The biggest surprise of Amanda and Sarek's relationship is how easy it is.
On their first date, he had brought her a bouquet of tiger lilies, her favorite flower.
“How ever did you know I liked these?” she had asked, delighted.He did not put even a toe over her threshold. His somber voice and gray robes contrasted strangely with the bright orange flowers in his hands. The effect ought to have been off-putting; instead, she found it intriguing.
“I have observed these flowers on your desk repeatedly, the last time six days ago. I deduced that by this time, you were in need of a fresh arrangement.”
She had invited him inside so that she could find a vase for them and he stood stiffly next to her kitchen table. She thought he looked uncertain, but she couldn't be sure. Perhaps he merely looked Vulcan.
“Was this an appropriate token of my regard for you?” he had asked, and then she thought he really was uncertain.
“Indeed,” she had replied, mimicking his grave, Vulcan intonation with a smile in her eyes. He did not get the joke. She found it strangely endearing.
And so their relationship had continued. Amanda had never told him that she liked champagne, or picnics on the beach, or having freshly cut flowers on her kitchen table. Sarek had simply deduced these things for himself, and he said he did them because it was logical to please one's mate. Or potential mate, he had added, perhaps a bit hastily, because he knew that she was in no hurry to marry.
And now, after a diplomatic crisis had forced him to cancel all their plans last week, he has taken her to the beach to apologize. She drains the last of her champagne – it's her favorite kind, of course -- and reclines on their picnic blanket, listening to the roar of the waves behind her. She is suddenly, acutely aware of the breeze that tickles her bare shoulders and blows the hem of her sun dress higher on her thighs. Only one thing is lacking from their relationship, and she had hesitated to pursue it for fear of pushing him away. But today, with the sun in the air, and the ocean behind them, and both of them just a touch languid from the champagne, she thinks she just might try to seduce Sarek.
“Could you give me another strawberry?” she asks, expecting him to place it in her hand. He surprises her by holding it to her lips instead, and she brushes her tongue along his fingertips, so lightly it might have been accidental. She looks at him to make sure that he knows it's not, and he flushes pale green along his cheekbones, a signal she has only just begun to recognize as desire. He pulls his fingers away carefully and settles his hand in his lap.
“Amanda, there is a topic which I have avoided for some time which must now be addressed.”
“Did you translate that directly from High Vulcan?” she asks playfully.She hears a faint, dry snort.
“Well, it sounded ridiculous.”She doesn't expect him to banter back, but she had expected one of the slight indications of amusement that she has come to know so well over the past few months. His willingness to reveal a sense of humor, however faint, is their greatest intimacy. Instead, he retreats into the proper, diplomatic demeanor she remembered from their first date.
“Forgive me, Amanda. The topic is difficult. I do not know how to address it.”
She lays her hand on his knee.
“Then let's not, Sarek. Would it be so criminal just to enjoy the day?”
“Enjoyment is not illegal,” he says, and she's almost certain it's one of his deadpan jokes, until he adds, “however, some forms of enjoyment are typically not practiced by Vulcans.”
“None of what we do is typically enjoyed by Vulcans,” she shoots back, keeping her tone light even though she has a sinking feeling that she knows where this conversation is going.
“It is for that reason that I must adhere to some of the customs of my people.”
She notes how carefully he keeps his eyes on her face where before she had felt them wandering over her whole body with quiet greed. She wonders if it would be kinder to ask him directly if he means that he won't have sex with her, or if he would prefer to reveal it slowly in his own time. She thought she had prepared herself for this, but the prospect that they will never sleep together is heartbreaking. To love someone this much and not share her body with him is inconceivable.
She rolls over on her side, supporting herself on an elbow. Lying flat in front of Sarek seems both vulgar and pathetic now, but she cannot bring herself to mirror his stiff, upright position. Then they will cease to be a man and a woman on a date and become diplomats at a negotiation. She won't allow that to happen.
Her movement breaks Sarek's studied control, and she feels his eyes wander over her exposed collar bone and the curve of her hip. She shouldn't feel triumphant because of that, but she does.
“Amanda.” His steady, even voice somehow sounds like a plea. “It is not the custom of Vulcan to engage in sexual activity with one who is not a wife.”
“Will you tell me why?”
This is not a debate, she reminds herself fiercely. She wants to understand him, not defeat him.
“Coupling for pleasure is a dangerous and shameful loss of control.”
Have you done it before, she wants to ask, and did you lose control? She would like to see that, not because she wants to conquer him, but because she wants to know him. And she would like to tell him that shame is an emotion, and to enforce logic with emotion is contradictory. But she will not debate him.
“Because if you have sex with one person, then you might want to do it with another, and another, until acting impulsively and losing control becomes a habit?” she asks.
“You have always been exceptionally understanding of Vulcan customs.”
“I don't understand this one.”
At that, Sarek tilts his head quizzically, not because she only had disagreed, but because she had – quite without meaning to – copied his flat Vulcan tone. And okay, maybe she is going to debate him. A little.
“Isn't that a slippery slope argument? That one thing leads to another bad thing leads to another bad thing until you're shattered and destroyed? It's logically fallacious. You're not a sixteen-year-old boy, Sarek. You would, at some point, put on the brakes.”
“It is unwise to engage in behavior that would require one to 'put on the breaks' when such behavior is not essential to one's well-being.”
This conversation is surreal. Sarek's voice should be heated. They should be yelling at each other over something so important to their relationship. But the composure isn't a pretense for Sarek, and surprisingly, it's not a pretense for her either. She can't feel her body right now, or the breeze, or imagine Sarek losing control beneath her. All she sees is the logic, razor sharp and clear, on her side.
“Sarek. Do you really believe that if you had sex with me, you would start picking up strangers in bars?”
“It is exceedingly unlikely. I have never been in a bar.”
Some of the familiar wryness has returned to his tone. It makes her wish that his hair had fallen into his eyes just so that she could brush it back, but of course, his haircut would never allow that to happen. She wonders if he would let her ruffle the straight, harsh row of his fringe, not just because she wants to see him disheveled, but because she wants an excuse to touch him some place other than his hands. All the time they've been together, and she's never touched his hair.
Later, she decides. She sits up so that she can take his hands.
“Sarek, have you become less Vulcan in the time that we have been together? Because of all the human things we've done?”
“No.” His voice is quietly surprised. “I have experienced no change in my personal or professional life, other than when I am with you. However, small lapses in control are acceptable in the presence of one's...partner.”
He looks up at her, checking that his word choice is acceptable. That she will consider him a partner, if not yet a mate. She squeezes two of his fingers in response, and suddenly it occurs to her that if she were Vulcan, she would be able to sense something through this contact. Not much, perhaps, just a sense of calm or a flicker of an emotion that was difficult to control. With time, those subtle cues would become enough for two Vulcan people to understand one another. It is an intimacy she will never know.
“Sarek, if I were Vulcan, would I be able to sense your...presence from this touch?”
“Yes. To an extent.”
“And can you sense now, what am I feeling? Or thinking?”
“I would not intrude upon your thoughts without your express permission. This is a grave crime.”
Some slight shift in the intensity of his tone tells her that she has accused him of something his people find abhorrent.
“I didn't think so. But my feelings?”
“I apologize. I had thought you were aware of my capability in this regard.”He tries to pull his hands back from hers, but she holds on.
“I knew, Sarek.”
She holds his gaze for a moment so that the full implication can sink in: I knew, and I didn't pull away. She had been surprised by how little it had bothered her. She never tried to control her feelings, and there was relief in the strange, unspoken honesty. Strange that a Vulcan man should be the one who did not run away from the frankness of her emotions.
“What can you sense now?” she asks him. He closes his eyes for a moment, sensing, and she wonders suddenly if this is what Vulcans have instead of sex.
“As always, you are calm and inquisitive,” he says, opening his eyes. She watches him, fascinated, and he pauses. If she did not look at him so closely, all of the time, she would not have noticed the small, dry swallow before his next words. “The depth of your feelings for me is...remarkable.”
“Sarek, do you know I can't have that? Knowledge of what you are feeling, or thinking, or even the slightest trace of your presence. Humans join our bodies because it's the closest we can come to joining our minds.”
“I had not considered that you would be deprived of an intimacy you find necessary.”
He wouldn't have, she realizes. She thinks of human women's uncovered limbs, their plunging necklines, their bare shoulders. Magazine covers promised twenty-seven new ways to reach orgasm and debated whether to have sex on the first, second, or third date; holovids showed little beyond casual sex. It was the opposite of anything reasoned, gradual or caring. The opposite of anything Vulcan. He had no way of knowing that this was not the sum of human sexuality. She would have to show him.
“May I kiss you?”
“I did not anticipate this topic change, however, if you desire to kiss me, I would not deny it.”
They have kissed before, but carefully. He had held his body away from hers, and she had not held to him too tightly. He had met her more than halfway on everything else in their relationship, at what cost to him she could not imagine. She had been determined that she would respect whatever physical boundaries he set, now matter how much she longed otherwise.
This time, she kisses him more slowly and deeply than she has ever dared. She brushes her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck. She pauses to rest her forehead against his and stroke the tips of his ears. His arms come around her slowly, first one hand against her back and then the other, until finally they join in the middle and pull her toward him. She pushes him backward so that she can lie on top of him and kisses him again. She will not ask for more today -- and perhaps she will not for a very long time -- but she does not stop kissing him and he does not ask her to.
“Sarek,” she whispers into his ear, “this is sex.”