DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of T'Lea and is copyright (c) 2002 by T'Lea. Rated PG.



Gardening at Night

T'Lea



PROLOGUE

Nevasa climbed above the horizon, its rays creeping along the landscape, casting away the last of the darkness. The figure waited a moment longer, watching the garden reluctantly let go of the remaining vestiges of the night. Letting go. As he must also do. The time had come.

He silently regarded the now-empty jar sitting beside him on the stone bench, its contents already blown away on the desert winds. Ashes to ashes… dust to dust. Slipping through his fingers until all that had been left of her physical body drifted on the morning breeze, as airy and delicate as her breath in his ear.

Everything she was, all that she knew… was lost. The enormity of it pressed down on him until he thought he might actually suffocate. He forced air into his lungs, then out again. In, and out. When his breathing no longer required his conscious effort, he stood and picked up the grey stone receptacle that had kept his vigil with him throughout the night. Somehow, it seemed heavier than he remembered. His steps were slow as he walked toward the house. He clutched the jar loosely in the crook of his arm, feeling just as grey and empty inside.



THE PRESENT

T'Khut hung in the night sky, silently watching over its sister planet T'Khasi like an ancient sentinel. Sarek stared intently at the giant orb as if he expected to find his answer written on its crimson surface. Finding no solace in T'Khut's impassive countenance, Sarek sighed. He would have to make a decision soon.

Restless, he folded his hands at his midsection and walked the whltri path to attempt to clear his mind. His customary mental techniques had not been effective for several weeks, and he hoped that the repetitive motion of his body and the pattern in the sand would help him achieve balance. The mandala had been sculpted in the style of those found at Terran monasteries. Sarek remembered laying out the foundations as if it were yesterday, the sunlight glinting off of the highlights in his wife's hair as she raked the sand into aesthetically pleasing contours.

* * *

Sarek closed the door and set his attaché case on the carved wooden table in the foyer. The house was disappointingly quiet. Perhaps Amanda and Spock had gone to the market or were engaging in the activity she referred to as "visiting." Sarek shook his head at his own illogical disappointment at coming home to an empty house. He had not called her to tell her he would be arriving at midday. He had simply… quite impulsively… packed his remaining work into his attaché case and left the office for the day. He suppressed a sigh, deciding that he would spend the afternoon in meditation. As he walked through to the bedroom to change into his meditation robe, his keen ears heard the faint tinkle of laughter coming from outside. The garden. He should have realized that he would find her there, despite the fierce heat of the midday sun. Sarek went through his wife's sitting room and out onto the stone patio, walking in the direction of her laughter.

As he rounded the corner of a low stone wall, his wife and infant son came into view. Amanda was down on her hands and knees raking brightly colored sand into an elliptical pattern. Spock was crawling in the sand, mimicking his mother's movements to forge his own unique design. The corner of Sarek's mouth moved upward in a private smile as he stood and watched them with an illogical twinge of pride.

"Good, Spock. That's looking pretty good. Much better than when you were throwing it in my hair," Amanda told their son conversationally.

Spock's expression grew more pensive as he sat back for a moment regarding his own handiwork. One tiny slanted eyebrow rose fractionally as he gazed at the pattern he had made. A small hand deliberately smoothed a section of the sand, then he carefully surveyed his work again. Apparently satisfied, he tugged at Amanda's skirt.

Amanda looked at Spock's pattern critically. "A very logical design, Spock," Amanda praised him. Just then she saw the hem of Sarek's robe out of the corner of her eye. Looking up at him, she smiled broadly. "Sarek. What a nice surprise! Spock, look who's here," Amanda said, pointing at her husband.

Spock's gaze followed her finger, and his eyes widened. "Sa-sa!" Spock exclaimed, crawling excitedly toward his father.

Sarek smiled fondly, not bothering to correct Spock's pronunciation of sa'mehk. It was the first word that his son had learned to speak, and Sarek had been illogically pleased that all of Amanda's coaxing had not resulted in Spock saying the Vulcan word for "mother" first. He bent down and scooped his son up in his arms. Spock's left hand went around Sarek's neck, and he gestured toward the sand with his right.

"Ormazhee," Spock said clearly, pointing at the sand... at for'ma'zhi. Sarek made a mental note to add the term to the database of Spock's vocabulary. His son's linguistic skills were growing at a rapid rate.

"Spock has something else he wants to show you, too… don't you, Spock?" Amanda coaxed.

Sarek lifted an eyebrow. Spock arched an eyebrow in response as if he had no idea what his mother might be talking about.

"What is it that you wish to show me?" Sarek asked.

Spock looked at the ground then back at his father, uncertain as to how to proceed.

"You'll have to put him down first," Amanda said.

"Indeed?" Sarek's curiosity was piqued. He carefully placed Spock on the garden walkway in a sitting position.

"Go ahead, Spock. Show your father."

Spock's expression became one of intense concentration. Spock grabbed Sarek's robe and pulled himself to a standing position. He held firmly onto Sarek's legs.

"Back up just a bit, Sarek," Amanda told her husband.

Sarek's eyebrows climbed into his bangs, but he stepped backward a few paces, taking Spock's fists from his robe and letting his son hold onto his fingers to keep his balance.

"Back up some more," Amanda directed.

Sarek moved backwards another few steps, until he was at the limit of Spock's reach.

"Now let go," Amanda told him.

"Are you quite sure, my wife?" Sarek did not want Spock to fall face down on the stone walkway.

"Yep. I'm sure."

"Very well," Sarek said uncertainly. He gently pulled his fingers away from Spock, but kept his arms out to catch him. Spock looked at his father's hands and hesitantly took a step toward them. Then another. And another. Sarek kept moving backward with each of his son's advancing steps, amazement etched on his aquiline features. Spock gained momentum, and finally lost his balance, tumbling into his father's waiting arms.

Sarek lifted him up again, not bothering to hide the hint of a smile on his face. "You can walk, my son," he said with wonder in his voice.

Spock's eyebrow flicked upward as if his father were making an obviously illogical statement. Sarek's calculations had indicated that Spock would not walk for another one point three seven five months. He and his assistant, Soran, would have to adjust the equation they were using to chart Spock's developmental progress.

"He sure can," Amanda commented as she joined her husband and son on the walkway. "I'm not going to be able to let him out of my sight for a minute now," Amanda said proudly, wiping her hands on her skirt, and then brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes. She extended her paired fingers to Sarek, their affection flowing freely through their bond.

//Your son is growing up, Sarek.//

//Indeed. Our son is progressing ahead of schedule,// Sarek returned mentally, his pride pulsating across their bond.

"Did you eat mid-meal?" Amanda asked her husband, taking her fingers from his.

"No, I did not," Sarek told her, shifting Spock in his arms.

"C'mon, then. Spock and I are practically starving after all this work… but let me clean up first. For some strange reason, I've got a lot of sand in my hair… and Spock, you look like a little Sandworm… a tcha'be'she," Amanda teased.

Spock looked at her quizzically then at his father.

"I will assist Spock while you get the sand out of your hair," Sarek told his wife as he lifted Spock higher, setting him on his shoulders. Spock tangled his fingers in Sarek's wavy hair, hanging on as the three of them made their way to the house.

* * *

Sarek smiled softly at the memory, then re-focused his eyes on the swirls of color in the sand, letting his mind slip into the beginning levels of transcendence. His consciousness finally became aware of the texture and color of individual grains of sand, indicating his passage into an intermediate state. As he slowly walked the circular path, he was no longer aware of his surroundings or of his own internal conflict. He became one with the sand.

"Sort of reminds you of the color of her eyes, doesn't it?" a familiar voice asked from behind him.

"I have no idea, I assure you," he answered. There was no point in ignoring the voice. In fact, he welcomed it. It was the only reason he bothered meditating at all these days. To hear that voice for as long as possible.

"Humph. 'No idea', he says. You were only staring at her nonstop for about an hour today. Or were you too drawn to her other, uh, assets to notice her eyes?"

"I suppose there might be some slight resemblance," he allowed.

"Slight? I'd say that it's a pretty close match… almost perfect. As green as polished malachite with delicate flecks of gold. Of course I've not had the opportunity to see her firsthand, mind you."

Sarek sighed again and stopped his pacing to turn toward the voice. His breath caught in his throat. She stood at the edge of her garden, looking just as she had on the day he met her so many years ago.

This was not the first time she had appeared. Once he thought he had seen her in the open-air marketplace while shopping for fresh fruit. He wanted to catch her, to run into the street, but his strict Vulcan discipline asserted itself before he could act. He stayed rooted to the spot, the juice and pulp from the kaasa oozing between his clenched fingers the only betrayal of his emotions. He convinced himself that it was simply a female who bore a striking resemblance to her.

Another time, he swore that he had seen her in Council Chambers during the Klingon debates. He glanced up from his padd, half listening to the Bolian delegate and the newly-appointed Ambassador Spock. There, in the balcony, he saw her. His heart lurched in his side and his hands gripped the tabletop reflexively. Consciously forcing his heart rate back to normal, Sarek slowed his breathing and willed himself to stay seated in his chair. He purposefully relaxed the tension in his hands, pulling them from the table and folding them into the sleeves of his robe. He refused to acknowledge that they were shaking. What he was seeing was a logical impossibility. 'Perhaps some of her essence remained,' he reasoned. Could that be a possible explanation? He kept staring at the spot in the balcony and she finally turned her head and looked right at him with a smile. Sarek felt the urge to go to her once again. He looked down at his padd to distract himself from that thought. When he permitted his eyes to travel to the balcony again, she was gone. He felt his hands clench inside the sleeves of his robe. Sarek could sense his senior aide, Soran, looking at him with concern, but he ignored him. After that, his attention was only partially on the argument raging on the Council floor between the Bolian delegate and Spock. As he listened to his son's first skirmish, Sarek's eyes swept the great room continuously, hoping to catch another glimpse of her silver hair, but he did not see her again that day.

Sarek shook his head slightly as he returned to the present from his memories. "Amanda. It is good to see you, aduna," he said softly, as he cautiously inched toward her. He did not want her to disappear this time. He needed her. To his amazement, she did not vanish into thin air.

She crossed her wrists with her palms held outward in the traditional Vulcan embrace. Sarek stopped directly in front of her and returned the gesture.

"And you also, my husband," she responded with a smile, letting her arms drop to her sides. She made no move to come closer, her sapphire eyes scrutinizing him carefully.

Sarek stood stock still. He wanted so badly to touch her. To wrap his arms around her and never let her go. But he did not know whether it was even possible for him to do so, or if she would slip from his grasp, as ephemeral as the wispy clouds obscuring T'Khut's southernmost regions. Sarek clasped his hands behind his back to keep them from reaching for her. He wanted her to stay. He did not care that his desire to be with her was not only completely illogical, but impossible as well.

"You look well, Sarek. A little thin, perhaps," she told him, her eyes fastening on his, "and a bit tired," she noted with concern as she reached out and lightly touched the dark green half-moon under his eye.

Sarek's eyes closed at the contact. When he felt her hand move away, he opened them again, afraid that she would no longer be standing in front of him. To his relief, she was still there, blue eyes regarding him curiously.

"It is of no importance, my wife," Sarek answered when he was able to find his voice again. "What is important is that you are here." Automatically, he offered her his paired fingers, his eyes closing once again as her fingers settled comfortably against his own.

He did not open them until Amanda softly cleared her throat. "Yes, well now that you've brought it up, that's something we need to talk about," she told him pointedly.

"As you wish," Sarek said hesitantly, his eyes not quite meeting hers for the first time that evening. When he returned his gaze to her face, she was looking up at the night sky.

"The Watcher is beautiful tonight. We can walk and talk at the same time. I want to see the garden. It's been a while." Amanda smiled at him again, and hooked her arm through his.

They meandered along the stone path in companionable silence. Amanda led him to her favorite part of the garden. She sat down on the stone bench and sighed. Sarek swallowed hard; it was exactly the spot where he had sat waiting to scatter her physical remains. He watched her looking at the rosebushes she had finally gotten to flourish in the harsh Vulcan heat.

"They look pretty good, Sarek. My compliments to the groundskeeper."

"I do not have your skill at making them bloom, Amanda," he apologized.

"Well, you have to talk to them if you want the bushes to be full of flowers."

Sarek had actually tried talking to his wife's plants just as she had done for so many years. They did not seem to appreciate the logic of his words. "I have found that they do not seem to respond to me in quite the same way, Amanda," he informed her.

"That's because they know that you don't really mean it, Sarek," she laughed.

"Ah. Then perhaps I should meld with them in order to build a sense of trust," Sarek responded, his voice light and teasing. He gave a small, slight smile when she threw back her head and laughed until tears came to her eyes.

"Oh, my. Now that is something that I'd like to see," she replied, a smile still on her face. She patted the bench beside her. "Come here and sit with me. We've got a few things that need to be said."

Sarek sat on the hard cool surface at his wife's side, and looked out at the explosion of red and yellow blossoms in silence. `How ironic,' Sarek thought, `all this time thinking of all the things I left unsaid between us and wishing it had been otherwise, and now I cannot find my voice.'

"Amanda," he began uncertainly, "do you know how much…" His throat constricted around the words. As much as he wanted to say them, it was not the Vulcan way.

"I know. I always have. It's not exactly easy being Mrs. Sarek; I couldn't have done it if I hadn't known what was in your heart."

Sarek glanced gratefully at his wife. From the very beginning of their relationship she had always honored the differences between them.

"I also know that you need to move on. You'll never admit it to yourself, but it's true. I've been gone for quite some time now, my husband. I'm the one who's dead, Sarek, not you," Amanda forged on bluntly.

"I find that there is nowhere to move on to, without you here, Amanda," Sarek said softly. He seemed to be doing what she referred to as 'running in place.' He could not go back, yet found himself unwilling to go forward. Well-meaning friends had nudged him toward unbonded acquaintances but nothing had come of their efforts. Logically they were suitable matches, but an indefinable something was lacking. He had not been able to connect with any of them in the way he had with Amanda. Perhaps that simply wasn't possible. Perhaps his expectations were unrealistic. Or so he had thought until last week. He quickly pushed the thought from his mind.

"You have too many years ahead of you, Sarek, to spend them all alone. You promised me," Amanda reminded him.

"I am aware of that, Amanda. It is too soon," Sarek stated. He was not behaving logically, he knew.

"Too soon?" Amanda said incredulously. "Well, perhaps. Better 'too soon' than 'too late' in my opinion. Vulcans are long-lived, but you aren't going to live forever, Sarek."

"Indeed," he responded obscurely. He did not care to speculate about just how many years lay ahead of him without her. He was just beyond what would be considered 'middle age' for a Vulcan. His wife had grown frail before his eyes while his own body aged slowly. He had never let himself fully contemplate the differences in their physiological longevity, although he knew that Amanda had fretted about it. She had only been in her forties the first time she had extracted a promise from him that he would remarry after her death. He had not known what else to do except agree with her. It was only logical, after all. Little had he known just how uncertain his logic would become where his family was concerned.

"And now that you've…" Amanda searched for the right phrasing for what she wanted to communicate to her husband. "… met someone special, I think that the time is right," she finished, her eyes on the delicate curve of a single rose petal.

Sarek looked up quickly with surprise. His shielding must be slipping, or his wife's command of the Vulcan disciplines was quite a bit more powerful than he remembered. She seemed to be remarkably well informed for someone who was… no longer alive. Sarek pushed that thought from his mind as well. He had no explanation, logical or otherwise, for her presence. A denial regarding there being 'someone special' died on his lips. Vulcans did not lie, after all.

"I do not think that I am ready to take another bondmate. At my age there is no need," Sarek spoke more to the field of flowers than to his nocturnal companion.

"Hmph. No need? Rattling around this empty house all by yourself and there's no need? I'm not talking about pon farr, Sarek."

Sarek breathed in sharply. Vulcans did not speak openly of such things. Yet he had to admit that it had been on his mind. When he had become consciously aware of the attraction, he assumed it was some sort of attenuated symptoms of pon farr, however, his subsequent internal bio-scans did not indicate any unusual hormonal activity. He would have to look elsewhere for an explanation of his recent mental unrest.

* * *

Sarek mentally counted the minutes until he could leave the diplomatic reception. Although these formal affairs filled up the hours giving him something to do, once he was in attendance he felt oddly disconnected from the proceedings. His need for companionship and his simultaneous desire for solitude was a most perplexing combination. Still, it was his duty to attend these official functions.

His keen hearing picked up snatches of conversation from across the room, but he did not focus on any of the words as he would have done when he was a young ambassador. He brought a glass of sa'ya-luks'i to his lips, then paused as his eyes caught a flash of green satin. The woman carelessly swept a strand of blonde hair back behind her ear as she picked up a glass of champagne from a nearby table. She went to take a drink and her eyes, the same color of green as her dress, met his. Smiling warmly, she raised the fluted crystal in a silent toast. The corner of Sarek's mouth curved upward fractionally as he lifted his own goblet in return. He looked down briefly, unsure of himself, but when he looked up again she was still regarding him over the rim of her glass, her emerald eyes dancing with amusement. Sarek arched one eyebrow and saw her face fighting unsuccessfully to control another smile. Before he realized what he was doing, he began moving through the crowded room toward her location.

"Ambassador Sarek, I'd like to present Under-secretary Tranlok, from the Bolian delegation." Stenek, one of his junior aides, had materialized at Sarek's side as soundlessly as a le-matya stalking its prey across the Sas-a-shar desert.

Sarek bowed slightly to the Bolian standing in front of him. "Secretary Tranlok, your service honors us," Sarek stated formally, his peripheral vision tracking a blur of shiny green fabric.

"The honor is mine, Ambassador Sarek," the Bolian replied. "We hope to negotiate a trade agreement with the Kustiens."

"Indeed," Sarek commented, his eyes meeting those of the Terran woman yet again over the Bolian's shoulder. A Terran male had engaged her in conversation. Sarek felt a flutter of annoyance, and a sensation that he could not quite define. He suddenly, illogically, did not care for the Terran male whom he did not even know. The man waved over some companions, and the woman smiled at Sarek and rolled her eyes. Sarek noted the members of the group surrounding the woman and then turned his attention back to the Bolian.

"Secretary Tranlok, I believe I know someone who can assist you in negotiating with the Kustiens," Sarek nodded in the direction of the group, and the Bolian turned around to look.

"Come," Sarek commanded, "let me introduce you to the Kustien representative to the Federation Council." Sarek steered the Bolian toward the group, leaving his aide, Stenek, in their wake.

As they approached the group, Sarek's old acquaintance, Kartaan, saw them coming and lifted his hands in greeting as he stepped forward.

The Vulcan ambassador extended both hands to his friend. "Soteka ma karik," Sarek greeted him in a Kustien dialect.

"Dif-tor heh smusma," Kartaan replied in accented Vulcan. "It's been a while, you old Vulcan! Did they have you come to show these young ones how it's done?"

"Indeed," Sarek replied drolly. "Allow me to present Secretary Tranlok, from the Bolian system," he continued, gesturing to his companion.

"Secretary," Kartaan said formally to the Bolian. "It is an honor to meet you."

"No, it is I who am honored, Ambassador Kartaan," Tranlok bowed his head in acknowledgment.

"Come. Let me introduce you to everyone," Kartaan swept his arm in a wide arc encompassing the group. Kartaan presented Sarek and Tranlok to the circle of diplomatic personnel.

Sarek's mouth felt dry as Kartaan introduced him to the woman in the green dress.

"Ambassador Sarek, Secretary Tranlok, this is Perrin Ross who is our social historian on the Cardassian negotiations, as well as a visiting scholar at the Vulcan Science Academy."

Tranlok bowed to the woman. Sarek inclined his head. "Professor Ross, I am pleased to finally meet you."

The woman caught her smile before it blossomed fully. "Mr. Ambassador, the pleasure is mine," her voice every bit as pleasant as the smile she suppressed.

Sarek's eyes held hers for a moment longer before he shifted his attention to the Terran male that Kartaan was introducing.

"Ki Mendrossen, who has been my liaison during my stay here on Vulcan." Sarek and Tranlok both nodded at the young Terran.

"It's such an honor to meet you both," the man gushed. The corner of Sarek's mouth twitched as he recalled Perrin rolling her eyes at him. If he were not Vulcan, he would be tempted to do the same himself.

Tranlock and Kartaan immediately began discussing possible trade agreements between their two systems.

"Am I not right about those figures, Mendrossen?" Kartaan pulled the Terran male into the debate. The man seemed to be well informed and efficient, despite his sycophantic behavior.

Sarek only partly listened to the exchange, stealing glances at the woman when he was sure she would not notice. He quickly shifted his gaze when her eye caught his as she stole a look in his direction. When he gave another sidelong glance she was looking intently at the bubbles in her glass. He was pleased to note her cheeks colored slightly with embarrassment at having been caught staring at him. He asserted his bio-controls to stem the flow of blood to the tips of his ears. She was not the only one who was uncomfortable with being caught.

The woman brought the glass of champagne to her lips and quickly drained the remaining liquid. Sarek did the same with his sa'ya- luks'i.

"Allow me," Sarek said, holding out his hand for her empty glass. Her face turned pink again, but she looked unswervingly into his eyes as she handed over the champagne flute.

Sarek placed the empty glasses on a nearby table and turned back to the woman. "I believe I can recommend something more palatable than the standard reception champagne."

"Please do," she told him, her bottle-green eyes lighting up. "That was very close to vinegar."

Sarek turned to the group of three men who were still deep in discussion of trade agreements. "Please excuse us for just a moment," he told them. Tranlok, Kartaan, and Mendrossen nodded in acknowledgment before resuming their debate.

"Come, I will show you," he told her, gesturing to a table near the wall that was a short distance from their current location.

Sarek watched her surreptitiously as she surveyed the vast array of brightly-colored liquids.

"What would you suggest, Mr. Ambassador?" she asked, looking up at him. With her slight movement, Sarek's olfactory sense was assailed by a light, floral scent that was quite satisfactory.

"There is a rather large selection. Logically we can eliminate half of these since they produce neurotoxic effects in humans," he commented.

"My word," she said softly. "I might be better off with the vinegar."

"Do you find wine to be agreeable?" Sarek inquired.

"Very," she replied.

"Wine it is, then," Sarek decided.

"Two sa'ya-luks'I," he told the Vulcan waiter pouring drinks.

"As you wish, S'haile." The waiter deftly pulled the stopper out of an ornate decanter filled with a rich burgundy liquid.

Sarek took the two goblets of sa'ya-luks'i and proffered one of the glasses to the woman.

"Thank you, Mr. Ambassador."

"You are welcome," Sarek responded, letting a small smile barely touch his lips. "I believe you will find the sa'ya-luks'I to be somewhat more palatable than vinegar."

Her face creased into a broad smile this time that reached all the way to her eyes. "Well, there's something to be said for that," she told him, her emerald eyes mirthful. For the second time that evening she raised her glass. "Here's to trying something authentically Vulcan," she toasted.

Sarek clinked his glass lightly against hers, watching as she took a tentative sip of sa'ya-luks'i.

Her expression went from one of uncertainty to one of surprise to one of pleasure as the Vulcan wine tickled her palate. "It's really quite good," she proclaimed looking at the beverage as if it were some sort of strange potion.

"You are surprised?" Sarek asked, his mouth curving upward again. Many Vulcan foods and drinks were either considered tasteless or downright bitter to offworlders.

"Um...well, as a matter of fact, I am," she commented. Her tongue lightly licked her lips as she considered her words. "I have been having considerable difficulty with Vulcan tea." This time she took a bigger swallow of sa'ya-luks'i.

"Vulcan teas, particularly relan tea, are something of an acquired taste," Sarek informed her. "Sa'ya-luks'I is fermented from the juice of a fruit that is fairly sweet," he continued.

"Well, it's wonderful," she enthused.

"I hope you find other things on Vulcan to appreciate as well," Sarek's voice was soft and deep. He took a drink from his goblet, letting the Vulcan wine lay on his tongue before swallowing.

Her eyes lingered on his for a long moment. He noted that they were not pure green--gold glittered close to the center of each iris.

"Believe me, Mr. Ambassador, I already have," her voice silky, the gold in her eyes seemed to flame briefly.

Before Sarek could think of an appropriate response, she cocked her head to the side, listening, a wistful half-smile on her face. The string quartet that had been playing in the background all evening had begun a new piece.

"Mozart," Sarek identified.

"Yes. One of his string quartets. I'm not sure which one," she informed him.

"I believe there is a Mozart series at the Academy's Center for the Performing Arts," Sarek said, warming up to the new topic of conversation.

"Yes, I saw that on the news uplinks. Next week Tataglia himself will be performing on violin," she recounted, excitement in her voice.

"I understand that it will be his last performance before he retires," Sarek added.

"That's what I heard as well. Unfortunately, there isn't a ticket to be had anywhere on this planet. I tried all day yesterday before finally conceding defeat."

"Indeed, that is not surprising. His concerts sell out as soon as they are announced in every star system," Sarek provided.

"Sometimes even before they are announced," she pointed out. She took another drink from her glass, then hesitated a beat before speaking. "Perhaps you would care to join me for another Mozart performance sometime, if your schedule permits."

Sarek swallowed reflexively, his facial expression neutral. Had she just asked him for what the Terrans called a 'date'? He was not sure how to respond. He was used to being in charge, and her warmth coupled with the unexpectedness of the invitation set him off-balance temporarily. The strength of his attraction to this woman unsettled and surprised him. He could recall only one other time in his life when such an unanticipated rapport had developed so quickly -- and that particular Earthwoman had changed the course of his life forever, and in a very gratifying way.

Sarek found himself in unfamiliar territory. His courtship with Amanda was so long ago that he was uncertain if his theoretical models pertaining to such a situation were still valid.

"My schedule rarely permits such luxuries, however…" Sarek began.

Kartaan's voice from a few feet away interrupted him. "Sarek. Doctor Ross. We need your input here. The subject of Cardassian freighter routes overlapping with Bolian interests just came up…"

"Of course," Sarek stated. He was very aware of the woman's presence at his side as they made their way back to complete the group's semi- circle. He considered what he had left unsaid between them as he listened to the professional tone her voice took on as she outlined the historical vagaries of Cardassian trade practices.

* * *

Sarek's mind returned to the present, the cold bench beneath him having grown uncomfortable. He gazed at the arrangement of rosebushes a moment longer. Only a human would plant flowers in such a random pattern. The deliberate disorder was what made the garden so beautiful. There wasn't one that could rival it on all of Vulcan.

"Amanda…" he began, turning to address his wife who was seated beside him. His brow knitted together when he saw that he was all alone in the garden. A single yellow rose adorned the spot where she had been. Sarek reached over and gingerly brought the petals to his nose and inhaled. A soft smile tinged with regret and longing played across his lips at his wife's unspoken message. According to Terran custom, yellow roses were for goodbyes.

* * *

Sarek awoke to the strong smell of roses. Feeling a cool breeze, he noted that he had left the bedroom window open during the night. He got up and closed the window that abutted the garden so that it would not be too cold when he dressed. He went about his morning routine with a renewed sense of purpose. There were many things he wished to accomplish before mid-meal.

After indulging in a water shower, Sarek dried off and wrapped the thick towel around his waist as he went into a large walk-in closet to select his wardrobe. He reached for a slate grey robe, then changed his mind. Although Vulcans did not place much importance on clothing as a general rule, he had learned to dress for the particular effect he wanted to achieve in Council Chambers. For the negotiations he had in mind, he did not want to appear intimidating, yet he did not want to blend into the background either. His hand automatically fell on the hanger of the robe that had been his wife's favorite. His mouth quirked upward as he thought of the effect this particular garment always had on her. He had never understood her reasoning, but she insisted that it made him 'more handsome' by somehow bringing out the color of his eyes. He did not understand the logic of how other species judged physical aesthetics, but he could not argue with the end result. He threw the plush brown robe over his arm and left the closet to get dressed.

* * *

'Finally,' Sarek thought as he stood up and stretched his back. He had been on the communications unit for the past two point eight one hours. Sarek had employed every trick of diplomacy he had ever learned in these negotiations. He was drained, but very satisfied with the outcome. He was gratified that strong-arm tactics had not been necessary, and that he had found a solution that was acceptable to all parties involved.

Sarek remained standing as he scrolled through the menu on his computer terminal. Excellent. It would appear that his timing was perfect; he would have just enough time to perform an errand and return to his office before his next meeting. He checked the diplomatic corps directory and headed out the door.

"S'haile," his aide Stenek addressed him with a puzzled look on his face. "Do you require something, sir?"

"Not at this time, Stenek. I am simply going out for a breath of fresh air," Sarek told him.

The young Vulcan's slanted eyebrows came together in confusion as he sniffed the surrounding air purposefully. "Fresh air, S'haile? I will contact Environmental Facilities Management immediately," Stenek said as he punched keys on his communications console.

"That will not be necessary, Stenek," the elder Vulcan replied. "It is a Terran expression that means I am taking a break."

"Ah. I will add that to my list of Terran idioms, Ambassador."

Sarek felt the corner of his mouth tug upward. He had been only a little older than Stenek when he was first posted to the embassy on Earth. He had no idea at the time that Terrans often communicated 'between the lines' rather than literally -- but he had learned quickly, with Amanda's tutoring.

"Very good. I will return at 12:45 Federation Standard Time for my meeting with Ambassador Sertik," Sarek informed his young aide.

Sarek exited the suite of offices and took the turbolift to the ground floor where he walked out into the hot Vulcan morning.

* * *

The tinkle of the bell that announced his arrival was a familiar sound, but one he had not heard in a long time. His visits had become progressively less frequent since Amanda's passing. Sarek pushed hard against the heavy wooden door that had had a tendency to stick for as long as he could remember, even when he was a boy and had accompanied his grandfather Solkar on his weekly sojourns to the shop. As the door opened a crack under his forceful shove, the exotic smell of roasting coffee beans, teas, spices, and various pastries and delicacies from the Federation's many worlds wafted over him, as comforting as his favorite meditation robe.

T'Risa looked up as she wiped her hands on her apron, and her eyes filled with warmth when she saw who was standing in the middle of her shop. She came around the counter and inspected him meticulously.

"Dif-tor heh smusma, Sarekam," she greeted him, crossing her wrists with her palms held outward.

"Peace and long life," he responded, returning her gesture. His lips formed a tight smile; there were very few Vulcans old enough, or impertinent enough, to get away with adding the diminutive to his name.

"Sit down," she said, leading him to a table by the window. "I want your opinion on a new recipe." T'Risa glided behind the counter and emerged with a tall mug that had a steaming red cloud hovering over it.

Sarek looked at the mug and raised a single eyebrow. "What manner of concoction is this?" he asked, knowing that T'Risa often blended seemingly disparate items from different cultures to create new drinks and desserts that were amazingly appetizing.

"Try it. It has not been so long since you have been to visit me that I would poison you." She took a seat opposite him and watched him with anticipation.

Sarek picked up the mug and looked incredulously at the red fog coming from the top of the mug.

T'Risa shrugged in a most un-Vulcan way. "Tourists seem to be taken with bright hues for their drinks. Preferably ones that look like they might spontaneously ignite or explode," she intimated.

Sarek nodded sagely. "Then it is a logical marketing technique," he replied, sipping experimentally from the cup. He blinked, then gave her a look of approval. "It appears to be adequate, even though it did not combust," Sarek proclaimed.

"Adequate. I will take that as a positive vote in its favor. I will make some modifications so that the next time your eyebrows are singed off," T'Risa intoned, raising an eyebrow mimicking him.

"Indeed." Sarek stretched his legs out, relaxing. He felt a heavy warmth against his leg. He reached his hand out automatically to pet the sehlat nudging him affectionately.

"Behrak seems pleased to see you," T'Risa noted.

"Yes. I did not remember to bring him a treat, however," Sarek commented.

"Do not concern yourself. He indulges excessively already, as you can see." She patted the sehlat's paunchy belly and he rolled his head back in ecstasy. His fangs glinted in the morning sunshine as he enjoyed being the center of so much attention.

"Let me get you a cup of tea," T'Risa offered, bustling back to her work area.

Sarek scratched the sehlat behind the ears and under the chin. Behrak flopped over so that his stomach was exposed, and Sarek patted him gently before rising from his chair.

"Actually, I have a time constraint today and would like to have a large pot of tea to take back to my office," Sarek told T'Risa as he came around the counter to observe her while she worked.

"Relan tea?" she inquired. Sarek had adventurous tastes in food and drink, just as she did, and he would often request unusual mixtures, depending upon whom he was negotiating with.

"No. Something more… agreeable to a Terran's senses," Sarek requested.

"How about my Special Blend Number 27.325?" T'Risa asked.

"That would be acceptable," Sarek responded, knowing full well that T'Risa made up her Special Blend numbers randomly, and that she would mix him whatever she pleased. He also knew that whatever she created would be outstanding.

"How many will you be serving, Sarek?" She surveyed a selection of tea pots in various sizes.

"Just two individuals."

"Is that including yourself?" she pried subtly.

"Yes, that is including myself." Sarek bent to examine an assortment of kreyla, which also permitted him to avoid her curious gaze.

"Here. Let me pack a few of those kreyla to go with the tea." T'Risa selected two large kreyla and wrapped them up.

"I would also like a pound of the French Roast," Sarek indicated.

T'Risa measured out the coffee beans and poured them into a bag. She took everything and packaged it up for Sarek to carry back to his office. She added two small teacups to the top before sealing the package.

Sarek gave her his credit number, and she waved him off. "This way," she told him, "you will have to come back more often."

"Understood," Sarek said as he nodded his goodbye, and turned to the warped wooden door. Shifting the box to his other arm, he pulled hard on the handle and it slowly opened.

"Let me know how she likes the tea," T'Risa deadpanned.

Sarek's step hesitated slightly as he shook his head and shut the door firmly behind him.

* * *

Sarek walked briskly down the corridor, checking the numbers on the office suites. He slowed his pace just before the correct door, took a deep breath and squared his shoulders before pushing the door chime.

"Come in," a female voice called.

The door swooshed open and Sarek entered. She stood at a small food replicator, her back to him. She shuddered slightly and put a cup down on the counter beneath the unit.

"Damned Vulcan contraption," she muttered under her breath. She turned to greet her visitor and a shocked look crossed her countenance, quickly followed by a big smile.

"Mr. Ambassador! How nice. I thought you were a courier from the Language Institute. I don't get many visitors down here in the…" her voice trailed off and her face colored.

"The Pit," Sarek supplied. Amanda had long ago explained to him that the term the Terrans used for the wing that housed visiting researchers and various contractors was one of affection for the cramped, windowless offices. Sarek, who tended toward claustrophobic restlessness when he could not be at least within viewing distance of the outdoors, had searched for every opportunity to run errands that would take him outside The Pit when he had started his diplomatic career as an aide the summer before he was to attend the Vulcan Science Academy. Everyone had interpreted his enthusiasm for couriering tasks as a sign of his dedication to the job, when in reality he had calculated that it afforded him the most time out-of-doors.

"Yes. Well," she recovered, then lapsed into an awkward silence.

"You are having difficulties with the replicator?" Sarek attempted to keep the conversation rolling.

"Oh, there's nothing wrong with the replicator per se. I've just been trying to get a decent cup of, well, anything out of it," she vented.

"I think I might be able to assist you."

"You can program this thing to put out a decent cup of coffee or tea?" she asked in amazement.

"No. That is impossible," Sarek told her frankly.

She looked at him quizzically, then unsuccessfully tried to quell the laugh that bubbled up.

"I see. What do you propose, then, Mr. Ambassador?"

"This," he held up the carton he had carried from T'Risa's shop.

"My, my. Vulcans bearing gifts. May I ask what you have in there?"

"Of course. It happens to be a pot of freshly-brewed tea that should be to your liking."

"That definitely sounds better than something from the Language Institute," she said with a smile, holding out her hands for the parcel. "Will you join me for a cup?" she ventured, placing the container on the counter.

"That would be acceptable," he responded, watching her hands delicately lift the tea cups from the package.

"Good. Please, sit down and make yourself at home," she told him as she hefted the pot by the handle.

"Very well," Sarek sat down in the chair next to her desk and perused the maps and documents piled high on the workspace.

"You brought coffee and… what is it called? Kreyla, too. I may not have to use the replicator for a while. I'll have to dig out my coffee grinder, though," she said after she shook the bag and heard the sound of beans rolling around inside. "I know I packed it, even though I had no idea whether there would even be any real coffee on Vulcan. I just haven't figured out which box I shipped it in," she told him as she handed him a cup of the tea.

"Do not concern yourself. I have a coffee grinder upstairs that you may use," Sarek offered. He had taught all of his aides how to make a satisfactory pot of coffee. After living on Earth for extended periods of time, and having married an Earthwoman, he had acquired a taste for the beverage, and the food replicators could not quite duplicate the experience to his satisfaction. He was convinced that T'Risa was the only Vulcan whose skills with coffee surpassed his own.

"Thank you. I might just do that. I haven't had a great deal of time to unpack since the Cardassian project took off at warp speed," she confided.

She moved a stack of historical documents and set the wrapped kreyla where they both could reach them. Perrin sat down in her chair and inhaled the fragrant aroma from her teacup. "It smells wonderful," she commented. "Oh my. That's good." Her eyes closed briefly as she enjoyed the first taste from the cup.

"I am pleased that it is satisfactory," Sarek responded.

"Better than satisfactory. It's perfect. I can't quite identify the blend of tea, however," Perrin stated, a look of concentration on her face as she drank from the cup a second time. "I give up. What is it?" she conceded.

"I have no idea," Sarek confessed.

"No idea? Then how did you know I would like it?" she asked boldly.

"I consulted an expert who logically determined the appropriate mixture," Sarek replied sedately.

"Logic. I see. Well, it seems to work better than the algorithm the replicator uses," she teased lightly.

"Yes, the replicator program has certain… imperfections," Sarek admitted.

"I'd like to meet your expert," Perrin intimated.

"That is highly classified information," Sarek replied, his mouth forming a brief smile.

"Really? I had no idea that it was such a closely guarded secret. But I do have a top-level security clearance," she said with a straight face, bemusement showing only in her eyes.

"Indeed. In that case I might be persuaded to divulge my contact," Sarek hinted.

"And just how would I persuade you, Mr. Ambassador?" she inquired, leaning closer to him and selecting one of the kreyla.

"By permitting me to escort you to an event tomorrow evening, Professor Ross," Sarek shifted the conversation decisively. He picked up the remaining kreyla and unwrapped it.

"What event? Or is that information classified as well?" she queried after swallowing a mouthful of the biscuit.

"I do not believe it is classified. I acquired tickets to tomorrow's Mozart concert," Sarek finished.

"You didn't!" she exclaimed, nearly dropping the piece of kreyla in her hand before she regained her control.

"I did," he replied matter-of-factly.

"How did you ever manage to get tickets to see the great Tataglia himself perform?"

"I am a professional negotiator, Doctor Ross," Sarek informed her.

"I realize that. But I didn't know you were that good," Perrin ribbed him.

"It did require that I apply my diplomatic skills somewhat… aggressively," Sarek admitted.

"I think it might be possible for me to free up my schedule tomorrow night. On one condition," she told him, polishing off the remaining bit of kreyla.

"And that would be?" Sarek sat back in his chair and raised his right eyebrow.

"That you stop calling me Doctor or Professor Ross. Please, call me Perrin," she stipulated.

"If you insist, Doctor Ross… Perrin," he gave in, enjoying the way her given name sounded the first time he spoke it.

"I insist."

"Very well, then. We have an agreement?" Sarek sought clarification.

"We do," Perrin confirmed. "So, what's the plan?"

"I will call for you at 19:30 Federation Standard Time," Sarek supplied smoothly.

"Great. That will give me plenty of time to get ready after work," she contemplated, looking at him warmly.

"Excellent," Sarek stood to take his leave.

"Oh wait! You'll need directions to my home."

"Yes, of course," Sarek took out his private data padd, hoping she didn't notice the flow of blood to the tips of his ears. He had already researched her personal information thoroughly. Nevertheless, he recorded the facts she provided, and closed his data padd.

"I will take my leave of you now. I am meeting with Ambassador Sertik at 13:30 hours," Sarek said as he returned his padd to the pocket of his robe. "Until tomorrow evening," Sarek finished with a small bow.

"I look forward to it, Ambassador Sarek."

Sarek allowed himself another slight smile at the use of his birth name before he turned and left her office.

* * *

Sarek gazed out of a window that ran the entire length of the wall. It was the first renovation he had made to his office when he assumed his duties as the Voice of Vulcan. The corner of his mouth twitched upward as he debated the logic of his claustrophobic sensation. On the other hand, it would be illogical to deny its existence. He had mastered it for the most part, save during long interstellar voyages where he sought out observation decks as often as possible. He would have to get used to the unsettling feeling as he suspected that he would be paying frequent visits to The Pit in the future. A small smile played at his lips and in the privacy of his well-appointed office he did not bother to suppress it. His negotiations had gone quite well, in his estimate. Hopefully his meeting with Ambassador Sertik would be equally fruitful.

"S'haile, your meeting with Ambassador Sertik is in five minutes in the Surak Conference Room," Stenek's voice came from directly over his shoulder. Sarek looked at Stenek's reflection in the glass and wondered if his young aide was indeed part le-matya. Sarek had not heard him enter the room or approach from behind.

"I will depart directly," Sarek told him, his eyes still looking outside at the distant Sas-a-shar desert. Mt. Seleya was barely visible on the horizon.

Sarek tore his eyes from the view and went to his desk to collect his padds. As he retrieved the relevant materials, he caught a splash of red out of the corner of his eye. This time his right eyebrow traveled all the way up into his bangs.

He picked up the object and scrutinized it. Impossible. Although after the unusual events of past few days he had mentally revised his vocabulary to minimize his use of that word. His face relaxed and a wistful look crossed it briefly.

Only a human would weave vines together in such an illogical pattern. Only one particular human that he could think of. Sarek brought the pair of red roses to his nose and breathed in their fragrance. Smiling softly, he looked across the expanse of his office, out the large window and into the Sas-a-shar toward Mt. Seleya once more. Impossible. Well, not very probably, he amended.

Sarek carried the roses to the wet-bar where he filled a glass with water. He delicately placed the intertwined flowers in the makeshift vase and set it on his desk next to a framed holopic of Amanda that was taken on their wedding day. Sarek stared at the picture for a moment longer.

"Thank you, my wife," he said in voice that was barely a whisper. With one more glance at the distant Mt. Seleya, he left his office for his next meeting.



THE END

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