Sarek flicked an eyebrow in surprise that she was still so tentative, but nodded.
"Outside? Out there?" She waved a hand in the general direction of the city beyond. He resisted the automatic compulsion to take her hand and correct her gesture and settled for a verbal one.
"More…that way…my wife. Is it a problem?"
She took her hand back from his and sat up, drawing her arms around her knees as if hugging herself. "You believe in throwing me into the deep end of the pool, don't you, my husband?"
Sarek was bemused that after all this time, she would not be, if not eager, at least willing to embrace her new freedom. "You did not plan to leave the house?"
"I haven't planned for anything."
"Well… eventually." She didn't look at him, as if embarrassed, and he watched fascinated as the color rose in her face. He had almost forgotten how human she was, so many months had he watched her live with a superimposed Vulcan calm. It made him want to explore those reactions even further. But they had time for that. They had plenty of time.
"I suppose I was thinking of a more gradual approach. You know. Step by step. Baby steps."
"I am not sure how much time you will have for such an …infantile… approach. The new teaching term at the Academy starts next week, my wife. You will have preparations to make there."
She buried her face in her knees, fingers tracing through her blond hair. He watched still bemused, while she wrestled with this new problem. "Oh, my. I had forgotten about that. It's much too soon for me to go back to teaching." She looked up. "Surely I can't be on the schedule?"
"I took the liberty of …making that decision for you, my wife." Sarek admitted, his heart sinking as he thought of her going another term without teaching, without going back to who and what she was. "I regret if it was presumptuous. But you are scheduled for your usual set of classes and research seminars. You have been missed there."
She shook her head, her face pale at the thought.
"I think I've changed my mind again."
He stared at her, dismayed, while she laid her head on her knees, wrestling in silent struggle. "My wife…I thought you would want this."
"I'm six months out of date… on everything. Things change so fast."
Sarek shrugged. "There have been circumstances – diplomatic assignments where you have accompanied me, where you have been…out of date… before. You'll catch up." He watched her, wondering how much of her hesitation was really due to academic concerns.
Finally, she looked up, sighing. "Are you sure I can't just stay home? Eat bon-bons? Live in the style I'd like to become accustomed to, but never have?"
For a moment, Sarek literally could not think, he was so confused. Then his lips twitched as he realized she was teasing him. After months of "yes, my husband" replies, he could be forgiven for slowness on the uptake. In reply, he took her hands and pulled her out of bed, to her feet, sending a hail of important documents to the floor. "If you did choose that course, my wife, you must consider that bon-bons would not be part of any diet I would supply. Candy is ruinous to the teeth."
"Chocolate is the food of love."
He drew her against him, his arms tight around her. "Yours seems to survive without it." He looked down at her, puzzled. "And I thought that was poetry?"
"Ah, well," Amanda gestured largely. "'Anything nourishes what is strong already.'"
"Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth."
She looked up at him. "You never cease to amaze me. How do you know that, my husband?"
"In the past, I too have read your books when I could not sleep. They were usually lying somewhere nearby."
She hesitated, suddenly uncertain, eyes unfocused as a memory held her more captive than his arms, not a pleasant one, if her expression was any guide. He felt her shiver, then tremble, then tense as she fought to control herself.
Sarek sought to distract her. "Get dressed, my wife."
She shook herself out of it, and looked up at him. The tone was one he'd been using for months, the sort of command that brooked no disobedience. Six months of conditioning had taught her how he expected her to respond to that tone. And a part of her quailed a little within at her delay, but still she hesitated. Uncertain, but silently questioning. He looked at her, seemed to realize he had fallen into habit as well, and added. "Please."
She was almost dressed, in real clothes, finding the image in the mirror strange, when her hand reached out absently and closed on emptiness. She turned to Sarek. "You forgot something."
She tugged at her long hair. "Do you want me to walk out of here like this?"
For a moment, he hesitated. "Truthfully, yes."
He frowned, in the first show of real reluctance she had seen. Crossing to her, he put his hands on her shoulders and it was a full thirty seconds before he stirred. "Obviously there are some things I had not expected would be so difficult for me to unlearn. Excuse me."
She sat there waiting, unsure, half wondering if he had changed his mind after all, thinking of door after door slamming closed. But then he brought back the box of hair ties from wherever he had taken them. He watched her reach for one, and said. "Let me."
She looked up at him, uncertainly in the mirror. With no show of pleasure, but as if he were relinquishing something under duress he pulled her hair back, braided it, and tied it, leaving it down and long. He stared at her in the mirror a moment longer and shook his head. "I do not like it."
"And I hate having my hair this long."
Sarek said nothing.
She sighed. "I suppose I could leave it loose at home."
"Is that a promise, my wife?"
She turned and eyed him, realizing he was serious. "And how is this helping me to adjust?"
"We agreed to help each other, did we not?"
Nodding slowly, she realized anew that Sarek's adjustment was perhaps as great as her own. "We did. Is it so important to you?"
For a moment, Sarek hesitated. "It is beautiful. In spite of the …difficulty of this time, for both of us, I have enjoyed seeing it always unbound. I will… regret...that has to end."
She considered this shy confession. Sarek rarely admitted to such things. "You wouldn't nag me if I push it behind my ears, would you?"
"I believe I have broken you of that bad habit, my wife."
Amanda grimaced. "That is not a word I'd prefer in this context. Can we say corrected?"
Sarek raised an eyebrow. "I stand corrected myself. Unbound is unbound." Sarek paused. "In both respects."
"So it is." Amanda said, realizing he was not referring merely to her hair. At least he wasn't taking umbrage at her being unbound enough herself to correct him, even as he requested she wear her hair in a fashion that supremely hampered everything she did. But it was a small thing. And she had gotten used to the annoyance. She shivered a little at the thought.
It is the little things that break you, she reminded herself. And her unbound hair had been a constant, tangible reminder of her chattel status, one that could never be ignored, so hampering was it, and being part of her, had never left her. Everything else in her confinement had been a removal from, one that with discipline she might tacitly overlook, or convince herself to ignore. This had been the opposite, like a scarlet letter. Always with her. In its direct contrast to the usual Vulcan customs, which required her hair always be bound in public, it became a constant reminder of her newly ignoble status. And Sarek's pointed corrections when she had repeatedly, reflexively pushed it back had been an even stronger reminder. He had broken her of that habit. And as they both knew that broken had been exactly the right word for what he had been doing. And why he had been doing it.
But I am not broken now. I refuse to be. Shaky, yes, but not broken. And it's just hair, a nuisance, a hindrance, but if he likes it long and loose what do I care? I am not Vulcan. My sense of self worth isn't tied to how I do my hair. I won't let it be.
And at the back of her mind was the memory of T'Pau, counseling her in her suite in the palace. Telling her she had also been a wife. She lived in this same house, in this same suite. If what Sarek told me of his clan's traditions is true, she submitted to the same Pon Far lessons I have. In the same bed. I never thought of that, realized what she was telling me. If she could do that, and still rule all of Vulcan with an iron will, I can do this and not be diminished by it.
And she warned me too. Is this Sarek setting a standard he needs, even as a request?
Sarek's adjustment might not be as great as hers in some respects – he had been out in the world all this time. But if she were him, with his biology, she'd have some very real fears about what setting her free would do to his hard-regained controls. If wearing my hair this way eases some of that, it is well worth it.
She steeled her own hard-regained ability to make yet another choice. "Very well, my husband. I will leave it loose at home as you request." She looked up to meet his eyes in the mirror, just a trace easier to make this demand there than directly. "Most of the time. But if I am doing something where it is really in the way, I get to pull it back. And I reserve the right to make an equal claim on you."
Just a shade of uneasiness in Sarek's eyes as he met hers. "And what claim is this?"
She shook her head. "I don't know, right now. I'll think of something eventually."
Sarek fingered the ends of her hair. "Very well. You have…a deal." He paused and his eyes met hers. "Shall we go, my wife?"
It felt unreal to walk out the gate. She'd stared at that gate so many times, a puzzle without a key, a barrier without a door, the ultimate symbol of her confinement. But now she walked right through it.
And turned around, startling Sarek, to watch it close with her on the other side. Watching her own leavetaking, as she'd watched others for months.
Magic. To see the gate close behind her, with her on the free side.
Was all of this a dream? Had any of it been real? Was this a dream now, and she would wake up in her own bed in the house beyond the locked gates, dreaming forbidden dreams of a freedom she would never have? She could see herself doing that. Dreaming of waking to the first day after six months had passed. but with Sarek this time saying nothing, determined to leave her a prisoner forever. And her dreaming in turn of this. That seemed more real a possibility than her present reality.
She shivered, and froze, caught up in alternate endings, suddenly not sure where she was, if she were awake or dreaming, free or imprisoned. Nothing seemed quite real.
"Amanda?" Sarek took her hand. "Amanda. Let's go."
She closed her fingers around his, leaned against him grateful for his solid strength, for the feel and sound and smell of him that grounded her in reality. And closed her eyes against her own leavetaking, letting Sarek's hand on hers guide her. It was too much, too soon. She could not watch this one.
She felt less strange in the aircar. The confinement of the space made it somehow easier to bear. But when Sarek landed in the shopping district of the Terran enclave, and she saw all the people – humans – around, her heart actually rose in her throat. She realized she hadn't seen a human, other than herself, in six months. She took a step closer to Sarek, feeling an odd panic, not sure if she wanted to run, and not sure where. Like a mouse out of cover, not sure whether to go forward or back. A part of her wanted to go home, a part of her chided herself for being a fool in a place where she had lived for twenty years and she had only been a prisoner six months, and a part of her wanted to run for the nearest star terminal and get the hell out of here. And away from the person next to her.
He looked down at her. "Amanda?"
She didn't move or look up to him. She seemed frozen in place.
He reached down and took her hand again, caring nothing for those around him. His gesture, acceptable in private, was considered excessive in polite Vulcan society, the Vulcan equivalent of the adolescent "necking" that he had observed on Earth. Something not done on a public street, of which proper etiquette disapproved, considering anything beyond the two fingered touch should be relegated to decent privacy. If his mother had seen him now, she would affirm it proved he was the spoiled adolescent she had always claimed him to be, but T'Pau was not likely to have ever set foot in this place, and few Vulcans either. And Amanda looked pale enough to faint.
"My wife?" He murmured.
Amanda shivered and straightened, stilling her trembling and trying to slip her fingers from his. "I'm all right."
Sarek started to speak and was interrupted by the cry of his wife's name, or a bastardized version of it, one he had never used and of which he soundly disapproved and disliked.
A woman rushed over and Sarek stepped back, shocked and holding himself in check, as she threw her arms around his wife.
"Where have you been! I've been so worried about you! I haven't heard from you in ages and ages!"
"Reny," Amanda pulled back a little, looking flustered. "I thought you had a message that I was working -"
Renair pulled back, her dark eyes suspicious. "And what research project keeps you incommunicado for six months?"
"I was… busy."
"I thought you were dead! You walk out of the Academy to go to that old-" Renair glanced at Sarek with no friendly expression, but held back from the epithet she'd intended, "and you disappear, and your classes get posted for weeks, and then we hear you are working on a research project? Without colleagues or consults or peer reviews? Without references or any of your research that is still sitting at the Academy? Come on, Amanda I'm not stupid!"
"Renair I can't-"
"Talk about it. Just like no one would talk about you. Not where you'd gone or what happened to you." Another unfriendly look at Sarek. "I know that if you could have, you would have at least sent your friends some sort of personal message."
"I'm sorry you were worried. Look, I can't talk today, but -"
"I won't be here. I resigned at the end of the term and took a new job, back at Harvard. I leave on the shuttle tonight."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"I wouldn't stay here a day longer. Only my contract kept me here until the end of term. I don't know what happened to you, Amanda, but I saw, from the way everyone was not talking about it, that it was something bad. None of Vulcan authorities could be budged on trying to find out what happened to you. Didn't matter who you were, what your professional reputation was, who was asking for you. We got nowhere, and it was as if you were being left to rot."
Amanda drew back at this image, and said "But you see, Reny, that I'm fine."
"Are you?" She peered at Amanda with her deep black eyes, and drew back, shaking her head. "You don't look fine to me. More like you've just been let out of jail. All I know is, after what I've gone through trying to find out what happened to you and seeing how everyone washed their hands of you, I won't stay a day longer on this planet, or with these people. And if you're smart, Amanda, wherever you been locked up for the last six months, if you can get away now, you WILL."
"Can't. I didn't think so." She gave Amanda one last hug, and stepped carefully around Sarek. "Think about it again, Amanda. And go home." She turned around and walked down the street.
Amanda reached out and Sarek took her hand again. She drew a deep breath, stilling her trembling. "I did not need that today."
"She was persistent in asking after you. I am afraid I was less than pleasant to her repeated queries."
Amanda could well imagine what 'less than pleasant' encompassed to a jealous husband in the grip of a violent syndrome. No wonder Renair had been concerned. "She was a friend. She had a right to worry about me. I can't say I'm sorry she did. There were times when I felt very forgotten by the world. It was an awful feeling. Like being buried alive."
Sarek did not reply. Even her voice was shaking. But at least she was talking of it. He knew very little of human psychology, but enough to know that she needed to be able to talk to him of it, that this was a good sign, no matter how it pained him to see how he had hurt her.
"It is nice to know that I wasn't forgotten. But I am sorry that she suffered for it. She was a good friend."
"Perhaps you can write her at Harvard."
"Perhaps." She shivered. "I hope there aren't any more reactions like that. I don't know how well I can take it."
"Do you wish to go home, my wife?" He drew a sharp breath, realizing the phrase suddenly had a new meaning.
She shook her head and let go of his hand. "I've come this far. Let's finish what we came for. I am curious to know your errand."
Sarek took her into the same shop, and purchased a frame similar to the one she had purchased, months ago.
She stared at it, as puzzled as he had been. "What's that for?"
He just shook his head. Back in the aircar, he drew a sheet of paper from a folder there, and showed her a list similar to the one she had drawn up, in his own handwriting, restoring all the freedoms she had originally curtailed, and the ones he had added. "If we are going to keep the one, my wife – and I would not part with it for anything – then we need to keep the other. As a reminder. And a promise."
Sarek slipped the sheet of paper inside the frame, and gave it to Amanda. She looked at it, tears swimming in her eyes, and then Sarek felt himself pushed back by the force of her arms around his neck. "I love you, my husband. You are…everything to me."
"No." Sarek denied. "Even though part of me might wish it, that is not true any more, my wife. You are no longer confined." Even as close as she was in his arms, Sarek felt the pull of the competing ties that would soon take her from him in so many ways. It would be difficult, for both of them. But it was what he wanted.
It was what he, they, both needed.
She was looking down, her arms still around him. He could feel her tremble in his arms.
"I will confess that still frightens me a little." She leaned her head on his shoulder. "Hard as that may be for you to understand. It's an awfully big world out there, and I feel a little strange in it. Can you stand being married to such a coward?"
"You are not a coward," Sarek denied. "I know of none braver." He looked at her, struggling so hard to come to terms with herself, and added, slowly, well aware of what he was saying, "I think I am not worthy to love you."
She pulled back from him, eyes wide at a declaration he had never made before. He nodded slowly, confirming it. "It has taken me many years my wife. I am a regrettably slow pupil in this regard. Or perhaps," he looked down at her archly, "perhaps it is that you are not as good a teacher as I had previously thought. It has taken you six months of devoted attention, private lessons as you might say, for you to-"
"Oh, you!" She pushed against him, laughing through her tears. "I don't believe you. I must be dreaming now. Say it again."
"I love you." He tipped her chin up, letting his fingers against her face reinforce the words through their bond. "I do love you."
She sighed and leaned against him. "I have always known you did, no matter how you denied it. But I confess, my husband, after twenty years, I had given up hope that you would ever say it. It's rather worth being locked up six months to finally hear it." She looked back at him, curious and suddenly grave. "When did you decide?"
"When I determined that I was willing to let you leave me. If that was what it took to ensure your happiness."
She thought about that a minute, as if not entirely pleased by this. "One foolish human emotion for another? Oh, Sarek. Is that what I've brought you to?"
"You did not bring me to it. I pursued you of my own volition. And have never regretted it. Indeed, my wife, you have had precious little choice or recourse in the matter, until now."
She didn't say anything, and Sarek frowned. "Does it displease you that am willing, finally and for the first time in twenty years, not to keep you with me even against your will?" He raised an eyebrow, "Once you agreed to bond, you know, you became mine. If anyone was brought to anything, it would have been you, kicking and screaming as the saying goes."
Amanda smiled, just a trace. "I was sometimes perhaps a little unenthusiastic about those lessons of yours. But I never kicked and screamed. Though I guess, from a Vulcan perspective, crying qualifies as that."
"My point being it would not have mattered to me then, if you did."
She was quiet, her experience for the past six months acknowledging some truth in that. "You have told me many times that there are reasons for your customs. For which we both have had a painful lesson. And I know I wasn't always acquiescent to them. I don't want my desires, foolish and illogical as they can be at times, to ever hurt you in the future. That's all. You must never let me do that. No matter what."
"They are neither foolish nor illogical, or they would not have the capacity to break my heart." He said the phrase lightly, but he saw tears start anew to her eyes even so.
"If you ever think I am going to break your heart, my husband, you have my permission to lock me up again. And throw away the key. You never need ask. I mean it. I have my moments of being tiresomely stubborn and resistant too, and I regret if my past behavior helped fuel our past situation. I intend to be more careful in future. Kicking and screaming won't come into it, but if it does, well, you have my prior permission to do what you must."
"I trust that the past six months has been sufficient for both of us. Amanda," he shook her, just a little, "It is all right now. No matter what it takes, or costs, or means for me, I am determined. I will not see you hurt again. Whether you like it or not, my wife," Sarek raised his eyebrow at the irony, "Kicking or screaming, I will love you."
"I am beginning to believe it, my husband," She looked up at him. "But can we go home now? I have had enough of freedom for one day. And having us arguing on opposite sides of our previous positions is making this more unreal. I need some time to consider it, and then I would like to hear you say all that again - including your surprising declaration - in more… private… circumstances."
Sarek raised an eyebrow. "Indeed. If this is going to be a constant desire of yours, such an inducement on my part might require your confinement again. Fortunately I have saved the most relevant security programs against that need."
"Beast," Amanda said, uncowed by what was clearly teasing, heavy handed as it might be. They were both out of practice at this. But to prove she was up to it in kind, she would tease as well in turn. "But, my husband, you have forgotten that you promised me something."
"Indeed." Sarek drew back, looking at her. "And what might that be?"
Amanda reached back and drew the clip from her hair, letting it spill down her shoulders. "Fair trade." She fixed him with a challenging gaze, totally unconscious that she had not done anything near like this in six months. "We did have an agreement. Surely such an annoyance on my part is well worth," she tilted her head carelessly, "…a few words."
One eyebrow winged upward in appreciation. Not just for the logic of her choice, but in admiration of her boldness. Based on the strength of that gaze, he thought it would not take her very long to adjust. "Very true. Perhaps when we get home, we might consider playing chess, my wife. That was an inspired move."
"Chess is not what I want to play at with you. Is it so with you, my husband?"
Sarek glanced at her, and started the ignition of the aircar. "Chess… can wait."
Amanda sighed and sat back, taking his hand in hers. "We have time for both. We have lots of time."
Holography, Volume 2
The Wedding Present, or The Starling's Lament
March – April 2005
Copyright Pat Foley 2005
But Not For Me - the song Amanda plays at the piano - is of course by George and Ira Gershwin. A particularly pretty piano arrangement that inspired me to include it here is in the score for the movie Haunted ( Anthony Andrews and Kate Beckinsdale)
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
And, for those literary buffs interested in Amanda's quote from Sterne, regarding the starling and the Bastille, here is the source and context of it, being more obscure then the other references above. The nature of liberty was of course, an important question of that time:
Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy - 1768
Eugenius, knowing that I was as little subject to be overburden'd with money as thought, had drawn me aside to interrogate me how much I had taken care for; upon telling him the exact sum, Eugenius shook his head, and said it would not do; so pull'd out his purse in order to empty it into mine.—I've enough in conscience, Eugenius, said I.—Indeed, Yorick, you have not, replied Eugenius.—I know France and Italy better than you.—But you don't consider, Eugenius, said I, refusing his offer, that before I have been three days in Paris, I shall take care to say or do something or other for which I shall get clapp'd up into the Bastille, and that I shall live there a couple of months entirely at the king of France's expense.—I beg pardon, said Eugenius, dryly: really I had forgot that resource.
Now the event I treated gaily came seriously to my door.
Is it folly, or nonchalance, or philosophy, or pertinacity—or what is it in me, that, after all, when La Fleur had gone down-stairs, and I was quite alone, I could not bring down my mind to think of it otherwise than I had then spoken of it to Eugenius?
—And as for the Bastille; the terror is in the word.—Make the most of it you can, said I to myself, the Bastille is but another word for a tower—and a tower is but another word for a house you can't get out of.—Mercy on the gouty! for they are in it twice a year—but with nine livres a day, and pen and ink and paper and patience, albeit a man can't get out, he may do very well within—at least for a month or six weeks; at the end of which, if he is a harmless fellow, his innocence appears, and he comes out a better and wiser man than he went in.
I had some occasion (I forget what) to step into the courtyard, as I settled this account; and remember I walk'd downstairs in no small triumph with the conceit of my reasoning.—Beshrew the somber pencil! said I vauntingly—for I envy not its powers, which paints the evils of life with so hard and deadly a coloring. The mind sits terrified at the objects she has magnified herself, and blackened: reduce them to their proper size and hue, she overlooks them—'T is true said I, correcting the proposition—the Bastille is not an evil to be despised—but strip it of its towers—fill up the fossé—unbarricade the doors—call it simply a confinement, and suppose 't is some tyrant of a distemper—and not of a man, which holds you in it—the evil vanishes, and you bear the other half without complaint.
I was interrupted in the heyday of this soliloquy, with a voice which I took to be of a child, which complained "it could not get out."—I look'd up and down the passage, and seeing neither man, woman, or child, I went out without further attention.
In my return back through the passage, I heard the same words repeated twice over; and looking up, I saw it was a starling hung in a little cage.—"I can't get out—I can't get out," said the starling.
I stood looking at the bird: and to every person who came through the passage it ran fluttering to the side towards which they approach'd it, with the same lamentation of its captivity.—"I can't get out," said the starling.—God help thee! said I, but I'll let thee out, cost what it will; so I turn'd about the cage to get to the door; it was twisted and double twisted so fast with wire, there was no getting it open without pulling the cage to pieces.—I took both hands to it.
The bird flew to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and thrusting his head through the trellis, press'd his breast against it, as if impatient.—I fear, poor creature! said I, I cannot set thee at liberty.—"No," said the starling—"I can't get out—I can't get out," said the starling.
I vow I never had my affections more tenderly awakened; or do I remember an incident in my life, where the dissipated spirits, to which my reason had been a bubble, were so suddenly call'd home. Mechanical as the notes were, yet so true in tune to nature were they chanted, that in one moment they overthrew all my systematic reasonings upon the Bastille; and I heavily walk'd up-stairs, unsaying every word I had said in going down them.