Disclaimer: I own only my quirky imagination. No copyright was harmed in the creation of this bit o' fluff.
Rating: PG
Summary: Sarek asked Miss Grayson how she spent the holidays. Instead of answering, she offered to show him.

A/N: This was originally written as part of the Sarek & Amanda Grayson Group's Advent challenge, but real life stuff prevented me from finishing on time. (*shakes fist at the universe*) So, it's a little late, but here's a bit of holiday fluff. :)

Vulcan translations come from the Vulcan Language Dictionary. Also, there is a brief reference to the Vulcan holiday of "First Rain." The original idea comes from a fic of the same name by Elizabeth Leicester, which can be found in the Sarek & Amanda archives. I highly recommend it.

Extra points to those who catch the "Journey to Babel" reference! (It's pretty glaring.)

Special thanks to NotesfromaClassroom for beta services. I highly recommend her stories. You can find her under my list of favorite authors in my profile!


A New Perspective


She was like the Fire Plains—unpredictable, unmanageable and compelling with her ever-shifting storms. One moment, she was burning indignation, ready to champion a perceived victim. The next breath, her tinkling laughter would echo through the halls. In another heartbeat, her large eyes would brim with tears—either out of enthusiastic joy or aching sadness. She was a kaleidoscope of the human experience. A perfect specimen of all that was irrational and illogical.

And he found her utterly fascinating.

Sarek was distracted by Amanda's pink tongue pressing into the corner of her mouth as she studied the chessboard. He thought of the human act of kissing as he examined the curve of her lips. Did she engage in such a practice? If so, with whom? These were questions he had long wished to ask but never dared broach. They were colleagues, acquaintances—perhaps even friends—but one did not inquire after the other's mating practices without expressed permission. No matter how pervasive one's curiosity might be.

No matter how one might, in more recent weeks, wonder what it would be like to experience such an unsanitary act—particularly with Miss Grayson.

"Ah-ha!" Amanda exclaimed, moving her knight. "Check!" Her eyes glowed with triumph as she folded her arms across her chest. "I'm going to win."

Sarek raised a brow. "On the contrary." He barely glanced at the board before taking her knight with his queen. "Checkmate." She should have lost several moves ago, but he had drawn out the game in the interest of extending their time together. He reasoned that each hour spent with her helped him to better understand the fickle nature of her species. Sound logic, to be sure, but not his true motivation if he deigned to admit it. He would later, during his meditations.

Her cheeks puffed with a sigh, her expelled breath stirring the hair above her brow. With a slender hand, she tipped over her king, acknowledging her defeat. "I've never gotten that close before, though." She gave him a broad grin. "In my book, that counts as a win any day."

Illogical, but he refrained from commenting. "You performed measurably better," he said. Not a lie; she had been more thoughtful with her gameplay than in previous matches.

She laughed. The sound was as melodic as the wind flutes of Cheleb-khor. What would her laughter feel like beneath his fingertips?

"I'll take that as high praise coming from you, Mr. Ambassador," she said, "even though you cheated."

His brows climbed upward at the accusation. "I did not cheat." Surely she did not believe he engaged in fraudulent conduct. Cheating did not increase one's mastery of the game. There was no logic in it.

Amanda wagged a finger at him. "Don't think I didn't notice how you kept the kid gloves on this time." At his confused expression, she laughed again. "You should have beaten me earlier. You were holding back."

"Indeed." Kid gloves. He stored this new expression in his memory for future reference. "Have I offended?"

"Oh, no!" She reached across the board and patted his hand. "No, of course not."

Her words were lost as he stared down at her fingers over his. For less than a second, he was tempted to turn his hand over, to savor her vibrancy through the sensitive pads of his fingertips. Instead, he withdrew from the contact, a ghost of warmth and affection lingering from her touch.

Amanda blushed as she jerked her arm back. "Oh, gosh! I'm so sorry!" She rubbed her hand, shaking her head. "Sometimes I forget you're a Vulcan." Her cheeks reddened further when he lifted a brow. "I mean, I know you're a Vulcan. It's just... I…" She glanced at her bare wrist. "Look at the time! I'm going to be late for class!"

In a flurry of movement, she snatched her belongings and darted toward the door. Before crossing the threshold, she spun around, her satchel swinging from her shoulder. "I'll see you tonight, right?"

"Yes." He half-rose from his seat, but she vanished before he could fully stand. Her spirited "Later!" echoed in his office.

Sarek settled back into his chair, steepling his fingers beneath his chin. Five hours, thirty-seven minutes and six seconds until their next encounter. For some reason, it seemed inordinately longer.

=/\=

There was a soft jangling of bells as Sarek opened the door to the dim coffee shop. The air was warm and inviting as he stepped inside. Instrumental music emanated from unseen speakers—one of the Terran holiday tunes. The furniture was heterogeneous with plush, overstuffed chairs matched to sparse wooden tables. Garland hung from the service counter.

"Over here!" Amanda waved to him from the far side of the shop. Several heads turned toward him as he crossed the room to her, leaving hushed whispers in his wake. He ignored the patrons, beguiled instead by Amanda's exuberant grin. Such a common human expression, this smiling, and yet Sarek found it more compelling on her features than on any other.

"Are you sure you're up for this?" she asked, rising from her chair. She wrapped a carmine scarf around her neck.

He drew his brows together, feigning consternation. "I stand before you, Miss Grayson. It is impossible for me to be farther 'up' without additional assistance." He was rewarded with her laughter.

"Oh, don't pull that 'I find human idioms intolerably incomprehensible' routine, Mr. Ambassador. You know exactly what I meant." She narrowed her eyes. "And they say Vulcans don't have a sense of humor."

"My diplomatic position requires that I master all forms of verbal interaction." He clasped his hands behind his back, adopting a more formal posture to add weight to his statement, knowing his overly -austere response would amuse her.

She laughed again before mimicking his serious demeanor. "Of course." Pulling a knit cap down over her ears, she said, "I think you secretly like to make me laugh, though." Her eyes seemed to refract an inner glow when she glanced up at him. "Let's go."

She led him out of the coffee shop into the cool night, blanketed by a thick fog. Resigned to a damp and cold existence on Earth, Sarek did not pull up the collar of his coat as he might have last winter. Amanda walked close to him, perhaps in an unconscious desire for shared heat. She smelled of alien blossoms—very agreeable alien blossoms.

When they were a block from the coffee shop, she asked, "What kind of holidays do you have on Vulcan?"

"There are many holidays specific to the various regions on my homeworld," he said, "but few which are universally acknowledged."

"And unlike us, I'm sure you commemorate your holidays with some form of quiet contemplation." She grinned up at him.

He lifted a brow. "Certainly, that is the customary practice on Gad-keshtan t'Surak—the Dawn of Surak." Drawing a deep breath, he said, "However, we embrace many traditions which predate the Time of Awakening. I believe you would find Sav-masu Wuh'rak celebrations to be rather surprising."

"Really? What's Savmassoo Warrack?" She held up a hand, shaking her head. "No need to tell me how thoroughly I botched the pronunciation. Vulcan is a hard language to wrap my tongue around."

His original response—a compliment on her effort—died on his lips as his mind efficiently provided a companion image to her latter comment, followed by the information that tongues were, at times, involved in human kissing.

"Sav-masu Wuh'rak," he said, ignoring the errant but persistent thoughts, "is First Rain. We gather with our clans to share feasts, perform recitations and play music." He glanced at her. "Also, there is dancing."

Her mouth dropped open, her brows rising until they were lost beneath her cap. "Dancing? Vulcans dance?"

"Indeed." He was inexplicably pleased by her astonishment. "Humans seem to have a narrow view of Vulcan interests, despite our tenet of infinite diversity in infinite combinations."

"Yeah, but dancing?" At his nod, she said, "I can't picture it. Are you a good dancer?"

"'Good' is a subjective term, and therefore, an inadequate means to quantify my ability."

Amanda snapped her fingers. "How about this? Think of other Vulcans you've seen dance, and on a scale of one to ten, rate your skills—with one being someone who constantly trips over his own feet, and ten being a person who performs every movement with grace and beauty."

Her request appeared simple, but she failed to consider the number of Vulcans he had witnessed dancing in his lifetime. Neither did she provide specific parameters for each skill level. How often did one need to stumble to qualify for level one compared to level two? Was he expected to round to the nearest whole number in his calculations? Both "grace" and "beauty" were abstract words. Did she mean for him to incorporate his particular definition of these terms as he rated other dancers and himself? And was he to compare himself only to Vulcans of similar age? Including children would skew the results.

After a minute, he answered, "8.647 with a 2.3 percent margin of error." It was not as precise as he preferred, but the best he could offer given the ambiguous criterions.

Amanda stopped walking, giving him an appraising gaze. "Wow. I'd say that's good—bordering on fantastic. You'll have to show me sometime, Mr. Ambassador."

"Though I did not take into account my skill at your style of dance, perhaps at the next Terran embassy ball you can personally assess the accuracy of my rating."

By the minute widening of her eyes and the rose coloring her cheeks, Sarek surmised he had somehow caused offense with his offer. He reviewed each word and found nothing outwardly disrespectful. He raised a brow, hoping she would explain his latest social gaffe as she was in the habit of doing.

"Um, yeah. Sure." She gave him a small smile and brushed a stray lock of hair from her forehead. The blush on her pale skin deepened as she lowered her eyes. Perhaps he had not offended, after all—though he found this reaction inscrutable. And alluring.

She glanced at their surroundings. "I think we're here." He followed her gaze to a large building—a hospital. As if sensing his perplexity, she said, "You wanted to know how I spent my holidays. This is part of it."

"You celebrate at a medical facility?" He raised a brow.

"Sort of." She walked through the parking lot. "When I was young, I had a cousin who got really sick one year and had to spend all of the holidays in the hospital. Since he couldn't be home with the family, we brought the celebration to him. We invited the other kids who were stuck there to join us. Honestly, it was the best Christmas I've ever had." She glanced at him, grinning. "After that, it became a family tradition to visit the hospital.

"I can't be with my family this year—at least for this tradition." She sighed. "Coming here makes me feel close to them, you know?"

Sarek considered the holidays he had missed since accepting his diplomatic posting on Earth. "What prevents you from visiting?"

"The usual: work and school." She shrugged. "It's all right, though. I'll be home for Christmas." She sang the last sentence and winked at him as they stepped inside the building.

A burst of heated air washed over them, thawing some of the chill from Sarek's limbs. The large foyer was decorated with evergreen trees bearing small, blinking lights and various ornaments. The scent of pine reminded him of his visit to the forests of northwest.

"Hello, Mandy!" a woman exclaimed, waving from behind the reception desk. "Going to see the kids tonight?"

"Yep, I can never get enough of them!" Amanda shouted in return, leading Sarek toward the lifts. She held out her hand when the doors opened. "Watch where you stand," she said, pointing up as they went inside. Hanging in the center was a sprig of some type of foliage. "Mistletoe. Standing under it is an invitation for someone to kiss you. I doubt anyone would try to kiss a Vulcan, but you never know. Humans can be unpredictable."

"Indeed." He raised his brows. He was a step away from standing beneath the greenery—mere centimeters. Would she be brazen enough to kiss him, if he did? They were alone. If he were to experiment, this would be the prudent moment.

He remained where he was. "The receptionist's familiarity with you implies that you visit often."

Amanda laughed. "Yeah, I suppose I do. Spending time with the kids puts things into perspective for me. They help me remember what's important."

"How so?" He glanced at her, brows furrowed. "Children lack the necessary life experience to counsel an adult."

She shook her head. "It's not like that. I can't explain it. You'll just have to see for yourself."

The lift doors opened, and he followed her down a series of corridors until they reached the children's ward. A few of the staff called out greetings to Amanda as she directed Sarek to where they could remove their winter wear.

Before unbuttoning her coat, she faced him and said, "Don't laugh." When he started to respond, she held up a hand. "You laugh with your eyes. I've seen it. No, no, don't tell me that it's physically impossible for your ocular organs to produce a sound that resembles laughter. I'm speaking in the abstract, as you well know." She rolled her eyes. "I swear, arguing with you is more challenging than a chess match."

He stared at her with an arched brow during her one-sided debate. She did this often in recent weeks—predict his response to an illogical comment she would make, and express a counterpoint before he could utter a single word. It was… There was no proper word in Vulcan to describe what he experienced when she spoke in this manner. A human might call it endearing, but he was not human.

"Okay, here goes nothing." With a blush, she undid the buttons of her coat.

Sarek tilted his head as he took in her unusual attire. She wore an emerald green dress, the skirt of which was hemmed indecently short with a white fur. Her neckline and sleeves were trimmed with the same fleece. Her legs were clad with thick stockings, and she wore black boots that came to her knees.

"I know I look ridiculous," she said, drawing his eyes back to her face, "but there's a good reason." From her coat pocket, she pulled a conical-shaped green hat also trimmed in white. The fluffy ball on the tip fell to the side when she placed it on her head. "I'm Santa's helper tonight."

"Who is Santa and how will you be aiding this person?" Sarek asked as they left the closet.

Amanda looked at him, raising her brows. "Wow, you really don't get out of the embassy much, do you?" She frowned. "I don't think I've ever had to explain Santa Claus before. He's a myth, really—based very loosely on Saint Nicholas. Santa is a jolly old fat man with a white beard who wears a red suit and lives in the North Pole. The belief is that every Christmas Eve he rides a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer and delivers gifts to kids while they sleep. It's really the parents who put the presents under the tree, though."

The notion was absurd. A man who could visit every family home in one night using only the propulsion of flying reindeer? And the North Pole on Earth was centered in the Arctic Ocean. "Why do humans perpetuate this myth? Surely children do not grow to adulthood with an erroneous belief in Santa Claus."

"Oh, they don't." Amanda grinned. "But fantasy, or imagination, is an important part of a child's cognitive development. It's the basis for creative thinking—and without creative thinking, there'd be no innovation. We'd still be in caves, trying to figure out how to make fire."

"Your point has merit." Sarek bowed his head in concession to her argument.

"Whoa!"

Ahead they were met by another young woman dressed similarly to Amanda. A middle-aged man stood next to her, wearing the attire of Santa Claus with the exception of the beard. There was a large red sack at his feet, overflowing with packages wrapped in bright colors.

By her slack-jawed expression, Sarek assumed the young woman had made the exclamation. She stared at him with widened eyes as they approached.

"Mike, Carrie," Amanda said, "this is Mr. Sarek."

The man's eyes grew as wide as his companion's. "Mr. Sarek? As in the Vulcan ambassador?"

Sarek gave him a brief nod. "I am he." He did not understand why many humans reacted this way when introduced to him. They were often overly decorous and solicitous in his presence, making it difficult to become acquainted with typical human interaction. Amanda had never treated him thus, however. In fact, she had been quite insulting during their first encounter. Perhaps this was, in part, why he felt compelled to better know her.

"I'm, uh, Mike, Mr. Ambassador," the man said, raising his hand in the ta'al.

Sarek returned the salute. "I am not here in an official capacity," he said in an attempt to put the pair at ease. "You may each address me as Sarek."

"You're taller in person," the young woman—Carrie—blurted. Her skin turned a brilliant shade of red.

Amanda had taught him that this was a comment which did not warrant a response, so he refrained from pointing out that most video monitors were too small to depict the actual height of a being, and therefore, every life form was most assuredly greater in size than they appeared on screen.

"Let's get this show on the road," Amanda said, waving the others on.

Mike attached a false beard to his face, picked up the sack and led the group down the hall.

As they walked, Amanda leaned close to Sarek and whispered, "Carrie's had a bit of a crush on the Vulcan ambassador. You don't have to worry about her accosting you, though. I told her you probably had a wife back on Vulcan."

Sarek hesitated mid-step. He was unbothered by the "crush," knowing it to be nothing more than a harmless and misplaced infatuation. The latter part of Amanda's statement, however… Why had she assumed he was bonded? "That is inaccurate."

"What? You think Carrie would try something anyway?" Amanda wore a half-grin—a familiar expression that meant she believed him to be irrational.

"I cannot predict Carrie's behavior toward me or anyone else," he said in a low voice. "You err in your belief that I have a mate. I have none."

"You don't?" She blinked at him. "Oh, I didn't know." Her cheeks were imbued with pink as she looked away. "I'm sorry."

"You did not ask, nor did I volunteer the information," he said. "Your apology is unnecessary."

"Are we ready to get started?" Mike called back to them. "We don't want to interfere with the kids' bedtimes."

"Of course," Sarek replied, quickening his pace.

They stopped in front of a room that was dimly lit by various monitoring equipment. There was a small bed in the center of with a child—no more than four Earth years by Sarek's estimation—resting within. A woman sat in a rocking chair next to the bed, singing softly as she stroked the child.

"We visit the children who are too sick to leave their rooms first," Amanda whispered. "Then we have a small party with the rest in the playroom."

Carrie stepped into the room and spoke with the woman. She gestured for the rest of the group to join her. Mike entered first with a quiet "Ho, ho, ho!" and Amanda immediately followed. Sarek chose to observe from just inside the door, uncertain that his presence would be welcome.

"Hello, Emily," Mike murmured, leaning over the bed. "You've been a very good little girl."

Emily smiled and nodded, her dark eyes wide with wonder.

"Would you like to tell Santa what you want for Christmas?" Mike asked. When she nodded again, he said, "Why don't you whisper it in my ear?" He leaned farther over the child. Sarek could not discern what Emily said. After a moment, Mike straightened. "It's a good wish, little Emily." His voice seemed to crack.

Amanda stepped forward then. "What's your favorite holiday song?" She dipped her head to hear Emily's answer. "Oh, I love Rudolph, too."

Carrie and Amanda sang about a reindeer that was shunned for having a glowing, red nose. In the end, this Rudolph saved Christmas by providing light for Santa during a storm. Though riddled with several biological inaccuracies, Sarek thought the song a suitable allegory on the importance of not forming a judgment based solely on outward appearances.

Mike retrieved one of the packages from his sack and placed it on the bed next to Emily. "Merry Christmas, little one." He kissed her forehead before leaving the room with Amanda and Carrie.

They repeated the process in seven other rooms, often the song being the only alteration. Most of these "carols" had a theme of snow and bells jingling or ringing. A two of the children were asleep during the visit, and a brief conversation took place between Mike and the parent or guardian in the room. He never failed to leave a gift for the child.

In the ninth room, after the song and gift, the child—a boy named Jacob who appeared to be on the cusp of adolescence—raised a frail hand and pointed at Sarek. "Who's that?" he asked.

Mike glanced back. "He's a friend who's visiting from very far away."

"Can I meet him?"

Sarek stepped forward, hands clasped behind his back. "I am Sarek of Vulcan."

The boy's eyes seemed to brighten. "Wow. I've never met a real life alien before." His broad grin added vibrancy to his pallid features. "What's Vulcan like?"

Sarek considered which details to share of his world, knowing their time was limited. "Vulcan is classified as a desert planet with very little change in seasons. Its gravity is 1.4 times that of Earth's." When Jacob furrowed his brow in confusion, Sarek explained further, "This means all things are heavier on Vulcan than on Earth."

"Cool! I bet you're like Superman here," Jacob said.

Sarek raised a brow. "I am unfamiliar with 'Superman.'"

Jacob reached toward a small table next to his bed and picked up a PADD. His grip was tenuous as he handed it to Sarek. "Superman comes from a planet named Krypton. He was normal there, but when he came to Earth, he got super powers. Super strength and stuff."

Sarek activated the device and perused through pages of artwork depicting what was clearly a fictional character. Recalling Amanda's admonition that fantasy was integral to human development, he refrained from commenting on the fallacy of the child's comparison. "It is similar," he said, returning the PADD to Jacob. "My strength is nominally greater on Earth. However, over time, my physique will atrophy somewhat in acclimation to this planet. When I return to Vulcan, I will be weaker."

Jacob nodded. "Yeah, just like kryptonite makes Superman weak."

It was not the same at all, but Sarek did not correct him.

"Hey," Jacob said, yawning, "will you say something in Vulcan before you go?"

"What do you wish for me to translate?"

Jacob shook his head. "Just say whatever you want. And don't tell me what it means. I want to figure it out for myself." He smiled before closing his eyes.

Sarek studied the boy who had apparently fallen asleep. "Dif-tor heh smusma, Jacob," he said, holding his hand up in the ta'al. "To'ovau gad tik svi'muhl'es heh kau."

Live long and prosper. Grow each day in health and wisdom.

"That's so cool," Jacob murmured without opening his eyes.

Sarek left the room with the others to allow the boy to rest. He was contemplating how children facing such bleak circumstances still retained their optimism when Jacob's father stopped him in the hall.

"You're him, aren't you? The ambassador who's been all over the news this last year, I mean," the man said.

Sarek nodded for his companions to go on before answering, "Yes."

"Listen, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to my son." The man ran his fingers through his hair. "Jake's dream has always been to go into space and meet aliens. I don't…" His words trailed off with a choked sob. Taking a deep breath, he regained his composure. "I don't know if he's ever going to get to do that. So, it means a lot to us that you came."

Sarek thought of the hollowness he felt being separated from Sybok. How much deeper would that be if that separation was not only between worlds, but between life and death? "What is the boy's prognosis?"

The man shook his head, his expression grim. "They've started him on a new treatment, but chances are pretty slim it'll work."

"If there is a probability he will recover, however small, then I suggest you preserve your hope that he will one day visit other worlds." Offering the ta'al, he said, "Peace and long life."

Amanda waited for him at the end of the hall. "That was nice of you, talking to him."

"It was no inconvenience." He found the human habit of expressing gratitude to be fatuous. He had done nothing more than what logic dictated. And one did not thank logic.

"For a Vulcan, maybe." She smiled. "For a human, it was nice."

Her words made little sense to him, and he chose not to respond. Sometimes it was better not to ask for clarification as the explanation could prove even more perplexing.

"Now, we go to the playroom for a Christmas party," Amanda said as they rejoined Mike and Carrie.

Mike nodded, grinning beneath his disguise. "Are you ready for this? It can be overwhelming."

"Having no previous experience in this venue," Sarek replied, arching a brow, "I can hardly be prepared."

Amanda laughed. She often found his factual statements to be humorous, though he was at a loss as to why. "Just, feel free to leave if you're getting mauled by kids." She shook her head. "No, there won't be any clubs or hammers in there for kids to attack with. And yes, I know human children, especially those who are ill, probably lack the strength to do you any physical harm. I'm just saying if you need to step out for any reason, do it. And quit arguing with me."

Fascinating. He wanted to stretch forth his hand and lay his fingertips against the smooth skin of her temple. He wanted to experience the spiraling, erratic path her thoughts must travel. He wanted to understand why he found her exceptional among her peers—among all others.

She blushed under his intense gaze, glancing away. "I'm being flippant again, aren't I?"

"You are being Amanda Grayson." And he wished he knew better what that meant.

Mike cleared his throat. "Shall we?"

As soon as they rounded the corner, they were besieged with cries of "Santa!" Mike took only a few steps into the large room before several children rushed him at once. Instead of retreating from the deluge, Mike attempted to embrace all of the children. They were a jumbled mess for several minutes before Mike freed himself to sit in a large cushioned chair in the center of the room. Sarek remained near the entrance and observed as he had during the other visits.

Bins of toys were stacked against one of the walls. Mismatched couches and rockers lined the others. In the corner was an evergreen tree, decorated similarly to those in the hospital foyer. Holiday music played in the background as the children lined up for a turn to sit on Mike's lap. Parents gathered around, holding up image and video capturing devices.

Both Carrie and Amanda interacted with the children, sometimes singing along with the music. Sarek's eyes were drawn to Amanda as she knelt before a small girl and spoke animatedly with her, sweeping her arms with exaggerated expressions. The girl giggled and clapped. Sarek wondered how Amanda would interact with a Vulcan child. How would she converse with Sybok?

What would Sybok think of Amanda?

"A real elf!" a child yelled, interrupting Sarek's musings. All heads turned toward him. There were startled whispers and gasps, and a few of the children pointed.

Amanda rose, smiling at him before addressing the group, "No, this is my friend, Sarek. He comes from another world called Vulcan."

Taking her cue, Sarek stepped forward. "Greetings," he said. Parents and children alike gaped at him, frozen in whatever activity they were previously engaged in. "Please, continue. I did not intend to disrupt your festivities."

He was met with quiet, and then, at once, the children inundated him with questions.

"Is Vulcan where elves come from?"

"Are you Santa's real helper?"

"How come you're so tall? Aren't Santa's elves supposed to be short?"

"Are those your real ears?"

"Why is your hair funny?"

"Why are your clothes funny?"

"How old are you?"

"Is the North Pole on Vulcan?"

Sarek held up a hand, silencing them. "Vulcans live on Vulcan. I am not Santa's helper. My height and ears are due to genetics, and I am not an elf. My hair and clothing are in the traditional style of my people. According to your Gregorian calendar, my approximate age is sixty-three years, four months and seventeen days. Vulcan has a northern pole. However, if you are referring to the supposed residence of Santa Claus, then the answer is no, the North Pole is not on Vulcan." He scanned the crowd of stunned children. "Does this adequately satisfy your curiosity?"

A boy tilted his head and said, "Why do Vulcans look like elves?"

Was it the holiday that caused these children to persist in comparing him to mythical beings? "As my species evolved centuries before life was propagated on your planet, the more significant question is why do elves look like Vulcans?"

"Oh," the boy said, as if that were explanation enough for him. Apparently, it was for the others as well. They returned to their former activities.

Before Sarek could retreat to his spot by the door, he felt a gentle tugging on his pants. He glanced down and found a hairless child gazing up at him with large blue eyes. He assumed she was female by the flowery pattern of her gown. "Yes?"

"Can you read to me?" She held a PADD in her arms.

A woman stepped forward to draw the girl away. "Oh, honey. Don't bother the man."

"I'm not bothered," Sarek said, extending a hand toward the girl for the PADD. "Allow me to grant her request."

"Are you sure?" The woman looked weary, most likely from sustained concern for her daughter's health. At his nod, she turned to the girl and said, "Anna, be good, okay?"

"Okay, Mommy." Anna smiled at her mother. She grabbed Sarek's hand. "Let's sit over there."

Emotion fluttered through her touch—joy and excitement with an undercurrent of physical fatigue. She led him to one of the rockers.

"There is space for only one," he said when she indicated for him to take a seat. "A couch would be better suited for our activity."

Anna grinned, shaking her head. "There's enough room. You sit on the rocking chair, then I sit on your lap."

"I see." Clearly the girl had no aversion to strangers as other children often did. Sarek sat and lifted her onto his knees. Anna scooted back until she leaned against his chest. For a brief moment, he was beset by the memory of holding Sybok thus before coming to Earth. He thought of asking T'Pau to reopen negotiations with T'Rea's clan for custody of his son.

"You can read to me now," Anna said, pointing to the PADD in his hand.

"Of course." Sarek turned on the device and began, "'There once was a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid…'"

Anna was quiet as he read, only interrupting to keep him from changing to the next page before she had thoroughly studied an illustration. He noticed a pattern in the way her hands fidgeted near her shoulder as she looked at the artwork. After he finished the story, he asked her about it.

"I'm braiding my hair," she said. "Isn't it pretty?"

Sarek was at a loss for a proper response. She had no hair and was in obvious denial of that fact. "Perhaps its color is beyond the visible spectrum."

She giggled. "You talk funny." With a sigh, she snuggled further into his chest. "Will a fairy come and make me real like the bunny?"

He furrowed his brow, not understanding the question. "You are already real."

"Mommy and Daddy love me so much," she said, "my hair got worn off. Now I have yucky germs like the bunny, so the fairy has to come and make me real." Before he could reply, she went on, "I'm getting tired. Can you rock me?"

"Yes." He pressed his feet into the floor to initiate the pendulum motion that human and Vulcan children alike found soothing. Anna closed her eyes and soon her breathing became deep and slow. Across the room, Amanda caught his eye and gave him a smile—one that was different from others she had given him the past. He felt a sudden and profound connection with her, as though their katras had stretched across the few meters between them and touched. The moment was broken when she turned back to the game she had been playing with two other children.

He watched her as the party wound down, as the cacophony of toys and voices grew dim. He watched her smile, laugh, sing, and knew with vivid clarity that his life before Amanda Grayson had been a grey existence. Eventually, she would complete her masters degree, find work elsewhere, and perhaps marry and start a family. Eventually, she would leave Sarek, and he would be bereft of her unique understanding of the universe and the various species within it. He found this future to be wholly unacceptable.

Was this what humans called love?

"Do you want me to take her?" Anna's mother said when others began leaving the party.

"If you would direct me to her room, I will carry her." Sarek wrapped his arms around the girl and rose. She was light—too light—as they walked. He hoped she would recover from her illness so that she could feel "real."

"Thank you," her mother said after he laid Anna on the bed. The girl never stirred.

He gave the woman a nod and left the room to where Amanda waited outside.

"I sent the others on," she said, leading them back to the coat closet. "Mike was a little intimidated by you, and Carrie… Well, I'm pretty sure she'll end up putting her foot in her mouth, she's so nervous in your presence."

Sarek lifted a brow. "Carrie is a contortionist?"

"What?" Amanda stared at him, confused for a second before her eyes widened in understanding. She laughed. The sound was inexplicably more alluring than it had been earlier. "No, it's another weird human idiom. It means saying something really awkward."

"No doubt inspired by the ungainly appearance of one's foot literally in one's mouth." It seemed often human expressions were based in imagery, but as images were subject to interpretation, Sarek found it impossible to decipher their meanings without help.

Amanda grinned as they retrieved their winter attire. "I've never really thought about it before, but you're probably right." She exchanged her conical hat for her knit cap. "So, you're sixty-three?"

"In terms of your calendar, yes," he replied, pulling on his coat.

Her eyes widened in surprise, as if she had not believed his age until now. "You're older than my father."

By the tone in her voice, Sarek discerned this could be an obstacle in her viewing him as a potential mate—something he hadn't been aware he desired until that revelation during the party. "Vulcan life spans are considerably longer. Comparatively speaking, my age would be roughly 31.69 if I were human."

Amanda seemed to think it over as she fastened the buttons of her coat. "That wouldn't be much older than me, then."

He was pleased by her inference. "Indeed."

As they left the ward, Amanda asked what he thought of the children and the celebration.

He considered the happiness and hope that pervaded each child in spite of their illnesses. He thought of Amanda's guileless manner when she spoke with them, played with them. "I have gained a new perspective," he answered.

She smiled, her eyes somehow growing brighter. "That's exactly what I was I talking about. Many of these kids are facing death, and they are so full of life and joy. Whenever I have a bad day, I think about them and remember that no matter how difficult life gets, there's always a way to find happiness."

She pressed the call button for the lift and said, "We only get one life, and our time is finite, so why not embrace every ounce of joy we can find, right?"

Sarek studied her, noting her animated expression. She had a deep well of passion. How did it not destroy her as it would a Vulcan?

The doors opened to a different lift than they had used earlier. "I'm glad you came," Amanda said, stepping inside.

"As am I." Far more than he could have predicted.

The doors slid shut without another passenger joining them. On impulse, the first of his adult life, Sarek halted the lift. Amanda turned to him with a quizzical expression. Before she could question him, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. He felt her confusion through the touch, then it changed to something else he had difficulty quantifying. Pleased surprise, attraction, desire, affection. He was tempted to amplify the sensation with his fingertips, to experience fully her thoughts and feelings. With considerable restraint, he kept his arms at his side.

Amanda gasped when he ended the kiss. "There's no mistletoe in here," she breathed, her cheeks flushed.

He canted a brow, amused by her reaction. "I am aware of this," he said. "I believe I was making my intentions known."

"You want to…date me?" She seemed to be having difficulty comprehending what was transpiring between them.

"Not quite, Amanda," Sarek said, brushing her cheek with the backs of his fingertips, her roil of emotions tingling through the contact. "I wish to bond you, and I intend to court you until you reciprocate this desire."

He kissed her once more to erase any further doubt she might have before pressing the button to release the lift.

~FIN~


A/N: Thank you so much for reading! If you have a minute, I'd love to know what you thought of this bit o' fluff. :)