DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Selek, Saidicam29, and T'Lea and is copyright (c) 2004 by Selek, Saidicam29, and T'Lea. Rated NC17. Note: A common theme in ST fanon, and one that's being used in this story is that sugary products cause Vulcans to become intoxicated, and cinnamon is used as an aphrodisiac. This story is in response to T'Riva's challenge whereby cinnamon, chocolate, sugar, Amanda's relatives, and the senior officers of the Enterprise are all involved.



IT'S ALL RELATIVE

Selek, Saidicam29, T'Lea



One year post "Journey to Babel":



Amanda slept curled up in the wide, overstuffed lounger she had appropriated from Earth years ago and brought here to her home on Vulcan. It had since become Sarek's chair and the only time she could manage to use it herself was on the occasions he was gone, which lately had been many. She was already dressed in her night attire - had been for hours - as she waited her husband's eventual arrival from his latest mission.

She was stirred from her slumber by the sound of the front door shutting and the soft murmurs of her husband and Soran, his chief aide and best friend, speaking quietly as they moved through the house. She rose and left the room to meet them, finding the Vulcans predictably in Sarek's home office. She stopped short in the doorway, disturbed at the scene before her. Soran was sitting in Sarek's chair, directly across the room from her, using the computer link to access their latest files and communiqués from the High Council while Sarek ... Sarek was sitting on the small loveseat that Amanda had put in that room a few years back - to give it a more homey feel for his occasional off-world visitors - with his head laid completely back, eyes closed, exhaustion oozing from his very essence. He looked terrible. She had rarely ever seen him so worn and never had she seen him allow it to show to this extent, even if front of Soran.

He was so out of sorts that he wasn't even aware of her arrival, but Soran was. The two looked at each other, shared concern and affection for Sarek passing between them unspoken. This could not go on; they both knew that. Even Sarek knew that, but he would not refuse his government's requests to attend mission after mission. Amanda normally never interfered in Sarek's business ... he'd been doing it for longer than she'd been alive, and he neither needed or particularly appreciated it when she asserted herself in his business affairs, but enough was enough.

Amanda's eyes held a silent plea to Sarek's assistant which was both heard and understood, for Soran slowly nodded his head and, after passing a quick glance in Sarek's direction, he fervently went back to tapping at the console. Sarek was completely unaware of anything that had transpired in the room around him.

Moving inside, Amanda softly called his name as she approached. His eyes opened immediately, and by the time he raised his head to look at her, he had managed to mask his fatigue to some extent. "Aduna, you should not have waited up for me," he chided quietly.

"I missed you," she stated, knowing after all these years no further explanation would be necessary.

Sarek nodded, holding his paired fingers out to display his affection and appreciation for her.

She brushed her fingers against his, then took a seat beside him, her concern clearly evident. "How did it go this time?"

Sarek shook his head minutely. "The same as the others, I fear. A complete stalemate."

"Oh," she frowned sympathetically. "I wish I could have gone with you."

"Absolutely not!" Sarek avowed.

"There was nothing you could have done, T'sai," Soran interjected.

"Amanda, the manner in which those people treat their women and children is ... revolting."

"We saw many deaths on this last planet, one right in the room where we were negotiating." Soran noticed Sarek's eyes close at the horrific memory of that day. "The tribal leader killed one of his wives because the manner in which she prepared his mid-meal was not to his liking. No one, except us, even reacted to the woman's demise."

Amanda was clearly as appalled as the Vulcans. "I don't understand; why do they keep sending you to this system if all the planets in it are like that? What's the point?"

"The point, my wife, is to convince these people to change their ways, to afford equal rights to all their population in exchange for being admitted to the Federation and all the benefits that would accompany such an action. This system is important to the Federation as it lies between Vulcan and the Klingon Empire, thereby making it a strategic military route as well as a trade route. This system has a wealth of dilithium crystals; if we can get them to join, it would better protect them from unfair trading practices being employed by the Klingon government. We would teach them to preserve their resources as well, so the entire system can benefit from their natural resources for generations to come. At the rate of their current consumption, the Klingons will have the system stripped within the century."

"We shouldn't have anything to do with a planet that supports slavery anyway!"

"Therein lies the problem, T'sai. It is a matter of semantics. Every planet we have attended in the Cellesian system insists they do not have 'slaves', and therefore qualify for membership in the Federation, but they refuse to alter the manner in which their women are treated." A low beep emitted from the computer, and Soran resumed his frantic tapping of the keyboard.

"Well, I hope this puts an end to these ridiculous missions into this system. This is the fourth one you've been on, and they're all the same. Obviously they have no intention of joining the Federation. They're just wasting our time."

"Agreed," Soran stated empathically, not looking up.

Sarek looked in turn from his wife to his friend. "We will attend each planet in this system that has shown an interest in joining the Federation, and we will give each one our complete attention and best efforts. One cannot judge the values and actions of one planet based on another's. Is that understood?"

"Of course, S'haile."

"I suppose," Amanda relented. "But I don't see why you're killing yourself over this mission. It's not that crucial to the Federation."

"It is not the Federation's interests that motivate me, my wife. It is the millions of women and children living in such atrocious conditions. I have the opportunity to change their lives forever, to bring them peace, and security ... and education. Is that not worth a few months of my time and effort?"

"Of course it is, Sarek." Her heart swelled with love and pride for the man before her. For anyone who had ever questioned how she could fall in love with a Vulcan, here was the answer. "Forgive me; I just worry about you."

"Understood, and there is nothing to forgive, Aduna." He reached up to stroke her cheek, then remembered they were not yet alone so he settled for placing his hand atop hers. "Go home, Soran. Rest and see to your wife while there is time before we depart on the next mission."

Another low beep emitted from the computer, and Soran quickly accessed the communication before answering. "I shall, Sarek; however, there has been a slight change in the itinerary. Our next mission is a diplomatic conference on Risa. We depart the day after tomorrow."

"What about the negotiations on Celles V? Have they pulled out?"

"Not at all, Ambassador," he quickly reassured him. "It has simply been ... rescheduled." He looked meaningfully at Amanda, who smiled her appreciation.

"Risa is perfect! It'll be like a vacation."

"No, this will not do. That conference on Risa holds little importance for us. I am needed in the Cellesian system. Soran, rearrange my schedule; they can assign someone else for the Risan conference."

"I..." Soran cleared his throat nervously. "It is rather complicated to make changes to the schedules this late. I would have to coordinate with the other ambassador's staff, contact Celles V about rescheduling the negotiations yet again, the other ambassador would have to contact those they were to meet to reschedule..." Soran faltered. His upbringing did not permit him to lie outright, but his concern for his friend would not allow him to do as Sarek requested. "I am uncertain if I could accomplish this in such a short period of time." 'Especially since I just barely managed to do it a few moments ago,' he thought.

"Soran's right, dear. What could it hurt? Celles V has already agreed to the postponement, and to ask them to reschedule yet again would hardly reflect well on you." She turned her attention to Soran as though the matter was settled. "You should bring T'Sar with you this time, Soran. It's been ages since the four of us have gone anywhere together."

"That would be agreeable, Amanda. Providing the ambassador finds it acceptable." He looked to his friend for approval.

"Of course he does!" Amanda answered. "We'll have to get a schedule of the shows ... I remember they have these great--"

"Amanda, I believe 'the ambassador' is capable of answering for himself, is he not?" Sarek asked, dryly.

Amanda stopped, crossing her arms to stare at her husband nonplused. "I'm sorry, Sarek. Do you object to Soran's wife joining us on Risa?"

"Of course not, her presence would be most welcomed." Everyone was silent, assuming Sarek had something more to add, but he remained quiet, slouching back against the couch as fatigue again overtook him.

"Okay..."

"Indeed," Soran agreed, shaking his head slightly. "I thank you both for your generosity. If there is nothing more for tonight, I shall take my leave at this time."

Both Sarek and Amanda stood to see him out, everyone pretending not to notice how Sarek swayed slightly upon rising. Once gone, Amanda wrapped her arm around her husband's waist, as much to assist him as to show some affection. "You're exhausted," she accused.

"It has been a taxing mission," he agreed as they made their way down the hall to their bedroom.

"Did you eat?"

"No, but I do not require sustenance at this time, my wife." They had almost reached their room when Sarek remembered his luggage. "My bags..."

"Leave them. I'll take care of them tomorrow." She deposited him on the bed, and as he began undressing himself she fetched a clean pair of pajamas from his dresser. "Do you want to shower?"

"No." He stood to put on his nightclothes and looked at the bed longingly. "I require meditation first."

"You require rest more."

"If I meditate, I will rest more efficiently."

"If you rest, you will mediate more efficiently. Now get in bed."

He obeyed, an audible sigh escaping his lips as he lay back. He watched as Amanda finished tiding up the room before joining him. As soon as she was beside him, he turned on his side to wrap her in his arms. "I have been gone often lately. I should see to your needs first."

Amanda held his arm around her, hugging it lovingly. "Never mind that now, just rest. Besides," she quipped, "you wouldn't be much good to me now, anyway." She smiled in the darkness, waiting for his dry but witty comeback. When there was no response she turned, worried he might have taken her silliness seriously, but there was no concern of that. Sarek wasn't offended; he was asleep.

* * *

"I don't know what to do about him, Mom." Amanda used Sarek's office comm unit to contact her parents in Maplewood, Minnesota.

"He's always worked hard, Amanda. I wouldn't expect him to change at this point." There was a loud crash on Nell's end, and she turned around to investigate. "Oh, for God's sake," she muttered. "Alfred, don't tell me you were out in that weather shoveling snow!"

"Just trying to get the hover out," Amanda heard her father's muted response.

"What for? It's snowing too hard for us to go anywhere anyway!

Amanda heard her father's disgusted grunt, then Nell turned back to the comm unit, giving up the battle with her husband, for now. "So, you're not coming to see us this Christmas?"

"I can't, not this year. There's no way Sarek's going to take time off, and I don't feel comfortable not being here. Not with the way he's been acting. Mom, I don't remember ever seeing him this worn out. These last few missions are really taking their toll."

"You think it's his heart still?"

"I don't know. The healer swears he's completely recovered..."

There was another bang, and Nell spun around again. "Al, put that damn shovel down! Wait 'til the boy next door comes over to take care of it!"

There was a response Amanda could not discern.

"Come talk to your daughter! They're not coming for Christmas this year!"

Amanda shook her head at the way her poor mother needed to yell to be heard. Her father's hearing had started to go a few years ago, but not enough to warrant implants, according to Al's doctor. Instead he had given him some old style hearing-aids to test out, to see if he could notice any discernible difference with them. Amanda's father was always forgetting to use the aids, and by the sound of it, he really needed them.

"Who?" he yelled back.

"Amanda!" Nell turned back to their daughter, "Oh for God's sake ... he's gonna be the death of me, I swear!" She turned back to yell to him once more. "Amanda's on the comm! Turn your hearing aid on, will you!"

"Hang on, I can't hear you!" He walked into the house and Amanda could hear him coming closer. "I need to turn my hearing aid on." He looked at the comm unit. "Kitten! When are you coming?"

Amanda saw her mother throw her hands in the air exasperatedly; she struggled not to laugh. "Not this year, Daddy. Sarek isn't feeling quite himself lately."

"Ah, well, that's too bad. It's been a while since we've seen you two."

"I know, but we're leaving for a conference in... You know what? You and Mom haven't visited us in a long time."

"I don't know, honey ... the heat..."

"Actually, we'll be on a planet called Risa for the next week or so. It's a fabulous tourist site! All kind of shows and shopping and whatnot."

"Sounds perfect ... but what would a trip like that cost?"

"I'm not sure. We've always gone there on business. Don't worry about it. Sarek and I will pay for it. Consider it your Christmas present!"

Al looked at his wife, whose eyes lit up excitedly. "Hell, I'm not about to pass up a free vacation! You got a deal, Kitten! What do we need to do?"

"Just pack. I'll handle everything else on this end. See you guys soon!" She closed the comm link, already making plans for the holiday. She would comm them with the final details - the shuttle number and where they were staying and the like - in a few hours. She got busy making all the arrangements, humming Christmas carols as she worked.

* * *

Sarek woke to the soft sounds of his wife's voice coming from his study. He tried to concentrate on what she was saying, but her voice was too low. He closed his eyes for a minute and fell back asleep.

The next time he opened his eyes, Amanda was standing over him, watching him sleep. "Have you had breakfast yet?" he asked groggily.

"Yes, but it's now lunch time. I made your favorite sandwich - tomato and cheese. Time to get up, sleepy-head."

Sarek dragged himself out of bed, wondering where the time went. He hadn't been this tired since his heart attacks. It must be affecting him more than he realized if his time sense was affected. Once in the bathroom, he selected 'sonics' on the shower, stripped, and stepped in. The soothing waves washed the fatigue from his muscles and revitalized him.

He finished getting dressed and headed down the hall to the kitchen. He could smell the toast, and he realized how hungry he was. Moving to where Amanda was cutting the tomatoes, he circled her waist with his arms, nuzzling her neck. "Those look very appetizing, my wife."

She arched her back, thrusting her breasts outwards. "They are," she deadpanned.

"Indeed," Sarek agreed and softly cupped his hands over her roundness before moving away to take his seat at the table, "but I was referring to the sandwiches."

"Ah, nuts!" she joked as she added the final sandwich to the plate. Sitting down at the table, she put the plate between them. He picked a sandwich up as she sat down across from him, and helped herself to a sandwich as well. "I talked to my folks this morning," she said.

"I thought I heard your voice from my study. Are they well?"

"Well, Dad's hearing is not as good as it has been, and he forgets to turn on his hearing aids, but other than that, they're both fine."

Sarek looked at her carefully. The tone of voice she used indicated that she seemed a bit nervous or anxious. It was as if she was not telling him something. He leaned back in his chair and asked, "What is it you wish to tell me, beloved?" As he waited for Amanda to talk, he took a bite of his sandwich.

Amanda tried to appear innocent, but quickly gave up knowing that, after all these years, her husband knew her too well. "Well, they're having a really rough winter in Minnesota this year, and my parents are getting up there in age. They haven't had a vacation in years, and they were really hoping to see us this year for Christmas."

"Unfortunately, that is not possible. Perhaps they should move into the town from the farm. That may make their lives easier," Sarek suggested, taking another bite from his sandwich. "These are very good, Amanda," he added.

"Thanks, dear," she murmured absently, trying to warm Sarek up to her idea. "You know they would never do that. They love that old farm too much. At any rate, since we're all going to Risa anyway, and Risa has so much to offer in shows and shopping, I sort of invited them to come along. They're already on their way," she added quickly, as she took a bite out of her sandwich.

Sarek looked at her, stunned. "You asked your parents to accompany us on a diplomatic assignment?"

"Well, it's not much of a diplomatic mission, just a conference. You'll have plenty of free time, and I thought it'd be nice to have us all together - my parents, us, Soran - and they've never had the chance to meet T'Sar before."

"Amanda, you should have checked with me before making such plans. It will be pleasing to see your family again, but Risa is hardly the place for them. I will be concentrating not only on the conference, but also on the upcoming negotiations with the Cellesians. I may not have the time to visit with your parents."

"Surely you can afford to take in a few shows to relax just a little." She sat back, glum. "You can't keep doing this to yourself. You're going to have another heart attack!"

"That is highly unlikely, Amanda, as the defective valve has been repaired." He sat back again and sighed. He knew that his wife was quite anxious to see her parents again as they were advancing in age. How could he deny her this one time to see them again? "Amanda," he said as he leaned forward, "I will attempt to view a show with you and your parents, but I cannot guarantee that I will be able to visit with them as often as you would wish. I cannot afford unnecessary distractions at this time, Aduna."

Amanda pushed her plate away, delighted. "I already bought their tickets. They left Earth this morning to meet us on Risa in two days. I figured they might as well meet us there."

"Yes, that is logical, but the conference is a week long. They will be there almost the entire time."

"Actually, not almost, I invited them for the entire time. I was hoping to convince them to come back to Vulcan with us afterwards to get a break from the winter." She grimaced, anticipating his reaction.

"Back to Vulcan?" he asked, visions of the last time her parents visited Vulcan still fresh in his mind, particularly Al's constant complaining about the weather. "That will be ... acceptable; however, if I have to leave for Celles V immediately after the conference, you will have to entertain your parents alone in the 'warmth' of Vulcan," he said, his eyes twinkling with his teasing.

Amanda smiled lovingly, "Thank you, darling." She got up and seated herself in Sarek's lap. "I worry about you so much, you know that. I really, really, wish you'd take a break, just for a few days."

Sarek sighed. "That is not possible, Amanda. I will attempt to rest on the shuttle to Risa, but once I am there, I will have to work especially diligently to organize my arguments so that they will convince the Cellesians to treat their women and children with respect. It will be an 'uphill battle', as you are wont to say." He leaned his head against her chest, closing his eyes as she began carding her fingers through his hair.

Her hand slid down, and she ran her fingers along his robe's entrance, parting the clasp in the process. "Do you think you could afford a little ... recreation right now?"

"Soran is due to arrive at any moment," Sarek hesitated, jumping slightly as her finger found his nipple and tweaked it, turning it into a hard nub.

"I'm sure he'll wait in your study until you're ... prepared." She leaned down to lightly flick the tip of his ear with her tongue before gently taking it between her teeth, nibbling lightly on the sensitive flesh.

"Were you not listening just now when I mentioned I could not afford unnecessary distractions?" he scolded, gently removing her hand from his chest. She recoiled, hurt and surprise evident in her eyes. Sarek immediately regretted his tone, and took her hand in his again, kissing it lightly to soften the blow. "Forgive me, my wife; I did not intend to be harsh."

Her demeanor softened, her smile indicating her forgiveness. "But I was listening, Sarek; however, I think this is very necessary, for both of us." She pulled her hand free and cradled his face, bending down to press her lips against his forehead, then his lips, then further down trailing to his neck where she settled against him, sucking and nibbling the taut muscles.

"Amanda, I don't think I can ... that is, I am not--"

"Ambassador? Are you here?" Soran's voice rang out.

Sighing with a mixture of disappointment and relief, he gently eased Amanda off his lap as he called out to his aide, "I will be out shortly. Meet me in the study."

"As you wish, Ambassador," Soran said.

Looking at his wife, he said, "We can continue this another time, beloved."

"I'll be waiting," she replied, reaching out to quickly kiss him as he left.

* * *

Sarek and Amanda arrived on Risa one point seven-five days later. During the trip, Sarek and Soran were sequestered almost the entire time, except for the moments that Amanda insisted that Sarek eat with her. As soon as the meal was finished; however, the two men entered the office area of their quarters again and were never seen until Amanda and T'Sar dragged them out.

The women spent the time catching up on each other's lives. T'Sar taught Vulcan history at the VSA, and the two quickly began exchanging stories of experiences they'd had teaching both Vulcan and off-world students at the academy.

Soon the discussion revolved around family, and Amanda laughed heartedly, if not somewhat enviously, when T'Sar began to share some of the antics their grandkids had been up to.

"Did Soran not share the news of our youngest daughter's bonding yet, Amanda?" T'Sar asked as she sipped some Vulcan tei.

"No, he didn't, the rascal! Whom did T'Lith choose?"

"She chose young Sekar cha'Solan cha'Seket. A logical choice, we believe, as it is a reputable House, and they appear to have much in common."

At that moment, Soran and Sarek entered the sitting area. Soran heard his wife tell Amanda about T'Lith and Sekar's bonding, and turned to Sarek. "You are coming, are you not, Sarek? I know I sent you the invitation three weeks ago. And, of course, you will be attending the reception after the koon-ut-kalifee?" he asked.

"Of course, Soran. We would not miss it." He inclined his head to his friend but felt a slight twinge of jealousy. Would he ever attend Spock's koon-ut-kalifee? Or would Spock keep his next one a secret from him as well? But no, they had settled their differences, or so Sarek hoped.

Amanda turned to him, her eyes flashing. "You knew about this?" she demanded. "And you didn't tell me?"

Soran stepped away from Sarek's side to avoid being caught in Amanda's glare. He went and stood beside his bondmate.

"I was otherwise occupied, Amanda. I regret that I did not inform you," Sarek said sheepishly. "Forgive me."

Before Amanda could respond, the comm unit sounded informing them of the final approach to Risa.

Soran went back into the office to gather the PADDs containing their hard work and returned with them in his attaché case.

Amanda eyed the case hatefully. "I should hide that thing from you. Then you'd have to take a vacation!"

"I have back-ups, "Soran replied smugly.

Sarek looked from his aide to his wife, struggling to conceal his smile. They would be able to disembark in fifteen minutes. Being on a diplomatic shuttle, they were the only passengers, but they still would have to go through Customs. As they were entering Risa's transport station Amanda heard a commotion and a very familiar voice.

"That is not contraband; it's jerky and a very common treat on Earth. Look, this is ridiculous! Do you know who my son-in-law is?"

Amanda closed her eyes, a groan escaping. Next she heard another voice, this time her mom. "Just give them the damn jerky, Al. We've been here for hours already!"

Sarek turned to face her when he heard her groan. "What is the matter, Amanda? Are you unwell?"

"Not yet, but I think we both will be soon."

Soran leaned over to render assistance if necessary, then glanced at where Amanda was looking and said, "T'sai, is that not your father over there?"

Sarek followed his aide's gaze and saw Amanda's parents. Al was red in the face, arguing with the Customs officer, and Sarek almost groaned at the sight. He turned back to Amanda and said, "I will clear Customs first and render whatever assistance I can. I expect you to be right behind me, my wife."

Amanda smiled apologetically. "You mean I can't hide?" she joked.

The look Sarek gave her indicated that her joke was not appreciated, then his eyes softened. "No, you cannot hide. He is your father."

Amanda nodded begrudgingly. "Well, according to my mother, anyway..."

Sarek stepped up to the Customs agent when his turn came and presented his diplomatic passport and papers. It didn't take him long to be cleared. He strode over to where Al and Nell were being detained.

In his best diplomatic voice, Sarek said, "I am Ambassador Sarek and these," he nodded to Al and Nell, "are my parents-by-marriage. May I be of some assistance?"

"Do you know how much this stuff costs? How is this a danger to your planet? It's a rip-off, I tell ya!"

Sarek had to stop Al's ranting or he would be refused entry into Risa. "Alfred," he said.

Al continued his yelling at the now-irritated Customs official. "What's this galaxy coming to when a man can't bring a simple treat with him on vacation? I thought I was supposed to be enjoying myself here!"

The Customs agent rolled his eyes, his facial ridges flaring as his temper grew.

Remembering that the elder Grayson's hearing was failing, he said in a loud voice, "Alfred!"

"I hear you!" Al shouted as he turned to his son-in-law. "No need to shout in my ear. I'm not deaf, ya know!" He lowered his voice substantially. "Deal with this ... man, Sarek. He's being unreasonable; illogical even!" This last part he shouted back at the Customs agent.

Sarek turned to the agent and asked, "What is the issue, please?"

"He is not allowed to bring unauthorized meat products into Risa," the agent explained, his temper growing very thin at this point. The last thing he needed was some stuff-shirt diplomat getting in his face about Risan agricultural policy.

Sarek turned to Al and calmly reached out to remove the offending object from his hands. Al held on, struggling to retain his prized snack, but he was no match for his son-in-law's Vulcan strength. Sarek eyed Al sternly as he handed the offending meat to the Customs agent. "I believe the issue has now been resolved to your satisfaction?" he asked.

The startled customs officer said, "Uh. yes. It has. Thank you, Ambassador." He put the jerky into the disposal unit before the human had a chance to grab it back.

"Hey!" Al protested.

"Shut up, Alfred! You're not supposed to be eating that junk anyway!" Nell whispered furiously, pinching her husband's arm in the process.

Leaning close to the human, Sarek said, "Do you wish to be escorted off this planet over a piece of a dead animal? Do you not want to see your daughter for Christmas? I will purchase some jerky for you once we get settled; now, come with me." Sarek turned and walked off. Amanda and the others arrived just as Sarek left. Soran helped with the elder's luggage and wondered what was going on.

Al and Nell stared at each other, mouths agape at their son-in-law's attitude. "Well," Nell mused out loud, "Amanda did say he wasn't feeling well lately."

"No kidding," Al agreed, now quite concerned. He had assumed his daughter's worries were unfounded, as she tended to 'mother hen' her husband anyway, but never had he heard Sarek speak to them in that manner.

They allowed Soran's help and meekly followed Sarek out of the Customs area.

* * *

Soran led them to their hotel suite, a large catacomb of rooms affording each couple privacy but keeping them within easy distance of each other. He was still curious as to what transpired at the spaceport, but hadn't had the time to question Sarek about it.

Immediately, Sarek made for the office, ordering Soran to follow as soon as the bags were deposited in the appropriate rooms. Making some quick excuses, Amanda took the opportunity to sequester herself in the office with her mate before Soran could get there. She knew he would respect the closed door and not enter, regardless of Sarek's order.

Amanda stood by the door, watching as her husband worked away on one of the PADDs, and waited for him to notice her.

Sarek looked up, expecting to see Soran standing there, but instead gazed upon his wife. "Amanda, I am rather busy now. How can I assist you?"

"You can 'assist' me by explaining what happened back there?" She crossed her arms, her irritation evident.

"What happened where?" he asked absently, as he perused yet another PADD.

"What happened back at Customs. How could you speak to my father that way?"

Sarek looked up at his wife and put the PADD down. "I spoke to him in such a way as to ensure that he would be allowed entry onto Risa, my wife. The way he was arguing, he was going to be escorted off the planet all for a piece of meat." Looking back down at his work, he added, "He acted most illogically, even for him."

"Perhaps, but that's hardly unlike my dad. You were a bit rude, don't you think? It's not like you to act that way towards an elder." She approached the desk, leaning on the edge.

"I was not rude, Amanda. I resolved the situation quickly before he was asked to depart the planet. I did what I had to, to ensure that you would have the company of your parents for Christmas."

Amanda sighed thoughtfully. "Perhaps, but you've never spoken to them like that before even when handling one of my father's crazy situations. You normally have more finesse than that." She looked him over assessing him carefully. "Are you sure you're feeling well?"

Sarek sighed, becoming frustrated by his wife's constant obsession with his health. "I am fatigued and concerned about the outcome of the negotiations with the Cellesians. They are not going well, Amanda, and I do not believe I can change that fact. I also do not believe that they will treat over half of their population with respect, and that concerns me about my effectiveness as an ambassador." He stood. "Perhaps you are correct. I should apologize to your father for my disrespect." His shoulders slumped slightly; he left the office to seek out the elder Grayson.

"Sarek, wait." She grabbed his arm as he moved to pass her. "That can wait for now. It's not a big deal, really. They'll understand. It's the manner in which this mission has affected you that concerns me. You've prepared for these negotiations for months. Can't you leave it be for now and focus on the conference instead? Enjoy this assignment, just a little?" She pressed her body close to him. "I'd consider it a wonderful Christmas present."

He let her softness press against him and liked the way it felt. It had been a long mission. "You are correct. Perhaps a break from our preparations will clear our minds and give us a new perspective. I shall inform Soran that we will concentrate on the conference, at least for now." He put his arms around her neck and bent his head to kiss her soft lips.

There was a discrete knock on the door, then it opened and Amanda's father peeked his head around the door. "You two decent?"

Sarek sighed, raising an eyebrow and Amanda grinned widely. "Yes, Daddy, we're decent."

"Good." Al pushed the door open, carrying two mugs of steaming liquid. "The bar is stocked! Well, stocked for a Vulcan, at least. Here, Sarek, I made you some tea."

Sarek took the tea gratefully and cleared his throat. "Alfred, I wish to apologize to you for my disrespectful behavior at the spaceport. It was inexcusable, and I ask for your forgiveness."

"Aw, think nothing of it. I guess I may have been a little unreasonable, but I worked hard to hide that from Nell long enough to get it this far!" He grinned sheepishly.

Sarek was stunned. "You mean to tell me that that piece of meat was Nell's Christmas present?"

Amanda laughed, and Al looked at Sarek, puzzled. "No, son, I mean I hid it from her because she doesn't let me eat it. Says it's bad for my blood pressure."

"Oh," he said, sheepishly.

Amanda left the room, still chuckling, and the men engaged in a little catch up of their own. Shortly thereafter they heard Nell calling from the other room. "Al, come here a minute, I have a job for you!"

Al looked at Sarek, a grin spreading over his features. "What, dear?"

Sarek began to clarify for him. "She wants you to--"

Al's 'shush' silenced him at once.

Nell's voice came back louder. "Come here! I have a job for you!"

Al grinned wider, "What, hon, I can't hear you!"

"I would not push this, Alfred. She may come in and get you herself," Sarek said, puzzled at the man's behavior.

Al shushed him again, enjoying his game too much. Sarek capitulated.

"Damn it, Al, use your aid, will you?!"

This time Al started chuckling, amusing himself to no end. "Hang on a sec ... I need to turn my hearing aid on!" He laughed outright, turning to Sarek. "I can hear her just fine; hardy ever need to use this damn thing, but I can't resist riling her up now and then." He walked towards the door, then turned back. "They're just so damn beautiful when they're mad, aren't they?"

"Indeed." Shaking his head, he left to find Soran and tell him to concentrate on the conference.

During the week, Sarek and Soran attended the conference, but the evenings were filled with social activities, some hosted by the conference, and some not. They attended a performance that was playing in their resort. It was a passable performance in Sarek's opinion, but Al seemed to enjoy it just for the fact that the female performers were topless.

* * *

Soran handed a note to Sarek during the final day of the conference. The situation in the Cellesian system had worsened, and they were required immediately. Apparently the Klingons had learned of the Federation's attempt to acquire the Cellesian system and in an attempt to thwart their efforts, they were now also pretending to offer the Cellesians a legitimate treaty. The Federation was well aware that it was a ruse, but the Cellesians were apparently considering the Klingon's offer seriously. The Enterprise, which was actually enroute to Risa for some overdue shore leave, was now being dispatched to pick them and their families up in the morning. Sarek read the note, and left the lecture he was attending with Soran in tow.

They returned to the suite, and Sarek gave Amanda and her parents the news, requesting they begin their packing immediately. Soran and he went to the office in their suite of rooms and sequestered themselves again, pulling out the PADDs and notes on the Cellesian situation. Even Amanda's hunger couldn't budge them from their room; they worked throughout the night but could see no resolution to the crisis.

The only high to Amanda's current low was the fact that it was Enterprise picking them up. She could think of nothing better than seeing her son again! Her parents were completely abuzz amidst their packing as they hadn't had the opportunity to see Spock in several years.

The next morning, Soran and Sarek emerged from the office, still in hushed conversation. Soran's communicator beeped and they heard Lt. Uhura's voice saying they were ready to beam them up. Soran sent the elder Graysons and T'Sar up first, then he, Sarek, and Amanda came up last, as per diplomatic protocol.

Once they materialized on the transporter pads, Captain Kirk stepped forward in greeting. Sarek quickly looked beyond Kirk's shoulder and saw his son standing as stiff as a piece of wood. Stepping off the platform, he introduced his extended party and greeted the senior officers gathered there.

When they finished the formalities, they could see that Nell was already all over her grandson, much to the amusement of the captain and CMO.

"Nell, leave the boy alone," Al chided his wife.

"I can't help it; I've never seen him in uniform before! Isn't he handsome?" She reached out to squeeze his cheek, which Spock deftly avoided.

Sarek raised an eyebrow at his mother-by-marriage's actions, but did nothing to intervene. Spock was old enough to deal with his grandmother.

"So, my Herbie is First Officer, right? That means he's practically the boss!" Nell exclaimed.

"Herbie?" McCoy asked as he turned to Spock. "Herbie? You wanna explain that?"

"Not at this time, Doctor," Spock said frostily.

Amanda thought she'd better intervene before the grin on Kirk's face split it wide open. "Perhaps we can be taken to our quarters, Captain Kirk. I know that my husband is anxious to get back to work."

"Very true, Amanda," Sarek said.

"I'll escort you immediately, Ambassador," Kirk said in his most charming voice. Soran had previously informed the Enterprise who was coming aboard so they were prepared for the extra passengers.

As they were walking to their quarters, Sarek asked, "Captain, when are we due to arrive at Celles V?"

Kirk turned to Spock who said, "Seventy-three point one-five hours, Ambassador."

"Thank you. Will you dine with us this evening, Spock?"

Spock looked at his father uncertainly. "I ... will have to check my schedule..."

"I'm sure it can be cleared, Commander," Kirk insisted, his tone indicating his attendance was as much an order as a request from Sarek.

"Very well," Spock nodded, "then I shall be honored to do so, Sarek."

McCoy walked beside Nell and Al behind Sarek and the others. "So, you're Spock's grandparents?"

"Sure are!" Al beamed

"Doctor," Nell whispered conspiratorially, "do you suppose I could find access to a kitchen? There're these cookies that Herbie just loves!"

"Really?" McCoy's face lit up with his smile. "Well, I'm sure we can come up with something."

They approached their quarters just as Sarek was saying, "Then it is settled. We look forward to seeing you at 1800 hours ship's time." Sarek turned towards the door, then reconsidered and turned back to his son. "It would be pleasing to have you come to our quarters before dinner. From there, you can escort us to one of your mess halls. Or, if you would prefer we could simply meet at an appointed destination for end meal. We leave the choice up to you, my son."

"No, we don't! We expect your butt to be at their quarters nice and early so we can have a decent visit or you'll have me to answer to, young man!" Al nodded firmly at Sarek, who raised his eyebrows in surprise. "I'm not missing a moment of time with that boy. I hardly ever get to see him!"

"Indeed," Spock conceded, "than I shall certainly have my 'butt', and the rest of me as well, at Sarek's quarters as requested, Grandfather."

Sarek nodded approvingly, his eyes shining with amusement and not a small measure of pride in the man his son had become.

Al nodded, satisfied, then turned to Sarek as they entered the room. "See there? Sometimes you just gotta put your foot down with these kids."

* * *

Later that afternoon, Spock informed his parents and grandparents that Captain Kirk had scheduled a formal dinner in their honor in the Captain's dining room, and that he would be pleased to invite the entire entourage to attend.

Sarek protested, claiming he needed to continue his efforts on the Cellesian negotiations, but after Soran reminded him it would be it would be against diplomatic protocol not to attend, Sarek sent his acceptance of the invitation on behalf of his parents-by-marriage as well as Soran and his bondmate.

Spock said, "I will come to your quarters early enough to visit and to escort you to the dining room at 1800 hours."

"We look forward to it," Amanda said, her eyes lighting up with excitement. This would be the first formal dinner her parents had ever attended with them, and she couldn't wait to get their impressions of it.

When Spock arrived, everyone was dressed in his or her finest clothes. Sarek and Amanda were dressed impeccably, as were Soran and T'Sar. Al and Nell had also never looked better. Spock, who was attired in his dress uniform, made quite the impression on his grandparents, who insisted that he explain every ribbon and medal, as well as the activities that earned them. Spock obliged, though he was loath to carry on about his Starfleet activities, especially in front of Sarek. His father didn't object; however, and although his face remained completely expressionless throughout the visit, he listened with secret pride to Spock's narrative.

When their party arrived, they saw that Kirk had ordered an honor guard in their dress attire, and the dining room was decorated to the hilt. Yeomen were wandering around, carrying trays of drinks including champagne, sherry, port, and wine. Al took a glass of wine and handed it to Nell, taking another one for himself.

They were seated and soon the table was filled with all sorts of delicacies, both Terran and Vulcan - but all vegetarian - and they were served on the ship's best china.

Al looked around him, overwhelmed by all the fine fare, and said, "All this food for Sarek? The man's lived on twigs and berries all his life." Nell nudged him in the ribs to silence him.

It just so happened - much to Spock's chagrin - that, while he took his customary place next to Kirk who was at the head of the table, and Sarek occupied the other end of the table, that placed his grandparents directly beside Dr. McCoy. He was taking full advantage of the seating arrangements to find out more about the enigmatic First Officer from those in the know. While McCoy softened his grandparents up with his Southern charm, they kept him regaled with stories of Spock's youth. McCoy kept watching Spock to see what kind of effect Al's stories were having on him, and he wasn't disappointed. Spock kept looking at his plate and was avoiding all eye contact, especially with Sarek. 'Spock's embarrassed,' McCoy thought somewhat gleefully.

Sarek remained quiet, although he sympathized with his son's plight; however, when the stories began to turn towards his own days of courtship with Amanda, he decided to step in.

Al continued, "Then there was this time I went in the barn to grab some hay for the neighbor, and--"

"I believe the doctor has heard enough for today, Alfred. Perhaps the discussion could turn to a more ... current topic," Sarek stated, hoping to stop his father-in-law from telling that particular story.

"I agree," Amanda stated emphatically, giving her parents a pointed look and causing all the senior officers to wonder about her reddish hue.

Spock's head snapped up at his parents' interruption. His grandfather had never told him this tale, and his curiosity was peaked.

"What? It's a funny story!" Leaning toward McCoy, he added, "Technically, they were already engaged, but this was the first time she'd ever brought him home. Despite anything she'd ever said in her calls and letters, that was the first time I realized my Amanda was truly serious about this Vulcan fella."

The entire party noticed Amanda's embarrassment, and when McCoy looked to catch Sarek's reaction, he was surprised to find a greenish hue to the Ambassador's features as well. 'He's embarrassed too,' he thought, then was even more surprised to see that Spock was just as curious at his parents' reactions as he was.

Spock leaned closer as well, "How did you know that, Grandfather?"

"Well, I dunno," Al said, looking at Sarek. "I guess the fact that your father was tucking in his shirt and was covered from head to toe in straw may have tipped me off."

Spock straightened, his eyebrow climbing above his bangs as he looked at Sarek.

Sarek returned his son's stare with one of his own, then his eyes softened. "Is your curiosity satisfied now, my son?"

"Actually, I think I would have preferred not knowing. Forgive me, Father." Spock indulged himself in his drink.

"Why is that, Spock?" Amanda asked. "Can't you see your father courting me? Or is it that you can't see him covered in straw?" She couldn't resist teasing her oh-so-formal son.

"Both," Spock mumbled.

The humans at the table burst into laughter, and Sarek and Spock simply raised their eyebrows. Soran looked amused.

"I do not understand," T'Sar spoke for the first time that evening. "How did the ambassador become covered in straw?"

"The same way his robes became tangled in the rose bushes at the embassy," Soran supplied.

T'Sar's eyebrows rose fractionally. "Ah. I see," she said, nodding.

"I told you the benches were too close to the rose bushes," Sarek lamented to his aide.

Deciding perhaps it would best for everyone to redirect the conversation, Kirk began telling his own stories of the Enterprise's adventures, concentrating on Spock's involvement, of course. He explained how Spock got each medal, greatly expanding on the version Spock told his grandparents earlier.

Al looked at his grandson in a new way after hearing of his exploits. "Wow, you're a regular hero, Spock!"

McCoy snorted and muttered, "Damn straight! And you know who always gets stuck patching him up."

Amanda's eyes twinkled in amusement. "Seems to me that Nurse Chapel and her staff did all the work the last time we were here, Doctor," she teased.

Spock added, "Indeed. The doctor's level of involvement in my post-operative care was minimal, much to my relief."

"Minimal? Now wait just a minute..."

Kirk cut off McCoy's response and suggested that they move to the sitting area for after-dinner drinks. Finally the conversation turned to Sarek's last visit to the Enterprise, on his way to Babel, and everyone had a turn in giving his or her own accounts of that mission.

"Speaking of Babel," McCoy said, turning to Sarek. "I'd like to get another look at that heart. Make sure the ticker's ticking and whatnot."

"I assure you that my heart is functioning perfectly now, thanks to your surgical expertise. There is no need for an examination," Sarek said, nursing his drink.

"It won't take a minute, Sarek. C'mon. I'm curious as to how my 'surgical expertise' is holding up." McCoy poured himself another bourbon and plunked himself down beside the ambassador.

"It can't hurt to double check, Sarek, especially with everything that's been going on lately," Amanda said.

"What's been goin' on?" McCoy asked, concerned.

"Well, he's just been working non-stop, and has been really tired lately, not himself at all."

"I assure you, I am fine. Please leave it at that," Sarek insisted. He couldn't abide people fussing over him.

"Now, wait just a minute. I am the doctor on this ship and responsible for the health of everyone aboard her," McCoy continued.

Sarek stood and said in a low, threatening voice, "I am telling you that I am in perfect health. Cease interfering in my affairs!" He turned and left the rec room, robes flying.

Soran shook his head at his employer's actions. "I apologize for the ambassador," he said. "He has been under a great deal of stress lately." He stood and followed Sarek out of the room, T'Sar behind him.

"Mrs. Sarek, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset him," McCoy looked from Amanda to Spock, who was just as shocked as his father's outburst as the rest of them.

"I, too, have never seen Father as ... troubled as this," Spock added.

"It's not your fault, Doctor." Amanda cleared her throat nervously. "He's been like this lately. I guess it's his current mission. It's not going well."

"You're certain it is not--" Spock caught himself just in time, remembering Vulcan propriety. He looked meaningfully at his mother.

"No, no! I'm sure."

"I see," Kirk said. "Well, perhaps this trip will solve whatever issues he has outstanding with the Cellesians," he added, hopefully.

"One can only hope, Captain. I was rather optimistic that this trip to Risa would give him the opportunity to relax, but he spent all his time working."

"Well, he did see that topless show with us at the resort," Al added hoping to lighten the mood. "That should have loosened him up. It sure did me!"

Nell nudged him in the ribs again, "Oh, Al. Stop it!"

"Oh yeah," McCoy got a faraway look, "I know the show you mean."

"It's a good one, eh?" Al said, winking at McCoy.

"Gentlemen," Kirk warned. "There are ladies present."

"Unfortunately, the ship itself does not offer much in the manner of relaxation, other than meditation, of course," Spock offered. "In fact, the Enterprise was in route to Risa for shore leave when we received our orders to escort you to Celles V."

"I believe your father has been meditating, but maybe not as much as he needs to. He's just been working too hard lately. He has to realize that he can't save everyone in the galaxy," Amanda said, exasperated.

The room grew quiet as everyone reflected on the situation.

"What about the upcoming Christmas party? That would at least provide for one evening of entertainment," Lt. Chapel piped up as Uhura nodded her approval of the suggestion.

"What Christmas party?" Nell asked.

"Well, we have a Christmas party every year on ship, not that your grandson ever attends, mind you," McCoy explained.

"Vulcans do not celebrate Christmas," Spock affirmed.''

"Oh? Since when?" Al asked his grandson. "You love Christmas!"

"Yes. He used to always itemize his lists to Santa in order of preference," Nell added.

"Then cross-referenced it by catalogue number, manufacturer, price, color, topic, area," Al continued, "and then he'd sort it alphabetically."

"We didn't even know that he knew his Terran letters yet!" Nell exclaimed.

"I knew that he knew some of them from that time he wrote them all over the dining room wall in permanent marker. I had to run to the hardware store for two gallons of white paint to cover it up before his parents came home and went ballistic," Al rejoined. "I had a doozey of a time convincing Sarek I really had planned to paint the dining room that day."

Nell laughed. "One time he came in with a star chart and said he was unable to locate the North Pole. He asked if we were sure it was in this star quadrant?"

"Hey, remember the time he asked Santa for just about every gizmo in the Fisher Scientific catalogue? He was only three," Al said, joining in his wife's laughter.

"I told Al that he was definitely too young for that matter-antimatter thingy he asked for. No way I was letting a kindergartner blow up the house!"

"I explained that it was just a model, Grandmother," Spock said.

"Well, it certainly looked real enough to me, Mister! Besides, a model wouldn't come with a 'Warning: Explosive' sticker on it."

Amanda snickered from her place beside her son as Spock equivocated. "We only celebrated the holiday when we were visiting you to respect your customs."

"Bull!" Al snorted. "That's a load and you know it." Turning to the others, he said, "You should see his eyes light up when he gives his parents a present. Don't let him hoodwink you!"

"Rudolph was Spock's favorite holovid as a kid. He'd watch it over and over," Nell said, reminiscing. "That's why I call him Herbie. He always had a soft spot for the little elf. You remember him, right? He's the young elf who wanted to be a dentist, but the head elf refused to consider it. 'You are an elf, and elves make toys!'" she mocked, laughing. "Remember the debates he and Sarek used to have? Sarek would insist that Herbie should have followed the advice of his elder, but Spock was adamant that the young elf should be allowed to make his own decisions. He's such a sweet boy!"

"I think that's a fine idea!" Kirk interjected, saving his First Officer yet again. "Do you think Sarek would be interested in attending?" He looked at Amanda.

"We'd love to!" Amanda enthused. "I was afraid we'd have to miss Christmas this year."

"Great," Al agreed. "And you're attending too, ya hear?" he directed at Spock.

"Yes, Grandfather." Spock all but sighed.

"Perfect. How fast do you ladies think you can have a party up and running?" Kirk asked Chapel and Uhura.

"When is it?" Amanda asked. She knew that if it was before the Cellesian negotiations, there would be no way that Sarek would attend, no matter if the invitation came from T'Pau herself.

"Whenever you want it," Chapel responded.

"Yep, we're always prepared to throw a bash at a moment's notice," Uhura agreed.

"Well, it will have to be after Sarek's assignment. Outside of an antimatter explosion, or maybe the destruction of the ship, I'll never be able to convince him to stop his work and leave the office," Amanda said.

"Okay, then we'll plan it for the day after the end of the mission. That should give us enough time. After all, we have lots of hands to help," Uhura said, looking at Amanda and Nell.

* * *

Five days after their arrival at Celles V, Amanda, Alfred, and Spock were having a nice chat in Amanda's quarters when the swoosh of the cabin door distracted them from their talks. Sarek and Soran had returned to the ship, exhausted; their frustration was palpable. Without a word Sarek immediately entered his office, Soran following hot on his heels.

"Well, hello to you too, darling," Amanda muttered.

"What the hell was that about?" Al asked.

"Dad..."

"I, too, must admit to a certain amount of curiosity," Spock concurred.

"Your father has been like this ever since he started these damn - er, darned - negotiations with the Cellesians." She sighed, looking at Sarek's closed door. "I wish I could do something to help."

"Indeed," Spock said. "His behavior does seem unusual."

"Unusual?" Al snorted. "He's running around like he's got a Denubian sandworm wedged up his--"

"Dad!"

"Well," he smiled apologetically at his grandson, "you get the idea."

"Yes, the image was quite clear, unfortunately." Spock attempted to exonerate the thought from his mind.

"Well, I'm worried sick about him, Spock." Amanda chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully. "Maybe you can talk some sense into your father."

Spock's eyebrows disappeared beneath his hairline. "Mother, I do not believe that my father would appreciate my interference in his work."

"Oh, nonsense. Whether you believe it or not, your father respects your opinion. He's very proud of you, you know, even if he is too stubborn to admit it."

"If you say so." Spock looked at her dubiously. "Mother, I will be of any assistance that I can; however, it is my impression that Sarek does not wish any involvement other than Soran's."

There was another snort from Al's direction. "Bloody lot of good they're both doing! Those Cellesians won't even give 'em the time of day."

Spock looked at his grandfather, puzzled. "Why should they give them the time, Grandfather? At any rate, I find it unlikely that would be the issue as Vulcans have a perfect time sense, so 'getting the time of day' would be unnecessary..."

"Boy, don't go all Vulcan on me," Al said, laughing. "You're not too big for me to turn over my knee."

"Grandfather, I was simply pointing out..."

"Enough, you two!" Amanda lamented. "All I know is that these negotiations are practically killing your father, and he'll take Soran right along with him."

Spock's voice softened as he tried to comfort his mother. "I, too, am somewhat concerned about Father's work schedule, Mother, but I do not believe that it is my place."

"Well, it's my place then!" Amanda declared, striding purposefully to the office door. She raised her hand to sound the door buzzer, then paused, looking back at her father and son who had remained in their seats. "I'm not going in alone; get over here!"

Al and Spock rushed over to her side. Taking a deep breath, Amanda decided to forego the warning that sounding the door buzzer would provide and just walked into the office uninvited. Sarek was seated at his desk, fingers steepled and lost in deep thought. Although he didn't seem to notice their arrival, Soran did look up from his computer terminal. He looked from Sarek, to his family, and back, an expression of alarm briefly crossing his features. He shook his head, giving a pointed look in Amanda's direction, a warning that Sarek would not be tolerant of interruptions.

Ignoring him, Amanda called out softly to her husband. "Sarek."

He didn't respond so she tried again, louder. "Sarek!"

His eyes cleared, his gaze snapping to Amanda by the door. "You require something of me?"

"Yes, I 'require' that you at least say hello to us."

"I do not have time for this, Amanda," he warned.

"Your son has taken time out of his busy schedule to help you; in fact, we're all here to help."

"I see. When my son or any of you become qualified to negotiate agreements on behalf of the Federation, then I shall be interested in your opinions, but until that time then..." He trailed off, indicating the door.

"We did not mean to intrude," Spock bowed respectfully, turning toward the door until his mother's grip on the arm of his shirt stopped him. He watched his parents glare at each other, neither blinking as some unspoken challenge passed between them.

Suddenly releasing a deep breath, Amanda took a seat in the chair opposite Sarek, turning her attention solely to Soran. "Brief me on what happened so far. I want all the details."

Soran hesitated, waiting for his superior to object, but Sarek sat unmoving in his chair; his fists were clenched and his face tight, but he remained silent. Clearing his throat, Soran quietly updated the threesome of the negotiations to date and their perceived failures and successes. "So you see," he continued, "we have followed protocol, offered the usual gifts, accepted theirs in return, and the talks seem cordial, but the Cellesians refuse to be swayed and they will not explain why."

"Sounds like they don't trust ya," Al surmised.

"They have no reason to distrust us," Sarek spat, getting up from his chair to pour himself some saya from a nearby flask. "We have come to their planet giving them the advantage, allowed their negotiation team to greatly outnumber our own, offered gifts of which they approved, demonstrated sufficient enthusiasm for the gifts they gave us, made concessions on several points they requested, and we have in no way reneged on any of our agreements. What reason would they have to distrust us?"

"Well, you're not exactly a ray of sunshine sometimes, ya know?"

Sarek dismissed his theory immediately. "I have dealt successfully with emotional species for 48.687 years. I highly doubt my Vulcan control would be a concern at this point."

"Considering their proximity to our planet, I'm sure Cellesians have had contact with Vulcans before," Spock supported.

"They have, which is why a Vulcan was chosen to conduct these negotiations," Soran inserted. "What I find most unusual is that even now, after days of talks and compromise, they still seem agreeable to the Federation's requirements but simply refuse to sign the treaty."

"But they are interested in joining the Federation, or else you wouldn't have gotten this far," Amanda mused.

"Presumably."

The room grew silent as everyone considered the situation. Al got tired of standing and took the chair next to Amanda's, resting his feet atop Sarek's desk. Spock remained standing, although he did venture farther into the room as the discussion took off, and Sarek maintained his vigil by the saya. "Perhaps there is some social protocol that has been overlooked?"

Soran consulted his PADD, shaking his head negatively. "Not according to my notes, which I assure you are both accurate and complete, Spock-kam."

"Of course, Soran-al, I would not suggest otherwise, except that your notes are only as complete as the information currently available to the Federation. Perhaps there is some ceremony or custom that you unwittingly failed to observe?"

"Perhaps so, Spock, but that information is hardly useful to us if the Cellesians refuse to inform us of the slight." Sarek went back to his chair, tightly closed his eyes, and pressed his hand against his forehead.

"Sarek?" Amanda rose from her chair, prepared to rush to her husband's aid.

"A moment, Aduna." Sarek held out his hand to forestall any further intervention on her part. A moment later his face relaxed, and he lifted his head to address her directly. "My head pains me just now, but it is manageable."

Al shifted in his chair, uncrossing his feet and re-crossing them in the opposite direction, still on top of Sarek's desk. "Well, I would say - not having any sort of experience in this, mind you - that the surest way to know you haven't messed up their customs would be to imitate everything they did."

"Such as?" Sarek asked, reaching out to move some of his documents from beneath his father-in-law's feet.

"You said they greatly outnumbered you." Spock stepped forward, addressing his father directly. "Perhaps there is a reason why, other than the 'safety in numbers' advantage. How many of them were there? Could that number hold any significance to them? Who exactly was present at the meetings? Do they hold a particular significance to the proceedings?"

Soran and Sarek looked at each other and thought about who was in the room at the time of their negotiations. "Perhaps. There was the Clan leader as well as other high members of the Clan, their sons and nephews, and assorted females who were not introduced to us," Soran said. "The Clan leader's eldest son seemed very involved in the proceedings. He was listening intently and occasionally whispering into his father's ear." Turning to Sarek for confirmation, he continued, "As far as I could determine kinship lines, the elderly male that the Clan leader deferred to may have been his father."

"Is it possible that those 'assorted females' were the wives and mothers of the males?" Al asked. "I dunno, but it sounds like they had their families around them."

Soran looked at Sarek and raised his eyebrow. "I suppose they did," he said.

Al sat back looking smug.

"But what does that have to do with the negotiations?" Sarek asked. "We are trying to convince these people to give their women the same rights as the males. I fail to see how having one's son in the room will alter our tactics."

"Maybe it's not your tactics they don't like," Al mused. "Maybe it's you they don't like."

"That is not logical," Sarek stated categorically. "They have dealt with Vulcans before."

"Yeah, but how effective were those dealings, son?" Al asked in all innocence. "Seems to me that they haven't changed their ways much, have they? Anyway, it's just something to think about, is all." Al straightened in his chair and stood up. "I'm going for dinner. Who wants to join me?" Al left the others standing in the room, then Spock joined him, out of a sense of duty to this grandfather.

Amanda stood and crossed to her husband and his friend. She reached out and put her hand on Sarek's arm, trying to give him strength through her touch, then left the two Vulcan diplomats and joined her father and son.

Sarek said softly, "Could it be that simple? Could they have ignored us simply because we failed to have family members present?" Sarek put his head in his hands. "How could I have failed to notice that?" he asked. "That should have been obvious to me, Soran, and it was not."

"If it is any consolation, I failed to see the connection as well, Ambassador," Soran said. He had rarely seen Sarek this troubled. He knew Sarek wasn't successful at all of his missions - no ambassador was - but he had not seen him this affected before. He knew that Sarek was a passionate man under his strict controls, but he was concerned that his passion was escaping its confines during this mission. Soran wanted the women and children given equal rights just as much as Sarek did, but Sarek seemed to be losing his objectivity.

"Perhaps I should consider returning to retirement," Sarek said softly, so softly that Soran almost missed it.

"Ambassador?"

"Perhaps I am out of my element," he continued. "Perhaps someone younger would be more effective."

"You are Vulcan's senior ambassador, Sarek. You are not ineffective," Soran assured him.

"I certainly am here," Sarek countered. "I do not understand the tribal chieftain at all. Never have I been so ... perplexed. I know that there is something crucial that eludes us, but I cannot precisely articulate this ... intuition."

"We were not briefed properly by the previous missions to Celles. We were never informed of the importance of family members attending the meetings. That is not our fault, but we can salvage the situation." Warming up to the subject, Soran continued, "Before, we were not interested in the Cellesian system joining the Federation, but now we are. In essence, we are asking them to change their ways to join our 'family' or 'tribe', so they are expecting to be treated as family now. They have shown us their family, but we have not shown them ours. Your father-by-marriage may have made a correct observation. We have been showing the formal respect expected in a diplomatic situation, but perhaps they are looking for a more casual response."

Sarek looked at his aide and friend, his eyes widening in understanding. His voice was strong as he said, "We have not shown them the proper respect they are due because we have not brought our family members with us? Is that what you are intimating, Soran? That somehow not introducing them to our families is a slight in their view?"

Soran nodded. "I believe that is what I am saying, Ambassador. It certainly is worth an attempt. If we are incorrect in our interpretation, then we have lost nothing."

"Since the Cellesians seemed to be wearing their best clothing and weapons, then we will also dress in our finest robes with all of our medals and badges of office. That may impress them as well," Sarek said.

Soran hesitated, then asked Sarek, "Will this mean that your father-by-marriage and Spock will be joining us the next time we go planetside?"

"I am uncertain," Sarek admitted. "If we are to do as Alfred suggested and imitate them, then they will no doubt be expecting my wife as well, but I am not sanguine about Amanda going to that planet."

Soran nodded in agreement. "I can certainly understand your apprehension. Perhaps we could arrange for a meeting on the ship instead. That would ensure the safety of Amanda and any other females present."

Sarek thought about Soran's proposal and said, "They showed us their prowess with their weapons. I believe the Enterprise would be an equivalent show of force."

"Indeed it would," Soran agreed.

"Soran, I leave it up to you to arrange. I must meditate and prepare for their arrival. If you encounter any difficulties, inform me, and I am confident I can persuade Captain Kirk to allow us the use of a conference room."

* * *

Spock exited the turbolift - after being called away to attend to a matter on the way to the mess hall with his grandparents - and turned right. A good twenty meters from the door of the mess hall, he heard a familiar voice at quite a high decibel level.

"What the hell is this crap on my plate?"

Spock took a deep breath and squared his shoulders purposefully before entering the mess hall, walking swiftly toward his grandparent's table to rescue the yeoman.

"I ordered the steak!" Al yelled.

The yeoman, quite shaken, said, "Sir, we were informed that you wanted baked monkfish."

Al looked at the crewman, then back at his plate with disgust. "Monkfish? I don't even know what a monkfish is!" the elder Grayson yelled.

"Yeoman, what seems to be the difficulty?" Spock asked.

"No difficulty, sir. I was misinformed. I will put in an order for steak immediately." He turned back to Al and asked, "How would you like that prepared, sir?"

"As rare as you can make it without it walking up to the table! Just stun it and throw her on my plate."

The thought of anyone eating meat in that fashion made Spock slightly queasy.

His grandmother entered the fray. "No way, you old coot! You're getting the monkfish just like I ordered for you!"

Al looked at his wife with astonishment. "What did you go and order that for?"

"Because your blood pressure is through the ceiling!" She folded her arms across her chest, daring him to refute her.

Al sat back in his chair. "Aw, there's nothing wrong with my blood pressure," he said, waving his hand in a dismissive gesture. "Ever since I had my last physical she's been on me about every single thing I eat. I mean, I'm 80 years old, and I've done okay for this long."

The yeoman scampered off to get Al's steak before the couple got into it again. As the elder Grayson was waiting for his steak, he ate a forkful of monkfish. "Hey, this is pretty good!"

Nell rolled her eyes. "Of course it's good. That's why I ordered it for you!"

Spock sat in the vacant chair beside Amanda who thought it would be wise to change the subject so her son would be included in the conversation. "I was just telling Mom about Sarek's mission."

"Yeah, the Mission from Hell," Al interjected.

Spock nodded and said, "I must agree that it is fraught with difficulties. I am certain that Father and Soran will formulate a solution."

"When Hell freezes over," Al interrupted.

"Dad! On the other hand, you might be right," she sighed.

Nell patted her daughter on the arm and said, "It can't be that bad, dear."

"I've never known my father to be so ... unsettled," Spock added.

Even Al sobered for a minute. "If Sarek and Soran are admitting that it's bad, it's probably ten times worse than that." Then the elder Grayson's face brightened as he slapped Spock on the back. "You know, Spock, you might be able to help your father out."

Spock shook his head. "I have no experience with diplomacy."

"Diplomacy is in your BLOOD, boy. You practically grew up in your father's study. How about that time you told me you melded with a boulder?"

"It was a Horta, Grandfather."

"Well, whatever it was."

Spock came as close to sighing as he had all day. "I do not see how, Grandfather. I am at a loss as to the nature of the problem as well, and I cannot see how I can be of assistance."

Just then, Soran entered the officer's mess hall and quickly found his k'war'ma'khon (family by choice). "Spock, may I have a word with you, privately?" he asked.

Spock looked up from his pok tar, intrigued by the intense light in Soran's eyes. "Certainly, Toz-ot (Uncle)." He rose and the two walked to the opposite end of the mostly-deserted mess hall. There they each took a chair, moving it away from the table so they could sit directly across from each other, knees only centimeters apart and completely focused on what the other had to say.

"Your father and I require your assistance," Soran said. "We request the use of a conference room on board the Enterprise, and we need you, as well."

Spock's eyes widened. Sarek needed him? "Naturally I will be of assistance in any way I can. I must clear it with Captain Kirk, of course, but I see no difficulty with using the Enterprise to hold your conference. What do you want of me, though?"

"We believe that the Cellesians do not respect us because we have not involved our family in the negotiations. We need family members to join us at the table. Because of the women, namely your mother and grandmother, it was decided to hold the meetings on board the ship for their safety."

Spock looked at his father's best friend skeptically. "I cannot imagine Sarek asking for my help during negotiations."

"Actually, it is only your presence that is required, but, frankly, I think you can offer much more than that to the effort. You have a natural ease with emotional beings that Sarek and I have never been able to master, no doubt from being half Te'hran, but I believe it would be useful here." Soran leaned closer to the Starfleet officer. "Spock, your father's confidence is low. He is evaluating his lack of effectiveness as a negotiator, and he believes that he should retire permanently. I am. concerned for him."

Spock was stunned. His father having doubts? The same ones he'd been plagued with all of his life?

Spock leaned forward, his voice low and strained. "My father is known throughout the galaxy for his 'effectiveness' as Ambassador. He was instrumental in Coridan's admission to the Federation; he has been working with the Legarans for the past twenty years - nineteen years longer than anyone else. How could he possibly question his value to the Federation and to Vulcan?"

Soran shrugged slightly. "Everyone doubts themselves at some point, Spock-kam. Your father is no exception, but this time I fear he may be beyond recovery. I am uncertain as to why, but he is taking this particular mission very personally."

Spock was silent, contemplating this news. He had never in his life considered Sarek as being fallible, as illogical as that might be. Which was better? A father who is always confident and stubborn, or one who had the same faults as his son? Spock wasn't sure. "I will do all that I can, Soran-al. You know that."

"Yes, Spock-kam, I do." Soran took a deep breath, relieved that the boy he knew hadn't changed in all these years away from home. "We are adorning our ceremonial robes with our Clan jewels and badges of office. I think it would be appropriate for you to wear your dress uniform with all of your medals, and I believe a tour of the ship would also be in order. They made quite a show of displaying and explaining their weapons to us."

Spock nodded his acceptance, bowing his head slightly in respect. Soran glanced over at the table, then back at Spock. "I will release you back to your meal, Spock-kam. From the look on Amanda's face I believe she will demand an explanation, and I will give you that privilege." His eyes twinkled with amusement.

"Will you not be joining us, Soran-al?"

"I think not. I have some preparations to make, and I believe some private time with my bondmate is in order." They stood and Soran bowed slightly to Spock, who returned the gesture. He then departed the room.

Spock hadn't even reached his seat before his mother and grandfather began firing questions at him. He ignored them while he patiently made himself comfortable. Slowly Spock began enjoying his pok tar again, savoring each bite as his mother began to drum her fingers on the table impatiently.

"Spock!" she finally exploded.

He looked at her innocently. "Yes, Ko-mekh?"

Amanda blew out a deep breath, counting backwards from ten in her mind. "I don't find that funny when your father does it, and I don't find it funny now!"

"What would that be, Mother?" When he knew his mother was about to become very upset, he relented. "Ah, you want to know what Soran had to say," Spock stated, wasting more time. "No matter, since I believe you will be told of this later anyway. We will all be in attendance at the next negotiations, which Sarek is hosting here on ship."

"That's it?" Amanda shook her head. "Well, great! I think it's a wonderful idea, but I don't see why you two had to act so secretive about it."

"You shoulda spanked that boy more, Mandy." Al glared at Spock across the table. "I've always said that. Nothing wrong with a little slap on the bottom to keep a kid in line."

Spock resumed eating his meal, an effective method he'd learned to hide a rogue smile.

* * *

The next morning, Soran accessed his computer terminal and found that Spock had arranged Conference Room 4 for their use and mentioned that he would be waiting for the diplomatic party in Transporter Room 2 at 0800 hours, ship's time, along with his grandparents. Soran acknowledged the message and left to inform the ambassador.

Sarek was sound asleep, but his mind was jumbled. He had mediated before retiring, and while it had improved his disposition, he found his rest was still disturbed by the constant concern over these negotiations. His mind raced though scenario after scenario, estimating all the possible factors and the appropriate solutions that could be employed.

In his mind's eye he was at the conference standing face to face with Kezule, the Celles V leader. They were having a heated argument, the topic unknown in the disjointed world of his subconscious, but things were out of hand. Sarek watched as he was grabbed about the throat by the large Cellesian and effortlessly tossed upon the conference table beside them. Kezule held him down, slowly cutting his air supply as Sarek helplessly struggled to free himself. The Cellesian leaned down, his face centimeters from Sarek's, as he growled something in his native language that Sarek could not understand.

Sarek closed his eyes, struggling to maintain some control and to regulate his breathing to make it more efficient. He tried to prevent the cloud of unconsciousness from overcoming him. Suddenly the pressure eased, the hand leaving his throat to trail its way down his chest, and Sarek gratefully took large gulps of air into his lungs.

When a pair of wet, coarse lips pressed hard upon his own and a hand brushed his robe aside to explore his chest, Sarek's eyes flew open, his heart racing as another threat presented itself to him. He grabbed Kezule's hand, yanking it away, but froze at the sight of the long, delicate fingers that adorned the large muscular arm. He noticed the ring, his clan's ring, which was perched upon the soft, manicured digit.

"Shhhhh," a light, feminine voice emitted from the being before him.

Sarek looked up at his attacker as Kezule's face slowly melted to be replaced by that of his wife. Amanda leaned down and pressed another kiss against his lips. This time the touch was soft and supple, her taste fresh and familiar. It was now her soft touch that penetrated his robe's closures to rub against his chest suggestively.

Sarek looked around him frantically, but he was no longer in the Cellesian conference house. He was in a hotel room, the penthouse suite of the Rassian Hotel on Vega II to be exact, where he and Amanda had spent their first intimate weekend together many years ago. Gone was the hard table beneath him, now replaced by the large, fluffy pillows that covered the king-sized bed.

Confused, Sarek muttered something indiscernible which Amanda ignored as she laid herself so she could feast upon his flesh more easily. Sarek laid his head back enjoying her ministrations as she worked her way down his torso. When she freed him from his trousers, his eyes closed, eagerly awaiting the cool wetness he knew would soon envelope him.

She took him in her mouth, rolling her tongue around his shaft and running her teeth along the underside, then gently nipping at the head before swallowing him once more. Sarek moaned, bucking slightly as his erection pulsed and throbbed. He placed his hand upon her head, guiding her movements and silently encouraging her to take him faster and deeper. She obliged, and soon she was sucking him vigorously, her hands stimulating his balls and bringing him closer to the edge of climax. When he was almost there, his pulse rapid and his hips gyrating to his wife's rhythm, she pulled away. He groaned in protest, reaching for her, but she evaded his grasp.

"Are you awake yet?" he heard her ask.

Sarek growled deep in his throat, not hearing her, and not caring what she had said. They could talk later. He reached for her again, but she pushed his hands down to his side.

"Sarek, wake up, love."

Sarek's eyes opened, and again he was disoriented and confused. Amanda was with him, dressed only in a robe, which was pushed open enough to reveal the swell of her breasts; but they weren't on Vega II. They were on the Enterprise. Sarek sat up quickly, eyeing his wife suspiciously. "What?" he asked hastily.

Amanda laughed. "You were sound asleep, darling. Not that you weren't being completely cooperative, but I prefer you awake."

"Indeed," Sarek agreed hesitantly, wondering how much was real and how much had only been a dream. Eyeing her breast as it peeked from the opening of her robe, he decided it was hardly relevant at the moment. He reached out to rub his thumb across her hardened nipple, eliciting a gasp from his wife. "Where did we leave off, t'hy'la?"

Amanda pushed herself into his hand, leaning out to stroke his slightly wet but still very erect cock. "Somewhere around here, I believe."

Gently, Sarek pushed his wife onto her back before lying atop her. He kissed her deeply, his hand roaming across her belly and down her thigh to play with her clitoris and slide his fingers into her wetness. Amanda spread her legs wider, moaning his name as a plea for him to take her.

Suddenly the harsh buzz of the door alarm permeated their intimate cocoon, and Amanda moaned disappointingly. "No, Sarek!"

Sarek stopped, torn. He decided to ignore the alarm. Turning back to his wife, he kissed her as he lifted himself, ready to enter her. The door buzzer sounded again, more persistently this time, pulling Sarek's attention away. He stared in the direction of the door, as though he could somehow learn who was there and what they wanted, then the buzzer sounded for a third time. Sighing audibly, Sarek looked at his wife apologetically, trying to ignore the anger that filled her eyes. "Forgive me," he implored, "I cannot ignore this. It might concern the negotiations."

He left the bed, pulling his robes back on and running his fingers quickly through his hair to tidy it as much as possible. He spared a quick glance at his wife, but she was covered beneath the blankets, her back turned to him and her disappointment palpable.

Sarek pressed the door release, and Soran quickly entered the quarters. "Ambassador," he stated as a greeting while he briskly spread an assortment of PADDs out upon the desk. "Spock has arranged a meeting with the Cellesians for 0800 in Conference Room 4. That does not allow us much time to finalize our strategy before we'll need to get ready." He looked up, noticing for the first time Sarek's haggard appearance. "Is something amiss?"

Sarek shook his head, pulling his thoughts away from the woman left in his bed, his mind focusing all its energies on the business at hand. "No," he said, "I am just waking up."

Soran looked through the mesh divider at Amanda, who was still in bed, and saw her glaring at him. He looked away, uncomfortable. "I see. At any rate, I had hoped that these arguments could be used today."

When they had their strategy set, Soran left them to dress for the conference while he prepared himself; by the time he returned to Sarek's quarters, both the ambassador and Amanda were resplendent in their robes of office.

"Shall we meet our guests?" Sarek asked. He and Amanda swept out of the room and down the corridor towards the transporter room.

"Sarek," Amanda's voice wafted up from behind him and both the Vulcan males stopped to see what she wanted. "Considering that we are attempting to convince these people to treat their women as equals, don't you think it would be more appropriate for me to walk beside you, instead of behind you as I normally do?"

The men shared an amused glance before Sarek looked at his wife with mock seriousness. "No," he intoned before turning back around, ending the discussion as the men continued their walk towards the transporter room. They heard her frustrated tsk before she rushed to catch up to them, pushing her way between the two men.

"Why not?" she demanded.

Sarek didn't slow, but answered his wife as patronizingly as he could, "Because, Amanda, as I have explained numerous times over the years, your position behind me is tradition and not indicative of your current status as my chattel, I mean consort." He placed his hand against her midriff and gently pushed her back behind him.

Soran raised an eyebrow, aware that the ambassador was teasing Amanda, but unsure of the wisdom of such this soon before an important conference. He heard Amanda's affronted gasp and attempted to soothe her ire before things got out of hand. "I'm sure you remember, T'sai, that your position behind your bondmate is traditionally for your protection, and actually indicates your importance."

"I suppose," Amanda relented, spacing herself the ritual three paces behind her mate.

Sarek almost shook his head at his friend's cowardice. Soran in many ways was a born diplomat himself, always trying to avoid confrontation. Even after all these years he didn't understand the ... perks ... Sarek received from his skirmishes with Amanda, when they were alone, of course. Not willing to let her off that easily, Sarek casually tossed out another verbal volley. "That is one theory, anyway." He glanced back at his wife, satisfied at the color that infused her face, revealing her irritation.

"Sarek ... you..." she sputtered incoherently for a moment," you're such an ass!"

This caused both Vulcans to stop and look at her astonishingly. Sarek watched her, head tilted contemplatively as he struggled to conceal a smile. "Soran, I believe that is T'Sar waiting down the corridor by the transporter room's entrance. Perhaps you would be agreeable to awaiting me there?"

Once they were alone, Sarek stepped close to his wife to speak with her privately. "Now, beloved, was that supposed to be an insult, or do you actually believe I am a member of the Terran equus asinus family?" His attempt at humor went unappreciated so he raised his paired fingers to her in atonement, but she refused to reciprocate.

"You're a jerk sometimes, you know that?"

"Beloved."

"I believe I have a very valid point, and--"

"Yes, you do," Sarek interrupted, placing his fingers lightly upon her lips to still them, "because it is true that to offworlders our rituals often seem chauvinistic, and perhaps sometimes they are, but in this instance it is of little relevance."

"Why?" she demanded shortly.

Sarek quirked an eyebrow. "Because, my wife, the Enterprise's corridors are of a very finite width. How do you intend for all of us to walk side-by-side in order to indicate our equality? Or were you proposing that we ask the Cellesian leader to walk behind us on the tour?"

Amanda looked around her, loath to acknowledge his logic. "I'm just saying I think it might be a good idea for me, or any of the women, to be more involved in this conference than we normally would be. Just to show we're respected."

Sarek nodded thoughtfully. "I was unaware that I had ever, in any way, stifled your involvement previously, my wife; however, you are certainly welcome to interject your thoughts during the Cellesians' visit whenever you feel the need."

"I shall do so, thank you," Amanda said, primly accepting his offered fingers this time, as the couple resumed their stroll, side by side.

Without missing a beat, Sarek couldn't resist one last tease. "You will not feel the need too often, I trust?" He moved deftly out of the way as Amanda attempted to twist his fingers as penance. As soon as they approached the transporter room; however, both were all business again.

Once they reached their destination, they met Spock and Captain Kirk as well as the elder Grayson couple.

Kirk turned to Lt. Commander Scott and said, "Energize, but make sure any particle weapons are disabled."

Sarek stepped forward. "Captain, they do not carry particle weapons, only swords and long blades." Just as Sarek finished, the Cellesians - all six of them, with more coming - materialized on the pads.

Sarek and Kirk stepped forward, hands raised to their shoulders with their palms out in the Cellesian gesture of greeting. The Clan leader, a two-meter-tall, broad-shouldered man stepped forward, raising his hands in greeting. "There's more of us," he stated curtly.

"Ready to energize again," Scotty said softly.

Captain Kirk, his voice oozing charm, said, "As soon as your people are off the transporter pads, we can bring them up."

"Please step over here," Sarek said, gesturing beside him.

They did, and Scotty brought the next four up.

"Now bring the Inconsequentials," the Clan leader ordered. "There are five of them."

When Scotty finished energizing, five lithe women stood on the platform, eyes scanning the room quickly.

Sarek turned to his son, impressive in his dress uniform and medals and said, "This is my son, Commander Spock of the USS Enterprise." Gesturing behind him, he added, "This is my wife, Amanda, and beside her are my respected parents-by-marriage, Alfred and Nell Grayson. Honored family, this is Clan Leader Kezule." All of the ambassador's party bowed respectfully to the Cellesians, who bowed slightly back.

Kezule only introduced the males in his party, his father, Kekilt, and his son, Kesep. The remainder of the party consisted of nephews and junior members of the Clan.

Through a previous arrangement, the entire diplomatic party, including Kirk, gave the tour of the ship. Sarek emphasized that his son was the First Officer of this mighty vessel. Al Grayson added that Spock was a well-respected "warrior" among the Federation and that he was not to be trifled with.

During the tour of the ship, Sarek thought that his guests seemed impressed. They asked Spock a number of questions about the weaponry of the vessel and its engines.

They finally ended the tour at the conference room. Captain Kirk took his leave of the diplomatic party, who entered the large room. Sarek was pleased that the ship's crew had set up the table and chairs almost exactly as they were down on Celles V. Soran was very thorough, he thought.

The women of the Federation team, namely T'Sar, Nell, and Amanda, sat at the table with their husbands. The Cellesian women did not, but certainly eyed the Federation women with apparent envy.

Sarek watched the Cellesian leader as he watched when Amanda assumed her place beside him at the table. Kezule had been eyeing his wife throughout the tour, but Sarek was unsure of what might be going through the Clan leader's mind. To be safe, Sarek made sure he kept himself physically between Amanda and the Cellesians during the tour, but he was encouraged when Kezule both acknowledged and responded to his wife's comments.

When all were seated, some Enterprise crewmembers served drinks and appetizers to which the Cellesian men dove in. The Cellesian women maintained their positions standing behind their men dishing up their food or removing their empty plates when told to. The conversation remained cordial, comprised mainly of Spock and Kesep continuing their earlier discussion of the ship's weaponry and various military strategies while Sarek and Kezule observed each other and their parties' reactions to the proceedings.

Finally ignoring their sons' conversation, Kezule addressed Sarek quietly. "Your mate is Earthling, is she not?"

"Yes, she is," Sarek answered simply.

Kezule studied her a moment longer then turned to Al. "What did the ambassador offer you in exchange for your daughter?"

Al's jaw dropped, but he quickly recovered himself. "Ya know, he didn't give me a damn thing for her!" he joked.

"Oh, brother!" Sarek heard Amanda mutter under her breath as Kezule studied her.

"Why did her own men not want her?"

"They did," Sarek assured him.

"They still do, thank you very much," Amanda snipped from her place beside Sarek.

"Of course they do, Aduna." Sarek attempted to placate Amanda before turning his attention back to the Cellesian leader. "Forgive my father-by-marriage, he teases you. Earth women are free to choose whom they want for mate, and Amanda chose me; we chose each other," he amended.

"I still think you could have given me something for her. She's my only daughter and all."

"I paid for your trip to Risa, did I not?" Sarek quipped.

Al laughed. "Yeah, but that was a Christmas present; it doesn't count."

By this time, everyone else at the table had turned their attention to the two leaders, and after receiving a nod of approval from his father, Kezule turned the talks to the business at hand.

During the talks, Sarek led the Federation team, but occasionally, Spock would whisper some point he had observed into Sarek's ear, just as the elder Kekilt had done to his son, the Clan leader, Kezule. The points were minor to the actual negotiations, but were valuable observations of the Cellesians.

One contentious spot was finally reached: the education of females. Sarek used logic, persuasion, even threats, but the Cellesians were not interested in educating at least half of their population. The women were to cook and be bred, nothing else, in their opinion.

"Women can still cook and breed with an education, Kezule. Every race in the Federation is evidence of that."

"Education is expensive, Ambassador. Why should we spend our resources to educate the Inconseq ... the women, when they are capable of performing their duties without reading or writing?"

Sarek paused a moment to collect his thoughts. At least he had dropped the term 'Inconsequentials'; that was one step in the right direction. "The Federation is willing to share the expense, Leader Kezule. And once your females are educated, you will have doubled your workforce, which means you have potentially doubled your production capabilities which will result in more revenue for your people." He could see the Cellesian leader was unmoved. "If nothing else, then the educated women can take over the more menial positions, allowing your men to devote their energy to more important tasks."

The elder Cellesian leaned over to whisper to Kezule, and soon the men were involved in an urgent conference amongst themselves. Sarek and Soran exchanged helpless looks, waiting for the Cellesians' decision. Kezule had earlier agreed to no longer allow the women to be beaten or killed by their mates, but that wasn't far enough. Federation guidelines were strict on this issue. Sarek felt Kezule was on the edge teetering towards giving in, but he was at a loss on how to tip the scale, until Spock again whispered in his ear.

"Perhaps mention that if the women were better educated, they would be able to provide healthier meals through the learning of nutrition. This would ensure their boys will grow into stronger, healthier men," Spock said softly.

Sarek leaned back and turned to his son, saying, "You have something you would like to add, Spock?" The tone of Sarek's voice contained no malice, and no frustration. The eminent ambassador realized that Spock had more to offer on this point than he did.

Amanda looked at her mate carefully, wondering if Sarek was being facetious. She soon realized that he wasn't. He was letting Spock conduct the negotiations on behalf of the Federation. This was a huge milestone in Sarek and Spock's relationship she thought, and smiled encouragingly at her son.

The Cellesians had stopped their conference, apparently noting that something unique was occurring at the table now, and interested to see what new tactic the Vulcans were imploring. Hesitantly, Spock steepled his hands on the table top, unconsciously duplicating his father's mannerism, as he commanded the attention of everyone in the room and made his own presentation.

* * *

The meeting ended, and everyone filed out of the conference room in a tense, subdued mood. The Cellesians still had not signed, and although they did indicate a willingness to consider the points made today, Sarek was not hopeful they would change their minds. Only Spock and Kesep seemed unaffected by the day's failure. They were both now at the rear of the group, speaking amicably amongst themselves while their fathers struggled to maintain polite conversation during the walk back to the transporter room. They had just rounded a corner in the corridor when the door to the lounge slid open and a small group of crewmen in casual garb spilled out, bumping into the diplomatic party. Apologies were boastfully offered, and after wishing everyone in the vicinity a loud but Merry Christmas, the crewmen made their way down the hall singing carols along the way.

Kezule's party watched them move away, then looked at the ambassador questioningly. Sarek was nonplused, and looked at his son for an explanation to his crew's behavior, but Spock was no longer behind them, apparently having left the procession along with Kesep on their own agenda. Sarek cleared his throat, "I apologize, Leader Kezule. It is obvious those crewmen were somewhat intoxicated. I'm at a loss to explain why, but I assure you it is not acceptable conduct for the Enterprise crew."

"Looks like the Christmas party's started early," Amanda supplied.

"Christmas party?" Kezule asked.

"Yes, Christmas is an Earth celebration, and the parties are just an opportunity for family and friends to get together and share food and drink, and have a good time together. I think those gentlemen have simply had more celebration than they're used to. They meant no offense."

"Yes, my people also enjoy celebrations."

"Well, shoot, why don't we all mosey on in there for a bit and see what sort of goodies they've cooked up? Apparently the boys have gone off for awhile, so we gotta wait somewhere."

"I believe we have occupied enough of their time, Alfred," Sarek interjected.

"Nonsense. They said they enjoy celebrations, didn't they?" He walked toward the door the crewmen came out of. He looked over his shoulder to see if the rest were following as he stepped into the room.

"We accept." Kezule promptly said, his party nodding their approval.

"I see," Sarek said lamely. "In that case, I suppose a few moments at the festivities would not hurt." He turned and led the party into the lounge, stopping short inside the room to stare at the noisy crowd before him.

The noise dimmed slightly when several of the crewmembers recognized who had entered, but soon the merriment continued. Sarek turned back towards his wife and father-in-law. "I do not think this is a wise idea."

"Sure it is. Let them see us as we really are," Al said. He led them to a relatively quiet corner of the room and went to get some trays of food. He motioned over a steward and asked for a couple of bottles of wine - the good stuff, mind.

Al had unwittingly chosen the perfect location. The bench seats were flush against the wall, and as the Cellesians were led to the back, the men all took the seats and the women had no choice but to be allowed to sit beside them. There was nowhere else for them to go. Once everyone was seated at the table, the Cellesians watched the activities around them, eyes wide and faces smiling at the jubilance. Al brought the food and drink and passed them around.

The crew was robust in their celebrations, running around the room, singing, and laughing. Sarek almost cringed when a young couple practically fell on their table when their play became out of hand as the male attempted to extract a kiss from the female, but fortunately Kezule and his men seemed quite amused at their antics.

"This one is your only wife?" Kezule's question brought Sarek's attention back from watching the couple slip away back into the crowd. He noticed the Leader looking Amanda over assessingly. "I have twelve," he boasted.

"Yes, she is," Sarek confirmed.

Amanda heard the question and leaned forward to offer her own input. "I assure you I am the only wife he needs, or can handle." She smiled at her husband saucily, enjoying a moment of sweet revenge for his teasing earlier.

Sarek raised an eyebrow at his wife's challenge, "Yes, she is," he deadpanned, allowing her this dig at his expense.

Kezule studied the odd couple seriously for several moments, his eyes roaming over Amanda yet again, but this time his thoughts were disturbingly clear to Sarek. Finally he nodded, somehow finding them to his liking, or at least accepting them. "I also once had a wife whom I developed great affection for. She was killed several years ago when a rival tribe attempted to overtake our village, but not before providing me with Kesep." He glanced briefly at Amanda again before addressing Sarek. "She also had a tendency to speak out of turn; however, I found her..." he searched for an appropriate Federation term, "proficiency at her other duties enabled me to forgive her sharp tongue." The smile upon his face left no doubt as to which duties he was referring. Sarek nodded knowingly, and Amanda quickly hid her smirk behind a napkin.

Their attention then turned to Spock, who joined the table followed by Kesep, carrying Spock's lirpa. As the sons sat down, the Cellesians eagerly examined the weapon as Kesep proudly showed off his new possession.

Sarek's eyebrow rose at the sight of the weapon, then he leaned over toward his son and asked, "You armed the opposing team?"

Spock flushed slightly, shrugging. "He was interested in our combat weapons so I took him to my quarters to show him my display."

Sarek nodded, then reiterated, "Then you armed the opposing team?"

Spock swallowed hard. "He appeared to truly appreciate the craftsmanship. I thought it would be a gesture of trust."

Soran entered the conversation by saying, "We knew they were interested in our weaponry, did we not? This is a solid show of good faith. Well done, Commander."

"Indeed, let us hope that our faith is not misplaced in young Kesep then," Sarek said, his tone teasing.

Soran joined in the ribbing. "At least it is refreshing to know that Spock has kept his equipment in good condition. The lirpa looks well polished and ... sharp."

"Lemme look at that thing!" Al said, his eyes wide at the ferocity of the weapon.

Kesep proudly handed it over to the elder Grayson.

"Holy moley, this thing is wicked-looking! Nell, did you know he had this, what did you call it?" Al had never seen it before.

"A lirpa," Spock said. "I have been trained in its use since the age of five."

Kesep and Kezule looked at Spock with admiration. Such a formidable weapon at so young an age was most impressive. "Is this normal for your children, or are you specifically trained in the warrior arts?" Kezule asked.

Sarek spoke up, "It is required learning for all males." Sarek didn't explain why it was so as it was a private matter due to the weapon's possible use during the kalifarr.

"Do all your males train for war then?" Kezule asked.

"Not for war, but for self-protection," Sarek amended.

"It is more a tradition," Soran added. "A task all males must learn before becoming men. The art is rarely ever needed anymore."

"Our males also have to protect themselves as well," Kezule said, looking at his son. "This reminds me of our maturity rite. We must swim to the island of Treol, which is many deops away. It is an arduous swim, and only the strong are able to do it. We lose some each year." He shook his head.

Sarek nodded knowingly. "We also have such a rite, but across the desert, of course, as Vulcan has very little water. We no longer permit our children to perish in the trials, however."

"You have no system to monitor the swimmers?" Amanda asked.

"No. It is a test of strength. Why would we coddle them during that?" Kezule demanded.

"Why lose your youngest boys?" Amanda answered.

"If they are not strong enough to swim to Treol, then we don't want them," Kezule countered.

"What if they're just having a bad day?" Amanda snapped, angered at the thought of children dying in some useless rite of manhood. She could clearly recall her anger when Sarek insisted Spock perform his kahs-wan. It was only when he assured her no harm would come to Spock that she relented and permitted his participation.

"I fear I would surely fail your rite, Kezule," Sarek interjected, attempting to turn the conversation away from Amanda's confrontation.

Soran took this advantage to change the subject, and said, "Yes, as I recall Sarek had some experience with water while he was courting his wife. Perhaps you can relate that story to us, Ambassador?"

"Indeed I did, Soran. It was an. interesting experience." Seeing the anxious looks from all of the others, he realized that neither Spock nor his parents-by-marriage had heard it. "It was my first attempt at taking Amanda out for dinner, but the vid media prohibited it. Amanda suggested that we return to her residence instead. She lived near the ocean which I always found fascinating."

Amanda nodded, smiling at the memory of that night.

Sarek continued. "We ordered Chinese food to be delivered and after the meal and two bottles of wine, we decided to go for a walk along the beach. If I recall, the moon was full that night, was it not, Amanda?"

"Oh, yes, it was light as day, just about. Good thing, too, or I probably would have lost you in the water!"

"Indeed. As we were walking, we wandered close to the ocean and a large wave came in and knocked me down. My robes filled with very cold water, and I was pulled out with the wave. I am unable to swim, and the heaviness of my clothing was pulling me under the surface. I was very concerned that I would drown." Sarek almost shuddered at the memory.

Amanda chuckled slightly. "It wasn't funny at the time, but after the fact I couldn't help but realize that had Sarek drowned, he would have died on only about four feet of water! It wasn't deep, but between the hard waves and those robes, he couldn't even manage to stand up."

"All I remembered was Amanda's voice, calling to me and telling me to stand." Turning to Spock, he said, "Your mother is a very strong swimmer, but I was panicking and would have drowned her as well had she come close to me. She kept telling me to stand and move closer to her. Being in all of that water is very disorienting."

She looked at Kezule sharply. "I suppose you would have suggested I let him die!"

Kezule turned his attention to Amanda, eyeing her tensely before leaning across the table to address her. "Woman, I think he would not have died, not when he had you waiting on the beach to tend to him."

Amanda's mouth opened, a sharp retort waiting to be fired off when she realized the Cellesian leader had actually given her a compliment. She blushed, speechless.

Hurrying to continue the story before all the goodwill evaporated, Sarek said, "Once I stood up and realized the actual depth of the water, she came and helped me onto the shore. We then went back to her place where I dried off." Looking at his wife, he said, "I believe I developed a cold after that experience."

Al grunted, drawing attention to himself. "And what exactly were you wearing on that first date while you were 'drying off' at my little girl's house, hmm?"

Turning to his father-in-law, he deadpanned, "A blanket."

"A blanket from where?" Al demanded.

"From her hall closet, I believe."

"Well, Dad, a blanket was the only thing that made sense. We couldn't share our body heat in a little towel, now could we?" Amanda teased.

Al paled, grabbing a nearby flask and filling his glass to the very top. "I'm not hearing this," he muttered emptying the glass in one gulp and refilling it. "I don't want to know. Let's move on, please."

Nell shook her head. "Don't ask if you don't wanna know, you old coot."

Al looked at his wife imploringly. "Did you know about this?"

"Of course not. But they're married now, so what's the big deal?" Nell asked, innocently. "It's not as if they did something we hadn't already done when we were dating."

Al groaned, "But the first date?"

Spock stared at his father, his expression pensive.

Sarek simply looked at his son as if to say, 'What?'.

The Cellesian delegation roared in laughter at the teasing. Kezule slammed his fist on the table, shaking the glasses. "This is good. We must leave now, Ambassador, but I think we can sign your treaty in the morning. The particulars will work themselves out, I believe."

* * *

What turned out to be the final day of talks was back on Celles V. The Cellesians had finally signed the agreement, including the part about educating the women and girls. Sarek was exhausted but extremely satisfied at this accomplishment. He and Soran had worked very hard at these negotiations and it finally paid off. He then realized that if it hadn't been for his family's participation, the agreement would never have been signed.

Captain Kirk finally gave Chapel and Uhura the green light to organize another Christmas party to celebrate their success. Sarek accepted his kind invitation to the festivities on behalf of the delegation and his own family.

The rec room had been completely decorated in a Christmas motif. T'Sar had never been to a Christmas party before, but Soran had and thoroughly briefed his wife on the subject.

The party was in full swing when the diplomatic party arrived. Al and Nell, who had brought Spock's favorite pinwheel cookies, sought out their grandson and found him beside Kirk and McCoy. "Over here," Al yelled to the others, who made their way slowly through the crowd to their grandson's location.

When Sarek and Amanda finally made their way through the crowd, Al and Nell shoved drinks into their hands. Crewmen were passing out trays of Christmas treats, such as cinnamon buns, mincemeat tarts, and cakes. Sarek looked at Amanda and took a cinnamon bun, biting into it and savoring the taste.

Soran looked at his friend, and indulged as well. T'Sar took one and sniffed at it. "This contains cinnamon," she said.

"I am aware of that," Soran replied. "I believe I am allowed this considering how hard both the ambassador and I have worked lately."

"Be careful," his wife cautioned. "You know what that does to you."

Amanda eyed her husband carefully as he took another bun, but said nothing. He could eat all the cinnamon he wanted, as far as she was concerned! The sugar would give him a hangover tomorrow, but nothing he couldn't get rid of with a short healing trance, she reasoned.

Kirk and the other Starfleet officers took over a corner of the room that had chairs and motioned for the others to sit. Uhura and Chapel, as well as Scotty, joined the ambassador and his wife, Soran and his wife, the Graysons, Spock, and McCoy. They all made themselves comfortable on the couches that formed a semi-circle.

Kirk left the group for a few minutes and talked to the officer in charge of the food and drink, telling him to keep both coming to their corner. He knew that other members of his crew would want to see the Vulcan ambassador, and the corner he chose made him available, but still maintained a sense of privacy as well. "Oh, and bring some hot chocolate as well," Kirk added. He knew Spock had some on special occasions.

"Certainly, sir," the lieutenant replied.

Soran and Sarek told of their success in the Cellesian system and how changes were starting slowly for the women and children on Celles V. They were also pleased to announce that Kezule both offered and seemed confident that he would be able to convince the other Cellesian planets to adapt to the Federation's guidelines as well. It'd take time, but it looked like the whole system would eventually become members of the Federation. It was clear the Vulcans were very satisfied with their performance, and they had every right to be.

Amanda picked up a piece of chocolate cake, but before she had a chance to take a bite, Sarek broke off a piece and popped it in his mouth. Spock's eyebrow rose at his father's behavior, but he said nothing.

Sarek went on to regale the group by telling stories of Spock's birth and some of his childhood antics as he stole yet another piece of Amanda's cake. She sighed and simply handed the plate to him and got herself another piece.

As the evening wore on, many officers left as they had either to go on shift or to bed for an early shift in the morning. Those that came off shift came to the party and settled into their own little groups, talking, and laughing.

Sarek and Soran were definitely relaxed by now, their stories becoming more personal, and more embarrassing, as the night wore on. Amanda had indulged more than her usual as well tonight, and thought it a perfect opportunity to dispel some of Spock's myths about his father. "Sarek, tell us the story about when you and Soran were drunk for the first time?" she asked innocently, looking at her son to see his reaction. After all, she was relaxed too.

"You were intoxicated?" T'Sar asked stiffly, gazing at her mate disapprovingly.

Soran flushed green and took another bite of his cinnamon bun. Taking a sip of his hot cocoa, he said, "That was an unforgettable experience. We were twenty point five years old at the time."

"Twenty point five-six, as I recall," Sarek amended. "Indeed. That was the first time I had any kind of casual contact with humans. It was. educational."

Spock leaned forward taking another pinwheel cookie as he waited for the two Vulcans to continue.

"It was after my last class of the day," Sarek continued, "and I was to meet Soran for end meal. Two human males came up to me and invited me to a party. On behalf of Soran, I accepted. I had not planned on doing my homework until the next day and a party sounded interesting." He leaned toward Soran and said, "My last class of that day was on Interplanetary Relations so I thought I could apply my lessons from class with the humans at the party."

"Indeed," Soran said. Continuing the story, he said, "I met Sarek and the two humans by the water fountain in Surak's Square where I was informed of the party. We followed the humans to their house where they served us many kinds of cakes and ale."

"We indulged ourselves," Sarek said, taking over from Soran. "After a time, we felt light-headed, but we remained unconcerned. We kept eating the cakes and drinking the ale. Then all of a sudden, I felt ill."

"Very ill," Soran corrected. "As did I."

"I thought Vulcans were unaffected by alcohol?" McCoy questioned. "At least, that's what Spock always tells us."

"It was not the ale that affected us, but the cakes," Soran said.

"More precisely, it was the sugar in the cakes that 'did us in', as the saying goes," Sarek clarified.

Continuing the story, Soran said, "We decided that we had to go home and departed. It was clear that our condition would not allow us to pilot a flitter back to our residences so we started to walk. We had done it before many times and felt we could do so again."

"We did more falling than walking for the first part," Sarek said, "at least I did. When we were halfway home, Soran decided that it would be logical to sing. We did so - at the top of our lungs. We reasoned that if we enjoyed the song, others would as well. We were incorrect."

By this time Amanda was giggling in near hysterics, and Spock looked about to join her.

"The local constabulary confronted us and asked about our illogical and disruptive behavior. We explained that we had been to a Terran party and were taking the responsible action of walking home instead of taking our flitter."

"My flitter," Sarek corrected. "My red one; the one I built from scratch. That one."

Soran looked at his friend. "Whatever. The flitter."

Kirk, who happened to be in the process of taking a sip from his eggnog, almost did a spit take. Swallowing hard he looked at McCoy, stunned. "Whatever?" he mouthed silently, to which the doctor shrugged then pointed to the Vulcan's plate. It was still half full with a variety of baked goods.

Sarek took another bite of chocolate cake and continued. "The constable agreed with our logic about walking, but instructed us to lower our voices and quit singing. We said that the songs were not offensive, and that we were within our rights to sing on a public street. He disagreed. He called our behavior disorderly, and he stated that he would remove us to the station if we did not comply with his orders. We did not comply to his satisfaction, apparently, as he took us back to the station and put us in a cell."

"Once we were there," Soran said, "we were allowed one comm call each. I called my father to get us, but he denied my request. He said that a night in the cells would be a learning experience for me. I disagreed. He closed the connection." Soran shrugged slightly.

"I called Skon, and he agreed to come and get us, but he added that an ambassador's son should not humiliate his family by being drunk and disorderly in public. He said he would arrive when he was able, but to make myself comfortable until then. He mentioned that it could be a long wait."

Spock grunted non-committedly, then nodded knowingly. Apparently he had had similar comm calls with Sarek at some point. McCoy vowed then and there to learn them all, even if it took the remainder of the five-year mission to do it!

Sarek looked at his son fondly, remembering his own situations where he disciplined Spock as he was disciplined by his own father. Then he continued, "Three hours later, he arrived and was most unimpressed with us. He took Soran home first."

"And my father met me at the door. He was also not pleased. He lectured me for twenty minutes, and I never heard a word of it. My sole concentration was on not vomiting on his shoes. Finally, he allowed me to go to my room that I shared with my brother." Turning to the Starfleet officers, he said, "There are five children in my family. I slept like an Orion slug."

Sarek continued the story. "We went home, and I was lectured for forty-five minutes. Skon explained to me that I was a disgrace to the family and the Clan and that I had humiliated him like no other family member had ever done. I attempted to assure him that there were no holovids at the party, but he was not interested in my opinion. He let me go to my room and I, also, slept deeply. The next thing I remember was my father pulling me out of bed at his usual rising time, leaving me on the floor. I was still very ill at that time. After several attempts at getting me up, he finally left me alone, but he was unsympathetic to my suffering."

The humans in the group laughed until their sides hurt. "Oh, man," Al said, wiping tears from his eyes, "I can sure relate to that!"

"Indeed," Sarek murmured, gazing flirtatiously at his wife. Amanda sat there with a smile on her lips, her face flushed a deep red.

Spock, who was as amused as his companions, watched his parents, bemused. His father usually never allowed himself to indulge to this extent and never in front of others. Noticing his mother's embarrassment at his father's flirtatious glances, Spock averted his eyes. That's when he noticed it was more than Sarek's gaze that was bothering Amanda.

While Sarek continued his conversation with the rest of the party, his hands had found an activity of their own underneath the table. Amanda helplessly tried to still his roaming hands as Sarek rubbed her thigh suggestively.

Spock quickly looked away, finding a sudden interest in the decorations lining the far wall of the rec room.

After having had his hands swatted several times, Sarek stood and addressed the crowd. "I must leave now as I am ... fatigued."

Amanda didn't buy that for a second. He'd been indulging in chocolate and cinnamon all night long, but she stood as well, crossing her fingers with her husband's. They left and went to their quarters, fingers, and now minds, linked.

The party watched them leave, the humans looking at each other knowingly and shaking their heads in bewilderment.

At this time Soran also stood to leave. "I believe we should retire as well, my wife." He held his hand out, fingers paired.

"For what purpose?" T'Sar eyed him warily, displeased at the men's lack of propriety in both their behavior and choice of anecdotes.

Soran faltered, eyeing the half finished cinnamon roll on his plate meaningfully. "I, too, am feeling ... er ... fatigued, my wife. Attend me."

T'Sar followed his gaze to the roll, her lips pursing disapprovingly. "Very well," she answered shortly, standing and placing her paired fingers against his. "Then I trust you will be retiring to sleep as soon as possible."

Soran sighed audibly, leading his wife from the room while the table behind him snickered at his predicament.

* * *

When they finally arrived at their quarters, Sarek quickly wrapped his arms around his wife's waist, pinning her arms beneath his. He pulled her tightly against him, but in his inebriated state, he practically toppled both of them completely over. "Now you can't push me away," he growled in her ear.

"I have no intention of doing that!" Amanda exclaimed. Freeing her hands and reaching up to undo the clasps of his tunic, she parted the fabric, sliding it off his shoulders. Under it, his silk shirt begged to be removed. Slowly, she unbuttoned his shirt and untucked it from his pants.

Sarek clumsily tugged at the enclosures of her blouse and finally managed to move it aside, revealing her bra. He fingered her nipples through the lacy fabric until they formed hard peaks. Amanda arched her back to press her breasts into his hands and moaned softly.

Just then, the door chimed. Al's voice could be heard as the door swooshed open. Sarek had forgotten to activate the lock, much to his embarrassment. Al walked in and looked at the couple, just as they parted and attempted to cover themselves up. "Oh, Jesus... They're at it again!" he exclaimed. Sarek frantically tried to tuck his shirt into his pants as Al said, "At least you're not covered in straw this time." He winked at his son-in-law.

Sarek flushed green and stopped his frantic tucking. He reasoned that there was no use now. He stood there with his shirt open and half-tucked in, and his tunic puddled around his feet. "Is it not customary to knock before entering another's quarters?" Sarek asked.

"I did knock! What are ya, deaf?" Al smiled. "You need Dr. McCoy to check your hearing, boy. I have some hearing aids you can use," he chuckled.

"Why are you here, Dad?" Amanda asked.

"I just wanted to congratulate you again on your success. That's all, I swear. Well, that and to let you know Spock and I were planning to go to the observation lounge for a little tête-à-tête. We thought you might want to join us, but I guess not, eh?"

Amanda and Sarek glared at him, then Sarek said, "Thank you, Alfred, but no. I have other plans for tonight." He looked meaningfully at the door, and finally Al left the room, with Sarek locking the door immediately after him.

Alone at last, Sarek pulled Amanda closer to him as she ran her fingernails over his nipples, tweaking them to hard pebbles.

Sarek untucked his shirttails from his pants and pulled it off his shoulders, depositing it on the floor. He lowered his hands to the clasp of his pants, but she brushed them away, preferring to do it herself. She looked down and saw the bulge in his pants and massaged it with her hand as she opened the fabric, releasing him.

Sarek's head rolled back, a groan escaping his lips. "It has been too long, Aduna!"

"Yes, it has. No more interruptions, Sarek, and no excuses. You're all mine tonight!" Amanda took his shaft in her hands and stroked the length of it, eliciting drops of pre-cum from the slit. She could feel his ridges flare against her hand as she coated the spongy head with his nectar.

"Agreed," Sarek breathed, as he rocked into her hands. His fingers frantically removed her bra, freeing her breasts. Lowering his head, he sucked in a nipple, flicking it with his tongue as he held it gently with his teeth.

Amanda moaned, her hands grasping Sarek's hair to hold him tightly against her.

His hand lowered to stroke her sex through her clothing as he kneaded her other breast. He struggled with the clasps of her skirt, then finally just ripped them open and parted the rich fabric aside to reveal her lacy underwear. Pushing the material aside, he fingered her clit, eliciting another moan and causing her to buck into his hand. Sarek pulled his cock from her hand, knelt down, removing the last vestiges of her clothes and breathed in her scent deeply.

Pushing her back against the desk, he parted her thighs and pushed his face against her mound. He carefully held her nub with his teeth and flicked it with his tongue, sending shivers of pleasure coursing through her body. Amanda groaned, laying back upon the desk and opening herself completely to her husband's questing tongue. Finally, he thrust his tongue deep inside of her, tasting her juices and feeling her buck against the intruding organ.

He lifted her legs upon his shoulders, gripping her hips tightly to prevent her from escaping his ministrations as she wiggled from her building orgasm. Sarek held her tightly, relentlessly sucking and licking the soft flesh of her inner thigh and her sex. His own arousal was almost painful with want as he felt it bobbing against his belly every time he thrust his tongue into his wife.

Sarek reached up and massaged her breasts, flicking her nipples in time with his pumping tongue. Amanda thrust her head back, moaning his name as she approached the brink. Sarek struggled to lap up her cream as her cum increased along with her climax. She began thrusting against his face wildly, her feet digging into the blades of his shoulders.

Unable to wait any longer, Sarek quickly stood, allowing her legs to fall to the floor as he turned her over, bending her face down across the desktop. He centered his rock-hard penis at her wet entrance and impaled her. He slammed into her warmth over and over again, then slowed as he bent forward, reaching for her meld points. Linking them, their intense arousal washed between them, each feeling what the other was experiencing.

Amanda's hands gripped the edge of the desk tightly, as much to keep her from flying off the surface as to abate some of her sexual energy. Sarek kept slamming into her repeatedly, forcing the moans from her throat against her will. Over and over he thrust, and Amanda could feel her vaginal walls contract around him, attempting to keep him buried within her depths. With nothing to bite, or bury her face in, Amanda pressed her cheek against the desk, gritting her teeth. Her jaw began to ache from the effort not to scream.

Sarek felt his testicles contract in preparation for his release and slammed into Amanda yet again. His thrusts were wild and erratic, but deep and pounding as his body readied itself. Suddenly, he stiffened as he shot his hot seed deep within his wife. He thrust once, then again as her vaginal muscles milked his penis of its precious fluid.

He looked at his wife; her face was flushed, sweat had broken out across her brow, and her breathing was hard and rapid. As her orgasm also subsided, he watched her release a long breath, groaning as she practiced opening her mouth to flex the mandibular muscles. Pulling out, Sarek gently assisted her off the desk, cradling her against him as he tenderly kissed her forehead before lifting her in his arms and carrying her to their bed.

He laid her down on the soft surface and stretched out beside her, wanting to make love to his wife, not just to satisfy his own lust. He lowered his head and kissed her passionately on the mouth, his tongue insisting on dueling with hers. He gently massaged her breasts, then lowered his hand to her still-wet sex, flicking her clit.

She languidly spread her legs to allow him access, but he took her hand and lowered it to his semi-erect penis instead. "Touch me," he whispered. "Make me hard for you, beloved."

Amanda said, "We'll do it together. Give me your hand." She took his hand and placed it around his hardening shaft, then put her hand around his. Together, they stroked up and down the length of his shaft, alternating pressure as they squeezed some parts and not others. The effect was staggering. Sarek threw back his head and arched his back, stroking faster and faster.

As he pumped himself, Amanda removed her hand and kissed the tip, licking off the drops of pre-cum. She took the head into her mouth and swirled her tongue around the cap.

Sarek's moan came from deep inside his chest as he spread his legs, inviting her touch.

Amanda cupped his balls, fingering the orbs in the loose skin. Her other hand lowered to herself, and she thrust two fingers into her wetness, pumping them in time to Sarek's strokes on himself.

"I want to be inside you, beloved," he rasped, letting go of his penis and trying to pull his wife on top of him. "Please, allow this."

Amanda removed her own fingers and unsteadily straddled her husband, slowly lowering herself on his stiff organ. When she had impaled herself, he, again, reached up and linked their minds. Amanda lifted herself up until just the tip remained inside of her. As she sat back down, Sarek thrust upwards, deepening the penetration. The sound of slapping flesh and low moans filled the room as their arousal increased and threw them off the precipice of desire.

Amanda collapsed on her husband, who slipped out of her warmth; his spent penis lay on his thigh, glistening with her juices. Amanda straightened out her legs, still quivering from the orgasm, and lay on Sarek. She raised herself up on her elbows and stared into his dark eyes. "That was a long time coming," she said.

"Indeed. It was as if there was a conspiracy stopping us from intimacy." Sarek gently rolled over to his side, forcing his wife off of his chest. He sat up and tried to get the blankets out from under them, but realized it was a useless endeavor as Amanda was not yet ready to move. He flopped back down on the bed. "We are sticky, my wife. If you wait here, I will return with a warm cloth."

Amanda simply nodded, her eyes closed and her breathing becoming deep with sleep. Sarek went into the fresher and got the cloth. He returned and washed his wife, then himself. By coaxing her to move, he finally managed to get the covers out from under her and covered her up after slipping into the bed himself.

Sarek was almost asleep when he heard the door chime. Snapping awake, he wondered if there was something wrong with the ship or his son. He quickly, but quietly, got up and covered himself with a robe. Crossing the room, he opened the door.

Soran stood on the other side.

"What is it, Soran?" Sarek asked. "Is everything all right?"

"I am sorry to disturb you at this late hour, Sarek, but I am here as your friend not your aide."

"Come in, Soran, but you must be very quiet. Amanda is sleeping." Sarek stepped back from the door to allow Soran to enter.

"T'Sar has locked me out of our quarters," Soran said sheepishly.

"Why?" Sarek asked. "What did you do?"

Soran looked affronted. "I did nothing. She is being totally illogical," he said, defensively.

The ambassador looked at his long-time friend with some amusement. Soran was intoxicated. Very intoxicated. "Let me rephrase my question. What are you accused of doing?"

Soran straightened up and said, "Eating sugar products and being 'libidinous'. She claims that I am intoxicated. And I am not!"

Sarek put his finger against his lips to tell Soran to be quieter. "You'll wake Amanda."

"Forgive me. But I am not intoxicated. I'm not!"

"I believe you, Soran. Many would not, but I do." Sarek had to get Soran out of his quarters before Amanda woke up. "Sit down here and do not move. Do you understand?"

"Of course, I understand. I am not an idiot, you know. I am a diplomat, a government worker. I can follow more complex instructions than that."

As Soran nattered away, Sarek commed the bridge and asked for Spock's location. Satisfied, he said to Soran, "Let me get dressed, and we can go to the observation deck. I believe Spock and Alfred are still there. We can join them."

Soran stopped his rambling and stared at Sarek blankly. "You are my closest friend, Sarek-kam."

"Thank you," Sarek said casually. "I just need to change my clothes, then we may depart."

"I would do anything for you," Soran prattled. "The boundaries of our friendship are limitless!"

"Agreed," Sarek placated. "I will be right back." He turned to leave, but Soran's sudden grip on his arm stalled him.

"I ate a lot of cinnamon tonight," he whispered confidentially.

"Indeed," Sarek said hesitantly, unsure of an appropriate response. He glanced from his friend's intense gaze to the hand that still tightly gripped the arm of his robe. "I think you may have just found the limit, Soran-kam," he joked. Seeing his friend's confused look, Sarek gently removed Soran's hand and leaned him precariously against the table. "Do not move. I will be right back."

Sarek shook his head as Soran continued to ponder his last statement. Going back into the bedroom, Sarek gently leaned over the bed and whispered to Amanda, "Beloved."

"Mmm."

"Soran has been locked out of his quarters by T'Sar. I am taking him to the observation deck to visit with Alfred and Spock. Is this acceptable?"

"Mmm."

Sarek took that as a yes and dressed quickly. Soran stood as he approached and as the door swished closed behind them, Soran asked, "I wonder if they will have hot chocolate there?"



END