Actions

Work Header

A Vulcan Mask

Work Text:

It started with the banquet for the Kir City Council. In the weeks preceding, Amanda noticed an unusual agitation in her husband, a sort of nervous energy radiating off of him, infecting his otherwise orderly mind. Important files were misplaced, meals were left half-eaten, doors which should have been locked were left open and vice versa.

The idea had been floated about of turning this civil function into an excuse for a real, Terran-style honeymoon. Why not stay the night, or a few days? To this proposal, Sarek presented no comment. Amanda began looking forward to what she considered their ‘escape to the country’. Finally, an opportunity to see some of Vulcan’s natural beauty.  To shed their duties for a time and focus on the growing bond between them. Amanda envisioned them barefoot on a veranda, gazing out over the Thanar sea. In the warm haze of the setting sun, they would raise their glasses and say, to us!

Yet, no amount of romance could blind Amanda to fact that her husband was in distress. At first, Amanda could not fathom what brought about this change, but as the date of the dinner inched closer, there could be no doubt. He made no effort to confirm their travel arrangements, growing irritable when reminded. With the banquet days away, the merest mention of Kir set Sarek’s lips convulsing into frown.

“Have you heard from S’haile Savon yet?” Amanda asked one evening, testing the waters, “If we are going to be staying with him, I suppose I ought to find an appropriate gift.”

“I have not.”

“I was thinking of wearing this for the council banquet. Do you like it? You don’t suppose the feathers are a bit much, do you?”

“No.”

“You aren’t even looking!”

“I am certain the council members will not consider your attire in their evaluation of you.”

“How do you consider it,” she asked with all the sultriness of an Orion dancing girl, “in your evaluation of me?”

Sarek could not help but look. And look again. “I consider it… very elegant.”

“You ought to see what else I have planned for you—I wish you’d speak to S’haile Savon about us staying for a few days. I know it isn’t so far, but Kir is meant to be so beautiful and you have been so—so—so… agitated lately.”

Sarek did not fail to hear the question in his wife’s idle chatter. He considered for a moment. Truth, he concluded, was bound to prevail. It was best, then, to be truthful.

“As the council banquet draws near, I admit a sense of agitation has developed within me.”

“Why should you be? You must know everyone on the council at this point—are they so against to your proposals?”

“No, from what has been discussed, I believe they will accept my proposals.”

She sat beside him on the bed and asked, “Then what’s troubling you?”

“I am worried for yout’hy’la. Kir is not like Shikahr; for many on the council, you will be the first Human they have encountered.”

 “Oh,” she said and let the realization settle over the room. 

Sarek did not need to explain. In their few months of marriage she had already learned what a disturbance it was—a Human among Vulcans. Even in so cosmopolitan a city as Shikahr, her existence was greeted with an affronted bemusement. It reminded her of the way people starred at a child throwing a tantrum in the middle of a promenade, the look of humiliation on the parent’s face at their inability to control their child. Only here, she was parent and child both.

“I don’t have to go, you know,” Amanda said in a clipped tone that accused him of being ashamed. “I can just stay here.”

“My wife must attend.”

“I see.”

“Not only is it expected, I should be very… bored without her.”

That earned him a smile, not much of one, but enough to know he had hit the right note. When he raised his fingers to her, she greeted them with her own. 

“What would you suggest I do, then, your excellency?” Amanda asked, her smile picking up a mischievous tint. 

Be on your best behavior, was the phrase that entered Sarek’s mind.

“If you endeavor to be as unemotional in your expression as possible, I believe they will be quite taken with the rest of your personality.”

“As taken as you are?"

“I should hope not. That would be most unfortunate… for the council members.’’

 

On the day of the banquet, Sarek was the picture of calm. Amanda, on the other hand, was so on edge she had scarcely stopped moving since morning. It was as though, through some psychic magic, all Sarek’s anxiety of the weeks previous had been transferred directly into her. Vulcan emotional projection was a myth, of course, as much a racist fairy tale as Xians stealing memories or Klingons eating their unfit young. All the same, the nerves abounded. 

As their transport neared the banquet hall, Amanda adjusted and readjusted her hair. She moved her brooch from one side of her chest to the other. And then back again. She tried to relax her face. Forgoing that, she made every expression she could think of: frowns, clownish grins, a wrinkled nose, wide-eyed shock, disapproving raspberries. Anything, everything, as if she could use them up and be rid of them.

“Peace, my aduna,” said Sarek, his fingers gently brushing hers.

It was a question, a command, and a prayer all at once. Amanda nodded. The transport stopped. The door opened. The trial, she told herself, has begun.

The dinner was a trial. After a lengthy, and by Vulcan standards, effusive, introduction of the esteemed Ambassador and his wife, the conversation devolved into the council’s regular business. In contrast to Federation conferences, the concerns of the Kir City Council were unbelievably small-minded. The pettiness of local politics. The trials of regulating hydroponic farming. Zoning ordinances. Tax rates. Permitting processes for the use of athletic fields at parks. Amanda had no difficulty in imagining how Sarek could have been bored without her—indeed, it was a wonder he wasn’t bored still. She certainly was. 

Boredom, however, had its uses. Boredom was about as close to expressionless as Amanda could achieve and her hosts seemed not to notice the difference. As they adjured to the veranda, Amanda found herself staring placidly at the landscape, nodding along to a councilwoman’s complaint about Vulcan youth and the current generation’s unhealthy reliance on technology. Somethings, Amanda noted, are universal.

“There is an illogical assumption on the part of kanlar that there is nothing more to be gained from nature. Yet, Surak himself proclaimed the oneness of all life. To be present in nature, without the presence of a screen, is most beneficial to the development of the mind. Do you not agree, T’sai Amanda?”

“Hm? Oh yes, certainly. Good exercise, too.”

“Were you much in nature as a child, T’sai?”

“Not as much as I would have liked. I was an excellent tree climber, though.” 

“Tree… climber?”

“My wife,” Sarek interrupted, “S’haile Savon has invited us to remain with him through the week.”

“The Ambassador informs me you are interested in the geography of Kir Province, T’sai. From here there is an excellent view of the sea and we are not far from the Caves of Kolinar,” S’haile Savon added with the quiet glow of the house proud. “I should be honored to have you as guests.”

“Some other time, perhaps,” Amanda replied.

She remembered at the last second to forgo the polite smile and instead threw a pleading glance to her husband. Last week, she had yearned for this invitation. Tonight, it sounded like torture.

“After the change of season, S’haile,” suggested Sarek, “when the staroklar are migrating.”

An acceptable compromise. A chance to escape. In the safety of their transport, Amanda leaned her head back against the seat and let out a puff of air. She was tired, unfathomably tired, and longing for the comfort of her own bed. Sarek put his hand upon her knee—a statement and a question.

“Sarek, what’s a starok?”

“A flying animal, similar to a…” his fingers drummed on her knee as he searched for the word, “a bat.”

“Hm. Is their migration very interesting?”

“No. But it is six months from now. We need not return if you do not wish it. S’haile Savon’s invitation was genuine. I believe he and the rest of the city council now possess a favorable impression of Humans.”

Amanda smiled and patted his hand. She lifted her head and saw they were nearing Shikahr. She watched the darkness out the window become freckled with lights until the desert plains gave way to glistening towers and the transport slowed in city traffic. Sarek’s hand was still on her knee. She turned her eyes to his face and found he was watching her.

“My dear, if you continue to look at me like that, there will be a most un-Vulcan emotional display in this vehicle.”

He continued all the same. When the transport arrived at the Ambassador’s residence, neither passenger emerged. The machine idled for a while and then switched off. All the next day, Sarek’s shoulder hurt and Amanda’s right buttock bore an indelible imprint of the control panel.

 

The next several months were punctuated with what Sarek termed ‘formal appearances’. They were a fashionable novelty, the newly-returned Ambassador with his off-worlder wife, and much in demand for everything from meetings of provincial councils, gala openings, extravagant dinners, to a religious ceremony which Amanda could not identify and no one was very capable of explaining. Through them all, she tried to employ the facial stoicism which had so impressed the council of Kir. It helped. By her stone-faced efforts, and with Sarek’s assistance, Amanda was slowly able to integrate herself into conversations. 

With every function they attended, Sarek impressed his wife more and more. He had commanded respect on Earth, seemed dignified and immutable among other interplanetary delegates. On Vulcan, he shone. In conversation with others of his kind there was no mistaking his wit and his charm. Nor his diplomacy—he could be served the worst meal of his life and still find something to say to the chef which was both true and kind.

He was the biggest threat to her expressionless facade, for the sight of him in his element brought an irrepressible smile to her lips. Once, Amanda caught a look of envy in a Vulcan woman’s eyes when Sarek fleetingly put his hand on the small of his wife’s back and announced their departure. That was another of his skills, knowing when it was time to go home and making the appropriate excuses. Amanda wondered if it was a skill, or if she simply looked as tired as she felt.

“I wish I could take you around with me everywhere,” Amanda declared when they returned home from a particularly successful evening. 

“That hardly seems practical, aduna.”

“Everyone likes me much better when you’re around to explain me to them.”

Sarek could not disagree. He imagined it was much the same for Amanda here, as it was for him on Earth. They were each other’s cultural translators. He considered the possible solutions.

“Ugh, I knew I oughtn’t’ve worn these shoes. My feet are killing me. Don’t forget, tomorrow you have that call with whatshisname, with the antennae? The Andorian.”

“A companion.”

“I thought you hated him.”

“No, for you. You should acquire a Vulcan companion, to… explain you in my absence.”

Amanda scoffed. It felt good to scoff. So good, in fact, she scoffed again for the fun of it. Sarek remained unfazed and she was forced to add:

“Sarek, friends aren’t something one ‘acquires’. They’re… gained. Made.”

“That is a semantic argument.”

Amanda could not disagree. It was a semantic argument. And, if she was being honest, she did long for companionship outside her husband. There was independence, there was introversion—she possessed both in droves—but there was such a thing as isolation, too. As she pulled her nightgown over her head, it was as though a stopper had been pulled from a great well of loneliness within her. Quickly, she began scrubbing away her makeup as if to wipe the threat of tears away.

“I will be in meditation.”

“Sarek?”

“Amanda.”

“What if… I can’t make any friends. I mean, we’ve lived here for nearly a year now and the only person who really speaks to me is the librarian. And I’m fairly certain she hates me.”

“You will make friends, aduna. Be patient.”

Sarek’s hand was cool and dry against her cheek. There was a rush which ran through the both of them. A current, a pulse, which was not his, nor hers, but theirs. When he pulled his hand away, the loneliness which had threatened to overflow had drained away. 



As the first anniversary of their marriage approached, the novelty of their existence began to wane. The invitations slowed. Sarek became increasingly occupied with diplomatic affairs. Though he expressed regret at leaving her so much alone, Amanda assured him she was fine. She had her own interests, she reminded him. Amanda’s integration into her adoptive culture, she declared, would now began in earnest.  

Amanda concluded there were three main obstacles which prevented her from befriending most Vulcans. The first, that she was visibly Human. Second, her inability to speak Vuhlkansu. And third, her countenance. There was nothing to be done about the first. The second was a work in progress and a constant source of frustration. Vulcans were as secretive and protective of their language as they were their customs: she had only to hesitate for a moment, to stumble over a single word and the conversation would change irreversibly to Federation Standard. Even when their Standard was worse than her Vulcan. Sarek insisted this was a politeness. Amanda protested she was never going to learn that way.

This left her countenance. Amanda’s learned expressionlessness had proven successful during their cycle of formal appearances. Now, she began employing it in her daily excursions. It was difficult. So much more difficult than sitting impassively for a few hours at a charity dinner. There were so many more things to aggravate, to delight. Don’t frown at the person who ignores the traffic signal. Don’t sigh at the unusually long line. Don’t stick your tongue out at the baby. Her mind became a constant, censorious warning.

The effects, however, were instantaneous and largely positive. People no longer avoided the empty seat next to her. Their patience with her Vuhlkansu increased. It was tiring work, but Amanda considered a short day of productive socializing much more valuable than a long day of being a pariah.

Productive socializing, Amanda mused, I’m already thinking like a Vulcan.

It took six weeks of persistent efforts to bring the librarian around. Amanda’s assertion that she hated her was surely an exaggeration, nevertheless the Chief Language Librarian was a cantankerous sort, even by Vulcan standards. She did not suffer fools and, by her standards, that seemed to include much of the general populace—Amanda was slowly working her way off the list of fools.

The Academy Library was one of Amanda’s favorite places. Beautiful, comprehensive, comforting. Beyond its resources, it was a place designed for one either to commune or to be alone, as one needed. Best of all, for the sake of its uncomputerized materials, it was one of the few climate-controlled places in Shikahr routinely kept below eighty degrees. An oasis in the desert.

It was a day of unforgiving heat, which made everything move more slowly: crowds, lines, human minds. By the time Amanda arrived at the library, she was half-melted. When the doors opened and greeted her with a rush of cool air, she could have collapsed on the spot in a puddle of relief. Instead, she blinked—just a blink—and made her way to the circulation desk.

Sarlah etek dvin-tor,” said the librarian without looking up from her work.

Vu dvin dor etwel,” Amanda replied.

At the sound of her voice, the librarian raised her head.

“Hm. T’sai Amanda. We are gratified by your presence on such a day as this.”

Our weather is not for little humans, she seemed to say. Amanda suppressed a polite smile. She suppressed an impolite hand gesture. Instead, she nodded and requested to continue the reading she had begun last week. The librarian appeared impressed.

 “I will prepare your console for you.”

“Thank you.”

Amanda sat before the console and felt her jaw tense. Even reading was not without its difficulties. There was so much fidgeting one did with one’s face: a pursing of lips, a wrinkling of the brow, a half-conscious examination of one’s teeth with one’s tongue. And that was just the face; after half a minute, it was as if her whole body cried out for movement. She was determined not to crack.

She put her hands on the surface of the desk and concentrated solely on reading. No toe tapping, no nail biting, just reading. A headache set in, full of sharp, white pain. Perhaps it was the heat, or the glow of the console. She managed about two screens worth before switching it off.

 The librarian was surprised to see her back so soon.

“Have you finished for today, T’sai?”

 “I have.”

An eyebrow raised. The librarian tilted her head in silent inquiry. This was always difficult, the graceful exit. Don’t smile, don’t smile, don’t smile. Amanda imagined what Sarek might do in her place. How he might hold himself. What he might say.

“Today,” she continued, her hands clasped before her, “is not a day for reading.”

This, apparently, qualified as a joke. The librarian smiled. The Vulcan smile is an odd thing: a slight downward turn of the corners of the mouth, a flare of the nostrils, a tremble in the upper lip. It reminded Amanda of being in school, locking eyes with a friend across the classroom, sharing a private joke and trying not to laugh. Such a sight on the librarian, seemed doubly odd and three times as gratifying.

Oveh, may I make a personal observation?” she asked.

The librarian had never called her oveh before and she had certainly never asked before making her personal observations.

“You may,” Amanda answered.

“You are not like other humans I have met.”

 A compliment. A compliment from a woman so imperious, she had even seen Academy instructors avoid her gaze. Now this was, as the saying went, something to write home about. Real, measurable progress. Amanda returned home giddy. Giddy, with a splitting headache. Though it was still early in the afternoon, she headed straight into the bedroom, crawled beneath the covers and slept.



Sarek observed his wife’s progress with great interest. He had been concerned for some time about the imbalanced focus on his work over hers. He worried she would become bored, resentful. It gratified him to see she had taken such a keen interest in her cultural assimilation. If there was ever a Human capable of a satisfactory life on Vulcan, Sarek felt, it was Amanda. Her intelligence, her far-reaching curiosity, her patience, her determination, all her strongest qualities would be admirable in any Vulcan.

It was a source of secret pride to watch her among a crowd. How radiant she seemed with her golden hair and her rosy skin. How differently her mind worked. How expert she had become at weaving tales of Earth and the exploits of Humans, fielding increasingly indiscreet inquiries until her listeners caught themselves, embarrassed at the baseness of their own curiosity.

Perhaps not everyone was so amused by her, but those who were not did not rank highly in Sarek’s mind, either. At a gathering for provincial officials, the Elector of Han-Shir had seen fit, through whatever internal logic of his own, to expound on the unattractiveness of Humans. As he decried the inherent untrustworthiness of their unpredictable and chaotic behavior, all eyes fell to Sarek and his wife. 

“There is nothing which so refreshes the analytical mind like pure and complete chaos, Elector,” Amanda replied, with the greatest of all possible dignity, “You should ask my husband just how good my chaos can be.”

If he could have married her again right there, Sarek would have.

It was a comfort to him to see her so embracing of her new homeland. Particularly as tensions among Federation delegates grew over the United Earth’s increasing influence in the quadrant. More and more of his days were spent trying to ease concerns that Humans would do anything rash, while simultaneously cautioning UE representatives not to do anything rash. Be more like my wife, he would think and wish she were there to make her fellow Humans see reason.

Sarek often found himself longing for his wife’s company. In conferences, he amused himself by imagining her reactions. The cutting remark she would have for the Tellarite ambassador. Her outrage at the Vulcan insistence on non-interference. How much he missed the sound of her voice. At home in the evenings, she had grown quieter. The time they spent reclining together in silence was punctuated less and less by her observations, her questions, her reminders which were as much for her benefit as they were for his.

Rather than press him for details, she now seemed satisfied with his one-word analyses of the day. Pleasant. Tedious. Unobjectionable. Fraught. He lacked the capacity to expound without her prompting. What made it pleasant? Why was it tedious? You will never guess who I ran into today. That was her talent, not his.

On the day of Amanda’s triumph at the library, Sarek returned home unusually early. He had not been able to concentrate. Perhaps it was because of the heat. Whatever the reason, his mind was continually on his wife. He longed for her thoughts, her companionship and, though he should never have admitted it, for her touch as well. And so it was that, as Amanda might have put it, with less than honorable intentions, he arrived home before the evening meal.

He did not expect the front room to be empty, but it was. Her study was empty. The kitchen was empty. The chair where she sometimes sat to read was empty. Sarek moved quietly through the house, searching for her. He found her in the center of their bed, curled up tight like a young sehlat. 

T’hy’la,” Sarek whispered, brushing the hair from Amanda’s face.

Amanda frowned. In a clumsy sweep of her arm, she pushed his hand away. She rolled onto her back and groaned.  

“What time is it?”

“It is time for our evening meal. Come, I will prepare something for you.”

“I’m not hungry. You eat. I’m going back to sleep.”

“You must eat, aduna.”

“I’m tired. Please, let’s not argue.”

“Who is arguing?” asked Sarek. 

That had been one of his favorite idioms she employed during their courtship and one of the few he attempted to adopt. The first time he said it, she had laughed louder than any laugh he had heard before. But today, the saying did not illicit so much as a smile. A sour note. Amanda pulled the covers over her head and Sarek retreated to his meal.

Amanda did not join him for dinner. When afterwards he sat on the divan, she did not, as she usually did, come and put her legs across his. Sarek contemplated these absences, unsure what, if any, significance they contained. In a Vulcan wife, such behavior would not be noteworthy; of Human wives, he knew only very little. He recalled the manner with which she had pushed his hand away and worried.

Amanda listened as Sarek went about his evening in the usual manner. Through the clatter of dishes and beat of footsteps she could trace his movements. Now he’s refilling his glass. Now he’s cleaning up. Now he’s probably putting his feet up on that stupid divan. Same as everyday, whether I’m there or not; I might as well be invisible. As soon as the thought entered her mind, she knew it was true. Felt it, deep in her bones. Suddenly, she was aware of this great rift which existed between them, which always had been and always would be. The same rift which existed between herself and everyone else on Vulcan. Never could she mend it—try as she might, she would never bridge it. What good did it do to offer all of oneself and get nothing in return?

Once again, the great well of loneliness opened before her. For the first time since she had come to Vulcan, Amanda cried. She sobbed in great breath-stealing, soul-cleansing sobs. She cried for herself, for her loneliness, for Sarek, who had thought so much of her. She cried for feelings which did not demand tears, but which could no longer be ignored. She cried, hoping she would dissolve into tears and evaporate away in the Vulcan sun.

Amanda cried and Sarek, from the depths of his meditation, felt it. It was the pull of a string knotted around his sternum. Perhaps this was what humans meant by the term ‘heartache’. He hurried into the bedroom. At the sight of her, the look of anguish on her face, the tightness of her grip on the pillow, the string in Sarek’s chest pulled taut. 

She did not answer when he called her name. She did not stir as he knelt on the bed. Nor as he placed his fingers along her face. Nor as his mind called out to hers, as their katra flowed into one another.

Together, they felt Amanda’s exhaustion. They saw how dismissive Vulcans could be; they felt the hurt and the frustration of rejection. The drive to do better, the struggle not to feel. Don’t smile, don’t smile, don’t smile. Somewhere, back, distant, a mother’s voice insisting: “Don’t look so sour-faced”. A man on the street yelling: “Smile for me, baby!” Someone with soft lips whispering: “You’re so beautiful when you smile.” Don’t smile, don’t smile, don’t smile. Don’t frown. Don’t suck your teeth. Don’t tell Sarek or he’ll be disappointed. It’s 2228, a woman shouldn’t need her husband’s help, anyway. The rift, the gulf of understanding. Together, they felt Sarek’s obliviousness. They saw how he imagined her beside him during conferences. The joy it brought, the comfort. Together, they listened to the sound of her voice, felt how he had missed her, how he could never be disappointed in her. Was this what it meant to love someone? They decided that it was.

When Sarek pulled away his hands and their minds untangled, Amanda found she had stopped crying. She was left with an embarassed, denuded sensation. A pressure in her chest, a creeping dread at the thought of having to put the mask back on. Sarek raised his fingers to her, but she merely shook her head.

“I’m sorry. I can’t live like this,” she managed, “If you wanted a Vulcan wife, you should have married a Vulcan.”

“If I had wanted a Vulcan wife,” Sarek answered, “then I would not have married a Human.”

Amanda found herself wrapped in Sarek’s arms. Relief rushed in in contradictions: the tighter his embrace, the more the pressure in her heart eased. She put her arms around her husband and held him close. In the wave affection that washed over her, Amanda caught herself thinking, don’t smile. Sarek touched his forehead to hers.

“Amanda, you do not need to hide your smile from me.”

Her hand against his cheek was warm and tender. She touched her lips to his, letting her nose trail along the side of his. One kiss became two, two became four, became eight, became countless. Sarek paused to steady himself. When he looked down into his wife’s face, Amanda met his eyes and grinned.