and a granola bar from one of the deep pockets of his robes, and handed them to her. "I believe this was what you requested for first meal."
It was amazing how one little act of kindness and consideration could melt a disconsolate mood. "You remembered," she smiled. "Thank you."
She expected him to take the seat next to her, but he continued past her to the private cabin in the back. "Where are you going?"
"To the aft of the shuttle for a moment of privacy."
"Because I require it."
The irritation threatened to return, despite the goodwill fruit in her hands. "Where are we going?"
He turned in the doorway and replied, "It is a surprise."
Sarek's hands shook violently as he fastened the buttons of his shirt. He was not certain he had the mental faculties to keep the charade going much longer. It was all very illogical, but pon farr was an illogical circumstance.
He could sense Amanda's growing annoyance and frustration and hoped it would be resolved soon. He often wondered if his growing inability to keep his emotions in check was affecting her as well or if he was just noticing her moodiness more because of his current state. For Vulcan mates, it was common for the partner to become agitated alongside the pon farr-afflicted mate as a result of the telepathic bond between them. This was their first pon farr together as bonded mates. Amanda was obviously not Vulcan, but their relationship was so unorthodox that there was very little scientific literature on how Vulcan pon farr cycles would affect a human spouse.
He bent down, laced up his boots, and took a series of slow, careful breaths. Would she be pleased by the surprise he had in store for her or would she only grow more frustrated? Not for the first time, Sarek began to wonder if he had made a wise decision. He glanced out the portal. They were flying at low altitude and low speed over dense woodlands and based on his estimates, would arrive at their destination in approximately ten minutes.
He grabbed the other set of clothes and returned to the main cabin to find Amanda spinning the banana peel between her thumb and forefinger, the flaps twirling outward like a dancer's skirt. She shot him a lazy glance but paused, her eyes growing wide.
"Going somewhere?" she asked.
"Yes," he replied, offering the other set of clothes out to her.
"Clothing for you to change into," he explained. "You will require it for where we are going."
She stood and after sneaking a sidelong glance at Tavek, followed him into the aft cabin. She accepted the offering with confused trepidation. "I don't understand. If I needed more durable clothes, why not just tell me this morning rather than let me put on this dress?"
"It would have violated the surprise."
She snorted and clasped a hand over her mouth, nearly dropping the hiking boots. "So if we're not going to a marine conservancy, where are we really going?"
"It will remain a surprise for a while longer," he explained. "Though we will arrive at our destination soon so you may wish to hurry."
She shook her head in disbelief at the clothes. "It'll take me a minute just to get out of this dress. Will you help me?"
Sarek felt his skin flush at the thought of Amanda removing her clothes. She either didn't notice or didn't care about his excitement and turned her back to him and stretched her neck to reveal the buttons at the top of her dress. She began fumbling with an earring as Sarek approached. When his hands brushed against the tiny hairs trailing from the bun at the nape of her neck down her spine, she shivered, which only made him long for her more. His hands trembled as he pulled each light purple button from the eyelet, revealing more and more of her pink-toned flesh.
She shimmied and fidgeted and soon the dress began to slide down her body, exposing the top half of her form. The hunger burned more intensely and soon he realized Amanda had stopped moving. His quaking hands were just inches away from her hips, like a sorcerer trying to conjure a spell.
Amanda took a full step back and leaned into his body and the urge to caress her intensified. She twisted at the waist and turned her chin upward, clearly expecting to be kissed. If he kissed her now, he feared he would not be able to stop. Her mouth found his without warning, wet and warm and delightful. His hands found the sides of her neck and began to move upward, preparing to meld their minds together. It had been so long. Too long.
Just before his fingertips could make contact with the correct points, the intercom dinged and Tavek's voice drifted through the speaker. "We have arrived at the coordinates you provided me with, ambassador."
He broke apart from her, suddenly aware that she was not yet dressed for their excursion. She quickly peeled the dress off and flung it over the top sleeping compartment and hurriedly shoved her legs into trousers and socks and boots. The end result was nearly identical to the woman he had first met seven years ago, rugged and confident, even if she was a little cleaner and her hair was more elegantly styled.
Amanda was about to return to the main cabin but he stopped her and gestured to the two rucksacks in the corner. "I believe you will require one of these."
She was supremely confused now but accepted one of the bags with obvious excitement. He helped her get it onto her shoulders and after ensuring she was not carrying too much weight, he donned his own rucksack and escorted her into the main cabin.
The port hatch was open, revealing tall grass and a thickly-wooded hillside in the distance. The look of utter shock on Amanda's face as she stumbled down the ramp reminded him of one of her holomovies, the one with the girl from the place called Kansas who had a dream about a fantastical land of talking lions and flying primates.
"As per your instructions, I will be at the specified location sixty-four kilometers away from here in 80.7 hours to collect you," Tavek said.
Sarek nodded, raised his hand in the ta'al, and followed his wife down the ramp. Amanda was already wandering toward the tree line as the shuttle began its ascent. The late morning sun peeked over the trees but spots of dew remained in the grass, which clung to the bottoms of his trousers as he walked.
"Aegena reminds me so much of Arg-117P!" Amanda exclaimed, stretching out her arms and turning a full circle.
"That's because it is," Sarek explained, mildly pleased that she seemed excited. "Five years ago, the Argelians re-designated Arg-117P as Aegena, likely because it has more promotional potential for attracting visitors."
Surprise. Joy. Affection. Sarek relished in experiencing these feelings within her through their bond.
"Last night you said it wouldn't be possible to visit Arg-117P."
"That was technically correct—Arg-117P no longer exists. It is now called Aegena."
"You're splitting hairs."
"You're deploying an illogical euphemism to make your point."
"I wish I felt clever enough right now to reply with some kind of witty retort but I'm too excited," she exclaimed, gripping the straps of the rucksack and bouncing on her toes. "How long do we get to stay for?"
"Three Arg-117P days or three standard days?"
"Three local days, which is the equivalent of 80.73 standard hours."
"We're going camping, just you and me, for three whole days?"
Doubt crept into the back of his mind. He sensed profound disbelief coming from Amanda and wondered if his surprise had failed. He wasn't skilled at such illogical forms of intrigue.
"You have often expressed a fondness for the outdoors," he explained. "I know you have a desire to visit the beach and I am told Aegena has many lovely beaches on the southern part of this continent-"
"No," she said, raising a finger. "I do want to take you to the beach one day and if you had asked me this morning, I would have told you there was nothing else I'd rather spend vacation doing. Then you presented me with this. This, Sarek, is perfect."
He gave a small nod and ducked his shoulder out from one of the bag's straps to procure a tricorder. She joined him and looked down at the screen.
"Where should we set up camp?" she asked, looking around. "Here seems like a pretty good spot and looks a lot like where our pod was situated."
"Not here," he replied as he adjusted the settings on the device and pointed toward a sloping hill among the trees. "First let us walk 1.9 kilometers in that direction."
She shrugged. "Lead the way."
They set off, walking side-by-side. He enjoyed the brisk chill in the air but every time he closed his eyes, he thought of her naked to the waist in the rear cabin of the shuttle.
"How long has it been since we've been here?" Amanda asked. "Like how much time has passed for the planet?"
"I am not entirely certain," he admitted. "All of my estimates from seven years ago were very crude. However, based on the slow self-correction of the gravitational well, approximately 18,000 years have elapsed for this planet, relative to us."
"So probably not quite long enough to evolution to make any drastic changes," she said, running her hands over the bark of a very fortunate tree. "Do you suppose the rikki tikkis are still here?"
"It is difficult to determine," he replied. "There may have been some extinctions even if little appears to have changed."
They walked along, occasionally challenged by the steep terrain. Sarek was enjoying the melodic sound of his wife's voice as she gushed her appreciation for planning this unexpected vacation and reminisced about her memories of this place. When Sarek checked the tricorder and stopped, she had walked on for nearly ten meters before she realized he wasn't following behind.
"Is everything ok?"
"Yes. I am currently standing in the location where we first met."
The expression that fell across her face was one he had only ever seen a handful of times. The first was on their wedding day, the second was the first time she had held Spock in her arms, and the third was when he'd insisted they adopt Michael.
"Right here?" she asked, pointing to the ground and backtracking to his position.
"I had to cut down a sapling to make a lever," she laughed.
"I recall. The sap stained your hands red for several days."
She laughed. He'd always secretly treasured the way her eyes sparkled when she laughed.
"Maybe we could camp here for the night," she said, glancing around.
Sarek had planned to spend the first day journeying back to the site of the place where they had first consummated their union, but his desire to adhere to his plan and his desire to be with his wife were dueling most savagely.
"Is something wrong?"
"No," he replied, his voice strangely weak.
She reached for his hand and traced her fingers over the bones in his wrist, sending pulses of pleasure racing through his body. How desperately he wanted to grab her cheeks and join their minds together. As if she were reading his mind, she lifted his hand to her face and offered him an expectant look. That was all it took.
Their rucksacks fell to the forest floor as their hands clawed and groped at one another. They both struggled against the clasp of their trousers and Amanda flipped around to press her buttocks into him as she moved. He fell forward and she dropped to a knee and very quickly their bodies became one. His left arm snaked around her chest to prop her upright, his hand rubbing along her breasts as it moved. She twisted, threw her head back, and kissed him hungrily and his right hand found her face to renew their mind meld. She was aglow with passion and it only spurred him forward.
Soon she was on all fours, her body moving in concert with his. Pon farr had reduced him to rutting around in the dirt like a feral animal but he didn't care. He needed her more than he ever had and she seemed to need him too. It wasn't long before he could no longer avoid the bliss of climax and shuddered against her with a sharp groan.
He slumped forward onto her back, breathing heavily and trying to focus his mind. It was clearer than it had been in weeks, but he would need to mate many more times before his condition would be resolved. Amanda slid forward on her elbows, caking mud onto her forearms. She rolled beneath him onto her back and he leaned forward to give her a ravenous kiss.
"I was wondering how this would go," she whispered when he finally broke apart from her.
"I- I have begun- it is the time of-"
"Pon farr," she finished, smiling up at him. "We've been married for nearly seven years you know. You can talk to me about these things."
"It is difficult."
"I know it is," she answered. She reached up to gently trace the backs of her fingers against his jaw. "I didn't want to bring it up though. I wanted to give you the space to come to me when you were ready but I was starting to worry you wouldn't. I was afraid it was going to be like last time."
"You are my wife," he reminded her. "And my pon farr is not nearly as advanced as the last time."
"I am your wife, but I feel like there's so much you still keep hidden from me."
"I often think the same of you."
"I didn't think I could keep anything from you," she laughed. "You can read my feelings."
"You have become more adept at concealing them over the years."
"Really?" Her eyes shone, accentuating the amber tones around her iris.
"I know that in the beginning you were very unhappy."
The light faded from her eyes and they began to glisten with moisture. "It was so hard at first and I felt like a disappointment to you. It was a lot of change. I had a baby I hadn't planned with a man I barely knew who was from a culture I could barely understand. Then we moved to Vulcan where I didn't know anyone and no one wanted to associate with me."
"When I reflect back on the first two years of our marriage, I cannot recall a single day in which you did not weep."
"I didn't think you noticed." Her words were so quiet he wasn't certain he'd heard them correctly. Tears dripped from the corners of her eyes and he wiped them away but inadvertently smeared mud on her face. He looked at his hands and realized they were filthy.
"I am sorry you have suffered," he said as he wiped his hands on his trousers.
She sat up and leaned against his chest. "I love you very much, but it's also been very hard figuring out how to be your wife."
"There were times I feared you would leave," he confessed. "I often found myself meditating over the worry that I had done you a great disservice by taking you for my mate. You never openly confirmed my suspicions but it was obvious you struggled to adapt to life with a Vulcan husband. Perhaps you still do."
"It must have been hard for you to live with an emotional, human wife," she sniffed.
"It was not easy, but I believe it has made me a better ambassador. Though I must admit, when you took to your bed shortly after Spock was born and I was recalled to serve as ambassador-at-large for the Vulcan High Council, there were many times I considered resigning my post so that we could return to Earth and you could regain some contentment."
Horror sprung onto her face and the tears flowed faster. "I was a first-time mom to a hybrid baby light years away from anyone I knew. You didn't seem very interested in Spock and even the pediatrician seemed to think he was some kind of mistake."
"Our son isn't a mistake," Sarek said, torn between wanting to meld with Amanda and not wanting to smear dirt on her face. "He is the result of a dire situation who became a bridge between our people."
"Have you ever been embarrassed of me or thought you made a mistake by marrying me?" she asked suddenly.
"No." It was the shortest possible response, but it was the truth.
They touched their fingers together and spent several minutes stroking one another's hands. His hands were steadier than they had been but there was still a noticeable shake. "Will you permit me to make a query?"
She let out a half-hearted laugh. "You're my husband. You don't have to ask if you can ask."
"Why did you remain with me if you were so unhappy?"
Pain brimmed in her eyes. "You're my husband and my son's father. I was lonely on Vulcan but if I had left, I would have just been lonely in a different way. It was very hard, but then Spock started to get a little older and I began to make a few acquaintances and I was able to travel with you more. We argued, we made compromises, we watched Spock take his first steps and say his first words together. We built a life. Then one day you brought Michael home and I sort of looked around and realized we were this family. Perhaps not a traditional family or a normal family, but what is normal anyway? I've come to think of myself as a very lucky Earth woman to have found such a faithful partner."
"You see?" she asked, lowering her voice to mimic his in a mocking tone.
He gave a small nod but said nothing.
"Please will you meld with me?"
"My hands are dirty."
"We both look like we've been wallowing in a pig pen," she laughed. "I don't think a little more dirt will hurt anything."
The instant his hands met her face and the warm swell that came from joining their minds together washed over them, Sarek found himself atop Amanda, tugging at her clothing as she gripped his lower waist between her thighs. The second time was more affectionate than frantic and lasted longer.
When they ended up on their backs breathing hard twenty minutes later, Sarek looked over and realized Amanda had a muddy handprint on her face where he had melded with her. A small smile formed on his lips before he could subdue it and the expression certainly didn't escape her notice.
She smiled back at him, threw a leg over his stomach, and sat astride him. "Sometimes I wish I could have this side of you all the time."
"I cannot abandon logic."
"No, because then you wouldn't be you," she replied, dabbing a bit of mud on the tip of his nose.
"I seem to recall there was a stream not far from here."
They pieced their clothing back together and trudged down the steep slope to find the gentle stream had become an enormous river. Sarek squatted down and began to draw the water up to his face, but when he looked behind him, he found Amanda wearing nothing but a smile.
"Wouldn't be the first time I'd been skinny-dipping here," she shrugged. "Maybe you should give it a try."
It was a shocking proposal, but not twenty minutes earlier he had been mating with his wife in an open forest. Pon farr was a time with suspended logic, so perhaps he could embrace rather than eschew the irrational. He stripped his shirt over his head, prompting Amanda to whistle at him for whatever reason. The water was surprisingly still but he remained wary of any unseen dangers. He had once beaten back a swarm of small, vicious mammals near a body of water much like this.
"Perhaps you should not venture out so far," Sarek called, wading in after her.
"I would have thought the pon farr would make you more reckless," she called, not bothering to look back at him.
He finally caught up to her when she was in waist deep water. It was cool without being cold and the bright light of the sun was intense. Spongy sand and decayed plant matter squished between his bare toes, a sensation he surprisingly enjoyed. When she started to cup water into her hands to wash the streaks of soil from her forearms, he fought the need to have her for a third time. They had three days—he would need to pace himself.
They took turns tenderly washing one another and when they were done, they carried their dirty clothes back to where they had dumped their rucksacks and dressed in fresh outfits. He packed the soiled clothes into his bag and prepared to lift it onto his shoulders, but Amanda gently touched his arm. "Can't we camp here for tonight?"
"I had planned to take you to the site of your escape pod," he explained. "It is where Tavek is scheduled to retrieve us in three days."
"It's only sixtyish kilometers," she shrugged. "We're still young. We could make that in two days without breaking a sweat."
"My pon farr is such that I will need to continue mating intermittently," he explained, feeling the heat rising in his cheeks.
"Even better." She delivered a light kiss on his lips. "We can stop for breaks. It'll be a lot more pleasant than the last time when we were freezing and starving to death and didn't think all that much of each other."
"I have always thought very highly of you," he insisted.
"Oh please. I annoyed you when we first met."
"I thought you talked too much and had an unfortunate tendency to expose your more intimate secrets without provocation-"
"And you were a grim know-it-all."
"I do not know everything," Sarek countered. "I would argue that I do not know most things."
Amanda pulled him into a warm embrace which made him want to have her again, but instead she set to work erecting their tent. While she worked, Sarek removed a small axe from his bag and cut wood for a fire. They spent the rest of the daylight hours mating and resting and when it was time to consume end meal, he retrieved two pouches and a PADD from a side pocket of his bag.
"What's this?" she asked.
He offered her the rations while he set up the PADD.
She held them up for observation and giggled. "White bean soup and chocolate cake?"
"The former was what you consumed the night we located the first escape pod from the Bell," he reminded her. "The latter was what you had desired to consume."
"So sentimental and illogicall," she murmured, sitting up and ripping off the tab on the pouch of soup to heat it. "But I love it."
He leaned the PADD up against the foot of her rucksack and propped himself up on his elbow next to her while she slurped down the steaming hot liquid. When the scene of an old English manor faded into view, she nearly choked on her meal. "Jane Eyre?"
"Yes, I believe you expressed interest in viewing a fictional program this evening."
"And you said it wouldn't be possible."
"No, I said it would not be possible to watch a fictional holographicprogram this evening. This PADD is not formatted to produce holographic images, only two-dimensional ones."
"There you go splitting hairs again," she sighed, sipping down the rest of her soup. "And being so damn romantic I think I might die from loving you too much."
He sighed. She was so often given to hyperbole. When the last crumb of chocolate cake was licked from the inside of the packaging, Amanda crawled into Sarek's sleeping bag, shivering in the chill of the night air. His body was feverish from the pon farr and he was more than willing to keep her warm.
His hand slid along her belly, pausing to admire the slack skin that had once loosened to accommodate Spock's fetal development. Eventually his fingers found her thighs and he parted her legs, eager for another coupling.
When they merged into one, he found himself caught in the throes of overwhelming affection. He had known this wonderful woman for seven years and loved her almost as long. He would love her between now and eternity for everything she was and everything she would be. She was Amanda, the love of his life.