DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Saidicam29 and is copyright (c) 2002 by Saidicam29. Rated PG.



Under the Mistletoe

T'Lea and Saidicam29



Amanda Grayson pulled the desk chair to the doorway to hang her last decoration. The sound of Bing Crosby warbling 'White Christmas' could be heard throughout the normally-subdued halls of the Vulcan Embassy's Language Department.

"Just like the ones I used to know," Amanda belted out the familiar chorus as she leaned precariously off the edge of the chair to hang the tiny sprig of mistletoe over the entrance to her classroom.

Amanda adjusted the mistletoe so that it hung at just the right level. She was really getting into the season. As she swayed her hips in tune to the melodic beat of the music, she became aware of a presence below her. "Sarek!" Amanda jumped, startled by the Vulcan's unexpected arrival and lost her balance.

Strong hands grabbed her waist and she was safely lowered to the floor. She felt her face color with embarrassment.

"If you insist on renovating your workspace, Amanda, would not a ladder be a more logical piece of equipment for climbing than your chair?" The twinkle in his eye negated any censure from his words.

"Perhaps, Ambassador, but the chair was handy, a ladder was not. And I was merely hanging a piece of mistletoe which hardy qualifies as a renovation, I should think." She waited for his next verbal volley, but was interrupted by a third voice that she had not realized was even there.

"At any rate, I think we can all agree that Miss Grayson is no longer in danger of falling," Soran, Sarek's chief advisor and closest friend, glanced meaningfully at Sarek's hands, which were still wrapped around Amanda's midsection.

Sarek raised an eyebrow at Soran as he took his hands from Amanda's body and folded them in front of him. Apparently Soran had fully embraced the Terran practice of teasing, Sarek mused. It complimented Sarek's own style satisfactorily.

Amanda stepped back to allow the men to enter, and as each Vulcan crossed the threshold she reached up to plant a soft kiss against his cheek.

"Merry Christmas, Sarek. Merry Christmas, Soran."

Startled, Sarek and Soran looked at each other, identical eyebrows raised in wonder. Sarek was under the impression that Christmas was a religious holiday of some sort. He now wondered if perhaps it was some sort of mating ritual. He knew that Terrans kissed as a means of expressing interest in bonding with a member of the opposite sex. Did this mean that Amanda was considering himself as well as Soran as potential suitors? He noticed that the tips of Soran's ears were flushed green as they both took a seat before Amanda's desk.

"You guys are early tonight. I thought you'd be in meetings until at least six," Amanda commented as she sat down behind her desk. Since Amanda had come to the embassy four months ago to teach idiomatic English to the embassy staff, she, Sarek, and Soran had begun a cultural exchange of sorts where they met a few times a week to teach each other of their cultures and people. What started out as a 'logical' solution to everyone's desire to learn more about another culture had facilitated a strong and steadfast friendship among the trio.

"Ambassador Marshall seemed eager to end our meeting early tonight. No doubt he is distracted by the same phenomenon as you," Soran commented, gesturing to the walls of her classroom that had been transformed in one afternoon from a stark embassy setting into a winter wonderland.

"We could return at our appointed time, if you'd prefer, Amanda," Sarek offered.

"No! I'm finished in here anyway. I haven't eaten though ... do you guys want to go out somewhere or order in?" She didn't need to ask if they'd be willing to dine with her as they often went to dinner together when they collaborated.

Sarek and Soran glanced at each other briefly, and Soran silently bowed his head to his superior, putting the decision in his hands. "We would prefer to eat here, Amanda," Sarek responded. "We find the current atmosphere in town to be ... "

"Crazy," Amanda supplied.

"It is somewhat ... overwrought," Sarek responded tactfully. Soran nodded his head in agreement.

"It was a madhouse when I went out to lunch. I used to wonder why my father called it the 'Silly Season' and now I understand," Amanda confided.

"It does seem to cause certain changes in human behavior," Sarek inserted, referring to the kiss she had bestowed on them earlier. He became acutely aware of the warm spot on his face where her lips had touched. He felt the tips of his ears burn at the memory. He furiously applied his bio-controls, and looked at Amanda out of the corner of his eye. He noticed that her face was suffused with a light red color.

"It's tradition," Amanda blurted out of the blue.

"Tradition?" Sarek repeated.

"Yes. You are supposed to kiss someone under the mistletoe," she explained.

"Ah," Soran replied as if this cleared up the matter completely.

"Indeed," Sarek added. He was still curious about this 'tradition' but was uncertain how to pursue the topic.

"Yes, it is. Well, then." Amanda's face turned redder. "Let me order dinner." Amanda looked purposefully at her computer and brought up several menus on the screen.

"How about some lasagna from Michelangelo's?" Amanda asked.

"Vegetarian lasagna," Soran reminded her. He arched an eyebrow when she rolled her eyes melodramatically.

"Yes, yes, I know! You guys are Vulcans after all ... do you really think it's necessary to specify 'vegetarian' every time we eat?" she teased.

"Yes, I do," Soran responded soberly. "Especially after the incident with the burritos at La Fiesta." The corner of his mouth twitched upward in what Amanda knew to be a smile. There had been some sort of language barrier, and whatever it was that Amanda had translated into Spanish for the waiter was most certainly not vegetarian. In fact, it had been some sort of animal part that even Amanda herself was squeamish about consuming.

"But I didn't let you guys eat it, did I? I fixed the order with the cook and everything was fine. In fact, if I am not mistaken, it is you, Soran, who requests that we go for burritos at least once a week," Amanda said with a smile. She had actually been mortified at the time, fearing that the Vulcans would be offended. To their credit, they had taken the entire incident in stride and had not let it stop them from adventurous culinary pursuits while on Earth. She had learned that Soran repeatedly brought up the incident to 'tease' her in his own restrained way.

"That is true," Soran conceded. "I suppose it is safe to allow you to order dinner."

"Lasagna would be acceptable," Sarek decided. He found Italian food to be quite satisfactory. He especially enjoyed the musical sound of the language when they dined at Michelangelo's.

"Great!" Amanda enthused. "I'll put on a pot of tea as well."

She placed the order, then got up and started the tea. As soon as she returned to her desk Sarek resumed their discussion.

"I would like to learn more about the Christmas holiday, Amanda. It was my understanding that it was an old religious celebration; however, I have seen very little reference to religion in the festivities."

"Well, that's because different people celebrate Christmas in different ways, Sarek, and over the years, I guess, Christmas has lost its religious meaning for some people. For instance, my family is not religious, however, we celebrate Christmas as a time for getting together with friends and family and giving to each other."

"Are you referring to 'peace on Earth, and goodwill towards mankind', Amanda?" Soran questioned doubtfully.

"Yes, that's a part of it, Soran."

"Illogical. Why do humans require a holiday to be kind to each other?" Sarek questioned.

"Well, it's not that we require a holiday to do it," Amanda muttered, exasperated. "It's just the tone of the season ... you're buying gifts for your loved ones, giving to charities ... it puts us in a kinder state of mind, I think."

Sarek considered this then shook his head in disagreement. "I still do not understand. On our way back to the embassy, we witnessed several incidents in front of Macy's department store that seemed less than charitable."

"Indeed," Soran chimed in. "There were two women arguing over the rights to an article of clothing that apparently was on sale for 'one day only.' The argument eventually escalated into a brawl, and both women were physically removed from the store by security."

"It would appear that the 'Silly Season,' to use your father's term, does not bring out goodwill in everyone. In fact, my observations suggest that it exacerbates ill will. Why can your people not behave peacefully all year long?" Sarek queried.

"Look, there are always exceptions, but Christmas really does bring humans closer together." Amanda paused, frustrated by her inability to explain the holiday accurately. "Perhaps this isn't something that can be explained with words. Maybe it's something you need to experience firsthand."

"And how do you propose we do that, Amanda?" Sarek asked.

Amanda bit her bottom lip gently as she formed a plan. She smiled at the thought of the two placid Vulcans in the midst of the Grayson family chaos. "By coming home with me and celebrating Christmas with my family."

Sarek and Soran glanced at each other consideringly. "Is this not a family holiday, Amanda?" Sarek asked.

"Well, you two are like my family here at the embassy. Besides, it's also customary to invite friends who have to be away from their families during the holidays."

"Where does your clan gather for this celebration?" Soran inquired.

"Maplewood, Minnesota," Amanda said with a smile. In her head she could already hear the snow crunching under her boots and she could smell the smoke coming out of the chimney. She had not been home as often as she would have liked during the past few years.

"Minnesota," Soran repeated, pulling out his data PADD. He looked at Sarek soberly. "The temperature is four degrees Celsius, Sarek."

"Indeed," Sarek commented, looking back at Amanda uncertainly.

"Four degrees is warm!" Amanda exclaimed. "That's not even below freezing. I saw on the weather uplinks that there will be more snow," she told them, her sapphire eyes shining with excitement.

"Snow?" Sarek and Soran said at the same time. Both Vulcans raised a single eyebrow. Amanda was fairly certain that her negotiations were going to be successful. Of course she had learned from the best. Sarek and Soran themselves.

"Yes, snow. You've never seen snow, have you?" Amanda asked casually. Sarek often questioned her about Terran weather phenomena. Sarek's home on Vulcan was near the Sas-a-shar desert, so he was particularly fascinated with anything involving water. One afternoon while they were working on a speech he was to give before the Federation Council, there had been a torrential downpour. Thunder, lightening ... the whole works. Sarek had been mesmerized by the savagery of the storm. He and Amanda stood before his large picture window, neither one speaking. Soran had rushed into the office to alert Sarek of severe weather conditions. Amanda smiled at the memory of Soran dripping water from the downpour all over Sarek's Persian rug, both Vulcan's eyes lit up with boyish enthusiasm.

"They had simulated winter precipitation at Macy's," Soran informed her.

"Fake snow isn't anything like real snow, Soran," Amanda responded.

"I have seen snow on the mountaintops from the diplomatic shuttle," Sarek said, his voice a bit wistful.

"You can't experience snow from the seat of a flitter. It's more than just 'seeing' it. Besides, that snow was probably hundreds of miles away," Amanda told him, her blue eyes fastening on his.

"I would not wish to impose upon your family, Amanda." Sarek began.

"Trust me. It won't be an imposition. My parents are used to having a house full of people."

"Perhaps you should consult with your parents first," Soran suggested.

"It's not necessary. But if it will help you two make your decision, I'll get them on the comm unit. I'll be right back." Amanda went to the back of the classroom to her makeshift private office, which was a cubicle of sorts she had fashioned out of whatever stray materials she could find.

Soran brought up more information on the state of Minnesota on his PADD. Sarek brought his head closer to Soran's to read the text as well. He was distracted by the tinkling of Amanda's laughter. He did not mean to eavesdrop, but he could not help but hear part of the conversation.

"Very funny, Daddy. No, they do not have antennae. Tell Mom I said hello. Uh huh. I'm fine. Yes. Love you, too. See you soon." Amanda made her way back to the desk, swaying to another yuletide jingle coming from the radio.

"There, it's all set now. My parents are looking forward to meeting you."

Sarek's lips twitched upward slightly. "We did not accept your invitation, Amanda. We merely suggested that you should have discussed this with your parents first."

Amanda chuckled. "Well, it's too late now. If you don't come they'll be very offended ... and believe me, you don't want to get on my mother's bad side."

"In that case, we accept your generous offer. We would not wish to offend the Grayson clan matriarch." Sarek's dark eyes glittered with amusement as he thought of getting on T'Pau's 'bad side.' He assumed Amanda's mother was just as formidable as the head of his own clan.

"Great! You are going to have a wonderful time. My mother is a fabulous cook. She'll think it's her duty to fatten you two up," Amanda recounted.

The intercom in Amanda's 'office' buzzed and she got up to answer it.

"Speaking of 'fattening up,' dinner is here," Amanda told the two Vulcans.

Over a simple course of salad, lasagna, garlic bread, and tea they continued to discuss their travel plans. Amanda had planned to leave on the morning shuttle the next day, which was Christmas Eve, but it would be impossible at this late date to get reservations for the Vulcans. Soran informed Sarek that the Deltan ambassador had canceled their meeting the following day, so they made arrangements for an Embassy shuttle to take all three of them to Maplewood in the morning. When the trip planning was finished, conversation turned to discussing what would occur over the Christmas holiday and what Amanda's childhood home was like.

Once the food had been polished off Amanda disappeared to the back of the room to dispose of the dishware and returned with her coat and purse in her hands.

"I'm glad you guys are coming. I think you'll find the experience to be ... satisfying." She put on her coat and began to collect some items off the desk. "Don't forget to pack warm clothes."

"You are leaving so soon?" Sarek asked, masking the disappointment from his voice.

Amanda looked up from her bag, where she was digging for her gloves. "Yes, I still need to pack, and we leave first thing in the morning."

"But are we not required to bring presents?" Soran brought up.

"Don't worry. We'll have plenty of time to do our shopping when we get there, even though tomorrow is Christmas Eve. We'll get great prices, and it won't be as ... chaotic as here in the city," Amanda told him.

"Whatever you think is best," Sarek responded. He did not wish to start off the Christmas experience behind the curve.

"Trust me. And don't forget hats and gloves," she reminded them.

"Do not be concerned, Amanda. I have requisitioned arctic weight expedition clothing for Sarek and myself," Soran said seriously.

"Well, good. Although we're not going to the North Pole," Amanda teased. "Come on, let's get out of here," she said.

"Of course," Sarek murmured. "Shall I send a car to pick you up in the morning?"

"Please do. I'll be ready at eight. I promise."

The three of them went their separate ways to make preparations for the next day.

* * *

Amanda awoke as the shuttle experienced a mild patch of turbulence. With a satisfying yawn and a leisurely stretch she glanced over at her cabin mates to find Sarek watching bemusedly. "Trips always make me sleepy," she explained sheepishly.

Sarek raised an eyebrow. "Obviously," he deadpanned.

Amanda straightened in her chair to hide her blush, and then glanced down at the PADD Sarek was studying intently. "Christmas list?"

Sarek looked back up at her in confusion before ascertaining her meaning. "No, Deltan trading agreement."

"I can't believe you brought work with you!" Her blue eyes flashed cobalt in indignation.

"Amanda," Sarek began.

"You aren't supposed to work over Christmas ... this is a time for relaxing and enjoying yourself."

"Amanda," Sarek stated more sternly, unaccustomed to being taken to task by anyone since he left his father's house thirty-six years ago.

But Amanda was on a roll, and didn't even notice the warning in the Ambassador's eyes. "I thought you wanted to learn more about the Christmas holiday ... to experience it for yourself."

Sarek slowly put the PADD away and after taking a moment to perfect his control turned to look at the human calmly. "I do, Miss Grayson, and if you would take a moment to listen instead of continuing your emotional exhibition, I was going to say that I was merely working as a means of occupying my time on this trip. It seemed my companions proved to be less than stimulating entertainment. My aide spent all his time absorbed in his PADD, and you were asleep before we even reached full altitude."

"Oh," Amanda let out a breath, her anger gone as fast as it had come. "Well, that's okay then. Hey ... is it snowing already?" She lunged excitedly across the aisle to lean over Sarek and look out his unshuttered window. Sarek, mentally thrown off balance by her sudden change of mood, had briefly considered pointing out that Amanda had a window on her own side of the shuttle, but decided that the warmth of her pressed tightly against his thigh was quite pleasant; and it would be rude to disturb her excitement over the precipitation with his logic. He leaned back to give her more room to look out the window.

Amanda smiled wistfully then looked at Sarek for his reaction to the phenomenon, but his face held none of the pleasure that she had expected. In fact, his eyes held a strangely intense light to them, and suddenly Amanda was aware of just how much she had invaded his personal space. She quickly sat back into the aisle seat next to him that had been previously occupied by Soran earlier in the trip. She thought about apologizing for her unintentionally offensive conduct, but everything she formed in her head sounded too awkward to speak aloud, so she tried changing the subject. "Where are we, exactly?"

"I am uncertain, but as we have been traveling approximately half the estimated time of our trip, I would expect that we are somewhere over the state of Wyoming. I can call the pilot for an exact position, if you'd like."

"No ... I was just curious." Amanda laid her head back against the seat. "Where's Soran?"

"He went to speak with the pilot regarding the turbulence we felt a short time ago."

Amanda chuckled quietly. "He's such a worry-wart."

Sarek smiled briefly at her description of his friend. "He prefers to be well-informed in all situations."

Just then the worrywart himself came back into the passenger section of the shuttle. "Soran, it's snowing!" Amanda exclaimed.

"I know. The temperature has dropped down to 0 degrees Celsius since we left, and there is currently 7.1 centimeters of accumulation on the ground. In your Maplewood the temperature is a mere -6.11 degrees Celcius, and there is already 10.16 centimeters of snow on the ground with an expected addition of 7.62 centimeters before the night is through." He paused a moment in the aisle when he realized Amanda had taken his seat, then quietly took the seat across from her when it became apparent she had no intention of vacating.

Soran leaned forward to speak around Amanda to Sarek. "The pilot assured me that the earlier turbulence was a result of an unexpected air pocket, but he has since compensated for the change in climate and does not expect any more occurrences."

Sarek nodded tolerantly, then for Amanda's benefit, teased, "How gratifying to know we are not about to plummet to our deaths."

Soran nodded seriously, then at Amanda's giggle, realized he was apparently the butt of some joke between his two companions and sat back in his seat and focused all his attention back on his PADD, thereby displaying his displeasure at Sarek's behavior. Unfortunately, this only caused Amanda to laugh even harder. He gave her what he hoped was a disparaging look, but other than covering her mouth in a vain attempt to hide her mirth; she didn't appear at all repentant. He soon forgot his indignity, knowing that soon enough one of them would be on the receiving end of his own teasing, and the three passed the rest of the trip in quiet conversation.

A short time later the pilot's voice came over the intercom announcing their imminent arrival at the Grayson house. Once they had touched down, Amanda pulled on her coat then looked out the window while she waited for the Vulcans to prepare. She was thrilled to see the driveway crowded with groundcars ... it looked as though everyone made the trip this year! She turned to see Sarek adjusting his hat over his ears, then they both waited as Soran added layer after layer of winter paraphernalia.

"What are you doing?" Amanda asked shortly.

Soran looked at her impatiently. "I am preparing for the weather outside."

"We aren't going to be outside for more than a few minutes," she pleaded.

"I do not wish to risk frostbite, Amanda."

"You will suffer no ill effects in the time it will take us to walk from the shuttle to the house," Sarek interrupted, rather impatient himself.

"I prefer to be prepared for any possibilities," Soran stated, then continued to take his time meticulously applying his winter gear. Finally, he was prepared and the three trekked to the house. The noise of music and human laughter could be heard as soon as they exited the shuttle. When they reached the door Amanda immediately walked inside without knocking, which surprised Sarek at first, since it was not something that would occur on Vulcan; but then he assumed it was a logical action to take as it was doubtful anyone would hear their knock anyway.

Their arrival did not go unnoticed, however, for as soon as they entered the foyer there were shouts of greetings from another room, and soon Amanda was engulfed in a crowd of Terrans embracing her and talking excitedly. Amanda loudly introduced the clan to her guests -- loudly, because it was the only way to be heard -- then suddenly the humans turned to converge on the two Vulcans.

Unconsciously, Sarek must have begun to back away, because suddenly he felt the wall pressed hard against his back, but still they came sticking out their hands to shake, welcoming him, and wishing him a happy holiday. Sarek bolstered his controls, trying to shield himself against the tidal wave of raw emotions that seemed to be bouncing around the room; and blindly stuck out his hand, not in any desire to shake with people, but more as a desire to keep the crowd at arm's length. He looked for Soran amongst the crowd, but unlike the ambassador, his friend seemed to be quite comfortable with all the action and chaos around him as he watched Soran calmly nod and speak to each individual as they yelled out a greeting to him. 'Must come from being raised in a large family,' thought Sarek. He himself only had one brother, and his house was always peaceful and calm. Soran, however, had several brothers and sisters, and always had an excess of cousins visiting for one reason or another. Sarek recalled feeling rather intimidated at Soran's house too, but a house full of Vulcans, even chaotic Vulcans, was nothing compared to this.

Suddenly, and much to Sarek's relief, a presence began making its way through the crowd yelling for everyone to go back to their activities and leave the newcomers alone to get settled. At first Sarek couldn't tell where the voice was coming from, as the woman was hidden in the midst of the much taller men; but as the crowd thinned he saw a petite, middle aged woman working her way towards him, shooing children and slapping some of the others with a towel when they didn't move as fast as she apparently wished them to.

Once the degree of pandemonium had diminished to a manageable level she approached Sarek to introduce herself. "Heathens, all of them!" her smile contradicted the severity of her words. "You poor Vulcans have no idea what you're getting yourselves into. I'm Amanda's mother."

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Grayson," Sarek said, once again taking control as he felt more comfortable with the one-on-one setting. "I am Sarek, and this is Soran."

"Sarek, and Soran, welcome to my chaos. I mean my 'home.' And call me Nell ... I insist."

"We are honored," Sarek said formally with a bow. Soran also dipped his head in acknowledgment.

"Well, you might not be so honored after a few hours with these wild grandchildren," Nell told them. "Now, where's that daughter of mine? You did remember to pack her, didn't you?" she teased.

Soran's forehead knotted in confusion. "We did not pack her, Mrs. Grayson. Our luggage could not accommodate something of that size," he told her literally.

"They didn't pack me because Soran's outerwear took up two suitcases," Amanda responded drolly from over her mother's shoulder.

"You exaggerate, Amanda. Besides, he is wearing most of it on his person," Sarek ribbed his aide.

Soran stiffened visibly at the joke. "Indeed, and I was quite comfortable on the walk over, making my choice of clothing most logical."

"Of course, k'war'ma'khon. I would never question your logic," Sarek told his brother-by-choice, thinking that he and Amanda had perhaps teased him too much about the amount of winter clothing he had insisted was essential for the trip.

"Well, it seems logical to me," Nell told Soran.

"Thank you, Mrs. Grayson," Soran replied, then gave a brief nod to Sarek in acknowledgment of his apology.

"Merry Christmas, Mom," Amanda said, hugging her mother from behind.

"Merry Christmas, Sweetie. I know your father's around here somewhere. Probably hiding in the barn or his cubbyhole in the basement." She looked at the two Vulcans. "Well, goodness, here let me get your coats."

Sarek handed over his coat, and Soran, somewhat reluctantly, began his de-layering process. After several minutes, and several trips to the closet for Nell to put it all away, the Vulcans were left in only their casual tunics and pants.

"Well, look at you! I wouldn't have guessed you were such a skinny thing by the way you looked in all those clothes," Nell teased Soran a little herself. "Come into the kitchen and warm up with some hot cider. It's much quieter in here. Everyone knows if they enter my domain, I'll put them to work!"

The trio began to follow when the front door opened again admitting an older Terran male carrying everyone's luggage. Sarek and Soran quickly moved to relieve him of his burden, looking questioningly out the door for their shuttle pilot, who was supposed to have delivered the baggage himself.

"What the hell is in these bags?" the man muttered as he released the luggage and stretched his back.

"Forgive us, sir. If we had known our pilot had left these outside, we would have retrieved them ourselves." Sarek gave Soran a puzzled look, wondering at the pilot's unusually lax behavior.

"Nah, I saw him coming across with the bags, but I was headed this way anyway so I took them for him. I just didn't expect them to be this heavy."

"Well, they weren't sure what they should bring ... so they brought it all including the kitchen sink," Amanda told him.

"It's about time you made it back home, young lady!" the elder man growled, then grabbed Amanda up in a big bear hug.

Sarek looked from the baggage to his assistant. "You packed a sink?"

Soran looked at Sarek confused. "No, it was not suggested in the current LL Bean catalog, but I shall do so next time."

Amanda interrupted their conference. "Guys, this is my father, Alfred Grayson. Dad, this is Ambassador Sarek and his Chief Advisor, Soran."

"Mr. Grayson," Sarek greeted him.

"Sir," Soran added.

"Nice to meet you," Al Grayson returned. He held up his hand in a Vulcan ta'al. "Live long, and prosper."

"Peace and long life," Sarek said, raising his own hand in the Vulcan salute. Soran did likewise.

"How did you know how to do that, Dad?" Amanda asked with amazement.

"What? Do you think I was born yesterday? Besides, I've been practicing," he told his daughter, deliberately moving his fingers apart in different combinations. "Welcome to Minnesota, gentlemen. Make yourselves at home here."

"Thank you, Mr. Grayson. We are honored." The Vulcans once again bowed respectfully to their host.

"Aunt Amanda, Grandma wants your help in the kitchen," a young voice spoke from behind Sarek getting the attention of all the adults. She smiled shyly as her wide eyes took in the appearance of the aliens. "Hi," she said breathlessly.

"How do you do, young one?" Sarek greeted her, but all he got in response was a tittering of shy giggles.

Soran, who had many nieces and nephews, took over. "How old are you, little one?"

"I'm four," she answered quietly, then said in a rush aimed directly at Sarek, "but I'll be five next month!"

Sarek nodded politely, unsure why that was a significant revelation.

"That old!" Soran exclaimed, kneeling down to her level. "You must already know Zinterov's Theorem," he said knowingly.

"Nuh uh," the child shook her head in the negative. "Not yet. That's in second grade."

"Ah, I see," Soran replied. "Second grade."

She shook her head sagely. "Yep."

Sarek was fascinated by Soran's rapport. His chief advisor's interpersonal skills in large groups never ceased to astound him. He had seen Soran put even the most difficult species at ease, and Terran children certainly qualified as 'difficult.'

"I am called Soran. And that is Sarek. What is your name?" Soran coaxed.

"Paula," her voice barely a whisper.

"Paula. Even your name means 'little one,'" Soran told her, gratified to see her blush with delight.

She walked directly up to where Soran was kneeling and looked from one of his ears to the other. "Your ears go up at the end," she informed him.

"Yes, they do," Soran responded matter-of-factly.

"So do his," she said, scrutinizing Sarek, then quickly smiling and ducking her head from him.

"That is correct," Soran agreed.

"I like them," she said after careful consideration.

"Thank you. So do we," Soran responded.

"Well, now that we know that, how about I show you men where you'll be sleeping," Al broke in.

"I'll do it, Grandpa! Grandma told me to put them in my room," Paula said proudly.

"She means the room she usually uses when she's staying here," Amanda said with a laugh. "She's going to camp out with me," Amanda clarified.

"Will you do my makeup, Aunt Amanda?" Paula asked.

"Makeup? You're only four!" Al Grayson exclaimed.

"We'll see," Amanda told her with a wink. "Go on and show them to their room and then come right back down here," she said sternly.

Paula sidled around Soran and took Sarek by the hand. "Come on," she encouraged. Sarek arched an eyebrow and then accompanied her to the staircase.

Al and Soran looked at the luggage, then at Sarek's back. Soran hefted their bags and Al picked up Amanda's suitcase. The Terran and the Vulcan exchanged a brief glance.

"This is what always happens," Soran provided.

"Huh," Al said noncommitally, struggling with his daughter's large bag. "What on Earth did that girl pack in here, an elephant?"

"I do not believe so," Soran supplied. "However, I cannot be certain." He arched an eyebrow of his own as Al laughed out loud.

"Here." Paula's tiny hand pushed open the first door to the right on the upper level. She pulled excitedly on Sarek's hand. "Well?" she inquired.

Sarek took in the room. There was a desk under the window, and some sort of stuffed, unstructured apparatus on the floor. Sarek looked at the beds. One was up above the other, along one wall.

"Bunk beds!" Paula squealed, jumping up onto the lower bunk.

"Indeed," Sarek replied.

The small tornado continued to bounce on the lower bed. "I sleep in this one," she informed him. "But the bedspread is pink so you might want the other one," she contemplated.

"I do not understand," Sarek said simply.

"Pink is a 'girly' color," Paula clued him in.

"That is not logical," Sarek commented.

Paula made a gesture that Sarek had often seen Amanda make. She turned her palms up and shrugged her shoulders. "I'm just saying," Paula finished.

Soran and Al entered the room. Sarek took his valise from Soran and set it primly on the upper bunk that had starships and planets and what appeared to be some sort of alien being with tentacles on the bedspread.

"I used to have a room similar to this," Soran intimated, his eyes excited. He noted Sarek's placement of his suitcase. "Although I generally had the upper sleeping area," Soran said pointedly.

"Not this time," Sarek said sedately.

"Yeah, not this time," Paula sing-songed.

"Very well," Soran responded with a slight lift of his slanted eyebrow. He set his own suitcase on top of the pink bedspread.

Paula shot off of the bed and landed on the large stuffed apparatus on the floor. "This is a chair," she told them. "You can sit here and read or play computer games."

"Excellent." Soran tentatively touched the chair. The soft material pushed in at his touch.

"Fascinating," Sarek noted, leaning over to touch the chair himself.

"If you guys think that is entertaining, just wait 'till you meet Amanda's Uncle Bob," Al said from the doorway.

"We would be pleased to meet Amanda's uncle," Sarek said politely.

Al chuckled. "Oh, no, you won't be," he said. "The bathroom is right down the hall if you want to get cleaned up," Al suggested, pointing to his left. "Come on, Little Bit. Let's go downstairs and let them unpack in peace," Al commanded his granddaughter.

"You hurry up," Paula admonished the Vulcans as her grandfather swept her up in his arms, placed her upon his shoulders, and left the room.

Soran and Sarek looked at the chair again, then back at each other. Sarek plunked down in it. He shifted his weight slightly and a look of contentment crossed his face.

"Comfortable?" Soran inquired.

"Very," Sarek replied. "I have never seen a chair of this nature." Sarek's eyes closed briefly. He might want to purchase one for his office at the embassy.

"That much is obvious," Soran stated. "I will return in just a moment, Sarek. I am going to investigate the bathroom facilities."

When Soran returned, Sarek moved to get up out of the chair. It was more difficult than it appeared when the child had simply bounded out of it.

Soran cleared his throat and extended a hand to his superior. "Allow me to assist you, S'haile."

Sarek gave him a dark look, but accepted the proffered hand. Extricating himself from the confines of the soft material, he stood up.

"It is fortuitous that I returned when I did," Soran said. "Otherwise it might have swallowed you like a Denubian sand worm."

"Indeed," Sarek said, looking back at the chair. He would have to master it at a later time.

"The bathroom is the third door on the left," Soran told him helpfully.

"Very well," Sarek returned. "I will meet you downstairs."

* * *

When Sarek rejoined the others Soran was seated in the living room deep in conversation with Amanda's father, a young child, whom Sarek had not yet been introduced to, perched on the Vulcan's lap. The child was so young that Sarek could not determine the gender, but it seemed quite content in Soran's care.

A man who appeared to be close to Amanda's age slept in a recliner chair in front of the vid unit, a remote device clutched possessively in his hand. A light whistling noise came from his nose and mouth.

Sarek took a seat beside his aide on the small couch and was immediately handed a mug of hot cider that Al took from a tray beside him. Before he had even finished his first sip his arm was hit by the small form of Paula smashing herself into the small space left between him and the end of the couch. Sarek moved over as much as he could but the quarters were extremely tight. Paula apparently didn't mind, however, because every time he glanced in her direction she had a smile plastered on her face and was actively listening to the conversation around her. She snuggled against his side and Sarek resigned himself to the contact.

Al and Soran were in the midst of discussing the sport of football, which was currently playing on the holovid unit. Sarek remained quiet as he was not a fan of this particular human sport.

Suddenly another man, approximately Al's age, lumbered into the living room unsteadily and sat down heavily in the chair facing Sarek sloshing his drink during his ungraceful descent. After muttering a few obscene words, he looked up at Sarek and pointed a finger accusingly. "Do you know who you look like?"

"No, I do not," Sarek replied. He did not know who he looked like other than himself. He had been told that he and his younger brother bore a strong familial resemblance to one another. He did not think that this Terran had ever met Silek, however.

"You look just like that dumb ass who was on the vid the other morning talking to the Federation assembly."

"Bob!" Al warned sternly.

"We watched him just yesterday, remember Al?"

Sarek's lips tightened and he looked at Soran, whose eyes had grown rather large at the other man's aggressiveness.

"Yes, that was me," Sarek said calmly.

"No shit!" the man muttered, taking another moment for a long pull on his drink.

"This is Amanda's Uncle Bob, Sarek. You'll have to excuse his behavior ... he's been partaking of the 'special' eggnog a little too much today." Al made an apologetic gesture and tipped his hand up as if drinking out of a cup.

Sarek nodded, understanding his meaning, and hoped Amanda's intoxicated uncle would find something else to occupy his time soon ... or perhaps slip into unconsciousness as he sat in the chair.

"That was quite a speech you gave. You look bigger in them fancy robes, though," the man continued.

"Indeed," Sarek said neutrally. He did not know this man's position on the Council debates yet.

The man leaned closer to Sarek and said conspiratorially, "Well, since you asked, here's my take on it."

"He didn't ask," Al pointed out, not even bothering to hide his irritation.

"Sure he did! That's what Vulcans mean when they say 'indeed,'" the man said with the certainty of ethanol bolstering him.

Sarek looked away briefly to compose himself. In the corner of the room a small boy tapped away at the keyboard of a portable computer, oblivious to the adults around him. Sarek had a sudden stab of homesickness. The boy reminded him of his nephew Selek, whom he had not seen in over a year. Sarek had given Selek his first computer instruction, and this boy's demeanor mirrored that of his Vulcan counterpart.

"First of all," Bob continued, "you gotta stop letting those little blue bastards push you around! Boy, I tell ya, yesterday I'd like to beat that Andorian with the long hair right over the head with one of his own antennas."

"Ah geez," Al said under his breath. "Here we go."

Sarek glanced at Soran speculatively, and saw a glimmer of amusement in his advisor's eyes that mirrored his own. "Soran and I did consider a more ... aggressive strategy."

"Now that's what I'm talking about!" Uncle Bob said to no one in particular. "Aggressive. That's the word."

The man sat up suddenly and gesticulated wildly with his glass. "And that porker, Gav. I know all about IDIC, but this is going just a little too far. I say bring him by and we'll fry his ass up for breakfast!"

"Vulcans are vegetarians," Soran added tactfully to the discussion. His voice was barely a whisper. The baby had fallen asleep tucked into the crook of his arm.

"Bob! Knock it off! They came here for the holiday, not to hear your political views!" Al's voice thundered as he stood up from his chair.

The infant stirred in Soran's arms, clutching the Vulcan's tunic with a tiny fist.

"They'll kill us if we wake up the baby," Al whispered, looking toward the kitchen with fear in his eyes.

"Well, you're the one yelling," Bob stated emphatically.

"Well, if you weren't such a horse's ass I wouldn't have to yell," Al muttered between clenched teeth.

"Who you calling a horse's ass?" Bob declared in a loud whisper.

"I'm calling you..." Al began.

"Gentlemen," Soran said quietly, but firmly.

Both Terrans and the Vulcan ambassador looked at Soran. He was gazing down at the baby who shuddered once then resumed breathing with the regular rhythm of sleep.

"Whew," Al said with relief. "That was close. Come on, Bob, let's go in the den and fix you another drink." Al steered Bob out of the living room, rolling his eyes at the two Vulcans.

Sarek felt the tension leave his muscles. The unchecked Terran emotions were draining him mentally. He looked over at Soran, who was the picture of calmness. Very few things disturbed Soran's placid demeanor, which was why he was such an effective assistant to Sarek, who knew that his own temperament was somewhat volatile for a Vulcan. He glanced down at Paula, who was still sitting beside him. Feeling his eyes on her, she gazed up at him and smiled. He raised an eyebrow at her and she smiled even broader, then wrapped a small arm around his midsection. Oddly enough, Sarek felt his mind growing calmer as she settled against him.

"You're more handsomer than Jason Adams," Paula's tiny voice reached his ears.

"Am I?" Sarek rejoined.

"Uh huh. He's cuter than Danny Robinson, and I have his audio-disc and a holo-poster," Paula said breathlessly.

"I see," Sarek kept the conversation going. He had no idea who either of these males were.

"Danny Robinson is one of my big brother Pat's friends. He comes over to our house sometimes," she elaborated.

"Ah," Sarek replied.

"He likes me," Paula continued.

"He does not!" A voice came from the corner of the room. Sarek looked over, but the boy's eyes were still on the computer screen.

"He does too!" Paula insisted.

"Does not!" the boy shot back.

"Does too," Paula said as her eyes started to tear up.

Sarek did not know how to handle this situation.

Paula did, apparently. She stood up on the couch. "Mom! Pat's being mean to me!" she yelled to the kitchen at the top of her lungs.

"I am not!" Pat yelled back at an even louder decibel level.

"Don't make me come in there!" a female voice drifted from the kitchen.

"Pat's gonna get in trouble," Paula told Sarek smugly, settling back against his side, evidently quite pleased with herself.

"You're the one who's gonna get in trouble," Pat returned.

"Children, please calm yourselves," Sarek said sternly. Both children looked at him with surprise, then fell silent.

Soran shifted the sleeping bundle in his arms, then looked at Sarek with approval. Sarek arched an eyebrow at him, then felt himself relaxing again. Perhaps children were not so difficult to handle after all. Terrans were just overly permissive with them. They simply required more structure in their lives. Sarek stretched out his long legs and focused on the football game on the vid unit. The local franchise had just turned over the ball to the other team.

"HOLY CRAP!!!" the boy suddenly screamed from his corner of the room. Sarek, Soran, and Paula all swivelled their heads in his direction.

"Uh oh. he said a bad word!" Paula said with awe, her hand going to her mouth melodramatically.

"Patrick Michael Grayson, Junior! What did I just hear you say? I swear I'm gonna wash that mouth out with soap!" the angry voice became increasingly louder as a woman with short dark hair came into the living room brandishing a large metal cooking spoon like it was a battle lirpa.

"But Mom, that's what you say when you get mad at the computer," Pat rationalized, frowning at the whirring sound coming from his portable device.

To Sarek's sensitive ears, it sounded as if the sion capacitor may have gone out on the machine. Before he could mention it, a male voice spoke up.

"Ha! He's got you there, eh, Brianna?" the dark haired man who had been sleeping in the recliner sat up and adjusted his spectacles that were askew from his nap.

"It moves, it speaks," Brianna said sarcastically. "That's enough out of you, Patrick Senior. Now that you've come out of your coma, you can help me in the kitchen. You can finish mashing those apples that you started two hours ago before you came out here to check the football score."

He smoothed a hand over his sleep-matted hair, and checked the football score on the screen. "Holy crap! What happened? The Vikings were ahead."

"That was hours ago," Brianna told him patiently. "And don't say 'holy crap' in front of the children!"

"See, I told ya, Mom," Patrick Junior offered from his corner. "That's where I heard it."

"The Packers of Green Bay, Wisconsin, scored two touchdowns and a field goal in the past thirty five point six minutes," Soran updated the man with the glasses.

"Hey," the man said with puzzlement as he removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes, "where'd the Vulcans come from?"

"We are from Vulcan," Sarek elucidated.

"Oh, well, yeah, I figured," the man replied as he began cleaning his eyeglasses with his shirttail.

"They came with me," Amanda's voice sounded from the doorway. "But of course you were too busy snoring away to notice that your baby sister was here."

"It's about time you made it home! Always squirreled away in some archive researching your dissertation. And I can't help it if I'm sleepy during the day. The baby kept me up half the night," the man defended himself.

"Kept you up half the night? I'm the one who got up and fed her and got her back to sleep. You never even budged," Brianna inserted.

"Sarek, Soran, this is my brother Patrick," Amanda told the two Vulcans.

"Nice to meet you," Patrick greeted them. "This is my wife Brianna with the giant spoon, and I see you've met my daughters Emily and Paula, and my son, Pat Jr."

Paula gave an exaggerated nod of her small head and patted Sarek's belly possessively.

"We're glad you made it," Brianna told them, smiling as her husband gave his little sister a hug. She turned her attention to the boy in the corner who was now frantically tapping at his computer and whimpering in distress. "Now what's the problem?"

"My hard drives ... they're gone! All three of them!" His face turned bright red, and Sarek suspected he was barely controlling the urge to cry. "Mom, we have to go to the store right now and get new ones."

"I am not about to go shopping for computer parts on Christmas Eve! You'll just have to wait until the holidays are over."

"But Mom! I can't wait that long!"

"Yes, you can, and you're going to, mister," his mother asserted.

"Maybe you can ask Santa to bring you new ones for Christmas," Paula piped up from her position on the couch.

Pat rolled his eyes at his sister's naivety. "You are such a baby! There's no such thing as Santa Claus!" His eyes narrowed menacingly.

"Pat ... " his mother warned.

"There is so!" Paula wailed as she jumped up from the couch, her hands fisted at her sides, tears welling up in her eyes.

The din finally awakened the baby, who screamed its displeasure at being disturbed. Brianna took the baby from Soran with a grateful smile then wordlessly deposited the fussy child in its father's arms.

"Patrick Michael, tell your sister there's a Santa Claus, right now," Patrick Senior scolded his son sharply.

The boy looked back at his sister begrudgingly. "Fine, there's a Santa Claus; but it's too late for me to ask for new hard drives now. Besides, Santa is bringing me a new vid disc player this year, right, Mom?" he asked, looking hopefully at Brianna.

"I wouldn't count on it, Mister. Besides, I told you how expensive those things are ... and you don't have to have every new toy that comes on the market, you know!"

"Mooooom, it's not a toy; and everyone has them now!" He unconsciously reached out to grip his mother's apron in a begging gesture. "Besides, I already bought a copy of 'Star Escape' on disc ... it's the director's cut!"

"Well, that's your problem, not mine. You'll just have to wait and see," she told him curtly, then jerked her apron out of his hands as she returned to the kitchen.

Sarek sighed aloud, catching Soran's startled glance at his lapse. They'd only been there a few hours, and yet Sarek was already mentally exhausted. Perhaps, he thought, he should excuse himself for some meditation before dinner.

Amanda jingled keys to a groundcar. "I'm running into town for some supplies. Do you guys want to do a little shopping?"

Yes!" Sarek answered quickly, grateful to be able to escape even for a short time. He stood up, prepared to leave right that minute if need be.

"Can I go too, Aunt Amanda?" Paula's little voice peeped up from between them.

Amanda looked down into Paula's bright blue eyes, then up into the darker brown eyes of Sarek, in which she sensed a weariness that she hadn't ever seen in him before. "Not this time, Peanut. But after I get back I promise we can go outside and build a snowman together, how's that?"

"Okay," the little girl agreed, her disappointment obvious in her low tone and drooped head.

"That's my girl," Amanda encouraged and gave her a gentle pat on the head then accepted her coat from Sarek, who had already retrieved their outdoor gear.

* * *

They placed the last of the groceries into the back of the Grayson's groundcar then Amanda turned to the men, zipping her coat a little higher against the chill. "I usually walk down Main Street when I shop here, but if it's too cold we can drive from store to store."

Soran, who was once again packed in his winter layers, raised his eyebrow superiorly. "I am quite comfortable in these conditions, Amanda." He looked pointedly at Sarek, silently challenging him to say differently.

Sarek, who actually was rather chilled in the early evening breeze, was also never one to back down from a challenge. "I think the weather is acceptable for walking, Amanda." He stuffed his gloved hands into his coat pockets to hide any shivering that might slip past his controls.

"Great!" Amanda exclaimed brightly, gesturing for the Vulcans to precede her down the sidewalks. A few moments later she caught up to Sarek, and slipped her arm through his, pulling herself tightly against his side.

Sarek looked down at her, startled, and wondered what Soran, who was now trailing behind the couple, thought of this sudden affection Amanda was displaying. He felt Amanda slip something into his pocket, but was unable to make out what it was. Then she held another item out for him to take.

"Put this in your other pocket," she whispered to prevent Soran from overhearing. "They're heat packs. I already activated them, just keep them in your pockets and they'll keep your hands warm."

Sarek took the packs gratefully, already relishing the warmth as feeling returned to his fingers. Amanda straightened, but when she would have pulled her arm from his, Sarek tightened his hold, preventing her escape. "It's warmer with you closer to me, Amanda," he whispered. Amanda looked down at their linked arms, then at Sarek's face, smiling at his look of contentment and patting his arm affectionately with her other hand. The three continued through town pausing to look at each window display, and going in when something they saw intrigued them. When they came upon an elaborate Christmas display in one window, Soran asked Amanda to explain the purpose of Santa Claus.

Amanda studied the jolly red man in the window as she considered his question. "Hmm ... the purpose of Santa Claus ... I'm not really sure there's a purpose to him. I'm sure you've heard the story ... .he lives in the North Pole, he and his elves make toys for all the girls and boys in the world, then on Christmas Eve he flies around the world with his sleigh and reindeer delivering the toys to the children who have been good."

"And a piece of fossilized carbon for those who have been 'naughty', I believe," Soran offered.

Amanda laughed. "Right, that's how the story goes, anyway. I suppose the purpose of Santa might be to encourage children to behave, but as you saw at the house, it isn't particularly effective."

"Young Patrick already knows the idea of Santa Claus is only a myth," Sarek observed.

"Yes, I know. But this is the first year he's been aware of that. It's fun to see the children's eyes light up when they get to meet 'Santa' at the malls, and when their gifts 'magically' appear under the tree over night. It's all in fun."

"It's all in 'fun' ... and yet human parents seem to go to great lengths to keep their children under this particular illusion. Illogical."

Amanda turned so she stood in front of Sarek and unconsciously placed a bare hand gently against Sarek's cheek. "I know, Sarek, but don't deny us our small pleasures. There's no harm in a little illusion now and then." She turned around and walked down to the next shop, her attention on the goodies displayed within.

Soran watched as Sarek slowly lifted his hand to touch the spot his cheek, as though feeling for a mark left by her touch. While Sarek joined her at the window Soran took a moment to observe his friends more closely. He had known for quite some time that Sarek had a special ... regard ... for the teacher, but perhaps the ambassador hadn't been as foolish as he had thought in placing his interest in this Terran female. Lately her behavior towards Sarek certainly wasn't as platonic as it was towards him. Soran unconsciously raised an eyebrow as he thought about how interesting it would be to see the outcome of this particular conundrum. If nothing else, it should prove. entertaining.

'Stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid!' Amanda berated herself as she stared at the window before her. 'What was I thinking just reaching out and stroking him ... I mean touching him like that?' She stole a quick glance at Sarek's stunned look, his hand against the same cheek she had touched. 'Oh god ... I wonder what he's thinking. Probably thinks I was coming onto him, and I wasn't! Well, maybe I was a little, but what was that thing about keeping my arm? He was cold, idiot, that's what that was. He even said so.'

"That is a superior looking garment, is it not?"

"What?" Amanda startled, not having heard Sarek and Soran approach her.

"The blue garment in the window. I thought that was what you were looking at." The same blue as your eyes, Sarek thought to himself.

Amanda finally noticed what was in the window she had been standing at for at least five minutes. She was in front of Shellman's, and in the window, as it had been for the past three years, was the lovely indigo Deltan silk shawl that she, and just about every other woman in Maplewood, had coveted since Mr. Shellman put it in his window. It was very beautiful, but also very, very expensive!

"Oh ... yes, it's marvelous. Mr. Shellman says he got it off of a Deltan trader when he went to California a few years ago to visit his daughter. The gold trim is hand sewn, and it comes from those ... oh, I forget the names, but those Deltan silk worms that are supposed to be magical. Supposedly, when you wear the shawl you become irresistible to the opposite sex." She smiled at Sarek and Soran, who nodded knowingly. It seemed most of the products that Deltans traded were supposed to have some sort of sexual potency to them.

The wistfulness on Amanda's face was obvious to both the Vulcans. "If you like it so much, why has it sat in this store for so long, Amanda?"

"Oh, well, look at the price tag! Mr. Shellman is a wonderful man, but he definitely likes to wring as much from his customers as he can. No one can afford such a price for something like a shawl ... not that there's a whole lot of places to wear something like that around here." She took one last longing look at the window then moved on to the next store.

Sarek and Soran took another moment to study the garment. Deltan fabrics were in high demand throughout the Federation, no doubt for the lore as much as for the material, and they were sure this would be one of the topics that would be on the negotiating table at the upcoming trade negotiations. Soran looked at the item critically. "It's not very practical for the type of climate here in Minnesota."

"No," Sarek murmured, staring at the shawl. "But it would be perfect for the chill on Vulcan nights."

Soran looked at Sarek sharply, wondering if perhaps the thick muffs and hat had affected his hearing.

Sarek looked at Soran, the flush that tinged the tips of his ears fortunately were hidden under his own hat, and cleared his throat as he reiterated, "It would be adequate cover during the summer months, especially in San Francisco."

He reached into his coat and removed his credit chip that he handed wordlessly to Soran. "Ensure that it is appropriately gift wrapped," he instructed then moved on to keep Amanda occupied while his aide purchased the gift.

About an hour and several stops later they were finally headed back to the groundcar when Amanda stopped short in front of a florist's shop. Sarek and Soran, already piled down with bags, watched her wordlessly as they adjusted their loads. "Know what?" Amanda said contemplatively, "I don't think my mother has a centerpiece yet."

"And I suppose you intend to purchase one," Soran said forlornly. He had had quite enough of this particular excursion, and vowed never to accompany Amanda shopping again, under any circumstances.

"I think we should," Amanda said patiently. "After all, we're already here."

"Perhaps you should allow us to purchase the centerpiece, Amanda," Sarek interjected. "We really have contributed very little to the festivities, and I believe it would be considered rude to not show our appreciation in some way, would it not?"

Amanda was touched by Sarek's thoughtfulness. "Well, it's not expected, Sarek. You are our guests, but I think that's a very nice idea. Come on; let's see what they have left."

She handed her packages to Sarek so she could get the door open, and in turn Sarek turned around and pushed all of his bags into Soran's already loaded arms. He followed Amanda into the store and neither noticed when Soran finally succumbed to the bulk and collapsed onto the sidewalk beneath a mountain of bags and boxes.

As they walked back to the groundcar, they passed a window full of portable computers and various electronic devices with red bows on them for the holiday season. Sarek stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and went back to the window.

"See something you want Santa to bring you?" Amanda teased him. Sarek and Soran were both technology buffs. She knew that Sarek taught computer courses at the Vulcan Science Academy when he was home.

Sarek looked at her reflection beside his own in the window.

"Actually, I see something that 'Santa' might bring for someone else," Sarek mused. He handed the centerpiece to Amanda and walked purposefully into the retail establishment.

* * *

The brief excursion had recharged Sarek's mental energy. After the shuttle flight and being indoors surrounded by Terrans, the walk down Main Street had done wonders at keeping his illogical claustrophobia at bay. When they reentered the house he found, to his dismay, that it held even more Humans than it did when they first arrived.

Noting the fleeting expression that crossed the Vulcan's aquiline features, Amanda leaned closer and whispered "Don't worry, those are some neighbors who just stopped by. They'll be gone before dinner. And the kids will go to bed early, I promise."

"I am not concerned, Amanda," Sarek responded, feeling relief flood through him at her words.

"Well, I am. I'm not used to this uproar anymore. These kids are wearing me out. I can't wait to sit down and have a minute of peace and quiet," Amanda confided.

Soran brought in the last bag and joined them in the foyer to remove his pile of outer garments.

"You guys take the groceries in the kitchen, I'll sneak upstairs with the centerpiece and other presents," Amanda said quietly.

"Very well," Sarek agreed.

He and Soran carried the foodstuff to the kitchen, where it was, to their surprise, quiet, except for Nell humming along with a song on the disc player.

"Survived your shopping trip, I see," she observed from her position at a large counter in the middle of the kitchen. She consulted a large PADD that was on the counter in front of her.

"Yes, we did," Sarek replied, juggling two bags in his arms.

"Just put those over there and we'll sort it all out in a minute," Nell gestured toward a wooden table that had been cleared off. Sarek and Soran deposited their burden on the table.

Soran craned his neck to see the screen of her PADD. She had a recipe for something called 'pecan pie' on one side of the screen, and a 'to do' list on the other side of the screen. "Allow me to assist you, Mrs. Grayson. You have many tasks to accomplish," Soran offered.

"You know how to make pies?" Nell asked with amusement.

"I have limited culinary experience," Soran answered truthfully. "However, I believe that I can follow directions adequately."

Sarek lifted his right eyebrow. Soran rarely followed his directions, but he did not point that out to his assistant, who seemed eager to try his hand in the kitchen.

"Well, I'm pretty good at giving orders, so this should work out okay," Nell said with a smile. "Here, put this on so you don't mess up your tunic." She came around the island and slipped a cloth strap over Soran's head.

"Now turn around," she ordered. When Soran complied, she wrapped the apron strings around his waist several times and brought them together behind his back and tied them. "There, how's that? Not too tight?" she inquired.

Soran rolled up the sleeves of his tunic and looked down at his apron. "It is adequate," he responded.

Both of Sarek's eyebrows went up into his bangs when Soran turned back around. How illogical! He did not understand why anyone should wish to 'Kiss the Cook.'

"Sarek, it would be a big help if you could take stuff out of those bags and put it in the cooling unit," Nell delegated. "Okay, Soran, I need you to stir what's in that saucepan continuously. The timer will go off when it's time for us to take it off the stove," she said, handing Soran a long wooden spoon.

Sarek had just finished putting away the perishable items when a strident beeping emitted from the cooling unit door.

"There's the timer. Push that red button on the right," Nell called to him.

Sarek did so and the beeping ceased. He found that he was rather enjoying himself now that there were some mindless tasks for him to perform.

"What else do you require me to do?" Sarek asked Amanda's mother, who, along with Soran, was hovering over the saucepan checking the quality of the contents.

"Let's see. Oh, I know. Go find Amanda and tell her that we need to put the leaves in the dining room table," Nell indicated, bringing the wooden spoon to her mouth to taste the viscous substance. She nodded with approval. "Perfect," she told Soran. "I'm going to have to keep you here in the kitchen, I'm afraid. I need a good assistant."

"I come to serve," Soran told her solemnly.

"We're going to get along just fine," Nell confided.

Sarek left the kitchen to complete his next assignment, as Soran and Nell Grayson spooned the matter in the saucepan into a round dish with dough in the bottom. He had no idea why they would be putting 'leaves' onto a table. Perhaps it was decorative, like the centerpiece they had purchased earlier. As he went down the hallway he heard the two 'chefs' discussing the optimal placement of pecans in the sticky pie substrate.

* * *

"Okay, now push on your end," Amanda instructed.

Sarek pushed against the edge of the table. The two ends began to merge back together, the 'leaves' in the center extending the length of the table by approximately two feet. "Fascinating," he said aloud. Amanda had not been able to explain to him why the devices were called 'leaves.'

"You are easily entertained," Amanda teased. "Now there will be room for all of the adults at least. We'll set up another table for the kids."

"Logical," Sarek commented.

"Thank you," Amanda replied. "Put this tablecloth on while I go upstairs and sneak back down with the centerpiece. Mom will love the surprise."

"I will do so," Sarek said, unfolding the lace material and fitting it to the long table.

"My mother said to come give Amanda a hand," a young female voice said from the doorway.

"She went upstairs to obtain a ... surprise," Sarek said vaguely, turning his head to greet the newcomer.

"Wow. I thought Pat was kidding about your ears," a young girl told him.

Sarek lifted an eyebrow at her. She blushed, then said hurriedly, "Sorry. I didn't mean it that way. I mean, I've never seen a Vulcan before," she explained.

"Indeed. I am Sarek," he introduced himself.

"I'm Jennifer," she responded.

"I am pleased to meet you," Sarek said with a bow.

"Jennifer! You promised to braid my hair," Paula appeared behind the older girl.

"Okay, okay. Mom told me to help Amanda," she told the smaller girl.

"Hey, who's the guy with the ears?" another girl about Paula's age appeared in the doorway.

"That's Sarek," Paula said knowledgeably. "He's more handsomer than Jason Adams and Danny Robinson," she enthused, casting an adoring look up at the tall Vulcan. "He came to visit us with my Aunt Amanda."

"Are you Amanda's boyfriend?" the other little girl asked him.

"Connie!" Jennifer exclaimed. "Don't be so nosey."

"Well, I'm just asking. besides everyone else wants to know!" Connie said as if that justified her interrogation.

"Well, are you Amanda's boyfriend?" Paula continued with the questioning, pulling on Sarek's pants leg.

"Yes," Sarek responded. He was a male friend of Amanda's after all. Although at his age he could hardly be described as a 'boy.'

"No," Amanda's voice cut through the room.

All eyes turned toward her. Sarek's slanted eyebrow rose fractionally. Amanda looked back at him and her face suddenly colored.

"Amanda's got a boyfriend!" Paula squealed.

"Amanda and Sarek sitting in a tree," Connie began singing.

"K-I-S-S-I-N-G!" Paula and Connie sang in unison then jumped up and down excitedly.

Sarek blinked. Amanda's face turned even redder. She busied herself by placing the large centerpiece on the table.

Amanda took a long, slow breath. "Okay. I want all of you kids out of here, right now! Come on ... outside. We've got a snowman to build."

Amanda and Sarek were alone in the dining room. "What do you think of the centerpiece?" Amanda ventured.

"It appears to be adequate," Sarek observed.

"Amanda and Sarek sitting in a tree..." they heard from the foyer.

"K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love. then comes marriage ... then comes a baby in a--"

"Knock it off, you two babies!" Jennifer's voice cut overtop of their song.

"Well, I need to go outside and supervise," Amanda told Sarek without meeting his gaze. Her face was quite red. The corner of Sarek's mouth quirked upward at Amanda's discomfort. For some reason, he found her embarrassment to be. endearing. Amanda exited the room, and Sarek's eyebrow went up as he pondered their relationship.

"They seem to have the basics correct," Soran commented dryly from the doorway. He carefully placed what Sarek presumed to be a 'pecan pie' on the sideboard along the wall.

"Indeed," Sarek replied, not bothering to deny the incident. "Although I must confess that I do not understand why they think I am paired with Amanda."

"It is because the tips of your ears turn darker green whenever you are near Miss Grayson," Soran forged ahead.

"They do not," Sarek denied.

"Yes, they do. Quite a vibrant green, in fact," Soran persisted. Sarek caught sight of Amanda through the window, catching snowflakes on her tongue. He felt blood rushing to the tips of his ears and he immediately began asserting his bio-controls.

"It must be similar to your physiological reaction to our new Federation Council liaison, T'Mara," Sarek retaliated. He was rewarded by Soran's ears flushing pure emerald.

"I have no idea to what you are referring, S'haile," Soran said stonily. "I was simply briefing her on Terran protocol."

"At one o'clock in the morning?" Sarek inquired doubtfully. "I also can not recall you ordering T'Thelan wine when you briefed me in Terran protocol."

Soran's eyes narrowed, and he crossed his arms over his 'Kiss the Cook' apron. Sarek lifted an eyebrow at him, which Soran returned challengingly.

"Let us declare a stalemate, Soran," Sarek made up with his aide. He had asked to hear his chief advisor's assessment of the situation, after all.

"As you wish," Soran said warily.

"I value your analysis, Soran," Sarek told him honestly. "There is one more thing I do not understand."

"What?" Soran went into his serious analysis mode just as if they were discussing negotiation strategies.

"I fail to comprehend the part about 'a tree.' Why would anyone be 'kissing' in a tree?"

"I do not understand that metaphor either, Sarek. Perhaps it is evolutionary in nature; dating back to early Homo Sapiens."

"Ah," Sarek replied. "That could be ... just as our own bonding rituals date to Pre Reform times." Sarek's mouth went dry. Why had the thought of Vulcan marriage rites suddenly popped into his head along with thoughts of Amanda Grayson?

"Indeed," Soran said softly, cocking his head to one side as he observed his friend. He quietly slipped out of the room as Sarek gazed thoughtfully out the window where the Grayson women were busy constructing a being out of snow.

* * *

Sarek carried the tray of cookies into the living room, searching for the table that Amanda's mother had told him was their destination. He set the cookies on a small table that had some serving dishes already stacked on it. He surveyed his placement of the sweets, then moved the tray a millimeter to the left. Much better. As he turned to go back to the kitchen he stopped at the sound of an exasperated sigh.

The boy with the computer difficulties was staring dejectedly at the blank screen.

"Why are you not outside building a 'snowman'?" Sarek asked him.

"Snowmen are for babies," the boy said without looking up.

"Amanda is building a snowman and she is not a 'baby,'" Sarek continued.

"That's different," the boy said, one hand idly stroking the keyboard in front of him.

"I see," Sarek replied, even though he did not 'see' at all. "Your computer is not functioning?" Sarek inquired.

"No. It's fried," the boy said hopelessly.

"Fried?" Sarek asked as he approached the boy and his computer.

"Trashed. Busted. Hasta la vista," the boy clarified.

"It is broken?" Sarek ventured.

"That's what I just said," the boy replied somewhat testily.

"You have backups of your data, I presume," Sarek said, sitting down next to the boy.

"Kind of. Sort of. Well ... no. Not really," the boy confessed with embarrassment.

"Always make a backup disc," Sarek lectured.

"I know that! These cheapo discs I got wouldn't format correctly," Pat told the Vulcan, holding up a Sonika brand data disc.

"Ah. That is definitely a problem. We never buy that brand at the embassy," Sarek replied.

"Well, I'm just a kid. I don't have a job. These were all I could afford," Pat pointed out. "I lost all my data. I was working on a special dictionary for Aunt Amanda. I had like six thousand five hundred entries. Cross-referenced and everything. All gone!" the boy went on inexorably.

"Tell me how you had your drives partitioned," Sarek said purposefully, taking out his data PADD.

The boy launched into a convoluted explanation of the arrangement of his hard drives. Sarek continued to ask questions and the boy was in awe of the Vulcan's knowledge base. Paula squirmed her way onto Sarek's lap as the two males delved deeply into computer matters.

"You're soooo smart," Paula sighed, looking up at Sarek.

Sarek looked down at her and arched an eyebrow. He looked up at Soran who had entered the room carrying a tray of raw vegetables. Soran examined the plate of cookies that Sarek had brought earlier. He set the vegetable tray down and consulted a printout.

"Mrs. Grayson indicated that the cookies were to go on that table," Sarek told his aide distractedly, his eyes straying back to his PADD.

"Yes, this table, but not there. I have formulated a placement chart that takes into account the serving dish sizes and shapes as well as the available tabletop area. You should have consulted me," Soran told his friend, waving the printout in the air.

"Forgive me, Soran. That is why I let you handle such details. Your expertise in matters of protocol is invaluable," Sarek said, teasing his friend.

"Your words honor me, S'haile," Soran replied with equal teasing, knowing it disturbed Sarek when he referred to him as S'haile in informal settings. Frowning slightly, the ambassador's chief advisor moved the plate of cookies a millimeter to the right. Then he carefully aligned the vegetable tray to the left of the cookies. Satisfied with the layout, he turned on his heel and headed back to the kitchen.

Sarek turned his full attention back to his PADD and began outlining to the boy how to set up the system in a more efficient way the next time.

"Yeah, well, I wish you'd told me this yesterday," Pat said glumly.

"I was not here yesterday," Sarek commented, idly tapping his PADD with a stylus, his mind still working on the computer problem.

"Yeah, I know. Tell me about it," Pat replied sarcastically.

"Tell you about what?" Sarek asked, puzzled.

"Never mind," Pat said, scooting his chair closer to the Vulcan, bending over Sarek's data PADD to see the optimal configuration.

"Yeah, never mind," Paula echoed, looking up into Sarek's dark eyes. She wrapped her arm around his neck. "So, is there a Mrs. Sarek?" the little girl asked the Vulcan ambassador.

"Excuse me?" Sarek replied.

"I said. is there a Mrs. Sarek?" Paula asked with exasperation.

"You know ... your wife," Pat explained, his forehead wrinkling in puzzlement at what the Vulcan was sketching on the PADD.

"I see. No, to answer your question, there is not," Sarek informed her.

"Goody," Paula said, nuzzling her hand against Sarek's neck. Sarek's eyebrows climbed into his bangs.

"You kids, come on and get cleaned up for dinner," Brianna advised from the doorway.

"Just a minute, Mom," Pat whined.

"Right now! I don't see how you can sit in front of a computer that won't even turn on. Both of you ,,. come on," she said in a voice that invited no dissent.

Paula reluctantly hopped off of Sarek's lap and Pat slowly backed away from his computer.

Sarek made a few changes to the information on his data PADD, arching an eyebrow. He was certain that his proposed adjustments to the machine would optimize its efficiency. Now that he was alone, he opened another screen on his pad and diagramed some more changes. He felt certain that young Patrick would be pleased with 'Santa's' work.

"You are not her first choice for a bondmate," Soran's voice reached Sarek from the other side of the room.

Sarek's eyes shifted to his aide. "Is that so?" Sarek asked, watching Soran inspect the positioning of a selection of cheeses.

"Yes, it is. She already inquired as to whether there was a 'Mrs. Soran.'" With that, Soran wiped his hands on his apron and left the room.

* * *

To the surprise of both Vulcans, dinner was a fairly sedate affair. Baby Emily had already been put to bed, and the other two Grayson grandchildren were apparently on what Sarek had heard Brianna call 'their best behavior or else.' Amanda's parents were quite pleased with the floral arrangement that Sarek and Soran had purchased for the dining room table.

The Vulcans fielded many questions over a light meal of salad and pasta. Amanda was correct. her mother was quite an excellent cook. Sarek found his eyes automatically seeking out Amanda's form every few minutes throughout the meal. He relished in the way her blue eyes glittered with amusement at the conversation around her.

"I said ... did ya ever meet any of them Deltan women?" Uncle Bob's question reached Sarek's ears. The Vulcan looked up to find that Uncle Bob's eyes were trained on him.

"No," Sarek replied simply.

"Well, you know what I heard about Deltan females," Bob continued.

"Bob, not at the dinner table!" Nell Grayson commanded from her end of the table.

"What? What did I say?" Bob asked.

"Nothing yet. And make sure it stays that way," Nell warned.

"Sure thing," Bob said contritely. "I'll tell ya about it later," he said in an exaggerated whisper, winking at Sarek.

"There isn't a 'Mrs. Sarek'," Paula broadcast from the doorway, smiling at the Vulcan.

"Paula! Remember what I told about not telling everyone's business," her mother admonished her. "And you need to sit back down at your table and finish your dinner."

"There isn't a 'Mrs. Soran' either," Paula continued.

"Back in the other room, you little busybody," Nell Grayson shooed her granddaughter back into the den.

"Sorry about that," Patrick Senior began.

"There is no need to apologize," Soran overrode him, his eyes sliding to Sarek.

The Vulcan ambassador, however, did not seem to be particularly offended either. In fact, he seemed oblivious to everything except for Amanda Grayson's sapphire eyes, which were locked on his own.

* * *

"Here," Al Grayson handed each Vulcan a small glass sphere. "Just find a spot that looks bare, and put an ornament there," Al instructed concisely.

Both Vulcans raised eyebrows with uncertainty.

"Go ahead," Al encouraged, bending over to rummage through a large box.

Soran studied the coniferous tree carefully, then stepped around the children swarming at its base, and meticulously hung a red ornament on a middle branch.

He looked at Sarek who nodded with approval, then placed his own silver globe on an upper branch.

"Great! You're getting the hang of it now," Amanda told the two Vulcans, looking up from where she was showing her young niece where to hang another ornament.

"Here you go ... two more," Al supplied the Vulcans with two more ornaments. "The sooner we get this tree decorated, the sooner these kids go to bed. The sooner these kids are asleep, the sooner 'Santa' will get here," Al said in a louder voice for his grandchildren to hear.

"How does Santa know when we're asleep?" Pat said to no one in particular.

"He just does," Brianna told him.

"That's why he's 'Santa,'" Paula explained to her older brother as if she were speaking to a dimwit.

"Oh, well, stupid me," Pat answered his little sister in a patronizing tone.

"Yeah, stupid you," Paula returned matter-of-factly, delicately taking an ornament from her grandfather and rushing over to the tree with it. To the surprise of everyone, her brother Pat boosted her up so she could put it on the branch she insisted it needed to go on.

"Hey, guess where I'm gonna hang this mistletoe?" Uncle Bob said lasciviously, dangling an unopened package of mistletoe from his hand.

"Gimme that!" Al Grayson yanked the package from Bob's hand. "Here," he said to Soran, "you seem responsible enough to hang this up in the doorway over there," Al pointed toward the doorway leading to the foyer. "Just take it out of the wrapping, and hang it up," Al specified.

Soran glanced at the contents of the package and the tips of his ears darkened at the memory of this substance hung in the doorway of Amanda's classroom. He went over to Sarek, who was placing another ornament on the tree, and bent down and spoke into the ambassador's ear.

Sarek's eyes were still on the ornament he had just hung on the tree as Soran put the package into his hand. Raising a satisfied eyebrow at the tree, Sarek looked at the object in his hand that Soran had told him was his next assigned task. Sarek felt the blood rush to his ears as he spun around and saw his aide's retreating back heading for the sanctuary of the kitchen

Sarek moved to the indicated doorway as inconspicuously as possible and opened the package. The doorway wasn't that tall, so he was able to quickly affix the sprig without the use of a step stool. As he turned around he paused to watch the Grayson clan attend their festival activities. Everyone was talking, and laughing all at once; but instead of it seeming chaotic as it had before, there was a certain charm to this scene. The children had stop bickering, seriously anyway; and while Bob was still deep into his cups Sarek suspected, he was also behaving himself in a more cordial manner.

Sarek's eyes again rested on Amanda, who now was assisting the children in throwing some sort of shiny silver substance all over the tree's surface. It seemed quite a messy affair, and there were several strands of the stuff in her hair, and stuck to her sweater. She didn't seem to mind, or even notice, for that matter as she laughed and joked with the youngsters.

Perhaps this is what Amanda meant when she referred to Christmas bringing people closer together. The Grayson clan certainly had forgotten their earlier grievances, at least temporarily.

Soran had returned with another tray of cookies and he and Mrs. Grayson sat down on the couch to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Sarek was stabbed with a sudden sensation of filial affection for his friend and aide. Amanda had been quite correct when she had said that he and Soran were like family.

He shifted his gaze and found that Amanda was smiling fondly at him from a chair near the fireplace. His lips curved upward into a private smile that he had come to realize asserted itself whenever he was in her presence.

Sarek's contemplations halted when he noticed that the eyes of young Paula were staring back at him intensely. He faltered a moment, then, realizing the precise location he still stood, he swiftly moved away from under the mistletoe before she could consider an action that would be more embarrassing than her endless barrage of personal questions.

Fortunately, by this time the tree was finished, and despite a few token protests from the children they were herded up to their rooms for the night.

Once some time passed to allow the kids to fall asleep, the adults began to load an impressive pile of presents under the tree to be opened in the morning. Then Brianna came out with several bags of goodies, which she packed into the stockings that had been hung earlier across the fireplace mantel. 'Santa's' work finally done, most of the adults also turned in early for the night, explaining that they needed to get as much sleep as possible since the kids would surely be up very early in the morning. Nell, Amanda, and Soran trickled into the kitchen to make some final preparations for the next day, leaving Sarek alone in the living room.

Enjoying the peace and quiet, Sarek sat down at the desk, took a small screwdriver from his pocket, and began to disassemble Pat's computer. If he was correct, and he usually was, then in just a few hours Pat Junior would have a machine that not only worked once again, but would have all the previous files intact. Sarek's mouth twitched upward. This 'Santa Claus' myth could be quite satisfactory indeed.

Sarek was deep into his work quite some time later and never heard Amanda come into the room to check on him. She tiptoed up behind him, trying to glance over his shoulder without his knowledge. When she was right behind him, she slowly bent over until her face was mere inches from his, then she urgently whispered, "What are you doing!?!"

Sarek, startled, almost dropped the replacement sion capacitor he was holding delicately by the edges. If he hadn't caught it in the palm of his hand it would have been rendered completely useless. He turned his head in Amanda's direction to chastise her for such juvenile behavior. His censure was lost, however, when he found himself nose to nose with the young educator.

"I am attempting to repair this computer for your nephew Patrick," he murmured staring at her full mouth sitting just inches away from his. He became completely distracted from his task when her tongue snuck out to wet those lips.

"That's very sweet of you. I know Pat will be absolutely thrilled," she whispered back, enjoying the tiny chills she got from his hot breath hitting her face.

Soran came out bringing yet another tray to be placed on the serving table. He didn't stay but immediately returned back to the kitchen; however, the mood was disturbed anyway. Amanda stood and moved to the side of the desk. "Am I interrupting you, then?"

'Yes!' his thoughts screamed, but instead he calmly replied, "No, not at all. I am almost finished here." He looked at her a minute more, than forced his hands back to their previous task.

"Okay. I just came in to snap a couple of holopics of the tree." She waved a mini camera to prove her claim.

Sarek nodded then continued to finish the computer, not admitting that he was constantly aware of the way Amanda kept stopping to look through the camera, then backing up towards the doorway trying to find the perfect shot. He finished his repairs, checked that the old files were accessible, then added his own personal touch. He pushed the computer back on the desk, leaving it open and turned on so the child would be sure to see it in the morning.

He looked up as Amanda snapped a few more shots of the tree. "Finished!" she exclaimed.

"As am I." Sarek told her smiling slightly at her exuberance. His smile faded, however, when he looked up and realized precisely where Amanda had stopped to take her pictures ... .directly under the mistletoe. Sarek glanced back at the kitchen, but although there were no obvious signs of anyone returning soon, an insistent thrumming noise made him pause. It took a moment for him to realize it was his heart. His thoughts were becoming jumbled and illogical.

Taking a deep breath, Sarek rose and began a slow but steady walk to Amanda. He had no idea what he was doing but he let his instincts guide him.

"Hang on, Sarek. Just a sec. let me get your picture," Amanda said, focusing the camera on him. "That's too close," Amanda said, shifting back a step to keep him in the frame.

Sarek reached out and pulled her back to her original spot directly under the mistletoe. She lowered the camera and the corner of his mouth went up at the shocked expression on her face.

"Sarek, what..." she began.

Before she could say anything else, the tall Vulcan pulled her closer to him and bent down and kissed her right on the mouth just as he had seen in so many Terran theatrical features. After a brief moment he released her. "Merry Christmas, Amanda," his deep baritone was soft.

"Uh, Merry Christmas to you, too," she responded, unsure of her next move. His arms were still loosely around her waist, and her hands had naturally come to rest on his chest when he had embraced her.

"Where did you learn to do that?" she asked, her blue eyes lighting up with mirth.

"From observing Terrans," he said placidly.

"I see," Amanda replied, her heart seeming to beat harder in her chest. Not sure of what she was doing, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him softly, letting the kiss linger longer than the first one. She was pleased at the small moan his Vulcan control did not suppress. "Well, what do you think? Was that 'satisfactory', Ambassador?" Amanda inquired after the kiss ended.

Sarek's eyes were full of affection that he would never speak aloud. "Yes, quite satisfactory. However, I will require many more data points."

"Oh, you will, huh?" Amanda laughed, but it was cut short by Sarek's lips softly pressing against hers again.

"Does this mean I now qualify as your 'boyfriend', Amanda?" he teased.

Amanda laughed, then ran her hands over the hard form of his chest. "I think that title fits now, don't you?

Sarek kissed her hard on the mouth once more, then allowed his lips to follow the curve of her cheek and trail onto her neck. "For now, it will do," he murmured then pulled back suddenly. "Will I have to practice my tree climbing skills?"

"What?" Amanda said, completely puzzled; then laughed as understanding dawned. "No, I think we can skip that part. In fact, I much prefer to do my kissing on a much lower surface." She bit her lip to keep from laughing at the shocked expression on his face.

His eyebrows shot up and his face was infused with a greenish hue. He opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it and looked away sheepishly. The Ambassador was speechless!

The sound of pans clinking in the kitchen brought them back to their surroundings. Sarek released her and stepped back.

"Well, I think I've had enough excitement for one day. I'm going to head up to bed," Amanda told him. "Make sure Soran doesn't stay up all night cooking," Amanda teased. With one last look at Sarek, she turned and headed up the stairs.

Sarek stared after her, nearly jumping when he heard Soran's voice from over his shoulder.

"Miss Grayson has retired for the evening, I see," he commented neutrally.

"Indeed," Sarek replied, turning around to face his friend. "You have finished with your preparations for tomorrow?"

"Yes. I believe that I have formulated optimal seating assignments for dinner," Soran informed him, consulting his data PADD. "However, I think that I will make one small correction."

Sarek looked down at Soran's PADD and noted his aide moving Amanda's seat so that it was adjacent to Sarek's own assignment. He raised an eyebrow at his aide.

Soran raised an eyebrow of his own, then handed Sarek a cloth from his apron pocket.

Sarek looked at him with confusion and Soran discretely rubbed his index finger at the corner of his own mouth.

The ambassador applied the cloth to the corresponding area of his face and noted something bright red on the cloth. He felt the blood divert to his ears as he realized he was looking at residue from Amanda's lipstick.

"I see you have also completed your task," Soran gestured at the glowing computer screen.

"Yes, I believe that I recovered ninety nine point seven percent of young Patrick's data," Sarek reported.

"Excellent," Soran responded. "He will be quite pleased. And the screen image is also quite appropriate."

"Indeed," Sarek commented. He had programmed the computer to display Vulcan characters. The Vulcan 'Peace and Long Life' alternated with the Terran 'Peace on Earth,' followed by an IDIC symbol that moved to the top of the screen then shattered into snowflakes. Sarek had affixed a large green bow to the keyboard.

"I am growing somewhat weary," Soran confessed.

"As am I," Sarek agreed. It had been quite a long day.

"One final task..." Soran said as he handed Sarek Amanda's Christmas present which was wrapped in bright blue paper. Sarek put it under the tree, and glanced at Soran who nodded with assent at the placement of the gift.

The two Vulcans turned off the lights and made their way upstairs, leaving the bright glow of the computer screen behind them.

"Hey, who turned out the lights?" a slurred voice rose from the couch. Uncle Bob rubbed sleep from his eyes and looked around the room with confusion.

Soran and Sarek stopped on the bottom step and both men turned back toward the living room. Soran raised a bemused eyebrow at Sarek, then both Vulcans went back to the sofa area.

Uncle Bob focused on them unsteadily. "Are you guys elves?" he asked finally.

"No, we are Vulcans," Soran informed him.

"Hey, there were a couple of Vulcans here earlier today," Bob recalled, rising from the sofa, his balance wavering.

"Indeed," Sarek replied taking the elder Terran's arm to support him.

The man yawned loudly. "Well, I'm beat after all that work today. Guess I'd better hit the hay," Bob said.

"That is a logical decision," Soran agreed, standing on Bob's other side to help Sarek navigate toward the stairs with the man.

Sarek and Soran located Bob's sleeping quarters at the top of the stairs and helped the man into his room.

"Good night, sir," Sarek told him.

"Good night," Bob said, squinting at Sarek in the dimly lit room. "Hey, anyone ever tell you that you look just like that guy who was on the vid yesterday?"



THE END

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