The door slammed, and then Sarek heard a motor start. The motor of his hoverbike, specifically. And then Amanda was gone. Two hours later, when she had not returned, he went to the home of his mother.
“What is your purpose here, Sarek?”
The directness of the inquiry was soothing after his long assignment on Earth, where all conversations began with cumbersome pleasantries.
“I have had a conflict with my wife.”
His mother cocked an eyebrow.
“Come in, Sarek. We will discuss the issue.”
He was silently grateful that she did not say, “I told you so.”
He sat at the kitchen table; she poured tea.
“What is the nature of your conflict?”
“I made an unfortunately frank comment about the difficulty of her moods during her pregnancy.”
He had also made an unfortunately frank comment about the size of her hips, which had grown larger as her pregnancy advanced. Though he had intended the remark as a compliment, he had evidently erred in the wording. He will not share that with his mother though.
“I see. Naturally, you have arranged a time and place where you will meet to discuss the problem logically, and now you desire the perspective of an independent third party. I am pleased that you have come here, Sarek.”
Sarek fidgeted slightly.
“No such meeting has been arranged.” He was not certain whether this breach of Vulcan custom would reflect badly on himself, Amanda, or both. “Amanda left our home before we could make logical provisions for resolving our conflict.”
His mother blinked.
“I find humans difficult to understand.”
“As do I.”
His mother raised a pointed eyebrow, and he amended his answer hastily.
“At times, I have found humans difficult to understand. However, Amanda is generally an exception.”
He and Amanda had had several conflicts during the course of their relationship, all of which had made him feel baffled and lost. She had never simply refused to engage with him before though, and without her small bits of grudgingly-offered guidance, he had no idea how to even begin resolving the argument.
“Perhaps you should discuss the issue with a human. Have you considered contacting one of her Terran friends?”
“It was my first instinct. Regrettably, the time difference is prohibitive.”
“I see. The problem is difficult.” His mother was silent for a long while and then said, “Perhaps a human gesture is required of you.”
“But I do not know what type.”
“Perhaps you should offer her a gift. I have observed that this strategy is frequently successful in Terran holovids.”
“I did not know that you watched Terran holovids, Mother.”
“I have watched several since acquiring a human daughter-in-law.”
Now it was Sarek's turn to raise an eyebrow. He had been under the impression that his mother strongly disapproved of his marriage; he had not imagined that she would take steps of any kind to accommodate his human life mate.
“What sort of gift do you recommend?”
“I do not recommend a gift. I consider them illogical and unnecessary.”
Perhaps she had not abandoned her disapproval after all, Sarek reflected.
“However, I believe you should consider what your wife likes.”
This, at least, was familiar territory. At the beginning of their courtship, Sarek had made an extensive list of things Amanda liked; it had been a logical way to compete with suitors more familiar with human dating customs.
“She likes flowers. Roses specifically.”
His mother pressed her lips together almost imperceptibly. He knew what she was thinking: Vulcans did not grow flowers for ornamental purposes. It was illogical. He willed himself to respond patiently when she pointed out this most obvious fact.
“Come to the garden,” she said instead. “Perhaps we can find a suitable facsimile.”
She pointed at a plant with spiky orange leaves.
“This one captures insects. You may break it open in times of emergency and consume their remains.”
“Most useful,” Sarek murmured. “However, you may recall that my wife is pregnant and her appetite is fickle.”
“Ah.” His mother moved down the rows of her garden with a critical eye. She paused in front of a dense cluster of leathery brown leaves. “This plant grows tubers which are highly nutritious for pregnant women.”
Sarek paused and rubbed a few of the leaves between his fingers. They were surprisingly soft, and their aroma was not unpleasant. In addition, it did not contain half-digested insects, which he considered an advantage. He pictured himself presenting the plant to his wife. “Amanda, I have brought you a plant which produces nutritious tubers. I hope it will compensate for my previous indiscretion.” Sarek shook his head.
“I do not believe this is a suitable gift. It would be like the time I gave her a toaster for Christmas.”
He could tell that his mother did not understand why toasters were unsuitable gifts, but he appreciated that she did not request explication.
“Very well. What else does your wife like?”
Together they considered several options. Amanda did not like Vulcan tea, and she could not wear Vulcan jewelery because the metal produced a rare allergic reaction. His neighbor's sehlat had recently given birth to a litter of ... kittens, if such a word were even appropriate for a fanged, spiny animal, but Sarek believed that they would frighten his wife. They were also slightly venomous. This left chocolate, which was not available on Vulcan because it melted in the heat, and his mother informed him that the planet's entire supply of champagne had been requisitioned for a diplomatic event. He considered re-requisitioning one of them before he remembered that he planet's entire supply of champagne likely consisted of three bottles.
“Bread,” he said suddenly, remembering Amanda rising from their bed one night, wearing nothing but a diaphanous nightgown, to remove a freshly baked loaf from the oven.
His mother looked at him inquiringly. Admittedly, it was different from the items they had discussed, but Amanda seemed to love it with a fervor other humans reserved for fine wines and expensive chocolates. He had once beamed to Paris and returned with cheese and a baguette, a gift that had delighted her beyond his expectation.
“I believe I have an ample supply of a suitable substance,” his mother said. “I confess I had not anticipated such a simple request.”
But of course, it was not a simple request.
His mother proffered a mottled brown loaf.
“This can be digested by humans if consumed with a fiber supplement,” she said, then paused. “Therefore, it is not appropriate.” She returned it to the basket in the cupboard and retrieved another loaf, which was bright green and bore little resemblance to human bread. The third was covered small fuzzy gray spots.
“Mother, that appears to be mold.”
“Indeed, Sarek, but it is quite edible if we cut them off.” Sarek refrained from repeating the next line with her, though it was a familiar litany from his childhood. “It is illogical to waste.”
He resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. Such a small lapse of control was permissible in one's family, particularly in the presence of one's mother, yet long training had taught him not to reveal weakness in front of her.
“Mother, I know what I must do,” he said. “I must bake the bread myself. I possess the supplies.”
Amanda had brought a great deal of flour from Earth.
“Very well,” his mother said. “My research indicates that handmade gifts demonstrate one's sincerity to humans.”
“Indeed,” he replied. “Your research into human customs is unanticipated but much appreciated.”
“It is not logical to protest that which is already done. I wish you a harmonious marriage,” his mother said, guiding him to the door.
He stepped outside into the harsh Vulcan heat.
“Contact me if you require assistance,” his mother called after him. “I will ensure that the comm unit is charged.”
Sarek stared at the loaf of bread on the kitchen table. It had not risen evenly, and the crust was burnt on one side. It would have to do; he had nothing else to offer. He would simply have to say the right thing when he presented it. What that thing was, he had no idea, but he was a diplomat. Surely he could find something.
“Please accept this misshapen bread as a token of my appreciation for you.”
No. Too formal, and if the metaphor were considered too closely, it implied that he did not hold his wife in very high regard. He attempted to summon phrases from his diplomatic training but found it unexpectedly difficult to concentrate. In the two years since his marriage, he had become unaccustomed to silence. Amanda played music, rattled silverware, and walked with careless human footsteps that echoed on the stone floors – most especially when she was dancing, though she believed Sarek was ignorant of this habit. Now that the house was silent, he felt his wife's absence so keenly that he was paradoxically unable to create an apology to convey his regret for the morning's events.
The back door opened before Sarek had a chance to experiment with another phrase. Amanda was covered with dust, so much so that her bright white teeth stood out against her normally pale skin. But she was happy; she was smiling, and her eyes sparkled in the mischievous and mysterious way that had first drawn him to her. Perhaps he ought to get her a hoverbike of her own.
“Sarek, why ever does the kitchen smell like burning?”
He thrust the loaf of bread into her hands, painfully aware that he had not yet determined how to apologize. Amanda raised an eyebrow. Her gaze was nearly as piercing as his mother's, but beneath it, he thought perhaps she looked bemused. It was a positive sign, he thought.
“Amanda, I confess I do not understand my error, but I hope you will accept this. It is all I have, and the house is empty without you.”
Amanda looked at him. She looked at the bread. Bits of ash crumbled off in her hand. Sarek's knuckles tightened around the back of a chair, and he promised that he would endure any degree of anger if only she would stay in the house. Amanda looked at him hard one more time. And then she laughed. It was not a small giggle, nor the derisive laugh he had heard her make behind the backs of unusually rigid Vulcans. In fact, it was a sound like none he had ever heard before, punctuated by odd hiccoughs and occasional snorts. She flung her arms around him and attempted to embrace him, only to be thwarted by the size of her belly. This made her laugh even harder, and tears rolled down her cheeks.
“You are an idiot,” she said, but her tone was fond. “And you have much more to offer than a loaf of bread.”
Sarek regarded her cautiously.
“You are willing to forgive me?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “On one condition.”
He liked the English phrase; it was quite efficient, and Amanda called it rakish, which he gathered was a compliment.
“That I do not have to eat this bread.”
“I believe it would be prudent if you did not.”
She tossed it neatly into the garbage bin, where it landed with a loud thunk.
“Here,” she said. “Let me teach you how to make a real loaf of bread.”
“I would be most grateful.”
He watched Amanda's long, nimble fingers sink into the dough, and for the first time that day, he felt at peace.