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Summary: When asked how they met, she only responds, "at a conference"
A/N: Many thanks to the reviewers who encouraged me to extend this story beyond Chapter 3. Special thanks to sf fangirl for her insightful comments and previewing!
Chapter 1: Compassion and Need
The Ninth Intra-Quadrant Conference on Applied Language Studies and Translation was well-attended and off to an excellent start on Cygnus 9's Alpha Planetoid until the unexpected radiation storm forced a total evacuation. Long range scanners had picked up the violent belch of deadly radiation from Cynus 9's white dwarf companion in the morning, midway through the plenary session. There were only a few hours within which everyone had to be evacuated to escape the storm.
Federation Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan sank down on a crate in a storage compartment on a dingy Andorian freighter, relieved to be alone at last. The slow-moving, barely functional vessel had been the very last to leave Alpha Planetoid, and indeed it escaped with only minutes to spare before the storm moved in. Having ordered the Surak away with a full load of evacuees much earlier, Sarek had remained to coordinate the rest of the evacuation effort to ensure that no one was left behind. In addition to the fact that his skills were needed to mobilize the hastily organized effort, it was logical that he remain until the last; his life was already forfeit anyway.
He had noticed the signs only the night before, but they proceeded with what he knew was a lethal swiftness, like the storm. A victim of his own biology and the unpredictable effects of frequent space travel on his internal cycles, plus his relative youth, he knew this time he was in a nearly impossible situation. They were six days from Vulcan at the maximum warp speed of even the Surak; he had no bond mate; and there were no Vulcan females in the conference delegation. His being here at this place and time with no contingency plan amounted to a massive oversight, and the fault was his own. He had barely made it through his keynote speech without anyone noticing his deteriorating condition.
Now, as he could feel his emotional control slipping and his internal chemical imbalances increasing, Sarek briefly considered whether he should have informed his delegation's healer, who could have at least performed tal shaya when he reached the terminal point. No, he thought, making his situation known would have only resulted in a more prolonged, public, and ultimately painful process than what he could accomplish alone. Or so he hoped. In the last several hours he had contemplated a number of swift and effective ways of resolving this problem but was frustrated by an irrational will to live that refused, as yet, to surrender to logic. A sudden, hard shudder wracked his frame, worse than any so far, and he could not suppress a load moan.
Dr. Amanda Grayson boarded the freighter just as emergency last calls were being made. After ensuring that the last few workers who lived year-round on the planetoid, as well as a few children whose parents were off-planet, had found their way safely onto transports, she hurried to the last open gangway. The cargo freighter had no real passenger seating to speak of, was barely functional as far as she could tell from the strained engine noises, and possessed a questionable stench that seemed to permeate every compartment. Walking down the dimly lit corridor in search of a place to camp out for the eight-day journey, Amanda told herself to be glad she was alive. Only this morning she had been preparing to give her plenary address at the Applied Language conference and now she was a refugee. Well, one never knew what to expect in space.
She was about to turn a corner when she was startled by a cry of pain, coming from somewhere nearby. Concerned that someone might have been injured during the evacuation, she stopped, but was greeted only by silence. There were no quarters down here, nor any place suitable for passengers, only cargo storage. The first three compartments were locked, a fourth empty, but the fifth one opened for her and she could see cargo in the dim light, haphazardly arranged. She was about to close the door and look elsewhere when she heard another sound from within, this time a loud, in-drawn hiss also seemingly borne of intense pain.
"Hello?" she called out, venturing inside cautiously. "Is someone here?" She repeated her query in Andor.
When he heard the voice, Sarek suppressed another groan. Emotions warred within him, sending conflicting impulses to his brain. Intruder – attack! No; I must seclude myself – be silent! But the voice is female… Again, his tenacious and uncooperative will to live overrode the other impulses. He tried to respond to the voice, but doubled over in pain as he was, he could only manage a muffled gurgle.
Suddenly Amanda spied him, hunched over on a crate. Definitely injured or gravely ill. With a shock she recognized him as Ambassador Sarek, who had just given the conference's keynote address this morning. She had also seen him directing the evacuation efforts. His transformation into the man now before her was dramatic. She hurried closer. "Ambassador?" she asked, concern clear in her voice.
The hunched over figure startled at her sudden movement. His narrowed, feverish eyes revealed distrust, pain, and an array of confusing emotions she could not interpret. "Ambassador, you look unwell. I'm Dr. Grayson, Amanda Grayson, one of the speakers from the conference." He clearly didn't recognize her or didn't understand why she was here, probably both. "We haven't met," Amanda added somewhat unnecessarily. Of course he would know that.
They were supposed to have met this evening; she had been seated at his table for the dinner reception, and she had been looking forward to meeting him. His keynote about the scholarly origins of the Universal Translator had been brilliant, far more insightful than the usual diplomatic pablum served up at these events by visiting dignitaries. She admired his work as well. As a linguist with a focus on xeno-cultural studies, she appreciated that a great deal of his diplomatic work involved reaching across cultures to understand and bridge real differences, a far cry from haggling over trade agreements. This was why he was in frequently in demand as a peace negotiator. Even though she had never spoken a word to him she believed they probably shared similar beliefs and philosophies, and she had been curious to test that hypothesis. Now did not seem to be a good time, however.
Sarek struggled to pull his mind out of the heavy fog engulfing it. She was female, yes, although a human. He recognized her from the conference program as one of the plenary speakers; one relatively young for her species yet unusually accomplished in her field. His eyes involuntarily focused on the long strand of her light-colored hair that had come loose from its bun. Female… NO! he told himself. You cannot force yourself on her. She knows nothing of this; it would be wrong… Staring at her as he shuddered again, all he could manage to get out was a growled, "This is a private matter. Leave me."
When she did not move, he narrowed his eyes at her. "Are you armed?"
"No!" Amanda replied indignantly.
"You should be," Sarek replied, gritting his teeth against the now-continuous shuddering.
"What? You're not making any sense, Ambassador. Let me find you a doctor –"
"No – please! No healer can help me. I merely require…seclusion until this …ends. You should leave."
Something in the fatalistic tone of his voice told her he wasn't simply waiting for his symptoms to pass. "You're – you're not…dying, are you?" Now really worried, she stepped closer to see him better.
"Stay away!" Sarek exclaimed urgently, much to her surprise. He struggled with his rapidly eroding control. He longed to inhale her scent, touch her skin… No. Amanda had never heard a Vulcan even raise his voice before. She stopped moving toward him, but held her ground. "Why?" she asked. "Are you contagious?"
With effort, he responded. "No. But I am …a danger…to you. I do not know how long I can …control… my actions…" He trailed off, momentarily exhausted from the speech.
Suddenly something clicked in Amanda's mind. "This- this is pon farr, isn't it? Is that what you're going through?"
Emotional control gone, Sarek just goggled at her, wide–eyed and shocked. "Where did you hear of this?" he hissed.
"My research. I've translated a large number of ancient Vulcan documents. I accidentally came across one that described this …condition. And I know it's tremendously confidential. When I asked someone about it, my access to that library was revoked." She shook her head ruefully at the memory. Stupid her - should have just kept her mouth shut about that one for awhile. The incident had set back her research effort for months.
A rare moment of lucidity returned and Sarek drily replied, "Understandable."
Amanda was about to make a retort when another shudder wracked his body and she remembered his grave situation. "Sarek. Let me make sure I understand this correctly. From what I read, at this time you need to…mate with someone in order to survive, is that right?" He did not respond but his thin-lipped expression told her she was correct.
"And you don't have anyone here—?"
"Enough!" he snapped. His temper flared. It was bad enough that this most shameful secret had been revealed to an outworlder, but to have his personal situation dissected like this, by a human, no less, was intolerable. A human female… his mind wandered again. Although his eyes were narrowed and his chest was heaving in anger, he surveyed her. A healthy, quite beautiful female… A groan ripped itself from between his clenched teeth as he swung away from her. "You may have some knowledge but you do not understand. There is nothing you can do. Please, leave me with some dignity!"
Almost as if she could read his forbidden thoughts an idea occurred to Amanda. A crazy, almost unthinkable idea. But if she didn't even think twice about risking her life to make sure workers she didn't even know made it off Alpha Planetoid to safety, how could she ignore an option that might save another life, at no real risk to her own? OK, perhaps some risk, she re-considered, eying dents in the bulkhead and bruises on his knuckles that must have been made together. Still, what she had translated – and she was sure she had translated it correctly – was clear: a male in pon farr needed a female, and the alternative was death. It was at least worth questioning him further.
"Nothing I can do? Are you sure?"
It was as if she had whipped him, he looked so pained. "We are not bondmates," he gritted. "I could …harm you easily. It is …not proper…"
"Do you have a bondmate?" Amanda asked. He looked away. "And is it proper for you to die when you could live?" He refused to meet her gaze, so she forged ahead. "Look, Sarek, I'm not eager to jump into this, whatever this is, exactly, but I do know it would be absolutely wrong for me to just walk away from here and let you die, if that's what's going to happen. Just as it would have been wrong for you not to help everyone evacuate Alpha in time. Tell me what I'm saying isn't logical."
He could not. He suddenly found the rule of logic and his barely controlled impulses unlikely allies in the war to decide his next actions. He stared at the floor as he spoke, slowly. "Dr. Grayson… Amanda. I am …gratified… by your …compassion. But while your argument possesses some …elements of logic, I do not believe you know fully what you offer." Sarek looked up at her and she could see his exhausted, feverish eyes and the thin sheen of sweat that covered his skin. He doubled over in pain again with an anguished moan.
Alarmed, Amanda crouched next to him. "Sarek! What is it?"
"The fever. But you do not realize." He choked out the words. "It is engulfing… continuous, exhausting… There is …telepathic contact. I will lose …all control… It will last for days." He gasped again and closed his eyes, shivering uncontrollably.
That corresponded to what she'd read – but it was another thing to hear it spoken aloud, by a living being. It almost shook her resolve. "But when it's over, you return to normal, and so does your …partner?" It was difficult to see him nod through his shivers.
Then the shivering stopped momentarily and he opened his eyes. Seeing her kneeling so close to him, his pupils flared and his hand reached for her face before he yanked it away again. "I beg forgiveness!" he cried, agonized, eyes shutting tight again. "Please, leave me before I lose control!"
Amanda considered for a moment. She knew she could be impulsive. Part of her wondered what the hell she was doing. Another part could see the logic. In her work she had learned of practices and needs stranger to her mind than this. She had spoken truthfully that she believed it wrong not to offer him help – even if that help consisted of giving him an incredibly intimate part of herself. She was unattached; doing so would hurt no one else. What little she did know of him she admired greatly, and she found him attractive – very, in fact. And, she had to admit, this whole situation had a titillating, arousing quality to it that stirred her blood. In space, you really never did know what to expect…