Amanda had often stated that she considered the skill to be able to put aside disagreements long enough to share a meal pleasantly good training for all potential -- and real – diplomats. Spock, always a picky eater, lost all appetite under any tone of rancor. So, for that matter, did his mother. And under those auspices, mealtimes had been decreed by both his parents to be conflict free without exception.
Two subjects therefore forbidden at family table were Federation politics – at least the kind that fostered heated argument -- and reproof. This rule was so firmly established that by the time Sarek and Spock came back to the kitchen the moment in Sarek's office might not have happened. Sarek's Vulcan control was more than equal to it. And after a long childhood of being taken to task for one failing or another, Spock had developed a certain resilience. Whatever troubles might be plaguing their family before and after they sat down at table, they were put aside during it. Mealtimes were a thus relief for everyone. It was one place where no unpleasant words should be spoken.
In that respect, Amanda always came armed to the table with a host of innocuous chit-chat that would smooth over Vulcan reticence and get everyone talking, even after a spell of contention. This evening, she began with the notice of an upcoming concert they might choose to attend. A neutral enough topic, they discussed which night might best serve their respective schedules. She mentioned the lematya cubs she'd seen gamboling in the nearby foothills, visible from the gardens, prompting Sarek – with an eye more toward his wife than his son, to remind everyone of their danger. Amanda told some amusing stories from her teaching at the Academy. And then she casually led into a planned topic of hers.
" T'Vrien, that colleague from the Academy. She has a sehlat with four cubs that are almost ready for new homes. I was thinking perhaps we should look at them?"
"I have no objection to adding a sehlat to the household," Sarek said equably. Though Sarek had grieved greatly at I-Chiya's loss, he'd done it silently and with Vulcan control. For a time afterwards, he'd pushed Spock, almost insistently for a Vulcan, for them to add a new sehlat to the household. As a pet for Spock, of course. But if Sarek, who'd never known life on Vulcan without I-Chiya tagging at his heels, had found the loss of his pet more devastating than his son had, Spock's childish grief had been able to deal with it less. Spock stubbornly refused his father so repeatedly that Sarek had given up suggesting it. Sarek gave Amanda a pointed look, reminding her faulty human memory of that fact, "But Spock has expressed no wish for one since the loss of his pet."
"Yes. But that was a long time ago," Amanda returned. "He's much older now. And in every other respect, it's a better time for it. I don't think we'd even have to arrange for someone else to care for the sehlat when we have to travel. Spock is mature enough now to take care of himself rather than going away to school. And then, too, a sehlat would be company for him while we're gone. They'd take care of each other, so to speak."
Sarek straightened from what had been an appreciative consumption of his evening meal -- he had skipped lunch -- and gave his wife a sharp look. He was hungry enough that he'd been dividing his attention between appeasing his hunger and his wife's usual innocuous chatter and had therefore missed the implications of where she'd been leading. Amanda smiled back to that, sweetly, but with a nod reminiscent of Mammy after she told Scarlett she didn't notice Mr. Ashley 'asking for to marry her'. Given their family rules, it was vastly unfair of her to throw such a subject into play at the dinner table, when Sarek was at a disadvantage to reply as he might otherwise. But then, she'd been known to play dirty when Spock was involved. And at the very least it was a reminder to Sarek that she could and would.
Spock, meanwhile, got hold of himself while his parents were still engaged in their visual duel, and he managed to close his dropped jaw before his father noticed his stunned expression and chastised his lack of control. Even so he was still reeling. That his mother would counter his father's suggestion that he go away permanently to school with this new premise that he now need never go away at all, under the guise of him adopting a sehlat, was a diversionary ploy worthy of any negotiator. Though her audacity in doing so had shocked him. Into the breach of their shared stares, he threw in his oar on his mother's side. While the loss of I-Chiya was still a raw wound to a Vulcan with perfect recall, he'd gained enough maturity not to see his beloved pet in the face of a new one. And he could only wholeheartedly advocate for his mother's suggestion re schooling. He soundly disliked relocating teachers and studies and leaving his home every time his parents traveled. And while he would be lonely at home alone, a sehlat would be company for him. "I'd like to have a sehlat," he ventured into the breach.
Sarek shifted his gaze from staring down his wife. For a moment, he regarded his son with equal intensity, with a penetrating look that had melted many a deceptive negotiator. But Spock could meet his eyes without guile. Whatever his mother had been planning as a defensive move to Sarek's suggestion, he'd had no part of it. Accepting that, Sarek flicked a brow. "A sehlat you certainly may have. It is traditional for a clan heir."
"Well, if it's traditional…" Amanda said wryly, "that ends the discussion."
"Not entirely. We will debate the merits, or the lack of them, regarding your other conclusions at a later time." Sarek said, with a glance to her that said he would have more than a few words on the subject, and of her tactics. That having been said, he settled back, very nearly unruffled, to his meal. "But as to the first, I would not be adverse to a sehlat. It would be a most welcome companion on hikes," he added, warming to the subject. "Indeed, it will be quite pleasant to welcome another to the house. The Fortress has been too long without the benefit of their presence and their company."
"Oh, yes. I remember those benefits well. Hair, sand, dirt…" Amanda countered. She returned to her own meal, quite satisfied to have won the first round. "Not to exclude the particular aroma of a sehlat who's wallowed in one of the ornamental pools on a hot summer day." She wrinkled her nose in remembrance. "Or one who has dug up and eaten something particularly--"
"Sehlats are exceptionally clean and well behaved animals," Sarek stated, reaching for a second helping. He restrained himself from adding the addendum 'unlike some children', which would have tempted him had he not been at table.
"So speaks Vulcan loyalty over logic," Amanda said dryly, avoiding her husband's disapproving brow at that heretical teasing, acceptable when they were alone together, but inappropriate before their son. "Do you want a girl or a boy?" She asked Spock instead. "A girl might be easier to train."
"I can't imagine how you have come to such a fallacious supposition," Sarek came back. "In my experience, however limited, I have discovered that some girls are almost impossible to train."
Amanda drew up at that underhanded dig, and threw her husband a glare.
"Though with Vulcan persistence, I will endeavor to keep trying," Sarek continued with a flick of his brow.
Spock, who'd been about to reply to his mother, bit his lip on a revealing smile and ducked his head for good measure. He needn't have worried about his father's disapproving gaze, for his parent's were once again engaged solely with eachother.
"And I'm not sure I can handle another boy in the house," Amanda shot back to her husband. "Two of you are quite enough. It's past time for some parity of gender in this establishment."
"Why not both?" Spock interjected into the breach, having gotten control of his expression. When his parents both looked at him, as if both had forgotten he was in the room, he added, "Then they wouldn't be lonely for company while I'm in class."
"Two?" Amanda said, taken aback. "Two of those huge beasts trampling about the place? I was willing to have one, but--"
"But I think two is an excellent suggestion," Sarek said, with a certain evil relish at her discomfiture. When she gave him an appalled look, he added smoothly. "But I understand your quite natural concern."
"I should hope so," Amanda said, mollified.
"We would naturally have to choose two from different lines and litters entirely," Sarek continued. "Against the day when they will come to mate."
"To--?" she closed her mouth on the last word, astonished that Sarek would say such a thing at table. Even of sehlats.
"It is what girls and boys do," Sarek told his wife blandly.
"Do they?" she asked pointedly, with a trace of ulterior meaning in her tone.
"And then we will have cubs of our own to place," Sarek continued. With the purely Vulcan delight rampant in his warrior line for twisting the knife, he added "Four or even six in a litter is quite common." Sarek's delivery was a reminder of what generally happened to humans who took on Vulcans -- at least on their home turf.
"Oh, my." Struck by the thought of half a dozen sehlats – or more -- rampaging through the house, Amanda sat back in clear acknowledgement that while she had won a skirmish, Sarek had definitely taken this battle. Though she just as quickly rallied. "You will be doing the housebreaking then," Amanda told her husband. "Of these and all future litters."
"Sehlats are exceptionally intelligent," Sarek said loftily. "They are not dogs. There will be no trouble with housetraining, at all."
"And I'll remind you of that with the first puddle. Or lake, as the case may be. When I point out the cleaning supplies."
"I will be doing the housetraining," Spock said, into the argument. When both his parents looked at him, having once again nearly forgotten his presence, he added. "They will be my sehlats."
"Indeed they will be," Sarek said. "All of them. We'll review potential candidates tomorrow."
"And Spock will certainly need to be home, to look after all these sehlats," Amanda said pointedly, with a glance to her husband to let him know that she hadn't conceded the war. "Your father, as you know, is much too busy with his myriad responsibilities. And I, of course, have no abilities with training Vulcan animals." She gave her husband a meaningful look.
"Animals,' Sarek said, not liking that appellation and not quite sure that it didn't cover more than sehlats.
"If the shoe fits."
"What shoe?" Spock asked puzzled.
Sarek eyed his wife. "Your mother was saying--"
"Present company accepted, of course," Amanda interrupted him hurriedly. "So, Spock. You'll have to start thinking of names."
"Is there any dessert?" Sarek asked, having mopped up both dinner and argument.
After dinner, even Sarek helped in clearing away the dishes. But the truce among contentious issues that held sway during meals unraveled a bit, as they went through the brief chores of clearing the table and setting the kitchen to rights, even with the welcome prospect of new sehlat cubs in the house. Bringing his own dishes from the table, he watched the interplay between his parents. It always amazed him how his father never said anything about the waste of water his mother always used in such endeavors. But then, she was from a waterworld. To her, water was perhaps as ubiquitous an element as air, and something not really thought about. To a Vulcan, even to Spock, who'd grown up with her corrupting influence, it was a disconcerting thought. Even her plants used a prodigious amount of that element, as was evidenced when she handed him a spouted container and asked him to water those by the long kitchen windows. Tending them across the room, Spock looked up to see his parents talking quietly together, though their words were below his hearing. His father was reaching to put something on a shelf high over his mother's head. She was just closing the door of the sanitizer. Whatever he said to her must have affronted her, at least a little. She gave him a mock cuff and a jab of her elbow – and even though Spock himself was used to her giving him an occasional swat of reproof, it still shocked him inexpressibly to see his mother deliver physical blows to his father. Sarek caught her hands and then shifted his grip to hold her still preventing further such actions. She looked up at him and they shared one of those wordless looks that, together with their near embrace, made Spock quickly turn back to his watering chores, his face flushing. It was not his place to notice such things, yet, living among them, how could he not? He turned his attention resolutely to the crocuses were now just beginning to bud, With one careful finger, he wonderingly traced the hint of color in the alien bloom. Such a color was particularly unusual in a Vulcan plant, and he was eager to see the blooms. Behind him, he heard his mother laugh – how alien such a vocalization, in a Vulcan household, and did his mother not understand that? – and the indiscernible rumble of his father's reply. Looking back at his parents, he saw they were still engrossed with each other. He quickly finished his watering and slipped out of the room before they could remember he had still been there.
Spock well knew his bedtime, and once he became old enough to be considered responsible, rarely violated it. But now, disciplined sleep deserted him. No matter how he tried to banish the thoughts from his mind, he kept remembering his father's face when he had nearly spoken of the meaning of "an unspecified fever". And the scene in his office afterwards. The thought of sehlats was a mild distraction, but he couldn't help thinking of his mother. Though he didn't know quite what to think. Except that somehow, she ought to be told. It was wrong for her to be kept in ignorance. On the other hand, there was nothing he could do about it.
Finally, he gave up tossing and turning and went out the bedroom doors of his suite that opened on the rooftop gardens. Seeing Sarek up in the old sentry post that was his favorite meditation spot, Spock ducked behind a potted tree. Hugging the building so even starlight won't throw his shadow across the stones, he moved silently, taking care not to attract attention to his father's keen hearing, around to a terrace out of his father's line of sight and for the most part, sound. There, he flung himself down on the ground, staring up at the starfield. Out there was the Federation, more than half filled with humankind, like his mother. Like himself as well, though he rarely let himself think of that. And though Vulcans, like his father, considered themselves and their ways superior, the Terran dominated Federation was the major power in the galaxy, at least so far. No one could deny that they were numerous, motivated, smart after their own fashion, and capable people. He'd never really thought about it before, but now it was if he needed to think that way.
His mother was brilliant in her own way. Teaching at the VSA was no minor honor. Though among her colleagues there, her qualities were more average among geniuses than exceptional. Mere genius, and not, as was sometimes said of others, a genius' genius. He knew she won some Federation prizes, but her field was an obscure one, and not held in high honor by most Terrans or aliens, who would far rather be identified by their differences than for their shared characteristics. He also strongly suspected she was far more involved in his father's work than either of them routinely let on. While it wasn't necessary for him to know that, and he supposed there were very good reasons why he should not, still, right now, that reassurance seemed necessary to him.
Part of it was the heretical thought, that if he had to succeed his father, but was also rather too much like his mother, then if his mother was important to his father's work, he had more than half a chance to succeed at it -- if not from one parent's inheritance, then from the other. In fact, he had lately almost come to count on that. And if she were not? He hoped he was enough like his father to master those duties as he had most of the disciplines set for him so far. Most of them. Even if he seldom seemed to do so entirely to his father's standards.
The ever present worry over his father's planned future for him, and his ability to fit himself within it, meshed with his current discomfort over this latest discovery.
He was too young, yet, to understand that what really disturbed him was knowing something his mother did not. That wasn't all that unusual, really. He grew up, after all, inside of Vulcan culture. His mother lived very much on the fringes of it. Outside of the clan, a mere human, she could never really belong. There were scores of little things he knew that she didn't. When he was younger, he'd taken a child's delight at times in triumphing over her in knowing those minor things. Things that in general she cared nothing about, and if she had, she would have bothered to learn them. Even he knew that.
But this wasn't mere incidentals of culture, like the orders of clan precedence, or the details of the ceremony by which Surak's precepts were reaffirmed. This was biology, which rode above all culture. Which was inescapable. However much his mother might be outside the clan, not recognized by T'Pau, forever human, she was wife to a Vulcan. A bondmate, who, however much it was not his place to consider it, had served his father in numerous Times and who had born him a child. She might not be Vulcan, but this was a fact of life. One of biology. And obscurely, he felt she was entitled to know of it.
And she had been disturbed. Upset by worry over this "unspecified fever". Even thinking it might be a danger to him. Outside of the clan, no Vulcan would speak of such a thing to her, even if she tried to ascertain it. His father had not told her. Worry was an unprofitable human emotion, but was it right to let her suffer from it when he had the facts to set her right?
He rolled over on the damp terrace, wondering if he dared speak the unspeakable to her. He had told his father he never would. But he had not thought it would so plague his conscience.
Though too immature to articulate it, there was a sense he was being made to grow up too soon, to know there were things he knew that his mother did not. Internally he railed against it, and yet by his father, was bound to silence. He didn't want to be in possession of a fact that his mother ought to know, yet had never been told. Not that he didn't, in some respects, sympathize with his father for not having told her. He didn't like knowing it either and wouldn't want to tell her. Yet the burden of knowing it when she did not weighed on him. He was, he felt obscurely, too young for such a burden.
"Spock. What are you doing out here?"
He turned, shocked that he'd been so lost in thought he hadn't heard her footsteps, even over the dew soaked sand. She was wearing a sweater against the evening chill, which here in the foothills, in the thin air, came quickly after sunset. And she was carrying a portable light.
Spock put his finger to his lips and wordlessly pointed to the spot behind the building where his father meditated. Not that Sarek could see them from this angle, but he could certainly hear them. In fact, unless he had turned his attention so inward as to be oblivious, the jig was probably up now. His mother had spoken in a normal tone of voice, clearly audible to his father's keen hearing. Disregarding his normal bedtime would not be a crime his father would much concern himself with, and would garner no more of his father's attention than perhaps a verbal reproof, if that. But neglecting his studies, or any number of the other sins Spock had been contemplating would certainly garner him some unpleasant attentions Spock didn't choose to seek.
"He's not there. I just went to tell him that he had a priority subspace call. That's why I'm out here. The question is, why are you?"
"I couldn't sleep."
"Excited about getting a sehlat?"
Spock gave her a wordless look.
Amanda sighed. "No. I didn't think so. I thought I had gotten you two past whatever had upset you both so this afternoon. But first your father comes out here to meditate, for far longer than he should have. And now I find you. What is it with both of you?"
Spock looked at her from under his lashes and looked away. "I was just looking at the stars."
She spared a casual glance for the magnificent starfield, that here in the foothills, far away from the city lights, stretched impressively from one horizon to the other in an immense tapestry. "Very pretty. It's a clear night. But the stars are as they always are. Why aren't you?"
Spock shook his head.
Amanda raised a brow and unexpectedly, sat down on the terrace beside him.
He drew a breath to say something – the ground was wet, it was cold, his father would not approve of this uncharacteristic late night tête-à-tête and therefore he could not, but Amanda spoke first.
"What did your father take you to task for, earlier this afternoon? Usually I can divine such things, but I confess this time, I'm clueless. And don't tell me that he didn't."
Spock shook his head, agreeing with her evaluation, even if he couldn't say so. Clueless she was indeed. "Don't ask me questions I can't answer."
"Oh, it's like that, is it?" She asked. With no particular rancor. Only a bit of exasperation. "Another Vulcan mystery."
Spock didn't say anything.
"Some deep dark secret, I gather."
"Not a secret," Spock contradicted. "Just…. something."
"That all Vulcans know, and for whatever reason, I don't." His mother didn't sound either surprised or upset about it. She didn't even sound particularly interested.
Spock didn't answer, but his shoulders dropped. He almost wished he had such a deplorable lack of curiosity, rather than a nature that at times seemed to perish from it. Curiosity, for him, was a particular plague. But, on the other hand, living on Vulcan his mother had probably long been surfeit about the arcane details of Vulcan culture, and not much interested in what to her was probably just one more. She wasn't curious about it at all, except that it was bothering him. He could feel her gaze upon him, and Vulcan controls aside, he wriggled a little.
"It must be awful, to have the weight of the world on your shoulders at twelve."
Spock raised betrayed eyes to her. It was one thing for her not to be interested, but quite another for him to be suffering on her behalf and have her… "You're laughing at me," he accused,
"Not at all. I think you probably do. Who more so than you, your father's son? And such a father." Amanda laughed lightly, ruefully again. "Particularly with such a clueless mother. You got, my son, a very raw deal."
That was a new way of looking at things, for Spock, who'd always been told how privileged he was to be the son of the heir to Surak's clan. He thought about that for a bit, though the notion was too Terran for him to accept. Instead he looked at his mother, who was gazing up at the starfield with appreciation. "How can you live here," he asked her, turning himself over to sit up straight, "and not be…competent?"
"Does it seem to you I'm so incompetent?" she asked, not sparing him a glance from her stargazing. "Look, I think that's Sol, over there."
"No, Mother," Spock said with ragged patience. "It is Regulus. Sol is in that direction, and entirely invisible at this season. "
"Hmm, Well, I might confess some incompetence. Only in certain things."
"Yes. That is quite evident."
She flicked a brow. "You may be right."
Spock couldn't help but disapprove. "And you don't care? You ought to care." His disapproval seemed to rankle in the space between them.
Amanda sighed. "Oh, Spock. If I let myself worry over everything I didn't know about Vulcans, I could never get through the day. Did you ever think, my son, how impossible it is for anyone, born into a completely different culture, on a different planet, to come to another world and another people, marry into them and be fully competent? I'm sorry that it shatters your ideals to have a mother so mortally flawed, but let's be realistic. I don't expect to be able to on Vulcan. And you're old enough now to understand that. You should appreciate it, given it's not even a human failing. Your father, for example, and for all his abilities, couldn't manage it on Terra. Though I suspect you don't believe that. The corollary being neither of us would expect you to be, even with my excellent example of things human. In spite of what your father sometimes says."
"But you live here on Vulcan." Spock looked away before he asked a heretical question. "This is your home, now, isn't it? Not Terra. How can you bear it? Being here. And yet not being of here."
Amanda sighed. "I'm not twelve, for one thing."
"I don't understand."
"You're coming to that adolescent stage when everything is so extreme. I don't know why I didn't think that wouldn't be equally true for Vulcan adolescents."
"I'm not," Spock denied.
Amanda bit her lip on a smile. "And, for another, I don't have to answer to your father when I don't understand everything."
Spock gave her a truculent look from under his lashes and then dared to make a very inappropriate comment, by Vulcan standards. Only because his mother was human, and overlooked such transgressions did he dare it. "It seems to me that at least sometimes, you do."
"Only when I choose to."
Spock shook his head "I don't believe that. Father is…" he hesitated.
"Oh, go ahead and say it. I give you leave to speak as candidly as you like."
Spock eyed her warily. "Only that Father is father. Even when he is your bondmate "
"He can be a little…extreme. But I love your father regardless. Spock, one of the things I hope you'll someday learn about love is that you come to excuse the other's faults. Particularly those he can't help."
"Does he excuse yours?"
"Well, as you say, your Father is Vulcan," Amanda said lightly. "Some he certainly does. As for the others – and for yours, that he takes you to task for – remember love is a human emotion that I don't think either you or your father has learned that very well. Not a credit to me, given I've had you both under my wing all this time. And Vulcan's don't really love quite in a human fashion either. Though I think, with a little work, and my excellent example, you might manage it at last. At least I hope you will, eventually."
Spock shook his head at this folly. "I wonder that you expect that of him," Daring the license she'd granted, he ventured, "You do know you behave disgracefully toward him?"
"Do I?" Amanda gave him a look. "Really? I thought I behave reasonably respectfully. At least, given I'm a human. I'm not a Vulcan wife. "
"No, you don't. Not at all."
She spared him a glance. "Is there some Vulcan comportment class you've attended that I've missed? Where do you get your examples? I am the only mother you've got, so far as I know."
"It is so obvious."
Amanda laughed at his superior, condescending tone. "You are becoming such a teenager. But perhaps you're right. Still, I do try."
"Not very hard. No wonder he doesn't-- " Spock closed his mouth on the forbidden topic, and approached another tangentially. "I wonder that he doesn't mention something to you about it."
"I am human."
"But he is Vulcan. We are Vulcan," Spock reiterated, a little desperately.
"You perhaps. Not me."
"Mother," Spock dared to ask, "Would it not have been more logical to marry a human?"
"Oh. I see where all this is coming from. You and your father discussed some deep, dark Vulcan secret between you this afternoon. One that is tearing you in two. And if only I'd had the good sense to marry a human, this cup would have passed from your adolescent shoulders."
He would have protested, but it came to him, that in spite of her undisciplined phrasing, she had caught his feelings, heretical though they were. He chose to say nothing, effectively confirming them.
"It would have been easier, had I not married your father. But it wouldn't have been right. Particularly when I look at you." She sighed as he lowered his head. "Well, I know that probably doesn't help. But if you want, I'll tell you a deep dark human secret, to go along side your Vulcan one. Balance out that grief."
Spock wasn't sure he wanted any more adult burdens on his shoulders but he was too curious not to look a question. Amanda leaned her head down and whispered into one minute pointed ear. "Logic isn't everything."
Spock reared back in disappointment and disapproval. "That's no secret. Particularly for humans."
"Then I'll tell you something that isn't a secret, but that you need to hear. Vulcan isn't the whole universe."
"I know that."
"From your behavior, I could hardly tell."
"For now, it's my whole universe. And it ought to be yours."
Amanda turned at that, curious enough to look at him. "Do you really believe that?"
He didn't. But in a way, he did.
Amanda shook her head. "That's a deplorable thought. I know part of this is adolescent angst, and the peculiar conservativism teenagers develop before you all go into that rebellious stage –"
"I'm not in a stage," Spock said with derision.
"But I'm beginning to think we're doing you a disservice not to take you with us on trips. I know T'Pau isn't thrilled about having all her heirs off planet together, but on the less contentious trips we probably ought to manage it. In spite of your father's concerns about security. And schooling."
"I don't want to go on those trips."
"Vulcan be your whole universe? How can that be? Just look at today, and think of all the Terran elements that blended with the Vulcan background to merge together in your universe. Are you telling me you aren't richer, and better for that blending?"
"That doesn't mean it's correct to live that way. Particularly for Vulcans."
"Being a little of both, you need to find some sort of happy compromise between your father's teachings and my own. Without compromising your duties. Your father has managed it, you know. In marrying me. So it's just as possible for you."
"But I'm not talking about me."
Amanda took her eyes from the starfield. "You're not?"
Spock shook his head.
She blinked in astonishment. "Do you mean, that you've been sitting out here in the dark, torn in two, not because of some perceived failing on your part that your father took you to task for, but because of me?"
Spock looked at her mutely.
"Because of me?" she asked again, incredulously. "What did your father say to you?"
When he didn't answer, that was answer enough for her. She took a deep breath, shaking her head, and got to her feet. "Heavens. I think it's long past time for you to go into bed."
Spock rose as well, dusting off his hands the inevitable gritty sand that permeated even the Terrace gardens.
Amanda stood looking down at him. "Spock, I am a grown woman. And your mother. You don't need to concern yourself with me. And," she added, phrasing her words so even a Vulcan adolescent could understand them, "I forbid it. Is that good enough for you?"
Amanda shook her head. "Good night."
Spock started to trudge off and then shifted back, anxiously. "You won't tell him?"
"You haven't told me anything."
"That doesn't matter. He would be very displeased with me."
"Oh, go to bed you silly child. I won't tell him we talked – about nothing, as the case may be. So long as you remember what I just told you to do."
Spock looked at her closely, and then, his shoulders dropping as if he'd been relieved of at least one burden, went off to bed.
When Sarek didn't show up in their suite, even long after he should have finished his call, she went in search of him, concerned it was some Federation problem requiring them to immediately pack up and hare off on some new mission. When she entered her husband's office though, she was could see, displayed on his computer screen a splay of Vulcan text, and a picture of a pair of sehlats romping across the desert sand.
"Sehlat shopping already?" She picked up the printed out pages of pictures and pedigrees, and scanned through them.
"Some research is required."
."They look awfully big," Amanda said doubtfully.
"I was under the impression you were fond of I-Chiya."
"Of course I was." She put the pages down and faced him. "I like dogs as well as any woman. And every boy needs one. Regardless of their age," she added, giving her husband a level look.
"Sehlats are not--"
"And even cats, in a pinch. In spite of the perpetual nastiness of Vulcan ones. I just wish they didn't have to be so big. But you still owe me, you know. You wouldn't have thought to ask him if he'd gotten over it."
"Such emotional conditions are not inherent to Vulcans."
"You were just never five and having lost a beloved pet. I seem to recall even at seventy-five you took it pretty hard."
"Perhaps," Sarek said, a rare concession for him.
"So," Amanda concluded, "you owe me."
"Indeed? Before I concede any indebtedness, I'd like to know what compensation you require."
She toyed with a statue on his credenza, cut from mountain rock, of a lematya outstretched in full attack mode. "I'd like to know what you took Spock to task for, this afternoon. Usually, I can figure you out, but this time--"
Sarek turned away, under the guise of closing down his computer. "It's not something of concern to humans."
"Excuse me?" She shifted to face him. "I'm not just any human, you know. I'm your wife. And the only mother that boy has got. I'm entitled to know."
Sarek looked up from sliding his sehlat research into a folder and taking the statue from her hands, replaced it to its exact spot. "Some things are appropriate for Vulcan knowledge alone."
"I already know the worst secret," she said. "At least from a Vulcan viewpoint. And I've survived that knowledge."
"Survival," Sarek said dryly, putting the folder into his desk. "is the subject at hand."
Amanda crossed her arms. "When you go all dramatic, I start to worry."
"There is no need. The subject is closed." Sarek rose from his desk. "It's late. Let us retire."
"Not so fast. It's not closed for me, since I was never in on it when it was opened. I'd understand if I were Vulcan, wouldn't I?"
"Yes." Rising, he reached out and touched her face. "But that doesn't mean you need know it now." He looked down at her, still cradling her cheek. "There are times, my wife, when I wish you were not human."
She stared at him a moment, then looking hurt, broke away, taking a few steps aside. "Are you trying to be cruel?"
"Rather the reverse. Because if you were not human, you would not have emotional reactions. Or at least not be distressed by them."
"Are my emotions such horrid things?" She looked at him briefly. "There are times, I remind you, when you don't seem to mind them much. When they serve you very well."
"It is the times when they don't serve you well that I regret."
"What do you mean?"
"I mind them very much when they concern you."
"It's your behavior that is upsetting me. Leave my emotions out of your consideration."
"I can't. I would keep you safe, even from yourself."
She looked up at him. "You and your son both share that mistaken assumption."
"What do you mean?" Sarek asked.
"Just that your son is sometimes too much like you. But not even you can manage to save me from myself. I am what I am, Sarek. And if what you say is part of Vulcan life, it can't be changed. And if it will bother me a little, well, then it will have to. It's too late for wishing I'm not involved. Or to try to hide the facts from me."
"I don't regret that you are human. I regret that, because you are human, you can be distressed."
"But aren't you distressed now? Isn't Spock? Why should I be so spared?"
"We are Vulcan. If there are flaws in our emotional control, they are ours to address."
"I wonder that you think humans are any more overset by emotional considerations, just because, at times, we express them. Or that Vulcans are any less, from not doing so. It seems to me very much the opposite. Can't you see the illogic of what you are doing?"
Sarek turned to her, stung by that accusation. The abruptness of his movement spoke that she had hit a nerve, a flaw in his control. Perhaps a trace of guilt. The brief uncontrolled motion and the fierceness of his gaze would have given a Vulcan pause, knowing the strong emotions it bore witness to, even if the reason for those emotions were kept hidden. Being human, and naïve in that respect, Amanda met his gaze undaunted by the evidence of a passion that would have warned any Vulcan to retreat. "Amanda--"
"You can't keep me safe, Sarek."
"I can very well try." He had regained control of himself. His voice was cool, but underlain with the fierce determination that characterized a Vulcan. "And I will. In that, you have no choice."
Amanda shook her head, as much in exasperation as negation. "At what cost? Didn't Vulcans long ago determine that safety wasn't worth any price?"
"In theory. In practice, with bondmates, it can be otherwise."
"That, my Vulcan husband, is emotion."
"No. It is biology."
Amanda sighed. She had some understanding of how inviolate biology could be for Vulcans. It was the only thing that they allowed to override logic. It was the only thing that could. "Your biology. Not mine. Don't you understand? It's your flaw, not mine that's the issue here. And you don't need to keep me safe from it!"
"It is what I must keep you safe from."
"Why? Because I'll be shocked? Sarek, I'm human. Sex is just sex."
"Not always, with Vulcans."
"I don't understand you. What aren't you telling me?" When he didn't answer, she shook her head in frustration. "Sarek, I'm your wife. I've borne you a child. I've been through Pon Far, more than once. What are you so afraid of? And whatever it is, can't you understand that I'm not? And that I can understand, if you give me half a chance."
"Humans have a saying. Ignorance is bliss. Where I can, I would rather have you blissful, than knowledgeable." He sighed, just a little, looking down at her. "In fact, in some respects, it is rather…charming."
Amanda blew out a breath in exasperation. "Oh, what sheer chauvinistic, ethnocentric nonsense. I can put up with your male dominating follies. I can put up with Vulcan superiority. I can even put up with your crazy, convoluted customs about your biology. But when you combine them together against me, I could throttle you. Vulcans ought to make ignorance, or at least avoidance, their watchword and Holy Grail. You are being so ridiculous. Can't you see that trying to shield me – and Spock, too, for that matter – is only hurting us?"
"I'm not shielding Spock. I'm only holding him to the standards necessary for his acceptance in Vulcan society."
"We've had that argument before. In trying to make sure he had every opportunity you had, aren't you ignoring the real issue of who he is?"
"Who he must learn to be is more the issue."
"You want to spare him – and yourself, I suspect, but mostly him – the hurt he might encounter if he wasn't acknowledged as your oh-so Vulcan son. No matter what it takes – or how it hurts him or me otherwise?
Sarek rounded on her. "You can't tell me you haven't regretted and agonized – cried bitter tears – over every hurt or slight – however true or imagined – you thought that child has faced. Don't try to deny it. I have seen you do so."
"Of course, I have. I'm his mother. I'm human. Sarek, that's normal, for humans But I've never tried to keep him in a box to spare his feelings. There's the difference between us. And I certainly don't want you do it to spare mine!"
"I am not human. And I will do what I must."
"I want you to stop it!"
"I can not."
She drew a ragged breath, and stared at him for a long time. "You can't, can you? I mean, you really, really can't."
Sarek was silent for a long moment. Then he said, almost reluctantly, "It is, as you say, normal. If not for all Vulcans, than for me. I am what I am, Amanda. Some things are outside the realm of even Vulcan controls."
"Biology," Amanda said. And choked out half a laugh. "Biology."
"You're my wife." Sarek said it, quite seriously as if that were explanation enough. Perhaps it was, for him.
"Does Spock know? Does he understand this? Why you are, sometimes, the way you are?"
"I don't know."
"You mean, you're not sure if he is Vulcan enough?"
"If he has inherited traits that are present in our line, if not at full force in every individual. If his bond with T'Pring becomes strong enough…. Then some day, he will." Sarek hesitated, then said. "But it might be far better, if he is not. And he does not."
Amanda wondered, perhaps heretically, if that's why Sarek chose TPring for their son. She didn't seem to her the type to inspire such all encompassing Vulcan devotion, however misapplied it could be at times. "Except he'll never have any chance of understanding you otherwise. Will he?"
"It's not important that he understand me. Again, in regard to this, it might be better if he did not."
"I don't agree. "I think that's foolish, if not outright dangerous. And I'm sure he wouldn't agree."
"He is a child. What is important is that his mother understands me."
"Aren't you trying to deny something in your son that is a part of you, more inherent to his nature than any human traits he might have inherited from me?"
"I'm trying to help him. And you. Not all of Vulcan nature is estimable."
"I think you're wrong."
"Given how little you know of the true nature of Vulcans, you are no judge. What you need to do, is understand and accept my judgment."
Amanda bit her lip, and looked away. "And yet, you aren't telling me enough to understand. You never do. So much of Vulcan nature, and Vulcan culture, is still secret from me."
"I am telling you that it is your duty to accept, regardless of the extent of your comprehension."
"Duty is not the watchword for me that it is for you."
Sarek reached out, and took her hand. "I think you sell yourself rather short in that respect."
She looked down at his hand on hers. "I still think you're wrong. And someday, I think, you'll come to understand what I mean. But, for the present," she sighed. "What I can't understand, or don't know, you're then asking me to accept on faith. And faith can sometimes be worn very thin on these issues. In this marriage, it is getting quite a workout."
"On logic," Sarek countered gently. "Accepting that I have good logical reasons."
"That you won't share, so that doesn't work for me. Which leaves me only with love. And whether you deserve it or not, I do love you."
"Love is immaterial."
She gave him a look. Neither her husband nor her son had ever told her they loved her, not in so many English words. But nor did they generally flat out deny their caring in other ones. When Sarek was that blunt, he was being so for a specific reason. "I know what that's code for."
"Biology, as you well know, cannot be thwarted."
"If I didn't know you, and love you and trust you as much as I do, I suspect you, my dear husband, of using that excuse to always get your way."
Sarek glanced at her. "What a shocking accusation. Besides being entirely untrue, it would be immoral to so devious."
"It is very convenient. It serves you so well, but like faith, for me at times, that excuse wears pretty thin. Vulcans may rear back in horror and never confront an issue just because it is related to biology. Humans aren't so reverent. You avoid, and evade and deny, and control. Wouldn't it be better to just confront and accept your own nature?"
"I do accept it, And on some issues, there is nothing I can do."
"Oh, that's no excuse!"
"It is the truth."
"It's a cop out," she said bitterly.
"You really aren't going to tell me what you and Spock were upset about this afternoon?"
"I am not."
"You know that someday, I will find out," she warned.
"I sincerely hope that you will not. And that it won't be through my doing that you do."
"Never the less, I will."
"And if I command you not to attempt such?"
"You're my husband. Not my liege lord."
"I am both."
"I didn't take any vows to obey."
"Honor, would do."
Amanda sighed in frustration. "Honor, indeed. You are so lucky that I love you so much to put up with this Vulcan cloak and dagger nonsense about basic facts I should be cognizant of – and the roles you expect me to play."
He raised a brow. "Am I?"
"I must take that, as you say, on faith."
"No, Sarek. You still don't get it. You have to take it on love. It's the only thing that works between us, when we come to these issues. Whether you acknowledge it or not. You do understand that, don't you?"
Sarek said nothing.
Amanda sighed in frustration and turned to look out the long windows that overhung the formal Vulcan gardens. Most of the plants were fierce desert bred creatures, long-lived and tenacious, even under the most adverse conditions. Now gardeners had trained then into careful disciplined patterns. No wonder Sarek's office overlooked that exemplary vista, object lesson that it was. But however appropriate, she couldn't appreciate the inherent lesson. "Either I am a lousy teacher, or you, my husband, are a very poor student."
Sarek came up behind her. "Perhaps, like Vulcan biology being unique to Vulcans, human love is something that cannot be taught."
She looked back over her shoulder at him, a sight more pleasant than the suddenly unlovely gardens. "You don't mind if I go on trying, do you?"
For the first time since she entered his office, Sarek unbent enough to soften his expression into the half smile even Vulcans allowed. "I'll endeavor to tolerate the attempt."
"It wouldn't kill you, you know, to tell me that you love me."
"For a Vulcan," Sarek said, his teasing underlain, like the gardens, with complete seriousness, "it very well might."
"Oh, you," Amanda said. "You're right. It's useless for us even to try to discuss this subject. Let's just go to bed. There, at least," she gave him an exasperated look, "we manage to communicate reasonably well."
"Biology," Sarek said, with a flick of a brow and a flicking off of the lights, "does have some common expressions, even between our two species." He took his wife's hand, to guide her in the dark.
"For what seems like the hundredth time, my dear husband," she said into the dark, having the last word, at least for a time, "it's love."
In the end, her colleague's cubs were deemed insufficiently grand. Sarek and Spock spent several evenings in Sarek's study researching pedigrees before deciding on two litters with a lineage suitably illustrious to grace the former house of Surak, where even sehlats had to have the bluest of green blood.
"I wonder that you let me live here," Amanda said, eyeing the pedigree. "I feel more like an imposter than ever."
"Present company accepted," Sarek returned, getting the last word on that subject, even if a few days late.
Spock choked down an inadvertent laugh.
Nor could Amanda give him the clout he deserved, given it would shock her conservative son. The life of a human in a Vulcan household was a continual trial. On the other hand, she had walked into that one. And however Vulcans have tried to contain their warrior nature, when you set yourself up so obligingly, as well as having previously been guilty of some dirty shots, it take a very disciplined Vulcan not to resist the temptation not to reply in kind, even when you least expect it.
"You were saving that," she accused, trying not to be amused.
"I can't imagine what you mean," Sarek replied.
Being no Vulcan, she couldn't resist a little escalation in turn.
"You must always remember, Spock," she said, holding her husband's eye, "to follow your father's excellent examples. In all his many ways."
Sarek's eyes narrowed in return.
"I always do," Spock replied, causing both of his parents to do a double take, not sure if this time the son had gotten the last word. But this time, Spock's expression was controlled – and innocent – enough to conceal any private mischief he'd intended.
Amanda couldn't quite help thinking that was one victory for her side.
"Go prepare to leave, Spock" Sarek said, giving his son a speculative glance. "We have sehlats to review."
Spock trailed a glance from one parent to the next, "I always get sent--"
"Go. Now." Sarek waited until his son was well out of even Vulcan earshot. "He really ought to go away to school."
"You lost that battle," Amanda said, not without some satisfaction. She didn't win many of them when her son's Vulcan education was concerned. "Anyway, who was it who indulged in a little Vulcan humor? At his human wife's expense, I remind you? "
"My human wife has a credit balance in that respect, that occasionally demands repayment."
"Anyway, even you're not sure if Spock was just teasing you in turn."
"Hmmm. You weren't either?"
Amanda shook her head. "Not this time."
"He really ought to go to school."
"Look on the bright side, Sarek. If even you're not sure if he's teasing you, he is mastering control of something."
Sarek stared at her, astounded. "How can you live on Vulcan for so long, and still be so completely human?"
"I get that a lot," Amanda agreed. "Look, you'd better get going. He's probably out there having half dismantled the aircar -- at least mentally. And occasionally his fingers get tempted enough to follow. At least riding herd on a couple of sehlat cubs will keep him busy for a while."
"I remind you again that sehlats are not the dogs you seem to regard them as," Sarek said, as he held open the door to the garden court for her. "They are highly intelligent, eminently trainable, and will be perfect examples of Vulcan rectitude."
"I've heard that before in regard to other things Vulcan," she said, as they walked out to the hanger and came up to where Spock had restrained himself to only opening the aircar, and running through the preflight check. He was legitimately manhandling two wire crates into the cargo area as they walked up. "And the result has been known to dismantle half the house."
Spock might have missed the earlier part of the discussion, but he knew full well the latter was in reference to him. He tried to look offended, even as he tried not to show any expression at all. She had to hide her own amusement as the conflict warred across his face.
"So while you two are choosing the perfect sehlats, I'll spend the afternoon cub-proofing. Though with sehlats weighing upwards of half a ton, that is probably a futile endeavor.".
"You can attend," Sarek offered.
"No," she declined. "I am no judge of sehlats, as you know." A day spent debating the subtle and arcane points of sehlat conformation in the Vulcan heat over a procession of cubs that all would probably look pretty much alike to her didn't much appeal. She'd appreciate them – as it were – soon enough in her shaded gardens. And it was a good opportunity for her husband and son to engage in a little father/son bonding away from her human influence. So she waved them off, amused to see that under that veneer of self-control both her Vulcans were probably as excited as pre-Kahs Wahn kids.
When the cubs finally arrived, she was as excited as her Vulcans had pretended not to be, in spite of her misgivings about two eight hundred pound creatures thundering around the house, not to mention future offspring. But she had never seen the pint sized cub version of baby sehlats. "Oh," Amanda said, coming forward as Spock came in, staggering a little under the considerable heft and size of even a young cub. "They're so adora--"
Seeing this foreign smelling creature, the baby sehlat gave a woof and a growl and struggling out of Spock's arms, made as if for her, Spock in hot if belated pursuit. He grabbed the cub and went down with an oomph as the wind was knocked out of him, the cub went down under him with a squeal. Both slid across the stones of the garden court under the sheer force of momentum to land nearly at her feet, she stepping aside at the last minute to be spared being bowled over herself.
"able," she finished, looking down dubiously at them.
"What the--" Sarek came in behind Spock, arms laden with the female cub.
"I was saving her from harm," Spock said, shaking his head dazedly. "He was trying to attack."
"Most commendable, I'm sure," Sarek said, putting the smaller girl cub in Amanda's arms and lifting both son and boy cub, which was now assiduously scouring Amanda's ankles, by the respective scruffs of their necks.
"What a beauty," Amanda settled down on the ground to get better acquainted with her charge. "What's your name?"
"The boy is I-Charyn," Spock said, having successfully corralled his cub and trying not to be bowled over by him.
"And the girl?"
"We thought we'd let you name her," Sarek suggested. "In deference to equity."
"Oh," Amanda looked up at her husband from where she'd buried her face in the soft fur, recognizing the peace offering being extended. "That's sweet." She drew back a little, to look the sehlat in the face. "What shall we call you, you beautiful creature?" she asked. "What's your name?"
"Mother, she can't speak," Spock said patiently. "She is too young even to have developed the empathic abilities for which sehlats are prized."
"You'd be surprised what she can say," Amanda said, carding her own fingers through the fur. "All the names I would think of would probably be inappropriate for her illustrious pedigree. Doesn't she need to have a Vulcan name?"
"She has already, a lineage identification number and a name combining her breeding line and the names of both her sire and dam," Sarek let himself down on the court stones next to his wife and reached over to pet the cub as well. "The name in question now is essentially a call name. Are you thinking of something Terran?"
Amanda looked down at the sehlat and then over at her son, whose head was bent over the boy cub. "No," she said, with acknowledgement, meeting her husband's eyes. "They're Vulcan after all. We'll give her a Vulcan name."
His hand strayed from petting the sehlat cub and under the covering of sehlat fur, covered her own.
The concert was that evening. After a day spent romping in the garden court, the young sehlats were ready for a rest. Concerned about the lematya cubs in the area – for the little ones did get into the gardens – and that his cubs were not sensible enough to avoid an altercation, Spock insisted they shut them in the kitchen. Both Spock and Sarek for good measure, gave them a firm command to behave themselves. The cubs wagged their stubs of tails – "see, they are like dogs," Amanda commented – and collapsed obligingly on the pallets provided.
The concert was lovely, though Amanda was unimpressed with the lyrist. "You play better," she told her husband.
"Not at all," Sarek demurred, though he shared that opinion privately.
"He does," Spock agreed with his mother. "We're working on that composition in my lessons. And even mother must have heard the lyrist flub the bridge into the third movement, which Father plays perfectly" he hummed it for their benefit.
"We don't need a second concert, Spock," Sarek said.
"And even I rarely mis-string it."
"Your lessons are coming along well enough," Sarek acknowledged.
"It must be a hereditary trait," Amanda commented, amused.
"Musical ability generally is," her husband agreed.
"I meant the overweening pride," she teased.
Both Vulcans shared an offended look.
After any time spent in the torrid desert city of Shikahr, built for its underground oasis, Amanda was always happy to come home to her home in the mountain foothills. The old Fortress was a bit chilly by Vulcan standards, but it suited Amanda, and she was grateful for its situation, long ago meant to defend the one accessible pass through the mountains that gave access to the city and its water supply. The breeze sweeping down from the mountains after sunset was particularly nippy, and while Sarek and Spock lifted their heads appreciatively, like hunting dogs – "Do you scent the le-mayta?" Sarek asked Spock, who nodded, she hurried out of the wind. She was thus the first to enter the kitchen, though she didn't get very far inside. Her exclamation was not very loud, but remembering how I-Charyn had mistaken her for an odd smelling predator before, it brought Sarek and Spock on the run. Amanda hadn't moved from the doorway, and Sarek stopped so abruptly he had to catch hold of her to prevent both of them from going down in a tumble from his momentum. All three of them thus stood framed in the doorway.
The sehlats had woken up quite rejuvenated from their naps, and let it not be said that curiosity was a trait held by only the dominant species on Vulcan. They'd apparently started with a bowl of fruit that had been knocked off the table, and the contents rolled around like balls and then partially chewed. Most of the cushions from the kitchen chairs, hand made by Amanda, had been tossed around and torn. They'd then moved on to investigate further. Every cabinet had been opened, by paw or sehlat fang, and the floor was littered with the torn open and trampled remains of boxes of cereal, crackers, cookies, dried beans, nuts, seeds and flours. They had even gotten to an expensive and imported box of chocolate cake mix that Amanda had been saving for some special occasion. Apparently liking the scent of chocolate, they had rolled in it, throwing themselves down with abandon, if the clouds of chocolate dust that had been throw up ceiling high was any evidence. Then they had apparently decided to bathe in the water bowls that had been left for them, for the bowls were overturned and there was evidence of scratches where they'd dug at the floor around them. Romping around, refreshed from their baths, they'd either mistaken the long floor to ceiling windows as a portal to the garden outside, or in chasing each other had just slid on the flour slick floor and crashed into them that way. But the windows had dual flour portraits of sehlat cubs. And in rebounding from the windows, they'd knocked over the stands holding Amanda's flowering plants. The plants had been torn up, and the leaves, flowers, loamy soil and water from the plants had run into the water from the sehlat bowls and the contents of the cabinets to create a soupy mess. In the center of this stood two chocolate and soil frosted sehlat cubs, with a liberal added coating of dried beans, rice and macaroni. The bigger cub had a garland of a rare red honeysuckle vine Amanda had been rooting looped around his neck. Dangling from one of the girl cub's fangs was the roots and bulb of a crocus, and from the bulb the tiny petals had finally opened.
It was understandable that the spot of cheerful lilac stood out against the muddy wash of the kitchen, and the newly dark-dyed sehlats in a contrast particularly sharp for Vulcan retinas. And the obsessive and sometimes single-minded vision of a Vulcan to a pet interest was also well documented in Surak's line. Yet both Vulcan and human parents had to be commended for not committing infanticide when, as they stood still immobile in their shock, their son stepped forward, lifted the limp blossom from the sehlat's fang and held it up in evidence.
"Look Mother! Your crocuses have bloomed!"
Fini! Finally -- this story was three times as long as I'd wanted it to be.
Last chance to review…
Holography, series 0