Decision at Council
She pulled herself together, went back to teach the remainder of her classes. Coming home at the end of the day, listening to the news on her flyer's communication systems, she heard the Vulcan newscaster reporting the decision of High Council to vote down the petitioner T'Lisel's request to overturn the existing property laws regarding wives and consorts. The voice rattled off the vote tallies and the major clans' positions pro and con as unemotionally as if it were no more than a plomeek subsidy. The newscaster's voice was young, female; she was no doubt bonded, consort or wife, and Amanda wondered how she felt about it. Or if she felt anything at all.
The newscast didn't mention Amanda by name, but it reported that clan Xtmprszqzntwlfb voted unanimously against the petition.
Hearing it broadcast to all the planet, all the colonies, all the Federation, made her cheeks flame anew. What had she done?
Everything looked the same when she arrived home, a little late, given she'd made up her noon office hours after classes. All Vulcan efficiency as usual. The guard met her as she flew through the forcescreens and took her flyer off her hands to the hanger. Another guard let her through the gates, bracing as she passed. Inside, a gardener, pruning one of the elaborate topiaries in the formal gardens, nodded deferentially, at his feet a bird's nest he'd disturbed in his pruning. The evicted birds perched on the garden wall above him. T'Jar came tripping up and told her tea would be ready on the terrace shortly. And that Sarek was home already and waiting there for her.
For a moment, she paused in the great hall, almost unwilling to see him. She really didn't want to see him. She wanted to go to her room, curl in a ball, throw a sheet over her head, and never come out.
Fine clan leader she made.
And so she drew a breath and went out to the terrace.
He was discussing something with an aide, and she paused, hesitating, unwilling to break in on their conversation. But he looked up, saw her, and sent the aide away.
Amanda approached the table reluctantly. "I don't want to interrupt."
"Our discussion was concluded. Come." He gestured with a hand, and she noticed as if for the first time, how assured he was. Always was, really . But today she felt like she'd been through a wringer. And there he sat, calm, controlled, logical. As if nothing had happened today at all.
She sat down, not knowing where to look, or what to think.
She shook her head. "I can't, Sarek. I can't pretend nothing has changed, that things will go on just as they had before."
He frowned slightly. "You perceive that something has changed?"
"Of course something has changed."
"Because of Council."
"Amanda…the resolution was not upheld. The laws remain the same."
"That's not what I meant."
"You perceive something has changed between us?"
"How can it have not?"
His brow furrowed. "Do you think that I have changed? Toward you? Or in basic philosophy"
She shifted uncomfortably. Sarek had never indicated before any great dissatisfaction with the status of female bondmates, wives, on Vulcan. "No. You haven't changed."
"Then as the laws remain unchanged, and I have not changed, you must perceive the change within yourself."
She flushed anew. But didn't answer.
He looked at her pointedly. "Is that not so?"
She shivered, then trembled, resisting it. "No. Sarek. I can't do this."
"But …you did."
"You made me do this."
"Amanda, it was your sworn duty to--"
"Not the Council vote, " she said. "But how I voted. How could you make me feel this way?"
"Amanda," Sarek drew back, startled.
"When we married," she said, "You promised me you'd never make me Vulcan." She closed her eyes, turning her face away. "And you broke that promise."
"No," he shook his head. "I did not. Amanda, this you came to on your own."
"I'm not saying that you forced me into it," she countered hotly, "but you – you and your whole culture –" she floundered, stopped, still unaccountably confused.
When she did not continue, Sarek eyed her and offered, "I confess to some…surprise…at your vote in Council." His eyes met hers, alien in that way that Vulcans can seem, at once detached and yet with a power that warned everyone there was a predator there, leashed only by will. And yet almost, always, leashed. Sarek expressing surprise meant that her very Vulcan husband could not be more puzzled. But he was never-the-less still detached, removed by force of will from her emotional confusion. "I do not understand myself how you came to that conclusion. But I respect that you had the right, the obligation, to so choose. Your choice – and your feelings – you came to on your own."
She said nothing for a long moment. She had no real argument against his assertion. And argument was the last thing on her mind. She didn't want to be right. She wanted some surcease from the emotional fallout of her decision.
She drew a shaky breath. "Will I ever be the same again, Sarek? As I was before?"
Sarek paused for almost an equal time, evaluating her distress with dispassionate eyes and then said, "Perhaps not."
She looked up at him, tears in her eyes. "Can you even love me?"
Sarek's brows rose in astonishment. "Can I--"
She rode over his Vulcan reticence in that regard, to strike to the heart of her issues. "I'm not what I was before. I'm not even sure I like myself – after what I just did. No, I don't like myself. I can't. And you shouldn't either. What I did was --"
"Amanda." Sarek shook his head. "Do you think yourself less for this? It is not true. Making such a difficult decision -- you are more than you were."
"No. It doesn't feel that way. No."
"No." Sarek considered, watching her. "I expect that it would not. Feel that way. Nevertheless it is so."
"I never thought anything not physical could hurt this much."
"I am sorry." He looked at her doubtfully. "Do you regret your decision?"
She laughed, wiping her face. "You can even ask?"
"I regret that the Council vote cannot be undone. But I meant, were you to vote again, would you change your decision?"
She swallowed hard. What an awful question to ask her. And yet, only a Vulcan would ask. And expect a rational answer. "No." She said it through choked teeth, but she got the word out. Then she looked up at him. He seemed neither relieved nor dismayed by her answer. As if it had no personal relevance for him. Perhaps it didn't. "Would you vote the same way, now?"
He nodded. "Yes. Without hesitation."
"It may not be a perfect solution for every individual," Sarek admitted candidly. "Nothing could be. But it has worked well for our people for millennia. And much preferable to what occurred before the reforms. It acknowledges what we are, in those areas that require such measures. And yet it goes no further, into areas that are not essential."
Not a personal decision. And yet it was, for her. "I'm free in every way, save one," Amanda said, quoting T'Pau.
Sarek flicked an eyebrow at her changing the discussion from the abstract to the figurative. "Yes."
She shook her head, not liking the answer. But she did not have a better one. She looked around her, the gardens, the staff here and there, the ruby sky overhead, all prosaic, unchanged. Vulcan. And then looked at Sarek. Who met her eyes, undaunted. Unashamed at these exigencies.
"I'm the only one that's changed," she said.
Sarek hesitated at an unqualified affirmative. And settled for, "Everything changes every moment, Amanda. We change, continually."
"And some things don't change."
"True. Your …status…has not changed in that regard. You are as you were before." He offered that fact as if it might help.
"But before, I didn't choose it. Then, it was just what was."
"You did choose it. As part of the consequences of bonding to me."
"No," she denied, and when he said nothing, she said. "I didn't understand."
Something of the personal crossed in Sarek's eyes before it vanished under his control. He only said, "Amanda. You were well advised. You did."
"I was twenty. I was in love. I didn't care."
"The latter is certainly not true."
"I didn't really believe--" she began, and then, at Sarek's raised brow, subsided. She wasn't sure she could ever make him understand how she had largely discounted so much of what the healers had told her as fantastic nonsense, incompatible with the controlled, cultured diplomat who had sought her. She had thought they exaggerated, that in their own Vulcan delicacy they had overblown the least lack of control out of all proportion.
And afterwards? After seeing how devastated he was by Pon Far himself, how shattered Vulcan males were after first experiencing that loss of control, her own amazement had been …trivial in comparison. After all, she had been warned; she'd just chosen not to believe.
Now she understood that they had, if not understated the case, had at least been stating the true nature of Vulcan biology with all the tactfulness Vulcans adopted with that subject. Now she knew they had been uncharacteristically blunt with her, so much so that in looking back, knowing how reticent Vulcans were, she was shocked at how blunt they had been. And even with all that, she had not really understood. Or believed. Perhaps no human every really could. Strange how, after all these years, she was becoming more in agreement with T'Pau's belief that Vulcans should not marry outworlders. It wasn't prejudice. It was a lifetime's experience of understanding how little the Vulcan spirit could bend in certain ways. And that left the non-Vulcan partner in a very unequal position, in more than one respect. Amanda knew she had risen to those requirements. But it had not been easy, and there had been only too many times she'd wondered if they would make it. Others might not be so fortunate.
"Even so, I chose it only for myself."
Sarek nodded equably. "And now you share the responsibility of choosing for others. Even those in opposition to your decision. The duties of a clan leader are not always pleasant."
Amanda shook her head. "It's an awful legacy I've just given."
"No." Sarek countered. "The awful legacy is what we now strive to avoid. And on the whole, succeed."
"At drastic expense."
"It is a compromise. Civilizations are built on such compromises. Where they are better than the alternatives, they must be considered progress."
She looked at him. He seemed so sure, so resolute. Discussing this as if he were debating in Council, no qualms or questions in his mind. "It has been 5000 years since the reforms, " she said truculently. "Progress seems to me to be awfully slow."
"Our biology remains unchanged. In this, we are what we are. Vulcan." His eyes met hers and she realized he was including her in that category. And that left her shaken. Obviously one couldn't remain an outworlder long, married to a Vulcan. Bonded to Vulcan biology as much as to one's spouse. Well, she knew that. Was reminded of it with every Pon Far.
And that fate fell to the others for whom she'd just rendered judgment as well as to herself. Even if twenty years after the fact, she still resisted, refused to accept, what she had chosen. And what she had chosen again. It hadn't been easy the first time. It wasn't easy still. "I hope the future will forgive me," she said. "Because I'm not sure I can. Or will."
Sarek glanced at her. "You do not bear this responsibility alone."
"Yes. But you are wrong in one thing. It is personal. I made it for myself as well. I never had to do that before."
"You did. When you chose to marry me."
She shook her head, wondering if she could ever make him see how unprepared she'd been to make that choice. He began from such a far different place than she, at times it seemed impossible that he could make that leap. No more than she could, still, twenty years and a myriad of shared Pon Fars after the fact. Even with vrie and a six month stint as chattel to her credit, something in her still refused to acknowledge that fact, the necessity, the stark Vulcan reality of his biology that was so anathema to human experience, to her own human heritage. In that, they would always be alien to each other. "Oh, Sarek, you give me too much credit. I didn't really understand. And when I did, I tried to ignore it. Gloss over it. Not confront it. It's not at all like slamming the door of the cage on an entire sex. Which I just did. Because now I feel…like a bird in that cage. Wings beating."
"But you are not alone."
"No," she said, in dark acknowledgement. "I just consigned my fellow sisters to the same fate. At least in that, I am Vulcan."
"That was not my meaning," Sarek said, obviously finding her as obtuse in this discussion as she found him, but as always, calmer and more patient in their disagreements. At least, with no specter of Pon Far or vrie undermining his present control. "I meant there are two birds in the cage, Amanda. You are not alone."
"That's easy for you to say," she threw it at him, unforgivingly. She knew he couldn't help his biology. But still, he had voted No. "You are not property."
"No." Sarek said. "I am a Vulcan male."
She looked at him, truculent again. "And as your wife, I'm your property under the Vulcan law I just voted to uphold. And I don't like it, Sarek. Can't you understand that? Can you even try to conceive how I feel about it? Because I don't like it. Not one little bit. I don't care how much or how little relevance it has in most everyday things. It still hurts. Part of me will never accept it. And please don't take that as some kind of threat or challenge to our bond, because it isn't. I can't help it, no more than you can help your own biology."
"Do you think I do not feel your pain?"
She shook her head. "No. Not as I feel it."
"No, I can't experience or know it as you do. Not entirely. But perhaps… nor can you know mine." He said it slowly, as if reluctant to grant even that deficiency to her. He tilted her head, his keen eyes looking at her closely, evaluatingly. "At least, I think not. Perhaps it is impossible for any female, bonded or not. Human or Vulcan. Perhaps this is…an unbreachable gulf…between us." He looked down, dark eyes shadowed as if in pain at that thought. "Though I hope not," he added, in a low tone, almost to himself. "In part, that is what the bond is meant to… help alleviate."
She looked down as well, shamed. "I know Vulcan biology is an awful monster. To hold us so in its thrall. Both of us. I know that it holds both of us."
"But it is not as awful, when met together," Sarek offered.
She looked up at him. "Can we say it really is together, if one of us isn't …free?"
"Amanda, do you not yet understand? Neither of us is free."
"But you must feel more free than myself. At least you don't have a law that--"
"Laws can be changed, my wife," Sarek said, slowly, a line between his brows as if he was finding this a struggle to explain, though otherwise still as calm as if he were unmoved. As if this were a discussion of nothing more important than plomeek subsidies. Only a stillness in his manner testified to his control. "You had the opportunity to attempt that today. You might even have succeeded. Or someone else, someday. But biology, for a Vulcan male, is inescapable. I am far more a prisoner, Amanda. As is every other Vulcan male."
She swallowed hard at that image. Even after all these years, Sarek still was reluctant to discuss Pon Far, even name the syndrome, and still less his own feelings about his biology. It had made her uneasy to raise this issue with him before the Council vote, or when this had come up before, in other situations. And uneasy even now to pursue it. But Sarek was discussing it, and if he would, then she could. And after all the healer's instructions, after all the years of seeing Sarek's cycle come and go, even after vrie, she still she found it hard to accept or excuse the exigency of Surak's long ago made countermeasure. "Do you really have to hold your women in legal thrall? It's so …uncivilized. It's unworthy of you."
"It is the last legal vestige of our pre-Reform heritage," Sarek said, obliquely reminding her she was free in all other respects.
"Not the last," Amanda said darkly, thinking that the chattel state was still legal. She wasn't sure which was more anathema, holding all bonded women to one tacit stricture of possession, or holding only a handful as outright property.
"You voted for the law to be upheld. Knowing you, you must have had the strength of your conviction to vote that way."
She shook her head at that.
"Then why?" Sarek asked.
She looked up at him. She still couldn't explain that decision to him. Even less so to herself. Part of it certainly, was that she hadn't felt ready to take on all of Vulcan, certainly not with Sarek in opposition. Not when she still felt so unsure what the outcomes might or could be. And that was the heart of her uncertainty. What if she could change this law. Even outlaw the chattel state. Would she do it, knowing Sarek, or even Spock's, life might stand forfeit for it some day, should vrie return from the mists of pre-Reform legend? Was her freedom worth any price?
To a human, that answer was clear. It was not even in question.
But to a Vulcan?
The answer, as horrifying to her now as it had been then, but still as certain as it had been when T'Pau had first broached the possibility, was no. Human though she was. No.
That conviction shackled her more than any law. What had T'Pau said? What matter the law, when her own convictions, her own oaths, bound her more fully than any law?
But still, she had to know…
She swallowed hard. "What if I had voted against it?"
Sarek tilted his head. "I would have known you had a good reason."
"That's it? That's all?" She was shocked, astounded at his equable answer.
Sarek glanced at her again, uncertain and uneasy at her emotional response. "What more would you ask of me? As I had predicted, the law would have remained unchanged with or without your vote."
She looked at him mulishly.She didn't quite accept, or believe his Vulcan calm. "And what if I had organized a political action committee to get the votes in Council to change the law."
"You were welcome to try," Sarek offered. "As a clan leader those decisions are yours to make. Yet the biology would have remained unchanged."
"It wouldn't have bothered you?"
"I have already pledged to let you go, Amanda," Sarek pointed out. "This is… minor… in comparison."
She winced at that. So he had. Made that promise out of as professed love for her, unVulcan though it was. Even the thought of the consequences to Sarek made her shudder. She understood that now, as she never had when she'd married, healer's words aside. She hadn't, then, had the experience to understand.
"But I wouldn't have made it just for me," she answered.
"Yes. As for others…" Sarek paused, and then said reluctantly, "There would be, no doubt, some more deaths."
She closed her eyes, caught up in the images that Sarek's blunt statement raised. This was no game. No mere play of words or egos to Vulcans. This was biology. As inescapable as a heart bearting.
"But there have always been casualties of Pon Far," Sarek reminded her. "Have been and will continue to be. Our laws and customs merely strive to lessen them."
She looked at him, evaluating his control. He was usually so reluctant to speak the name of that dreaded state, but he had been calm, his control unwavering throughout this situation. And speaking of it so easily. Had he known her that well? Or had the situation, the knowledge that nothing would change in Council, left him so unmoved? While she, who in the past always had been impatient with how Vulcans over-dramatized Pon Far, had been the one torn in shreds here. Perhaps, with Sarek's near fatal chronic fever, she was too close to the situation to view it objectively. She only knew she would not risk that, for her husband. Or her son. And if not for them, then for no Vulcan. Even as it locked her own status in a way her human nature found unconscionable. Well, her knowledge had taken her twenty years. Perhaps acceptance would come in a shorter time. She didn't know whether to hope for it, or be appalled by that. And something in her was still appalled that there was even that question in her mind.
"Let us not discuss it, Sarek. I know there is no simple solution. But there will be no additional deaths based on any decision I make in Council."
"We are in reasonable accord then," Sarek said. "As much as we can, given our separate circumstances," he added when she looked at him askance at that assumption.
And yet, her decision reaffirmed, she still couldn't just go on. Knowing she had made the right, the only decision she could have made in Council, didn't help her personally. "Tell me this will hurt less, in time," she pled, even though she knew what she asked for was not in his power to grant.
Sarek hesitated, considering her. "In time, you will feel it less."
She shook her head sadly. "That's not the same thing."
"It… is not," Sarek admitted. "You will…gloss over it. Not confront it. Try to overlook it."
She looked up at him. He said those words with less than perfect control, as if they had some personal relevance. And perhaps she understood why. She hadn't known, hadn't really thought, about what her ambivalence regarding the Vulcan aspects of her marriage had done to Sarek, all these years. How he must have felt, knowing she was less than committed, by Vulcan standards. Even if it was from her own human nature. She had hurt him, simply by her own human values, hurt him unknowing, but none the less. And was going on hurting him. And yet he forgave her for it. Glossed over it. Didn't confront it. Overlooked it. Intellectually. He had no choice. She was as human as he was Vulcan. But emotionally? Vulcans controlled but they were there in them, none the less. Even he probably hadn't overdwelt on what her emotions in this regard had done to him.
"But you will always feel it," Sarek continued, as if it were something he knew beyond all fact. "As shall I," he added, when she looked up to confirm that in his eyes.
"Yes," she agreed, finally convinced of that. And reached across the table and took his hand. The gesture she'd rejected when he'd offered it after Council. His fingers curled around hers, protective, possessive, the warmth of his hand, even after all these years, reminding her of fever. Turning her thoughts to the Fever that was inevitable, inescapable for every Vulcan male.
What fools they both had been.
Years ago, the healers had warned her, advised her against marriage to a Vulcan male, claiming the ancient passions, the loss of control, were not for outworlders. Disbelieving a human could accept the role of a Vulcan bondmate, T'Pau had for years refused to accept her as Sarek's wife. Even when Pon Far had come and gone, even after Amanda had personal experience of the fever, of the madness of the Time, some part of her had refused to accept what it meant to Vulcans, what it did to Vulcans. Loss of control, passion, was no great failing for a human. She never understood, even with Sarek, what it really meant for him, to be so overtaken, never fully accepted his deep fears. She'd always made light of it, thinking that was what he'd needed.
But perhaps it had been the opposite, perhaps she'd been wrong all along, her casual air convincing him that she didn't fully understand or appreciate his inhuman dilemma. A Vulcan male in the grip of the Fever must mate, or die. He'd fight any challenger, kill in a hormonally induced frenzy, driven by nature to take or keep his mate. And if unsuccessful, would die in agony. She knew that, intellectually. She'd experienced something of it, second hand, emotionally. But to really feel it, as Sarek did? Not just for a moment's shared mindtouch, or, secondhand through a few days of Pon Far, but to live with it, as Sarek did, knowing you had a clock ticking within you, that when the last second ticked down on that interval from Time to Time, your reason would be gone, your power of will, your free choice, vanished as if it had never been. That you had become an animal force, reduced to bestial instincts, a hormonal rut that would end in mating, or madness and death. And that your life was now entirely dependent upon another yielding to that madness, one every Vulcan professed distasteful. And that your bondmate would yield as well. And knowing that even with a Vulcan bondmate, nothing was certain. Challenge was always possible.
She could almost forgive the long dead Surak for his exigencies. And understand why he was so revered among Vulcans, if he'd dragged them from madness and violence, war and murder to discipline, logic and peace. Apart from the periodic madness biology forced upon them.
No, she didn't, couldn't know what Sarek lived with. Perhaps knowing that she'd met him in vrie, had not challenged, had stayed with him afterward, would ease him somewhat in the future. He was different now, more like what he'd been in the first few years after they'd married, less what he'd been in the years leading up to vrie. She took her own responsibility for that change.
After Spock had been born, after she and Sarek had begun to disagree about his upbringing, she'd often been in contention with him over Spock, had threatened to leave him several times. Sometimes it had felt like her only trump card. Knowing it was an ultimate threat, weapon, that she had in her hands. One that he could not counter; one that he was helpless against, for all his power and position in Vulcan society. Nature made every Vulcan male equal in that respect. And whatever inequities women faced in Vulcan society, at least periodically they held the power of life and death over their husbands.
She had used that weapon when she felt she had to, when as a mother she'd felt it had been her only option. And she'd been wrong. She had not fully appreciated what that had meant for Sarek. Or perhaps she had, and had not cared. Her own human maternal instincts triumphing over his Vulcan ones. She'd felt like she'd had no choice. Sarek so often seemed so overwhelmingly powerful to her. She was after all, living in his culture, his society. And she had been at least in part outcast from that, never fully accepted in the clan. She done what she felt she'd had to. But she had been wrong.
What she had done to Sarek all these years, challenging and threatening their bond at the worst of times as if it were some argumental trump card. Or making light of the fever even with the best of intentions, out of love. Questioning and challenging the disciplines Sarek had imposed on them to help get them both through it safely, trying to argue the reason for them rationally. All of it so wrong, so threatening, by Vulcan standards.
She bore the responsibility for that.
But now Spock was gone, and she had stayed and perhaps, perhaps that accounted for something of Sarek's new found peace. It was a peace she owed to him. Had pledged to him.
What matter the law indeed, before such oaths.
She had made a choice, years ago. A decision she'd been well counseled for, even as imperfectly has her human mind had comprehended this Vulcan reality. It had been one she'd known could not be unchosen.
Perhaps not even a Vulcan woman could't fully understand it. How many times Sarek would patiently explain something to her, and then ask, almost despairingly, if she understood. No, she hadn't really. And perhaps never would, or could, even as he couldn't fully understand her. Forever alien to each other in some respects.
But she had chosen. As T'Lisel had chosen. And obligations had to be met, in all honor.
Accepting that, she could almost be at peace for her decision at Council. For herself. And for those for whom she had the responsibilities to make such decisions.
And with Sarek, she could not really feel alone.
They sat there in silence, hand in hand under the ruby sky. The sun lowered a little more; shadows lengthened across the court. The gardener pruning the topiary finished his work and restored the bird's nest. She watched the birds fly down to examine their home, changed and yet unchanged. Sheathing his tools, the old gardener moved on, his tasks finished.
She sighed softly, in acceptance, and felt Sarek's fingers tighten on hers. A most unVulcan gesture, but one he frequently broke Vulcan conventions to make. They met where they could. They weren't all her own compromises. Though some things could have no compromise. She returned the pressure of his hand, in acceptance of that. Two birds. Both wings beating against the bars of that unyielding cage. But together.
The sun dipped further, the angles of the shadows sharper, darker, deeper, color fading from the desert, reducing everything to dark and light. Black and white. So much easier to make decisions, when a fading light reduced everything to essential components. Soon the nighttime predators would arise, and rule the desert again. Till dawn brought back the light and the subtlety of color.
Across the court, the play of light threw the shadow of the barred gate across the paving stones, darker, deeper, higher than it was in reality. Still the same gate. Essential only in the darkness. In the night, when civilization withdrew, and the predators reigned.
She held Sarek's hand in acceptance of that. The gate wasn't the issue. It was merely the guardian between the desert and home. Wildness and civilization. Darkness and light.
When the sun rose, the shadows of patterned bars spilling larger than life across the court would disappear, as if they'd never been. Until the sun dipped again. And in the sunshine? The gate opened. It was perfectly safe to go out then.
"I understand, Sarek," she said, though he hadn't asked the question.
He looked at her, and his other hand covered hers, and she felt the light brush of his mind. No words, just a feeling. Perfectly acceptable between bondmates, if unVulcan otherwise. And yet a light that challenged all darkness.
"I do understand," she said, not to him, but for herself.
And then, just as if it were any other evening, T'Jar brought out the tea.
Decision at Council
Part of Holography, Series 3-D
Henry, O, "Gift of the Magi", Four Million, 1906