Disclaimer: Star Trek and its characters are the property of Paramount.  This story is the property of Saidicam29 and is copyright (c) 2005 by Saidicam29.  Rated NC17.

 

Kal-I-Farr'Terau (Matchmaker)

Saidicam29

 

Sarek watched his young son reach out to experimentally touch the soft petals of one of Earth's great flora population.  Suddenly the boy startled, nearly falling to his backside in his haste to avoid the charge of a small creature.  He quickly recovered, and his curiosity brought him a step closer, again causing the animal to jump as it made its way from the shade of the vegetation to the safety of the private pond.

 

The boy glanced back at his parents eagerly, "Tehvar'bosh, Sa'mekh?"

 

Sarek spared an amused glance towards the boy's mother.  "Nirsh, Sa'fu," Sarek began, then switched to Standard.  "That is called Rana aurora draytonii, or the California red-legged frog.  It is a type of amphibian common to Earth.  In the early 21st century, this particular species was nearly extinct, but extensive rehabilitation efforts have insured their survival in this part of the planet, and on our embassy's grounds, in particular."  Sarek looked from the child to his mother for any reaction to his attempt at humor, but there was none.  Terran humor was always challenging for Vulcans.  Sarek lifted his hand dismissively.  "You may study it, if you wish.  It is harmless."

 

"Stay away from the water," his mother warned but the boy had already changed his focus to the frog.  He stalked it from behind, his hands held up, cupped, with the apparent intent to capture the beast.

 

Sarek turned his attention to the woman beside him.  "You have come a long way for just a visit."

 

"You are his father," she stated simply.

 

Sarek's gaze remained penetrating, a silent reprimand for the unsatisfying response.

 

"And," she continued hesitantly, "I must confess to a certain amount of … curiosity regarding this planet you spend so much of your time on."

 

"Curiosity, T'Rea?" Sarek gently teased.

 

She tilted her head up high, proudly defiant, but her eyes sparkled with silent mirth.  "It has been known to happen ... on occasion.  Besides..."  She paused as both their attention was drawn by the call of their son, who had finally captured the frog and was showing them how the beast now sat tamed within the boy's hands.  After acknowledging her son's victory, and warning him once again to stay away from the water, she turned back to her former husband.  "It occurred to me that, with his kahs'wan approaching, it might be beneficial for you to spend some time with your son.  There has been little opportunity over the years."

 

Sarek took a deep breath.  "Indeed, and I believe I shall miss the kahs'wan as well."

 

"Your duty is here, Sarek.  Sybok understands."  She marveled at how natural it was for her to still reassure him, to soothe his qualms, even without the bond.

 

"You are most generous."

 

She shook her head, dismissing his compliment.  "And you are still too free with your praise."  She focused her attention on their son.

 

"Forgive me."  Sarek bowed his head apologetically.  He watched T'Rea watching Sybok, and he could not vanquish the thought that her visit had more purpose than simply giving him time with his son.  "The monastery does not object to your absence?"

 

"I am a Jarok priestess, not a Kolinharu, Sarek."  While the Way of Jarok agreed with Surak that emotion must be mastered instead of repressed, Jarok believed emotion should be embraced and understood, and only then could one come to terms with it.  She looked at him with patient tolerance, having always suspected that Sarek's "misunderstanding" of her less rigid sect came more from an attempt to tease her regarding her different beliefs than any real ignorance of Jarok's tenets.  "My reasons are sufficient."

 

"Of course," Sarek placated, changing the subject.  "Your reports indicate Sybok's desert training is proceeding as planned."

 

"We do not expect failure," she assured him.

 

"Indeed?"  Sarek nodded his approval.  "In that case, I am confused."

 

T'Rea glanced at him sharply.  "Explain."

 

Sarek's eye lifted slightly, his expression innocent.  "If his success is imminent, then what benefit -- so imperative that you left the monastery and came to Earth -- do you expect?"

 

T'Rea's eyes narrowed with disapproval, her jaw tightening as she looked away.  "If we are not welcome--"

 

"I did not say that."

 

He watched her, the muscles in her jaw remaining clenched as she considered her next actions.  She would not take long, then she would relent and speak to him of the thoughts that were preoccupying her.  She always did.  Sarek noticed her glance out of the corner of her eye, and permitted himself to relax.

 

"Very well, Sarek."  She looked to ensure Sybok was well occupied.  "I had not intended to discuss this here, in the open; however, the coming of Sybok's kahs'wan brings to mind the coming of ... another significant event."

 

Sarek stiffened, his eyes widening with surprise.  Taking a breath to stabilize himself, now it was he who looked away.  "I cannot think of any such event that would be cause for discussion between us."

 

"Time is short, and it has come to my attention you have yet to select a mate."

 

"How?" Sarek demanded.

 

T'Rea turned to face Sarek's profile.  "Your parents are concerned.  You have not responded to any of the women who offered themselves as your wife."

 

Sarek looked her way, then shook his head in disbelief that his parents would speak of this with anyone.  "This is not something to be discussed, especially with you.  Unless … are you offering as well, T'Rea?"

 

"Of course not, but while I may no longer serve as your wife, I still hold a place in your clan.  I am family; Sybok ensures that."  She saw the light leave his eyes, some dark emotion quickly suppressed by his Surakian way of life.  "Sarek," she said apologetically, "I only meant my condition is unchanged.  I could not--"

 

"I know," he said quickly, cutting her short.  "It was an illogical question."

 

They were both distracted by the sound of a woman's voice, and they turned to see a human female approaching Sybok.  She spoke with him, and following his gesture she looked over to where they sat, shielding her eyes against the late afternoon sun.  She called out a greeting and raised her hand to which Sarek raised his hand back, fingers closed.  T'Rea hastily copied the gesture, lest she be guilty of offending the human in some way.  The woman then turned her attention back to Sybok, so T'Rea turned back to Sarek.

 

"If you have chosen not to select a mate, I may be able to assist you in overcoming the fires."  She waited patiently for his response, allowing him time to consider while he stared past her in contemplation.  Two minutes passed … then four … and finally after five point three minutes she began to suspect she did not have his full attention.  "Sarek?"  Still no response, so T'Rea followed his gaze, looking behind her to where Sybok and the Terran were kneeled down in the grass examining something too small for her to see.  She turned back, speaking louder in hopes of getting his attention.  "I asked whether you will seek a mate or use alternative methods."

 

"Alternative methods?" Sarek asked absently before finally pulling his gaze back to the women beside him.  "Jaroks are not known for their meditative abilities."

 

"No," she agreed.  "However, historically our men have had better success at this than Surak's followers, although even that is rare."  She leaned towards him, her words a warning.

 

Sarek nodded, then reached out to lightly touch the back of her fingers with his own.  "This is no longer your concern, T'Rea.  There are unbonded females here prepared to assist should an emergency arise."

 

"You will not even consider our methods then?" she asked, disappointment evident in her expression.

 

Sarek pulled his hand back, allowing himself a sigh.  "We can discuss them, but at another time.  It is time for end meal."  He stood, waiting for her to follow.

 

T'Rea bowed slightly, allowing the subject to be dropped, for now.  She stood as well, but realized the edge of her traveling cloak was caught on the corner of the bench.  She gave it a sharp tug and was surprised to see the end of the bench lift completely off the ground, although her robe did not become dislodged.  She looked at Sarek, amazed.  "I feel so strong here."

 

Sarek permitted himself a slight smile.  "It is the lower gravity."  He reached out to release her robe.  "You should find it rather difficult to injure yourself here, even with your fragility, but promise me you will not test it too much."

 

"Of course not," she agreed, then kicked a large stone that lay on the ground before her, pleased to note not a single twinge of pain, let alone a broken toe.  She noted Sarek's disapproving glare.  "Interesting," she commented then turned and called Sybok to join them.  She turned back to see if Sarek was ready to go, but he was again staring after the Terran as she walked across the grounds, away from them.

 

* * *

 

T'Rea sat at her dressing table, taking her medication and preparing to rest for the night.  She glanced in her mirror at Sybok, who was sitting on her bed reading a PADD about Earth and Terrans.

 

"You find this planet interesting, son?" she asked in their native tongue, as Sybok's Standard was still shaky.

 

"Yes, Mother.  Especially the people."  He put the PADD aside, warming up to the subject.  "They are so free with their emotions, they hide no pain."

 

"Ah, but be careful, Sybok.  Emotion can be used to mask pain as effectively as suppression is used to hide it."

 

"I do not think so.  The Terrans I have met have all seemed quite blissful."

 

T'Rea raised an eyebrow, turning in her chair to face her son.  "You have only met one, Sybok, and that was only briefly."

 

"But I have seen others."

 

"You are too quick to judge, my son."

 

"Yes, Mother."  He bowed respectfully then resumed his perusal of the PADD.

 

T'Rea turned back, picked up her brush and began working it through her long onyx hair.  "That woman ... did you speak with her?"

 

"Yes, she spoke Vulcan!"  He looked up at her, eyebrows both raised to show his astonishment at the Terran's feat.

 

"Indeed," she said neutrally.  "Who is she?"

 

"An educator."  He went back to his studies.

 

"Here at the embassy?"

 

Sybok remained glued to the small screen before him.  "Yes," he said absently.

 

"Did she state her name?"

 

His brow wrinkled as he thought, but still he remained fixated on the PADD. "She did, but I do not recall it precisely."

 

T'Rea put the brush down, turning again to her son and placing her hand over the PADD screen.  "Did she say what she teaches here?"

 

Sybok looked up.  "Standard," he replied, his tone indicating he thought the answer more than obvious.

 

"I see," she said, standing up and pushing her chair in.  "Take that to your room, Sybok.  You may study for another hour.  I am fatigued now, however, and shall retire."  She placed her hand gently to Sybok's forehead, allowing her thoughts to express her affection for her son.  Feeling him return the thoughts, T'Rea allowed a smile to grace her lips, which her son also returned.  "My kakhartayek khoi'ri.  You have grown so much these past few years, but you have a great legacy to fulfill.  Your father, and his father, they are both leaders, in their own ways.  They've changed our people for the better, and so will you."

 

"How, Mother?"  Sybok's brow creased with a child's worry.

 

"I do not know, precisely, but I know it just the same.  You are a gift from Shaka'ri, I have told you that.  The Ofereiksu shall guide you, my son."

 

"Yes, Mother," Sybok replied, fully believing in his mother's great wisdom.

 

"But even legends need their rest, Sybok, as well as their mothers."  She smiled once more, caressing his cheek with her paired fingers before steering him towards the door.  "One hour, no more," she warned, closing the door on her son's muttered acquiescence.

 

* * *

 

T'Rea picked up her food tray and glanced about the room for a place to sit.  It was mid-meal, and the cafeteria was full of embassy staff, Vulcan and Terran alike.  It was noisy by Vulcan standards, and although the racket didn't seem to bother the other Vulcans in the room, she found the chaos disturbing and decided to have mid-meal in her quarters.  She was half way to the door when she noticed Sarek seated at one of the corner tables with the Terran woman Sybok met the other day.

 

The people at the table in front of her stood up, taking their trays and vacating the spot, so T'Rea quickly sat in the chair nearest her and watched.  Sarek and the woman sat on opposite sides to each other, both leaning in to catch each other's words for whatever subject they were discussing.  Sarek's face was relaxed, but his eyes bore a strange intensity while his gaze remained fixed on her.  He hardly moved, and never once attempted to touch his full plate.  She, on the other hand, was very active.  In one hand she held her fork, and often took bites in between snippets of conversation.  She smiled, a lot, and in the space of just a few moments laughed several times.  Her hands flittered as she spoke, an invariable flurry of activity that had no significant meaning that T'Rea could detect.

 

Scanning the room at large, T'Rea could see many tables holding a mixture of Terran and Vulcan occupants, although no other had only two.  The flittering hands appeared to be a human trait, as such gestures could be regularly seen by both the males and females of the species.  The postures varied, but of those not eating, the males generally leaned back in their seats, hands resting on the table's surface or crossed across their chests.  The females sat back also, hands resting on crossed legs; or many sat facing the table, but with their bodies turned away to one side.  Interesting.

 

A movement out of the corner of her eye led T'Rea back to Sarek's table, where the Terran had stood up and was looking at the chronometer strapped to her wrist.  Sarek stood as well, and when the woman would have turned to go he called her back, taking a step nearer.  They spoke a few more moments, the female's head nodding in agreement, then she left.  Sarek watched her go, his eyes never leaving her until the doors swooshed shut behind her.  Then he returned to his seat and finally set to the task of eating.

 

* * *

 

T'Rea was resting atop her bed, contemplating.  Her door opened, and Sybok entered softly calling her name to see if she was awake.

 

"You wish something of me, my son?"

 

"Father wishes you to join us for end-meal."

 

"So soon?" Her time sense told her it was an hour earlier than they normally took their meal.

 

"Yes, he completed his work early today."

 

T'Rea sat up slowly, losing the battle to keep the pain from her expression. "Very well, tell him I shall be down in a moment."

 

Sybok looked worriedly at his mother, immediately going to her dressing table to retrieve the hypo bag from her drawer.  "Will you require the walking stick tonight?"

 

T'Rea loaded the device and applied the hypo to her neck.  She sat in silence, eyes closed, while she waited for some relief.  Sybok returned the bag then sat beside her on the bed.  Taking a deep breath, T'Rea opened her eyes to find her son.  "I feel relief already.  The stick will not be necessary tonight, my son.  It is wet out today, and that has undoubtedly temporarily aggravated my condition."  She stood up, taking time to stretch the kinks out of her back.  "Come along, Sybok.  Your father is waiting."

 

They always ate end-meal in Sarek's suite, giving them the peace and privacy preferred by Vulcan families.  No one talked during the meal, as is custom, but soon the repast was over, and discussion began.  Darkness was falling on San Francisco, and the rains of the day became the thunderstorm of the night.

 

T'Rea listened patiently as Sarek and Sybok discussed the dinosaur exhibits at the local museum Soran had taken them to see earlier that day.  Sarek was just promising to take Sybok to see a museum featuring exhibits about Earth's desert cultures when a loud crack of thunder shook the walls and the lights in the embassy went out for a brief second until the secondary systems kicked in.  Sybok's eyes became transfixed on the show taking place outside the window, and Sarek excused him from the table so he might watch the storm up close.

 

Sarek got up to ring the chime that would send a member of the kitchen staff to remove their dinnerware.  He returned to his seat, steepling his hands on the table before him.  "You had little to say regarding your experiences on Terra thus far," he observed.  "Are you not finding your visit agreeable?"

 

"It is quite interesting; however," she tipped her head graciously, "I am not much of a traveler."

 

Sarek nodded.  "Do you require anything before I leave?"

 

"You are leaving?"

 

"I have a meeting to attend."

 

"Indeed?" T'Rea's brow lifted slightly.  "Sybok informed me you had completed your work for today."

 

Sarek's eyes widened slightly.  "I…"  He began to carefully straighten his cutlery on the table before him.  "It is a … personal meeting."

 

"I see."  T'Rea watched his fidget with the utensils, itching to ask him about the nature of this meeting, but knowing such inquiry would be impolite, and unwelcome.  She already had her own suspicions, however. "Soran is remaining at the embassy?"

 

"He is," Sarek quieted his restless digits.

 

T'Rea allowed a brief smile to emerge, unseen due to Sarek's preoccupation.  "Then I believe I shall have everything I need."  The discussion ended upon the arrival of the kitchen staff, and Sarek's subsequent departure from the embassy.

 

* * *

 

Soran rang the chime to T'Rea's door, entering as the doors slid apart.  The room was dark, the interior fogged by the smoke of the incense T'Rea had burning throughout the quarters.  Soran stifled a cough, barely resisting the urge to wrinkle his nose at the unpleasant scent.  He turned towards the center of the room, where several candles had been placed sporadically around that area, giving just enough light for two speakers to see each other.  So, they were to palaver -- to hold a lengthy discussion tonight.

 

T'Rea turned to him, holding a glass of what Soran knew would be saya, the traditional drink offered at palavers, and one that is very intoxicating, if not moderated.  "Sit," she incurred, gesturing to the two large pillows seated opposite each other.

 

Soran walked towards her, taking his seat and the cup she offered, but only sipping at the liquid.

 

T'Rea turned her back to him, moving to the counter to prepare her own drink.  "You find my incense displeasing?" she asked, humor tinting her voice.

 

"I find it is not to my taste," Soran stated simply.

 

"Ah, but it is good for you," T'Rea implored.  "It clears the mind, and the spirit."

 

"As you wish."  Soran bowed his head instinctively, even though she wasn't watching.  He had no desire to engage in a debate with the woman tonight.

 

"Sarek never liked my spices either."  She turned towards him, slowly walking his way.  "You are much alike, the two of you."  Soran said nothing, but watched her insistently.  "You are a good friend to him."

 

"Yes," Soran stated.

 

"You have been a good friend to me," T'Rea offered.

 

"You are most kind," Soran replied, becoming slightly weary of this conversation.  It was most unusual of T'Rea to seek him out so.

 

T'Rea walked past Soran, turning to watch him from behind, without his knowledge.  "Where did Sarek go tonight?" she softly asked, not missing the stiffening of Soran's back, or the way he barely caught himself from spinning around to look at her.

 

"He did not say," Soran answered carefully.

 

"But you know." T'Rea stepped closer to Soran, standing directly behind him and bending to put her face nearer him.  "Is he with the teacher?"

 

Soran remained quiet.

 

"I have seen them together.  Does he intend to bond with her?"

 

This time Soran did turn, for just a moment, then he faced forward again.  "It is not for me to say, or you to ask," he admonished.

 

"You are correct Soran, forgive me."  T'Rea stood and took her seat facing him.  She took a drink of her saya, watching him over the rim of her cup while she contemplated her next move.  "Let us change the subject then.  You have been on this planet, around these people, for many years.  Perhaps you could provide me with some information about them."

 

"Certainly," Soran said, relieved to be changing to a safer subject.  "What do you wish to know?"  He lifted his cup to his lips for another sip.

 

"Do you think a human female could withstand pon farr?"

 

Soran sputtered, his saya catching in his throat.  "I … I would not know!"  His eyes were wide, his demeanor clearly affronted at the topic of discussion.  "I should go now."  He stood to leave, placing his cup on the floor between the pillows.

 

"Soran," T'Rea called out, standing as well as he stopped just inside the doorway.  "Time is short, and I do not believe he will survive without a mate."

 

Soran released a sigh, her concern mirrored on his own face.  "I know," he said softly.  "But it is his choice, T'Rea."  With a lingering, meaningful look Soran left the room.

 

T'Rea remained still, a non-committal noise emitting from her throat.  "Yes," she said to the empty room.  "But why can we not help him make that choice?"  She quickly swallowed the rest of her saya and cleaned up the room.  She had some planning to do.

 

* * *

 

For the next several days T'Rea watched them at lunch in the cafeteria.  Sometimes she'd find them in the embassy gardens, where the woman had approached Sybok their first day there.  They were cordial, no doubt about that, but she still could not ascertain precisely what their relationship might be.  Sarek, she knew, was definitely showing interest in the Terran.  He was subtle, which is his way, but those who knew him well would be able read the signals clearly.  Soran must know, but he wouldn't say.  If they had intentions to bond already, then an announcement would have been made.  She would have had no reason to come to Terra.

 

So, it must be the woman.  T'Rea sat at one of the library computer terminals and began her research.

 

{Subject: human mating rituals.}

 

She looked at the various titles returned to her, and picked one.

 

{Females must apply more criteria to select a male than males apply to a female.  It is not the nearest possibility, but the best possibility that she desires.  What constitutes an alpha male, the best male with which to mate and produce the best possible offspring, depends on far more factors than any other animal on Earth.  The criteria for her to sexually desire a man can include strength or health or fighting ability, like the lion or the wolf.  However, they can also include intelligence, money, power, prestige, position, status, attitudes, political or religious convictions, any number and combination of factors.  It is whatever she believes a man should be that will result in 1) the best possible genes for her offspring, and 2) the offspring's best chance for survival and ability to pass on its genes.}

 

'That is not so different than us,' T'Rea thought to herself, reading on.  {In any case, she then evaluates those men who contact her (or she contacts) to see if they really satisfy her criteria.  Again, this is often done through conversation.  This is called dating.}  T'Rea repeated the word aloud.  'Are Sarek and the Terran "dating"?  They certainly have had many conversations, but how does one tell if the dialogue holds a purpose other than the simple exchange of information?'  T'Rea cleared the screen, considering her topic then typed another search term.

 

{Signs of sexual interest.}

 

This time a heading caught her attention immediately.

 

{Five Signs She's Interested In You.

 

{1- She touches you.  This is one of the most telling signs.  When you are out on a date with a woman who likes you, you will notice that, in most cases, she will find an excuse to physically touch you in some way during the date.  Often it will not be a clearly obvious move like holding your hand or taking your arm as you both walk down the street together.  More often, the kind of touching referred to here will be something as seemingly insignificant as a tap on the shoulder from her or her knee "accidentally" bumping yours and lingering for an extra second before she withdraws it.}

 

T'Rea paused in her reading to consider this.  She had only rarely witnessed Amanda touch Sarek in any matter.  Only once did the touch seem purposeful.  They were sitting in the cafeteria, and she was speaking to him.  At one point she reached out to briefly touch his hand with hers as she learned forward to speak to him in an earnest manner.  But while purposeful, it had not seemed significant.  However, if the touches aren't supposed to appear significant, how does one tell if the touch was indeed a sign of interest rather than an "accident"?  Shaking her head in dismay, T'Rea quickly read the rest of the signs:  She compliments you; She exhibits a genuine curiosity about you; She makes references to future activities together, and She gives you a kiss at the end of the date.  T'Rea had certainly not witnessed a kiss between the two, and she'd seen humans engage in the behavior several times during her visit, it was not something she'd miss!  The rest she could not know for certain without hearing their conversations.

 

T'Rea turned off the terminal and sat back in her seat.  This information was useless to her.  Where are the protocols, the rituals?  This was all so imprecise; it's a wonder these people ever manage to find mates at all.  No, this information in no way revealed whether Amanda returned Sarek's interest.  She'd have to develop her own test instead.  'No wonder our ancestors took to arranging our bondings for us,' she thought as she made her way from the library to the embassy cafeteria.

 

* * *

 

T'Rea selected her lunch and looked to the corner table.  Sarek was there, but Amanda had not yet arrived.  Perfect.  T'Rea made a beeline to Sarek's table, standing quietly at the chair next to his, awaiting his invitation to join.  Sarek slowly looked up from where he was reading his PADD.  T'Rea didn't miss the surprise in his eyes, nor the way he quickly glanced towards the door, looking for his regular companion.

 

"T'Rea," Sarek greeted neutrally.  "You require something of me?"

 

"I require mid-meal," T'Rea stated innocently.

 

"Yes, of course." Sarek again glanced at the door, then gestured to the seat before her.  "I would be honored if you would share a meal with me."

 

Somehow, in this instance, she doubted it.  "The honor is mine," she replied, taking her seat and settling in to partake of the meal.  After a brief hesitation, Sarek did as well.  T'Rea didn't miss the minute stiffening of her companion, and she glanced up fully prepared to see the Terran woman approaching them.  She was, carrying her tray with one hand as she absently manipulated a mini-PADD with her other hand.  She was nearly at the table before she glanced up and noticed Sarek wasn't alone.  Her surprise was unmistakable, by both her expression and the audible gasp that escaped her lips.  T'Rea saw her quickly look around for another seat, but before the woman could head off, she spoke up.  "It would be an honor to have you join us," T'Rea invited.

 

The woman glanced at Sarek, who in turn glanced at T'Rea, their looks questioning, but she didn't return his gaze.

 

"Okay," the woman said hesitantly, setting her things at the table and taking a seat.  "The honor is mine," she quickly intoned, having apparently just remembered the Vulcan courtesy.

 

T'Rea feigned interest in her meal, pretending not to notice the silent exchanges occurring between the two of them.  She waited, but when no one else spoke she took the initiative.  "You are the teacher here?"

 

Amanda gaped at her, then quickly recovered.  "Yes, one of them.  I teach Standard to the embassy staff and children."

 

"Forgive me," Sarek softly interceded.  "It is protocol on Earth that I should introduce the two of you."  He looked straight ahead, staring at some spot in the middle of the table.  "T'Rea, this is Amanda Grayson, one of the few Terrans we are fortunate to have working with us."

 

Amanda raised her hand in the ta'al.  "I come to serve."

 

T'Rea returned the gesture.  "You service honors us, T'sai."

 

"This," Sarek continued, "is T'Rea.  She is visiting from Vulcan."

 

T'Rea reached her hand across the table.  "I believe the custom here is called a handshake, is it not?"

 

Amanda smiled graciously.  "Yes, it is."  She reached out and took the Vulcan's hand in a brief, light shake.

 

T'Rea lowered her mental shields, allowing their minds to brush, but the contact was too brief to sense much of anything.  She waited for their discussions to begin, the animated talks she'd been watching between them, but they remained quiet.  Amanda picked at her food, Sarek simply sat quietly.  Obviously her presence was preventing them from speaking.  But why?  Was it an observance of the Vulcan custom to not talk during a meal, in reverence to her?  Was it that their conversations are, in fact, too personal to take place in front of others?  'This is taking too long.' she thought, searching for a better alternative.

 

Amanda set her fork down with an audible clink.  "I should probably go."

 

'No!' T'Rea's mind shouted.  'I've learned nothing so far.'  Her voice, however, betrayed none of her mind's panic.  "Why?"

 

Amanda glanced from Sarek back to T'Rea.  "Well, you've come all this way, and it certainly wasn't to see me."  She smiled nervously.  "I should give you privacy."

 

"If we required privacy, we would not be seated in public."

 

Amanda stared at the woman before her, also wondering about the strange tension at the table.  She and this woman had just met, and certainly nothing in the Vulcan's demeanor indicated disapproval towards Amanda, but she felt tension just the same.  Amanda looked over to Sarek for guidance, and at his slight nod she relaxed slightly.  "Of course you wouldn't.  Forgive me," Amanda bowed her head.

 

T'Rea's head cocked slightly to the side, her brow wrinkling ever so slightly.  She looked at Sarek, puzzled.

 

"Humans," Sarek explained, "are rather easily offended.  As a result, when a human does not mean to offend, he tends to be excessively penitent in order to prevent the other from taking offence.  The correct response is 'there is nothing to forgive', or 'do not worry about it'."

 

"Ah," T'Rea nodded sagely, thinking that seemed like much more of a hassle rather than simply not taking offense to begin with.  She turned to Amanda.  "I was unaware."  The human only nodded in return, but T'Rea didn't notice as an idea suddenly sprung forth.  "Perhaps I should take lessons from you as well," she suggested.

 

Before Amanda could answer Sarek interceded.  "Your Standard is acceptable."

 

Both women looked at him, surprised.  T'Rea recovered first.  "I can translate the words well enough, but obviously my grasp of the vernacular language is lacking."

 

Sarek took a deep breath.  "It would be an imposition on her time, T'Rea. Ms. Grayson is contracted to instruct embassy staff and children, not visitors."

 

No one noticed the way Amanda stiffened upon hearing him address her formally, and she was about to volunteer to tutor the woman when T'Rea also cut her off.  "Then I certainly think our son could benefit from her instruction."

 

"'Our' son?"  Amanda spat out louder than she had intended.  Now she had both their attention, and that of a couple of the nearby tables.  Her companions glanced around uncomfortably, and heat flushed across Amanda's face as she realized she had embarrassed them all.  "I'm sorry."

 

"Sybok," T'Rea clarified.  "I believe you have met him already."

 

Amanda took a deep breath, holding it a few seconds before blowing it out.  "I should definitely leave the two of you alone."  She jumped from her seat and quickly dumped her tray on the way out the door.

 

No one stopped her, not even when they noticed she'd left her mini-PADD behind.  Sarek and T'Rea both sat frozen for several minutes.  Finally, slowly, Sarek reached out to grab the mini-PADD and place it with his.  He also rose from his chair.  "I believe I shall take my leave as well."

 

"You have not eaten," T'Rea pointed out.

 

"I find … I do not require sustenance at this time either."  He picked up his things, and calmly dumped his tray before leaving the cafeteria.

 

* * *

 

It took T'Rea almost thirty minutes to learn where Ms. Grayson's office was located, then to actually find the small office in the bowels of the embassy itself.  She was turning a corner when she noticed Amanda's office straight ahead, and through the glass in the door she could see Sarek and Amanda together, speaking.  Stopping to observe, T'Rea noticed Amanda shake her head vigorously, and while her words were low, T'Rea could just make them out.

 

"It's my fault, I shouldn't have reacted the way I did."

 

Sarek's low tones answered, but it was too muffled for T'Rea to decipher the words.

 

"I know Vulcans are private, but at this point I thought I'd at least know the basics like you have a wife and kids."

 

T'Rea strained to catch Sarek's response, but was unsuccessful.

 

"Oh..."

 

Again Sarek spoke.

 

"No, don't apologize.  It's just … I'm not really even sure how to explain it.  It makes me feel aggrieved, to some extent, that I have shared personal information about myself, but you still chose to hide everything from me."

 

Sarek's response was quick, and sharp.  'A denial,' T'Rea thought.

 

"I know, I know.  'Hide' was … a poor choice of words."  Amanda turned her back to him, crossing her arms across her chest protectively.

 

T'Rea's breath caught as she saw Sarek reach out to touch Amanda's shoulder, but he hesitated, his hand hovering, then pulled away.  She released her breath.

 

There was a moment of respite, where neither of them moved, and T'Rea took the opportunity to finish her walk to the room, knocking politely on the door as though she'd just arrived.  Sarek quickly backed further away from Amanda, turning away, while Amanda turned to open the door and allow T'Rea to enter.

 

"I do not intend to intrude," T'Rea said, not missing Sarek's quick look upon hearing her voice.

 

"You're not," Amanda assured her.  "How may I be of service, T'sai?"

 

"I wished to, again, request your services for . Sybok."

 

Sarek stepped towards them, beginning to object.

 

"Certainly," Amanda quickly agreed before he could speak.  "And I can also assist you with your vernacular as well."

 

"We do not wish to burden you," Sarek said.

 

"You're not.  I'd be honored."  Amanda and Sarek looked to each other, locking gazes for so long T'Rea had to look away from their intensity.  With a sigh Amanda turned from him, addressing her again.  "What time would you like to meet?"

 

"At your convenience, T'sai."  T'Rea still avoided eye contact with the human.

 

"I can meet you right before lunch at, let's say, 1130 hours, if that's agreeable.  Then I can see Sybok in the afternoons."  T'Rea nodded, and with a murmured excuse concerning being late to a meeting and a hurried promise to see the Vulcan tomorrow, Amanda left her office.

 

T'Rea continued to look at the floor, feeling Sarek's stare on her.  Finally she looked up, meeting his gaze directly.  Was it accusatory?  Or was she projecting?  'Illogical,' she thought dismissively.  'I have done nothing wrong.  I am helping him.'  Confident in her actions, T'Rea's head lifted defiantly, silently daring Sarek to rebuke her.

 

Sarek's lips pressed together in a grim line, and it was he who looked away as he walked passed his former wife and left her there, alone.

 

* * *

 

A week had passed, and T'Rea sat in Amanda's office vaguely listening to the teacher's explanation of a list of randomly selected vernacular expressions she'd downloaded that day.  Admittedly, she was not particularly interested in the subject at hand, but thus far no opportunity to broach personal topics had arisen.  And there was plenty she wished to ask the human.  T'Rea still went to the cafeteria to observe them together, but so far -- since the day T'Rea had joined them -- Amanda had not appeared.  Sarek sat alone, looking for her, but she never came.

 

"'It's no sweat to have the report in to you by Monday'," Amanda read, hardly bothering to look up as she went through the list, "means it is not a problem.  'The politician ran out of gas during the campaign,' means he faltered in his speech, or lost interest or momentum in his topic."  She looked up at T'Rea, and while the Vulcan's eyes remained fixed on her, Amanda had taught here long enough to discern real interest from polite attention.  "Perhaps we should have you attempt to decipher the sentences now?"

 

T'Rea nodded her assent.

 

"Okay," Amanda glanced down at the list for the next sentence.  "'They are really in deep with each other.'"  She looked back at T'Rea and waited while she considered the meaning.

 

"It means … they are deeply involved together, in some manner."

 

"Correct," Amanda praised her, glancing back to the list for another.

 

"Involved in what way?" T'Rea asked.

 

Amanda took a deep breath, thinking.  "Oh … in many sorts of ways.  It could refer to partners of some kind, like business partners who work closely together.  Or it could refer to a friendship, or a romance."

 

"Romance." T'Rea repeated softly.  "Like when a couple stare 'deeply' into each other's eyes?"

 

"I think you're reading too 'deeply' into these expressions," Amanda smiled pleasantly, "but I suppose it fits."

 

"Are you 'in deep' with anyone, Amanda?"

 

Amanda's smile faded.  "Well," she cleared her throat, "it's not a phrase I tend to use myself, but I suppose I have certain relationships that might be described as such."

 

"Are you and Sarek 'in deep' with each other?"

 

Amanda looked away, uncomfortable.  "I … uh."  She shook her head.  "That is a personal question."

 

"I thought humans didn't mind personal questions so much?"

 

"We don't, not as much as Vulcans.  But, in this case, it's … too personal."  Clearing her throat, Amanda picked up the PADD to find another expression.

 

"What is so different about 'this case'?"

 

Amanda blew out an exasperated breath.  "It just is.  Now, please, let's get back to the lesson."

 

"Why do you not attend mid-meal with Sarek anymore?" T'Rea asked innocently, her demeanor curious.

 

"I've been busy--"

 

"He looks for you, everyday."

 

Amanda stared at her desk, her lips pressing into a thin line.  T'Rea waited patiently for her response, watching how the muscles in her jaw clenched and she swallowed several times in quick succession.  Finally she spoke, her words so soft the Vulcan almost had difficulty hearing them.  "The lesson is over for today.  I'd like you to leave."

 

T'Rea hesitated, then quietly nodded her head and left the office.

 

* * *

 

T'Rea sat at her table, watching Sarek slowly consume his meal.  For the tenth time in the 15.8 minutes she had been present he saw him glance at the door, then watched his gaze wander across the room, searching.  This time, however, his gaze met hers, and when he saw her watching he quickly diverted his eyes back to his tray.  T'Rea stood, and taking her tray with her, she purposely walked to his table.

 

"Sarek, I must speak with you."

 

"I would prefer to postpone any discussion until end-meal."

 

T'Rea blinked at the rejection, refusing to permit it to deter her.  "I do not believe this is a discussion appropriate to have in front of Sybok."

 

Sarek hesitated, then looked up at her, silently gesturing for her to take the seat before her.  She did, but once seated she found herself unsure of how to proceed.  She was so certain before she came over.  "I believe Ms. Grayson is angry with me," she stated simply.

 

Sarek flicked an eyebrow upward.  "What makes you think so?"

 

"She told me to leave her office, with no explanation, and before our lesson was due to end."

 

This time Sarek blinked, several times, while he contemplated such behavior on Amanda's part.  "What do you believe caused the offence?"

 

T'Rea looked away uncomfortably.  "I … asked her questions."

 

Sarek's eyes narrowed guardedly.  "I have never found Amanda to be easily offended.  What was the nature of your questions?"

 

T'Rea cleared her throat softly.  "My inquiry concerned … you … and her relationship with you."

 

Sarek's eyes widened in disbelief.  "Why would you do such a thing?  What do you seek to accomplish?"

 

Taking a deep breath, T'Rea locked her gaze with his, her voice strong and sure.  "I am attempting to help you."

 

"Help me how?" Sarek demanded.

 

"Help you in selecting a mate."

 

There, she said it.  T'Rea sat still, head high and defiant, while Sarek sat in stunned silence, the slight shaking of his head his only reaction thus far.  His mouth opened, to speak presumably, but no words came out.  He only stared in open-mouthed incredulity.

 

"It is logical; I was your wife."

 

"This is precisely why you should not be involved in such matters."

 

T'Rea shook her head dismissively.  "No, but I know you in this manner; therefore, who better to select a female who is capable of giving those things you require from a mate?"

 

"No," Sarek said resolutely.  "You owe Ms. Grayson an apology, and you are not to speak of this with her again.  Or anyone else."

 

"But you want her," she pointed out, "and I am not certain, but I think perhaps she wants you as well."

 

Sarek flushed, a green hue momentarily tinting his face.  "What I want it unimportant.  It is only logic that prevails."  He stood to leave, but paused, his expression grim.  "If you wish to help me, show me the methods you mentioned."

 

T'Rea bowed her head, staring at her hands in her lap.  She nodded her assent.  "When?"

 

"The night after next, many of my aides are leaving on a late night excursion to witness an event called a 'grunion run'.  I expect it unlikely we would be disturbed at that time.  Send Sybok with them, and we will do it then."

 

T'Rea never looked up, and as soon as she agreed Sarek left the cafeteria to bury himself in work the rest of the night.  She and Sybok dined alone that evening for the first time since their arrival.

 

* * *

 

Sarek sat on the over-sized pillow placed on the floor, watching as T'Rea made her preparations for the night.  Many pillows had been placed in a large semi-circle; in the middle sat a large meditation pot, its fire lit and embers burning bright.  The lights were dim, and as T'Rea took a seat a few feet away from him she pulled from the pocket of her robes four small pouches.  Sarek watched quietly, leaning back to rest on his elbows as the effects of the saya took over.  T'Rea had given him a rather generous serving at dinner and had insisted he consume the entire amount.

 

T'Rea opened two of the pouches and took a pinch of dried herbs from each which she threw into the fire, causing a faint smoke to fill the room. "This is hla'meth and lhm'ta, they will assist in clearing your mind, and improving your focus."

 

"I am familiar with meditative aides, T'Rea," Sarek said lazily.

 

"You are relaxed, I see," she observed, humor tinting her words.

 

Sarek made a non-committal noise as he continued to watch her.  He was dressed in only his meditation robe, although T'Rea remained in her day-wear.

 

"Begin your meditations," she instructed.

 

Sarek sat up to move into a kneeling position, his feet tucked beneath his buttocks, still facing the firepot.  "Yes, pihlora," he said smartly.

 

She waited a moment, giving him time to tune her out, then she opened the third pouch to throw a generous amount of dried moss into the flame.  Smoke poured out from the pot now, hitting Sarek squarely and filling the room with a thick odor.

 

His face crinkled, and he coughed once as his eyes opened to look for her through the haze.  "What is that?"

 

"It is galendu'un, now return to your meditations."

 

T'Rea's voice was faint, coming from some unseen place beyond the boundary of his vision.  He couldn't know she was still a mere few feet away from him.  "Dream moss?  You wish me to hallucinate through pon farr?"

 

"You are not in pon farr," T'Rea explained, "but you must believe that you are in order for me to see how well you can fight the effects.  This will make you open to suggestions that you ordinarily would be immune to.  Clear your mind so we may begin."  She quietly took a hypo from the fourth pouch and injected herself with a galendu'un antidote, to ensure her mind remained clear throughout the evening.

 

"You think mere suggestion will convince me."  He stopped short, his eyes widening.  "Can you do that?"

 

"I am gifted psionically, you know that.  Plus, I have been training with the Jarok masters for many years now."  T'Rea could hear Sarek shift around on the floor, his unease palpable.  "I would never harm you, tal'kam.  You will only feel the slight brush of my mind seeking yours.  Your thoughts will be your own, I seek only to send thoughts, not to receive.  Now, please, resume your meditations."

 

Sarek obeyed, focusing his attention on the stone beast before him, his thoughts turned inward.  Nearly twenty minutes passed while T'Rea waited patiently, and when she saw his breathing slow, and his face finally relaxed she rose from her seat and began to slowly pace the perimeter of the pillows.  Her voice was soft and slow, drawing Sarek into her words without pulling him from his meditative trance.  She allowed her mind to reach out and touch his, gently pushing past his shields to stimulate those parts of the mind involved with autonomic response, and to cause Sarek to feel some of the symptoms of pon farr.  'Flames,' she thought, sending him images of his body immersed in heat, of the fire pit at their koonut-kali'fee, the beat of the drums pounding in the background … like that of the Vulcan pulse.

 

"Watch the fire, Sarek.  See the flames dance?  See them burn?"

 

Sarek grunted softly.

 

"They burn you too.  The flames lick your flesh, they scorch your heart, they inflame your mind.  Your blood burns."

 

She saw him tense, his brow wrinkled in concentration.  "You feel it.  The ancient drives pull at you.  The need to mate is upon you.  You seek she who can soothe the flames."

 

"T'Rea," Sarek called out pleadingly.

 

T'Rea swallowed against the emotion that swelled within her.  "No," she said firmly.  "There is no T'Rea.  There is no one to see you through this."

 

A look of despair crossed his face, and she watched as Sarek's breathing became increasingly erratic, his panting audible.  He trembled as he kneeled before the fire pot.

 

"Focus, Sarek," she snapped, ensuring she got through to him.  "Control your breathing."

 

Sarek straightened, his breathing calming, but his trembling refused to cease.  "I … need."

 

'This is nothing compared to the real thing, and he is unable to control for even a moment.'  T'Rea sighed, permitting him some time to attempt to compensate for his pseudo-pon farr.  She watched him lose the battle, his eyes tightly shut, but his focus lost in his imaginary madness.  His breathing became erratic again, and he began to pull at his robe uncomfortably.

 

"I … need," he begged.

 

T'Rea kneeled beside him.  "Who, Sarek?  Who do you need?  You must overcome this.  Fight the madness, find your center.  Control your breathing!  There is no one for you."

 

"Yes," he hissed.  "A--"  He stopped, his panting lessening although his breathing remained shallow.

 

"A what?" T'Rea asked, her mind searching for what he might mean.  "A surrogate?  A bondmate?  A…"  Her mind raced through the possibilities. "Amanda?" she asked, his sharp intake of breath all the answer she needed.

 

"You want Amanda as bondmate?"

 

Sarek nodded vigorously, then just as fast his began shaking his head.  "No, I can not.  Must not."  T'Rea didn't miss how his hand had disappeared beneath the edge of his robe to stroke himself in an attempt to ease his discomfort.  "I will ... control.  I must!"

 

"Why?  Why must you control?  Why not Amanda, if it is she you want?  Did she refuse you?"

 

Sarek shook his head.

 

"Does she have a bondmate?"

 

Again he shook his head.  T'Rea sat back, watching the pain he unknowingly expressed.  His breathing was fast, as was his fist beneath his robes.  'How could this possibly be preferable to taking a mate?'  She closed her eyes in concentration, reaching further out into the recesses of Sarek's mind to search for any clues … his thoughts, or maybe his feelings.  Suddenly she found it.  Fear.

 

"You are afraid, Sarek.  Afraid of…"  She paused to concentrate some more, trying to read his mind clearer.  "…hurting her.  Perhaps of … disgusting her with your desires."

 

He nodded miserably, his eyes finally opening, pupils dilated in his drug-enhanced state, as he looked at her.

 

T'Rea shook her head dismissively.  "Fear is an obstacle; a thing that must be exposed and reckoned with, not hidden under centuries of tradition and repression."  She inched closer to him, raising her hands in preparation of a mind meld.  "Share it with me, all of it Sarek, and gain strength from it.  Release your pain and experience your fulfillment."

 

When he didn't object, T'Rea leaned closer still, placing her fingers against his PSI points and initiated the meld.  Sarek leaned into her, one hand coming up to stroke her nose and cheek, to which she turned away.  She focused on the meld, trying to navigate through Sarek's unusually chaotic mind.  "I have watched you with her," T'Rea admitted, attempting to get Sarek to focus on the subject at hand.  "I see the way you look at her, so intense.  You have never looked at another that way."

 

Sarek stilled immediately, his mind fully intertwining with hers.

 

"You like … her smell.  And her laugh.  The way she teases you in private."

 

Sarek slowly nodded, lost in the thoughts the meld was bringing forth for them both to share.  T'Rea's image blurred before him and in its place Amanda appeared, soft and alluring.  His desires at last overcoming him, he grabbed T'Rea's arms, pushing her forcefully back against the pillows.

 

T'Rea cried out, tears of pain springing unbidden from the pain his tight grip induced.  "No," she cried out, but her pain strangled her words.  Sarek either didn't hear her, or didn't heed.  Either way, he lay atop of her, nuzzling his face against her neck and prying impatiently at her clothing.  'He has gained weight,' T'Rea couldn't help but notice as she fought for air beneath his bulk.  She got her hands between them and gave a shove; but while it wasn't nearly enough to dislodge him, Sarek did shift his weight to the side, at least permitting her to take a full breath.  His hands found their way inside her tunic, and T'Rea lay there, gasping for air, and unable to keep herself fully detached from his ministrations.  His erection pressed hard against her.  Her breasts reciprocated in kind against his palMs. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the reasons why giving in would be wrong.

 

"Amanda," Sarek whispered passionately against her ear, giving T'Rea all the reason she needed.

 

"No, Sarek.  Not Amanda."  When he didn't seem to hear her she reached up to slap him across the face.  "Not Amanda, T'Rea," she yelled at him, relieved to see some sign of comprehension.

 

"T'Rea."  Sarek looked at her, appearing surprised to find her there.  "Yes, of course.  T'Rea."  Sarek leaned into her again, his hands continuing their quest to divest her of her clothing.  "Parted from me and never parted."  He buried his face between her breasts.

 

"No," T'Rea intoned, her voice cracking.  "We are parted, Sarek.  It is time for you to take another."

 

He shook his head against her.  "No, we can do this.  You have done it before."  He moved back to her face, nuzzling her affectionately.  "We know each other.  I have more control this time; you shall not be hurt."

 

That was true.  He was not really in pon farr, and would not endure plak tow.  She could ease his discomfort; soothe his flames, this one last time.  But what about next time, when it was real?  When his life was in jeopardy and he neither had a mate who could survive his Time nor enough control to master it himself.  'I must be logical', she thought bitterly.  "No, Sarek." she insisted.

 

"I need you!" he hissed angrily.  "I burn--"

 

"No, it is in your mind.  You are in a galendu'un-induced hallucination.  You are not in pon farr.  You do not burn; you will not die."

 

Sarek shook his head in denial.

 

"You are an unbonded male, with sufficient time before your next pon farr to select a mate, this time one of your own choosing."

 

Sarek lifted his head, glaring at her.  "You think that is a position to be coveted?  I am responsible for my own choice; I must find someone, a stranger, and put my life in her hands.  Hope that she is of the character I believe her to be, hope that she is willing, and able to serve me.  If I err, I die.  I do not want this choice.  You are the one selected for me.  I trust in the judgment of my elders."  He moved against her again, satisfied with his arguments.

 

T'Rea swallowed hard.  "The elders could not predict my condition. Akshem'tehnstoraya is undetectable before puberty, and incurable.  I am not fit to be a bondmate."

 

"Illogical," Sarek murmured against her.  "You served me.  You bore Sybok.  Can you deny these facts?"

 

"No, but--"

 

"Then serve me now, T'Rea.  I beg of you!"  He grabbed her hand, guiding it towards his member, aching for her touch.

 

She hastily pulled away, ignoring the pain.  "Sarek, I am dying!"

 

He stopped, staring at her incredulously.  T'Rea was pleased to note his eyes seemed a bit clearer.  Sarek rolled off her, flopping onto his back in desolation.  T'Rea sat up, straightening her clothing.

 

"I will die as well," Sarek stated resolutely.

 

"No.  You will select a mate.  If not Amanda, then someone else."

 

At the mention of the Terran's name, Sarek again groaned in despair, turning on his side away from T'Rea.  "She is not here," he spat out.  "She is on a beach, watching fish breed."  He sighed forlornly.  "I was supposed to go with her."

 

T'Rea raised an eyebrow at his histrionic display.  'This is what results from excessive repression of emotion.  Vulcans who fall apart from a little dream moss in their system.'  She got up to retrieve her hypo pouch, preparing to end Sarek's misery for the night, when the chime to his suite rang.  Not wanting anyone to see Sarek in his current state, T'Rea quickly exited the living area, closing the drapes that separated it from the foyer, and answered the door.

 

Surprise mirrored the faces of both women when the door opened.

 

"T'Rea!" Amanda exclaimed, not expecting to find Sarek's ex-wife in his room at four thirty in the morning.

 

"I thought you were at the beach?"

 

"I was; we just got back.  Sybok went straight to his room," Amanda quickly explained.

 

'He will be looking for me,' T'Rea automatically thought.

 

"I … I had taped the run.  For Sarek."  Amanda numbly held up the disc.  "I shouldn't have come so early.  Forgive me."  She turned to go.

 

"Amanda?!"

 

She paused upon hearing Sarek's voice, some strange quality to it causing some inner alarm to go off, which triggered a prickling chill to surge up her spine.  She looked questioningly at T'Rea.

 

"I can give it to him, if you wish."  T'Rea quickly reached out to take the disc from her hand.

 

Amanda didn't notice as she stepped closer, invading the Vulcan's personal space in her attempt to peek behind the woman.  "Sarek?" she called out.

 

"Amanda," he moaned thickly.

 

Amanda's eyes widened in alarm as she shot another glance at T'Rea.

 

"He is … not himself, at the moment.  It would be best if you returned tomorrow."

 

"Is he ill?"

 

"No--" T'Rea began, but Amanda didn't stay long enough to listen, brushing forcibly past her to access Sarek's suite.  T'Rea automatically pressed her hand against her right shoulder, which now ached from where the Terran had bumped against her in her haste to enter the room.  Releasing a heavy sigh, T'Rea closed the door behind them.

 

"Sarek?" Amanda pushed the drapes aside and entered the living area.  She stopped immediately, her vision compromised in the dark, smoky interior.  She crinkled her nose, making a vain attempt to wave the smoke away from her.  It stunk.  "Sarek, are you okay?" she asked, seeing him sprawled on some pillows in the center of the room.

 

He raised his head, staring at her dumbfounded.  He held his hand out, beckoning to her, gasping when the vision drew closer.

 

Amanda kneeled beside him, leaning over him worriedly.  "What is this stuff?" she asked, fighting off what promised to be one whopper of a headache if she didn't leave this room soon.

 

T'Rea came in, opening the drapes and vents to clear the air.  "He is under the effects of galendu'un, a moss found on Vulcan.  It is collected, dried, and burned; the fumes produce hallucinogenic effects."

 

"You got him high!?"  Amanda sat back on her rump, relieved the headache seemed to be dissipating, but suddenly feeling rather weary herself.  She hardly noticed how Sarek's hands gently roamed up her arm and caressed her face.

 

"Amazing.  It is so real; I could never have imagined," he murmured, turning to T'Rea who stood by the doorway.  "If this works, I shall never question your ways again, t'hy'la."  He turned back to Amanda, cupped his hands behind her head, tipping her face up towards him.

 

"Sarek," T'Rea called out warningly, concerned where this was going.

 

Amanda stared up at him drowsily, dizzy from the fumes that had yet to empty from the room, her own vision swimming slightly before her.  She erupted into a fit of giggles, the cause of which was completely unknown even to her, which made her laugh even harder, earning her an endearing smile from Sarek.  Suddenly his smile vanished, and Amanda watched helplessly, clueless, as his face loomed larger and larger before her eyes, and finally his lips pressed against hers.

 

With a savage growl Sarek pushed Amanda back against the pillows, covering her body with his and letting his lust rein free.  Amanda laughed again, oblivious to ferocity of his passions.

 

"Sarek, no," T'Rea yelled, running to them to grab Sarek's shoulder, attempting to pull him from Amanda.  'All we need is a Terran attacked in the ambassador's suite,' she thought morosely.  Sarek shrugged off her grip, undeterred.  "Kroy'kah!" she shouted, the ancient command impossible for any Vulcan to refuse.

 

Sarek stopped; bracing himself over Amanda, his head up, eyes squeezed shut.  He trembled in his effort to obey her orders, and refuse his own.

 

Amanda gazed up at him in wonderment.  There was no mirth in her expression now.  Something was wrong here -- she had enough sense left to know thatt -- but what?  She couldn't think; everything around her seemed too … large, too bright, and too loud.

 

"Do not be afraid," T'Rea attempted to comfort her as she ran for the antidote hypo.

 

'Afraid?' Amanda thought dully.  She slowed reached out, faintly touching Sarek's lips, then his cheek.  She grazed her fingertips along the opening of his robe, across his chest.  He moaned, his trembling increasing tenfold, eliciting a soft gasp from Amanda.  'No, not afraid.'

 

Sarek opened his eyes, looking down at her, their gazes locked.  He didn't flinch as T'Rea injected the hypo into his neck.  She stood beside them, waiting for the drug to work, for his mind to clear.  She only hoped the human could understand.  She did try to send her away.

 

T'Rea startled when Amanda suddenly reached up to wrap her arm around Sarek's neck, dragging him down to her.  Sarek didn't object and seemed to relish her touch as Amanda wrapped herself around him, kissing him deeply.  T'Rea slowly backed away, her gaze transfixed on them, only vaguely aware when she had backed into the wall.  Low moans filled the room, intimate murmurs so mixed she could not decipher which came from whom.  Numbly T'Rea turned to leave, pushing aside her own pain as she locked the door behind her.

 

* * *

 

T'Rea opened her eyes with a sigh, sliding back off her knees to sit on the floor completely.  Her meditations were … less than satisfying tonight.  Her feelings were too complicated.  She had known Sarek since they were young children, been friends with him.  They both were raised with the knowledge that when the time came, when they were adults, that they would marry and raise a family.  Together.  And they did, or at least, that's what they intended to do.  But then, as T'Rea grew older they began to realize she had a tendency to injure herself easily.  Her parents, initially, attributed it to her adventurous nature -- generally in the company of Sarek and other various friends.  The injuries were never serious, an occasional broken metatarsal, or a fractured metacarpal.  As the years passed, the injuries were less common as T'Rea's interests turned to more sedate topics.

 

Then Sarek's pon farr came.  They met at the appointed place and were married in the elaborate but quick ceremony that had joined bondmates for centuries past.  Then their families left them on the lands of Sarek's ancestors, and they went to the caverns to consummate their marriage, and -- gods willing -- create their progeny.  The fires burned hot in both of them, the final bonding filling T'Rea with much of the passion that coursed through Sarek's blood.  They went to each other willingly, eager to sooth the flames.  She couldn't say it was anything she was particularly looking forward to, but it was her duty -- one she wouldn't trust to any other as Sarek's very life was at stake.  But while her mind was willing to meet Sarek's fervor, her body could not.  A full day had passed in mindless copulation, not without pleasure, she had to admit.  But then a miscalculated turn of her leg, and a grip too tight in the throws of passion, caused her femur to snap.  She screamed out, the pain shocking her out of her lustful craze.  Sarek didn't stop, not immediately, but as soon as that cycle was completed, relieving some of his need, he realized the situation and called for help.  Fortunately, the shock -- and probably the guilt -- combined with the release he'd had thus far seemed enough to resolve the pon farr.

 

Finally, they discovered it.  A genetic disorder, called Akshem'tehnstoraya, was slowly causing her body to slowly eat away at itself.  There is no way to reverse it, and no cure to halt the effects.  The chemical changes caused by puberty, or pregnancy, accelerate the disease.  Her time was limited, and while hormonal therapies could, occasionally, extend the lifespan, her time was greatly limited.  She would not survive Sarek's next pon farr.  She was unfit to be a bondmate.  So, they were divorced.

 

She moved to the Jarok monastery, to pursue her predilection for her religion.  Shortly thereafter, she discovered she was with child.  They told her she could not carry to term, that she would not survive the birth, and it was unlikely her child would either.  They wanted to remove the fetus and complete its gestation in their laboratories.  She refused.  No, it was not logical.  It was a sign.  Her gods gifted her this child, the only one she would ever have, for a purpose.  She would not turn that responsibility over to another for even a second.  Sybok survived, as did she.  She suffered a broken pelvis and dislocated hip during delivery, but these healed over time.  And they'd been together ever since.  Sarek never once fought her decisions.  She knew he often disapproved of her methods and beliefs, but no doubt he felt this child an appropriate penance for what she had endured at his hands.  Sarek was honorable.

 

And so was she.  And that was why, even though she was no longer his wife, she considered herself responsible for seeing him through pon farr.  She could not do it herself, but she could, and would, see that a suitable replacement was found.  Besides, she couldn't know how much longer she would live, and it would bring her peace to know a woman she approved of would assist Sarek in caring for their son.  So.why this internal unrest?

 

Amanda Grayson had many admirable qualities.  She was certainly surprised by Sarek's interest in her, but she was actually pleased by the notion, since it would mean there was someone to balance out Sarek's Surakian stringency.  So, Sarek wanted her, and she seemed to share his interest.  'Why am I not relieved?' T'Rea asked herself.  'Well, I cannot be certain they are … compatible, can I?  If the human is unable to handle Sarek's needs than she is of no more use to him than I am.'  There was silence as her thoughts turned inward.  'I could check on them.' She thought to herself, wondering why this thought caused a sting of jealousy when she pondered the idea that they could be doing fine.  She examined her motives.  She did want to find a wife for Sarek, didn't she?  She nodded, as if someone had asked her.  But reason and feelings were not always of the same opinion.  She had been trained to fill a specific role for that specific man for most of her life.  Perhaps it will not be as easy to relinquish that role as she had thought.  Taking a deep breath, to slow down her pulse and strengthened her resolve, T'Rea got up and headed towards Sarek's suite.

 

She quietly opened the door, poking her head in just enough to have a listen.  It'd been about four hours since she left this room, and now there was no noise to discern.  She walked in, closing the door behind her and softly made her way to the doorway separating the foyer from his living space.  The antidote certainly had taken effect hours ago.  Perhaps he sent her away once he came to?  Perhaps the dream moss made her ill, and they were at the infirmary now?

 

She pushed the drapes to the side and stepped through.  The room was still dark, the firepot giving off little light as its embers slowly burned out.  The smoke was gone, the ventilation system having effectively pulled it from the room after she left.  T'Rea's keen night vision adjusted accordingly, and she was able to see quite clearly across the room.  But she didn't need to, because right in the center, couched on the pillows and both partially covered in his mediation robe, was her former husband lying beside the Terran, his arms holding her tightly against him while he curled his body around hers.  The human muttered something unintelligible and fidgeted in her sleep, causing Sarek to murmur reassuring nothings in her ear, his arms tightening even more while he nuzzled his face against her hair.

 

T'Rea turned and left, determined to meditate this night, and put an end to one chapter of her life.

 

* * *

 

Sarek woke to the incessant beeping of his comm unit signaling an incoming message.  He automatically reached out to activate the receiver, only to find nothing beneath his hand but air.  Opening his eyes, he was momentarily surprised to find himself sprawled on his floor, but the memories of the past night swiftly returned, and as his time sense kicked in he quickly rose to answer the call, pulling his robe on.

 

"Sarek here," he croaked, his voice dry.  He cleared his throat softly.

 

Soran hesitated upon seeing Sarek's unkempt appearance.  "Forgive the intrusion, Sarek.  T'Rea informed me that you were unwell this day; however, we are scheduled to meet with the Tellarite emissary in .58 hours, and he is unwilling to delay the meeting."

 

Sarek nodded.  "No matter.  Tell him I will be there at the appointed time."

 

Soran raised an eyebrow, giving Sarek a thorough once over.  "Are you certain?"

 

Sarek's chin lifted indignantly.  "Do not be concerned, old friend, I have ample time to prepare myself.  I shall represent us appropriately."

 

"Of course," Soran bowed politely, not entirely successful at keeping the doubt from his visage.  "If you require anything of me, I shall be in the office."

 

Sarek nodded and cut the connection.  He turned, scanning the disheveled room.  Where was she?  He listened, but could hear no sounds from within his quarters.  He checked the office, and his bedroom, but to no avail.  Finally, he moved to his lavatory door, pressing his ear to the door to listen, but couldn't detected the presence of anyone but him.  "Amanda?" he asked, pressing the button to slide the doors apart, and found them to be unlocked.  And the bathroom was empty.  "The dream moss," he murmured.  Could that really have all been a hallucination?  It had seemed so real.  He could clearly recall her touch, her smell … her taste.  However, all evidence indicated the Terran had not been in his rooMs. With an subconscious sigh, Sarek entered his washroom and turned on the shower.  He had a meeting to prepare for.

 

Sarek emerged from his bedroom in a freshly laundered outfit.  With plenty of time before he was due to meet the Tellarite, he began picking up his living room.  He put the firepot back on its pedestal, and began moving the pillows to their proper places.  He lifted the large ones, which belonged in his bedroom, when he heard something fall to the floor.  Looking, he noticed an embassy pass by his feet on a broken chain.  A numbness spread over him as he slowly bent to retrieve the pass, already knowing what he'd find on the other side.  Sure enough, when he turned the plastic card over there was the face of the embassy's Standard teacher, her smile looking bright and innocent.  He tucked the pass into the pocket of his robe to drop at the front desk on his way to the meeting.  He needed to speak with the Tellarite first, but afterwards, he needed to find his former wife.  They had much to discuss.

 

* * *

 

"Come on, Stav.  You know who I am!"  Amanda leaned both elbows on the counter, resting her head between her hands.  She had just returned after going home only long enough to shower and change, and had a killer headache.  Losing her embassy pass somewhere along the way wasn't helping matters.

 

"I know who you appear to be," Stav said calmly, tapping away at his computer consol.

 

Amanda looked up, agape.  "Are you kidding me?!"

 

"I do not kid," he intoned, still tapping at his keyboard.  "It is not my intention to distress you, Ms. Grayson; however, protocol must be observed."

 

"I have a class that starts in one minute.  You're making me late!  Can't you just call someone to confirm it's me?"

 

Stav stopped typing to look at her, his hands folded neatly in front of him.  "I am not the one who lost my pass."

 

Even though his expression and tone didn't change much, Amanda had been around Vulcans long enough to know when she was pissing one off.  She took a deep breath to regain her own control, bowed her head low to him.  "I know, I apologize.  I simply meant.  Could we please do whatever is necessary to get me into the embassy as quickly as possible?"

 

"Certainly," he agreed, resuming his typing.  "I have already paged a member of security to come and verify your bio-scan, then a new pass will be issued to you."

 

"Yeah, okay," she murmured, checking her watch again and leaning on the counter for support.  Suddenly the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and she straightened, looking at Stav, who was also standing at attention.  As she stood there, frozen, an arm reached from behind her to place something near her on the counter.  Her embassy pass.

 

"I believe this will expedite matters."

 

The deep voice echoed through her, bringing chills up her spine as she recalled that same voice whispering intimately into her ear last night.  She felt the blush crawl across her face, and damned her inability to do anything about it.  Still he stood right behind her.

 

"See that Ms. Grayson receives a new chain."

 

"Certainly, Ambassador."  Stav bowed graciously, honored to receive one of the ambassador's rare visits to the front reception area.

 

"Never mind, I'll take care of it later."  Amanda grabbed the pass and quickly scooted away from the desk, never looking back.  She didn't see the ambassador's concerned expression, or the bewildered way Stav looked at them both.

 

* * *

 

Almost five hours later, Sarek nodded politely to the Tellarite's parting remarks as he walked the man towards the conference room's door.  With a promise that his aides would contact them to finalize the agreement, Sarek stood in the doorway long enough for the emissary's girth to disappear around the corner, then he turned to Soran.

 

"A satisfactory outcome," Soran commented as he returned to the table to collect his PADDs.

 

"Indeed," Sarek agreed curtly.  "Is there anything more?"

 

Soran paused to look up at his friend.  Such a tone was unusual for Sarek, but perhaps he was still unwell.  "There is always more," he teased gently, "but nothing pressing."

 

Sarek nodded, missing the glint in his friend's eyes.  "In that case, I have matters to attend to."  He left the room, a confused Soran watching him go.

 

* * *

 

Sarek stood in his office, his fists clenched while he stared out the window at the street below, waiting.  He had summoned T'Rea and Amanda an hour ago, and in exactly 24 seconds, they would be late.  The intercom chimed, and his assistant notified him of T'Rea's arrival.  Sarek bade her entrance, then he resumed his vigilance of the view below him.  He heard T'Rea's steps as she entered the room and immediately took one of the seats before his desk.  He ignored her presence, for now, and she did not disturb his thoughts.  Allowing an additional ten minutes for imprecise Terran punctuality, Sarek strode to his desk to activate his comm unit.  After getting no answer at Amanda's office, Sarek tried the education department's receptionist.

 

The young Vulcan manning the desk bowed respectfully upon seeing Sarek's face on his comm unit.  "Was Ms. Grayson not informed that I required a meeting with her 10.68 minutes ago?" he asked bluntly.

 

"Of course, S'haile.  I informed her myself."  His tone rose slightly at the implication he might be neglectful of his duties.

 

Sarek glanced up at T'Rea, who raised an inquisitive brow at the conversation, but remained silent.  He looked back at the receptionist. "What is Ms. Grayson's present location?"

 

"Unknown, Ambassador." He began earnestly tapping at his consol.  "Her schedule is cleared for the remainder of the day." he said as he continued to access the system.  His brow suddenly rose in surprise.  "Ms. Grayson signed out of the embassy approximately 20.04 minutes ago."  He glanced at Sarek, not missing the way the muscle along his jaw line flexed repeatedly. He quickly looked away.

 

"You will inform me immediately upon her return," Sarek ordered, cutting the connection at the younger man's nod.  He again looked to his ex-wife, who returned his stare.

 

"You shall cease interfering in my matters," he said in Vulcan.

 

T'Rea recoiled.  "Explain."

 

"Explain?  Is it not obvious?  You were there; you saw."

 

And she would never forget.  "I saw no interference, Sarek.  You requested my assistance."

 

"I requested that you show me ways to overcome the Fires.  I also distinctly requested that you not speak to her of this again.  You have done neither."  He moved back to the window, putting his back to her.

 

"I have done all you asked of me--"

 

"What you have done," Sarek turned back around, "is to place me in a precarious position politically.  What you have done will cause pain to that woman, and will forever affect my relationship with a member of this embassy's workforce.  What you have done," he stalked slowly in her direction, putting himself directly over her, "is to make my situation much worse than it was before your arrival."

 

T'Rea shrank back against her chair.  Sarek's tone and expression remained completely passive to anyone who didn't know him well, but to her he looked thunderous.  She considered his words, and frantically tried to recall what offense she had committed to warrant this tirade.  "I … do not understand," she murmured.

 

Sarek could tell she was truly baffled, but this only added to his own confusion.  He shook his head in short, quick motions.  "Why did you bring her there?"

 

"I--" T'Rea's eyes widened, and she straightened in her seat indignantly. "I had no part in her presence last night.  Her arrival was entirely unexpected, and I did attempt to make her leave.  She refused when you called to her."

 

Now Sarek was off guard.  He turned away again, taking only a few steps before turning back.  "I called her..." he prompted.

 

"Indeed.  The situation was under control until she heard you call out to her.  She apparently thought you ill, or injured, and would not be refused admittance to your rooMs. Once there … you seemed most reluctant to allow her to leave."

 

"What do you mean?" he snapped, his gut tightening fearfully.  He closed his eyes, trying to remember with some clarity, but through the haze only one word echoed in the recesses of his mind.' Kroy'kah!'

 

He needed to sit down.  Collapsing heavily in his chair, Sarek considered the evidence so far.  The broken chain … her avoidance of him … the command to stop.  "Are you saying I kept her there by force?" he croaked, his throat suddenly parched.

 

T'Rea looked down, where her hands were clasped tightly together in her lap.

 

"T'Rea!" Sarek commanded.

 

"No." She looked back at him, her gaze wavering.  "I do not believe so."  Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully.  "At first, perhaps." she shook her head resolutely, "but when I left, she seemed very much to be an active participant."

 

Sarek released the breath he hadn't known he held.  He forced his stomach to relax, repressing the emotions that threatened him.  "Then it was all happenstance," he murmured quietly.

 

T'Rea gave a brief nod.  "Two unrelated events sharing temporal time and space."

 

"Most unfortunate," he answered.

 

T'Rea shrugged slightly.  "What's done is done.  It is no doubt for the best, you would not have survived your Time alone; last night was merely a simulation and yet you were failing spectacularly.  Now you have the mate you want and can be assured she is compatible."  T'Rea slowly rose from the chair, unable to keep her discomfort completely concealed.

 

"No," he stated slowly, firmly.  "It is as you said; last night was nothing compared to the reality, and her behavior thus far leads me to think she was not fond of the experience."

 

"She can not refuse you now--"

 

"She can," he stressed.  "She is not Vulcan; you err when you expect her to conform to our ways."  He did not miss the way she limped through her first few steps before her pace stabilized.  "T'Rea."

 

She paused, looking back at him.

 

"There is one thing I do remember quite clearly from last night.  You told me you were dying.  Why?"

 

"It is the truth," she stated simply.

 

"When you first arrived, and we sat in the gardens, you told me your condition was unchanged."  He allowed the accusation to hover between them.

 

She nodded.  "My condition is the same, as is my prognosis.  Everything is proceeding exactly as expected.  The fact remains that my time is quite limited."

 

"How limited?" he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

 

T'Rea could see the pain in his eyes, and thought how closely it mirrored their son's.  "Soon."  She turned away, her hand just grasping the doorknob when he called to her again.

 

"This is done," he said, knowing she'd understand the reference to his single status.  "No more, I beg of you."

 

She looked his way, not bothering to hide her hurt.  "What will you do?"

 

"What I must," he vowed, his lips pressing together determinedly, "for Sybok."

 

* * *

 

Amanda praised Sybok's latest achievements in Standard, and together they began cleaning up after the lesson.  It had been two days since she skipped out on Sarek's "meeting", and she was surprised to receive nothing in the way of discipline as a result.  In fact, Sarek had made no attempt to contact her in any manner.  Which was a good thing … wasn't it?

 

"I will be leaving soon," Sybok said conversationally, returning the supplies to their appropriate place.

 

"You will?" Amanda parroted.  "I'm sorry to hear that.  I've enjoyed our lessons together, Sybok."

 

"Yeah," he agreed in child-like fashion.

 

She smiled, her attention distracted by the chime of her comm unit.  "I'll be just a moment," she explained to the boy as she answered the call.  "Dad!"  She picked up the hand receiver and turned her back to him so they could speak in private, even though she realized he would still hear her side of the conversation.  The call was casual, and throughout it, she could still hear Sybok moving in the background, so she attempted to keep their talk short.  "I have a student right now, but I'll call you back as soon as I'm through with work, okay?"  She nodded as he made some reply unheard to the rest of the room.  "I love you too.  Bye-bye."  She hung up the receiver.  "Almost done?" she asked as she turned to help the clean-up effort.  Sybok was already gone; however, his mother stood just inside the room, her expression cold.  "T'Rea," Amanda greeted carefully, her eyes traveling depreciatively over the other woman's form.

 

"I sent Sybok away," she said furtively.  She knew Sarek considered the matter closed, but she had to know, had to understand the human's actions.  How can one's behaviors indicate one thing, but their words another?  She closed the office door behind her.

 

"I'm afraid I don't have time to give you a lesson today," Amanda coolly informed her, leaning over her desk to grab her PADD.  She casually opened up her appointment file.  "Tomorrow, perhaps."

 

"Why do you do this?" she demanded.

 

"What--"

 

"He made the ancient claim; you permitted it.  If there was another, you should have said so.  You should have stayed away."

 

A chill traveled up Amanda's spine.  "I will not have this discussion with you.  If we have no business to discuss, I'd like you to please leave."

 

T'Rea shook her head, struggling to keep her emotions in check.  "Does he mean so little to you that you would risk his life this way?"

 

Amanda laughed derisively.  "That's a tad dramatic, don't you think?"  She tossed her PADD back on the desk.

 

"Now he must find another."

 

"Well, if he's so damn wonderful, why aren't you still married to him?" Amanda yelled, reaching her boiling point.

 

T'Rea paused, taken aback by the abrupt change in behavior.  "He wants you," she stated.

 

Amanda smiled humorlessly.  "Oh yeah?  Then why were you with him?"

 

T'Rea cleared her throat.  "I can explain--"

 

"I don't want to hear it.  Now get out, or I'll call security."  They were at a stand-off -- Amanda with her arms crossed, her foot tapping restlessly on the floor, and T'Rea frozen in place, her face impassive as she stared at the human.  Neither saw the face of the receptionist as he peeked through the window in the office door, his keen Vulcan hearing picking up Amanda's angry shouts from down the hall.

 

"Give me just a moment of your time--"

 

"Forget it!"  Amanda sprung into action, reaching to activate the comm unit.  She never heard T'Rea move, but suddenly the Vulcan's hand was gripping her wrist, hard, and she spun the human to face her.

 

Both woman gasped aloud -- Amanda out of shock, and T'Rea from the intensity of the emotion emitting from the human.  Anger, shame, jealousy.  and. something else.  affection?  For Sarek?  No, it was more than affection.  She could feel it clearly this time, no doubt due to the human's disturbed state.  "You must listen to me!" T'Rea insisted, her determination renewed.  She was surprised when Amanda suddenly wretched her hand out of her grasp.

 

Having seen enough, the receptionist returned to his desk to call security himself.

 

* * *

 

Sarek sat at his desk, the dossiers of five potential bondmates spread out before him.  He stared at each one, rereading the accompanying information under each picture before moving on to the next one.  He'd been doing this for 2.4 hours now, and was no closer to a decision.  Each woman seemed the same to him, each equally qualified, equally willing, and equally unknown to him.  He had no reason to choose one over the other.  He was relieved when Soran entered the office.

 

Soran noticed the articles on Sarek's desk.  "I should give you privacy--"

 

"No, old friend, please stay.  Privacy has done nothing for me thus far."

 

Soran moved to stand beside Sarek, taking a moment to review the dossiers himself.  "An adequate selection," he commented.

 

Sarek gave a non-committal grunt, then suddenly his expression brightened.  "Which would you choose?" he asked, forcing his tone to sound casual.

 

Soran looked sideways at his friend.  "No, I will not make this decision for you."  He moved around to take one of the seats in front of the desk. "Besides, I am already deep in negotiations for my son's future bondmate.  One is more than enough for me to handle."

 

"Then you have experience," Sarek wheedled.

 

"And this will be good practice for when you search for Sybok's bondmate soon," Soran returned, his brow lifting triumphantly.  His personal communicator -- as Soran was never unreachable -- chimed and he inserted his ear piece to quietly take the call and allow Sarek more time to study the women on his desk.  For several minutes, the exchange went unnoticed by the ambassador.

 

"Indeed?" Soran said, his tone surprised enough to alert Sarek that something unexpected had occurred.  "No."  Soran looked up to catch Sarek's gaze while he continued his conversation.  "Send them to the ambassador's office immediately."  He closed the connection and removed the earpiece.

 

"Is there something amiss?" Sarek asked, curious.

 

"There has been an altercation within the embassy."

 

"Indeed," Sarek nodded sagely.  Altercations were uncommon within the embassy walls, but they did occur from time to time.  It is expected, whenever non-Vulcans were employed.  "You are having them sent here?"

 

"I … thought it was what you would prefer."  There was a soft knock on the door, and Soran got up to answer it.  He gestured for the unseen guests to some in.

 

Sarek gathered his dossiers and turned them over so no one could see, then prepared himself to deal with whatever illogical argument had caused the clash.  His face dropped, uncontrolled, when it was Amanda and T'Rea who paraded before him, their eyes lowered and demeanors humble.  "What is this?" he demanded.

 

Soran moved to stand to the side of the room, unseen and unheard as Sarek dealt with his charges.

 

"T'Rea?" Sarek prompted when neither of the women spoke up.  Amanda glanced at them sharply, refusing to acknowledge the twinge of resentment that fluttered in her gut that he'd seek her side first.

 

"We were having a discussion," she explained.

 

Sarek didn't miss the way T'Rea was unconsciously rubbing one of her hands, or the way Amanda held onto her wrist, cradling it against her body.  He rose from his chair and moved around the desk to stand before them.  "And that?"  Sarek pointed to T'Rea's hands.

 

T'Rea had no response she wished to give, so she lowered her eyes back to the floor.  Amanda watched her, only now noticing she favored the appendage.  Could she have hurt her as well?  That's not possible.  Thinking back, Amanda began recalling some comments Sybok had made during their time together regarding his mother "resting" and being "uninterested" in participating in the activities the others went on.  'Maybe she's ill,' thought Amanda, 'or perhaps it was some kind of accident, and she's here to recuperate.'

 

She glanced at the woman beside her, suddenly feeling petty at the less than generous feeling she'd been having towards her.  Kaiidth, she told herself. 'What is, is; and none of us can control what we feel.'  She laughed silently as she thought of the Vulcan's reactions if she were to say that aloud, but it was true.  They may have some control over how they outwardly express those feelings, but they were just as powerless to stop them as humans.  She glanced at Sarek.  "She's right," she spoke up.  "We were just having a discussion.  The secretary over-reacted."

 

Sarek clasped his hands behind his back, studying the women before him.  It had obviously been more than a discussion, but now they were collaborating to keep the truth hidden between them.  Why?

 

Sarek's comm unit chimed, and he was determined to ignore it until his own receptionist intercomed that the call was from Skon, his father.  Skon was not one to be ignored.  With a warning that they should both remain silent, Sarek went back to his desk to take the call.

 

Sarek sat, taking a deep breath to center himself, then he activated the unit.  When his father's face appeared on the screen, Sarek raised his hand in the Vulcan ta'al.  "You honor our embassy, Ambassador Skon; we come to serve."

 

Skon quickly returned the greeting.  "You service honors me; however, this is a personal call, my son."

 

Sarek bowed respectfully.  "Indeed?  What matter compelled you to call, Father?"

 

Skon looked at his son dubiously, his expression was light, however, telling Sarek it was not a serious matter.  "I call to offer you congratulations on your upcoming bonding."

 

"My…" Sarek trailed off, glancing at the pile of dossiers in front of him.

 

"I will admit to some regret that I was to hear this through Shanok rather than directly from you."

 

There was a small noise from T'Rea at the mention of her father's name, and Sarek groaned inwardly.  "Might I have a moment, Father?"  At Skon's puzzled nod, Sarek put his father on hold and pinned his glare at his ex-wife.  "What have you done?"

 

"I informed my family that my business here was complete and I would be returning soon, that is all."  She resisted the urge to squirm under his intense gaze.  "You had just spent the night with her; it was a logical assumption a bonding was imminent."

 

Soran snapped to attention at this revelation; he keenly watched his friend.

 

Amanda moaned desolately.  "Great, now everyone knows."

 

Soran's head swung towards Amanda.  Sarek and Amanda!  He had suspected there was an interest there, but he never thought Sarek would act upon such an urge.  Is it possible?  Could a Terran and Vulcan form a lasting bond?  And if so, why was Sarek still searching?  Soran's eyes snapped back and forth between the two, waiting for the next reaction.

 

"Not everyone," T'Rea retorted.

 

"Why anyone?" Amanda shot back, embarrassment flooding her face and tempering her words.  "What is this obsession you have with Sarek's sex life?"  Every pointed brow in the room soared.  Vulcans do not consider themselves as actually having a 'sex life'.  "This cannot be normal."  Amanda turned away from T'Rea, crossing her arms over herself and pacing the floor restlessly.

 

There was silence as everyone considered the situation.  Soran stepped forward.  "Sarek."

 

Sarek didn't hear.  "This is what I was warning you about," he lectured.

 

"This occurred before our discussion," T'Rea replied.

 

"Sarek," Soran called out louder.  Finally, he had Sarek's attention, and his friend looked at him impatiently.  "Your father has been waiting for quite some time.  I suggest you either choose a female immediately, or notify him there has been a … misunderstanding.  The rest can be examined later."

 

"Well, he can't just pick some woman on the spur of the moment," Amanda insisted, her pacing stopped as she addressed Soran.  She turned to Sarek, "Just tell him it was a mistake."

 

"He must choose someone," T'Rea insisted behind her.

 

Amanda spun around.  "Why?"  She threw her hands up exasperatedly.  "Why must he choose someone?  Why now; what's the sudden rush?"  She looked at each Vulcan, in turn, but no one would meet her gaze.

 

Again, requesting silence, Sarek turned back to the comm unit.  He took a deep breath and activated the screen.  Skon's face stared back at him, his expression much darker than it was before.

 

"I see that you are preoccupied at the moment, Sarek'kam, so if you will simply inform me of your choice, I can contact her family and begin negotiations."

 

"I ask forgiveness, S'haile; no disrespect was intended.  Regarding my choice…"  Sarek hesitated, his gaze involuntarily seeking Amanda's.  She watched him, her eyes widening in panic the longer he waited.  She shook her head minutely.  "There has been some mistake," Sarek said, forcing his gaze back to Skon, "I have not yet selected a mate."

 

"Explain," Skon demanded.

 

'Yes, of course he'd want an explanation,' Sarek nodded slowly, 'but what am I to say?' "Well," Sarek cleared his throat softly.  "I have considered each of the candidates at great length," he assured him, "however, I have not yet determined the most logical choice for wife."

 

Skon stared unblinkingly into his eldest son.  "And yet T'Rea speaks to her family of a woman you chose."

 

"T'Rea erred," Sarek blurted out, darting a glance in her direction to forbid her from contradicting him.  He saw the doubt in Skon's eyes, and Sarek had a hard time meeting them.  "I mean to say, there was a woman I had considered, but I have not yet decided.  T'Rea must have misunderstood my intentions."

 

"I see," Skon relented, although Sarek could tell he did not accept his explanation.  "You will decide soon?"  It was more a demand than a request.

 

"Yes," Sarek assured him, earning an approving nod from his father.

 

"Then I shall expect a communiqué, from you, when you have reached your decision." He leaned a little closer to the comm.  unit, his face filling the screen even more.  "Your final decision."

 

"Yes, sa'makh," Sarek bowed, keeping his eyes lowered until Skon closed the connection.  Once free, he turned his gaze back to the women who, in only a few days, had wreaked so much havoc in his normally ordered life.  He stood, taking a moment to adjust the closure of his robes, then walked over to the women.  "This … discussion you were having, would you care to continue it here, where you will remain undisturbed from … overreacting receptionists?"

 

T'Rea pressed her lips together, shaking her head gently.  Amanda sighed, "We were done."

 

Sarek nodded knowingly, then looked meaningfully from his former wife to his friend.  They stirred, both heading to the door, which Sarek had already opened for them.  Amanda, following the others' example, also moved towards the door, but before she could exit Sarek pushed it shut." A moment of your time, please."  Giving the door one last, longing look, Amanda nodded and turned back, putting several paces between her and the ambassador.

 

Sarek moved to the counter along the wall, grabbing a flask and holding it out invitingly, "Savas'masu?"

 

Amanda shook her head to refuse the fruit juice.

 

"I also have tea, or water."  She again shook her head no.  "I have scotch hidden away, that I can get if required."

 

This elicited a smile from the teacher, the reaction Sarek had hoped to achieve.  "No, thank you.  I'm fine."

 

Sarek nodded, putting the flask back without pouring any for himself.  He walked towards Amanda, stopping to sit on the edge of his desk, maintaining the least intimidating posture he could muster.  "I … am in a precarious predicament."

 

Amanda nodded.  "Yes, that's what I understand."

 

"No," Sarek said softly.  "I do not believe you do."

 

Amanda cleared her throat.  "Well, I understand that you are under pressure to marry, and that it was assumed that I was … volunteering for the position."  She crossed her arms protectively over her chest, "because of the other night."

 

Sarek stirred, clasping his own hands at his waist.  "Regarding that," he shrugged apologetically, "I am sorry."

 

"No, I." she sighed, biting her lip nervously, "I shouldn't have come there, uninvited, and that late."

 

"Hmm," he mumbled dubiously, not agreeing with her assessment, but unwilling to argue the point.

 

"Did you?" she asked suddenly, catching Sarek unaware.  He raised a questioning brow.  "Assume I was … you know, going to marry you."

 

"No," he quickly assured her.  "I am too familiar with human customs to assume such a thing, but T'Rea."

 

"Right, of course; that's understandable."  They each looked away, taking interest in the artifacts scattered around the ambassador's office.  "Then you weren't making any … um … 'ancient claims' or anything, right?"  She glanced surreptitiously in his direction.

 

"Where did you hear that?" Sarek brusquely demanded.

 

"T'Rea."

 

Sarek got up and moved behind his desk, stalling for time as he gathered his dossiers and shoved them into a drawer.  He sat heavily in his chair.  "If possible, I would prefer this did not affect our … association in any way."

 

Amanda noticed he didn't actually answer her question, but dismissed the thought, sighing with relief.  "I agree.  I don't see why we can't forget about it."

 

Sarek nodded, satisfied.  "So, we will maintain our routine and meet tonight in your residence."

 

"Actually..." Amanda hesitated, "maybe we shouldn't make a habit of meeting privately, anymore."

 

Sarek watched her silently for several minutes.  She refused to meet his gaze.  "Then, in fact, you do not believe you can 'forget about it'?"

 

Amanda took a deep breath, then looked up.  "I just think our 'association' has led to some ... discomforting ... confusions, and we'd do better to only meet at the embassy.  In public areas," she added quickly.  Again, he stared at her, his gaze so intense, so penetrating, that she could not maintain the eye contact.  She felt her face flush and, unable to take it any longer, mumbled some inane excuse and left Sarek's office.

 

* * *

 

Sarek and Sybok entered the suite, after having just spent the afternoon together at the exhibit on Earth's ancient desert cultures.  Sybok carried a bag full of discs ranging in subjects, that Sarek had purchased for him at the museum's gift shop.  They were leaving tomorrow and since T'Rea's confession regarding her condition, Sarek had attempted to spend as much time as possible with the boy.  Both were surprised to find Soran and T'Rea already in Sarek's room, sitting together at his desk.

 

Sybok shrugged off his cloak -- dropping it to the floor -- and ran to his mother.  He ignored his father's slight reproach; his excitement was barely contained.  "Look, ko'mekh."  He opened the bag so she could peek inside.

 

"How generous," T'Rea commented to him and Sarek at once.  "You will be occupied for quite some time, I think."

 

Sybok nodded then moved over to share his treasure with Soran.

 

Sarek slowly removed his own cloak, hanging it carefully on the rack, then picked up Sybok's as well.  "What is this?" he asked, moving closer to see what project had occupied his friends during his absence.  His mouth tightened upon seeing the profiles of his prospective mates spread out before them.

 

"We have been discussing your situation," Soran explained.

 

"I was unaware this had become an issue for public debate," Sarek quipped.

 

"It is not; however, you did ask me whom I would choose," he reminded him.

 

Sarek bowed in defeat.  "Have the two of you reached a consensus then?"

 

"Yes," T'Rea supplied, pushing Sybok gently away.  The boy, already well into his first new disc, absently walked to the nearby couch, completely disinterested in the adults' conversation.

 

"Possibly," Soran corrected her, looking side-long at the woman.

 

Sarek look from one to the other, his interest growing.  "And who did you select?"

 

T'Rea and Soran shared a look, then Soran bowed to her slightly, sitting back to put the situation in her control.  T'Rea accepted the charge then straightened in her chair, looking at Sarek commandingly.  "We choose Amanda."

 

Sarek stared at T'Rea, half expecting she'd adopted the Terran custom of pulling a 'practical joke', but she appeared quite serious.  He looked at Soran -- reliable, logical Soran -- to oppose this suggestion, but his friend merely shrugged, yielding to T'Rea's decision.  Traitor.  "Amanda is not among the list of candidates," he reminded them, pulling a chair closer and having a seat before them.

 

"That, apparently, was not an issue the other night," Soran tossed back, refusing to be intimidated by the disapproving glare he received in return.

 

"She is the logical choice, Sarek.  You cannot deny that."

 

"I can," Sarek insisted.

 

"You will bond with T'Kahr Amanda?" Sybok's voice floated to the adults, drawing their attention to where he sat, still reading his PADD, on the couch.

 

"No--"

 

"Yes--"

 

His parents answered in unison, causing the boy to glance at them briefly, before shrugging his shoulders helplessly and returning to his work. Sometimes it's better not to ask.

 

"Would you approve of Ms. Grayson, Sybok?"  The boy nodded wordlessly, and T'Rea looked back at his father, raising a haughty brow.  "There, everyone is agreed."

 

"She smells nice," the small voice admitted distractedly, causing all three adults to look at him in surprise.

 

"Not everyone," Sarek slowly corrected her, pulling his attention away from the boy.  "I have not agreed, and Amanda most certainly has not."

 

"Hmm, yes; we have found a solution for that."  She looked to Soran for support, and he gave her an endorsing, albeit not enthusiastic, nod.  "I have been researching Terran mating rituals, and I have discovered -- Soran has verified this," she added for authenticity, "that it is a custom on Earth for a woman who is terminally ill to seek an alternate wife and mother for her family."

 

"It is not," Sarek firmly declared.

 

"Actually, there is precedent," Soran corrected him.  "Mainly found documented in Terran literature and filmography, but it is there."

 

Sarek considered this, then shook his head.  "That is fiction.  If this were true, why were we unaware of it?"

 

"Why are humans unaware of pon farr?" T'Rea bluntly asked, glaring impatiently at the hiss of disapproval she received from the men.  "My point is," she stressed, "if we can keep secrets, why can they not as well?"

 

There was silence that followed, broken only by the occasional beeps emitting from Sybok's PADD as he navigated his program.  Sarek glanced awkwardly towards his son.  "Perhaps Sybok should take his activities elsewhere," he suggested.

 

T'Rea stared at him blankly.  "Our son is aware of the basics of Vulcan biology, Sarek."  e stared back, unmoving.  "Very well," she relented, then asked Sybok to allow the adults some privacy, which he did without question.

 

Releasing a deep sigh, Sarek stirred uneasily in his seat.  "It is irrelevant at any rate.  That is not precisely the situation here."

 

"It is very similar," T'Rea insisted, a flush of excitement coursing through her as she realized Sarek was reconsidering his position.  "I will contact her, inform her of my condition and propose the agreement.  I do not believe she will refuse."

 

Sarek shook his head.  "I do not believe that would be a deciding factor for her."

 

When T'Rea would have argued, Soran interceded.  "I think, perhaps, what Sarek means to say," Soran watched his friend carefully, both amused and somewhat alarmed by the effect the human seemed to be having on Sarek, "is that he would not accept Amanda under that condition."

 

Sarek met his gaze, briefly.  "It is irrelevant in any case," he murmured.  "I could not take Amanda, or any human, as a wife."

 

"Why?" T'Rea demanded, puzzled by his obstinacy.

 

"Because," Sarek hesitated, forming his reply carefully, "Human physiology would make her as unsuitable a mate as you are … for the same reasons."

 

Soran shifted uncomfortably in his chair as the conversation became more and more private.

 

"I disagree," T'Rea said softly, swallowing around the lump that had formed in her throat.

 

"Humans are not as strong as Vulcans," Sarek explained.  "If you, a Vulcan female, can be injured during … the Time, she would surely be as well."

 

T'Rea cleared her throat.  "I could not climb a mountain, but humans do it all the time.  I do not think we compare."

 

"I agree," Soran quietly chimed in.

 

"Besides, you already … explored that venue with her, and she faired well."

 

"It is not the same," Sarek maintained.

 

"It did not seem so different to me," she rejoined.

 

They stared off, silence enveloping the room once again.  Soran watched on, ignorant of what they were discussing, his heritage making the idea of asking non-existent.  "Perhaps a different approach is in order?" he suggested.  "We are seeking logical reasons for her to accept Sarek, but I believe as a human, Amanda would have emotional motives when choosing her mate."

 

"Love," Sarek sagely concurred.

 

Soran nodded.  "Do we know where she stands on the issue?"

 

"Yes," T'Rea declared.  "She feels love for Sarek."  The memory of Amanda's phone conversation, and her declaration to the unknown individual at the other end of the receiver, played through her mind, but she ignored it.  Her words were true, Amanda did feel love for Sarek.  What this means in conjunction with the other was irrelevant at the moment.

 

"How do you know this?" Soran asked.

 

"I ... our minds brushed, accidentally, when we touched earlier today."

 

A look passed between the two men, but neither said anything.

 

"Then it is decided.  We have established that her emotional requirements are met, and we now have a logical incentive for her to act upon them." T'Rea pushed her chair back, prepared to take her leave.  "I shall contact her immediately and notify you of her response."

 

"Patience, T'Rea," Soran stopped her.  "We have not considered all the factors a human requires in a mate"  He watched the puzzled expression cross both their faces.  "I believe a human not only expects to feel love for her mate; but to be loved by her mate as well."

 

Sarek sighed desolately and T'Rea sat back down.  "How do we do that?" she asked.

 

Soran gave Sarek a pointed look.  "Do you feel love for Ms. Grayson?"

 

Sarek's brow furrowed in consideration, then finally he shrugged.  "How would I know?"

 

To this, Soran had no reply, and silence again descended over the trio as they considered the situation.  "T'Rea," Soran suddenly spoke up, inspired. "You said your mind touched hers, and you could sense her love for Sarek?" T'Rea nodded.  "What did it feel like?"

 

T'Rea closed her eyes, concentrating on the memories of that moment.  "I sensed a great craving for physical touch, but not like our burning.  It did not seem so much lustful as a simple desire for … connection."

 

"Humans do not bond," Soran supplied as an explanation.

 

"I believe touch is also one of the main senses involved in human learning as well," Sarek said dismissively.  "Perhaps she only has a curiosity, and wishes to learn more.  She has expressed a … dissatisfaction in the quantity of information I had revealed of myself to her."

 

"I also sensed great affection in her, but there was something more as well.  I..." she struggled to explain better, "it is reminiscent of the encompassing bond between a parent and child, but it was different than that."  She opened her eyes, giving Sarek an apologetic look.  "I cannot explain it further; there is no frame of reference I am familiar with."

 

"Perhaps affection for humans is different than for Vulcans," Sarek suggested, clamping down on the exultation her words were causing.  "I do not believe we should make assumptions in this matter."

 

T'Rea frowned in his direction.  "As you wish," she allowed, "but the only way to know for certain is to ask her."

 

"I concur," Soran said.  "In my opinion, there is enough evidence at this point to open communications regarding a potential union -- if she is your choice."

 

"And if we are incorrect?" Sarek postulated.

 

Soran gave a slight shrug.  "Then we apologize -- profusely.  I do not think Ms. Grayson would hold it against us."

 

Sarek steepled his hands before him, concentrating on their shape as he considered the alternatives.  "If I decide to pursue this," he looked up at T'Rea.  "Then I will be the one to contact her."

 

T'Rea bowed her submission.  "If?" she inquired gently.

 

Sarek nodded.  "I must consider this carefully; there is no way for you to know what you sensed in Amanda was love."

 

Soran reached out to gently touch T'Rea's arm, getting her attention.  A silent exchange between them led T'Rea to excuse herself and leave the men alone.  Before she left, she turned to give the men a final thought to ponder.  "It is true that I do not know of human love," she admitted, getting their full attention, "but Amanda does, and 'love' is her word -- it is what her mind labels the emotion that resonates within her, for you."

 

Sarek looked away, her words striking a cord within him.  "There is still risk," he murmured, as much to remind himself as the others.  T'Rea bowed in acquiescence, leaving the men to their privacy.

 

"There is always a risk," Soran gently pointed out when he was assured of their privacy.  "That is why we do not choose our mates lightly, why we, as adults and parents, choose our children's mates for them, and why we ourselves seek the advice of our elders when choosing."

 

"Then should I not also take my elders advice, and choose from the selection they approved for me?"

 

Soran tilted his head, considering.  "The elders do not know of Amanda, or your affection for her.  How can you be sure they would not approve if you told them."

 

"I do not wish to tell them," Sarek said sheepishly.

 

Soran permitted a slight smile to flutter across his lips.  "I do not blame you.  However, if I were in your position, and expected to choose my own mate, I would prefer to take that risk with a friend than with a stranger."

 

Sarek nodded, releasing a sigh.  "I will have to tell her, explain … the Time.  She must be aware of the risks involved before choosing."  Soran nodded silently.  "How do I explain it, to one who does not know, who has no concept?  And what if she refuses, after learning of our shame, and it becomes known among the humans?"

 

Soran frowned at his friend.  "To your first query, you explain it factually.  As to the second … I do not believe you would even consider Ms. Grayson for a mate if you believed her to be of the character to reveal something so personal about our people."

 

"This has never been done," Sarek pointed out.

 

"No," Soran agreed, "but then, setting precedence is hardly foreign to you."  There was a twinkle in his eyes as Soran stood, walking around the desk to stand behind Sarek's chair.  He laid his hand upon Sarek's shoulder, allowing those thoughts of support and affection that could not be spoken of to come through.  "It is a difficult position, to be sure, k'war'ma'khon."

 

Sarek nodded, briefly reaching up to touch Soran's hand with his own -- in reciprocation of the gesture -- before they broke the contact and Soran left his friend alone to decide his future.

 

* * *

 

Sarek turned off Portola Drive and slowly worked his way down Woodside Avenue.  The streets were unusually crowded, with both vehicles and pedestrians, all wanting to attend the gathering taking place on his right.  Stopped amid a line of many vehicles to allow a group to cross the road, Sarek stole a glance at the festivities.  Loud music blared at him, not even the flitter's reinforced glass could keep the sound out.  There were lights flashing, various machines carrying humans around their tracks, people milling around with cheap toys and nutrient deficient foods in hand.  He should have taken another route.  He should have spoken with Soran before leaving the embassy; no doubt his aide would have warned him of the event and given him alternate directions to Amanda's house.  He should have stayed home and meditated on the issue before acting.

 

'No matter,' he thought, pushing those ideas aside as unproductive.  Traffic began moving again, and he slowly permitted the vehicle to move forward when a traffic controller stepped in front of his vehicle to again allow pedestrians to cross.  Sarek stared dully at the officer, who continued to hold his hand palm out towards Sarek -- 'Was the officer concerned that he would run these people over if he put his hand down?  Illogical?' -- when something in his peripheral vision caught his attention.  He looked, briefly, and caught a glimpse of a brunette woman, hair drawn up except for several tendrils framing her face, and blocking his view of her as she turned her head away to speak with a woman next to her.  They walked towards him, but on the opposite side of the road, heading towards the entrance to the event.  His gaze took in her baggy sweater and short skirt and he turned away, dismissing the woman from his mind.  The pedestrians had cleared the road, and with a wave of his hand the controller permitted Sarek to continue.  He eased forward again, and was about to pass the women when something compelled him to take a closer look.  There was something familiar there.

 

A sudden wind tossed her hair aside, giving Sarek his first good look at the woman's face.  Amanda!  Sarek frantically looked ahead, but there wasn't a single space in which he could pull off.  He glanced back towards the event's entrance, calculating how much time he'd have to find a space and catch up with Amanda.  If she entered the festivities before he caught her, there was very little possibility he'd find her in the crowd.  Seeing no alternative, Sarek pulled to the right as far as possible, which wasn't much with cars parked along both sides of the street, and opened the passenger side window to call to her.  It took several tries, but finally she looked around and spotted him.  To say she seemed surprised would be a gross understatement.  She took a few steps nearer, her friend following.

 

"What are you doing here?" she hissed at him.

 

"I must speak with you; get in."  He pushed a button on the console, which caused the passenger door to recede into the roof of the car.  Several horns from the cars behind him sounded, but Sarek ignored them.

 

"I am busy now.  I'll see you at the embassy on Monday."  She started to step away, but he called her back.

 

"I would prefer to discuss this now."  He glanced at her friend, "Privately."  Now angry shouts could be heard from behind him.  When he glanced in his rear view mirror, he could see the traffic officer heading towards them to investigate the trouble.  "You are blocking traffic," he accused her, smiling inwardly at the look of indignation that crossed her face.  He reached over to grab the hand she was leaning on against the door jamb, refusing to let go when she would have pulled away.  "Get in.  Please."  She attempted to pull away, a protest ready to spill from her lips.

 

"I will explain everything," he promised solemnly.

 

Sighing impatiently, Amanda nodded her consent then turned to her friend.  "I'll meet you inside."

 

"Is that the one from the other night?" Sarek heard the other ask her.

 

"Shh!"  Amanda glanced back at the car, and Sarek raised his brow at her.  Her face flushed as she turned back.  "I won't be long; give me your parking pass."

 

The other woman shrugged, then dug through her purse to hand Amanda a piece of rectangular plastic.  Amanda jumped into the car.  "Get going before you get a ticket."

 

Sarek wasted no time, pressing the accelerator and gliding smoothly away just as the traffic officer approached the rear of the car.

 

"Turn right at the end of this road; we'll park in the Public Health Department's lot."

 

Sarek stopped at the intersection, waiting to make his turn when another flitter pulled up on his left.  The other flitter honked, and when Sarek and Amanda glanced over the man forcefully thrust his hand in their direction, middle finger extended.  Sarek calmly looked back at Amanda.  "What does this signify?"

 

"Just ignore it," Amanda said, sliding her arm behind Sarek's headrest to extend a middle finger of her own.  Unintelligible shouts came from the neighboring flitter as the light changed and Sarek made his turn.  Sarek turned into the health department's lot and, using the pass Amanda's friend provided, gained access through the automatic security gates.

 

Sarek found a spot to park and turned the engine off.  For a long moment, they both sat there, staring straight ahead at nothing in particular.  "You left rather abruptly yesterday," Sarek commented without changing his position.

 

Amanda sucked air in through clenched teeth.  "Yes, well," she turned away to look out her side window, "there didn't seem to be anything more to say."

 

"I was attempting to postulate an appropriate response," he explained.

 

Amanda smiled, looking his way.  "Don't tell me I caught the 'silver tongued devil' speechless?" she said, referring to the nickname some of the political rags had adopted for him.

 

Sarek sighed, looking at her wearily.  Her smile faded as Sarek's gaze slowly roamed down her frame.  Goosebumps erupted along her arms, and she struggled against the shiver that ran along her spine.  How can a simple look have such a physical effect?  She tugged at the edge of her skirt, making it cover her as much as possible.  "You offered some explanations," she reminded him, changing the subject.

 

He nodded.  "What would you like to know?"

 

"What am I allowed to ask?" she countered, doing her best to keep any bitterness from coloring her tone.

 

She noticed the muscle in his jaw flex and knew he had heard it.  "You may ask me anything you wish," he calmly replied, "and I will answer as best I can."

 

"Anything, huh?"  Amanda took a deep breath, looking aimlessly out the windshield as she made her decision.  "Okay."  She looked back at Sarek, carefully watching his expression for any reaction to her questions.  "Why the sudden rush to find a mate?  You don't seem particularly keen about the idea, but everyone else seems adamant you must have one now."

 

Sarek blinked, several times, the reflex his only reaction so far.  'What happened to the Terran custom of small talk?' he wondered.

 

"You said I could ask anything," Amanda defensively reminded him.

 

"I did," he admitted.  "Very well.  It is custom on Vulcan for everyone to have a mate.  To not be bonded is very rare, particularly for the men."  He glanced at her surreptitiously, wondering if his answer would be sufficient.

 

"Why is that?" she asked, genuine curiosity etched her features.  Her curiosity matched that of any Vulcan, and her appeal for Vulcan culture struck at something within Sarek.  Few Terrans seemed willing to see beyond the exterior to bother learning what lay in the Vulcan mind, or heart.

 

'To your first query, you explain it factually,' Soran's words echoed through Sarek's mind.  This was a perfect opening with which to broach the subject, to explain the Vulcan mating cycle.  Sarek forced his suddenly racing heart back to a normal pace.  "The reason is," the air suddenly left Sarek's lungs and he struggled to breathe, let alone speak, "…considered very private for my people."

 

Amanda's face closed with disappointment.  "So you can't tell me," she finished for him.

 

Finally, he could take a breath unfettered.  A silent struggle raged within Sarek.  "I am unprepared at this time," he said, ignoring the shout of 'coward' that resonated within him, in Soran's voice.  "Do you have other questions?" he asked, hoping to make amends.

 

"Are you sure you don't mind?" she asked, a single nod from Sarek indicating she should continue.  Amanda chewed her bottom lip for just a second.  "All right, you just said that you are expected to have a mate, but you and T'Rea -- despite being obviously very close -- are no longer married.  Why?"

 

Sarek took a deep breath.  "Shortly after our marriage it was discovered that T'Rea was ill; a genetic disorder that is causing her body to degenerate, eventually to the point of fatality."

 

"She's terminal," Amanda whispered hoarsely.  'My god, you've been jealous over the husband of a dying woman,' she thought, shamed at the thoughts she'd had for T'Rea over the past few days.  "But … I don't understand.  You discover your wife is dying, so you divorced her?"  Her voice rose in indignation, which she did nothing to conceal.

 

"The divorce was not of my choosing," Sarek defended himself, "nor T'Rea's.  It was…" He paused.  "Circumstances being what they are, it was deemed in the best interest for everyone."

 

"How could it possibly be in the best interest to abandon a dying woman?"

 

"I did not abandon her," Sarek forced through clenched teeth.  He turned away, his controls shakier than they had been in a long time.

 

"I'm sorry," she gently apologized.  "Of course you didn't; you wouldn't do that."  She could tell she had upset him, this was the first she'd ever seen him visibly affected before.  Her heart sank to her stomach.  "So you still love each other."  It wasn't a question.

 

Sarek glanced at her briefly, then looked away, his head tilting in a shrug.  "Vulcans do not speak in terms of love."

 

"But if she hadn't become ill, you would still be married?" Amanda reiterated.

 

"Yes," Sarek stated matter-of-factly.

 

"Right," she sighed, leaning back against the headrest and closing her eyes to ease the dizzying sensation as the figurative bottom dropped from beneath her.

 

"Your next question?" he offered.

 

Amanda shook her head.  "I think we've covered enough.  Thank you though, I know that wasn't easy for you."  She opened her eyes to see him briefly nod, then she sat up and pressed the door release.

 

Sarek stopped her with the barest touch of his fingers upon her shoulder. "I have answered your questions, now you must answer mine," he said.  She looked back at him questioningly.  "It seems fair, does it not?"

 

Reluctantly, she nodded, her bottom lip again disappearing between her teeth to be chewed worriedly.  Sarek pressed the control to close her door, watching the way her teeth grazed the soft pink flesh.  A sudden image of his own teeth working her lips came to him, then other -- more intimate -- images filled his minnd.

 

"I wish you wouldn't look at me like that."

 

Sarek forced his eyes back up.  "Like what?"

 

Amanda shrugged.  "I don't know … like you're going to eat me, or something."

 

Sarek frantically cleared his mind, wondering if he had broadcasted so much she had picked up his train of thought.  "Forgive me," he murmured.

 

Amanda shrugged again.  "What did you want to ask me?"  She avoided his gaze, desperately wanting to get this over with as soon as possible.

 

"I seek to understand your actions as of late," Sarek explained.  "To begin with, why have you been avoiding me since … that night in my rooms."

 

Amanda closed her eyes against the inevitable.  "Can't we let this go?"

 

"I answered your questions," he reminded her.

 

"I don't know, okay?"  She threw her hands up helplessly.

 

Sarek watched her growing distress.  "Did I hurt you?" he asked, hoping to assist her in pinpointing the cause.

 

"No," she quickly reassured him, "no; nothing like that."

 

Sarek nodded, relieved.  "Then, is it embarrassment?"

 

Amanda hesitated, thinking.  "No, I don't think so.  I mean, getting high and sleeping with my boss isn't exactly my proudest moment," she didn't notice his flinch, "but it's not something I can't get over."

 

"Then..." he prompted her.

 

"I guess..." She shrugged, squirming uncomfortably in her seat.  "I guess I discovered a completely different side to you, and it's not something I expected."

 

Sarek thought hard about this.  "Such as," he prompted her again.

 

Amanda nervously twisted a ring around her finger.  "Such as … I never expected you ran some opium den in your suite when off duty."

 

Sarek's eyes widened, recognizing the reference.  "I do not," he denied.

 

"Okay, maybe not opium, but whatever that stuff was."

 

"It was called Dream Moss, and I have never attempted its usage before."

 

Amanda looked at him, studying his face.  "Then why did you do it that night?"

 

"Because T'Rea…" He stopped himself from revealing too much.  "It was for medicinal purposes." He watched her doubtful expression.  "I have no intention of repeating the experience," he affirmed.

 

"Okay," she said, believing him.  "I'm sorry."

 

Sarek bowed from the shoulders, accepting her apology.  "The cause was sufficient."

 

She nodded, taking a deep, cleaning breath and releasing it all at once.  "Good.  Let's take the rest of this weekend to put some space between us, regain some perspective, and we'll start again on Monday, hmm?"  She pressed the door release and quickly stepped out.

 

"Wait," Sarek called to her, leaning across the passenger seat to look up at her face.  "There is more I wish to discuss."

 

"Sarek," she turned towards him impatiently, "what more is there to say?  We've discussed it, we've both apologized; let's drop it.  Sybok and T'Rea leave tomorrow, go home and spend time with your family," she ordered.  "My friend is waiting for me."  And with that, she spun on her heel and strode off across the lot towards the fair grounds.

 

Sarek sighed, straightening in his seat and closing the passenger door once again.  He reached out to start the flitter, and was about to put it in gear when a flash of anger surged through him uninhibited.  "I was not through speaking," he said to the emptiness around him.  He turned the engine off, and got out of the vehicle, following the same path Amanda took.

 

* * *

 

Amanda was quick, he'd give her that, but still she was just going through the gates when Sarek took his place fourth in line.  Fortunately, it went quickly and Sarek reached into the inner pocket of his tunic to pull out his credit chip.  Never taking his eyes off the path Amanda took, he absently slid the card across the counter.

 

"It's thirty credits," a young, freckle-faced adolescent informed him, "and the rides credits are extra."

 

Sarek gave a brief nod, not altering his focus.  After what seemed too long a pause, Sarek looked over to check the boy's progress.

 

"We don't give refunds," the boy squeaked, staring wide-eyed at the alien.  He'd seen Vulcans before, most people in this town have at one time or another, but this was his first time interacting with one.

 

"That is acceptable," Sarek spoke slowly and clearly, pushing his credit chip closer to the boy.  Finally, the boy took it and began processing the transaction.  Sarek resumed his vigil for Amanda, but had lost sight of her by this time.

 

"Uh … how many ride credits do ya want?"

 

Sarek had no intention of going on 'rides', nor would he have a clue how many he would need if he chose to do so.  "None," Sarek told him, again searching the crowd.

 

"Oh.  Are ya sure?  'Cause if there's a chance you'll want a ride, it's better to get them now.  Once you're inside the credit lines are really long," he leaned forward conspiringly, "and the prices are higher," he whispered.

 

Sarek glanced at the boy impatiently.  "Very well, then provide me with however many credits you deem sufficient."

 

"Okay," the boy chirped, turning back to the task.  "Hand, please."

 

Sarek stared at him blankly.  "Pardon me?"

 

"I need to stamp your hand," the boy explained.  "That way, if you leave you can get back in today and not have to pay again."

 

Sarek considered refusing, but concluded the resulting argument in budgeting would be more painful than the discomfort of the brief contact he'd have to endure in getting stamped.  He slid his hand across the counter.

 

The boy grabbed his wrist, then with careful precision, applied a neon orange smiley with the word Saturday printed beneath it to the back of Sarek's hand.  "You're all set!  Here's your credit chip, and this card has your ride credits."  He slid the cards towards Sarek, who quickly scooped them up.  "Have a good time."  His voice trailed off as the Vulcan strode away, not listening.  The boy stared after him.  'Wait 'til I tell Janey,' he thought excitedly of the reaction his girlfriend would have.  'I touched a Vulcan!'

 

Sarek had only walked a few yards past the gate when he came to a sudden stop.  The lights and noise from the street was nothing compared to what he experienced up close.  The noise was virtually deafening, and the flashing lights from the rides and booths caused a kaleidoscope of color to blanket everywhere he looked.  Overhead and from the side, rides whipped and whirled past him, and the stench of various foods was assaulting -- fried flesh and onions and peppers mixed with the sickly sweet smells of cotton candy, fried dough and caramel apples.  And everywhere -- everywhere -- humans milled about bumping and brushing against each other in their haste to get to the next attraction.  Seeing no clear path in which to move about, Sarek considered leaving.  Perhaps he could wait outside until she came out; there was only one exit after all … wasn't there?

 

Someone bumped into him from behind and Sarek quickly stepped aside as a young father brushed past, uttering a rushed apology while he lifted a child up to sit upon his shoulders.  Another, slightly older, child walked beside him speaking excitedly of his plans for the night.  Sarek watched their progress through the crowds until they left his line of sight, then another -- more pleasing -- sight came into focus.

 

Amanda!  She was way across the field, standing in line leading to a large rotating wheel.  Giving the crowds no further thought, Sarek began working his way towards her, determined to reach her before she boarded the ride.  Sarek had to maintain his shields as tightly as possible to prevent the barrage of thoughts and emotions from all those who inadvertently touched him from closing in on him.  As he moved across the grounds, he passed one of the ticket booths the boy at the gates had mentioned and, as stated, the lines for obtaining ride credits were excessively long.  He reached Amanda when she was still sixth in line from boarding; her female friend was not in sight.

 

"I had not finished speaking," he said lowly, leaning close to her in an attempt to keep their conversation as private as possible.

 

Amanda jumped.  "What are you doing here?"

 

Sarek raised a brow at the illogical question.  "I had sufficient credits; there is no reason I should not be here."

 

Amanda closed her eyes disbelievingly, muttering something unintelligible. She looked forward again, watching as the ride began to slow down.

 

"You seem to be developing a rather displeasing habit of leaving before the conversation has concluded," he gently lectured.  He saw her posture stiffen, and she pressed her lips together tightly, but otherwise gave no response.  "Perhaps we should devise some signal to indicate when a discussion is complete?"

 

"I thought walking away was a pretty clear signal," she smiled innocently at him.

 

The line moved forward as the first three individuals -- two adults and one child -- boarded the ride.  Sarek kept up beside Amanda.  "Indeed," he said drolly, "however, it is preferable if both parties agree to the conclusion before you leave."

 

"Hey mister, no cutting!"  A petite, young female behind him briskly shouted.

 

Sarek gave her a cursory glance; her bright red lips and pink cheeks with blue eyelids brought to mind a documentary on Terran Baboons he's recently seen.  Her meaning unclear to him, Sarek turned his attention back to Amanda.  "Besides," he continued, "walking away in that manner could be construed as offensive in certain places.  Earth, for example," he said dryly, giving her a pointed look.

 

Amanda smiled, although she did her best to cover it up.  "I'll try to remember that," she quipped.

 

Sarek nodded.  "In that case, may we now continue our discussion back in the flitter?"

 

"I'm in line for this ride," Amanda stated.

 

"Is it not permissible to leave the line?"

 

Amanda took a deep and slowly released it.  "I do not want to leave the line."

 

The ride came to a stop again, and Sarek took his first close look at the machine.  The "amusement" ride consisted of a large power-operated wheel, approximately fifteen meters in diameter.  There were two rims that ran parallel and equidistant to a larger shaft about which the wheel rotated. Between the rims several platforms were fixed, from which hung numerous "cars" in which passengers rode.  Each car consisted of a box containing two small bench seats that faced each other.  One side of the box was a door that slid apart to permit the boarding/disembarking of passengers.  The sides came up to approximately chest level on a seated adult, and at each corner was a post leading to a small roof, which in turn was where the attachment to the wheel itself was found.

 

Sarek looked at the two people in line before Amanda.  They were obviously together -- if the manner in which their hands andd lips rarely broke contact was any indication -- and since most of the cars on the ride consisted of only two adults, it was logical to conclude they would occupy the next one.  That would leave Amanda next in line … alone.

 

He looked back at Amanda, who was staring at him in kind.  "I am going on this ride."

 

Sarek nodded briefly.  "I understand."

 

"You can't go."

 

Sarek stiffened at the imperialistic tone.  "Indeed?  Why not?"

 

Amanda smiled saucily.  "You don't have the proper credits."  She held out her ride card triumphantly.

 

Sarek reached into his tunic and pulled out his own card, secretly amused by the fallen expression that crossed her face.  'Check,' he thought.

 

"Hey, buddy!"

 

There was a hard push on Sarek's right shoulder from behind.  Reigning in his anger and indignation at such atrocious behavior, Sarek pulled himself to full height as he turned to face the offending individual.  He heard a sharp retort from Amanda, and instinctively placed himself between her and the instigator.  It was a large, burly male -- companion to the Baboon woman -- who was himself quite colorful with several tattoos covering his exposed arms and chest.  The man stepped closer, puffing out his chest and narrowing his eyes menacingly.  Sarek widened his own stance slightly, keeping his hands loosely clasped before him should the need to defend himself arise.  He looked the man directly in the eyes.

 

The man lifted his arm, jerking his thumb in the direction behind him.  "Get in line," he shouted loudly even though he stood only inches away from Sarek.

 

Even though Sarek's gaze never wavered, he could see several people behind the couple step away, anticipating a fight.  Sarek didn't respond, but remained completely still, his face impassive but keeping their gazes locked.  Sarek could hear the ride behind him had resumed, but still he waited.  Finally, the man's look wavered, he glanced at his companion questioningly then looked back at Sarek -- his confusion at not receiving the reaction he expected easily readable.

 

Pressing his advantage, Sarek continued to keep perfectly still.  "I am in line," he stated quietly, permitting not a tracing of emotion to color his words.  The ride began to slow down again.

 

The man's mouth fluttered, but no words came as he looked from his woman to Sarek in quick succession.  Sarek continued to stare at him.

 

"Next," the ride operator called out.

 

Sarek took a step back, and seeing no further signs of aggression from the man, he slowly turned, carefully listening to the sounds around him for evidence that the man might try to charge.  Amanda stood facing him, her face clouded in anger as she glared ominously towards the couple behind them.

 

"It is your turn, Amanda," Sarek moved a bit to his right, completely blocking Amanda's view of them.  Amanda tsked in disapproval, then spun on her heel and presented her ride card to the operator.  Her quick, jerky movements were a clear indication to her agitation.  Once her card was swiped and returned, Amanda strode off to climb into the car.

 

Sarek moved at a much calmer pace, handing his own card to the operator, who was busy watching Amanda's progression up the ramp.  "My card," Sarek said to capture the operator's attention.  He looked at Sarek, his expression dumbfounded, then gave Amanda a last, lingering look while he blindly accepted Sarek's card and swiped it through his machine.  "She's, uh." he checked that the transaction was successful, then held the card out to Sarek, "feisty, eh?"  He gave a gesturing nod in Amanda's direction, smiling lasciviously at Sarek.

 

There was something unsettling about the operator's demeanor, but finding nothing objectionable in his words Sarek nodded as he retrieved his card and moved up the ramp to join Amanda.  He took the seat opposite hers, his eyes drawn to her legs -- the left crossed over the right, her foot bobbing agitatedly.  Her arms were crossed as well, and she didn't even acknowledge his presence as she was absorbed in glaring at the troublesome couple in line.

 

"Amanda," he softly called out to get her attention.

 

"That was unforgivably rude," she snapped, not looking his way.

 

"It is done," he placated.  The car door slid shut and Sarek heard an internal lock slide into place.

 

"Jerk!" Amanda yelled out to the man below.  Sarek heard no verbal response, but did not look in that direction.  His gaze remained on Amanda as he reached out to lightly touch his hand to her bare knee.  That got her attention.

 

"Put the incident from your mind," he gently commanded.

 

"He was intentionally trying to start a fight!"

 

The supports keeping the car steady released, catching Sarek unaware, and he instinctively grabbed the side wall to steady himself.  There was a chuckle from Amanda.

 

"First time on a Ferris Wheel?" she smirked.

 

"It is," Sarek confirmed defensively, releasing the wall as he adapted for the ride's motions as he was moved backwards and upwards on the wheel's rotation.

 

"So why did you come?"

 

"It was logical -- it is the one location I could speak with you privately, and you could not leave."

 

Amanda sighed.  "You are stubborn, you know that?"

 

Sarek nodded amicably.  "You have mentioned this before."

 

"Well, nothing's changed."

 

"I could say the same," he retorted.

 

Amanda rubbed her hands wearily over her face.  "All right, Sarek.  Say your piece."

 

The ride had reached its zenith and began the second half of its rotation. "You inquired yesterday whether I was 'making any ancient claims' that night."

 

"You didn't actually answer," Amanda supplied, a flutter rippling through her abdomen that had nothing to do with the Ferris Wheel.

 

Sarek nodded.  "I have considered the matter, and I reached the conclusion that I do not believe it truthful if I were to say no."

 

Amanda took a deep breath, slowly releasing it.  "Well, I wouldn't worry too much about it, Sarek.  Neither of us were thinking clearly at the time.  No doubt we both said or did things we didn't intend."

 

"I considered this as well," he admitted.  "However, if I were to be completely forthcoming, I would have to admit the idea of such an action had occurred to me previous to that night."

 

While he still faced her, Amanda didn't miss how he was avoiding eye contact, looking out the corner of his eye.  'Embarrassment,' thought Amanda.  The Ferris Wheel came to a stop, perching Sarek and Amanda at the top.  "I … I suppose fantasy is normal for any cognizant species."  She cleared her throat uncomfortably.  "I admit I've had a few … somewhat salacious thoughts concerning you as well.  Perfectly normal to be curious," she tried to reassure him.

 

Sarek nodded, contemplating Amanda's revelation.  It was good they affected each other similarly.  "I understand curiosity," Sarek said, "but fantasy…" his brow furrowed, his discomfort palpable, "if it is normal for Vulcans, this is the first I have ever experienced the phenomenon."

 

"Oh," she breathed, her face flushing deeply, "well … still."

 

Sarek swallowed hard, his heart thudding against his ribs as panic threatened to take over.  He had bared himself to her, spoken in a way he never had before, but he seemed no closer to understanding her perception of their relationship.  Perhaps they were, in fact, mistaken about her.  "We have stopped," Sarek commented, stalling to permit himself time to analyze the situation.

 

"Probably just changing passengers," she suggested.  The ride moved into motion again and she gave him an uneasy "see there" smile.

 

Sarek settled back on his seat, absently running mathematical equations through his mind to order his chaotic thoughts and center himself.  A marriage arrangement was little more than a negotiation.  He had been negotiating with Terrans for over twenty Standard years.  Perhaps what's required is to resort to his strengths, and handle this in the manner he is best equipped.  Either that, or concede defeat and return to the embassy now to resume his search for a wife.  He looked at Amanda, his eyes roaming her frame while she watched the passing scenery.  He never conceded defeat.

 

'Time to state my demands,' he thought, assured of himself now that he had a plan of action.  "The crux of the situation is this," he explained.  "I am in need of a wife.  I will soon be in need of a mother for Sybok.  You and I have known each other for some time; I consider you a friend."

 

"Oh my god," Amanda murmured, panic causing bile to rise in her throat.  She gestured frantically to the operator as they swooped by, hoping to stop the ride and get off, but he was otherwise occupied by flirting with a buxom brunette waiting next in line.

 

Her actions did not go unnoticed by Sarek, however.  'Stress the positives,' he thought.  "Marriage to me would not be without certain privileges," he offered.  "I hold a respectable position within my government, as you know.  My family holds much land and power among my people; we are direct descendants of Surak's lineage," he said importantly.  He noted Amanda did not appear impressed.  "You do know who Surak was?"

 

Amanda nodded mutely, a pained expression on her face.

 

"I am capable of providing for you in a manner equal to or, I believe, better than what you are accustomed.  There are certain duties that would be required of you as an ambassador's wife; however, you would be free to do as you wish outside of those times.  There would be ample opportunity for you to continue your career, if you so choose," he reassured her.

 

"Sarek…" she began, shaking her head.

 

'Amanda would have emotional motives when choosing her mate.' Soran's voice again rang through Sarek's mind.  Sarek frantically tried to find ways to appeal to her on that level.  "Sybok approves of the arrangement.  As does Soran and T'Rea."  He nodded encouragingly.  "As do I, of course," he added hastily.  As they again reached the top of the wheel, the ride came to a sudden stop, causing the car to swing.  Sarek glanced alarmingly towards the roof where he could hear some unseen hinge squeak in protest to the movement.  When things seemed to settle down he focused back on Amanda, who was watching him curiously.  It dawned on him that what sounded like quite a ruckus to him, she probably couldn't even hear.

 

"I'm…" Amanda searched for the appropriate words.  "…flattered, really.  I understand your situation, your need for a wife and mother for Sybok, and I am … truly honored that all of you deem me acceptable for that position.  But..." she hesitated, shaking her head in refusal.  "That's not the way it's done here.  At least not for me.  I am very fond of you, and of Sybok, but I don't want to be a substitute -- someone that will do in a pinch."

 

"Substitute," Sarek murmured, considering.  "No, that is not correct.  The others, they would be substitutes, but not you."  He leaned forward to capture her gaze, staring deeply into her eyes, seeking understanding, but seeing only confusion.  "Amanda," he got up to sit beside her on the bench, but his movements caused the car to tilt and the unseen hinge squeaked in protest.  Sarek quickly moved back to his seat.

 

"You're afraid of heights!" Amanda chortled.

 

"I am not," Sarek denied.  "It is only this," he glanced testily at the roof once again, "contrivance that I am not sanguine for."

 

"I see," Amanda smirked impishly.  "Then you probably wouldn't want me to do this."  he leaned forward, then tossed herself back, repeating the motion several times to cause the car to swing.

 

"Stop that," Sarek calmly ordered, refusing to allow her juvenile attempts to bother him.  But the more she moved, the further the car swung and the louder the hinge squeaked.  "Desist!" he commanded, reaching out to grab her upper arms as she leaned forward.  She stopped, staring at him with slight alarm as she found herself trapped in his tight grip, her face mere inches from his.

 

"I'm sorry," she whispered, attempting to pull back but he didn't relent. "We're perfectly safe," she reassured him.

 

"Human technology is far from perfect," Sarek murmured, his earlier alarm forgotten as he stared back, mesmerized by the pulse jumping at the base of her throat.  "Did I frighten you?" he asked softly.

 

"No," she quickly affirmed.

 

Sarek released one of her arms and gently placed his paired fingers against the fluttering flesh, which increased in intensity, eliciting a gasp from Amanda.  Catching her gaze, Sarek watched her, his head tilting as he scrutinized her reactions.

 

"We … have stopped for some time, haven't we?" she asked, hoping to break the intensity of the moment.  Sarek didn't answer, and Amanda found herself unable to look away.

 

Fate intervened, or at least the twerp at the controls did, and as suddenly as they had stopped, the ride resumed, Sarek's hold on her the only thing preventing Amanda from toppling onto his lap.  The spell broken, Sarek slowly released her as their ride came to a stop at the ramp and the door slid open.  For a moment, they both sat frozen, watching each other, then Amanda broke away and left the ride.

 

Sarek followed slowly after, stopping at the bottom of the ramp to watch Amanda walk away from him.  He waited, giving her time to notice he absence, his creased brow the only outward sign of his disappointment as she continued to move away.  If she ran again, he'd let her go.  Amanda could feel his eyes on her, boring into her back.  She stopped, an internal battle raging within her, one side demanding she keep moving without a backwards glance, the other refusing to leave him like this … a friend in need, if nothing more.  But was there more?  Could being a friend really be the only requirement he had in a wife?  Then again, was that such a bad thing?  Romance fades in any marriage, and if there's nothing solid beneath it to hold the couple together.

 

Sarek saw her stop, approximately thirty meters from him, then turn around.  His head lifted slightly, carefully watching her through the crowd that streamed past them.  He forced his features to go lax, his expression impassive.  He would not permit his eagerness to show.  She would need to make the next step.

 

Amanda threw her hands up exasperatedly then she strode back in his direction.  "Come on," she implored, slipping her arm through his to drag him with her.  Sarek followed along wordlessly.

 

"Are we leaving?" he asked upon noticing they were headed in the direction of the exit.

 

"I'm afraid you'll wind up in a brawl if I left you here alone."

 

Her sarcasm was evident.  "What about your friend?"

 

"Oh.  Well, she met up with this guy she's had her eye on for some time.  They went their own way."

 

Now that they were away from the worst of the crowds, Sarek slowed his pace, and neither seemed to notice when Amanda's hand slipped down his arm to become enclosed within his.  "Where do you want to go?"

 

"Home," she immediately answered.  "I think I'll call it a night."

 

"I'll transport you," he offered.

 

"Actually, I'd prefer to walk just now."  She gave him an apologetic look.

 

"Then I shall escort you."  He took the lead, taking them across the road to head towards Amanda's house, their hands remaining linked.

 

"You don't have to," Amanda told him.

 

Sarek stopped, pulling her close and looking down at her affectionately.  "I am aware of that," he stated softly, enunciating each word slowly.  She nodded, blushing and looking away demurely.  Sarek continued their walk, feeling her pleasure at his response and finding his own pleasure in the knowledge.  He kept her close to his side.  They turned down one of the sides streets, and finally the noise faded and they found themselves alone.

 

"May I ask how is marriage arranged among your people?  I have obviously done it incorrectly."

 

"There's no set way of doing it, Sarek.  But it's not a … application process.  Two people meet, they spend time together and if they fall in love they decide to marry because they can't imagine being without one another."

 

"T'Rea is under the impression you do love me."  He felt her stiffen and start to pull away, but he refused to let go.  He could feel the swirl of emotions he'd come to recognize as Amanda's "signature", but nothing specific leapt out at him.  T'Rea was always much more adept at understanding emotion than he was.

 

"Let me ask you something," she began softly.  Sarek nodded once to indicate she should continue.  "Do you not have any female friends on Vulcan?"

 

"I do," he confirmed.

 

"That aren't already married?"

 

Sarek paused to think.  "Two," he told her.

 

"Why aren't you asking one of them to marry you?"

 

Sarek stopped, nonplussed.  He shrugged imperceptibly.  "Their clans are not … compatible with my own."

 

"But surely better than mine?"

 

"Yes," Sarek admitted.

 

Amanda laughed silently, taking the sting out of his words.  She knew it was the truth, but she doubted she'd ever be completely accustomed to Vulcan bluntness.  They resumed their walk, turning down her walkway, where Sarek released her hand so Amanda could unlock her door.  Expecting to follow her in, Sarek was surprised when Amanda turned in the doorway, blocking his way.  "So?"

 

Sarek looked at her blankly, then glanced into the house behind her.  "Invite me in."

 

Amanda ignored his command.  "Answer my question."

 

Sarek folded his hands before his waist.  "I did."  She didn't respond, but leaned against the door jamb, arms crossed, her stance clearly indicating no intention of either letting him enter or leaving herself.  "It never occurred to me to ask them," he appeased.  "I consider them friends."

 

"You consider me a friend too," she reminded him.

 

"Yes, but," Sarek looked away, taking a deep breath and slowly releasing it, "you are different."

 

"Because I'm human?" she guessed.

 

Sarek paused, watching her silently.  Her gaze locked with his own, their expressions both intense.  Sarek wasn't even aware when he leaned closer.  His voice was barely audible.  "No."

 

Amanda's gaze dropped to his lips, mere inches away, his breath hot upon her face.  She saw his adam's apple jump when he swallowed hard.  When she sought his eyes again, he was still watching her.  "Come in," she murmured, taking a large step back then turning to enter the kitchen area and busy herself at the counter making tea.

 

Sarek followed, taking his time in closing the door behind them.

 

"Want some?" she asked, gesturing to the supplies on the counter before her. Sarek shook his head, refusing the offer, and Amanda abandoned her efforts.  She turned around, leaning against the counter, her arms again crossed over her waist.

 

"Perhaps we should go to the living area, to sit?"

 

"What if it didn't work out?" she abruptly asked, catching Sarek off guard.  "We could divorce, right?  How does it work?"

 

Sarek hesitated.  "Divorce is uncommon on Vulcan, granted only with greatest cause.  I would never permit you to live in discontent."

 

"And what if we have children?  We aren't even from the same solar system, so how would we decide who keeps the children?"  She threw her hands up helplessly.  "I don't even know if you're interested in having more children."

 

Sarek considered talk of children to be a good sign -- a very good sign.  He couldn't keep the levity from his voice.  "I desire children, Amanda.  As for the other..." he twitched his head slightly in lieu of a shrug, "…we would reach a satisfactory arrangement for all involved."  He took a step closer, his voice dropping intimately.  "Does this mean you accept?"

 

"Uh," Amanda blew out an exasperated breath.  "I don't know, Sarek.  I just … any marriage is a leap of faith, but this … this is more like a leap in the dark."

 

Sarek nodded.  "There will no doubt be unforeseen difficulties," he agreed. "But they are of no consequence."

 

"Why?" she asked, clasping her hands before her chest to still their nervous movements.

 

"Because, when you leap, it will be with me."  His brows rose with sudden inspiration.  "I will catch you."  He waited, pleased with what he thought was a very imaginative allegory.  His brows slowly returned to their natural position, her reaction not at all receptive.  Sarek took a step closer, his voice dropping to an intimate murmur.  "I cannot predict what our life would be like," he admitted, " but as my bondmate, I pledge all that I have, all that I am, to you."

 

A tingle spread throughout her torso.  "And what do I do to deserve such devotion?" she whispered breathlessly.

 

"You--" Sarek paused, once again wary of the subject before them.  "You shall sustain my life."

 

Amanda blushed, touched by the romanticism, until she remembered Vulcans did not engage in such things.  "What do you mean?"

 

Sarek shook his head.  "First I must know, will you accept me as bondmate?"

 

Amanda sighed.  "Must I decide this minute?"  He nodded apologetically.  "I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit to having some reservations about this, Sarek.  A week ago the thought of marrying me hadn't entered your mind, but suddenly you're so sure I'm the one.  With everything that's happened, I just wish I knew what you really."  Her voice trailed off, her eyes brightening as inspiration struck.

 

She closed the gap between them, touching her body to his.  "Close your eyes," she instructed to which Sarek immediately compiled.  Amanda reached out to lay her palm against his cheek, satisfied when he still did not open his eyes.  She slowly leaned forward, keeping her own eyes open as she gently brushed her lips against his.  When he didn't move away she pressed harder, parting her lips slightly and pleased when he parted his in kind.  When his arms encircled her, Amanda closed her eyes, her arms reaching around his neck to pull him closer, giving herself completely to the moment.  When she pulled away, she noted he was already watching her, his expression bemused.

 

"Was there a particular significance to this action?"

 

"Um-hmm." She ran her tongue across her lips, his spicy taste still evident.  "There's an old Earth song that advises that one should rely on a kiss to reveal a man's true feeling."

 

Sarek's face closed.  "And you are basing your decision on this evidence?"  At her nod his hands arms involuntarily tightened around her.  "I … was unaware."  He pressed his lips disconcertingly.  "I would like to point out that I am rather inexperienced with this form of affection.  Perhaps I might be permitted another try?"

 

Amanda bit back a laugh.  "Sarek, it's really unnec..." Her expression fell.  "What am I saying?  By all means, have another try if you like!"

 

Sarek nodded with approval, his thoughts turning inward as he prepared for this final 'test'.  Taking a deep breath, he glanced inquiringly at Amanda to see if she was ready.  Sarek tightened his arms around her, bringing her body snug against his, her arms rested loosely around his own.  He took a moment to look at her, gazing into her eyes, noticing how her initially jovial expression first turned serious, then flush as she responded to the desire he projected.  Sarek leaned forward, slowly, watching her the whole time.  Just seconds before his lips touched hers she closed her eyes, her breath catching at the first caress of their flesh.  Gently, just as she had done, Sarek brushed his lips across hers, and when her lips parted in invitation, he grew bolder, applying more pressure.  His hands began roaming on their own violation, caressing the curve of her spine.  Amanda moaned softly, bringing her arms up to again wrap around his neck.

 

A spike of desire shot through Sarek, stealing his own breath.  Feeling more confident by her response, Sarek ran the tip of his tongue across her lips, tasting her, and was rewarded by another moan and a gyration of her pelvis against his.  Her tongue slid across his lips; Sarek prepared to return the gesture but she took advantage when his parted and slid her tongue into his depths.  She brushed her tongue against his, sucking gently on his bottom lip as she pulled away just for only a second then returned to him.  Sarek matched her in technique as well as fervor.

 

Amanda pulled away, turning her head to the side to permit them both a chance to catch their breath.  Sarek wasn't satisfied though, there was too much at stake.  He brought his hand to the back of her head, sliding his fingers into her hair and turned her face towards him, capturing her lips again.  She pulled away, leaning her head back and exposing herself to him.  Sarek pressed his lips to her throat, making a trail down to the hollow, and pressing against the flutter of her pulse.  His name escaped from her lips in a sigh.

 

Sarek straightened to meet her eyes, patiently waiting until she finally opened them.  He watched for any indication from her of his performance, but based on her participation he was confident he had done well.  Amanda stared at him dumbfounded, her gaze traveling from his eyes down to his wonderful, magical lips.  She closed her eyes again, leaning forward to rest her head against his shoulder.  "Holy cow," she muttered.

 

"Was that acceptable?" Sarek asked uncertainly, disturbed by her unfamiliar utterance.  She nodded wordlessly against him, and Sarek gently took her by the shoulders to pull her from him.  "Then I passed your test?"

 

Amanda smiled joyously.  "Yes.  I'm probably crazy for doing this, but yes, I'll be your wife."

 

Elation soared through Sarek, revealed by only the smallest of smiles he permitted to cross his face.  His euphoria was short lived, however, as he realized he could wait no longer to tell Amanda about pon farr.  He slid his hands down her arms until her hands lay within his.  "Come, I wish to sit with you.  There is more we must discuss."  Her brows furrowed but she followed him into the living room.  When they sat together on her sofa, Sarek released her hands to clasp his tightly together.  Amanda pressed her hands together and slid them between her knees to ward off their sudden chill from Sarek's absence.  She waited for several minutes as Sarek composed his thoughts.

 

"There.is a thing that happens to Vulcans.  It is a very private thing, something even we do not publicly discuss.  However, as my wife, it would affect you and I would not wish to subject you to such a thing without your complete understanding and acceptance."

 

"You think it will change my mind about marrying you?"  She smiled encouragingly even though he stared straight ahead, never looking her way.  "What?  What is it?"

 

"It is … distasteful.  It destroys our control … our logic."

 

"What...?"  She shook her head, confused.  "Like insanity?  Is it a disease, a dementia, which affects you at some point?"

 

"No," Sarek quickly reassured her.  "Not a disease, and the effects are temporary."  He inhaled deeply.  "It is a reproductive cycle.  We call it pon farr.  It occurs approximately every seven years in the adult male.  It is a … compulsion to mate, at the expense of our reason.  If we do not, we can die."

 

Her eyes widened considerably.  "Die.  You mean, literally, die?"  Sarek nodded resignedly.  "Oh."  Amanda shifted nervously.  There was a pregnant pause as Amanda considered this news.  Sarek sat in silence, inconspicuously watching her from the corner of his eye, attempting to gage her reaction. "What, precisely, is required to … make sure you don't die."

 

Sarek looked at her, puzzled.  "Mating," he stated with an obvious tone.

 

Amanda felt a blush crawl across her face.  "I realize that, but I mean … is there anything in particular that must be done, during the mating, to…"  Her words faltered, and a feeble wave of her hand finished her thought.

 

"Nothing … extravagant." Sarek hesitantly replied, turning on the couch to face her.  "You have to realize mating at this time is not…"  The words "like before" came to mind, but he found himself reluctant to remind her of their previous experience.  "It is not a delicate thing.  There is no thought to pleasure, or seduction.  I will be blinded by my needs, and it is you who will have to endure this time, and control it as best you can."

 

The color faded from her cheeks.  "You make it sound like … well, rape."

 

"No, it is not rape," he quickly reassured her.  "Rape, as I understand it, is about controlling another, about hurting someone.  There is no malevolence to pon farr; just need."

 

"Would you hurt me?"  She couldn't keep the quiver from her voice.

 

Sarek grimaced slightly.  "Not intentionally."

 

Amanda groaned, wrapping her arms across her waist protectively.  Sarek reached out to take her right hand between his.  "Let me elucidate.  Under normal circumstances, there is no injury during the Time.  A Vulcan couple is connected telepathically with each other, and this permits the female to experience desire along with the male.  It is a mutual coupling, and the female can use this bond, as we call it, to exert a certain amount of control over the male's lust."

 

Amanda struggled to swallow the sudden lump in her throat.  "But we aren't 'normal circumstances', are we?  I'm not telepathic, and you are much stronger than I am."

 

Sarek could only nod, the truth of her words undeniable and so obvious.  The risk was too great.  "Forgive me," he murmured, absently stroking her hand as he resigned himself to finding another mate.  "I had no right to ask this of you."  He began to pull away to leave but she held him tight.

 

"Wait."

 

Sarek shook his head.  "No, there are too many unknowns.  It would be foolish for you to attempt this."

 

"What about you?  You are risking death."

 

"That is always my risk."

 

Amanda placed her free hand against his cheek.  "I trust you."

 

Sarek leaned into her palm.  "It is not a matter of trust, Amanda.  To trust me means you believe I would never choose to harm you.  There is no choice in this."

 

Amanda shook her head resolutely.  "I.  Trust.  You."  He said nothing in response, only watched her warily.  "I want to be your wife.  If you still want me, that is."

 

Sarek closed his eyes and took a deep breath, opening them again as he exhaled.  "I do," he replied, nodding to support his statement.

 

Amanda smiled at his choice of words, wondering if he knew their significance to certain Earth wedding ceremonies.  She leaned forward and pressed a lingering kiss to his lips.

 

"What is the significance to that kiss?" Sarek asked when she had pulled away.

 

Amanda shook her head, brushing her fingers against his lips.  "No significance.  I've simply discovered I enjoy kissing you."  She smiled up at him.  "I will probably want to do this often, if that is 'acceptable'?"

 

Sarek slid one arm around her, drawing her closer.  He used his paired fingers of the other hand to trace the line of her jaw and throat.  "It is," he affirmed, pulling her to him for another embrace.

 

* * *

 

Sarek entered his suite, nonchalantly tossing his cloak onto the rack as he glanced through some communiqués he picked up from his office on his way upstairs.

 

"It is very late."

 

Sarek nodded with no surprise at T'Rea, who was seated behind his desk.  He placed his communiqués on the surface and took the seat opposite hers.  They watched each other in silence for several minutes.  "You will have to cease this entering my premises uninvited," he scolded her, unable to maintain the illusion of any real disapproval.

 

T'Rea's face lightened.  "She agreed?"

 

Sarek nodded one time.

 

T'Rea released a sigh of relief.  "Then I believe 'congratulations' is the appropriate term."

 

Sarek nodded his thanks.  "Does this mean you are satisfied with the current state of affairs?"

 

T'Rea stood to take her leave.  "It is satisfying to know Sybok will be cared for by two parents when I am no longer present."  The gravity of her situation lingered between them lessening the mood.  She bowed to him.  "I shall take my leave for tonight.  Sleep well."

 

Sarek got up to follow her out, catching her just as she opened the door. "Shall I presume that you will no longer interfere in my personal affairs?" he teased gently.

 

T'Rea paused, assuming a contemplative look.  "Certainly," she agreed heartily, noting the satisfaction that crossed Sarek's features.  "I can discuss children with Amanda."  She quickly left the room, shutting the door firmly behind her and moving down the hall as quickly as Vulcan decorum would allow.

 

Sarek remained rooted where he stood, staring at the closed door.  He clasped his hands behind his back, thinking, his fists unconsciously clenching and unclenching.  He moved to the door, stopped short of opening it, then impulsively threw it open and stepped into the hallway.  "T'Rea," he called out, but she was already out of sight.

 

The End