Decision At Council

The inevitable, logical result

By

Pat Foley

"Amor Vincit Omnia"

Virgil

This is a sequel to Decision at Council, part of the Holo 3 series

Amanda poured some rose oil into the steaming tub, flung some petals in for good measure, and tested the waters by the time-honored human method of dipping in a toe. The temperature being satisfactory, she settled into the fragrant water and relaxed in delicious luxury. Sarek found her obsession with water rather disconcerting, especially given she now often swam twice a day. She honestly believed, logic aside, that he thought she might simply melt away from all her continued immersions. But in spite of her pool, she still loved a warm bath, particularly after a long day on her feet teaching. Not merely was the soothing water a respite from the dry air, but her own buoyancy was a relief from the continual drag of Vulcan's heavy gravity. And rose oil, particularly after a day in Vulcan's dry heat, was not just a luxury, but a necessity to her skin. She leaned back in the water, amusedly blowing away the foam bubbles that billowed, and then rolled over in the large tub and floated, relaxing thoroughly, letting the water lift her body and her spirits.

There was a tap at the door, and she turned right side up again, her lips curving in welcome. "Come to skinny dip? This tub is big enough for both of us."

Sarek closed the door behind him and regarded her pensively. "You know I do not care for such recreation."

"Spoil sport. I could teach you to care for it. I am, as you have said, an excellent teacher." She cupped a handful of water and flicked it at him. "You wouldn't want to ruin my reputation in that regard by continuing to be such a poor student?"

Sarek remained unmoved, his hands behind his back in his best Vulcan manner. He might have been exuding do not touch. "Amanda…something happened today."

She looked up at him, and her smile faded at his wooden expression. "Happened?"

"Yes." He didn't go on. Just eyed her, evaluatingly.

The warm water suddenly seemed turned to ice and she sent a frantic tug along the parental link that even when Spock was on planet, she had not the ability to use effectively at a distance. "To Spock?"

At his most Vulcan, Sarek just gave a Vulcan negative, a slight jerk of his chin to the left.

Slightly relieved, she eyed him, still so utterly controlled and obviously reluctant to speak. And a thought struck her. T'Pau was old but not so very old for a Vulcan. Yet the set of her husband's jaw, the tension in his shoulders…it hit her like a blow. If T'Pau were…ill or incapacitated, Amanda herself, as wife to the clan leader, was theoretically in line to succeed T'Pau as matriarch. The idea was absurd, fantastic, incredible, but it was her duty. Human though she was. It would be her inescapable duty. She wouldn't be able to get out of it. Even thinking about getting out of it would be a terrible betrayal of her responsibilities to her adopted clan. She'd been so newly accepted in the clan, that the issue of her humanity, and unsuitability in that regard, had neither been raised nor addressed. And so, at least in the short run, and until the High Council figured out some alternative to the impossibility of her assuming that inherited role, she'd be stuck. She'd always told herself that T'Pau would outlive her, so it would never become an issue.

And it wasn't just the ridiculous notion of her being matriarch of all Vulcan that quailed her; it was some of the petty, human, repercussions for her. She'd be forced to live T'Pau's life in some respects. And a small point but one that had stuck in her head – she'd never, never go anywhere by herself again. Surrounded by guards, attendants, aides, and more guards… Inescapably. And she'd probably have to give up teaching… She gulped and then felt equally shamed for thinking of herself in such a situation. She ventured hesitantly, "is it your mother….?"

Another minute jerk of the head. "This concerns no one personally known to you."

She hesitated, relieved but puzzled. "Well, then…"

Sarek advanced a pace into the room then stopped, lowered his gaze a moment, and eyed her doubtfully again.

She grew impatient with tension. "Sarek…what is it?"

A measured breath. "An event took place today, of which I believe you may soon become aware. Therefore it is best you hear it first from me."

"All right…" she temporized.

"You remember T'Lisel, of the Council petition?"

She frowned slightly. "Yes, of course. How could I forget?"

"Her consort, Sarumel, was very young. But such conflicts can stir up the ancient …passions."

She said nothing, taken aback by his words. Vulcans don't gossip. Even for Sarek to speak to her of this was highly improper. No one spoke of such things, ever. Even the parties involved seldom spoke of them to each other. She suddenly understood her husband's extreme reticence in manner, if not why he was raising this forbidden subject with her. Or what it could possibly have to do with her. She looked at him inquiringly.

Sarek paused again, clearly reluctant to discuss such a taboo subject. He hesitated long enough that she grew frustrated.

"Sarek…just say it!"

"There was a Challenge."

She drew a sharp breath, as if stabbed. "No!"

"It is true."

"Sarumel?"

For a moment, Sarek looked at her uncomprehendingly at her asking such a question. Then he flicked a brow, in concession to her humanity, to her needing the obvious spelled out. "T'Lisel chose her Challenger well, Amanda. As one would logically expect. There was … no contest."

She felt suddenly as if she couldn't get any air in her lungs. She drew breath, gulped, drew breath again. Finally gasped in enough of the thin air to speak. "You don't mean…He didn't…he's not…"

"He is dead."

"Oh….." She closed her eyes tight, over suddenly welling tears, a sob catching in her throat, remembering his face in Council. So young. Forced to fight to the death, to save his own life. What barbaric marriage customs were these, that mere children were killed in such conflicts?

Sarek took a step and then stopped again. "It was for the best," he assured her, as if in comfort.

She looked across at him, horrified, not just for the words, but the absolute conviction of his tone. "How can you think that?"

A slight look of surprise and he drew back a bit. "It is the truth."

"Death is never for the best."

"She was determined to be free, Amanda. And for Sarumel, far better a quick death--"

"No! Don't say it!"

"--by the blade," Sarek finished firmly.

She was shaking her head, her shoulders, her whole body in the force of her denial, the rose water swirling around her. "Why did you tell me this?" she whispered. "This awful news. How could you want to?"

"I regret distressing you. However, T'Lisel is applying for the necessary travel documents. The interstellar press will no doubt report her future activities."

"You mean she's attending Starfleet?" she asked, shocked. "In spite of what she did? You're just going to let her walk off planet, scott free, after this? She set her husband up to be murdered!"

"Legally," Sarek temporized.

"Legally or not, she arranged to have him killed! You aren't just going to let her waltz off to Starfleet after that? Even they wouldn't want a murderer!"

"She did not actually--"

"Conspiracy to murder then."

"Amanda, this is Vulcan. Vulcan law applies here." As was typical, Sarek eschewed the name of that organization as he continued, "Why should she not go? She is now relieved of her past obligations. Her chosen challenger freed her, as per the usual arrangement. The circumstances of the divorce, as always, were sealed. She can continue her original quest quite… unencumbered."

"Oh!" Amanda drew breath at that characterization. "Except by the memory of her bondmate's murder! That's some encumbrance."

"Amanda, this was to be expected."

"Expected?" She shook head again, in denial of his attitude. "You expected this?"

"Amanda, you keep repeating my words.. This was the inevitable, the logical result to be expected from her very first petition. Surely you understood that?"

She simply shook her head, as dumbfounded with him as he with her.

Sarek flicked a brow in concession to that. "Then it is as well I chose to inform you, and of the relevance to you. Her re-acceptance to that organization, her resumption of her plans, no doubt will be reported in Federation news. Perhaps as soon as tomorrow. They will not know of the Challenge, or why she is now free, but they will be interested in the prospect of another Vulcan, particularly female, joining… that organization. You undoubtedly will be asked for your reaction. I considered that given you might have an…emotional response… to these events, it was best I told you in private in advance of those requests."

She wiped her wet face, then realized she was still sitting in the bath, and sluiced the salty tears with clean water, then rose, reaching for her terry robe. Sarek handed it to her, and helped her into it. She took advantage of that to step into his arms. "Hold me."

Sarek enfolded her and she felt him cautiously increase the pressure of his arms, wary as always when in full control of his Vulcan strength against her relatively fragile bones.

"Tighter," she demanded.

"Amanda…" Sarek drew back a bit, uneasy at her distress.

She took a step back and looked into his face. "How can you be so calm about this!"

That brow raised again. That terrible control. "There is nothing to be done. Was nothing to be done. Nothing could have been done."

"There must have been something! Some other way."

"This is the Vulcan way," Sarek reminded her. "Our biology, our culture allows for nothing else."

She shook her head again. "No. It can't be right. He was just a boy. She was just ... Sarek, they were only children!"

"Nevertheless, it was best."

"Oh!" She drew back from him, staring into his face, searching for some kind of emotion, some kinship to her own feelings. "How can you really believe that?"

"It was the only way. For them."

"But couldn't she just have left him!" she railed, turning away from such horror, and stopped on an indrawn breath at that heretical, human, thought. And spoken to her Vulcan husband. What had she just said! She looked back at him quickly, struck dumb, wanting to take back the heartless, thoughtless words. The worst thing one bondmate could say to another, or think.

Sarek tensed a moment, as her words echoed in the tiled room. She could feel his shock, feel the slight contraction of muscles, the cessation of his breathing as his control dealt with it. Even knowing she was human, that she could express such an alien belief. And then he raised a brow and drew back fractionally to look down at her as in in full view. Not in anger, nor even in sorrow. Just noting what she had said, and letting her note his reaction. A Vulcan et tu, Brute.

"I didn't mean that," she said, into that terrible breach. "Not in relation to us."

Sarek had regained control, the incident a mere, brief hesitation of his manner. And ignored her thoughtless implication, dealing only with the obvious. "If you remember, to leave was her intent, from the first."

"But not, not like this."

"Amanda. Sarumel was spared a lingering, agonizing death in madness, should she have…just left…and not been free or able, or willing, to return to him in his Time of Need. He would have wished this."

"Her challenger might have lost. He would have chosen that, I'm sure."

Sarek looked down at her, almost in surprise, as if she had said something entirely out of the pale for Vulcan thought. But then gave a Vulcan negative in turn, a brief jerk of his head to the left. "In the madness of fever, yes. He would have striven for that in the passion of that moment. But, once sane, Sarumel could have found no peace or joy in a union with an unwilling mate. This is best, Amanda. This would be what he…what any Vulcan male would choose for himself in such a circumstance. Any in his right mind."

"Choose? That barbaric combat?"

"Yes. Followed by a quick, merciful death. It is our way."

"Merciful!"

He looked at her. "Yes. Merciful. It is why the custom remains. Do you think Challenge remains only to benefit the female partner? It is preferred by males as well. No male would choose a less swift outcome. Why do you think the concept of a Challenge is even allowed? Or the practice, in these modern times, of hiring professional Challengers, trained and skilled in the ancient combat? Well able to enact a swift, clean death. There is no cure for such a state but one. And if a female is unwilling, only two options ensure. Death or a violent and often fatal coupling. Challenge in such a state is beneficial for all parties. Anything else would be-- " A shade of expression colored his face at the thought, though his voice was dead calm, "utterly barbaric."

Amanda shook her head violently at the thought, her heart in her throat. She had, somehow, considered it the choice, the design, of women, some sort of primitive feminine justice or vengeance. Their retaliation. That it would have been chosen by men as well staggered her. Murder was one horror. Suicide, even a mercy killing, with all parties in accord, quite another. Almost worse for the life revering Vulcans. Making that violent choice, not as a result of passion, or madness, but deliberately. "No. Oh, no."

"Like all Vulcan customs, even those steeped in ancient history, it is retained for a logical reason. This was the best outcome for their situation."

"No. I don't accept that. It's not right." She looked up at him. "You must see that. How terrible it is."

"No. I do not. I am…well pleased." He tilted his head. "Though I can see how you might not be. You must come to understand it. And accept it."

"No. I will never accept it," she vowed. She looked up at him, still standing there unmoved. "Don't you understand? This is everything that terrifies me in your culture. I will not accept it. Never!"

"In this, my wife, you must have done with never," he said softly. Almost regretfully. "As have I. We have come to an equal impasse on that."

She went to him then, flung her arms around him, buried her face in his neck for a long moment. Then said, her voice muffled. "She might have changed her mind, afterwards. Even if she'd lost. It isn't impossible."

Sarek draw back a fraction, looked at her for a moment, then raised a telling brow. "Indeed."

"Don't look at me like that," she accused, turning away from that too perceptive case, feeling herself stripped naked before it.

But Sarek regarded her unembarrassed in turn, though with a brow slightly raised in wonder. "You never cease to surprise me, my wife, even after all these many years, at how very human you always are."

Her cheeks flamed anew. "I just meant…"

"Yes?"

"You know what I meant."

"Alien as the concept is to me, I believe you have taught me something."

She gave him a defiant look. "And I still think if you all put your minds to it, you could find a better way than Challenge, or what follows, win or lose. I believe that now more than ever. It's wrong for women to be held as property, but equally wrong for men to be subject to a fight to the death. But…" she hesitated, "Until then…as much as I disagree with this property business…I think… that it can be different when you love someone."

Sarek looked down at her bent head. "Different?"

She didn't meet his inquiring gaze. Instead she came back and laid her head on his shoulder. Feeling it rise and fall ever so slightly with his breath. Feeling the beating of her husband's heart even through her plush terry robe, through the pseudo-shield on her husband's Council tunic. Alive, back with her in every sense of the word. And for the moment, safe. She thought of those long months of vrie. There hadn't been a moment when she had wished his death. Wished for hers, sometimes, perhaps. But never his. That was love to her. She couldn't imagine loving him any less. Even when they argued, fought, when she was furious at him for some breach. She'd come to love him as a Vulcan, and couldn't hate him for being that. Sometimes she felt helpless in the face of that love. Particularly against that wall that was Vulcan: logic and custom and buried passion under it all. But she'd never regret her love. And she didn't believe that Vulcans, with their strong passions, couldn't, didn't, also have that capacity to, somehow, deal with such passions in a less lethal manner. Sarek had learned something of human love, even to say the words. "I meant there are…compensations. Even in the worst of situations. You can find acceptance, of a sort. Even in that relationship. Death is not the answer."

"Those who Challenge do not love, my wife."

She looked up at him. "But I do. And you, at least a little."

"Perhaps. In some respects."

"So it must be possible for Vulcans. Think of the lives that could be saved. And if they were given a good logical reason… And what reason is more logical than life?"

"Indeed." He looked at her, mystified, non-plussed and then, shrugged a brow. "I shall never understand you, my wife. How you can take logic and bend it to your human emotions. And your human reason. To quote a human phrase, it passeth understanding. It is a most useful skill, in an increasingly varied Federation. But how do you manage it, year after year? And in the face of such…possibilities as we have endured?"

She shook her head, biting her lip briefly as she confessed. "I just do. I can't help it. Humans, you know, are infinitely adaptable. When faced with an unsolvable problem." She looked up at him. "But…you're right. Sometimes it does frighten me, how much I love you."

Another pause, while he considered that as seriously as Vulcans consider everything. "Yes. It …frightens me as well. But it does not help me understand your logic."

She half laughed, more rueful tears than laughter, taking his meaning in the usual way. "You're right. I don't understand myself at times. But you don't need to be frightened. I didn't mean that…what I said before about …leaving. Not in relation to me. To you. Us. It just slipped out. A human reflex. But I'll be here for you. No matter what."

"I know." A gentle affirmation. "But that does…frighten me."

She looked up at him, smiling in spite of her tears. "Wrong answer, my oh, so Vulcan husband. Your line is supposed to be that you love me too."

No teasing glint in reply, nor the hint of the smile that even Sarek allowed himself, in private, when responding to her bid for a less Vulcan response to her human emotions. He was still utterly serious and controlled. "In that regard…I do." She swallowed hard at his tone. He had said it with the same gentle, regretful intonation that he might have given to good-bye. And then continued, "But to counter your assertion, you will understand me when I say that I… intend not to be. If you can be Vulcan in so many ways, my wife, I have now learned to be human. In that respect."

She looked at him, chilled again, realizing what he meant. And the implications for him, should vrie return and he make that terrible, human, choice, in return for the Vulcan one she had once made for him. Horror at the prospect washed over her. "Sarek. Please, please don't say that. Leaving…it's not an option. It's never an option, for us. Not for either of us. I meant what I said before. Promise me. You must never, never consider that."

He shook his head, and stepping back, touched her face lightly with his hand. Almost a relinquishment. "If you recall, Amanda, I gave up never, some time ago."

"Sarek--" she pled. "It will never come to that. We are safe, with each other. We've proven that. No matter what life brings, of Vulcan or human trials."

"Amanda, do you not understand? It is the inevitable, logical result of such emotion. You once required my love as a condition of marriage."

"Yes, once. When I was ignorant. And stupid. But when you couldn't give me that, I agreed to marry you with the Vulcan equivalent."

"And you have wished, all these many years for more. Do not think I don't understand the …inadequacy of the Vulcan equivalent, in some respects. It took the most primitive and Vulcan of states to rouse that in me. But now I do…feel it. At least as much as is possible, for a Vulcan. This is the inevitable consequence of that."

"Then I don't want you to feel it. Please don't."

Sarek tilted his head. "As you have often told me, my wife, one cannot help what one feels."

"But you're Vulcan. You can."

"In full control, yes, I can help it. And do. I am here, now, with you. But in that… state, I fear such logic would escape me. Though if I can manage it, I believe that response would ultimately be the best, for you."

"No, it wouldn't! Don't you understand how I love you? Don't you understand how your doing what you suggest would kill me, just as surely as it would yourself?"

"You would be hurt," Sarek corrected her. "But only emotionally. Humans recover from such emotions."

"You don't understand human emotions. You certainly don't understand mine in this respect."

"I understand you would survive."

"I wouldn't want to, not at such a price, when such measures weren't necessary. Sarek we have beaten vrie before. If it should recur, we can again. Together."

"Were I in such a state, Amanda, what I wanted would be paramount in my considerations."

Sarek, please. I won't hear you talk this way. I don't want to talk about it. That will never happen again. You're well now. And we're so much wiser--"

"That future I cannot predict. But I will predict my response if it does. And I will not let you go through that again."

"No. Sarek--"

"I do agree that discussion is pointless. My logic is quite clear. For now, finish your bath, my wife." Sarek disengaged himself from her. "And then you must consider what you will tell the press tomorrow."

She drew a sharp breath. "Hang the press!"

Sarek flicked a brow in a trace of Vulcan amusement. "Were I not Vulcan, that sentiment would at times occur to me. However that prospect is, perhaps fortunately, available to neither of us."

"Where are you going?" she asked, noticing for the first time his desert sandsuit.

"To meditate. I wish to walk on the Forge."

She put a hand out, but he was already past her reach, at the door. She stopped, her bare toes curling in dread, her hands closing on nothing. She could never stop him, now or in the future, once he had set on a course with Vulcan determination. She could only plead. "Don't go out on the desert. It's so dangerous out there at night. I don't like it when you meditate there. Please stay here."

"Not so very dangerous," Sarek said. "Not so very dangerous at all. Compared to the alternatives…that life might bring."

She could only plead. And promise. She looked at him, not sure if he understood, or believed her, even now. After all their words and promises. Or if they passed understanding in that as well.

"Sarek, I hope you're not upset about -- You know I didn't mean it, what I said. About leaving."

"I know."

"There's nothing to be... I love you." Not sure if he believed love was even enough. "Always."

He looked at her and then came back briefly, his two fingers touching hers. She clutched at his hand, clinging to him. "Oh, stay, please?"

"I cannot. I require meditation, and I …feel the need… to reconnect with the Disciplines as only meditating on the Forge can do." He disentangled her hand from his. "Do not wait up, Amanda. I expect to be somewhat late. And do not be concerned." He put her away from him, gently but definitely. "I am not a child, to merit this anxiety. I am well versed in desert lore, and understand the methods of survival quite well. There is no need for your concern. Be at ease in that."

"Sarek!"

But he was gone. She stood there, her face wet from her bath, rivulets like tears still streaking her face, dripping rose water all over the pristinely tiled floor. Perhaps it was best to let him go. Perhaps, he'd come to reconsider his foolish, self sacrificing vow, in the face of her opposition. She hoped. If unconvinced. And she shivered, shuddered hard, in spite of her warm robe. At his tacit promise. At his implied vow.

And it might never come to that. But if it did… Vulcans were so hard to sway, once they had decided on a logical course.

"Never," she said, vowed, promised in turn. She had not given up on convincing him otherwise. And she was a match, even for Sarek of Vulcan, in this. Whatever it took.

But the room was empty. No one to hear her vow, her promise. The word simply echoed back to her, bouncing off the tiles, a thin caricature of her voice in the thinner air, cruelly mocking. A whisper off the Forge from where her Vulcan husband wandered, fraught with his own, particularly Vulcan demons that had been raised up by this case.

She would not sleep tonight. Not until Sarek had come home again. Safe.

The nightfall scream of a hunting lematya made her wince and shudder again. Only one more small anxiety of many in a lifetime of marriage to her Vulcan husband.

She turned and let the water out of the tub, watching as it swirled down the drain, water and rose petals, till only the fragrance lingered in the air. A subtle ghost of a presence. Like a haunting memory of that young man, dimly remembered from Council. Or like a young bond, cut short before its bloom.

Perhaps he heard, that ghost. Her never. And approved. She thought he would approve.

She bundled herself tighter in her terry robe and went out to the balcony. Across the court, beyond the gate, the desert stretched from mountains to the city, night-black and wild. Filled with fully imaginable terrors, ghosts and monsters both, most of them real. Sarek alone with his. She with hers. And all the living, breathing, sharp-fanged, razor-clawed desert predators in between them. She didn't know which was more perilous, present or future dangers. She sat, peering into the darkness, striving to see she scarcely knew what, straining her human ears to hear in the thin desert air, shivering at the lematya's repeated hunting screams. Hunting her husband? Haunting her. Their fears haunting them both, despite Vulcan disciplines and human love. And treacherous Vulcan love, a self sacrifice she did not want.

No wonder Vulcans had eschewed love. If this was the result. Perhaps logic was a better way, after all.

She kept her uneasy vigil, fraught with current and future concerns, through the long dark night until dawn.

Until Sarek came home again. Found her, woke her from her drowsy half sleep. Scolded her with fully Vulcan disapproval for neglecting her human need for rest. And took her to bed.

She clung to him, embarrassed but relieved. Both of them safe again. For now. For the moment. She slept in his embrace for a few hours more, savoring this small oasis of peace in all the dangers life presented.

Thinking Virgil was wrong. Love didn't conquer all. Sometimes, with Vulcans at least, love needed to be conquered.

The inevitable, logical result

Holography 3-D-A

by

Pat Foley

At Brookwood

June 2006

Revised May 2008