Actions

Work Header

Meet Me on Sunday

Chapter Text

 

Amanda heard the soft ding of her PADD and snatched it from the worn, canvas bag that slapped against her hip as she walked. Her fingers slid across the device to illuminate the screen: it was the message she'd been waiting for all morning. She flashed a toothy smile and opened it.

"Good news?" Millie asked.

Amanda's eyes skimmed the contents of the brief message, narrowing instinctively with each word she read. "Not really."

Dr. Koval's was both polite and expected. He was a research scientist; he had better things to do.

"Well, you tried," Millie said, holding the door for Amanda as they entered the small cafeteria for the bimonthly afternoon faculty meeting.

"What am I going to do?" Amanda groaned, sliding into one of the tiny chairs near the front.

"So we won't have a Vulcan guest. It won't matter to the students — they'll be excited just to have this fair at all and get out of the daily grind."

"It matters to me. Millie, I don't think most of my students have actually ever seen an alien in person. Everyone talks about partnership and acceptance and diversity and the greater good, but sometimes it feels like lip service. We just stay in our conservative, gated communities in Piedmont and Glenview and never actually engage with any of these people. We spent millennia wondering if we were alone in the universe and now that we know we're not, we pretend like we are. It's ridiculous."

Millie sighed and Amanda knew it was time to back off. It wasn't her first time standing on a soapbox.

"Amanda, it's not as big of a deal as you think. You've got some visitors coming, and that's something."

But it felt like a big deal. Amanda had pitched this idea and now she wasn't going to be able to deliver exactly what she promised. It had started the previous month during a faculty meeting to discuss a cultural exchange fair at the beginning of May to celebrate Federation Day. A lot of good ideas had been tossed around, but Amanda's had taken center stage. While everyone was figuring out how to integrate Andorian, Tellarite, and Vulcan themes into a weeklong, school-wide unit study, Amanda wanted to incorporate actual Andorians, Tellarites, and Vulcans.

It was a tall order, but Amanda had a reputation for getting things done. Last year, she'd started an interplanetary partnership with a school on Andoria and had gotten her second-graders participating in monthly video transmissions with Andorians their own age. She could think of no better way to learn about a culture than firsthand and often reminded her class that it went both ways. She jokingly called her students "junior ambassadors." They were.

So because Amanda had a reputation for getting things done, she'd easily gotten approval from the principal, and then all she had to do was come up with visitors from each of the founding Federation planets. The Andorians had been easiest, as there was a large Andorian retiree community near Whitehorse. Finding a Tellarite had been a bit trickier because there wasn't a large population nearby, but eventually she located a specialty grocer in San Francisco willing to come, and better still, he was willing to bring fruits and vegetables from his home world.

But the Vulcans… the local Tellarite population was small, but the Vulcan population was almost non-existent, not just in the San Francisco area, but on Earth in general. It had taken long nights of research to track down two reasonable possibilities: Dr. Koval, a biological scientist who was participating in a yearlong exchange program at Berkeley, and a man named Sorat who owned a home in Mesa, Arizona. It turned out Sorat didn't maintain a permanent residence on Earth and as of five minutes ago, Dr. Koval wanted nothing to do with her or the school.

She massaged her temples and sighed, figuring she would just have to expand her search radius, but it had been difficult enough searching locally without access to the government databases. Maybe she was thinking too small. Maybe she could try asking someone in the local government for help, or even the Vulcan embassy.

"I've got an idea." She shot Millie a grin and pulled her PADD from her bag.

"What's that?" her friend asked.

"I'll just ask the Vulcan embassy."

Millie scoffed, but her face turned serious. "Don't tell me you're going to ask a planetary ambassador to come to our little cultural exchange fair?"

"Not exactly," Amanda murmured, swiping her finger across the screen to search for contact information. "The Vulcan embassy is in Sausalito: that's right across the Bay."

"You're going to ask the Vulcan ambassador to Earth to come to a primary school in Oakland and hang out with a bunch of eight year-olds? I mean, I love these eight-year olds, but I'm kind of partial — I'm their teacher."

"Not the ambassador," Amanda sighed. "They have a compound: I'm pretty sure there are more Vulcans there than just the ambassador. Surely they have some kind of public relations person, or a cultural or educational attaché. There has to be some kind of staff."

"I guess," Millie shrugged.

Amanda started swiping out a quick message as the school's principal entered the cafeteria.

"Wait — you were serious?" Millie hissed, looking over Amanda's shoulder.

Amanda shot her an innocent look. "Yes."

Her friend laughed under her breath, shook her head, and muttered, "Only you, Amanda. Only you."

How to phrase such a message? She flipped back to the missive she'd sent Dr. Koval, wondering if it had been too informal. She started and deleted several drafts and was attempting to think of the most appropriate synonym for the word "ask" when she heard someone call, "Miss Grayson?"

"Hmmmm?" She smiled, tucking her PADD under the table to greet Andrea Hickman, the principal's secretary.

"Sorry, my voice is a little dry today," Ms. Hickman explained, massaging her throat. "Have you gotten all the special visitors lined up for exchange fair? I know it's still three weeks out but Principal Waters needs to start planning a timeline."

"I- uh- I'm working on it," she stammered, offering a pained smile and refusing to make eye contact with Millie. "I'm still coordinating with some people to get a Vulcan guest but everything should be good to go."

"Great! Can you send me the final list of people by Monday?"

"Monday?"

"Yes, that would be lovely," Ms. Hickman replied, patting her on the shoulder and strutting away to join the principal at the front of the cafeteria. She realized the faculty meeting would start at any second so she signed the message, hit send, and stashed her PADD back in her bag.

She couldn't mess this up: it was a matter of personal pride.


Sarek had been on the planet for 24 days… 24 unfortunate days. He sat upright in the rear-facing seat of the consular vehicle, observing the flow of traffic. Fat raindrops splattered the windows, blurring his view of the city. He understood the science of precipitation well enough — he was science attaché to the Vulcan consulate after all — but the phenomenon was still a novel inconvenience.

Rain was purportedly rare in this region of the planet during this allegedly "warm" summer season, but climate scientists had already classified 2226 as the wettest summer in the San Francisco Bay Area in 192 years. It had rained 20 out of the 24 days he'd resided on Earth and forecasts didn't suggest the inclement weather would cease any time soon.

He recalled a word in the Federation Standard dictionary that had puzzled him in his youth — homesickness. The idea that one could experience distress due to a separation from a place of familiarity was profoundly illogical, yet he would not object to returning to Shi'Kahr's more temperate climate.

The car pulled through the high gates of the compound and came to a stop underneath a carriage porch in front of the headquarters building. Ambassador Selden exited first, and Sarek glanced at Kuvok, the cultural attaché, expecting him to follow the ambassador. Diplomatic protocols stipulated the most senior person should enter the vehicle last so as to be the first person to exit. As the most junior staffer of the afternoon's party, Sarek followed the inverse.

Sarek followed Kuvok out of the car and glanced over his shoulder, blinking the humidity from his inner eyelids. Sausalito was a strange place, cold and wet. His ears buzzed with the cries of birds he did not recognize and the screams of chaotic traffic from the urban atmosphere. The high walls of the consular compound obscured his view of the city, but that was the way it had been since Vulcan had established formal diplomatic relations with Earth more than a century ago — Vulcans on one side, humans on the other.

He turned on his heel to follow the senior diplomats and in a rare moment of inattention, his foot landed in a deep puddle. Unfortunately, Vulcan shoes were not designed with water resistance as a priority, and he felt moisture creep into his sock. Regrettable.

He found his way to the tiny office in the middle of the long corridor, sat at the desk in the corner, and tapped the screen of his computer monitor. He read his messages and found nothing of importance, not that any important messages had been anticipated. He chose to occupy himself by reading recently published scientific papers and articles, as his only function at the consulate was scientific reporting.

After 24 days, he'd drawn the conclusion that the role of science attaché to the Vulcan consulate was almost an entirely honorary position. Like Sarek, Ambassador Selden held an advanced degree in astrophysics from the Vulcan Science Academy, but unlike Sarek, he also held advanced degrees in biochemistry and computer engineering. Given the ambassador was more qualified to serve as science attaché than his appointed science attaché, he did not need Sarek to serve in any advisory capacity.

Sarek had a number of other duties, such as assisting in the exchange of scientific information between Earth and Vulcan, aiding Vulcan scientists engaged in projects on Earth, and arranging collaborative research efforts between the two planets. Unfortunately, Earth wanted little to do with Vulcan scientists, and Vulcan generally shared a similar sentiment for the scientists of Earth.

Animosity was illogical but humans had it in great supply. It had been nearly 163 years since first contact with Earth and the relationship between the two planets fluctuated between almost hostile and barely cordial depending on the political climate. Humans accused Vulcans of being arrogant and interfering with progress, and Vulcans accused humans of being irrationally eager to progress without an appreciation for the complexities of progression.

This was especially true in the scientific community, where profound cultural differences worked to slow mutually constructive progress. Vulcans viewed scientific advancement as a benefit for the whole of society, whereas humans viewed it as a competition of individual achievement. While prestige was merely the inevitable result of a lifetime of success, pride was illogical. Humans seemed to possess an inordinate amount of pride.

At present, there were only a handful of human scientists teaching or conducting research on Vulcan, and many of the Vulcan scientists working on Earth did so reluctantly, either due to issues with funding or because Earth's physical characteristics provided a more suitable environment for their particular fields of research.

Prior to the founding of the Federation, Vulcan's technology had been far superior to Earth's, but the ratification of the Federation Charter had changed the scientific landscape. It contained a number of clauses about the free exchange of unclassified information and technology between Federation members.

Once humans had access to Vulcan technology, they had incorporated it into their own designs and in many cases, even improved upon it. As the decades passed, humans and Vulcans — as well as most Federation members — had become far more protective of their planet's advancements and now collaboration and exchange was once again rare. Yet in 65 short years, humans had not only caught up to their Vulcan neighbors, but were now surpassing them in a number of fields.

Dr. Henry Daystrom had already made remarkable strides in the field of duotronics, but the Vulcan scientific community still maintained circuitry would never transcend resistors and transistors. Sarek had read several of Daystrom's papers and disagreed with the Vulcan establishment — the doctor's initial results were promising. Sarek had contacted Dr. Daystrom to ask to meet with him and tour his laboratory, but had received a rather short and derisive response, insinuating that the Vulcans were trying to discredit him.

Then there was Dr. Helene Tarkington, who two years earlier had developed the HT-1, the first small-scale matter-antimatter reactor, despite the Vulcans' insistence that such a prototype was at least twenty years away. He'd asked to meet with her to discuss her work and share the preliminary results of a new containment field design his colleagues at the Vulcan Science Academy had developed. Her response had been less emotional than Daystrom's, but that was likely due to its brevity — it had simply said, "No."

Humans had come a long way in an unusually brief period of time with Vulcan technology, but rather than work with Vulcan scientists, they worked for themselves, often needlessly duplicating existing research that had already been conducted by Vulcans. Vulcans also engaged in redundant work – Sarek had already found six instances in the past year of Vulcan scientists publishing papers confirming what humans scientists already had.

He discussed the possibility of developing a joint database for civilian scientists with Ambassador Selden, but the ambassador dismissed his proposal outright, claiming the Starfleet databases were adequate. Yet only an estimated 68 percent of available civilian research was included in the Starfleet databases, and getting access to the databases required an illogical and inefficient maze of bureaucracy.

Starfleet's ambiguous protocols were another problem. Sarek's predecessor had never established much in the way of a formal relationship with the Federation's main exploration agency, and the Vulcan Science Directorate had several pending requests for Starfleet's assistance with deep space research missions. Getting in contact with anyone had proven to be a challenge, and the one person he had spoken with had quickly terminated the transmission, citing Sarek's rudeness.

He had not intended to be rude and when he later reflected upon the conversation, could not understand how it had been perceived as rude, though he admitted he was a very poor judge. Offense was illogical and as he lacked a human frame of reference, it was difficult to determine what humans found offensive. The month of cultural instruction at the diplomatic headquarters in Shi'Kahr had taught him some things — humans disliked being reminded of their persistent illogic, for example — but he'd already found his limited training to be woefully inadequate to prepare him for his position.

He closed his eyes for a moment of brief meditation, only to be disturbed seconds later when his computer buzzed, alerting him to a new message. Kuvok had forwarded a misdirected request from a professor at a nearby university. Sarek had never heard of Piedmont Academy, but he was unfamiliar with most of Earth's educational institutions.

Hello,

I am an educator at Piedmont Academy in Oakland and I was looking for a Vulcan speaker for an upcoming cultural exchange fair in honor of the 65th anniversary of the Federation's founding. The commitment would be very minimal.

Any assistance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Very respectfully,
Amanda Grayson

Strange that the consulate's cultural attaché would send this to him, given the nature of the request. There were only two logical conclusions – either Kuvok had not read the request or he was simply delegating the task of corresponding with this individual to a subordinate. Given the likelihood of Kuvok sending him the message in error was low and the fact that Sarek had few other tangible duties, it would be logical to conclude he was expected to respond.

Mr. Grayson

He paused, recalling arbitrary human naming conventions stipulated that while not universally true, names ending in the letter "a" tended to belong to females. He toggled to the Terran database and quickly researched the name.

Amanda — a feminine given name derived from the Latin amanda, meaning "lovable or worthy of love." He corrected his greeting to the proper form of address.

Ms. Grayson

Your request honors Vulcan. I am available to meet with you today or at your earliest convenience.

Sarek,
Science attaché, Vulcan Consulate
Sausalito

He sent the message and returned to reading newly published scientific articles. He shifted in his chair, feeling the squish of water in his left shoe and thinking it would be logical to purchase more weather-resistant footwear.

He would find a way to adjust to his new life in Sausalito: it was only a matter of logical discipline.

Chapter Text

Mr. Sarek,

I apologize if that is not the correct honorific. Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me. I am available this afternoon until 1800 hours at Piedmont Academy, or I can meet with you afterwards at another location if it is more convenient.

Very Respectfully,
Amanda Grayson

She had replied almost immediately — her expediency was commendable. He glanced at the time and noting it was already 1624, he entered the address of Piedmont Academy into the navigation software on his PADD. It would take an estimated 47 minutes to arrive by vehicle given current weather and traffic patterns.

He did a quick calculation in his head to adjust for travel time to and from the vehicle and determined he would arrive at the institution at 1723 hours, with a margin of error of three minutes. He considered what he knew of human culture and chose the most liberal estimate. His limited experience with humans had already taught him that humans did not have the same regard for punctuality as Vulcans.

Vulcans admired punctuality, but to a Vulcan, being punctual meant arriving precisely on time: not early, not late. His Terran diplomatic training had taught him that humans didn't concern themselves with promptness in the same way Vulcans did, but his training had not elucidated the degree to which earliness or tardiness was acceptable.

Ms. Grayson

I shall arrive at Piedmont Academy at approximately 1726 hours.

Sarek,
Science attaché, Vulcan Consulate
Sausalito

Sarek didn't stop to inform anyone of his intended destination; he simply ordered a car and strode into the damp weather. It was no longer raining but he tucked his PADD into the inner breast pocket of his cloak and pulled his collar higher on his neck to shield himself from the mist clinging to the air.

He settled himself in the backseat of the consular vehicle and sent a quick message to Kuvok to inform the senior attaché of his meeting with Ms. Grayson. The journey took less time than the navigation program had estimated and at 1721, the Tavik, the driver, deposited him in front of a low, brick building set in the middle of an expansive lawn. Sarek marched up the wide sidewalk to the front doors and entered into a dimly lit office staffed by a lone elderly human woman tucked away at a desk in the corner.

"Can I help you?" she asked, not looking up from her computer.

"I am Sarek, Science Attaché to the Vulcan Consulate. I am here to meet with Amanda Grayson," he replied. "I am four minutes early."

The woman's eyes darted up from her monitor and she flinched when her gaze came to rest on her unexpected visitor. "Oh, I uh- well, um, certainly. Is she expecting you?"

"Yes." Sarek saw the muscles in her throat constrict as she rose to her feet and shuffled over to the reception desk. By the Vulcan custom, the woman should have acknowledged his presence and directed him to wait for the next four minutes until Ms. Grayson was ready to receive him, but she stood on her toes, pointed through the glass wall into the corridor beyond, and said, "If you want, you can just go right down the hall there. She's in room 16."

Sarek nodded and took several steps toward the door on the left that led into the long hallway and realized the woman was wringing her hands and watching him closely, as if he posed some kind of immediate threat.

"Do you intend to notify her that I have arrived?"

"Oh, um, of course," she stammered, taking several steps back toward her desk. "You just go right on ahead."

Sarek did not pause to reflect on the woman's odd behavior or informality. He pushed through the door and stepped into the green and yellow tiled corridor. The hinges creaked as the swinging door closed behind him.

Piedmont Academy was an unusual academic institution. It was small and the walls were covered with row after row of abstract art in the shapes of handprints and labeled, "Ms. McIntosh's First Graders are Awesome!" There were a number of live, potted plants resting in windowsills and flashing signs on electronic displays extolling the virtues of positive character traits.

"Oh, right here!"

Sarek turned his attention to the direction of the voice and discovered a woman's face poking out from a door ten meters ahead. She waved, stepped into the hall, and approached him. She stopped less than a meter away from him and clapped her hands together. "I'm guessing you're Mr. Sarek?"

"Sarek, yes. Are you Amanda Grayson?"

"I am," she beamed. "It's nice to meet you."

"Live long and prosper, Miss Grayson," he said, extending his right hand to form the ta'al, the traditional Vulcan salute.

She glanced at his hand and seemed uncertain of how to respond, which gave Sarek a few moments to study the woman. She was different than most human females he'd encountered during his short tenure on Earth.

She was tall, slender, and possessing of large, dark eyes that greeted him openly. She wore a bright pink dress that barely covered her knees, a gray overgarment that clung tightly to her body, and had a vivid yellow band woven through her cropped, brown hair.

She slowly formed her hand into a rough approximation of the Vulcan gesture of greeting. Her face started to redden and she murmured, "I hope this is right. You're the first Vulcan I've ever met in person."

"Your attempt to honor my customs is appreciated," he replied, fascinated she'd made an effort when so few humans did.

"I'm interested in learning more about your culture and customs; it's why I asked you here," she confessed, dropping her hand to fold her arms across her chest. "So… let me start off by saying thank you so much for coming, especially on such short notice."

"I was honored to accept your invitation."

Her face illuminated with a warm, emotional display. "Would you like to step into my classroom and talk about the exchange fair?"

He bowed his head and followed her into a brightly lit room littered with an assortment of posters and displays. There were several low tables arranged in a semicircle in the center of the room and tucked underneath them were short, padded stools.

"Sorry I don't have an extra adult-sized chair," she chuckled, glancing around. "I can go get one from the faculty break room, if you like."

Why had she not prepared better for his arrival? He nodded and replied, "If you think it is appropriate."

She disappeared through the doorway and Sarek judged from the increased tempo of the clicking of her shoes on the hard floor that she was moving rather expediently. He tucked his hands behind his back and glanced around. Large planning boards on the walls displayed rudimentary equations and maps of Earth locations and the Federation.

He had presumed Piedmont Academy was an institution of higher learning, but it appeared to be a primary school for children. Based on the simplicity of the calculations on the board, they must be very young children, probably no older than four. His eyes scanned the random educational materials as he wandered to the back of the room. How could human children learn in such a disordered environment?

He stopped just before three wide windows and gazed at the gray landscape. It was raining again, but that wasn't what caught his eye. Twenty meters from the main building was an unusual outdoor facility enclosed behind a high metal fence, comprised of several oddly assembled structures linked together by a system of ladders, rings, and ropes. It appeared to be an area for mass punishment — some sort of barbaric prison or internment camp.

The door opened and he spun around to see Amanda Grayson returning with a simple metal chair. She set it next to her desk and happily declared, "I'm back. So, would you like to have a seat?"

"Might I inquire — what is the purpose of this area located at the rear of the building?"

"Hmmm?" she murmured, taking several steps in his direction.

"The fenced area," he clarified, turning back toward the window.

"Oh, it's a playground," she laughed. "Do you not have playgrounds on Vulcan?"

"No." He was uncertain of the precise function of a "play ground" but it was easy to deduce from the term that it was a zone cordoned off for recreation. Of course, humans were also fond of euphemistic language. "Do you imply this play ground is an area devoted to leisure?"

"What else would a playground be for?"

"Then what is the purpose of the fence?"

"Well, that playground is for the littler kids, our five and six year-olds. It's right by the street; we don't want them wandering into traffic."

"Five and six-year old human children haven't been taught not to venture into the path of oncoming vehicles?"

Miss Grayson's mouth drifted open and she rocked back on her heels. "Um, anyway, would you like to talk about the cultural exchange fair?"

He genuinely desired an answer to his question but sensed from her attempt to redirect the subject that he'd offended her. He turned away from the windows and returned to the front of the room. "Of course."

She offered him the padded chair from her desk and took the metal chair for herself. She extracted a PADD from a tan cloth bag and positioned herself to take notes. "Well then, Sarek, thank you so much again for coming-"

"You have already thanked me," he reminded her.

"Right," she responded, shifting in her chair. "Well, the cultural exchange fair will take place the first week of May. Our unit study on Vulcan is scheduled for May 2nd."

Sarek constructed a Terran calendar in his head. Earth had a 365.2425-day solar cycle divided arbitrarily into 12 months under a system called the Gregorian calendar. The Federation switched to standardized star dates not long after its inception, but many member planets, Vulcan included, still insisted on using their own calendars for interplanetary affairs.

The Federation star date system was currently based on Earth's solar cycle, so he quickly calculated that May 2nd was the 122nd day of the standard year and determined the correct star date would be 2226.33.402, shortened to 2226.33 for general purposes. He made a note to himself.

"So it was my hope that you could come and talk to us about what life is like on Vulcan," Miss Grayson added.

"Specify."

An unusual expression flashed through her features but she quickly turned the corners of her mouth into a smile. "What life is like — what do you eat, how do you spend your time, what do you do for fun? Apparently you don't have playgrounds, so what do you have?"

"I can only offer my own anecdotal experience," he replied. "I would imagine a more comprehensive view of Vulcan life is available on civilian databases."

"True," she countered. "But I want them to hear it from a Vulcan."

"Explain."

"Mr. Sarek, Sarek, sorry, I… I want to get my kids out of their sheltered little bubbles. Many of them have never met someone from another planet; I myself haven't encountered very many. As I said earlier, you're the first Vulcan I've ever met. I don't know why we distance ourselves from each other."

Sarek noticed a change in the pitch and rhythm of her voice. Her eyes widened and she started moving her hands to accentuate parts of her speech. He agreed with her assessment based on his private experience – there was far too much self-segregation among the different species in the Federation, humans and Vulcans in particular.

"I appreciate your sentiment," he replied. "But I am not certain I have anything of substantial value to offer very young children."

"Oh I disagree," she argued. "By encountering diversity at an early age, they can come to accept it as normal. And besides, they're not very young. We do have children as young as five, but I teach second graders — they're between seven and eight years old."

Her revelation surprised him, given the primitive content of the curriculum plastered on the walls. "Will you permit me another query?"

"Certainly."

"What manner of institution is Piedmont Academy?" Sarek asked.

"I thought it was obvious," she responded, gesturing around the room. "It's a school."

"Yes, but what is its focus?"

"Um, to teach students?"

"I am aware of the purpose of a school, Miss Grayson. Which fields of study are taught here?"

"All of them," she shrugged. "Math, science, history, creative arts… Piedmont Academy is an elementary school. We provide general education for children ages five to 12."

"Is it a remedial institution?"

She pursed her lips. "No. It's actually one of the top-rated schools for the San Francisco Bay area. But even if it were a 'remedial institution,' so what?"

"I was merely making commentary on the fact that human children appear to be developmentally inferior to Vulcan children."

"You know- never mind." She rose to her feet and stormed in the direction of the door.

Sarek stood and watched her, uncertain as to the cause of her emotional outburst. "Miss Grayson?"

"You should probably just go. Thank you for your time, Sarek." She ripped the door open and shoved her hand across the threshold.

"Have I offended you?" he asked.

Her dark eyes narrowed and she scoffed. She tilted her head to the side and stared at the wall for several moments. "You know, I've heard stereotypes about Vulcans my whole life, about how rude and arrogant and-" She took a deep breath and stared at the floor.

"It was never my intention-" he began.

"I think it would be best if you left," she interrupted. "I'll find some other way to introduce my students to your planet and its culture that doesn't involve their intelligence being insulted."

"If I have insulted your students, I apologize," he responded, taking several steps forward.

Her deeply furrowed brow started to relax. "Thank you, but even still, I'm not sure you're the guest we're looking for."

Sarek failed to see the point in continuing to explore the basis of her irrational outburst when she clearly wanted him to leave, so he breezed through the doorway, pivoted on his heel, raised his hand in the ta'al and said, "Live long and prosper, Miss Grayson."

"Yes, goodbye." She shut the door in his face, leaving him to contemplate their interaction.

He left the building and hiked toward the main sidewalk, reaching into the inner breast pocket of his cloak to extract his PADD and contact the consular driver. The rain had ceased but dark clouds continued to loom overhead.

Tavik had been unable to secure parking and had been forced to circle around the block and was now delayed in traffic several streets away. He agreed to meet Sarek at the corner near a public shuttle stop, so Sarek turned left and proceeded to the agreed upon location. He stopped next to a green metal bench and considered his meeting with Amanda Grayson. Humans were temperamental. They were puzzling. It was logical to conclude he'd offended her, but how illogical to be offended by facts.

Not for the first time since arriving on this planet, he began to reconsider his future in diplomacy. He had concluded that most of his early missteps were the result of human scientists, who had a reputation for being moody and eccentric. Yet now he'd managed to anger a schoolteacher and allegedly insult children in four and a half minutes of conversation.

A large droplet of water fell from the sky and landed in his eye. He shook his head to clear his vision, and soon he was standing in the middle of a downpour.


"Is this a remedial institution?" she mocked aloud, stuffing her empty lunch box into her canvas shoulder bag. "The nerve of that guy."

Amanda had always prided herself on her patience and tolerance, but picking on her kids was one thing she would never abide. She'd tried to be nice to the man, but he'd been critical and superior from the moment she first saw him standing in the hallway looking at artwork from Jenny McIntosh's class. She wanted her students to be exposed to other cultures to broaden their horizons and learn to celebrate diversity, but it seemed like Sarek needed a lesson in that more than her seven year-old students did.

She glanced out the back windows and noticing the torrential rain, she donned her rain boots and scooped her golf umbrella from the corner of the room. Funny how the weather matched her mood.

Ordinarily she would wait to see if the rain would clear but she didn't want to miss the next shuttle. She'd promised her neighbor, Henry Daystrom, that she would look after his son Richard while he went into work. She wasn't sure what Dr. Daystrom did, but it was something with computers and circuits that kept him working odd hours.

He never talked much about it, but he never talked much about anything. His situation was heart wrenching. His wife had committed suicide when their son was just a toddler and Amanda got the sense Henry didn't care too much for fatherhood, or perhaps found being around his son too painful. Either way, Henry was rarely around.

She thought of his little boy and recalled Sarek's rude remarks and started to get angry all over again. Richard Daystrom was a sweet and kind seven year-old, but he struggled to keep up in school, particularly math. She tutored him many nights and knew he possessed a rare, innovative genius, but she couldn't find a way to bring his potential to the surface. Yes, Richard needed remedial instruction but he wasn't stupid. He wasn't lesser.

She opened her umbrella and stepped into the rain. She moved purposefully and tried to put the rude Vulcan diplomat out of her mind and started brainstorming other ideas for the upcoming fair. She would just have to swallow her pride and tell Ms. Hickman that she couldn't secure a Vulcan guest. She uttered a heavy sigh. She'd never failed to deliver on one of her ideas, but she supposed few records remained perfect forever.

She glanced up from the toes of her floral patterned rain boots and faltered. She wouldn't be waiting alone at the shuttle stop today; Sarek the science attaché was huddled underneath the sparse branches of a young oak tree, trying in vain to seek shelter from the deluge. Surely the Vulcan embassy didn't make its staffers ride public transit? She scowled and approached the shuttle stop.

She noticed his head turn in her direction but he didn't speak. Suddenly she felt sorry for him; he was soaked. His hair, which just minutes ago looked like it had been trained in place with shellac, was now drenched and disheveled. Streams of water poured down his chin and his eyelids were half closed in a desperate effort to keep the rain from his eyes. He reminded her of an overgrown, wretched alley cat.

She inched closer to him and raised the wide umbrella high above her head to accommodate his great height. Amanda was tall for a human woman at 178 centimeters, but Sarek was much taller. He was easily two meters tall, which was probably why Amanda had initially found him a bit intimidating.

He glanced at her and rubbed the water from his eyes with his thumb and forefingers. "Thank you, Miss Grayson."

"You're welcome," she muttered, feeling the rain spattering her gray cardigan now that she stood at the edge of the umbrella.

Awkward seconds ticked by and Amanda took a deep breath. She was a sociable person and this silent impasse was becoming maddening.

"Do you usually ride-" she started, just as he began to say, "Miss Grayson, I-"

They paused and looked at each other. "Please, Miss Grayson, continue."

"Do you usually ride the shuttle?"

"No, I am waiting for the consular driver."

"Ah," she murmured, pursing her lips. "What were you going to say?"

"It was never my intention to cause offense to you, your students, or this institution." His voice was firm and his eyes were sincere, and something about his woeful state made her smile.

"How long have you been on Earth, Sarek?"

"24 days."

"You're not used to dealing with humans, are you?"

"No," he admitted. "Nor am I accustomed to Terran weather."

"That's obvious," she thought, studying his waterlogged clothing. She suddenly felt ashamed. He probably wasn't trying to be a self-important ass — perhaps they'd just had a cultural misunderstanding. She thought about their earlier scuffle and realized he probably wasn't trying to insult her students either; maybe child development really was just different for his species.

"Well, I'm not used to dealing with Vulcans," she confessed, tucking a stray tendril of hair behind her ear.

"I surmised as much, given you informed me twice that I am the first Vulcan you've ever met."

She started to glare at him, but something in his smooth expression gave her the impression he was genuinely ignorant of the way he came across to people. She breathed out slowly and decided to try a more diplomatic approach. "You don't mince words, do you?"

"I do not understand."

"You're very frank, very direct," she laughed.

"Do you imply that it would be more socially acceptable to be indirect in this case?"

She couldn't help the small smile that spread across her lips. The poor man was so socially clueless, and something about that made him almost endearing. "I'm saying that you usually catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

He peered at her. "A curious maxim."

She sighed and bit her lip to keep from laughing. "Look, I think I might have overreacted earlier. You come off as very… blunt. I'm sure you didn't mean to imply my students are- well, it doesn't matter. It's water under the bridge. I feel like I might have misjudged you, and I'm sorry."

His face remained motionless, but it seemed like his expression softened slightly. "I am appreciative of your gesture, Miss Grayson, but I am not certain you have anything for which to apologize. I am ill acquainted with the social complexities of your species."

"Well, now that we agree we've gotten off on the wrong foot and made amends, would you like to try again?" she offered, feeling hopeful.

"The wrong foot?"

"Uh, it's a human expression for an initial misunderstanding."

"I see. What do you propose?"

She was struck by a wild thought. She didn't want a condescending jerk addressing her students, but maybe she could teach him to be a little less rude.

"Well, as it turns out, I still have an opening for a Vulcan guest speaker at my school's cultural exchange fair. I could also use some help putting together an age-appropriate lesson plan about Vulcan, because most of the stuff I've found in the databases reads like an ultra-boring post-graduate anthropology thesis."

"Miss Grayson, I fail to see-"

"I wasn't finished," she interrupted, offering him a reassuring smile. "It seems to me like you could use some help interacting with humans. I'm willing to tutor you."

He shot her a pointed look. His eyes lingered on her face, and just as her cheeks started to burn and the hairs began standing up on the back of her neck, he replied, "Specify the terms of the arrangement."

"I thought it was pretty self-explanatory. There's no better way to learn about a culture than firsthand; I tell my students that all the time. That's the whole point of this cultural exchange fair. So you help me make a Vulcan lesson plan and come to my cultural fair on the 2nd, and I'll give you a crash course in humanity."

"I understand the arrangement," he responded. "I simply seek to discuss terms — when and how do you wish to implement this plan?"

"Well, we could meet a few times a week-"

"I am occupied throughout the week."

She sighed and gazed over his shoulder at the oncoming traffic. She could see the shuttle approaching the curb and was anxious to seal the deal. "Well, I am too, but I'm free in the evenings."

"I meditate in the evenings."

"You're not being very helpful," she replied, forcing a smile through an exasperated sigh. "What about weekends? Tomorrow is Saturday. I'm free all day."

"I am engaged with diplomatic duties on the sixth day of the Terran standard week."

"Then meet me on Sunday," she grinned, projecting her voice to indicate she wasn't going to take no for an answer. The shuttle rolled to a stop and the double doors creaked open.

"At what location? And what time?"

"The French Toast Cafe, 1000 hours. It's on your side of town. I'll send you the details."

"Very well," he replied, nodding courteously. "Should I bring-"

The honking of the shuttle's horn interrupted his question. Amanda waved to the driver and replied, "No, don't bring anything. Just come as you are."

She started to collapse her umbrella but realized she wouldn't need it much longer, so she turned and offered it to him. "Here."

"This apparatus belongs to you," he said, his eyes shifting from her hand to her face.

"Obviously," she laughed. "I'm lending it to you. There's no telling when your driver will show up in this traffic. You can just give it back to me on Sunday."

She flashed her most charming smile, thrust the umbrella in his hand, and scurried onto the waiting shuttle. The driver didn't even wait until she took her seat to pull away from the curb. She caught a glimpse of Sarek awkwardly holding her oversized blue and white umbrella through the rain-splattered window as she slumped down onto the hard, white bench.

He was a stranger in a strange land.

She smiled and thought to herself, "Well, we're all a little strange, aren't we?"

Chapter Text

"I don't know, Miss Grayson," Richard moaned, gripping the stylus in his hand hard enough to discolor his knuckles.

"Don't get frustrated," Amanda urged, leaning back in her seat to give her young student some room. "Let's go over what we do know. We know that fifteen plus four-"

"I'm bad at this," Richard interrupted, his tone rough and cold.

"You're not bad at this," she corrected. "Math just not one of your stronger suits, but we're working on it."

"Why don't I understand?" he asked.

The exasperation on his face pricked at her. She hated seeing him so discouraged, and she hated herself a little bit for being unable to make it easier for him. There had to be some method for helping him with his difficulties with this subject.

"Richard, we all have different gifts," she tried.

"Why does everyone say that?" he seethed. "Maybe if I could do this stuff he would want to spend time with me."

It was becoming harder to keep her composure. She suspected that Richard Daystrom tied his self-worth to his intelligence, or more correctly, his school performance. His father was a renowned computer scientist and Richard seemed to be under the impression that if he were better at math then perhaps the senior Daystrom might love him more. It broke her heart and made her want to throttle Henry for spending so much time in his lab with his precious computers and so little time with his son.

She could see the cab she called pulling up to the curb, but just when she was about to check the time, the door buzzed. Richard flopped his head and arms down on the table in frustration.

"That must be your father," Amanda said, rubbing his back. "Come on."

She answered the door to a tall man with a dark complexion and slightly sunken cheeks that suggested he wasn't eating or sleeping as well as he should be. Henry Daystrom might have been handsome were it not for the sour expression he usually wore.

"Good morning, Miss Grayson," Dr. Daystrom murmured. "I am here to collect Richard."

She found his incredible formality off-putting, but she'd never managed to break him of the habit no matter how many times she asked him to call her by her given name. They wandered into the tiny kitchen and found Richard much as she'd left him, heaped into a pile of despair and confusion on her small pub table.

"Let's go, Richard," called Henry's rich voice.

"Can't I stay, dad?" he asked.

"Let's not waste any more of Miss Grayson's time," Henry urged.

Amanda exchanged nervous glances with Henry. What had started off as an offer to watch his son on Friday evening had turned into an all-weekend affair, with Henry occasionally sending messages informing her that he was in the verge of a big breakthrough and pleading with her to watch him for just a few more hours. Two days later, she suspected his eureka moment was still hiding somewhere far on the horizon.

Ordinarily she wouldn't mind if Richard hung around her house — he so often did anyway — but she had to meet her new Vulcan friend on the other side of town in less than an hour, and Sarek didn't strike her as the kind of person who would be amused by tardiness. Their partnership was already tenuous and she was eager to avoid another misunderstanding.

"If you stay, I'm just going to make you keep working on your math drills," she teased.

Richard groaned and tucked his head between his arms again. Amanda bit her lip and went to collect Richard's things and gather her purse and cloth shopping bags while father and son battled it out.

After several more minutes of grumbling and groaning, the three of them left her small duplex townhouse. Richard and Henry turned left to return home to the neighboring duplex and Amanda waved goodbye and jumped into the waiting cab.

After ten minutes and a lot of anxiety-ridden pleas to the driver to go a little faster, she arrived at the High Speed Bay Area Rail — locally known as the BAR, making it the subject of many hackneyed jokes — and barely made the 0935 shuttle to Sausalito. When the shuttle emerged from the tunnel beneath the bay, she was pleased to see scattered rays of sunshine peeking through small breaks in the clouds. Maybe the rain was over.

She leapt to her feet when the train slid to a stop, checking the time on her PADD and noting the heavy traffic through the long glass windows. The French Toast Café was not quite within convenient walking distance of the rail station, but even if she could find a cab, traffic was completely gridlocked. She hopped from the rail car, skipping the last step and glanced around.

She needed to cover 14 blocks in nine minutes; she could make it if she ran. She looked down at herself. She wore sensible flat shoes with a pair of khaki-colored slacks — not ideal attire for a morning run, but not the worst either.

She pushed through the crowds at the open-air station, found her way to the street, and then took off at an impatient jog, weaving in between throngs of Sunday morning shoppers and diners and apologizing as she bumped people. A deep cramp quickly emerged in her right side. She dug her knuckles into her gut and pushed on, thinking it was probably a sign she needed to exercise more frequently.

Amanda could identify him from half a block away, standing tall and rigid by the entrance to the eatery and looking like a cross between a palace sentry and a man waiting for a funeral. He was dressed in black and clutched her umbrella to his chest like a drill sergeant at port arms. She slowed to a brisk walk and smoothed her short hair down with her fingers and adjusted the fit of her blouse. It was sticky under her arms and there was a fine, disgusting layer of moisture forming on her brow. She prayed he wouldn't notice.

She tried to breathe normally but her lungs still craved oxygen. She took several more breezy steps, inhaled deeply, and said as naturally as she could, "Good morning, Sarek."

His neck twisted to observe her and she noted the slight uptick of his left brow and she started to feel like a sweaty racehorse after a morning workout. "Are you well?"

"Of course," she lied, trying to get her breathing under control without passing out. "Why do you ask?"

"Your complexion is quite red."

"Is it?" she shrugged. She made a show of fanning herself with her right hand. "Well, it's a little warm outside this morning." Only it wasn't. It was actually cool for a late spring day thanks to the recent rains.

His eyebrow inched higher as he held out the umbrella and said, "This apparatus belongs to you.

"So it does," she replied, taking it from him. "Anyway, I'm glad you found the place alright. I hope I didn't keep you waiting."

"You are two minutes overdue."

"Two minutes, huh?" she replied, her words tumbling out in a gasping laugh. "Well, no one's perfect."

"I am aware. Individual perfection is unattainable and the standards used to assess any perfection would be subjective."

She put her hands on her hips and stared at this strange man. His face was serious as a heart attack and his posture was almost as severe as the lines of his haircut.

"Right," she agreed with a small sigh. "Would you like to go inside and get something to eat?"

"If you believe it is appropriate." He pivoted on his heel and opened the door to the busy café.

He followed Amanda inside and they found their way to the end of a long line that snaked in a zigzag pattern in the middle of the room. She noticed the atmosphere of the café shift as almost every patron in the French Toast Café observed Sarek, some discreetly and others not. She almost felt angry on his behalf; they were treating him like he was some kind of oddity from a cruel, antiquated carnival sideshow.

If she were being completely honest with herself though, she would probably stare too, not because she thought he didn't belong here, but because… well, he didn't belong here. He was something of an oddity; she'd never seen a Vulcan wandering around Sausalito and felt certain the same was true for almost everyone else in the establishment.

Rather than spend time dwelling on her hypocrisy, the nature of human curiosity, and the social complexities of self-imposed segregation, she turned to Sarek and smiled. Her forced cheer faded when she spied a woman sitting at a table just behind him transfixed by his presence, her coffee cup frozen in midair and her mouth sagging open. Surely he had to notice, but his expression remained smooth and unaffected.

Maybe it had been a mistake to ask him to meet her in a crowded café. Or maybe this was exactly the point: if Sarek wanted to learn about humans, he was going to have to be around them. She swallowed and turned her eyes in the direction of the large, overhead menu without moving her head. "So I take it you've never been here."

"Your assumption is correct."

"Um, well, this place makes really good food."

"I defer to your judgment."

"Well, does anything on the menu sound good to you?"

"I have already taken my first meal and do not require further sustenance."

"Oh." She wanted to keep the conversation going, but every sentence he spoke felt like the final word of an authority figure.

Amanda was a social creature who loved conversation — she often said there wasn't anyone she couldn't get along with — but Sarek seemed determined to put her theory to the test. Not everyone liked small talk, but she knew people liked to talk about themselves, so she tried a different approach.

"I was thinking of getting a bacon and egg sandwich," she announced, inching forward with the line. "What do you normally eat for breakfast in the mornings?"

"Broth."

"Broth as in soup? For breakfast?"

"It is a customary first meal."

"Just soup though?"

"Plomeek broth is often served with hard pastries called kreyla."

"And do you drink anything? Coffee? Tea? Juice? Milk?"

"Milk is for infants," Sarek replied, staring ahead at the menu.

Amanda took a deep breath, sensing that continuing to talk would be an annoyance but afraid of things turning even more awkward during a prolonged period of silence.

"What is bacon?" he asked.

Her eyes flicked in his direction and she was startled to realize he was watching her. "It's cured pork."

"And is not pork a meat product of pigs?"

"Well, it used to be. No one slaughters animals anymore — we haven't for decades ever since they invented... what are they called? Protein sequencers? I'm not exactly sure about the science, but they produce meat in labs now. "

"Protein re-sequencers," he corrected. "And yes, I am aware."

"When I was doing my research for my unit study, I read that Vulcans don't eat meat," she replied.

"Most Vulcans do not consume meat or any animal products."

"I don't think humans technically do either," she argued. "Like I said, we produce meat, eggs, cheese, milk, and even honey in protein re-sequencers."

"I am quite familiar with the technology," he replied. "Yet synthesized meat is still modeled upon the flesh of an animal even if the protein is harvested from bacteria. The standard Vulcan diet has been plant-based since the Reformation, and though some Vulcans will consume synthesized meat, the substance holds no appeal for me."

"What, what?" Amanda choked.

"I believe I spoke clearly. Meat isn't-"

"No, what was that about bacteria?"

"Bacteria serve as the source of amino acids for protein re-sequencers. Researchers at the Vulcan Science Academy have made remarkable progress in the development of a general matter replicator from standard energy sources which would make current methods obsolete, yet-"

"What can I get for you, sir? Ma'am?" a voice interrupted.

The man behind the counter was making a concerted effort not to gawk rudely at Sarek. She shuffled to the counter, shifting her weight on her feet. A bacon and egg sandwich had sounded so good, but now all she could think of was E. coli. She found herself ordering a bagel with peanut butter instead.

"And anything to drink?"

"Coffee please."

"It's complementary," the server replied. "You can help yourself at the counter behind you."

"Thanks," she mumbled before turning to Sarek and asking, "Are you sure you don't want anything?"

"I am certain."

Amanda paid and slogged her bags and umbrella over to the coffee bar to pour herself a cup. She gazed longingly at the cream dispenser, but sensing Sarek's eyes upon her and recalling his comments about how protein re-sequencers worked, she opted for several scoops of sugar.

"Would you like some coffee?" she asked, taking a sip. It was still more bitter than she would prefer without the milk, but it was passable.

"It seems a popular beverage," he remarked. "If I am correct in my understanding, it is a form of tea brewed from the fruit of a tree."

She was about to correct him and explain that coffee came from beans, not fruit, but she realized she didn't really know. She resolved to research it later.

"It is pretty popular," she laughed, cupping the warm drink in her hands. "You should give it a try."

He glanced at her and pulled a paper cup from the top of the stack, looking about as natural as a fish trying to swim in sand. "What is decaf?" He placed unusual emphasis on the latter half of the word, turning it into "de-CAFF."

"Oh, it's decaffeinated. I prefer mine with caffeine. It's hard to see the point of decaffeinated coffee, honestly," she laughed, raising the cup to her lips.

"You prefer to consume a mild methylxanthine class psychoactive stimulant?"

"Is that what caffeine is?"

"Yes."

"Well then, yeah. That's the whole point of coffee."

They stared at each other, unblinking. He kept a tenuous grasp of the cup and turned toward the dispensing machine. Amanda wondered if he was afraid of offending her by selecting the wrong coffee, and quickly added, "But decaf is good too. It's just not my favorite. Give it a try."

She was pleased to see he did as she recommended and filled the cup three-quarters of the way with the decaffeinated blend. It occurred to her that he was mirroring her actions, and only then did she realize she'd left room for cream at the top of her cup.

"Is it customary to add sucrose?" he asked, studying the rows of sweeteners.

"Well, coffee is one of those things that is almost unique to the individual," she explained. "Some people drink it black — as is — and some like milk or sugar or both."

He seemed conflicted, and when his eyes met hers, she realized she was staring at him. She blushed. How could he make a simple task like getting a cup of coffee so awkward? Or was she the one making it weird?

She heard the man behind the counter call her name, signaling her bagel was ready, so she left him to try the coffee without a captive audience. She hauled her purse, cloth shopping bags, food, and beverage to a small table in the corner and waved for him to join her. When he took a seat, she asked, "So what do you think of the coffee?"

"It is… unusual."

"You don't like it?"

"It is more bitter than I anticipated," he replied, moving to take a sip.

"If you don't like it, you don't like it," Amanda assured him. "Don't feel obligated to drink it just because I invited you to try it. I guess coffee is something of an acquired taste."

He set the cup on the table and nodded.

"So what do you normally drink in the mornings?" she asked.

"I routinely drink spice tea," he replied. "Or water."

"I can get you some tea. I'm not sure what Vulcan spice tea is like, but maybe the guy at the counter will have some recommendations," she offered, hopping to her feet. He seemed genuinely confused by her action and craned his neck upward to stare at her.

"Will you permit me a query?"

"Um, sure?"

"Why do you trouble yourself for my comfort?"

"I don't know," she shrugged. "I guess I'm trying to be polite. You know, be a good host."

"This is not your home."

"You know what I mean," she chuckled. "I invited you here to discuss your culture and teach you a little bit about my own. I just want you to be comfortable."

He bobbed his head and looked away. "I see."

His voice was quieter, even if only by a half decibel. She felt heat rising in her face again. "Is that ok? Have I done something wrong?"

"You are apparently adhering to human social conventions that I am unfamiliar with."

"And you seem to be judging me by Vulcan social customs that I'm unfamiliar with," she responded. "You can tell me, you know. I'd rather know what I'm doing wrong than continue to unintentionally embarrass myself."

"Embarrassment is illogical."

Amanda gave him a pointed look. "Just tell me."

"To a Vulcan, it is considered inappropriate for a woman to serve a man who is not her mate."

"Oh," Amanda gasped, slumping down in her chair and wondering if it was possible for her face to spontaneously combust from mortification. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean- I didn't know-"

"As I explained, you were attempting to satisfy a human social custom and we are in a human dining establishment on a planet inhabited primarily by humans. Perhaps it is I who should apologize."

"If we both have to apologize, maybe neither of us should," she mused. "It's obvious we're from very different cultures and neither of us would intentionally offend the other."

"Logical."

"So why don't we come to an agreement and just be honest with each other when one of us commits a serious social faux pas?"

He cocked his head. "Foe paw?"

"You know, a social mistake?"

"You often use idiomatic language to which I am ignorant."

She supposed she never really thought about it before. Sarek spoke so flawlessly and formally that she assumed it was an affectation, but when she considered Standard English almost certainly wasn't his first language, she figured she was probably being unfair.

"I'll try to speak more simply," she replied, taking a bite of her bagel.

"Thank you. I consent to your terms. Honesty is most logical." Sarek studied her as she sunk her teeth into the dense bread. His dark, probing eyes made her feel a bit self-conscious.

"Will you explain the origin of the phrase 'foe paw?'" he asked after she swallowed her first bite.

She swallowed and set the bagel down. "It's French, actually. I think it literally means 'false step,' but English borrowed it several centuries ago and broadened the meaning. It's probably not included in the Standard dictionary."

He seemed to accept her explanation. Amanda took a sip of her coffee and continued to work at her breakfast, all the while conscious of his eyes upon her. She'd forgotten what a messy, sticky food peanut butter was and just how chewy bagels were. She took a large gulp of her coffee to wash it all down and folded her hands across the table.

"So, how do you want to do this?"

"Clarify."

"Well, you're going to teach me about Vulcans and I'm going to teach you about humans. How do you want to go about it?"

"As it was your proposal, I presumed you would handle responsibility for the curriculum."

She clicked her teeth together and repressed an anxious smile. She'd wanted to spend some time going over her lesson plans on Andoria and Tellar Prime to model her lesson plan on Vulcan in a similar way, but she'd had Richard all weekend and hadn't found an opportunity. She recalled many of the popular culture topics off the top of her head — art, music, literature, holidays, gestures of greeting, foods and dining, styles of dress — and figured food would be as good a place to start as any, given the current setting. She pulled her PADD from her purse and set it on the table.

"What if we discussed food? You know, what do Vulcans eat, not eat, dining customs, that kind of thing? I already know you don't eat meat and you like soup for breakfast."

"Asal-yem."

"Hmmm?"

"Asal-yem, the first meal," Sarek explained. "You refer to it as breakfast."

"Oh, ok," she grinned. She initiated the recorder on her PADD and went to make a note. "How do you spell that?"

"There are several phonetic spelling conventions between the Vulcan language and Federation Standard English," he replied.

Amanda frowned and wrote down "asallyam" and made a note to go back and check the spelling later.

"Responsibility for preparing the first meal often falls to the male of a partnership, unless the house is hosting guests."

"So, men tend to do the cooking? And why are guests an exception?"

"Males traditionally prepare first meal, females prepare end meal, and midday meals are rarely consumed within the home. When guests are present, it is expected that they will rise early and prepare the first meal for the household."

"That's so interesting," Amanda murmured. "On Earth, at least in every culture I know of, hosts always serve the guests. It would be rude in most cases to ask a guest to do any kind of work, unless you were close friends or maybe extended family. The idea is you want to make the guest feel as welcomed as possible."

"Vulcans also strive to welcome their guests," Sarek explained. "They are made welcome by contributing to the operation of the household."

"I guess I can see that," Amanda nodded. "You want to make them fit in. As a guest, I've always felt a little weird having people try to wait on me. It's kind of funny, you know – in so many cultures, the social expectation is that a host should do all of these things for their guests but a gracious guest should politely refuse, so you often end up with an awkward back and forth where the host insists on letting the guest relax but the guest insists on helping the host."

"Illogical."

"It is, isn't it?" Amanda smiled. "Anyway, so you said Vulcans eat broth — what did you call it? Plameek?"

"Plomeek, yes. It is a traditional breakfast with a number of variations. Recipes tend to be unique to families."

"Humans do the same thing with a lot of foods," Amanda admitted. "My mom has secret recipes for all kinds of things: chili, salad dressing, salsa."

Sarek's eyes narrowed slightly and she wondered if he had any idea what she was talking about, so she tried explaining that chili was a savory, often spicy stew, salad dressing was a sauce served over leafy vegetables, and salsa was a blend of tomatoes, onions, peppers, and other spices eaten with crisps. Then she had to explain what crisps were.

He listened patiently, and when she finally finished bumbling through an explanation about corn, flour, and deep-fried versus baked crisps, he nodded. "Vulcans do not touch food with their hands, excepting the preparation process."

Amanda frowned. Maybe that's why he'd watched her eat her bagel with such hesitant curiosity. She wondered what a Vulcan party tray or buffet was like, but stopped short of asking aloud. It seemed safe to assume there was no such thing as a Vulcan sandwich.

They talked for the next several hours, covering typical lunches, suppers, holiday meals and dining traditions of their respective cultures. The more they talked, the more relaxed she became, finally understanding that she'd misjudged Sarek more than she thought. He wasn't rude at all.

She began to get a picture of a man who was intensely curious but too reserved to express his curiosity in any open way. The more he talked of his people, the better she understood that Vulcans were true to their reported natures: logical. From their treatment of houseguests to the simplicity of their cooking to their direct manner of their speech, Vulcans didn't do anything with ostentatious flair.

She would almost say she liked him, and felt better knowing that her theory that she could get along with anyone was still true. When she moved on to her fourteenth page of notes about Vulcan cuisine, she realized it was 1321 hours. They'd been talking for almost three and a half hours?

"I just noticed the time," she mumbled. "I didn't mean to keep you for so long."

"I am not due anywhere until tomorrow morning," he replied.

"Right, but it's still your day off. I'm sure you have other things to do besides sit here with a teacher and talk about food."

"Our discussion has been very informative."

"Well, would you like to meet again next Sunday? Maybe we could talk about art?"

"If that is what you prefer."

"Well, what do you want to learn about?"

"Miss Grayson, you have been helpful, but I had hoped to learn more of the nuances of human social interaction."

She paused. "That's such a… huge and complex topic. I wouldn't even really know where to begin. Most human social rules are unwritten, and they vary among cultures. I'm sure it's the same with Vulcans."

"There are several well-known Vulcan publications dealing with social etiquette and behavior."

"You really write down all of your social rules and norms?"

"It is logical to have a catalogue by which to teach children the standards of manners and appropriate behavior."

Amanda tried to keep from gawking at him again, choosing instead to purse her lips and nod. "I don't know how to help you off the top of my head. I mean, I'll try. But I think the best way to figure out how to act in social situations is to put yourself in them. Watch people and do as they do."

"I do not know that your suggestion would be effective in my case, as humans seem to behave differently in my presence."

Amanda chewed her lip, hating that he'd noticed he was an object of novelty. "People aren't used to seeing a lot of Vulcans in public. I mean, you have no idea how hard it was to even find you when I was looking for a Vulcan to come to the exchange fair. I always got the sense Vulcans kept to their own."

"You speak truly. It is regrettable."

His admission floored her. "You make it sound like you think Vulcans should be a more social."

"There is much that can be learned from other species," he explained. "And I am grateful for your efforts to educate me on yours."

He was grateful? Amanda felt emboldened by a sudden sense of responsibility to him. She was a teacher and Sarek wanted to learn, but more importantly, he seemed to share her feelings that their two cultures could benefit from spending a little more time in the other's presence. She hadn't imagined taking on such a complex and convoluted task as outlining the vast range of fickle human social conventions for a Vulcan diplomat, but if he was willing to learn, she was willing to try.

"You said you don't have anywhere to be until tomorrow?"

"Affirmative."

"Well, I didn't have any grand plans for today, other than to go to the market and get some groceries. If you really want to learn what makes humans tick, I think the best way is probably just to dive right into every day life. Care to join me?"

"Your plan seems arbitrary," he replied.

"It is," she confessed. "Human nature is pretty arbitrary."

He shifted in his seat, his dark and steady eyes focused on her. "Then I thank you and submit myself to your tutelage."

Chapter Text

Sarek studied the unusual orb with the green scales. The screen below the bin where the item's description ought to have been was nonoperational. He glanced over his shoulder to Miss Grayson, who was occupied by selecting several red, round vegetables at the large bin at the end of the aisle. He straightened his back, noting the presence of a woman standing to his left. She was holding one of the clear, biodegradable bags and eyeing him warily.

"If I am hindering you, excuse me," he said, taking a step back.

Her lips curled into a sharp smile and her eyes almost squinted closed. She shook her head and mumbled something that sounded vaguely like, "all right" and proceeded to collect two of the strange, scaled orbs.

"Find anything that looks good, Sarek?" Miss Grayson called over his shoulder.

The woman stared at Miss Grayson and then back at Sarek. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open before turning into another smile. For several seconds, the two women stood at an impasse with Sarek between them until Miss Grayson cheerfully said, "Hello."

"Hi," the woman mumbled, twisting the top of the plastic bag and returning to her small green cart.

"Making friends?" Miss Grayson asked him.

"No." He hadn't come to this grocery store to make friends, he'd come to observe humanity.

"So, what were you looking at?"

"What are these?" he asked, unfolding his hands from behind his back to gesture toward the green objects in the central bin.

"Artichokes."

"Art of chokes?"

"No," she murmured, obviously stifling a laugh before enunciating more clearly, "Art-i-chokes."

Sarek waited for her to explain her answer in more detail, but she remained silent. "Elucidate."

"It's an artichoke, you know? It's uh- it's a vegetable? I guess."

"You imply you are not certain."

"I don't think most people really know what an artichoke is."

"This establishment sells a food that has not been studied?"

Miss Grayson sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger. "I was kidding; I didn't mean that literally. An artichoke is… I think it might actually be a flower, but I'm not really sure where the line between flower and vegetable starts."

She picked one up and twirled it in her palm. "Some people eat the bottoms of the leaves, but the top parts are usually tossed out. As you peel away these leaves though, there's this other part inside called the heart which is what most people think of when they think of artichokes."

"Fascinating."

His month-long course on human culture prior to accepting his posting had included a short lecture on cuisine, but much of the content had focused on diverse human dining customs. He knew most humans had few reservations about eating with their hands, for example, but it had still been fascinating to watch Miss Grayson eat the bread with the brown jelly called peanut butter several hours ago.

He knew almost nothing of human food. English was the standard language throughout the Federation, and though it had originated on Earth, the Federation Standard English dictionary did not include many words that were exclusively relevant to human culture and society, just as it did not include words relevant only to Vulcan culture or Andorian culture and so on. "Coffee" had made its way into the dictionary because it had evidently become a popular drink on a number of Federation worlds, but since he had no concept of artichokes until now, he presumed this unusual vegetable had been less enthusiastically embraced by off-worlders.

There were travel and culture guides for most Federation planets — though according to Miss Grayson, information about Vulcan was woefully lacking — and had he been so inclined, he could have read more about the human diet and art and other items of cultural interest, but it had never seemed necessary to his work as science attaché.

He'd been on the planet for 26 days and hadn't dined with a human until Miss Grayson's first meal — her breakfast — earlier that day. Though he'd spoken with many humans via various communications technologies, he'd always done so from the confines of the consular compound. He'd only ventured out on six different occasions — four times with Ambassador Selden on official business and twice to meet with Miss Grayson.

His culture course had also taught him that many humans took delight in "talking small," which meant they indulged themselves in idle banter about personal and irrelevant subjects. Miss Grayson seemed to take particular delight in this human custom and while he'd initially found it tiresome, he eventually discovered conversing with her was both intriguing and informative. The more time he spent in her company, the more he agreed it was logical to cultivate an understanding of humanity if he was to be successful in his interactions with them. He picked up a second artichoke from the bin and examined it.

"So do you want to try one?" she asked.

"Clarify."

"An artichoke. I'll get one for you," she explained, glancing down at the bin.

"You need not go to any expense for my education on human cuisine," he remarked.

"It's no expense," she argued. "This food doesn't cost anything."

He raised an eyebrow. "Explain."

She gave him a blank look and shrugged. "A lot of food is free. I don't really think about it much, I guess. Things like produce and grains are distributed using a point system and you can tell which items are no-cost by the yellow tags."

She pointed to a small yellow square in the corner and pulled a small, rectangular card from her bag and waved it near the tag. She glanced down at the card in her hand and said, "See, a single person is authorized 12 raw artichokes per week."

"And if you wanted more?" Sarek asked, curious about this food distribution system.

"I can't imagine eating two whole artichokes a day, but I guess if you were having a huge party or something," she shrugged. "Anyway, if you went over the authorized amount, you'd just have to pay for them out of pocket."

"And you are authorized to take a certain amount of each of these foods per standard week?"

"I don't really know exactly how the system works," she explained. "It's set up on some kind of equation using species specific dietary requirements and current food production cycles. If they lose a crop of strawberries, people might be authorized to take fewer strawberries for a while for free."

"Logical."

"But generally, you wouldn't ever have to pay for this kind of food, you know, raw produce. Though if you take the quantity limit on one food item, it might diminish what you can take of something else, but it's hard to say exactly. Let's say I did take 12 artichokes. Well, then I might be able to have less broccoli at no cost. I imagine the system exists to keep someone from coming and clearing out the entire store, but I think most people usually try to be courteous and reasonable about what they take. I've never once had to pay for produce."

She examined the items in her cart and added, "Trust me, this doesn't even come close to my authorized limit for produce, so a single artichoke isn't a big deal. So, are you interested in trying an artichoke?"

He considered her offer. The item in question didn't look very appealing. "No."

She laughed, rolling her head around on her shoulders slowly before stopping to look at him. "We've got to work on a way to smooth out your rough edges."

"Explain."

"You're so blunt with your one word answers. Instead of just saying 'no,' why not say, 'perhaps another time' or-"

"But I do not want to consume this food, therefore it would be illogical for me to imply I intend to do so at a later date," he replied, curious why she would suggest his rough edges needed to be "smoothed out" before referring to him as "blunt." An odd contradiction.

"You're the one who asked me to explain human social interactions to you," she said, crossing her arms.

"What you suggest is illogical."

She rolled her eyes and held out her arms in a welcoming gesture. "Humans are illogical."

"Your declaration is indicative of pride."

"I'm going to go out on a limb and say you also probably think pride is also illogical, so wouldn't it be illogical for you to point out the illogic in being illogical?"

She surprised him, not only because her assessment was correct, but also because it had been made through logical statements. Therefore, a professed illogical being was using logic to illustrate the illogic in a logical being. Fascinating.

Miss Grayson placed her hands on her hips and stared at him, almost as if in challenge. Sarek stared right back. Eventually she sighed and said, "Humans imply all kinds of things they don't really mean just to be polite."

He considered her dark, probing eyes and decided he had erred when referring to her actions as illogical. They were, but he'd been taught humans didn't like to be reminded of this. Furthermore, she was merely educating him human behavior, just as he had asked her to.

"I see," he said. "In regards to your offer to procure an artichoke for me… perhaps another time."

She flashed him a wide smirk and turned back to her cart. "Are you sure there isn't anything else you'd like to try? Grapes are a personal favorite of mine. Bananas are also really tasty."

"I shall defer to your judgment. Perhaps another time."

She sighed, resting her hands on the front of the cart and nodded. "Ok then. I still need to get spinach, garlic, and onions."

They spent the next half hour walking through the area of the market that sold fruits and vegetables and she enlightened him on the protocols of selecting good tomatoes, the nutritional benefits of spinach over iceberg lettuce, and the proper method of husking and eating corn. He explained that turnips seemed vaguely analogous to a Vulcan vegetable called mashya and grapefruits shared much in common with a Vulcan citrus fruit called gespar.

She extracted her PADD to take some notes and when she expressed curiosity about the similarities, he offered to bring a piece of gespar for her to sample at their next meeting.

"Oh, you don't have to do that," she murmured.

"You have offered to let me sample anything I wished," he contended, glancing around the store. "Is it inappropriate to reciprocate?"

"No, it's not inappropriate. And gespar sounds interesting. Are you sure?"

"Why does the human custom of making an offer also include refusing, insisting, and then acquiescing?" he inquired, believing he'd finally worked out the correct pattern.

She gave him a pointed look but her face froze and soon she started laughing.

"What is the source of your amusement?"

She took a deep breath and said, "You're right. Humans are pretty illogical. If you would like to bring some gespar to our next meeting, you are certainly welcome to, but you're not under any obligation."

"I know."

"Well, just so long as you understand," she smiled. "Speaking of which, we never did set a time, place, or subject for our next meeting."

"You proposed art."

"So I did. There's a multi-cultural art museum in Golden Gate Park. Would you like to meet me there next Sunday at 1000 hours?"

"That would be acceptable, and now that I have a specified subject of interest, I shall be better prepared for our next encounter."

They left the produce area and proceeded down several long aisles that contained food in boxes, bags, and cans. He noticed people glance at him as they walked, and observed Miss Grayson greet each one with a wide smile and some form of address such as, "Hello" or "Good afternoon." He witnessed other humans performing the same ritual with one another as they moved up and down the aisles.

The concept that some human cultures enjoyed excessive familiarity with complete strangers had been heavily emphasized during his diplomatic training, but it was still a curious custom to observe. A Vulcan would never bother a complete stranger simply to proclaim that the afternoon was "good."

They moved slowly and he watched as she collected a bags of wild rice and black beans, which led to a brief lecture on the wide diversity of legumes native to Earth. He also learned that Miss Grayson's sister, Clarissa, hated black beans, though he was uncertain how that was relevant to the matter at hand. She taught him the purpose and differences in various pastas, all of which had difficult-to-pronounce names and didn't follow English phonetic conventions. She showed him the huge variety of crisps available, though she didn't add any to her cart.

When they turned the corner of aisle 4 and made their way to the bakery, he paused before a long row of highly decorated, refrigerated pastries and cakes. She explained that unlike produce and other primary staples, prepared foods like the desserts were not free of charge.

She told him that the smaller items in the far case, the donuts, muffins, and Danishes were usually consumed for breakfast while the larger items, the cakes and pies, were often reserved for celebrations and holidays. She collected two loaves of bread, one was dark brown and of a variety called "rye" and the other was lighter in color and called "sourdough."

It led to a discussion in which they compared Terran and Vulcan breads, and as Sarek explained that most Vulcan breads had a mildly sour taste because the method used to cultivate the yeast resulted in lactic acid as a byproduct, a strange look fell across her face.

"Can I ask you something?" she murmured, cocking her head and crossing her arms over her chest.

"I believe you already did."

She shut her eyes, pursed her lips, and proceeded to ask, "It just occurred to me that I've spent a good chunk of my day with you, and I know almost nothing about you aside from the fact that you're Sarek, the science attaché to the Vulcan consulate."

"What do you wish to know?"

"Well, you just spent the last five minutes telling me about the chemistry involved in making bread, all the way down to lactic acid and pH and yeast enzymes. Are you a scientist or a diplomat? Or both? What exactly does a science attaché do?"

"I hold an advanced degree in theoretical astrophysics from the Vulcan Science Academy," he replied. "As science attaché, my duties are to advise the Vulcan ambassador in scientific matters, aid Vulcan scientists engaged in research on Earth, and assist in the exchange of scientific information between our planets."

"You're an astrophysicist?"

"I no longer conduct research. My current posting is entirely administrative."

"So how did you go from studying all the grand questions of the universe to answering questions for the Vulcan ambassador to Earth?"

He pondered why she concerned herself with his personal life, but recalled from his diplomatic training that humans were often curious about topics many Vulcans would consider private or even taboo. The truth was the answer to her question was deeply personal and complex, and so he chose the most simplified answer and replied, "My father served in the Vulcan Diplomatic Service, as did his father before him."

"A family legacy then," she murmured. "Ok. Will you allow me just one more question?"

"I cannot prevent you from asking," he replied.

"I get the feeling that wasn't a joke but I'll just ask anyway – is Sarek your surname name or a given name? I had no idea how to properly address you in my first message. How do Vulcan names work?"

"Most Vulcans elect to use their given names when off-world, as Vulcan family names are long and generally unpronounceable to those not fluent in the Vulcan language."

"How hard can it really be?" she asked.

He explained the Vulcan personal nomenclature included a given name, a paternal family name, a matronymic, and a name derived from the province where he was born. When he told her his full name, her response was, "That's… wow. I'm afraid to offend you by even making an attempt at saying it."

"Which is why it is acceptable for you to refer to me as Sarek."

"You know, it's one of those silly inferred human social rules that if one person insists on being called by their given name, the other person should consent to do the same. It's a way of balancing the formality, you see."

"You imply you wish to be referred to as Amanda?"

"I'll always prefer Amanda to Miss Grayson," she grinned. "Unless you're one of my students."

"Very well."

Soon after, she proclaimed she'd completed her shopping and they moved through a line where she swiped her card through a scanner, accounted for all the food in her cart, and placed it into the cloth bags she'd brought with her. They left the indoor market and she tried to collect her bags from the cart, but she very quickly began to struggle under the bulk of her purchases, purse, and umbrella.

"Might I be of assistance?"

"Oh, you don't have to," she replied, setting the umbrella down to rearrange the bags on her arms. "I do this every week. Builds muscle. And character."

She stood up and gave him a reassuring grin. The weight of the bags cut into her circulation and her forearms quickly turned a peculiar reddish shade. She wriggled her left arm to adjust the weight distribution and the handle of one of the bags broke, spilling red and orange fruits everywhere. She uttered a heavy sigh as her eyes lowered to the concrete.

"You are obviously overburdened and yet I carry nothing. It is logical," he replied, stooping to collect her scattered items.

She set the other bags down and knelt to help him reassemble the fruit. When they were finished, she gently fingered the broken cloth handle and glanced at him. "Thank you. You know, for helping me pick this stuff up."

Why did she so often seem surprised by and excessively grateful for courtesy and rational behavior? "My offer of assistance remains."

"And so does my dilemma," she smirked. "I guess it's obvious I could use some help, but I live all the way over in Oakland and I don't want to inconvenience you."

"I believe I already explained I am unoccupied until tomorrow morning. It is no inconvenience."

She rested her dark eyes on his face; the whole of her expression seemed lost in her smile. "You just did the thing."

"Explain."

"The thing you mocked humans for earlier. What was it? Offering, getting a refusal, insisting, and so on?"

"My offer is logical. Your refusal is not. Furthermore, I was not mocking, I was merely making an observation."

She gazed down at her shopping bags. "Well, if you're sure it's no trouble-"

"I have already attempted to assure you it does not inconvenience me four times," he replied.

Her mouth drifted open and seemed to form several silent words before she said, "I accept. Thank you, Sarek."

He stood and extracted the PADD from the interior breast pocket of his vest to call for a consular vehicle, but she interrupted his thoughts. "Well, I guess this works out anyway," she mused, picking up the umbrella and two of the bags. "If you're looking for good places to observe people, I can't think of any place better than the BAR."

"The BAR?"

"The Bay Area Rail. Public transportation."

It took ten minutes to walk to a nearby rail station, Amanda carrying her purse, umbrella, and two of the shopping bags and Sarek carrying the other four, including the one with the broken handle. They arrived just in time to board a train to take them to her home across the inlet, and she swiped her transit card twice to account for his fare, insisting it was only logical since he was helping her with her groceries.

The rail car was nearly at capacity and they could not secure two adjacent places to sit, so Amanda found a spot near the back and Sarek took a seat near the middle next to a woman with a dark complexion and brightly colored clothing. The woman was reading something on her PADD and initially didn't seem to take much notice of her new neighbor, but Sarek inadvertently bumped her knee with one of Amanda's shopping bags as he set them on floor between his feet.

Her reaction upon observing Sarek seemed to be typical for a human — a slight shake of the head, widening of the eyes, a subtle smile — but unlike most humans, her smile widened and she said, "Hello."

"Hello," Sarek replied, looking at her briefly and then turning his head to face forward.

The rest of the journey, the woman continued to sneak glances at him from the corner of her eye, but she wasn't the only one. A small child sitting across the aisle never tore her eyes away except to poke the sleeping woman sitting next to her, whom Sarek presumed was her mother based on their similar features.

She had a small data PADD and kept holding it up and Sarek got the impression she was recording his image in some way. As the shuttle pulled into an underground tunnel to traverse the bay, the overhead lights came on and the girl slid from her seat and approached him with her PADD in hand.

She was approximately one meter tall, smaller than he'd initially supposed. She poked him on the thigh with her index finger and whispered something that was difficult to hear over the roar of the high-speed engines. He stared at her, considering her age and wondering how human parents taught their children to address adults. Her eyes were large and inquiring and when she whispered again, Sarek leaned over to hear her better.

"Are you an elf?" she whispered.

"I do not understand."

She held up her PADD, which depicted an unusual scene of a large man with white hair, wearing a red suit and surrounded by an antlered species of animal and smaller men and women in red and green costumes. The title at the top of the image read, "Santa's Workshop." He presumed from the pointed ears of the smaller humanoids that she suspected he might belong to their species, so he replied, "I am Vulcan."

"What's your name?" she asked.

"Sarek."

"I'm Natalie."

"Hello Natalie."

"So you're not an elf?" she asked again, her tongue catching on her top teeth and distorting her speech. "Because I've been really good this year-"

"Natalie!"

The woman by the window, presumably Natalie's mother, had woken up and was glaring at her daughter.

"I'm so, so sorry," she exclaimed, looking at Sarek with an expression more suggestive of horror than apology. "Natalie, get over here and stop bothering him."

"I wasn't bothering him," Natalie insisted.

"Now," the woman growled.

Sarek raised his eyes at his young, new acquaintance, perplexed by the interactions between human children and their parents. Vulcan children were taught to obey from a very early age, and Natalie certainly seemed old enough to understand if she was old enough to communicate so clearly. Natalie did as her mother ordered without further complaint, and Sarek spent the rest of the journey in silence, observing the other passengers as they casually observed him.

When they arrived at the station in Oakland, Sarek collected Amanda's bags and stood to enter the narrow aisle when Natalie called over his shoulder, "Bye, Sarek!"

He nodded graciously, raised his hand in the ta'al, and replied, "Live long and prosper, Natalie."

Her face illuminated with excitement as she tried to make her hand perform a similar gesture, but she quickly abandoned her effort and waved at him vigorously instead. Sarek caught Amanda's eye and noticed an expression similar to the young girl's. As they stepped down onto the platform she commented, "Making new friends, I see."

"Her name is Natalie," he explained. "What is an elf?"

His query earned him a strange look, a half-hearted laugh, and an extended sigh. Once settled into the backseat of a cab en route to her dwelling, Amanda replied, "Questions like Natalie's are the reason I want to expose my kids to alien cultures."

"Explain."

"An elf is a mythical creature, usually depicted as having pointed ears and magic powers. I guess I could see how she might mistake you for one. 'Space elf' was actually a mildly derogative term for Vulcans in the immediate years after first contact, but it's not really used anymore. I know things between our planets weren't always rosy before the Federation came along. It feels like we got over our differences by decided to completely ignore each other, and I never understood why."

"My species was often accused of keeping yours from progressing as quickly as they wished," he explained.

"How did Vulcans view humans back then?" she asked.

"As impetuous and impatient."

"And how do you view us now?"

He considered his response. The general concept of humans as a brash and reckless species endured. They were. Yet the hours he'd spent among them today had revealed penetrating curiosity, a trait typically admired by Vulcans. They were also friendly — excessively so — and had managed to solve many social problems that had threatened to annihilate them just two centuries earlier. It had taken Vulcans two millennia to eradicate hunger and poverty following Surak's reformations. They were polite to the point of irrationality and he knew from their scientific achievements that they were capable of tremendous ingenuity. Humans were… an enigma.

"You're awfully quiet," Amanda chuckled, not looking away from the window.

"Will you permit me to reserve my judgment until our lessons have concluded?"

"So you want to keep going?"

"We have already made arrangements to meet again in seven days' time," he reminded her.

"I know," she smiled. "But how long do you want to keep at this? I feel like I could spend the rest of my life trying to teach you about humanity and not even come close to scratching the surface."

"Were not the terms of our arrangement for me to enlighten you on Vulcan culture and attend your symposium on May 2nd and for you to tutor me in human social interactions?"

"Yeah."

"Then it seems logical to conclude your obligation will be concluded on May 2nd."

"It's not an obligation, Sarek. I actually enjoyed your company today."

The cab pulled onto a circular street with a row of nine pink and gray dwellings and stopped at the fifth. He spied a boy bouncing an orange ball in front of the gray house to the right and as they exited the vehicle, he waved and proclaimed, "Hi Miss Grayson!"

"Hey Richard!" she called, waving in return before grabbing the umbrella and her shopping bags. "Oh, Richard – come over here. I want to introduce you to my friend."

Sarek studied Amanda's features. She considered him a friend, after such a brief association? The boy jogged over, tucking his ball underneath his arm and nodded at Sarek. "Hello."

"Richard, this is Sarek. He's from Vulcan and he's helping me out with one of my school projects."

His arms were full of the shopping bags, so he nodded to the boy and said, "It is pleasing to make your acquaintance. Live long and prosper."

"Can I help you carry some of those bags, Miss Grayson?"

"No, that's ok, Richard, go back to basketball."

He shrugged and did as she commanded. Sarek watched his efforts for several seconds, curious about the purpose of basketball. It seemed to be some form of game or physical conditioning, since the boy bounced the ball along the ground before aiming it at a metal circle mounted to a stand near the house.

They walked along a concrete footpath to a porch that contained two doors and she swiped a card to enter the door on the right. He entered her home and immediately set the bags near the entrance to remove his footwear, but she told him 'not to bother' and turned the corner into an area he presumed was the kitchen.

It was a small space with unusual décor. Brightly colored rugs littered the home's concrete floor and the walls were covered in electronic photographic images, paintings, drawings, and sculptures. He set the bags on a small table in a room adjacent to the kitchen and waited to be introduced to her family.

"Would you like to stay for dinner?" she asked, removing the orange fruits from one of the shopping bags and placing them in a basket hanging over a small steel sink. "I know you asked the cab driver to wait, but I could call another one for you later."

"Is it not appropriate to confer with other members of the household prior to extending an invitation?" he inquired.

"Uh, no," she laughed. "I live alone."

A soft ping escaped from the PADD in his inner breast pocket. He extracted it and saw a message from Ambassador Selden. The ambassador had never contacted him directly, always preferring to route correspondence through Kuvok, Sarek's direct supervisor.

Sarek

I require your presence in my office. Please respond immediately.

Selden, Senior Vulcan Ambassador to Earth
Vulcan Consulate
Sausalito
United Federation of Planets

"I cannot stay, but I wish to express my gratitude for your offer of hospitality," he announced, and thinking of their earlier conversation added, "Perhaps another time."

"Oh, sure," she smiled. "I'll walk you out."

She escorted him to the exit and as he crossed the threshold, he turned, raised his right hand in the ta'al, and said, "Live long and prosper, Amanda."

"You know, you never did tell me what the proper way to respond to that is," she murmured.

"It is customary to return the hand gesture, which is called the ta'al," Sarek explained. "If the separation is anticipated to be short, it is appropriate to reply with 'live long and prosper.' If the separation is expected to be long or permanent, it is more correct to respond with 'peace and long life.'"

"Well, since I'll be seeing you again next Sunday," she began, holding up her hand in the customary Vulcan gesture, "Live long and prosper, Sarek."

He nodded, turned on his heel, and walked toward the cab. He was halfway down the concrete footpath when he heard a voice yell, "Watch out!"

His quick reflexes instinctively turned his body in the direction of the warning, just in time to catch an orange ball sailing toward his face. It was light, flexible, and hollow, textured with a series of rounded spines and covered in an intricate pattern of lines.

"Sorry!" called the young boy Amanda had introduced as Richard. "Sorry, sir!"

The boy sprinted over to collect his ball and added, "That was a pretty good catch. You're fast."

Sarek wanted to inquire further about basketball, but recalling Ambassador Selden's message, returned the ball to its owner and continued down the path to the waiting taxi. As he settled into the back, he found his thoughts turning not toward his future meeting with Ambassador Selden, but to Amanda.

Why did she live alone?

Chapter Text

"You wished to see me, Ambassador?" Sarek asked, striding into the spacious office at the end of the corridor.

"Yes." Ambassador Selden didn't remove his eyes from his computer monitor.

Sarek came to a stop several paces from the desk, folded his hands at the small of his back, and waited for the senior diplomat to address him. After a few moments, the ambassador shifted in his chair and studied Sarek.

"I had expected to find you in your lodgings," the ambassador said.

"I apologize for my delay in responding to your summons, but I did not anticipate my presence would be required at the compound today."

"A logical conclusion," Selden replied. "Yet it is customary to inform your superiors when you plan to leave the compound."

"I notified Kuvok of my intention to spend the morning attending to an errand."

"It is irregular for many Terran offices to be in service on the seventh day of the standard week. May I inquire the purpose of your errand?"

"I met with a local educator to discuss arrangements for instructing her students on Vulcan culture at an upcoming symposium."

The ambassador's eyebrows flicked toward his hairline. "I see. And Kuvok approved your presence at this symposium?"

"He did." Sarek had apprised Kuvok of his plans on Friday evening, but Kuvok had taken ill and had remained in his lodgings on Saturday. Obviously the information had not made its way to the ambassador.

"As Kuvok is the cultural attaché, I shall defer to his judgment," Selden remarked. He folded his hands across his desk, but before he did, Sarek noted a distinctive trembling.

"It was not my intention to violate consular protocols," Sarek explained. "If it is appropriate, I shall notify you directly-"

"There are no protocols restricting you to the compound," the ambassador interrupted. "I did not call you here to discuss your whereabouts this morning."

"How may I be of assistance, ambassador?"

"I must return to Vulcan. I had wished to postpone my journey, but that is not possible. I leave tomorrow and shall be away for a forty-one standard days. Kuvok will also return with me."

Sarek's eyes remained trained on the ambassador. It would be illogical to speculate about the cause of their unanticipated exodus, but he was curious why Selden was explaining himself to a junior member of his staff.

"T'Lera will assume many of my duties during my absence," Selden continued, referring to the consular adjutant. "Yet she will require your support with meeting the demands of consular operations."

"It is an honor to serve," Sarek replied.

"There is a specific task I have chosen to delegate to you, as you are the most suitable candidate with regards to formal education," he continued. "The Federation Science Council has planned an assembly to discuss Starfleet's fifty-year strategic plan and seeks information about emerging technologies from planets throughout the Federation. I have forwarded you the pertinent information, as well as the technologies about which the Vulcan Ministry of Science has authorized the consulate to speak."

He pondered why the ambassador hadn't initially selected him for this duty, given Sarek was the consular science attaché, but Ambassador Selden was often in the habit of performing duties that were more suited to subordinates.

"There is to be a… social gathering following the presentation," Selden added. "I am aware of the many difficulties in socializing with emotionally charged species, but your attendance will be expected. You received training in human customs prior to your posting to this planet, but there will be representatives from each of the Federation planets in attendance, so I urge you to study the relevant customs and courtesies for each."

"I shall follow your recommendations."

"I have nothing else for you," Selden declared.

"Then I shall take my leave," Sarek murmured, raising his hand in the ta'al. "Live long and prosper, ambassador."

Selden rose to his feet, returned the gesture, and repeated the traditional address. When Sarek arrived at his cramped office halfway down the hall, he reviewed the invitation.

Stardate 2226.27

The Federation Science Council cordially invites a representative from the Vulcan Consulate to a conference –

"Investing in the Future of the Federation: An Exploration of Starfleet's Fifty-Year Strategic Plan"
Stardate 2226.32 at 0900
1700 hours
California Academy of Sciences

A formal reception will follow from 1800 – 2000 hours. Representatives are encouraged to bring a spouse, partner, mate, or other suitable guest.

Please RSVP by 2226.30
Jerome Whitney –
Clerk, Federation Science Council

Sarek was quite familiar with Starfleet's strategic plan, which had been formally announced earlier that year. Beginning in 2230, Starfleet planned to expand the network of subspace communication beacons throughout Federation territory, establish new deep space stations along Federation borders, redesign its fleet of ships, and explore the remaining uncharted regions of the Alpha and Beta quadrants with long-range probes and sustained deep space missions.

He also knew from his research that Starfleet faced a number of considerable obstacles to these goals. Aside from logistical considerations, particularly dilithium and duranium shortages, this strategic plan would be unachievable with existing technology. They had to contend with the lack of a propulsion system capable of prolonged high-warp speeds, solve the antenna efficiency paradox of current subspace transmitters, and reconcile the fundamental limits in current computing technology that hindered data collection. Everything was simply too slow — engines, communications, and computers — for Starfleet's future objectives.

He read the invitation again, allowing his mind to dwell on the final line. The invitation did not say mates were permitted to attend, it said they were encouraged.

Sarek no longer had a mate, though to be more precise, he'd never been married. Like nearly all Vulcans, he had been formally bonded as a child, but as so often happened, he and his intended mate were poorly suited to one another. Their families had made the match with political motivations, which made legally annulling their bond imprudent, but because T'Kala and Sarek were both reasonable individuals, they had agreed to postpone the marriage indefinitely.

Sarek had never demanded kun-ut-kalifee and T'Kala had never petitioned him for her bride settlement, and so they lived at a comfortable impasse for 39 standard years. They had both found more fitting partners — T'Kala with a colleague at the Vulcan Security Ministry and Sarek with a Vulcan princess named T'Rea — but everything had changed last spring.

He closed his eyes, allowing the memory to resurface. Her face was so clear in his mind…

"I care for no one but you." T'Rea's eyes are dark and resolute.

"I have always returned your affections," Sarek replies. "I will accept the kalifee on your behalf if you will declare it."

T'Rea looks away, gazing through the tunnel at the worn, hexagonal gong perched on the trestle at the center of the altar. "You would dissolve your bond with T'Kala?"

"Yes," he declares. Sarek's family will suffer mild social disgrace, as will T'Kala's, but it is unavoidable now.

"You would put your life in jeopardy to become my mate?" she asks.

Sarek considers her interrogation, wondering why she is so uncertain of his offer to fight for her. They have loved each other for many years. She has guided him through the pon farr five times. Love, like any other emotion, is illogical, but he loves her.

A rich, resonating tone splits the air. Torik has struck the marriage gong; the ceremony will begin momentarily. T'Rea looks to her father and then back at Sarek. She is beautiful in her silver wedding gown with her hair intricately arranged. She takes her place at the center of the bridal party and when the gong sounds again, she proceeds to the altar with her family and attendants. Sarek follows behind, ready to do what he must.

Sarek takes his position by Volar, T'Rea's father. Volar knows what he intends to do and does not approve, but Sarek is unaffected by his disapprobation. Rather than consider Volar, he studies Torik, T'Rea's intended mate.

Torik is tall, approximately Sarek's height, but unlike Sarek, he possesses broad shoulders and heavy musculature. Sarek is quick and well trained in several disciplines of martial arts, but Torik is large and it is evident from the flushing of his skin and shaking of his hands that he is suffering from the distasteful effects of pon farr. Theirs will be a fight pitting speed against strength; one of them will die and the other will inevitably sustain severe injuries.

Sarek does not know Torik's precise motivations for challenging T'Rea for his right to kun-ut-kalifee after all this time, but it is likely he has no other reasonable options for resolving his detestable condition. Therefore it is illogical to dwell on the circumstances that have brought them to this juncture. The kun-ut-kalifee is happening and T'Rea must make her choice.

Torik's lips are curling around his teeth as he raises the hammer to ring the gong for the third time. T'Rea must claim kalifee now if she plans to do so. Her eyes rest on the colossal man before her. She is focused and unblinking and when she looks back at Sarek, he experiences a twinge of fear that is not easily suppressed. Still she remains motionless.

Torik pulls his arm back to swing the hammer and strike the ancient ceremonial instrument, formally signaling that their marriage ceremony has begun, but T'Rea does not move and does not look away from Sarek. He narrows his eyes and attempts to indicate that she must act, but she does not.

The gong sounds a third time, causing something inside Sarek to break. She watches him still, forming silent words with her lips. He has lost her.

It takes all the logical discipline he has to endure the ceremony and watch his mate willingly join herself to another. He wants to leave, to seek the comfort of solitude and meditation, but he cannot violate the ancient traditions and break from the wedding party. He wishes to know why she has chosen Torik, but he does not want to inquire. He still wishes to fight Torik and claim her for his own, but he does not ever wish to see her again.

When the priestess sounds the gong and ends the ceremony, Sarek races toward the exit, battling emotions so powerful they threaten to overpower him. He is nearly through the threshold when he feels her hand on his shoulder.

"He would have killed you," she whispers. "It was logical."

"There is no logic in this," he replies, his voice shamefully hostile.

She reaches for his hand to touch his fingers in ozh'esta, but he pulls it away. Torik is approaching and Sarek does not wish to acknowledge him. Sarek has endured pon farr five times now; he knows what T'Rea must do for her newly acquired mate. The idea of her mating with another male gnaws at him and though it is perhaps the most illogical of emotions, but he hates her for what she has done.

She has chosen to bond with Torik to spare both of their lives but he does not wish to accept this. He walks away hurting and ashamed he has sacrificed much to publicly acknowledge his intention to become her mate and now he is alone. The shame is nothing compared to the loneliness.

He misses her. It is illogical.

The dinging of Sarek's PADD startled him back to the present. He opened his eyes and took a deep breath. It had taken months to reconcile his emotions with logic following T'Rea's rejection and at times he still struggled to subdue his feelings during reflective periods.

He'd paid a heavy price for the events of that day, beyond losing the woman he desired above all others. T'Kala's family had taken Sarek's presence at T'Rea's wedding as an insult, as they should have, and urged him to annul the marriage. He did so without protest out of respect for T'Kala, which left her free to marry her lover from the Vulcan Security Ministry.

Sarek's impulsive actions had created a minor scandal for his family, putting several close relatives in tenuous situations. His uncle had spent months campaigning for a seat on the Vulcan High Council and had been relying on T'Kala's more conservative family to provide support for his cause. He had ultimately gained the position, but by a much narrower margin of votes than had been predicted.

His father had advised him to leave Vulcan for a time, a suggestion as welcome as it was practical. Remaining on his home planet would mean continuing to encounter T'Rea in certain social settings, and now that she was carrying Torik's child, he found it even more difficult to extinguish the residual feelings of longing and despair.

It would have been more commendable to confront his emotions and master them rather than avoid them by fleeing the planet, but Sarek had tried most ardently and eventually concluded that meditation alone was insufficient to quell his lingering sentiment. So he followed his father's advice and enlisted the aid of time and distance to forget her. It had taken several months, but through his father and forefather's connections at the Vulcan Diplomatic Service, Sarek had secured his present posting to Earth.

His PADD emitted another soft ding, urging him to pull the device from his inner vest pocket. Two short messages from Miss Grayson. Amanda. Amanda who lived alone.

2226.29.022 – 1738: You left in such a hurry I didn't get a chance to tell you how much I enjoyed today. Thanks for your company.

2226.29.022 – 1740: And I look forward to seeing you again next Sunday!

Rather than reflect upon her unusual punctuation to emphasize a simple declaration, he found himself suspecting he shared her sentiment.


Amanda tapped her heels on the concrete and scanned through several more articles before stopping at one titled, "Unconventional Strategies for Enhancing Number Sense and Fluency." She clicked it, skimmed the introductory paragraph, and sighed. She'd already read this one — she was certain.

She'd spent months researching tips, tricks, and methods for helping Richard get a better grasp on mathematics. Math and science had never been her strong suits, either as a teacher or a student, but she felt ready to try anything to keep him from falling further behind.

She occasionally considered pursuing a graduate degree in education with the idea of specializing in curriculum and instruction, but whenever she allowed her mind to wander too far down that path, she always managed to snap back to reality. She stayed so busy with classroom instruction, grading, mentoring, and all the little after hours side projects of working as an elementary teacher that she sometimes forgot to sleep.

Millie often told her she would burn herself out at her current pace, but she'd already been at Piedmont Academy for four years and wasn't tired yet. She knew there was some truth to it though; she was constantly starting new projects and biting off more than she could chew.

For example, she was due to meet with a Vulcan diplomat in — she checked the time in the top corner of her PADD — nine minutes, all just so he would agree to come talk to her students. Well, that wasn't the only reason she was sitting on a bench in Golden Gate Park on a Sunday, but that was how it had started.

The truth was, she liked Sarek. While it was true that Amanda could find a way to like just about anyone, she was normally drawn to outgoing personalities and good senses of humor. Sarek had neither of those things. He was a bit of an odd duck, stiff and formal in everything he did, but he was spectacularly smart and clearly excited to learn about her culture. Well, maybe not excited, she couldn't be sure, but he was obviously interested, and she wished more people were like him.

"You have arrived eight minutes early," a voice said.

A tiny smile snuck onto her face; she hadn't been expecting him to approach from behind. She twisted at the waist, draped her arm over the back of the bench and replied, "I was two minutes late last time, so if I'm eight minutes early, that puts me six minutes ahead."

He cocked his head. "Humans keep a continuous accounting of tardiness and punctuality for each meeting?"

She smiled warmly and sighed. "No."

"At our last meeting, you expressed interest in sampling gespar," he announced, offering her an orange-pink fruit the size of a large lime.

She gave him a wide smile and accepted it, rolling it over in her hands to study its bumpy surface. She smelled it, noting the mild acidic scent common in citrus fruits. "Thank you so much."

"I had pledged to bring you this trivial offering," he replied. "Yet your tone implies you are surprised by its delivery."

"It was still really nice of you to bring it," she explained, tucking it into her bag. She wanted to peel off the skin and try it right there, but she remembered the Vulcan aversion to touching food with ones' hands. "A lot of people might have forgotten."

He gave her a curious look.

"But you're not the type of person who forgets things, are you?" Amanda grinned.

"Generally not, no."

"Well, thank you for the gespar, Sarek. It was very thoughtful and I can't wait to try it later."

"You are welcome."

"So are you ready to go to the museum?"

"Was it not the purpose of our meeting?

"So it was," she murmured, turning to face the imposing, copper-brown colored building.

They strolled toward the wide breezeway leading to the entrance, taking in the abstract, geometric architecture and outdoor sculptures lining the walkway like sentries. As usual, Sarek was quiet, and as usual, Amanda wasn't interested in silence.

"We bring our students on a field trip here every year," she explained. "They usually love the break from the classroom."

"You bring students to a museum as part of their formal education? Is that the meaning of a 'field trip?'"

"Yes," Amanda replied, sensing some criticism lurking around the corner. "Do you not have museums on Vulcan?"

"Vulcan has many museums," Sarek replied. "In the capital city of Shi'Kahr, I know of 39 public collections of art and artifacts in museums and temples."

"But you don't take kids to them?"

"Museums benefit children most, as they are a tangible catalogue of history, culture, and accomplishment and the youngest generations have the most to learn," he explained. "Yet children go to school to train their minds, not to tour museums. Taking a child to a museum is the responsibility of its parents."

"Responsibility?" Amanda laughed. "You make it sound like taking your kids to a museum is mandatory on Vulcan."

"It is not compulsory, but museums exist for the betterment of society. Why wouldn't parents elect to bring their offspring to such an establishment if they are able?"

"Lots of human parents bring their kids to places like this," she said, gesturing around. Almost as if to prove her point, a little boy zipped past her and headed straight for the revolving door.

"I see."

Sarek stared at him as they entered through the sliding doors to the left of the circular revolving door, which the boy had turned into his personal playground. He was probably six or seven — certainly old enough to know better. Amanda glanced over her shoulder and saw a woman struggling to subdue to two smaller children and wrangle a large stroller bearing a toddler and an infant.

"But a lot of parents don't," she sighed. "And so we make it a point to go out into the community and expose the students to new places and ideas once a month, just in case their parents either don't want to or can't find the time or might not think to step outside their comfort zone. I've taken my second graders to the ballet folklorico, the symphony, the World War III memorial, the sciences academy. There's an Around the World Festival in San Francisco every year around Federation Day, but they only have it on weekends, otherwise, I'd..."

Her words trailed off as they entered a large room with a low ceiling that fed into numerous corridors and side exhibits. She'd been here half a dozen times but she never got tired of the overwhelming excitement of trying to figure out where to start when there was so much to see and experience.

"Otherwise?" Sarek asked.

Amanda shook her head. "I forgot what I was going to say."

Sarek raised an eyebrow.

"What would you like to see first?" she asked, rolling her eyes at the idea that Vulcans never lost their trains of thought. "They have exhibits featuring artwork from six continents, a wing dedicated to art from around the Federation, there's a new music exhibit I've been dying to see…"

"Dying?" Sarek asked.

"Ok, not dying. It's a silly expression that just means I want to see it really badly."

"Then why not say that?"

"Because humans love hyperbole." She gave him a warm smile and stopped in the middle of the main lobby.

"I have observed this."

Amanda refused to stop smiling. "So Sarek, what'll it be? Start at the ground floor and work our way up, start at the back and work our way forward? You're Vulcan, tell me what would be most efficient."

He looked to his right and gazed at the digital map above the reception desk. "It appears your music exhibit is directly to the left. As you have 'died to see it,' perhaps we should begin our explorations there."

She snickered at his failed attempt to use human vernacular, but thought it was charming that he would even try. She scanned the lobby, noticing Sarek was drawing the same level of attention as he had at the café and grocery store, but she supposed she was just going to have to get used to it. It didn't seem to bother him, so why should it bother her?

She caught sight of the entrance to the music gallery, but when she turned to ask Sarek if he was ready to start the tour, she discovered he was staring at her. It wasn't the same cold stare he'd given her the day they met, nor was it the slightly puzzled, yet neutral stare from their excursion the previous Sunday. There was almost genuine warmth in his eyes, an expression caught between kindness and teasing.

"Amanda?"

Her cheeks grew warm. "Um, right, let's go."

When they entered the wide hall, she was thrilled to see a wide collection of musical instruments and artifacts from not only Earth, but also from all over the Federation.

Immediately to the right was an enormous horn that vaguely resembled a tuba, which was resting on its side and was so large that the wide, open end was taller than she was. She wandered around it in a circle to take in the impressive dimensions. She suddenly heard a gentle hum and looked around in surprise to see Sarek standing in his usual posture with his hands interlocked behind his back.

"What was that, what's-"

She was interrupted by the deepest, saddest tone she'd ever heard. After five seconds, other tones joined in a slow, mournful melody. It gave her chills; it was as beautiful as it was creepy. A minute later the music ended and the humming noise stopped, and only then did Amanda realize she'd closed her eyes to entirely devote her mind to the somber song.

"That was so beautiful," she breathed.

"A Tellarite funeral dirge," he replied.

"Oh, do you know a lot about Tellarite music?" she asked, excited to draw him into conversation.

"No." He gestured to a display panel mounted on a small podium. "That was simply what it describes on the informational screen."

She smiled through a scowl and swiped her fingers across the glass panel. The instrument was called a nen, a type of horn originating on Tellar Prime, and was usually only found in concert halls and monasteries due to its massive size. She clicked a link for another song and the humming began again, only to be drowned out five seconds later by another rich series of tones. This song was shorter than the first but had a more vibrant and upbeat tempo, and it was all Amanda could do to keep the childish grin from spreading across her face.

She took another look around at the enormous gallery and frowned. "We probably shouldn't have started with this exhibit, because I get the feeling I could spend the rest of the day here and still not see everything I want to see."

They walked along the wall, observing numerous other types of horns, from ordinary modern trumpets and saxophones to a beautifully carved 11th century Italian oliphant and a 16th century Andorian military coronet. Not all of the instruments had audio or holographic demonstrations, but many did. Each time they pushed a button, a sound dampening energy field would activate around them, a feature that Amanda assumed was designed to keep entire room from sounding like a horrible cacophony of noise.

She stopped in front of a worn, ordinary-looking trumpet, clicked a button next to it, and was surprised when a hologram appeared on the floor next to her. The trumpet had belonged to 20th century jazz legend Miles Davis and the hologram featured his performance at the Black Hawk Jazz Club in San Francisco in 1961. Once again, she was mesmerized by a rhythm and melody she'd never heard before, enjoying the sudden shifts in tempo and brassy cries of the instruments.

When the song ended and the hologram faded, Amanda stole a casual glance at her companion and asked, "What did you think?"

Sarek's face didn't move; he seemed deep in thought. "The music was discordant, yet… it was quite captivating. I am not familiar with this instrument, but performing that piece on any Vulcan instrument would be exceedingly difficult. This musician must be very accomplished."

They spent two more hours touring the horns, woodwinds, and brass instruments, then another hour investigating the percussive instruments, and when they came to strings, an ornate wooden instrument that looked like a rough cross between a harp and a guitar caught her eye.

"A ka'athyra," Sarek said from behind her. "It is Vulcan. This one is of exceptional quality."

Amanda grinned over her shoulder and pushed the button next to it, revealing a hologram of a Vulcan woman seated on a short stool and holding a similar instrument. The song began slowly, a gentle rhythm with a sound much like a mandolin. It was a solo piece, so perfect and precise that any accompaniment would have spoiled its beauty.

The fingers of the holographic woman flew over the strings so fast they were nearly a blur. The song ended abruptly, almost startling Amanda for the sudden shift. The hologram disappeared back into the projector and she turned to Sarek. "Was that the end of it? It was so wonderful."

"That was the ending. It was T'Res' Interlude No. 19. It is widely regarded as the most difficult piece ever written for the ka'athyra. I myself have never mastered it."

"Wait, you play this instrument?"

"I was taught by my father, who learned from his father before him."

She crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows. "I would have never guessed you were a musical person."

"On what information did you base your erroneous deduction?"

"You're an astrophysicist who's also a diplomat; I guess I just assumed you would be more interested in the sciences than the arts."

"Many Vulcans enjoy the arts. I personally prefer music as it merges mathematics with personal expression in a way I find most satisfying."

"Do you have one of these — what are they called?" She glanced at the placard and the loopy Vulcan script and the phonetic Federation Standard version next to it. She was sure she butchered the pronunciation when she finished, "Do you have a ka'athyra here on Earth?"

"Yes."

"Any chance I could get you to play something for us during the cultural fair?" she asked brightly. "I've been racking my brain trying to come up with activities for the Vulcan unit study that aren't just lectures and I keep coming up short."

"I have never given a public performance," Sarek replied. "I am not certain I am the most suitable-"

"You're a Vulcan who can play this Vulcan instrument," she encouraged him. "It wouldn't have to be anything half as difficult as this. Really it would be amazing if you could even just play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

"I am unfamiliar with that composition."

"It's- never mind. You can play anything you want. Whatever you think is good. But please?" she asked, offering him a warm smile. "They're just kids: I promise you, they're easily impressed."

"Very well. I consent, at your insistence."

"Really?"

"Yes, I believe I just-"

"Thank you so much!" Amanda didn't even bother trying to disguise her enthusiasm. "I'm actually really excited to hear you play, honestly. You really are a jack of all trades."

"Clarify."

"Another poorly considered euphemism," she laughed. "It means someone with very diverse hobbies or skills."

Sarek tilted his chin and they resumed their tour of stringed instruments from around the Federation. She watched him carefully, interested to see his reactions to the various musical demonstrations now that she knew he liked music. It was hard to tell what he was thinking most of the time because his face remained locked in the same neutral expression.

She thought she saw a flicker of something in his eyes when they listened to a short excerpt from String Sextet No. 1 by Johannes Brahms, but when she looked more closely, his posture stiffened.

"You should visit the symphony sometime," Amanda urged. "You seem to enjoy the classical music more than most of the other styles we've heard."

"I am uncertain what style denotes classical music, but I found that piece to be quite pleasing."

It was nearly 1600 hours when they left the music exhibit. They had seen so much, from African steelpans and Cuban bongos to a Paraguayan harp and 17th century Italian violin. Amanda knew Earth had one of the most diverse cultures in the entire Federation, but it was truly remarkable to see that diversity expressed through a single cultural facet such as music.

As they ventured into a long corridor connecting the music exhibit to the "Culture of the Americas" gallery, Amanda stopped in her tracks. Sarek paused and craned his neck in her direction.

"Why do you hesitate?"

"I just realized I've spent five hours with you listening to music, but I've done nothing to advance your understanding of human social conventions. I'm not really holding up my end of the bargain."

"Though you have not provided formal instruction, the outing has been informative," he replied. "As you have implied, the optimal way to learn about a culture is to immerse oneself in it."

"So what have you learned about humans today?" she asked, crossing her arms over her chest and giving him a playful smile.

"The dynamic between human parents and their children appears to be complex," he said, glancing at the same harried mother from earlier who was trying to shepherd her five children down the corridor.

"I would think that's probably true for any species. What else?"

"Humans seem to show no hesitation in expressing profound admiration or disgust for things."

"How so?"

"I observed a number of individuals, yourself included, who became irrationally emotional by many of the musical demonstrations in the exhibit we just left."

"You aren't moved by music?" she asked in disbelief. "You said you liked the personal expression."

"I do, however there is no logic in experiencing emotions as a result of something one enjoys."

"I swear I almost saw you smile during that Brahms song."

"I assure you, you are mistaken."

She gave him a pointed look and grinned. "Then I'll smile for you."

"That is not necessary."

"I know, but I liked the song too. It was pretty."

They ambled slowly down the long hallway, stopping occasionally to look at the marble sculptures that lined walls. She had been down here before and was less interested in the art and more interested in Sarek's perception of it.

He was particularly fascinated by a small collection of Afghan rugs hanging from a series of risers in an alcove. She waited for ten minutes as he studied the intricate textiles, and when he turned and announced he was ready to see another display, she asked if he was having a good time.

"It has been a gratifying excursion."

"Really?"

"Why is that so often your response to my answers?"

Amanda shrugged, bit her lip, and replied, "I don't know. I forget you're not human. It's like I said last Sunday, people have a bad habit of saying things they don't mean."

"Yes, you said it was as a means of 'being polite.'"

"Well, yes, usually. Not always though, I guess."

"Explain."

"Sometimes people are being sarcastic or telling a joke."

"Your species seems to possess a rather duplicitous nature," he replied. "To lie so readily for both civility and humor."

"That's the truest, saddest statement I've heard all day," she groaned, adjusting her bag on her shoulder.

"How does one know when another human is telling a falsehood? And is there a means of deriving their true motivation?"

"It depends," she admitted. "Sometimes it's the tone of voice, other times it's situational. Do Vulcans not lie at all?"

"Lying is generally illogical, though not universally."

"When is it logical to lie?"

"There are too many examples to enumerate."

"Give me just one then."

"It would be logical to tell a lie to preserve life, if the lie does not also result in unavoidable death."

"Forgive me for saying so, but it almost sounds like Vulcans can find a way to justify almost anything with logic."

"Logic is a tool, and like any tool, it can be misused," he explained.

When they turned the corner to enter a room with a number of stone sculptures, she saw a perfect demonstration of human duplicity being performed in the corner. She paused in the entryway, looking at the two other museum patrons already there. One was a small woman in a vivid purple suit covered in sparkling rhinestone flowers speaking to another woman in a soft yellow blouse. They both clearly hated the fact that they'd run into each other.

"Why do you hesitate?" Sarek murmured.

Amanda took a step back into the hall and whispered, "You said you wanted to learn about human social interactions and polite social lies, right?"

"Yes, but-"

"Shhh, listen. You see the woman in the purple over there talking to the woman in the yellow shirt? Look quickly, but don't stare."

He did as she instructed. "What of them?"

"Just listen to the way they talk to each other," she whispered.

"Eavesdropping is unethical," he explained, lowering his tone to match hers.

"What are you, the ethics police?" she scoffed. "They're talking loudly in a public place and besides, I'm not trying to listen in on state secrets, I'm just trying to help you understand humanity."

"And this outfit you have on!" exclaimed the woman in yellow, pointing to the woman in purple's oversized hat. "I just love it. I could never pull something like that off, but it looks great on you!"

"Thank you!" the flamboyant woman in purple replied. "But I must say, I've always just loved your look. So classic. So timeless. I bet you could wear those clothes forever."

"We have to get together sometime soon," said the woman in yellow. "But it gets so hard juggling work and Sarah's ballet practice and Mark's guitar lessons."

"Oh I know!" replied the woman in purple. "Listen Lily, I've got to get home and get dinner started, but it's been so great seeing you again. If you're ever downtown we have to get lunch."

"It's definitely a date," replied the woman in yellow, turning to walk away from her companion.

Amanda turned back to Sarek. "So what did you hear?"

"Two women discussing their clothing and making arrangements to share a midday meal."

"Yes, that was the gist of the words that came out of their mouths, but did you notice anything else?"

"No."

"What if I told you that neither of them were probably being sincere?"

"How can you make such a determination?"

"The tone of their voice, their body language. So much about human communication isn't actually spoken in words."

"What might compel both of them to lie?"

"I can't say for sure," Amanda murmured, wandering into the sculpture gallery. "But my guess is they're both socialites who don't like each other but because they move in the same social circles, they're expected to get along. So they go out of their way to pretend like they do."

"A curious hypothesis. I wish to know more about how you can make such a deduction."

They wandered through several more exhibits while Amanda did her best to explain it. Sarek still didn't seem to understand, which she thought was both sweet and naïve in a way. She remembered their first meeting, how rude and callous he'd seemed, but Sarek was uninhibited by nonsensical social niceties. It had never occurred to her how much of her life she spent dancing around cold, hard facts until she started trying to teach someone else how to do it.

It was nearly 1800 hours when they made it to the top of the triangular museum tower that overlooked much of the park and bay. She made her way to one of the long glass windows, thinking this was both her favorite and least favorite part of the entire museum. The sun was fading and the first glittering lights of the city gave it a pulse that made it seem alive, but it was so high. She'd never liked heights much, but she was usually fine as long as she kept her eyes level and never looked directly down.

"I believe this establishment is due to end its business operations in three minutes," Sarek said, coming to a stop beside her.

"I know," she replied. "I just wanted to see the city before heading home."

"What is this building?" Sarek asked, pointing to the nearby building with the rooftop garden.

"The California Academy of Sciences," she explained, quickly glancing below and looking back at him before she could start contemplating what it would be like to fall from so high up. "I've taken my students there before. It's really interesting: they have a beautiful planetarium and a geology exhibit like nothing I've ever seen."

"An exhibit? It is a museum?"

"Yes. A science museum. Why?"

"I had thought it was an institution of higher learning and research. I am scheduled to attend a conference there in six days."

"That sounds like fun," she replied. "What kind of conference?"

"It is titled, 'Investing in the Future of the Federation: An Exploration of Starfleet's Fifty-Year Strategic Plan.'"

"Never mind," she laughed. "That doesn't sound fun at all."

"There is a formal reception following the conference, and I was encouraged to bring a spouse, partner, mate, or other suitable guest. Would it be possible for you to attend?"

Amanda thought there wasn't much that could tear her eyes away from the gorgeous view of the city in front of her, but Sarek's comment did it. Was he asking her on a date?

"I uh, um… when is it?"

"Stardate 2226.32 from 1800 – 2000 hours."

"I don't do stardates very well," she replied, trying to keep her voice from cracking from anxiety.

"It is this upcoming Saturday."

She took a deep breath, trying to think of the best way to approach this. Sarek was logical and preferred the truth, so why not just be honest? She started her sentence several times before she mumbled, "Do you mind- is it ok if I ask why you want me to go?"

"You are well-versed in human social interactions and I have never attended an event in which the primary purpose is socialization with humans and other species."

"Oh, so you just want me to go and act kind of as your guide?" she stammered, looking down at the science museum.

"Precisely."

"And you said it's a formal event?"

"That was what the invitation stipulated."

She snuck a glance at Sarek and was startled to see he was observing her. She didn't mind going — she'd been to several formal receptions and they were all plenty of fun — but she wondered if he understood the implication of a man asking a woman to a social gathering after he'd received an invitation for two.

"Your silence suggests deliberation."

"I can go," she said quickly. "Are you sure there's no one else you'd rather bring though?"

"I could bring a colleague, but you have the desired experience for this event."

The lights dimmed and the museum was closing, so they turned and made their way down the stairs to the main lobby. Amanda was deeply troubled.

She knew Sarek didn't consider it a date, but other people certainly might. She didn't care about what other people thought, but the prospect of getting dressed up and going somewhere with him was forcing her to consider what she thought.

She never arrived at a definite answer, but she did come to several realizations that surprised her.

Chapter Text

She stroked the soft brush across her cheek again, wondering if the powder really made a difference in her complexion. Amanda rarely wore makeup, but tonight was a different occasion. Tonight was… she didn't know what tonight was.

She was going to a formal reception with a Vulcan diplomat. Sarek. She observed her reflection in the vanity mirror, noting the slight flush of her cheeks. When she'd agreed to attend to act as his guide during an evening of socializing, she wondered if other people would assume they were together. Together together. Like a couple.

The idea had seemed so ludicrous — a Vulcan diplomat and a human schoolteacher. It was enough to make her laugh out loud. People stared at them just for walking too close together at the bistro and museum. But she'd taken the week to think it over, and though the concept of being romantically involved with a Sarek was still hilarious, she'd decided Sarek was attractive.

He wasn't exactly handsome in the most traditional sense — he was tall, plain, and had a severe haircut and pointed ears. And his personality was an enigma. It had been easy to dismiss him as proud and rude when she first met him, but the more time they spent together, the more she was coming to understand that curiosity and kindness lurked beneath Sarek's stark and humorless exterior.

Most of Sarek's appeal stemmed from his mind. His knowledge and intelligence were impressive, but what she really admired was his ability to challenge the way she thought about things. Amanda had always prided herself on being open-minded, but Sarek so often demonstrated that her worldview had a lot of depth but very little breadth. He was so logical about everything, which gave him an honest simplicity that was profoundly refreshing.

Yet it had never occurred to her to think of Sarek as anything more than an acquaintance with whom she'd forged a temporary partnership, at least until he'd asked her to attend this reception. Now here she was, wearing a sleeveless plum-colored dress, a string of pearls, and slinky heels and wondering if he would think she looked beautiful. He would probably just say beauty standards were nothing more than a by-product of cultural practices.

She scowled and pursed her lips together, smearing the lipstick more evenly. So she'd developed a tiny crush him, so what? There was nothing wrong with a little bit of harmless infatuation now and again and besides, she'd get over it in time.

But she showed no signs of getting over it any time soon. She'd spent the week agonizing over this evening. She'd tried to push both Sarek and the upcoming reception out of her thoughts, but that proved virtually impossible because she'd spent much of her free time putting the final touches on her Vulcan lesson plan for next week's cultural exchange fair.

The cultural fair only added a unique complication to the situation. After Tuesday, they would have no reason to spend any more time together. Hadn't he said something like, "Your obligation will be finished on May 2nd" when she told him she could spend the rest of her life teaching him about humanity? This reception would be one of her last chances to spend time with him.

She studied herself in the mirror and forced a smile. It was probably for the best, because there was probably zero chance that Sarek would ever be interested in her. Besides, there was still so much she didn't know about him; maybe he was married or engaged. The subject of his family had never come up, aside from his explanation that he came from a family of diplomats. She'd started to tell him about her mother and sister, but he'd seemed so uncomfortable by any revelations about her personal life. What if Sarek had the Vulcan version of a wife, kids, and white picket fence waiting for him back at home? Then again, if he had someone, why hadn't she come to Earth with him?

Sarek would probably say it would be illogical to speculate, and he would be right. No, Sarek would probably never see her as anything more than a friend, but even if he did, could humans and Vulcans even…? She blushed more deeply, refusing to let her mind drift too far on that subject. She idly traced the makeup brush across her forehead.

The gespar he had given her had been delicious. She'd finally eaten it last night and it had taken several minutes to even figure out how to crack the hard outer shell. Inside she found starchy flesh similar to an apple that was light pink and smelled of apples and grapefruit. She wondered if there were some specialty market she could find it at.

A loud thump shook the wall and she could hear muffled voices booming from the other side. Her neighbors, Geoff and Christina were fighting again. She heard a soft crash, which she supposed was the sound of shattering glass. She sighed, regretting her choice from two years earlier to move into the larger three-bedroom duplex instead of the smaller single unit house in the adjacent neighborhood. The duplex had really been Eddie's choice, not hers.

Geoff and Christina never got violent with each other, but they did occasionally drink and when they got drunk, they got really emotional and loud. It happened in predictable cycles. Approximately one weekend a month, they would throw back one too many bottles of wine, Christina would get mean and then Geoff would start crying and by the next day, they would fall back in love with one another all over again. Amanda had tried to befriend them when they moved in last year, but she found their love of petty drama too off-putting, and so her relationship with her neighbors slipped into a distant acquaintanceship. Much like she currently had with Sarek.

Her door buzzed, prompting her to check the time on her PADD. A cab was due to pick her up at 1715 hours, but that was still ten minutes away. She answered the door to find Dr. Daystrom, still thin and haggard looking.

"Good evening, Miss Grayson." His voice sounded distracted.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"Might I trouble you to watch Richard tonight?"

Amanda looked down at her dress and wondered if it occurred to him that she had a life outside of babysitting his son. "I'm sorry, but I have plans."

He seemed to snap back to the present. "I see. I do not wish to bother you, but it is an emergency. One of my graduate students had a personal emergency and I have no one to monitor the lab after 2200 hours."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Amanda replied, trying to hide her annoyance. "But I really do have plans this evening."

She so rarely refused Henry Daystrom's request for childcare that he seemed to have difficulty understanding what she was getting at. Sure, the reception ended at 2000 hours and she adored Richard, but she was growing tired of Henry's inconsiderate attitude.

"I- I see," he mumbled. "Do you know when you will be back?"

"I'm going to a reception for the Federation Science Council. I think-"

"The Federation Science Council?" he blurted.

"Yes," she shrugged. "I guess they had some kind of conference about a strategic mission or something and they're holding a formal reception tonight."

"They were discussing Starfleet's fifty-year strategic plan," he corrected. "I tried to get an invitation for months to discuss my duotronic technology but no one would get back to me!"

She was sure he probably didn't intend to shout, but by the end of his sentence, he almost seemed hysterical. "I'm… very sorry to hear that," Amanda stammered, unsure what to say.

"I don't understand… how did you get invited?" he asked, his voice fluctuating between angry and curious.

"I didn't actually go to the conference," she explained. "A Vulcan friend of mine only asked me to the reception."

"A Vulcan friend of yours?" he breathed.

"Yes, that's what I said."

"Richard said he saw a Vulcan man coming out of your house the other day," Henry explained.

Something in his tone set her on edge. It was almost accusatory, like he was loosely implying she was harboring fugitives.

"Yes, I introduced Richard to him," she replied. "His name is Sarek. He works at the Vulcan embassy."

"Sarek?" he mumbled, more to himself than to her. "That name sounds familiar."

"Well, he's a scientist. Maybe the two of you have met." Amanda could see a dark vehicle pulling up to the curb over his shoulder and assumed it must be her cab. "Look, Dr. Daystrom, I really need to go. Sorry I'm not available tonight."

His lips turned into a thin frown but he nodded and slinked off the porch. Amanda waved at the driver and dashed back inside to grab her clutch, tossing a tube of chapstick, her wallet, and a few other necessities from her oversized canvas bag into the tiny cloth envelope that was to serve as her purse for the evening.

She settled into the back of the cab and reminded the driver of the address. Her heart picked up speed as they pulled away from the curb, leading Amanda to wonder if she was really that smitten with the Vulcan astrophysicist. He had offered to pick her up, but she had been determined to maintain a cordial distance. Arriving together definitely implied a date.

It took nearly 45 minutes to get across the bay. She arrived at the California Academy of Sciences right on time, leapt out of the cab, and trotted for the entrance on her awkward heels.

She could have spotted Sarek from a mile away, but she was slow to identify him as the man she was looking for. He stood near the entrance with his hands folded neatly in front of him, wearing a set of blue and green robes with brilliant gold trim.

It was such a far cry from his usual drab black and gray clothing, but then again, what had she been expecting him to wear? A tux? Not every human culture opted for the bow-tie approach to formal dress — as evidenced by the African gentlemen standing at the opposite side of the door — so why would Vulcans?

He hadn't noticed her yet, so she slowed her walk and tried to look casual, but she couldn't deny the butterflies leaping around in her stomach. It was just an innocent little crush, so why did she feel like she was back in high school?

His head swiveled in her direction when she was about five meters away. His face remained placid, but she hadn't expected him to grin and tell her how beautiful she looked anyway. This wasn't a date; she was here as his "guide." But just because he didn't participate in human pleasantries didn't mean she couldn't.

"You look nice," she said, stopping beside him.

His brow furrowed slightly. At this distance, she could discern a subtle change in his eyes as he surveyed her formal attire. "Do you refer to my character or my outward appearance?"

She rolled her eyes and smirked. "When I said 'you look nice,' I meant to imply you look good in the clothes you're wearing. It's very different than anything I've ever seen you wear."

"The invitation stipulated this was a formal reception, thus it was appropriate to wear formal clothing."

She nibbled on the tip of her tongue, preferring to avoid pointing out just how very Vulcan his response had been. Apparently compliments were illogical too. Before she could begin to feel awkward, she made direct eye contact with him and said, "Should we go inside?"

He nodded and pivoted on his heel, waiting for her to lead the way. They strolled through the main entrance and fell in with other guests migrating toward a large ballroom with an enormous aquarium on one wall. They were barely five meters into the room and were already attracting quite a bit of notice. Amanda wasn't in the habit of being self-conscious, but she also wasn't accustomed to being gawked at.

She turned to Sarek and put on a friendly smile. "So do you know any of these people?"

"I spoke with several individuals at today's conference, but I am not well-acquainted with any of them," he replied, gazing around. She was curious about his initial impressions: she wasn't sure if he was studying the layout of the room or the behavior of the other guests.

"What are social events on Vulcan like?" she asked drifting toward a quiet alcove with him.

"Organized. The invitation indicated this was a formal event, but there appears to be a large degree of informality."

"Well, I think 'formal' generally refers to the clothing worn and the type of atmosphere to expect. There aren't exactly rituals or anything."

"Fascinating."

"You say that a lot," Amanda laughed.

"It is an honest assessment."

Amanda folded her hands and looked around. She wanted to get Sarek mingling, but she didn't know where to start. "So tell me about this conference today. You said you met a few people. What did you talk about?"

"The topic was Starfleet's Comprehensive Strategic Plan," he replied. "As it said in the invitation I forwarded you."

"Right, but what does that mean?"

"In four years, Starfleet intends to begin progress toward six long-term goals — they will establish a network of sub-space communication beacons throughout Federation space and along current and future territorial borders, develop an engine capable of sustained warp factor 8 travel, initiate research and development for three new starship designs, expand the number of space stations along the frontier, launch long-range probes to explore uncharted regions within the Alpha and Beta quadrants, and begin a series of prolonged deep space missions for the purpose of seeking new life and new civilizations."

Amanda blinked. He spoke so crisply, as if reciting a lecture slide he'd memorized. Unfortunately, Amanda didn't know enough about any of what he'd just said to carry on an intelligent conversation on those topics, so she decided to opt for a new strategy.

"Do you see anyone you could introduce me to?" she asked hopefully. "Or anyone you want to talk to?"

He seemed genuinely confused by her question and scanned the room. "Nearly everyone appears engaged in conversation already."

"Well, what's wrong with throwing ourselves into the mix?"

"It would violate protocols."

She laughed. "What protocols?"

"It would be inappropriate to interrupt an exchange."

"Not always," she argued. "Some of it's just timing the moment."

She glanced around again and found a younger couple across the room who were clearly arguing and pointed them out. "You see the woman in the gray dress? It would be rude to walk up to them right now. They're obviously in the middle of a spat."

"A spat?"

"An argument."

"Yes, I've often noticed your species cares little for privacy in such matters."

She bit her tongue and continued. "But see those men over there? On the opposite wall?"

"Yes."

"See how they look receptive to talking to people? They're facing the room and looking around and their body language is very open."

"The man on the left is Jerome Whitney," Sarek replied. "Clerk to the Federation Science Council."

"If you know him, let's go talk to him."

The expression on his face once again suggested he thought her proposal was unacceptable. "He is a man of considerable status. He is responsible for arranging meetings with the Federation Science Council."

"And this is a reception," Amanda argued. "The point of these things is to bring people together to socialize."

"I have nothing to discuss with Mr. Whitney at present."

"But wouldn't it make sense to be friendly to him?"

"Your species seems to enjoy forging unnecessary bonds of friendship."

"I walk into a room full of a hundred strangers and see a hundred potential new friends," she shrugged. "It seems like you see hundred adversaries."

"Mr. Whitney is not an adversary of mine, but nor is he a friend."

"You just said he's responsible for setting up meetings with the Federation Science Council and surely you deal with them from time to time? So why not build a rapport?"

A strange expression flickered across his face. "You imply I should ingratiate myself to him."

Amanda uttered an exasperated sigh and blurted. "I'm not telling you to kiss his ass, I'm just saying maybe you could try being nice to the guy."

"Kiss his ass? I do not-"

"It's a crude expression that means to ingratiate oneself," she interrupted, snorting a little from Sarek's repetition of her crass language. "Look, I'm not a very political person, but I'm a friendly person. Even in my profession, the more friends I have, the more successful I am because I have more people to rely on for favors and advice, and I make sure they know they can rely on me too. I'm not their friend only because I want things from them, but that's one of those benefits of friendship. I can only imagine that's even more true in a position like yours. You're never going to get anywhere if you don't at least try to network with people."

He was quiet for a few moments before saying, "Would it not be more appropriate to refer to them as acquaintances or associates? Does the word 'friend' not imply a sense of intimacy and familiarity, much like our arrangement?"

Her heart began to pound. "You really think of me as a friend?"

"I have come to value your company."

She couldn't help giving him a goofy smile. "I've had a pretty good time with you too, these last weeks."

"Would either of you care for a drink?" a server interrupted, offering a tray with several glasses of white wine.

"Yes, please," Amanda grinned, taking one. "And thank you."

"Certainly, ma'am. And for you, sir?"

Sarek glanced at Amanda, who nodded toward the serving tray. "Why not give it a try?" she asked.

Sarek took a glass from the server with an almost hilarious amount of trepidation. If Amanda were to guess, she would suppose that Vulcans were probably strict teetotalers. "I take it you've never tried wine?"

"Vulcans occasionally drink wine for festivals and ceremonial purposes, though it is red in color, due to the skin of the fruit."

Amanda took a sip of her beverage and Sarek raised his own glass to do the same, but just as he brought it to chest-level, someone slammed into him from the back. Sarek pitched forward, catapulting the contents of his wine glass directly onto the front of Amanda's dress. She froze in horror, gazing down at the enormous wet spot on the dark purple fabric.

"I am so, so sorry," exclaimed a voice. "There's a rut in the tile here and I was walking backwards like a fool and tripped."

Over Sarek's shoulder, she saw an older, balding gentleman clutching his forehead. He looked so visibly distressed that Amanda instantly felt bad for him. A stain on her dress wasn't the end of the world and besides, she kept a laundry pen in her purse at all times. It had been one of the first things she'd grabbed from her canvas bag to transfer to her small clutch.

"I- I- I'm really so embarrassed."

"There's no need to get upset," Amanda reassured him. "Accidents happen. And it could be worse. At least it was white wine, right?"

The man's face relaxed slightly and he stopped massaging his forehead. "Is there anything I can do? Pay to get your dress cleaned?"

Amanda snuck a look at Sarek, noticing he was watching her closely. "Oh, I think a little elbow grease and my laundry pen will make it right as rain. Can we get you another glass of wine?"

The man laughed nervously. "Maybe I've had too much if I'm tripping over my own feet. And I'm sorry to you," he nodded to Sarek, "for bumping into you."

"You have already explained it was unintentional," Sarek responded.

The man squinted and studied Sarek. "You're here from the Vulcan consulate, if I'm not mistaken, but I don't think we've ever met. I'm Abraham Lenski."

"Yes, I am aware. It is an honor to acquaint myself with you, Chairman Lenski. I am Sarek, science attaché to the Vulcan consulate."

The man raised his hand in an awkward approximation of Vulcan greeting Sarek called the ta'al and replied, "Live long and prosper. Is Ambassador Selden here tonight too? I had a few things I'd wanted to talk to him about."

"Live long and prosper," Sarek replied, returning the salute. "The ambassador returned to Vulcan on urgent business. I have come in his place."

Amanda almost wanted to hold her breath. She was excited to see Sarek come out of his shell a little bit and she wanted to keep the conversation flowing.

"And who is this very lovely and very understanding lady here with you tonight?" the man asked, glancing at Amanda.

"This is Amanda Grayson," Sarek explained, turning to introduce her. "Amanda, this is Abraham Lenski, Chairman of the Federation Science Council."

"It's a pleasure to know you, Ms. Grayson," he said, offering his hand.

If Amanda were to guess, she would suppose the Chairman of the Federation Science Council was an important person, particularly in Sarek's line of work, and she desperately wanted to help him make a good impression.

"Please, call me Amanda," she beamed, switching her glass to her left hand and returning his handshake.

"Then please call me Abraham," he replied. "I'm glad you could join us, and I am truly sorry for my clumsiness."

"Like I said: not to worry. I'm an elementary school teacher, so I'm no stranger to stains."

Ah, a teacher! Such a noble profession. I'm an astrophysicist, not an acrobat, as you can tell."

"Oh, you're an astrophysicist? So is Sarek."

"Really?" Chairman Lenski replied, his eyes lighting up. "It's always a pleasure to meet someone else in the field. What's your primary area of research?"

"I left research to assume this posting, but most recently I co-authored a paper exploring the ability of interstellar turbulence to create temporary microrifts in subspace."

Lenski snapped his fingers excitedly. "That sounds familiar. That came out of the VSA late last year, right?"

"The Vulcan Science Academy, yes," Sarek replied.

"I remember that paper. If I remember correctly, you accounted for the magnetic field in your calculations. Why, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Though magnetic fields don't play a substantial role in the interstellar medium, they still prevent local gravitational collapse if sufficiently strong, therefore it was logical to take them into consideration."

They continued to chatter and Amanda felt her eyes glazing over as they discussed supernova-driven turbulence and the role of self-gravity in the interstellar medium. When Lenski grabbed another glass of wine from a passing server, she took the opportunity to excuse herself to clean up her dress. The two men were so engrossed in conversation she didn't think they would notice if she left anyway.

When she arrived in the bathroom, she found a woman in a cream-colored dress frantically sponging red wine off her hip.

"Looks like we're in the same boat," Amanda said sympathetically, pulling her laundry pen from her clutch. "Would you like to borrow this when I'm done?"

Relief spread across the woman's face. She glanced at Amanda and smirked. "Looks like you got the wrong end of a wine glass too."

"You know how these things can be sometimes," Amanda grinned, turning the device on.

The laundry pen was the best investment she'd ever made. It was a simple device, shaped like a thick PADD stylus that used sonic frequencies to remove particulate from fabric without damaging the dye. She started tracing it over her soaked stomach, watching tiny tendrils of steam flicker outward from her dress.

"Tell me about it," the woman drawled. "I would much rather be in the lab tonight, but it seemed like if they agreed to put my reactors in these new shuttles, I should at least show up to talk about them, you know?"

"Oh, you invent things?"

"Yeah, what about you?"

"I'm just a teacher," Amanda explained.

"Hey, someone's gotta do it, right?" the woman smiled.

"Yeah," Amanda agreed. "I'm Amanda by the way. Amanda Grayson."

"And I'm Helene Tarkington."


"It's been great talking to you, Sarek," Jerome Whitney said, a very human smile spreading across his face.

"Yes, we look forward to working with you," Chairman Lenski agreed. "I'll see you for our meeting on Thursday. And please, tell your wonderful wife that I'm sorry again for her dress."

Sarek raised an eyebrow. The chairman's assumption that Amanda was his wife intrigued him. The concept of a Vulcan taking a human mate was… it was difficult to describe. "Miss Grayson is not my wife."

Chairman Lenski made an expression Sarek couldn't identify. "My apologies. Please give her my regards. And you have my contact information now, so please, let her know if I need to pay to get her dress cleaned."

"I shall inform her. Live long and prosper, gentlemen." They exchanged the ta'al and Jerome Whitney and Abraham Lenski disappeared into the mass of people milling around the large room.

Sarek scanned the area, searching for Amanda. She had departed 24 minutes ago to attend to her stained clothing. Her insistence that he should initiate conversation for professional benefit had proven wise. The casual discussion about their shared profession had eventually turned to the topic of research difficulties, and Lenski had revealed that the Federation Science Council was in the planning stages of an interplanetary cooperative database.

They soon began debating database management techniques, which forced Sarek to explain the Vulcan Science Academy's protocols, which led to Lenski inviting Sarek to meet with him the following week to discuss the possibility of implementing the Academy's database standard operating procedures. Soon after making the arrangement, Lenski had introduced him to a several other members of the Federation Science Council, and to his clerk, Jerome Whitney, the man Amanda had urged him to speak with earlier.

He couldn't see Amanda anywhere, so he began a more thorough search. It proved an impossible task to move through the thick crowd of people and avoid unnecessary physical contact. It seemed humans socialized like they did nearly everything else — with a large degree of disorganization, chaos, and indecorum.

He finally saw Amanda emerge from a side room that appeared to be a lavatory and altered course for her direction. She was involved in a candid discussion with another woman with sorrel hair and short, light-colored dress.

"Thanks again! You're a lifesaver," the woman announced. "And with two boys, I'm definitely getting one of those."

"Any time," Amanda replied. "And I wasn't joking when I said it's the best purchase I've made in years."

Sarek stopped at Amanda's left shoulder and adopted the neutral posture he'd been taught in his diplomatic training — feet shoulder width apart, shoulders slightly rounded, and hands loosely tucked behind the back.

"Good to see you again," Amanda said, giving him a gentle smile. "Meet my new friend, Helene. Helene, this is Sarek."

"Oh, uh, hello," the woman stammered, her expression shifting. "I'm Helene Tarkington."

"Dr. Helene Tarkington?" Sarek inquired. "The inventor of the HT-1 reactor?"

"It's always an honor when someone knows my work," she laughed.

"Yes, I contacted you last month to request a tour of your laboratory and share recent research in small-scale warp and containment fields from the Vulcan Science Academy, but you rejected my request."

He observed Amanda's face redden from the corner of his eye and turned to examine her. Was she growing ill?

Dr. Tarkington's eyes narrowed and she began chewing on her bottom lip with her upper teeth. "That's why your name sounded familiar."

"So I take you two know each other?" Amanda murmured, glancing between them.

"We have never formally met," Sarek explained. "I was unaware you knew Dr. Tarkington."

"I don't," Amanda stammered. "Or at least I didn't until about twenty minutes ago."

"Yeah, she helped me clean a stain out of my dress," Dr. Tarkington added. "It's a small world, I guess."

"Earth is actually quite large, for an inhabited planet in a system of this class," Sarek replied, surprised Dr. Tarkington didn't know that.

Both women exchanged curious glances and smiled. "Well, Sarek isn't exactly from our world, so maybe it makes more sense to say it's a small galaxy," Amanda grinned.

"The galaxy appears to be of normal size in relation to nearby galaxies, though-"

"It was just an expression," Amanda interrupted, gently touching his forearm.

He experienced a novel tingling sensation spread through his arm, originating at the site of her touch. He pulled away on instinct and the feeling vanished, but it was replaced with a disturbing and illogical longing. Curious.

He immediately repressed the unexpected emotion and turned to Dr. Tarkington. "Forgive me. I am not well acquainted with human vernacular."

"It's fine. Terran English is pretty weird, when you think about it," Dr. Tarkington murmured. "So are you two here together?"

"Yes," Sarek replied. Dr. Tarkington's eyes widened and Amanda's posture stiffened.

"We are here together, but we're not… you know… together," Amanda added with a grimace.

Why would she make such a contradictory and illogical statement? They were together: he'd invited her as his "suitable guest." But rather than question her openly in the presence of her new acquaintance, he decided to keep quiet. Amanda and Dr. Tarkington also remained silent, and for twenty seconds, no one spoke.

"So you wanted to discuss containment fields with me?" Dr. Tarkington finally mumbled.

"That was one intention of my initial request," Sarek reminded.

"I get requests to tour my lab all the time," she confessed with a heavy sigh. "And now that Starfleet has picked up the technology, I get about fifty a week. I hope my response wasn't rude."

"It was not," Sarek agreed. She had simply answered with a very succinct "no."

"Listen, I'm busy next week, but if you want to come by the week after, I'd be happy to give you a quick tour in exchange for any new containment field research you might have."

"I shall make myself available," he replied.

"I guess I already have your contact info, so I'll send you a message and hammer out the details with you on Monday," Dr. Tarkington agreed.

Hammer out the details? Before meeting Amanda, he might have made a remark about Dr. Tarkington's frequent use of euphemisms, but he understood now just how pointless it would be. Colloquialisms were pervasive within their language, and there was no logic in stating the obvious. "Very well."

"I should be getting back to my colleagues now," she sighed. "Thank you so much again, Amanda. And I'll meet with you soon, Sarek."

He nodded politely and prepared to extend the ta'al, but she was already turning to leave. When he made eye contact with Amanda, her face was nothing short of radiant. "See what being friendly can do for you?"

"I would have had no cause to speak with Dr. Tarkington were it not for your introduction," he argued.

"But you handled yourself well," she whispered. "You were cordial without being too formal and now you're going on a tour of her lab. We've definitely got to work on expanding your non-Standard vocabulary though."

"I shall make a note to conduct research."

She scoffed and blinked several times. "How did it go with Chairman Lenski?"

Sarek immediately recalled Lenski mistakenly identifying Amanda as his mate. He was uncertain why, but he decided to withhold that incident from her and told her instead of his planned meeting with the chairman next week.

"That's fantastic news!" she exclaimed, speaking loudly enough to draw attention from several nearby guests. Her cheeks flushed and she added, "I mean, isn't it?"

"The Federation will establish a cooperative database with or without my advice," he argued. "And I must still consult with the Vulcan Science Academy and obtain their consent to share their protocols."

"But you're getting your foot in the door," she insisted.

"Neither of my feet are not in proximity to a door."

She rolled her eyes and patted his arm again, and just as before, he experienced a mild, pleasurable physical reaction to her touch. "Please don't ever change, Sarek."

"Like all living organisms, I must change to adapt to my surroundings. Therefore, I cannot comply with your request."

Amanda closed her eyes and twirled the corners of her mouth into a gentle smile. They spent the next hour walking a slow lap around the room, speaking to several scientists and engineers from three different Federation worlds about their research. Amanda didn't seem interested in the scientific discussion, but she appeared to take exceptional delight in exchanging personal details with complete strangers.

It was such a peculiar custom, but everyone they spoke with seemed just as captivated by her as she was by them. Once when Amanda was occupied talking to one of the beverage servers, the president of a prestigious Terran university quietly told Sarek he was "a lucky man and should never let that one get away." Sarek had wanted to ask for clarification, but Amanda had rejoined the conversation and immediately reminded the man that he'd promised to show her pictures of his grandchildren before the server had interrupted.

After several more social exchanges, a consistent pattern began to emerge. They would approach an individual or a small group, they would stare at Sarek and smile at Amanda. She would make the introductions, interrogate them about their personal lives, and then turn the topic over to a scientific discussion and allow Sarek the opportunity to speak.

Other species, humans in particular, had always been hesitant to address him, but Amanda had a natural ability to set people at ease. He was grateful she'd agreed to attend, and when the reception officially ended at 2000 hours, he found himself wishing to remain in her company.

"I should have paid attention to the time and called a cab twenty minutes ago," she announced as they exited the building.

"I can have the consular car return you to your residence," he replied.

"Oh, you don't have to do that." Her skin glowed a warm pink shade once again. The phenomenon had occurred multiple times throughout the evening, particularly when he made direct eye contact with her.

"I am reminded of our conversation two weeks ago regarding the human affinity for refusing a logical offer of assistance."

"Oakland isn't exactly on your way home," she argued. "So how can it be logical?"

"You were not required to attend this function with me. It was not part of the original arrangement. Therefore, it is logical to show my gratitude by providing you a means of transport to your home."

She remained quiet, gazing at his face. "I accept your offer. Thank you."

He had not expected her to acquiesce so easily, but two minutes later, he took a seat next to her in the rear of the long black sedan. Amanda gave the driver, Tavik, directions to her home and soon they were crawling through the thick city traffic en route to the destination.

Sarek activated the privacy force field between the forward cabin and the rear of the vehicle out of habit — Ambassador Selden always performed this ritual after giving directions to Tavik. Many silent minutes slipped by until they chose the exact same moment to speak.

"I had such a great-" she began.

"Thank you for your-" he started.

They trailed off, looking at each other. "I had a nice time," Amanda finally said. "And I think you look really handsome all dressed up."

Another odd use of the word "nice." Her unsolicited compliment was also peculiar, but he shared the sentiment. When he'd initially seen her approaching him as he waited for her by the entrance to the California Academy of Sciences, his first fleeting thought had been that she was quite lovely. Amanda was more subtly attractive than classically beautiful, possessing of a cheerful vitality that he found both stimulating and exhausting. Looking at her now, he felt compelled to admit she really was quite aesthetically pleasing.

"And you? Did you have a good night?" she asked, drawing him away from his momentary inattentiveness.

"I made remarkable professional progress this evening, and I owe much of it to your presence," he admitted. "I am grateful for your company."

"Do you still want to get together tomorrow, or have you had enough of me for one weekend?" she asked.

Tomorrow would be the final Sunday before her school's cultural exchange fair, and the last opportunity to meet with her before their arrangement expired. He had reflected upon this fact numerous times throughout the week and his distraction had forced him to spend an additional hour in meditation each night before he went to bed.

"I am willing to meet with you if you are also amenable," he replied.

"Sure, it's a date- I mean, deal. It's a deal." It was an strangely hasty self-correction. Even in the pale light in the back of the car, he could see her face darken to the deepest shade of red he'd seen in her complexion all evening.

"At what time and location would you prefer to meet?" he asked.

"1000 hours as usual?" she shrugged. "I had this idea as I was working on my Vulcan lesson plan — you said Vulcan didn't have any major oceans, just a couple of brackish seas. Would you be interested in going to the beach? It's one of the best places to go people watching."

"I shall accept your recommendation."

"Ok, meet me at my place and we can go from there."

The car turned down Amanda's street and he noted a slight frown appear at the edges of her mouth. "I really had a wonderful time. You know, if you wanted to keep-"

Tavik deactivated the privacy barrier and interrupted her. "Miss Grayson, I apologize for the interruption, which is the correct location?"

"Uh, I'm the unit on the right," she mumbled.

The car rolled to a stop directly in front of her home. Sarek instructed Tavik to remain in the driver's seat and opened the door himself, allowing Amanda to exit the vehicle. She stole a glance at the driver and looked back at her house, muttering, "I had a nice time."

"You have already stated this," he reminded her.

"Doesn't mean it's any less true." Her lips parted to utter a deep sigh. "I'll see you tomorrow, Sarek."

Without another word, she turned and hiked up the narrow path to her front door. Sarek watched her disappear into the house, the house where she lived alone. He slid back into the rear seat, informed Tavik he was ready to depart, and watched the scenery whirl by as he journeyed toward his own lonely home.

Chapter Text

Sarek advanced up the right side of the path to Amanda's residence, deliberating whether it would be better to wait until the appointed time or arrive early. Due to inefficient and difficult-to-predict Terran traffic patterns, it was 0924 hours and it was 36 minutes before their scheduled meeting time.

He'd been four minutes early to his first meeting with Amanda at her school and had been prepared to wait until the exact time to meet with her, but the receptionist hadn't seemed to care about his imprecision. Amanda didn't seem to care either. Furthermore, she'd been two minutes late meeting him at the bistro and eight minutes early meeting him at the museum.

During last night's reception he'd been two minutes early and had waited outside — not only for Amanda to arrive, but also because it was proper to wait until the correct time stipulated on the invitation to enter the building. Yet there had been many other people already inside the banquet hall when they arrived.

He paused outside her door, allowing his eyes to rest on the panel on the wall by the door handle. He was 36 minutes early. While humans weren't great admirers of punctuality, it was also logical to assume their leniency had limits. Surely it would be incorrect to arrive ten hours early, for example?

He considered taking a seat on one of the two small chairs by her door and waiting until 1000 hours, but given Amanda's previous history of casual devotion to timeliness, decided to ring the buzzer.

Thirty seconds later the door opened and the boy she'd introduced to him as Richard answered.

"Is Miss Grayson at home?"

"Yeah, she said you were coming. Come in."

Sarek stepped across the threshold, wondering why Amanda had not come to the door herself and curious about what his relationship was to Amanda. He was certain he wasn't her son because she'd mentioned she lived alone and she hadn't introduced him as a relation, but they evidently shared a high degree of familiarity. Was she his caregiver? Amanda was a teacher — perhaps she was his tutor.

He followed Richard down the short hallway into the main living area and hesitated. The boy flopped down in a wooden chair at a small circular table in the corner and began studying a PADD propped up on a stand. Sarek was unsure what to do. He hadn't been invited to sit, nor had Amanda been made aware of his arrival. Perhaps he should have waited until 1000 hours.

"May I speak with Miss Grayson or is she occupied?" he asked.

"She's in the bathroom," Richard shrugged. "She's been in there forever."

Amanda was bathing? His presence was extremely inappropriate if he'd arrived at an hour when Amanda was conducting her routine of personal hygiene.

He was about to excuse himself to wait outside when Richard said at random, "23."

"Incorrect," replied a monotone voice from the PADD's speakers.

"25?"

"Incorrect," the PADD repeated.

Richard cupped his hands over his face and sighed. It was evident the boy was in the middle of his studies, which seemed all the more reason for Sarek to leave.

"Do you know what 13 plus 15 minus 4 is?" Richard asked glumly.

"24," Sarek answered.

Richard thought to himself for a moment, held up a sequence of fingers, and chewed his lip. "How'd you do that so fast?"

Sarek wasn't immediately sure how to respond. Vulcan children began learning number sense and fluency almost as soon as they could talk. Manipulating figures in his head, particularly such small ones, came so naturally that he rarely if ever considered the process of actually solving an arithmetic problem. Of course, he'd been taught the basic number properties in primary school, as they also had direct applications to formal logic, but he'd mastered numbers long before he ever knew their formal rules.

After a moment he replied, "13 plus 15 is 28, and 28 subtracted by 4 is 24. Similarly, 15 minus 4 is 11, and when added to 13, yields 24."

Richard stared at him unblinking. "Right, but how did you just know how to do that in your head?"

Sarek tucked his hands behind his back and took several steps forward to get a clearer view of the PADD's screen. It appeared to be running a program to drill rudimentary arithmetic. What a strange method for teaching foundational mathematics. Drilling and rote memorization were vital to Vulcan learning, but he had not begun learning that way until he entered secondary school.

He wasn't sure how old Richard was or how human development compared to that of their Vulcan peers, but it was logical to conclude that either human educational methodologies were flawed or Richard lacked the intelligence to understand.

A brief conversation with the boy suggested it was the former. He seemed to possess typical intelligence and his reasoning skills outside of mathematics were sound, but it had never occurred to him to apply that skillset to this particular field. He had memorized single digit addition and subtraction facts, but he'd never developed a conceptual framework for understanding relationships between numbers.

Describing applications of the commutative and associative properties forced Sarek to consciously explain a process that generally took place unconsciously in his mind. Richard listened with rapt attention and twenty minutes later, they were going through his PADD program and Richard was answering the questions with a marked improvement in accuracy. The score box in the upper left hand corner climbed from an accuracy rate of 31 percent to 68 percent.

"Hey Richard, has your dad come - ahhhh!"

Sarek turned his head to see Amanda standing at the entry to the unorthodox multipurpose kitchen and dining area, pulling an unusual white robe more tightly around her chest. It was unusual that it only fell to her knees and was secured only by a thin cloth belt around her waist. Most peculiarly, her skin was wet she didn't seem to wearing clothing underneath.

He quickly looked away, but not before noticing her damp hair or the brilliant scarlet flush of her cheeks.

"I didn't realize it was already 1000 hours," she stammered.

"It is not — it is only 0957 and I must apologize for my early arrival," Sarek replied, rising from the chair. "I believe I should wait outside until you are ready to receive me."

"Don't be silly," she laughed. "You're already here and-"

A bell rang, interrupting her speech. "Oh great," she muttered.

"That's probably my dad," Richard said, folding the cover over the front of his PADD and picking up a small bag.

"Did you get everything packed? You keep leaving your socks over here."

"Yes, Miss Grayson," Richard replied, slinging one of the bag's straps over his shoulder.

"Have a good day, Richard. Sorry we didn't get more time to work on your extra credit assignment but please, please do the best you can and we can try to go over it more tomorrow afternoon."

"Ok," Richard replied, taking several steps toward the front hall. "Thanks, Mr. Sarek."

"You are welcome," he replied, still reluctant to look in Amanda's direction due to her state of undress.

"Well, um- ok," she said, the frequency of her voice rising slightly.

"Bye, Miss Grayson."

"Goodbye, Richard," she called after him. "Don't forget the lunch I packed in your bag."

Sarek heard the door open and close and noticed Amanda moving toward him at the corner of his field of vision. "You haven't been waiting long, have you?" she asked.

"No," Sarek replied.

"I'm guessing Richard let you in," she said, walking toward a set of double doors behind the small table. She flung them open, revealing a stacked laundry cycler. Her cleaned clothing hung in neat rows, including the purple dress she'd worn the night before. She pulled several items from their hangers and tucked them under her arm.

"He did. I must apologize for-" he began.

"Nothing," Amanda interrupted, finishing his sentence and heading back down the hall. "It's almost 1000 hours and I'm not even close to ready. I didn't think Henry would drop Richard off last night and I was up all night and got a late start this morning. Bah, it's all just excuses anyway, I'm glad you're here…"

Her voice faded as she continued down the corridor. Sarek was conflicted. Should he follow her? She had likely retreated to her private quarters and no Vulcan would enter anyone's bedchamber without express permission, which would typically only be given to mates or close family members.

No, he could not follow her; it would be highly inappropriate. But what should he do? He could not sit — she was the mistress of this house and hadn't invited him to take a seat. He had sat with Richard, but it had been acceptable to sit then. But now… now he was alone and had no reason to sit when he had not been invited to do so.

Sarek pushed the wooden chair underneath the table and decided to stand and wait patiently for Amanda to reemerge from her room. He took the time to study her eclectic décor in detail and was most intrigued by the flashing digital images on the walls.

Many of the pictures showed Amanda with large groups of young children, likely her students, but there were several other images that caught his attention. Two of them featured Amanda with a woman who bore a remarkable resemblance to her — they had similar large brown eyes, dark hair, tall stature, and slender facial features. This woman seemed a likely candidate for the sister she had mentioned during their first meeting at the grocery store.

Three other pictures showed Amanda with a man. He was slightly shorter than she was with rust-colored hair and dappled pigmentation across his nose and cheeks. In one image, they were sitting atop a smooth boulder by a large body of water, holding hands and grinning. Touching hands was such an intimate gesture. Was he her mate, and if so, why did she not live with him?

"… anyway, sorry to keep you waiting," she called, emerging from a door at the end of the long hall that bisected the sitting room.

Sarek stood a little straighter and when she appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, he was fascinated by her appearance.

She'd donned a pink shirt with an avian creature embroidered on the front and a pair of dark green trousers that didn't even reach to the middle of her thighs. He'd learned from his diplomatic training on Terran culture that this specific garment was referred to as a "shorts" and it was typically worn in temperate climates during warm months.

Humans simply didn't have the same standards of modesty that Vulcans did: Sarek had easily accepted this when he'd taken this assignment to Earth. During his excursions with Amanda, he'd seen both men and women wearing shorts of varying lengths, but until now, he had never seen her opt for this manner of dress. At last night's reception, many of the human female attendees had worn dresses that nearly revealed their breasts or buttocks, but Amanda's attire had been quite sensible by comparison. She'd been wearing a pink dress that came past her knees at their first meeting, but he had thought nothing of it at the time.

He was thinking of it now. Her legs were lean and shapely and the hair had been shaven off. Or perhaps leg hair was an example of sexual dimorphism in humans, as he'd noticed leg and facial hair on some males but not on females. Seeing the smooth flesh of her long legs was briefly captivating, until he recalled they would be venturing out in public and other males would see her.

His thought process immediately stalled and he struggled to make sense of such an inappropriate epiphany and simultaneously subdue a bitter emotion that wandered out of his subconscious. Amanda was not his mate and even if she were, it was not for him to dictate the limits of her wardrobe. Even if she were Vulcan… but she wasn't. It was illogical to justify his reasoning with hypotheticals in such a scenario. Amanda was not his mate, she was not Vulcan, and she was free to dress as she pleased and go where she pleased with whomever she pleased. Those things would always be true.

"Sarek?"

He locked eyes with her and realized she'd been speaking. What was happening to his mental faculties? He'd had difficulty meditating the previous evening and hadn't slept either — perhaps he was overtired.

"I apologize for my inattention," he replied. "Can you repeat your query?"

"Um, yeah, I uh- I was just saying I had called a cab while I was getting dressed and it should be here any minute. Are you ready to go?"

"I am."

He followed her outside and they waited on the path in front of her house in silence. Amanda fiddled with directions on her PADD while Sarek contemplated his odd lapse in logic just moments earlier. The cab arrived a short time later and Sarek opened the door for Amanda, who slid across the backseat struck up a conversation with the driver. Sarek entered behind her and shut the door.

"Gorgeous weather, eh?" the driver called back to them.

"It is a beautiful day," Amanda agreed with a wide smile.

"I tell you, it's going to be tough to make it down to Alameda Beach," the driver replied. "That Around the World Festival going on this weekend down on that part of the island. Most of the streets are still probably blocked off from the parade."

"I forgot that started this weekend!" Amanda exclaimed, glancing at Sarek. "We should do that! Any chance you want to go to a festival instead? We can go to the beach any time."

"If that is what you wish."

"Really?" she scoffed. "I was joking, but in all honesty, it would be a great place for people watching and for exploring the diversity of human culture directly. If I had been thinking about it last night, I would have recommended it over the beach."

"What is the purpose of an Around the World Festival?" Sarek asked.

"It's a fair to showcase cultures from all over the planet," she explained. "It's a bit like a Terran-centric version of what I'm trying to put together for my school next week, only on a much grander scale. There's been a lot of effort in recent decades to preserve certain aspects of world cultures that were becoming lost after centuries of globalization and so several cities around the world hold these expositions every year to coincide with Federation Day."

"Yours is a society with a wide degree of cultural variance," Sarek agreed.

"That's why they started these fairs — it's actually a lot less diverse than it used to be. There are a lot of debates about whether that's good or bad, but I personally enjoy celebrating the differences rather than seeking sameness. I'm sure that's not very logical…"

"On the contrary; it is central to the Vulcan principle of Kol-ut-shan."

"Infinite diversity in infinite combinations?" she mused. "I remember you telling me about it and I included it in my lesson plan but I'll admit, it didn't seem very logical to me."

"Why do you believe it is illogical to honor the vast array of variables in the universe?"

Amanda looked out the window of the cab but he could see her complexion reddening. It was becoming a regular occurrence. Eventually she answered, "I definitely don't want to insult your beliefs, but doesn't honoring all the different variables of the universe mean honoring the bad things too?"

"It does."

"And that's logical?"

"The universe itself is not inherently bad or evil — those things are constructs of sentience."

"But if you're supposed to honor all things in the universe, wouldn't that include honoring sentient species that knowingly do evil things? So how can you honor a society that murders its citizens, for example?"

"Good and evil are qualitative concepts and vary based on the observer," Sarek explained. "Furthermore your question supposes that societies that practice barbarism do so for enjoyment."

"Surely some of them do," she argued. "And what then?"

"Do you believe they are beyond redemption?"

"I didn't say that."

"Yet you would condemn them as evil?"

She sighed and glanced at him. "My instinct is to say yes but I'm going to guess you have a counterargument to that."

"I do," he confessed. "I am not a scholar of Terran history, but I possess enough knowledge to safely make the assertion that many Terran civilizations were great admirers of barbarism and injustice for several millennia."

"So what?" she shrugged. "We were evil then but we're not now."

"How can you know you are not evil now? Who is to judge?"

"Who can say that Vulcans aren't?" she retorted.

"No one," he admitted. "Yet no logical Vulcan would ever make such a claim. Vulcans agree that good and evil exist within all things and cannot be truly defined, but for sentient creatures, the only means of reconciling the two concepts lies in the abandonment of emotion and the acceptance of logic."

They continued to discuss philosophy and logic, and while he'd always found moral and ethical debates gratifying, he was more intrigued by uncovering Amanda's perspective. Their conversation became so involved that when the cab pulled to a stop 45 minutes later, Sarek realized he'd lost track of the time.

The driver deposited them onto a busy street leading into a loud, crowded park full of bright displays, activities, and attractions. The pulse of music and flash of lights and color were nearly overwhelming to his senses, and at first glance he would have preferred to avoid it, but the obvious glow in Amanda's eyes caused him to reconsider his internal objections.

The exposition was large and extended far beyond the bounds of the park to nearby shops and restaurants. They each paid a small fee to enter the main grounds and wandered for several hours through long booths featuring pottery, sculptures, and artwork from places with names like Fiji, Mexico, and China.

As with most public places on Earth, his presence drew many curious glances, but the vendors and artists he spoke with were all accomodating and receptive to his questions. When he stopped to observe a display of jewelry that shared many similarities with Vulcan ornamentation, he found himself quickly immersed in a conversation with an Egyptian woman about the differences between the ancient hieroglyphs and mythology of their peoples, and when the woman had to excuse herself to speak with someone else, he noticed Amanda was smiling at him.

Though he spoke to several artists, Amanda made a point to speak with nearly all of them; in some cases she whipped out her PADD to collect contact information because she was interested in setting up tours of art galleries or museums for her students. Much like the night before, Sarek continued to be fascinated by the ease with which she engaged people.

In the center of the park was a massive, circular metal rotating contraption with a number of passenger cars that stood approximately sixty meters in height. He stopped to observe it and consider its function and realized Amanda was standing next to him, shielding her eyes from the midday sun and gazing at the pinnacle of the machine.

"What is this object's purpose?" he asked her.

"It's a Ferris wheel," she replied. "It's a ride that will take you around in a circle to give you a better view of the area. I always thought it was an interesting concept."

Sarek considered its intended purpose and was intrigued by the idea of gaining a wider perspective of the fair. "I would like to utilize this Ferris wheel."

"Really?" she choked. Amanda's cheeks had developed a habit of flushing red recently, but now much of the color drained from her face as she tore her eyes away from the Ferris wheel to stare at him. "You want to go all the way up there?"

"Yes."

"W-w-why?"

"To borrow your explanation, I wish to get 'a better view of the area.'"

"Ok, sure," she replied, her voice barely audible over the cacophony of the festival. "I'll just wait down here."

"It appears the passenger cars hold two occupants."

"Then it will give you a chance to practice your conversation skills with a stranger," she mumbled, grinning weakly.

Sarek raised his eyebrows. "It is curious that you have routinely demonstrated an unusual exuberance for novel experiences, yet you reject this. Will you permit me to ask why?"

"I uh- I'm, well, I don't like heights."

"I was unaware that high places were required to be admired."

"I'm afraid of them," she snapped.

"Your fear is illogical," Sarek replied.

"Yeah, it is," she admitted.

"A high place presents no inherent danger."

"Falling does," she rebutted.

"Then it would seem the source of your apprehension concerns the elementary principles of gravity and not high places. Furthermore, you stood on the sixth story of the museum without incident."

"First of all, that was only like a third as high as this is, second of all, it wasn't moving and lastly, it had walls made of reinforced glass. I wasn't going to fall. Oh, and I didn't really look down."

"The passenger compartments appear to be enclosed," he argued, returning his gaze to the Ferris wheel.

"But it's an open bucket," she countered. "What if the door breaks?"

"The mechanical failure of a passenger car is just one of an infinite number of highly improbable but theoretically possible events that would result in serious injury or death."

"That makes me feel better."

"Additionally, the Ferris wheel is only sixty meters in height at its summit and Earth's gravity is only 9.81 meters per second squared. I am uncertain what factors of human physiology would lend to a higher likelihood of survival when falling from such a height at this gravity, but in the unlikely event that you should fall, it is more probable that you would fall either on the ascent or descent and thus would fall from a lesser height and would be potentially more likely to survive."

Amanda stared at him, unblinking and shaking her head. "So you're not afraid of anything?"

"Fear is illogical, but it is equally illogical to deny that it is one of the most difficult emotions to master."

"Yeah, no kidding. You know, you said earlier that things like good and evil were constructs of sentient species, but fear isn't. Even animals with the most rudimentary brains experience fear — it's a useful survival tool."

"I agree, and yet as a sentient being, you possess the capacity to understand that fear in this instance is irrational."

She glared at him and turned her gaze once again toward the Ferris wheel. Sarek was prepared to abandon his idea, but before he could suggest touring the adjacent food vendors, she said, "Ok. Let's do it."

Her face remained pale but her features were resolute. When they took a seat in the small passenger car, they were forced to sit at such proximity that he could detect she was trembling. As he looked at her, he realized her mostly bare left thigh was touching his trousers and he quickly looked away and suppressed the thought. Perhaps this hadn't been a prudent idea.

When the Ferris wheel began to move, she uttered a soft squeak and grabbed his arm, and unlike the gentle tingling sensations he'd experienced when she'd performed this same action during last night's reception, this time, the feeling was electric. What was most alarming was the gradual realization that he enjoyed it very much.


This was the stupidest thing she'd ever done. Why had she wanted to show Sarek that she could logic her way through life too? She wasn't Vulcan: she had nothing to prove.

Her eyes were clamped shut and she'd initially latched onto his arm for dear life. How embarrassing. Now her fingers were wrapped around the restraint bar that extended out from the top of the aluminum glass door and she wondered if it were possible for an average person to bend steel with their bare hands.

"Amanda?"

"I'm fine. I'm great. This is great," she lied, the words stumbling out of her mouth in a barely coherent blur.

"You have not opened your eyes."

She tried to compel her eyelids to function but they seemed stubbornly clenched shut. The cool breeze rolling in off the bay and slapping her face wasn't helping matters. After several gasping breaths she managed to steal a peek at the scenery. They were only a third of the way to the top but it was already so high. She slammed her eyes shut again but now she couldn't breathe.

Sarek's voice sounded distant and muffled, but after what felt like an eternity, she could hear him encouraging her to breathe normally. Couldn't he understand that she wanted to? She was starting to feel weak and dizzy but then slowly, things flowed back into focus.

What was going on? After another minute she felt bold enough to open her eyes and realized the fear had evaporated. Not only that, but she felt completely at ease. She still didn't dare look down at the ground far below, but soon she noticed the first two fingers of Sarek's right hand were resting atop the forefingers of her left hand, which was still firmly gripping the handrail.

"Are you ill?" he asked.

She gaped at him, observing an expression lurking in his eyes that she'd never seen before.

"I don't know," she choked, shifting her gaze from his face to their hands. "I was- I'm just- I feel much better now and I don't know how that's possible."

He hesitated before explaining, "A finger embrace is a subtle means of transference between two individuals and is a calming technique frequently employed between-"

He paused for several seconds before continuing. "Its typical use is irrelevant to the present situation. It was preferable to pacifying you with a nerve pinch."

"A what?"

"It is a non-violent technique employed to sedate an individual, though it is reported to be painful for non-Vulcanoid species."

Painful? What was he talking about, some kind of magic trick? Her mind was racing too fast to process the information. He withdrew his hand and her panic immediately flooded back.

"Please don't let go," she yelped.

He rejoined their fingers and her anxiety faded back into calm. The Ferris wheel, the fear of plummeting to her death, and the mortification of making a scene all took a backseat to her intense curiosity. How was he doing this?

She could tell from his stiff posture and the fact that his head and eyes remained fixed straight forward that he was incredibly uncomfortable. As they approached the top of the wheel, she had the desire to look down at the park below. A strange euphoria swept over her at such a reckless thought. She sensed Sarek was watching her closely, so she said, "Wasn't this what you wanted to see? A better view?"

"You have opened your eyes," he remarked.

"This is unbelievable," she gasped, feeling simultaneously exhilarated by the view and bewildered that she was managing to take it in without fainting. The dark blue waters of the bay were incredible from this vista, as were the general movements of the city and the green park and festival below.

"I do not understand," Sarek replied. "To what do you refer as unbelievable?"

"The fact that I'm at the top of a Ferris wheel," she breathed. "And the view."

Sarek leaned forward which caused the car to tilt and nearly cost Amanda her fragile composure.

"Neither explanation is farfetched," he insisted.

"I don't think you understand just how afraid I am of heights," Amanda muttered.

"There are techniques to master your fear," he responded.

"I'm guessing they involve logic," she laughed nervously.

"You assume correctly."

"You know, sometimes I think Vulcans must have it all figured out and then other times, I imagine you're just as lost as the rest of us and making it up as you go along."

"There are many things one cannot know, but controlling fear is preferable to letting it control you."

It was frustrating when he talked in cryptic circles but in this moment, sixty meters above Alameda Park and all but holding hands with him, she didn't really mind. She saw Sarek's head turning toward her and pivoted her neck to consider him. His tense expression from earlier had softened and had been replaced by his typical half-disinterested, half-curious gaze.

They stared at each other for several seconds and she felt a bizarre and reckless impulse to lean forward and kiss him. And why not? This little ride up the Ferris wheel had already been a disaster; why not make it a catastrophe? Thankfully, her rational side kicked in just as the Ferris wheel began moving and she shook her head and closed her eyes against the terrifying motion.

He didn't release her fingers until they reached the ground and the operator disengaged the safety latch. The moment their hands broke apart, she experienced a fleeting sensation of loneliness and then an immediate burst of shame and embarrassment. Could she have made a bigger idiot of herself? She supposed it could have been worse — she could have urinated or vomited on him — but it could have been a lot better too.

He was striding toward the platform stairs and she trotted a few steps behind him and mumbled, "I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable."

"I do not experience discomfort."

Somehow, that felt like a lie. "Well, I'm still sorry for the way I acted and thank you for being so patient with me."

"I should not have compelled you to join me."

"I'm glad you did," she blurted.

He nodded clumsily and spun on his heel to descend the stairs. Amanda swallowed the lump in her throat and followed him, wishing there were some way she could make this better.

The rest of the day sped by in an awkward blur. Sarek acted as if nothing had happened on the Ferris wheel, but it was impossible for Amanda to put it out of her mind. He'd touched her hand and made her feel safe. She'd wanted to kiss him. How could she be developing feelings for someone who didn't have any feelings at all?

She tried her hand at conversation but found it difficult to concentrate and soon she abandoned her efforts except to ask simple questions or make an occasional observation. Sarek seemed oddly preoccupied too, and she would have given anything to know what he was thinking.

They toured through row after row of food vendors, and though Amanda was hungry, she decided against eating because there was very little on offer that didn't contain synthetic animal products and wasn't finger food, and she remembered Sarek's dietary restrictions and disgust over touching food with his hands.

They eventually made their way to a series of performance art exhibitions and she was startled to learn that modern Vulcan adults didn't dance. They — or at least Sarek — clearly appreciated the art form however, because he remarked on the precision of the salsa dancers, the relative fitness of the Igbo dancers performing the Atilogwu, and the vibrant costumes of the Indian Kathakali performers.

She'd been to the Around the World in San Francisco Festival a dozen times over the years and had seen many of these exhibits and performances before. It was at this annual festival that she'd met a lot of the people who ran the museums, theaters, galleries, and performance halls that she took her students to on their monthly field trips.

Now she felt like she was seeing it all again with new eyes because of Sarek, not only because he'd convinced her to ride a Ferris wheel and see it from sixty meters above the ground, but also because she tried imagining what it must be like for him to be submerged in the vast array of Terran cultures that were all so clearly different than his own. There was a lot to admire about Sarek, but his willingness to open himself up to these experiences was easily one of his best qualities.

At 1830 hours, the falling sun cast long shadows across the festival grounds and Amanda knew it would be time to part ways soon. This was their last Sunday together and she wasn't sure how she felt about that. Probably equal parts sad and relieved. She liked him a lot, but he would never return her feelings.

As the haiku recitation they'd been watching drew to a close he announced, "I should return to the consulate."

"Yeah, I should probably be getting home too," Amanda admitted.

"Do you have transportation?"

"Yeah, I'll just take the shuttle," she said.

Sarek extracted his PADD from the interior breast pocket of his over garment, presumably to make his own transportation arrangements. They began wandering toward the festival exit along with many other festival goers who'd decided to call it a day.

"What are my instructions for Tuesday?" he asked.

"Um, well, you know how to get to Piedmont Academy," she said. "I have you as a scheduled visitor from 1200 to 1300 hours. I'll forward you a copy of the lesson plan when I get home so you know what to expect."

"Very well. I plan to bring my ka'athyra as you requested. Is there anything else you require of me?"

She sighed and shrugged and felt a little knot of dread in her stomach as she saw her shuttle approaching the stop. "I can't think of anything, but if I do, I'll send you a message."

"Very well, I shall see you at 1200 hours on Tuesday."

"I've actually had a great few weeks," she admitted, feeling her face grow hot.

He cocked his head slightly and replied, "Your guidance has proven invaluable. I wish to express my gratitude."

"I feel like there's so much more I could show you," she said, feeling like the clicking of the shuttle's brakes was drowning out her words.

He started to say something in reply but the shuttle came to a complete stop and masses of people started clamoring to board it.

"I'll see you on Tuesday!" she called as she involuntarily shuffled along with the crowd and ascended the steps of the large passenger bus. She slumped into a seat by the window and spied him standing at the fringes of a second crowd waiting for a shuttle to Richmond.

He was as he always was: quiet and unaffected. He turned his head caught and sight of her, and the moment they made eye contact, Amanda knew for certain she was experiencing something far beyond a harmless little crush.

Chapter Text

"Have you heard from our guest?" asked Ms. Hickman, the principal's secretary.

"I haven't actually called him, but trust me, he isn't the sort of person to be late or forget about something like this."

"I would feel more comfortable if you would confirm he is on his way."

Amanda nodded to the woman and excused herself before the agitation could show on her face. Andrea Hickman had a tendency to micromanage and overthink everything.

It was the second day of their cultural exchange fair and Sarek was due to arrive in about fifteen minutes. Things were going spectacularly, but Amanda still felt the pressure to have everything go well. Yesterday the entire school had learned about Andoria and several older Andorians from the Whitehorse retirement community had come and participated in a classic Andorian folk storytelling session and had talked about their intricate dining customs.

The students had loved it, particularly Amanda's second graders, who conferenced via telelink to students at a primary school in the Andorian capital city of Laikan. Many of them had also seen Andorians in public before, so it wasn't a shock when people with antennae, white hair, and blue skin entered the assembly halls.

When she'd asked her class if anyone had ever met a Vulcan, only two girls raised their hands. She'd then taken a quick, informal poll and asked what their impressions of Vulcans were and the top three answers had been "logical, smart, and scary." That was when she'd started to get anxious.

She thought of the little girl he'd befriended on the train who'd mistaken him for an elf and wondered if she should have done more to manage Sarek's expectations of human children during all their sessions in teaching him about humanity. She should have guessed from their first encounter when he thought Piedmont Academy was a remedial institution that perhaps Vulcan children developed at an accelerated rate.

Her feelings flip-flopped between nervous and curious but the facts were never going to change. Human society was probably more tolerant and accepting than it had ever been at any point in history, but it still held incredibly diverse attitudes. In typical public settings, they got a lot of strange reactions from people just for looking like they were together, but at the reception, other people had no problem assuming she and Sarek were married.

While intellectual celebrities, politicians, and bureaucrats might interact with Vulcans on a more regular basis, Vulcans and humans in general had become virtually estranged over the past few generations. She had no idea why — she was a grade school teacher, not a social anthropologist — but the responses of a dozen second graders had spoken volumes.

Amanda had a knack for bold ideas and biting off more than she could chew, and though she knew she wouldn't be the one to singlehandedly make billions of people from both species warm up to each other, she enjoyed the challenge of pursuing the idea on a smaller scale, one young mind at a time.

So what if some of the kids asked uncomfortable questions or if Sarek was completely lost with how to handle them? Who cared? She gritted her teeth and sighed. She cared.

Had the cultural exchange fair happened several weeks ago, none of it would have mattered, but now she found herself deeply concerned with Sarek's opinion. She liked him and she wanted him to like her, and she supposed it would be hard for Sarek to like someone who sat him down in front of a few hundred children and let them fire off awkward questions at him for an hour. Of course, he probably wouldn't be interested in her no matter what happened, and that bothered her.

She'd relived that embarrassing scene on the Ferris wheel probably a thousand times since Sunday evening. She'd been shaking and on the verge of a panic attack and he'd held her hand. Well, he'd touched her fingers, which she supposed was the Vulcan equivalent of holding hands. The two-fingered touch had been such a weird gesture, but it had been incredible. While it had lasted, anyway.

The tension had been very palpable after that and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't distance herself from the awkwardness and self-consciousness that shadowed them the rest of the day. Maybe today would be the last time she would ever see him. She hadn't decided whether that was a good thing or not. She knew she was setting herself up for heartbreak, but she'd made up her mind to at least broach the subject of continuing their weekly cultural explorations.

She started down the corridor to the school's main entrance to wait for Sarek but was stopped by Jenny McIntosh. "Hey, is this Vulcan guy starting with the younger kids first like the Andorians did yesterday?"

"Yeah, we're just going to go in order," Amanda confirmed. "He should be here in about five minutes."

Jenny grinned and ducked back into the assembly hall. They'd combined the grades and taught them in large groups for the week's cultural fair. Piedmont Academy had about 200 students spread across six grade levels with three classes per grade level. Amanda's second graders were in the gymnasium with the other two second grade classes and the three third grade classes.

The entire school had spent the morning reviewing Vulcan culture and customs based on the age-appropriate lesson plans Amanda had created with Sarek's help. They'd gone over basics such as salutations, manners, holidays, and customs; the children had had fun learning to form the ta'al and speak the traditional Vulcan first greeting.

Sarek would meet with each of the three groups for twenty minutes, and then afterward, they would devote the afternoon to a brief overview of Vulcan history, a math game that featured elementary logic, and an art exercise on the Vulcan concept of IDIC.

As she approached the glass wall to the main entry of the school, she saw Sarek emerging through the doorway. He carried a ka'athyra in his left hand; unlike the one they'd seen at the museum, his was a highly polished instrument made of dark wood. He glanced at her through the glass divider and she felt her heart begin to beat a little faster.

She waved at Julie, the receptionist behind the front desk, who was warily staring at Sarek. The sliding glass door opened as she approached and she announced, "It's ok, Julie, he's here for today's presentation."

"Of course," said the receptionist. "And we've actually met once before."

Amanda nodded and looked in Sarek's direction. Her heart continued to pick up speed as their eyes met. "How are you today, Sarek?"

"I am well," he replied, following her out into the hallway.

She was nervous again. Thoughts of the Ferris wheel bubbled to the surface, causing her to cringe a little. Meanwhile, Sarek seemed like he always did: aloof yet completely at ease.

"Well, I'm going to take you to meet our kindergarteners and first graders first," she explained.

"Which is just as the schedule you forwarded me on Sunday evening stipulated."

"Oh right," she laughed. "How could I forget that you don't forget anything?"

"My memory and recall are not perfect."

"Could have fooled me," she replied, stopping in front of the main assembly hall. "Listen, I want to say thank you for doing this."

"It was my part of our arrangement," he reminded her. "You have taught me a great deal and I am appreciative."

"Same," she said, smiling nervously. "Anyway, these kids you're about to meet, they're only five and six years old. I don't know what Vulcan children are like, but try to be patient-"

"Impatience is illogical."

"Of course it is," she chuckled, shaking her head.

Maybe she was worrying over nothing: Sarek had seemed to get along well enough with Richard at her house the other day. But then again, Richard was almost eight and was very quiet and mature for his age.

"So as you know from the schedule I sent you, the plan is to walk in, I'll introduce you — the kids have been practicing the ta'al, so we'll see how that goes — um, tell them a little bit about who you are, where you come from, and what you do, and then you can play whatever piece you've chosen on your ka'athyra."

"I understand."

Her hand was shaking as she waved it in front of the motion sensor. The assembly hall doors slid open, revealing an atmosphere thrumming with the energy of 68 young children who'd just come back from lunch. Their teachers ordered them to remain quiet and show respect for their visitor and for the most part, they complied.

Amanda watched the faces of the children seated in the aisle as they passed by. Every single one of them had their necks tilted at a near ninety-degree angle, taking in Sarek's great height and pointed ears. They'd seen pictures of Vulcans earlier that morning during a visual presentation, but there was evidently something about being in the presence of one that was extremely fascinating to them.

Once on stage, Amanda glanced at the six teachers and handful of administrators lined against the wall and nodded.

"Hello, everyone," Amanda said, projecting her voice.

"Hello, Miss Grayson," they murmured back.

"We have a very special visitor from Vulcan who has come to talk to us today."

She craned her neck to look at Sarek who lifted his hand in the Vulcan salute and said, "Live long and prosper."

The students mimicked the gesture and repeated his words. Amanda's heart swelled with pride. They'd almost spoken in unison.

"His name is Sarek, and he comes from a city on Vulcan called Shi'Kahr," she continued. "Does anyone remember what's special about Shi'Kahr?"

A boy raised his hand and answered, "It's the capital."

"Very good." Her voice nearly cracked when she answered. She had never been nervous speaking in front of students before. Yet Sarek's quiet eyes on her made her feel uneasy. What was he thinking? What was this experience like for him?

"I'm going to let Sarek talk for a minute and tell you a little bit about himself, and then you can ask him a few questions." She swallowed hard and turned her body toward her Vulcan guest.

Sarek raised an eyebrow and replied, "As I have only been given one minute to speak, I shall be brief."

Amanda's face grew hot and she could see some of her colleagues out of the corner of her eye lightly snickering at Sarek's sarcasm. They probably assumed it was deliberate and a way to poke fun at Amanda, but she knew better: that was just Sarek being Sarek.

"As Miss Grayson has already informed you, I am from the capital city of Shi'Kahr. After my preliminary education, I attended the Vulcan Science Academy and received a degree in theoretical astrophysics. I currently serve as the science attaché to the Vulcan ambassador to Earth."

The blank looks on the faces of the children made Amanda feel like she had to intervene. "Does anyone know what an astrophysicist is?"

A girl near the front raised her hand and said, "Someone who learns about stars."

"That's right," Amanda replied.

The boy next to her raised his hand and Sarek acknowledged him. "So are you like a scientist?"

"I was," Sarek replied.

The girl next to him raised her hand again. "How come you're not now?"

Sarek's eyes narrowed slightly and Amanda got the sense he was trying to interpret the intent of her question. "I work as a scientific diplomat now."

"What's a diplomat?"

"A person who represents his or her homeland off-world or abroad."

"Are there humans on Vulcan?"

"Yes."

Amanda was starting to get antsy at the girl's rapid-fire questions and was about to try and redirect the group when Sarek turned away and asked, "Does anyone else have questions?"

The tiny hands of nearly half the pupils in the audience shot upward. Amanda watched in fascination as he answered question after question with direct and simple language. His manner captivated them and Amanda quickly thought she understood why.

Despite some of their silly and strange questions, he treated them as equals, not as children. He didn't alter the tone or cadence of his voice when speaking, nor did he smile or laugh at anything they said. She realized for the first time in many of their short lives, an adult was taking them seriously, and they seemed almost drunk on the novelty of it.

Their queries were largely innocent and brimming with curiosity, and Amanda was ashamed to admit she was just as interested in his answers as the five and six year olds who were asking the questions.

"Do you like ice cream?"

"I have never eaten Terran ice cream."

"Do you have any pets?"

"I do not, though when I was approximately your age, I befriended a sehlat and we became companions."

"What's a sehlat?"

"A sehlat is a Vulcan animal that shares some similarities with Terran bears, though they have longer cuspid teeth."

"What's a cuspid teeth?"

"The teeth next to the front teeth."

"So are they saber-toothed? Like tigers?"

"One could roughly compare them to sabers. I am unaware of what a saber-toothed tiger is."

"Why do you cut your hair that way?"

"I cut my hair in this style to honor Surak, the founder of modern Vulcan philosophy."

"Do you have kids?"

"No."

"How old are you?"

"Many Vulcans consider it impolite to discuss age, but I am 61 years of age."

Amanda did a double take but managed to collect herself before anyone seemed to notice. She studied Sarek, wondering how he was old enough to be her grandfather but looked close to her own age. She'd read that Vulcans had a lifespan roughly twice that of humans, but for whatever reason, the fact had never clicked in her mind.

"Do you have grandkids?" asked a boy in the middle of the front row.

"What does logic tell you?" The boy blinked a few times and shrugged.

"To have grandchildren, one must first have children," Sarek explained.

"What do you do for fun?"

"I spend much of my limited leisure time reading, meditating, or playing music."

"Speaking of which," Amanda interrupted, glancing at the digital clock on the back wall and taking a step forward, "Sarek has brought a musical instrument from Vulcan called a ka'athyra and has agreed to play something for us."

She glanced at Jenny, whom she'd entrusted to hold Sarek's ka'athyra while he spoke to the students. Jenny brought it forward and passed it off to Amanda like she was holding a treasured award, and when Amanda handed it to Sarek, their fingers briefly touched along the neck of the instrument. The same calm swept through Amanda that she'd felt on the Ferris wheel and she nearly dropped the ka'athyra in surprise.

She looked at Sarek and noticed he'd faltered too but he quickly recovered and lifted the ka'athyra to his shoulder. Jenny returned with a chair and Sarek thanked her and took a seat while Amanda excused herself from the stage to stand along the wall with the other teachers.

Sarek began to play a light and beautiful tune. Amanda was mesmerized by the grace and precision with which his fingers flew over the strings. All she had asked for was a quick and simple song, but this was something that sounded like the work of a famous composer.

"Where did you find this guy?" Jenny whispered.

"I just sent a message to the Vulcan consulate and he's who showed up," Amanda mumbled over her shoulder, slightly annoyed at the interruption.

"I don't know why, but he's kind of cute. For a sixty year old guy anyway. And the kids seem to adore him."

"Yeah," Amanda sighed.

When Sarek completed his performance, all the teachers along the wall burst into a round of applause, which instantly spread to the students. Sarek stood, nodded, and glanced at Amanda.

Amanda bounded onto the stage. "Ok everyone, Sarek has to leave now to speak with the older students, but let's be sure to thank him for taking the time to speak with us today about Vulcan. Does everyone remember what Vulcans usually say instead of goodbye?"

"Live long and prosper!" cried dozens of youthful voices in front of her.

Sarek raised his hand in the ta'al and replied, "Peace and long life."

They walked off stage together and Amanda directed him toward the rear exit. Just as they reached the door, Jenny gently touched Sarek's arm and said, "Thank you so much for coming. And you play that instrument very beautifully."

Sarek nodded and uttered a word of thanks, but Amanda noticed Jenny's arm lingered for a fraction of a second longer than would be considered appropriate. And there was a playful sparkle in her eyes. She was flirting with him.

"We should go," Amanda said, her voice uncharacteristically hostile. "We don't want to be late for the second and third graders."

"Of course," Jenny said, flashing him a dazzling smile. "It was wonderful to meet you, Sarek."

"Indeed," he replied, raising his hand to offer her the ta'al. "Live long and prosper."

Amanda let out a slow sigh once they reached the hallway. She was jealous. But why? Jenny McIntosh was her friend. Her gorgeous friend. Her gorgeous friend with the long blond hair, sparkling blue eyes, and perfectly proportioned figure that seemed to draw the attention of virtually every man within a 500 meter radius.

She stole a glance at Sarek and noted he seemed completely unfazed by the incident. Obviously he hadn't realized Jenny had been subtly coming onto him… or hadn't cared. Did Vulcans flirt and if so, what did that even look like? It stood to reason they would have some kind of social custom for finding spouses, but she couldn't imagine Sarek walking into a bar and dropping a cheesy pickup line on a tipsy Vulcan girl. Despite weeks of progress, there was so much she didn't know about this man and his culture.

She still hadn't found out if he was married, engaged, or some other Vulcan equivalent of either of those things. Thanks to Piedmont Academy's youngest pupils, she now knew he didn't have any children, but that didn't mean he didn't have a partner. Surely he would have mentioned it by now? Or surely if he had someone he would have invited them to the reception?

She snuck another look at him and figured he would say it would be illogical to make an assumption. She should just ask if she wanted to know. But asking seemed indelicate and after the awkward incident on the Ferris wheel, she didn't want to make things weirder between them.

"You handled that really well," she finally said as they stopped outside the gymnasium.

"Your statement implies you did not believe I would."

"I guess I had my doubts."

"I have learned much about your species from you in these last three weeks. Human children, much like Vulcan children, appear to be openly curious and less fettered by social decorum than their adult counterparts."

"Yeah well, you also play the ka'athyra really beautifully."

"Thank you."

The next forty minutes went by very quickly. He met with the students in the older grades and answered many more questions about Vulcan and his life. She was startled to learn he was proficient in a number of martial arts, had traveled to 19 different planets in his lifetime, and had a brother in addition to the previously mentioned saber-toothed Vulcan bear-dog. An hour of adolescent interrogation had produced more information about him in the course of an hour than all their Sundays combined, which unfortunately only further piqued her interest in him.

After Principal Waters thanked him profusely for coming, Amanda agreed to walk him out. She wanted to ask him if he was free again on Sunday, but it took most of the walk down the long main hall to work up the nerve to say anything at all.

"Thanks for coming."

"You have already thanked me," he reminded her. "As have your superiors."

"Yeah, I know. Listen, I wanted to know if you were interested in maybe-"

"Miss Grayson!" shouted a shrill voice at the other end of the hall.

She whipped around to see Ms. Hickman waving at her. "Yes?"

"Mr. David had some questions about the afternoon art lesson."

"Of course, I'll be right there," she replied. "I'm just walking our guest out."

"I can see myself out," Sarek responded, looking toward the glass divider that was less than five meters ahead. "We are very nearly at the front entry."

Her courage faded and her resolve cracked. "Oh, uh, sure. Well, I uh- yeah. Um, I-"

"It was an honor to become acquainted with you, Amanda." The tone and finality of his words felt like a punch to the gut.

She could almost taste Ms. Hickman's impatience and knew she should probably get back to her students before she embarrassed herself by asking him to spend time with her outside the confines of their carefully crafted deal.

"You too, Sarek."

And then he was gone, and Amanda spent the rest of the day kicking herself for not speaking up.


The car pulled into Sausalito at 2107 hours. Sarek was fatigued and closed his eyes for a temporary respite, but his work was not yet complete for the day.

Sarek had left Piedmont Academy to attend the presentation of a Vulcan scientist researching interspecies cell regulation at a nearby university. Afterwards, he had spoken with Dr. Koval and several of his colleagues and was intrigued to learn Dr. Koval was nearing the end of a yearlong interplanetary exchange program hosted by the institution.

He'd spent most of the ride back to the compound researching similar programs at other universities and had already found nine such programs at institutions on the North American continent alone. Statistics about the program participants were quite limited, but from his cursory research, it seemed Andorians, Rigelians, and Ithenites were selected almost preferentially. Sarek was skeptical that this was the result of favoritism but rather more likely the product of a lack of Vulcan or Tellarite interest.

He knew from his contacts at the Vulcan Science Academy and Vulcan Science Ministry that there were only ten humans presently conducting research on Vulcan. He'd often considered that a simple consequence of icy human-Vulcan relations, particularly within the scientific community. The Vulcan Science Academy occasionally allowed noted off-world researchers to deliver guest lectures or participate in specific studies, but there was no permanent program in place to encourage interplanetary research collaborations.

He had already received approval to share the Vulcan Science Academy's database protocols with the Federation Science Council to enhance the planned cooperative Federation database. He was due to meet with Chairman Lenski in two days' time to discuss the issue, but now he was contemplating the possibility of proposing a Federation-wide exchange of scientists in addition to scientific information.

He was uncertain why one didn't exist already. If individual institutions had found success in limited private programs, surely that could serve as the basis for broadening the concept to include more universities throughout the Federation. Unfortunately, he only had two days to perform the necessary research and draft a formal proposal.

Were Ambassador Selden currently on Earth, Sarek would have required his approval to propose such a scheme to anyone on the Federation Science Council, and since the ambassador had never approved any of Sarek's ideas, it was unlikely he would have thought highly of this one. Yet Selden had appointed T'Lera as interim ambassador and his temporary supervisor had granted Sarek a much greater degree of freedom to perform his duties without direct guidance.

The absence of Ambassador Selden, Kuvok, and their aides had put a strain on the consulate. Varen, the public relations attaché, and Mela, the customs liaison, were rarely seen inside the compound during daylight hours because T'Lera often sent them all over the planet to attend numerous functions on behalf of the Vulcan consulate. The consulate received dozens of invitations each day for all manner of events — conferences, lectures, sporting demonstrations, breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, cocktail hours, and more. Selden had apparently been in the habit of disregarding almost all of these offers, but T'Lera preferred to accept invitations when possible as a sign of goodwill.

Her policy had kept Sarek more occupied in the last week than he'd been during his entire tenure on Earth. He'd already attended seven lectures and next week he was due to attend four more, as well as a demonstration of a new long-range array at a university in South Africa, a tour of a new high speed rail system in Singapore, and a tour of Dr. Tarkington's laboratory.

His expanding schedule had done much to alter his perception of human-Vulcan relations. Just because the Terran scientific community remained skeptical of Vulcan involvement in their research projects did not mean wider Terran society preferred to exclude Vulcans. The more he worked outside the compound, the more he was becoming convinced that Vulcans preferred to exclude themselves.

He'd stayed up late the previous evening researching that theory, and though the evidence was scattered, circumstantial, and likely possessed a strong confirmation bias, he could easily argue that it was sound.

Fewer than three hundred humans lived on Vulcan and he had always presumed that was because of his planet's hostile climate. Yet his research had informed him that more than 15,000 humans lived on Andoria, where the gravity was still twice that of Earth and the average temperature on the surface was -8°C. A quick survey of visa and residency requirements quickly demonstrated that Vulcan was the most restrictive planet in the Federation, not only for humans, but also for all non-Vulcan Federation citizens.

The car pulled to a slow stop under the carriage porch. Sarek opened his eyes, collected his ka'athyra, and proceeded inside without waiting for Tavik to open the door. Once on his feet he realized just how tired he really was.

He hadn't slept since Saturday. It hadn't been for a lack of effort: his mind was simply more active than usual. Whenever he closed his eyes, he thought of her. Amanda was his friend, but he could not understand why he thought of her so regularly. He'd attempted to contemplate the matter during deep meditation, but he found he could not keep her from his thoughts long enough to enter the necessary meditative state.

He'd analyzed the situation logically and concluded his recent difficulties likely stemmed from the finger embrace they'd shared on the Ferris wheel. He hadn't even been certain the technique would work on a human; he'd simply wished to calm her before she completely yielded to her fear and panic. Not only had it worked, it also had revealed things he hadn't anticipated on discovering.

He had a sense that she cared for him. He wasn't certain about the extent or precise nature of her affections, but the moment their fingers had touched he'd been nearly overwhelmed by her powerful emotions. After he'd managed to use the psionic link to quell her terror, he'd sensed other subtle feelings that he could not accurately name.

Why had he touched her, particularly in such an intimate manner? She hadn't consented to his touch, and just because she didn't understand the gesture didn't mean he should have taken the liberty of joining their fingers. Mind melding with another person without consent was a crime, but because hands unintentionally touched so regularly and a finger embrace didn't actually grant a person access to another individual's thoughts, it was simply considered impolite to touch another person's hand without permission. Perhaps Amanda would call it a "faux pas."

He gazed down at the ka'athyra in his hands as he walked to his office. They had touched fingers for a brief moment again today when she'd handed him this instrument and he'd struggled to put it out of his mind. It was difficult to forget about it though, and if he were being wholly honest with himself, he had to admit it was because he liked it.

He opened his office door and set the ka'athyra against this desk. He had work to do, but he also needed to meditate and resolve his illogical interest in this human woman. He had no cause to see her again after this afternoon, and he would simply have to accept that.

"Sarek?"

He turned around and noticed the door to T'Lera's office had opened and light was spilling into the hallway. He entered the doorway to her office and waited for her to call him to approach. She glanced up from her computer and nodded and he walked to her desk and waited for further instructions.

"There is no need to sit, as I intend to be brief. The hour is late. The consulate will require your presence at the Andorian ambassador's home on Stardate 2226.34.497 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the ending of the Andorian-Vulcan Cold War."

"I believe that event formally ended 71.81 years ago," he replied.

"By the Federation Standard calendar, yes, but it has been 100 years according to Andorian timekeeping practices. Much larger observances have been planned on both Vulcan and Andoria to mark the occasion, but the Andorian ambassador to Earth has also chosen to host an event."

"I come to serve," he replied.

It was curious she would opt to send him, the science attaché, when surely it would be more prudent to attend the function herself or send Varen, who had served for 15 years in the Vulcan Diplomatic Service on Andoria. Yet it was not his place to question her decision on such a trivial matter.

"I am aware you have limited experience in attending diplomatic social gatherings, but you have performed adequately thus far. The Vulcan Science Ministry is pleased with your results from the Federation Science Council's conference. As both Varen and myself are already committed to functions on that day, you are the most logical choice to send."

Sarek nodded and asked, "Shall I prepare a speech?"

"Varen has already prepared remarks for you based on the Vulcan High Council's guidance, but you are free to alter them as you wish. I shall forward you the invitation. I will advise you to study the diplomatic protocols for dining with Andorians, as their customs are extremely complex."

Sarek nodded, took his leave of T'Lera, and returned to his office to read the message.

Ambassador Tarnas and his wife request the honor of hosting members of the Vulcan Consulate, their mates, and their friends at a luncheon on Stardate 2226.34.497 in remembrance of the partnership forged between our planets 100 years ago.

Please send replies to this invitation to Shev at the Andorian embassy – San Francisco.

The luncheon was on Saturday, so he would need to reply immediately. He thought of Amanda and how she'd attended the Federation Science Council reception with him. He had believed it would be unpleasant, but her presence had made it tolerable.

He would like to invite her to join him, but their agreement had expired. In truth, she had done more to assist him in understanding humanity than he had done to assist her in teaching her students about Vulcan. On Sunday she had said there was more she could show him, but he did not wish to continue to impose upon her. Additionally, given his recent distractions where she was concerned, perhaps it would be logical to distance himself from her.

He was in the middle of sending a reply to the Andorian embassy when he was alerted to a new message. He studied the name of the sender for a full minute before he opened it.

Hi Sarek,

I know I already said thank you, but I really want you to know how much I enjoyed getting to know you. I know you stay very busy, but if you ever wanted to get together as friends, just let me know. If not, I'm glad our paths had the chance to cross.

Amanda

He read the note several times, analyzing the language. She enjoyed their interactions. She wished to be his friend. He thought of their finger embrace on the Ferris wheel and experienced a small spark of a nameless emotion. He closed his eyes and suppressed it, and then returned to the Andorian ambassador's invitation.

He finished his response, explaining he would be the only individual from the Vulcan consulate in attendance, but he hesitated to transmit it. Though he had already committed her words to memory, he toggled back to Amanda's message and stared at it. Ten minutes later, he began to dictate a response.

Amanda

Would you be willing to attend a luncheon at the Andorian ambassador's private residence with me on Saturday?

Sarek

Chapter Text

Sarek adjusted the cuff of his left sleeve and studied the result in the long mirror near the entryway of his quarters. The luncheon invitation had not stipulated a particular style of dress, but it was logical to conclude his typical clothing was acceptable if the invitation had not explicitly stated he should wear formal attire.

He'd donned a set of black slacks with a grey, high collared shirt and his embroidered sleeveless cloak. He looked much as he always did, but his gaze continued to linger upon his reflection. He'd trimmed his hair that morning and the result was neat and adequate, as always. He'd also shaved his face, despite that fact that he'd performed this hygiene ritual four days earlier and his facial hair grew so slowly that he regularly shaved only once per week.

He ran his hand along his jaw, probing the smooth skin with his fingertips. If he hadn't needed to shave, why had he? How illogical to spend unnecessary time grooming; his appearance was satisfactory.

He left the compound without a second thought about the way he looked and met Amanda 43 minutes later near the Andorian ambassador's home in San Francisco. She emerged from the back of a taxi onto the sidewalk and declared, "Hello Sarek. You look nice." He was glad she thought so, though he said nothing.

She was dressed much as she had been on the first day he'd met her in the hall of Piedmont Academy. Her dress was white with gray and yellow flowers stitched along the hem of her skirt. His eyes lingered on her legs. Though the skirt rested on the tops of her knees, she wore bright yellow shoes that artificially elevated her height by approximately ten centimeters, and the resulting effect did much to alter the aesthetics of her calf musculature.

"Um, it's good to see you again," she added.

His eyes moved from the smooth lines of her legs to her face, noting the distinctive reddish flush that spread across her cheeks each time they met.

"Yes," he replied. "Thank you for agreeing to attend this function with me."

"Thank you for asking me," she smiled. "Oh, and you're thirteen minutes early, you know."

"And you are eleven minutes early," he countered, before explaining, "Vehicular and pedestrian traffic are difficult to predict in this municipality,"

"You're just now figuring this out?" she laughed.

"It has been evident to me since I disembarked on this planet. Your declaration merely compelled me to explain my premature arrival."

"So I take it Vulcan never has traffic jams?"

He deduced from context that a "traffic jam" almost certainly referred to the concept of traffic becoming stuck rather than a jelly-like fruit preserve made from traffic. Why did she so often insist on peculiar euphemisms and vernacular?

"Traffic congestion is an infrequent occurrence on Vulcan, due to city planning algorithms that optimize traffic flow during high volume traffic periods and greater use of public transportation and transporter technology."

"You know, that doesn't really surprise me," she sighed, crossing her arms. "Anyway, I know it's illogical, but I was only teasing you. You've always had something to say when I wasn't exactly on time."

"I wish to submit a query."

She grinned and replied, "Submit your query and I'll respond to the best of my ability."

"What is the precise human custom for punctuality?"

The playful expression on her face faltered. "You're not going to like my answer, which is… it varies."

"Explain."

"Some cultures on Earth consider it rude to arrive on time, while others consider it rude to arrive late. Sometimes, arriving early or late really depends on the situation — you would never want to be late to a wedding or a funeral, but you might want to be 'fashionably late' to a cocktail party."

His Terran diplomatic course had taught him virtually the same thing — the only custom in regards to human punctuality was that there was no custom. Still, he was perplexed by her terminology. "Fashionably late?"

"Don't ask me to explain it," she shrugged. "It's just one of those things."

He wondered at the lax and arbitrary rules of human punctuality, thinking it would be logical for humans to include a socially acceptable margin of error with the proposed arrival time when extending invitations.

"So if there's never any traffic on Vulcan, I suppose Vulcans have a habit of showing up right on time," she mused.

"I did not say traffic was non-existent on my home world, merely that it is uncommon. Furthermore, it is impossible to consistently guarantee exacting punctuality. Therefore, it is the Vulcan custom to arrive as close to the prearranged time as possible without being tardy, and if one is early, then it is customary to wait until the appointed meeting time to make one's presence known to whomever extended the invitation."

"You showed up at my house half an hour early the other day," she argued.

"I was 36 minutes early," he corrected. "And I have already attempted to apologize. I was unfamiliar with the human custom. When arriving early to a Vulcan home, guests are allowed entry and directed to a sitting room to wait for the time of meeting."

She laughed. Her dark eyes always glimmered when she laughed. "Sarek, come early, come late, I don't care. You don't have to be so formal. If you're going to be really off the mark, just send me a message and let me know."

"I shall remember that for future encounters," he replied, glancing at the Andorian ambassador's large residence behind her and wondering how Andorians perceived promptness. The Vulcan diplomatic protocols he'd reviewed the evening before hadn't specified.`q1`

She peered over her shoulder to observe what Sarek was looking at and as if she were able to sense his thoughts, she said, "The Andorian ambassador knows you're Vulcan. I imagine he'll probably expect you right at 1100 hours, which gives us seven more minutes to talk before we're due inside."

"Logical."

"So how did your meeting go with Mr. Lenski?" she asked, shifting her weight onto her left foot. Sarek had to consciously keep his eyes level with her face to avoid studying the movement of her legs.

"The Vulcan Science Academy has agreed to share their database protocols with the Federation Science Council," he replied, recalling the events of his meeting with the Science Council's chairman on Thursday. "But establishing a database will be futile without data, which is why my next objective is to speak with the Vulcan Ministry of Science to request the release of scientific research to the wider Federation community."

"That sounds like a big request," she responded.

"It is," he agreed.

Vulcan research institutions held almost total control over their data and results, but the Vulcan Ministry of Science could compel them to share their findings with outside agencies. The ultimate goal of a scientist was to publish research, but many Vulcan scientists and institutions were in the habit of withholding data if it was relevant to other ongoing experiments or until it could be further analyzed, which often hindered scientific progress and led to duplication. Many scientists had successfully petitioned the Ministry to require universities and organizations to release research results before, but only as they related to specific projects.

What Sarek intended to propose was far more radical and stood in opposition to decades of precedent. He didn't want the results from a single research project or study, he wanted all of the research. He'd spent the past two days preparing an argument, citing the Federation Charter's requirement to share unclassified information and technology and compiling examples of increasingly duplicated work during the past 65 years.

"I also proposed the establishment of a program between the Vulcan Ministry of Science and the Terran Science Foundation to temporarily exchange scientists in a number of fields as a means of fostering better relations between the Vulcan and Terran scientific communities."

"That sounds really interesting," Amanda exclaimed. "The Federation Education Council has programs like that for teachers, but they're really competitive. I always thought it would be fun to teach alien students, but they're usually looking for people who can speak alien languages and have decades of teaching experience."

"I had discovered those programs when researching my proposal," Sarek admitted. "Though I confess, the original idea was inspired by your cultural exchange fair."

Her eyes widened. "You got the idea from me?"

"Yes."

"And you really think the Science Council will go for it?"

"The Federation Science Council is a secondary consideration; ultimately the Vulcan Ministry of Science and the Terran Science Foundation must agree," he replied. "It is an ambitious plan and I do not know how the Terran Science Foundation will respond, but I expected the Vulcan Science Ministry would reject it, which was why I elected to propose the concept to Chairman Lenski."

Amanda grinned. "So you thought if you could sell the Federation Science Council on it first and have them propose the idea that the Vulcans would be more willing to listen?"

"Precisely. Chairman Lenski was skeptical initially, primarily due to the existence of private programs, but I managed to sway his opinion by outlining the simple truth with statistics — human and Vulcan scientific collaboration has become exceedingly rare, and I explained that if the chairman wishes the database to include valuable Vulcan research, the Council could incentivize Vulcan participation through such an exchange program, particularly if valuable funding and resources were attached."

Amanda shook her head and stared at the ground.

"I sense you do not approve of my methods," Sarek remarked.

"No, quite the opposite actually," she replied, meeting his eye. "I'm impressed. I had no idea you were so good at politicking and manipulation. It doesn't seem very logical."

"The divide that has grown between Terran and Vulcan scientists is illogical," Sarek argued. "Furthermore, it would be illogical to fail to account for opposing interests when attempting to secure an optimal outcome."

"So you see yourself fighting illogic with illogic to achieve a more logical outcome?" she asked, cocking her head to the side.

"Technically, yes," Sarek replied, considering that once again, an admitted illogical human was using logic to illustrate the illogic in a logical Vulcan.

"Well, I think we're due inside soon," she said, glancing at the iron gate in the high brick wall surrounding the Andorian ambassador's home. "Are you ready to go?"

Just as they took their first steps forward, a long, black vehicle pulled up to the curb and a regal Vulcan woman dressed in dark purple robes emerged. Sarek recognized her immediately; he hadn't known she would be in attendance. He had met her during his formative years when she worked with his father Skon at the Vulcan Ministry of Security. Her amber colored eyes briefly registered Sarek and came to rest on Amanda.

"Live long and prosper, T'Pau," he said, opting to deliver the salutation in his native tongue. He raised his hand in the ta'al and waited for her to reciprocate.

T'Pau gently raised her chin, clearly assessing Amanda, but a moment later she replied, "Live long and prosper" in Federation Standard English.

He sensed Amanda tense beside him, but from the corner of his eye he watched her lift her hand to offer the ta'al to T'Pau and deliver the customary Vulcan greeting. The older woman's face remained expressionless, but Sarek understood the subtle shift in her eyes was indicative of cautious curiosity.

"It has been many years since our last meeting, Sarek son of Skon," T'Pau said, finally taking her eyes off Amanda to address him.

"It has. 34.7 years precisely, measured in our years. Allow me to introduce Amanda Grayson. Miss Grayson, this is T'Pau."

"Yes, I know," Amanda replied, folding her hands in front of her. "You're on the Federation Supreme Court. It's an honor to make your acquaintance."

T'Pau's eyes flicked in Amanda's direction again to study her for a second time. "Yes. Let us go inside before we are overdue."

T'Pau marched past them toward the Andorian ambassador's gate and the car that had delivered her merged back into the stream of traffic. Sarek and Amanda followed behind the regal woman. The three of them waited at the gate and were greeted by an Andorian man who introduced himself as Shev, the ambassador's chief of staff. They followed Shev through a narrow passageway into a large garden where they found twelve guests, one Vulcan and eleven Andorians, sitting at a long, oval-shaped table under a deep portico overlooking a glass fountain.

The Andorian and Vulcan flags were mounted along the back wall and the décor appeared to be a curious mix of both Vulcan and Andorian styles. Sarek had reviewed Andorian dining and hospitality customs last night in preparation for this luncheon, but he had not anticipated the party would be so small, nor had he foreseen that Amanda would be the only human.

"Ambassador Tarnas, the Honorable T'Pau, Sarek, and his guest Amanda Grayson have arrived," Shev announced.

"Then we're all here," replied a man sitting at the middle of the oblong table. He rose to his feet to greet his guests while the others turned to observe. "I don't even need to consult the clock — if I were to guess, I'd say it's exactly 1100 hours."

"You are correct," T'Pau responded.

"Vulcan precision strikes again. Justice T'Pau, welcome to my home: live long and prosper," said Tarnas, rendering the ta'al. He then turned to Sarek and delivered the same greeting.

"You honor Vulcan with your invitation," he and T'Pau replied in unison.

"And Amanda Grayson, welcome," the ambassador said, extending his hand to Amanda to engage in the human custom of hand shaking. "We are pleased to have you with us to celebrate this occasion."

Amanda uttered a quick Andorian phrase and then added, "And thank you for having me, Ambassador Tarnas. It's a pleasure to be here."

Tarnas seemed delighted that she greeted him in his own language and clasped his free hand over their mutual handshake. Though Sarek knew neither humans nor Andorians found anything intimate or gratifying in touching hands, he wondered at the ambassador's prolonged contact and wished, if only for Amanda's sake, that he would let her go. They finally unclasped their hands and Sarek considered Amanda carefully: he had no notion she was familiar with the Andorian language, but perhaps it shouldn't have been so surprising.

They'd spent these past weeks together discussing Vulcan culture, but Amanda had organized a cultural fair based on the Federation's founding members, which of course included Andoria. It was logical to assume she was at least as well educated on Andorian customs as she was Vulcan customs, which was admirable, particularly because Andorian dining customs were so particular.

Tarnas led them to the table and invited them to sit. T'Pau and Sarek were the guests of honor and were seated to Tarnas' right and left respectively. Andorian dining rituals required partners to be seated opposite from one another, so Amanda was placed on the other side of the table between a handsome Andorian woman whom Tarnas identified as his wife Nareen, and a Vulcan Starfleet admiral who introduced himself as Voras.

Sarek's research from the previous night had informed him that Andorian table customs were very detailed and precise — in formal situations it was a gross breach of etiquette to discuss business before the entire party had arrived, or before everyone had finished their meals. The moment they were seated, two servers came around with trays and served small bowls of fruit, the traditional Andorian first course of a four-course meal. Though the custom was Andorian, the fruit in the light blue bowls was Vulcan. There was gespar and yon-savas, ripe and rich in color and texture.

Sarek looked to his left and waited for the young Andorian at the end of the table to hold up his fork. In the Andorian custom, the most junior person seated at the end of the table began the meal with this signal. Once given, the rest of the party picked up their own forks and began eating their first course.

Like humans, Andorians engaged in the curious social custom of irrelevant conversation over meals, and soon Ambassador Tarnas was asking him about his profession and interests. T'Pau was far less interested in participating in the charade and seemed content enough to let Tarnas and Sarek talk.

As he listened to Tarnas speak about the Andorian Science Directorate's research policies, he watched Amanda from the corner of his eye. She was engaged in deep conversation with the ambassador's wife, but she also seemed to be paying a considerable amount of attention to the Vulcan admiral.

Sarek surveyed the man, estimating from the few strands of gray hair at his temples that he was probably ten or fifteen years his senior. Admiral Voras' angular face had proportions that females of their species would tend to find attractive. The left side of his chest bore nine different medals and decorations, and though Sarek was not well acquainted with Starfleet commendations, it was logical to deduce he was a man of some experience and import.

Sarek was not seated near enough to join in their conversation so he continued his discussion about Andorian scientific advancements with Ambassador Tarnas for the remainder of their meal. As the third course was cleared away and the fourth course was served, Nareen uttered a hearty laugh at something Amanda said, and then Amanda turned and spoke to Voras, and soon both Voras and Nareen were deeply absorbed in whatever Amanda was saying.

Amanda's natural ability to charm people apparently extended beyond her own species. As he watched Admiral Voras watch Amanda, a familiar emotion resurfaced, one he had experienced at Torik and T'Rea's bonding ceremony. It had taken months to fully subdue that distasteful sentiment, but now it had returned. Jealousy.


"So what's the most exciting place you've ever visited?" Amanda asked Voras.

"I believe 'exciting' is an objective and inexact term," the admiral replied.

"Anything that sticks out in your memory?" Amanda suggested.

"My first assignment was as assistant science officer aboard the USS T'Kumbra. We were ordered to survey a nebula near the Romulan Neutral Zone. I have seen many nebulae since, but few that rival the splendor of that one."

Amanda smiled. Admiral Voras was just as Vulcan as Sarek, but he'd spent much of his life in Starfleet, which had made him much better acquainted with humanity.

"Plasma storms on Andoria produce color displays like you've never seen," Nareen countered.

"I have seen Andoria's plasma storms and they are very visually pleasing," he conceded.

"I've always wanted to travel off-world," Amanda admitted to her lunch companions. "It's one thing to want to read about Andoria's obsidian caves or Mount Seleya in databases, but I imagine it's another thing to see them."

"I felt the same as you," Nareen confessed. "I read about the Grand Canyon of Earth as a child and always wanted to visit it."

"Why the Grand Canyon?" Amanda asked.

"The name proclaims it is grand; I wanted to see for myself. When I finally went, I could barely tolerate the hot weather. Your planet has a most variable climate."

"So how long have you lived on Earth?" Amanda asked Nareen.

"Thirty years. Andorian years, of course. I think that's approximately 18 standard years."

"Ambassador Tarnas has served that long?"

"Oh no, I lived on Earth long before I met and married Tarnas. I came to Earth as a private educator for the previous Andorian ambassador's children."

"I love teaching," Amanda replied, trying to conceal the excitement in her voice at meeting a fellow educator.

"A honorable profession," Admiral Voras replied.

"It's not so exciting as being Starfleet captain and apprehending Orion pirates or battling Klingon warbirds, I'm sure."

"Excitement and honor are not mutually exclusive," he argued.

Before she could reply, Ambassador Tarnas rose to his feet and lifted both hands in the air. "Honored guests, friends and colleagues, we are here today to commemorate the end of formal hostilities between the Vulcan and Andorian people. 100 years ago today by the Andorian calendar, Vulcan and Andoria forged a shaky armistice that would become an enduring peace. We are honored to call the Vulcans, as well as humans, our friends. We are especially honored to have in our presence someone who witnessed those events firsthand, and it is with enormous pleasure that I introduce Justice T'Pau."

Amanda resisted the urge to clap — applause was neither a Vulcan nor Andorian custom — and watched T'Pau stand and thank Ambassador Tarnas for his introduction.

"Attaining peace is rarely peaceful, as it requires ideologies to be set aside and wrongs to be confessed and forgiven. It requires us to see beyond ourselves and occasionally accept the help of outsiders." T'Pau shifted her gaze to Amanda.

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She felt like she was being singled out in some way as the only human at the table and couldn't understand why. Soon all Amanda could hear was the blood rushing through her ears. She tried to appear calm and collected but had serious doubts about how well she was managing to pull it off.

T'Pau eventually looked away; Amanda breathed a little easier and snuck a look at Sarek, noting he was politely giving the speaker his full attention. The woman was just so intimidating. The moment T'Pau had stepped out of the sedan and surveyed Amanda with her sharp golden eyes, she'd had to fight the urge to run the other way.

She and Sarek obviously knew each other from their brief conversation. She'd called him "Sarek, son of Skon." How did they know one another? She hadn't had a moment alone with Sarek to ask. Amanda stole another glance at Sarek and was surprised to find he was now looking at her. Their eyes met and she couldn't help the smile that crested her lips. Suddenly Sarek nodded and rose to his feet and Amanda snapped back to the present.

"On behalf of the Vulcan consulate to Earth, I wish to thank our host, Ambassador Tarnas, and his wife Nareen for inviting us to observe this occasion with them," Sarek began. "There is little I can add to what Justice T'Pau has already enumerated, but the more I learn of diplomacy, the more I understand that peace is not a thing achieved by the words of diplomats, but by the actions of us all. Thank you for honoring Vulcan with your invitation, ambassador. May you live long and prosper."

As he resumed his seat, his eyes once again fell upon Amanda and her heart began a series of somersaults. Servers cleared away the fourth course and soon people would begin shuffling away from the table. What should she do now?

She'd spent all week brushing up on Andorian etiquette and knew that now was the time when it was acceptable to discuss business and politics for a brief period until the most senior guest left. Amanda guessed that was probably T'Pau, so once T'Pau decided she was done for the day, the other guests were expected to leave as well.

She already knew a lot about Andorian culture from the teleconference links her students had with their Andorian peers each month, but she'd agonized over learning the nuances of Andorian dining customs out of fear that she'd embarrass herself, and by extension, Sarek.

It was well known throughout the Federation that Andorians took their meals very seriously. They were famous for their formal dinners, so much so that an "Andorian dinner party" was a casual expression synonymous with the highest degree of formality. Just last week, Julie, the school's receptionist, had related a story to Amanda about meeting her boyfriend's parents for the first time and had claimed she dressed like she was going to an Andorian dinner party.

Andorian luncheons and breakfasts were far less formal but still had many of the same key rituals — waiting for the most junior member at the table to collect his or her fork, never using the same hand to eat and drink with, and so on. She briefly reviewed her actions and hoped she hadn't broken any major rule of etiquette.

Then everything started to happen at once. The door to the house opened and five Andorian children stepped outside with a woman who appeared to be their nanny. T'Pau and Tarnas stood, which signaled everyone else was free to leave the table, and just as Amanda was about to make her way to Sarek, Nareen said, "Miss Grayson, come and meet my children."

Amanda was quickly captivated by Nareen's brood, two twin boys and three girls ranging in age from nine to two. They were delighted to discover Amanda was familiar with a common Andorian cartoon and immediately invited her to play tok in the garden.

Nareen and Amanda took the children down the stone steps to the open lawn below the covered porch and she was given a quick education on a game that was roughly analogous to croquet. She kept her eye on Sarek, noting he was deep in conversation with T'Pau. She could tell from their mutual body language that T'Pau was addressing Sarek much as a superior would speak to a subordinate, but figured that could also just be T'Pau's domineering personality. She would give anything to know what they were talking about.

"Your turn, Miss Grayson!" called Jila, Nareen's oldest daughter.

Amanda took the mallet and carefully walked across the lawn toward the small colored balls and cubes. She hadn't anticipated trying to navigate grass in heels, and though her feet were killing her, she couldn't imagine being so presumptuous to take her shoes off at an ambassador's house.

She managed to bounce the blue ball off a red cube and score a point for her team to the ecstatic cheers of the four older children and the squeals of Lise, the toddler.

"Tell me, what ages are the children you teach?" Nareen asked.

"Eight standard years old. I believe that corresponds to children in the fourth form, under the Andorian system."

"You are familiar with the Andorian education system?" Nareen murmured, raising her brow.

"Last year I arranged for students in my class to teleconference with students at a school in Laikan. I don't know who enjoys it more: me or the students."

"How innovative," Nareen mused. "I am from Laikan. Tell me, what is the name of the school?"

"It's called the Lukh School."

"I know it! An old friend of mine retired from there several years ago."

"What a small quadrant," Amanda laughed.

"It is indeed." Nareen agreed. "Tell me, have you ever considered applying to the Federation Educator Exchange Program?"

"Oh yes," Amanda replied. "I was just discussing that with Sarek earlier, actually. I would love to teach abroad."

"You should apply," Nareen insisted.

"Well, I don't meet the minimum teaching requirements. I've only been teaching for four years."

"It will not matter, if you can secure the right recommendations," Nareen replied. "My sister-in-law is a member of the Andorian Education Directorate. If you are interested in teaching on Andoria for several years, I would be happy to forward your credentials for her review."

"You could do that?" Amanda's jaw fell open.

"I cannot guarantee the position, but Tarnas' sister thinks highly of me and I think highly of you."

She was speechless. It took several awkward seconds for her mouth to form the words to say, "I would be so honored and so grateful."

"Think nothing of it," Nareen replied.

"Amanda, it is time for us to depart," said Sarek.

She turned to see him standing with his hands neatly tucked behind his back. Just behind him, T'Pau appeared to be saying her goodbyes to the other guests. Lunch had only ended 15 minutes ago, so apparently T'Pau wasn't one for socializing.

Amanda quickly exchanged contact information with Nareen, said goodbye to the children, and followed Sarek back through the narrow passageway toward the gated exit. She shook hands with Tarnas and thanked him for his invitation once again, and then she and Sarek emerged onto the sidewalk.

Just like that, the luncheon was over as abruptly as it had started. She had come to spend time with Sarek, but all she'd gotten was a ten minute conversation.

"Have you made arrangements for transportation home?" he asked.

"I can call a cab."

"I am willing to provide you a means of transport home, if you wish."

She had a sudden flashback to the night of the formal reception. He'd offered to take her home, they'd bickered over the logic of it, and ultimately she'd given in. Now he was offering her an opportunity to spend at least 45 minutes together. Why did she feel compelled to argue?

"Then I accept your offer," she replied, gazing at him. "Thank you for inviting me, by the way."

"I am grateful you agreed to attend."

"You didn't really need me here," she pointed out. "There were no humans whose behavior you needed me to explain."

"No, but your company makes socializing more tolerable."

"Was that a compliment?"

"It was an observation."

She shook her head and chuckled. "Well, I'm really glad I came too. Nareen offered to forward my résumé to someone at the Andorian Education Directorate. I might just get to participate in this educator exchange program after all. It's not a guarantee, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

Sarek didn't reply. The black car from the Vulcan embassy pulled up to the curb and Sarek opened the door for Amanda, who slid into the seat. It felt good to sit and take her weight off her tired feet and soon enough, the car pulled back into traffic, destined for her home in Oakland.

"Why would crossing your fingers guarantee something?" Sarek asked suddenly.

"Huh?"

"One minute ago, you said a teaching position on Andoria wasn't guaranteed, but you were keeping your fingers crossed."

"Oh," she laughed. "It's an some old superstition."

"I see."

"Humans have a lot of weird superstitions. Like breaking a mirror brings you seven years of bad luck or it's bad luck to cross a black cat's path."

"Illogical."

"Definitely." Amanda launched into a long-winded explanation of all the odd superstitions she'd ever heard, everything from not walking under ladders to the concept that bad things always happened in threes. It was fun listening to Sarek rapidly disassemble and dismiss her claims.

"I can't believe Vulcans don't have any superstitions," she finally said after he finished explaining that throwing salt over one's shoulder was irrational.

"Superstition is rooted in the fear of being powerless to control a situation, and fear is illogical. It is illogical to believe that performing some ritual or observing certain coincidental patterns will alter an outcome. 13 is no more dangerous or safe than the numbers 12 or 14."

"Fear makes people do a lot of weird things," she shrugged, thinking about their Ferris wheel adventure the previous Sunday. "Some people even chase it just for the experience. The thrill of it, I suppose."

"Is that why you agreed to ascend the Ferris wheel with me?"

"No, I was mostly trying to get over my fear, but if you remember, it didn't work out that well." Amanda's cheeks flushed at the mention of last weekend's awkward ride.

"Confronting one's fear is a necessary component to overcoming it."

"Or it can just make it worse, if you're an illogical human like me."

"As I have already said, a number of techniques exist to master fear. Those techniques are not exclusive to Vulcans."

"Maybe you'll have to show me one of these days," she sighed. "Speaking of which, are you free tomorrow?"

She held her breath and waited for his answer. Was she being too pushy, trying to spend two days in a row with him?

"With Ambassador Selden on Vulcan, my duties have increased, but I have nothing scheduled for tomorrow."

"Would you like to do something together?" she asked.

"What do you propose?"

"I don't know. Maybe we could explore human fear and superstition."

"How do you intend to do that?"

The idea started off as a fuzzy, formless thing at the distant edges of her mind. She pulled her PADD from her small purse and found her way to a page devoted to community events, and when she found the next day's schedule of the classical theater by her house, she couldn't believe her luck. Of course Sarek would say luck was illogical, but she didn't care.

"Would you be willing to watch a classical film with me tomorrow afternoon?"

"Explain."

"Before holomovies and holoprojectors, they used to tell stories in two dimensions. They're called films or movies. A lot of people really like the old-style feel of two-dimensional pictures, so there are some specialty theaters that still show classic movies. My sister loves them so every time she's in town, we go see one together."

"How does it relate to the exploration of fear and superstition?"

"It's... complicated. Are you interested?"

"Yes."

Amanda snickered to herself. "Here, I'll forward you the information. I hope 1300 hours is ok, because that's the only time they're showing the movie I want to see."

"1300 hours is acceptable," he agreed.

The car turned down Amanda's street and she sent the details with the theater's location to him. He pulled out his PADD just as the car rolled to a stop in front of her house.

"Tarleton Theater presents Friday the 13th?" he asked, reading the advertisement she'd forwarded.

Amanda fought to suppress a grin and nodded.

"But tomorrow is Sunday the 7th."

"Oh, no, Friday the 13th is the name of the film I want to go see, not the date it's showing."

"I see," he replied, turning his attention back to the message to read, "They were warned, they are doomed, and on Friday the 13th, nothing will save them. What is the premise of this story?"

"It's a surprise," she sighed, opening the door to let herself out. "And I look forward to a critical, logical Vulcan analysis of it too."

He nodded. "I shall see you tomorrow."

"I can't wait," Amanda replied over her shoulder. And she meant it.

Chapter Text

Amanda chewed her lip and gazed at the image staring back at her in the mirror. She wore a light gray linen skirt, a white blouse, and sensible flat shoes. Was it too casual? Should she go for the floral print dress? Or switch back to the light blue skirt? Half her wardrobe was spread out over her bed, unceremoniously ripped from hangers for an impromptu one-person fashion show.

Her clothes were fine. But should she put on makeup? She'd been blessed with long, dark lashes, neat brows, and a clear complexion and rarely felt the need to wear any at all. Would Sarek notice? Would he care?

She blew a lock of hair out of her eyes and sighed. It was growing out; it was at an unruly stage where her bangs were long enough to hang in her face but not quite long enough to tuck behind her ears. She'd cut it off on a whim several months earlier and initially she'd enjoyed the convenience of having short tresses, but now it was starting to look unkempt.

She could cut it all off again or she could opt to have it synthetically lengthened. Sarek might not notice a touch of mascara, but he would definitely notice if she suddenly had hair that flowed down to the middle of her back. Would he find that attractive?

She blushed furiously, just as she always did when she wondered what Sarek might think about trivial things like her hair or makeup. It seemed unlikely that the Vulcan man would care much about anyone's looks at all, including his own. Of course he was always clean-shaven and tidy and his clothes were always neatly pressed, but the idea of him preening or fussing over his appearance was laughable. No doubt it was also illogical. Almost as illogical as taking him to the Tarleton Theater's Sunday horror matinee.

She'd started to second-guess her decision to take him to see Friday the 13th, but she was also genuinely curious how he would respond to a horror story. She had a hard time imagining how he would respond to any kind of Terran fiction. During their first meeting, he'd told her of several noteworthy pieces of Vulcan literature, but Vulcans didn't seem to have the same fondness for storytelling that humans or Andorians did. It seemed to her that Vulcan fiction was probably utilitarian, moralistic, and… logical.

"I look fine," she told her reflection. "I look just fine."

She scooped up her worn canvas bag from the chair by the hallway and set off for the theater. Tarleton Theater was only 12 blocks from her house on a moderately busy side street and it was a beautiful day for walking. She arrived at 1248, purchased two tickets, and then waited impatiently for Sarek to arrive.

Her heart picked up speed as she saw the large, familiar consular vehicle pull into the loading zone and deposit Sarek onto the sidewalk. It was a chore not to blush and grin.

"Good afternoon," he said, turning to face her.

"Are you ready to see a movie?"

"Was that not the purpose of your invitation?"

"It was," she admitted, pivoting on her heel to march through the wide double doors into the lobby.

They entered a cavernous room covered floor to ceiling in restored film posters of the 20th and 21st centuries, bearing names like Casablanca, Star Wars, and The Godfather. Some sported the grinning faces of cartoons and smitten images of lovers. Amanda couldn't help but think Sarek could spend the rest of his life learning about humanity at this small cinema in Oakland.

Amanda usually only came here with her sister Clarissa, but it had been months since her sister had come to town. The last film they'd seen had been Titanic. Or had it been Dirty Dancing? She couldn't remember, but it had definitely been romance. Clarissa loved romance, and Amanda loved just about everything else.

She had never seen Friday the 13th, but she'd sat through enough other scary films and holomovies to know the routine. The violence followed predictable patterns and the antagonists' motives never made much sense. The horror genre had become immensely popular in recent years, along with urban legends and serial killer stories.

"I don't suppose you want to try popcorn?" she asked, glancing at the concessions stand.

"Pop corn?" he asked, placing unusual emphasis on the first word.

"Well, you remember corn from the grocery store? There's a variety of it that pops when you heat it. It makes a fluffy sort of… well, popcorn. Food."

"I had thought you intended to watch a film," he replied.

"Yeah, I did. I do, that is. But a lot of people enjoy eating snacks while they watch movies and holomovies."

"If it is the custom, then-"

"It's not a custom," she interrupted with a laugh. "It's completely optional. I was teasing anyway, because people eat popcorn with their hands."

Sarek cocked his head. He seemed so uncertain. "I defer to your judgment."

"If I got popcorn, you would try it?" she asked, unable to keep the surprise from her voice.

"I was under the impression the purpose of our outings was cultural immersion. It is logical to accept that small concessions must occasionally be made."

Amanda blinked several times. "Um, well, I'll get a small bucket then."

They wandered over to the self-serve concessions booth and Sarek immediately began studying the popcorn machine.

"Do you want anything to drink?" she asked over her shoulder.

"Water will be acceptable, thank you."

Amanda smiled at his casual tone. It was almost friendly. His social graces were still rough around the edges, but he'd come a long way since that first meeting at Piedmont Academy.

"Popcorn appears to be quite similar to fried nei-eku," he said, turning from the machine to face her.

"Remind me what nei-eku is again."

"It is a grain with a coarse shell native to Vulcan. When heated to high temperatures, the water and oils inside the kernel attempt to change phase to vapor but cannot due to the pressure exerted by the seed coat. At a certain pressure, the kernel ruptures and is turned inside out and the starches within expand and are rapidly cooled."

"Your ability to explain the mundane in such incredible detail is really impressive," she said, offering him the cup of water she'd poured for him.

"Why do you consider this process mundane?"

She thought to herself for a few seconds. "I guess it isn't, really. I think that's why I enjoy teaching so much: children see everything with fresh eyes and appreciate a lot of things I haven't bothered to think about in years. Like the majesty of popcorn popping."

"Do you intend to imply I have the mind of a child?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Ugh, no," she sighed. "I'm saying I think it's refreshing that you admire little things. And also impressive that you know so much about them."

"I see."

She held out the small bucket of popcorn in her hand. "Have a bite."

He stared at her offering. "It is intended to be consumed in this manner?"

Amanda gingerly grabbed a piece and tossed it into her mouth. "How else would you eat it?"

"Nei-eku is typically served with a thick stew," he explained, glancing over her shoulder. "Furthermore, there appear to be complimentary utensils available."

She turned to see what he was looking at and shrugged. "I don't suppose there's any rule against eating popcorn with a fork."

They grabbed utensils and napkins on their way into the theater and they entered the room just as the lights were dimming, which forced Amanda to explain that movies were generally watched in the dark in public viewings to enhance the experience. There were ten other people scattered throughout the theater and Amanda scanned the room to figure out where to sit.

"Any seating preferences?" she asked.

"I have observed that in an enclosed space in situations were socialization is not the primary purpose, humans have a tendency to migrate toward spaces approximately two-thirds of the maximum distance away from other unfamiliar humans. When this is no longer possible due to growing occupancy, they arrange themselves equidistantly from one another until that too becomes impossible. Given those parameters and the geometry of this room, we have three possible options."

He pointed to seats in the very first row and on the left and right sides of the upper balcony. Amanda wasn't really sure what to say. Leave it to Sarek to assign formal rules to an unwritten human social rule. Still, she was impressed that he'd noticed such a simple thing. Maybe he didn't need as much help as she'd always thought.

"I guess up there will be fine," she replied, pointing to the balcony on the right.

As they took their seats, the theater went completely dark and the enormous screen at the front of the room illuminated. She suddenly felt self-conscious, sitting so close to him in the dark. She set her water in the cup holder on the armrest and drummed her fingers on the bucket of popcorn.

"Do you want to try some?" she whispered, shifting the popcorn in his direction.

After several failed attempts, he scooped a piece onto a fork and delivered it to his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully for a moment before quietly saying, "It tastes primarily of a salt compound."

"Well, yeah, plain popcorn doesn't taste like much of anything. People put salt, artificial butter, and all kinds of seasoning on it to make it more tasty."

The movie began with a burst of ominous music and Amanda took a deep breath and turned her attention to the screen. It started innocuously enough with a group of camp counselors singing a spiritual song and several young people sneaking away to pursue more amorous activities.

She gazed straight ahead, wondering what Sarek thought about this pair of promiscuous teens. When an unknown assailant suddenly murdered the on-screen duo, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye and glanced over to see Sarek staring at her. As usual, his facial features were poised and relaxed, but even in the dark room she could detect an odd expression in his eyes. It almost looked accusatory.

"Watch the movie," she whispered, nodding in the direction of the screen and feeling like she was going to regret this choice of film.

It continued on, following the typical pattern of most horror and slasher style stories. Young people ignored spooky warnings and were picked off one by one with axes and arrows before the killer was revealed as a woman named Pamela Voorhees, the mother of the boy who had drowned in the lake years earlier. The lone survivor Annie managed to escape in a canoe, and then in a surprising but not atypical twist, the boy's decomposing body emerged from the lake and dragged her into the water. The movie concluded as all horror movies did — with an open ending that would allow for many more incarnations.

Amanda had felt Sarek's eyes on her at various points during the film and she'd sensed he wanted to discuss various aspects of the story with her. In all fairness, parts of the plot were utterly ridiculous, so ridiculous in fact that it seemed to be testing his Vulcan discipline to keep his mouth shut. But he managed it beautifully.

She'd also found it impossible not to cast subtle glances at him out of the corner of her eye. It had actually been more entertaining to watch Sarek watch the story unfold. He was a master of controlling his emotions, but like his human counterparts, the same microexpressions still formed at the corners of his mouth and eyes and in his brows. When the credits began to scroll across the screen and the lights came back on, his craned his neck to look at her. She had no word for the expression on his face.

"So what did you think?" she asked, hoping he didn't think less of her for bringing him to see this film.

"I do not know," he replied, much to her astonishment.

"I've never seen you rendered speechless," she laughed, fumbling with the nearly empty bucket of popcorn.

"If I understand the plot correctly, Friday the 13th is the story of a mother seeking vengeance for the drowning death of her son by mutilating and murdering those in close proximity to the location where the drowning occurred 22 years earlier."

"That sums it up pretty nicely," Amanda admitted with a frown.

"Revenge is illogical. Furthermore, if Mrs. Voorhees' ultimate goal was to prevent the reopening of the camp, she could have saved herself quite a bit of effort had she just murdered the camp's owner."

"But then the movie would only be about 15 minutes long," Amanda argued. "And she did kill Steve, the camp's owner, in the end. Besides, I think she was trying to play up the whole death curse angle."

"The concept of a curse is also illogical. It is a reversal of the fallacy of the maturity of chances to conclude that one drowning and a double homicide a year later constitute a higher likelihood of additional deaths occurring in the future. But if one were to accept this as evidence of a curse, the single death of the camp's owner would be just as likely to be attributed to this phenomenon as the deaths of seven individuals."

"Fair enough," Amanda replied. "What else did you learn about humanity?"

"I had believed this production was fictional."

"It is," she explained.

"Then there seems to be more value in studying why humans would be so fascinated with this film rather than the behavior of the characters."

"I think there are things to be learned from both."

"Do all humans behave so irrationally when faced with danger?" he asked.

"People in bad situations respond in all kinds of unpredictable ways."

"Do they completely lose their sense of balance?" he asked. "At the beginning of the film, Annie gets into a vehicle with someone she doesn't know and upon realizing that person intends to do her harm, she attempts to escape into the forest and falls repeatedly. On numerous occasions, she stumbles when there is no physical object impeding her efforts."

"It's an old horror movie cliché," Amanda admitted. "I don't think anyone ever actually escapes when running away from a killer with a knife."

"But she makes no attempt to defend herself. Nor do any of the other characters. When Alice and Bill grow suspicious of their companions' disappearances and find a bloody axe in Brenda's bed, they don't seem concerned with discovering whose blood is on it and don't seem to consider retaining the axe for self-defense. Additionally, why would the killer leave it for them to discover at all?"

"The psychological aspect of it, I suppose. Finding a bloody axe in your friend's bed has to be unsettling."

"But the killer could not know they wouldn't take it," he countered. "It seems highly illogical to leave a weapon for the very people one is attempting to kill."

"It's not logical, but neither is killing, right?" Amanda laughed. "I think you sort of have to suspend logic and accept the story for what it is."

Sarek uttered a slight sigh. "The other patrons appear to be leaving, perhaps we should do the same."

They wandered out of the theater and back into the main lobby and Amanda started to feel anxious. She was just starting to think he would think less of her for bringing him to this Sunday afternoon matinee when he said, "Thank you for your invitation today. You have given me much to consider."

"How so?"

"When Vulcans first discovered your planet and its people, humans were considered a barbaric species. You initiated wars and killed one another with impunity, but your society has long since moved beyond such things."

"I like to think so," Amanda agreed. "But how does that relate to Friday the 13th?"

"You had said this production was but one of many in an entire genre devoted to killing and fear," he responded, stopping to study a poster from a film called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Amanda stood next to him, looking at the image of a man in a frightening mask wielding some kind of antiquated cutting device in front of a woman hanging from a trestle. "Yeah, there are a lot of movies, holomovies, books, plays, and other art forms devoted to fear and violence."

"The human fascination with this genre suggests humanity has transcended its tendency toward committing violence, but has done so through synthetic pursuits like this film."

He turned on his heel and headed for the main exit and held the door for Amanda. They stepped into the warm afternoon and wandered toward the sidewalk.

"Do you really think I have a lot of hidden violent tendencies?" she blurted, crossing her arms and looking him in the eye.

"Do I believe you would murder people out of some misplaced need for revenge? No. But it would be illogical to claim you lacked the capacity for violence. All sentient creatures are capable of violence. Vulcans are no exception."

She chuckled to herself and uncrossed her arms. "I have a hard time picturing you killing someone."

"There are very few circumstances in which killing is logical, but sometimes it is the most appropriate course of action."

"You told me at the museum that it would be logical to lie if it might save someone's life, so I'm guessing murder would fall into the same category," she mused.

"Precisely. Lying and murder are never preferable, but sometimes they are necessary."

"Well, this is certainly a very dark subject," she groaned, looking at the cars driving by.

She saw him pull his PADD from the breast pocket of his outer jacket and had a sudden thought. "Are you calling a car to take you back to the consulate?"

"I am. Do you also require transportation?"

"No, I was only trying to ask if you would you be interested in joining me for a late lunch or early dinner at my house."

He glanced up from his device. Several agonizing seconds passed as the gears of his mind considered her offer, but much to her relief and private excitement he replied, "I accept."

"Wonderful," she grinned. "I only live a short distance away; I actually walked here. We could walk or I could call a cab. It's up to you."

"I leave the decision to you."

"Then let's walk. We can discuss the movie some more on the way."

They headed for her house and she listened as Sarek dissected various absurdities in the plot and the irrational actions of the film's characters. He pointed out that it would be impossible for Mrs. Voorhees to throw Brenda's body through a window, an event that sent Alice screaming from the cabin, and then appear in the next scene approaching the cabin in a vehicle with Annie's body in the passenger seat. Amanda pointed out that her son Jason might have been acting as her accomplice, which prompted him to argue that no one could survive underwater for 22 years. He was in the middle of pointing out that none of the other characters seemed concerned that Annie had never arrived at the camp when they began to pass a large park.

"Is shedding one's clothing a frequently used gambling tactic among your species?" Sarek asked suddenly.

Amanda cringed slightly, remembering the most awkward scene in the movie. "I take it you're referring to that silly strip Monopoly game?"

"Yes."

"I've heard of strip poker, but I guess the concept could be adapted to any kind of game. I've never played anything like it though, so no, I wouldn't say it's a frequently used gambling tactic or whatever. I think it's just something bored teens would do to get attention from the opposite sex."

He fell silent and looked straight ahead. What must he be thinking? Amanda turned her attentions to the park on her left. Families were doing what families so often did on Sunday afternoons when the weather was nice — they were picnicking and playing. Adults sat on benches and blankets and children chased each other across fields and playgrounds. It was a delightfully picturesque scene.

An insect buzzed by her head and she waved it away. Moments later, she heard young boys laughing. The second-grade teacher in her immediately recognized their giggles as belonging to the variety that often stemmed from poor decisions and sure enough, she soon spied three boys poking something in a tree with a long stick.

"What are you boys doing?" she called, feeling a flash of anger at the thought that they were tormenting some poor animal that they'd cornered on a tree branch.

"Nothing," two of them cried in unison, whipping around.

The third boy ignored her and continued to probe something with the stick in his hand. She lengthened her stride and saw Sarek follow suit out of the corner of her eye. They were only a few meters away when Amanda discovered the target of their harassment wasn't some defenseless kitten or opossum, but a nest of hornets.

A moment later, the large nest came crashing to the ground, sending an army of incensed insects flying in all directions. Amanda shied away but was too slow. The first stings landed on her forearm, sending fire racing all the way up to her shoulder.

"Run," she yelled to no one in particular.

She and Sarek sprinted ahead and when they stumbled to a stop half a block later, Amanda could already feel the swelling beginning in her arms and neck. It itched terribly, and even though she knew from experience she wasn't allergic to beestings, she wondered if the same was true for hornets.

"Are you ok?" she gasped, looking around for Sarek.

Things started moving in slow motion. Sarek was on his knees, clutching his stomach and choking. His face was covered in light green splotches that seemed to be growing darker with each passing second.

"Sarek?" she shrieked.

"Call… help…" he wheezed.

She upended the contents of her bag onto the sidewalk in a frantic search for her PADD. Several passersby stopped to see if everything was ok, but Amanda didn't know what to tell them. She started crying just as Sarek lost consciousness and seconds later, they disappeared into a matter stream.


Sarek opened his eyes and glanced around the room. What little he could see of the room, anyway. He was naked to the waist and encased in a biobed. There was a thin, adhesive device covering his lower left abdomen, presumably to monitor his heartbeat, which currently felt sluggish.

Amanda's face popped into view through the biobed's large domed window. He fought nibbling embarrassment at the idea of her seeing him in such a compromised state and without a shirt. Her face was swollen and her eyes were red and she speaking to someone at the other end of the room. Suddenly a speaker hummed and her voice rang through the biobed's chamber. "Sarek? Are you ok? How are you feeling?"

He did not know his current status, other than that he was exhausted, had a mild headache, and was entombed in a biobed that appeared to be delivering a higher concentration of nitrogen and oxygen gas than typically found in Earth's atmosphere. A man appeared over Amanda's shoulder. He was dressed in a white coat and holding a PADD in his hand. "Mr. Sarek? I'm Dr. Fletcher. Do you know where you are?"

"In a medical facility, I presume."

The doctor nodded and glanced at the PADD in his hand. He could see Amanda interrogating the man but she'd disengaged the communications unit to the biobed and he could no longer hear her words. He watched the movement of her mouth and the frantic look in her eyes. Why was she so agitated?

The doctor nodded to her and turned back to the biobed and the speaker crackled again. "Mr. Sarek, do you remember what happened?"

"Miss Grayson and I were swarmed by a large number of flying insects. I presume their venom is particularly detrimental to Vulcan biochemistry."

"Something like that," the doctor replied. "I've been consulting with a Vulcan Starfleet doctor over in San Francisco for the last hour and a local entomologist trying to figure out how best to treat you, but I think we've got this under control. Your vital signs are improving. You're ok for now."

"Ok is a highly imprecise and subjective term," Sarek replied.

"True enough," Dr. Fletcher said through a thin lipped smile. "I want to confer with Dr. Velik one more time before I take you off the high-flow oxygen, so sit tight."

"Sit tight?" he asked, seeking clarification for the odd euphemism.

"He means wait," Amanda scowled, biting her lip. "As if you could go anywhere."

Dr. Fletcher left and Amanda took a seat in a chair next to his bed. She pressed the communication button and said, "I'm so sorry."

"Why do you apologize? You are not at fault for what has happened."

"I'm the one who said we should walk to my house, I'm the one who stopped to scold those boys."

"And while both of those decisions ultimately led to our attack, neither one was made for the sole purpose of causing me injury. You could not have foreseen how events would unfold. As I recall, you were stung a number of times as well."

"Yeah, well apparently human biology is better at coping with hornet venom than Vulcan biology. I was starting to wonder if humans did anything better than Vulcans and now I have my answer."

"It is not surprising you were less affected, given you co-evolved on the same planet as these insects."

"I'm just so glad you're ok. I was terrified. I wanted to call someone, but I realized you're the only Vulcan I know."

"You met Admiral Voras at yesterday's luncheon," he reminded her.

"You know what I mean," she sighed. "I didn't know if I should call someone at the consulate or find a way to get a hold of your family."

"No one in my family or at the consulate is a medical professional," he replied. "Therefore it would have been illogical to consult them."

"You don't know, do you?" she asked, a puzzled look winding its way across her face. "Sarek, you literally died. Your heart stopped beating. You were dead for several minutes."

Her considered her revelation. "How long ago did the incident occur?"

"I don't know. About an hour ago? Maybe longer? Someone called emergency services and we were transported here. I've always been terrified of transporters, but if this hospital didn't have emergency transporter technology, I don't think you'd still be alive."

"Where are we?"

"A hospital in Oakland."

He knew if he remained in the hospital much longer he would need to inform T'Lera of his whereabouts, but decided to wait until the doctor returned and could give him better information regarding his prognosis.

"Were you injured?" he asked, looking at Amanda's red and puffy face. She certainly looked as though she'd also had a severe reaction to the stings.

"I'm fine. They gave me a dose of antihistamine as a precaution."

"Then why is the skin around your eyes and nose inflamed?"

She scoffed and shook her head. "Probably because I've been crying non-stop for the last hour."

"Why?"

"Because I thought you were going to die," she snapped, her voice suddenly hostile.

"Your tears would not have altered the outcome," he replied.

"I don't care if tears are illogical," she retorted, her face growing even redder. "I care about you."

Her confession stunned him. He strongly suspected from briefly touching her fingers on the Ferris wheel that she harbored mild romantic feelings for him, but no Vulcan would express such open affection for another, unless they were a close relation or mate. He was deliberating the best way to reply when Dr. Fletcher returned and hit a button at the foot of the biobed, causing the top portion to retract. Cool air flowed across his face and it took several seconds to adjust to the change in atmosphere.

"Could you give us a moment please?" the doctor asked Amanda.

She frowned and asked, "Is he going to be ok?"

"Yes, I think so," Dr. Fletcher replied. "There's a waiting room down at the end of the hall with beverages, if you're interested. This will only be a minute."

Amanda glanced at Sarek and furrowed her brow. He wondered what the doctor wanted to discuss with him that he couldn't say in front of Amanda. She slinked out of the room and though Sarek was grateful the doctor had chosen to err on the side of caution and protect his privacy, he still disliked seeing her go.

"So Mr. Sarek, I was discussing your chart with Dr. Velik and he'd like to perform his own exam. He'll be here within the hour."

"What is the matter?"

"You're stable for now but you seem to have an unusual arrhythmia. I thought it might be the result of the modified antihistamines we gave you or maybe even the hornet venom, but Dr. Velik doesn't think so."

"I received a medical examination four months ago and my heart readings were normal."

"I'll be honest with you, Mr. Sarek, I'm not well versed in Vulcan biology and anything else I could say would just be pure speculation, but Dr. Velik seems to think there's cause for concern and I'm inclined to trust his judgment, given he's apparently been practicing medicine twice as long as I've been alive."

"I see. Thank you for your assistance, Dr. Fletcher."

"That's really all I have. Like I said, Dr. Velik will be here soon and we'll know more then. In the meantime, a nurse should be by shortly to take another blood sample. Did you want me to send your friend back in?"

"Yes, thank you," Sarek replied. "May I put my shirt back on?"

"We cut your shirt off when you arrived, but I could probably get you a gown or blanket."

Sarek uttered a soft sigh. "That will be unnecessary."

"Do you have anyone who could bring you a spare set of clothes?"

Sarek considered the various staff at the consulate. He was acquainted with them all, but not familiar enough with anyone to be comfortable with the idea of them entering his quarters and sifting through his clothing. Yet it would be highly inappropriate to leave the hospital without a shirt.

"I shall attend to the matter," Sarek replied.

The doctor nodded and left the room; he was barely through the threshold when Amanda reappeared. "Is everything ok?"

"Ok is a very-"

"Imprecise term," she finished. "I know. But what's wrong?"

"The doctor has asked me to wait for a Vulcan healer to perform an examination."

"But you're going to be ok, right?"

Why did she insist on using that inexact colloquialism? "I do not know."

Her face grew pale and moisture glistened at the corners of her eyes. "Did the hornets do some kind of permanent damage?"

"My condition does not appear to be related to the incident this afternoon," he replied.

She slumped down into the chair by his bed and bit her lip. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Perhaps you could locate my PADD," he replied.

"Oh, yeah, I have it," she said, reaching into her brown bag and producing his communications device.

He flipped through the day's consular schedule and soon realized that even if he were comfortable with the idea of asking Varen or Tavik to bring him a shirt, both were engaged for the evening.

"Are you hungry? Thirsty? Can I get you anything?"

Sarek glanced up from his PADD and studied her face. He was hungry, thirty, and in need of a shirt, but it would be highly inappropriate to ask a female who was neither his mate nor professionally obligated to provide him with such things. Yet his options were limited.

"I do not wish to impose upon you, but the physicians destroyed my shirt in their efforts to preserve my life."

"Yes," she said, her face reddening. "I can get you a shirt. There's a replicator shop right down the corner that's probably still open."

"I am willing to reimburse you for the expense," he explained.

"It's no trouble," she insisted, rising to her feet. "I'll be right back."

He was unsure what style of clothing Amanda would return with, but he didn't see that he was in much of a position to make excessive demands. A short time after her departure, a young nurse who bore a remarkable resemblance to Amanda came and collected two vials of blood and ten minutes after that, an orderly deposited a tray of food by his bedside.

At least it was logical to deduce it was food, given the orderly had said it was time for dinner when he'd entered the room. Sarek probed a brown meat-like substance with a plastic fork before opting to take a small bite of the whitish paste slathered in brown soup in another compartment on the food tray. It was edible, but nothing more.

Amanda eventually returned carrying two bags — one with a black shirt that was nearly identical to the one he'd been wearing and the other with a bowl of creamy red soup and crackers. He gazed at her offerings, fascinated by her unique instinct to secure his comfort.

"I am very grateful to you," he murmured as he watched her set the food out on his bedside table. "You did not need to trouble yourself with securing a meal for me."

"I didn't need to: I wanted to," she insisted. "You were on your way to my house for dinner when everything sort of fell apart. And besides, I saw the orderly's cart on my way out and figured there was no way you were going to eat a Salisbury steak."

He took a bite of the soup, marveling at the rich texture and flavors.

"How is it?" she asked.

"It is very palatable," he replied, emptying the small package of crackers into the liquid. "What is this dish called?"

"Tomato soup?" she shrugged, pulling the shirt from the other bag and holding it up in front of him. "I hope this fits. You're very tall, but I think I have a pretty good knack for sizing."

Sarek caught Amanda's eye. A niggling emotion pressed at him and though he made an attempt to subdue it, it was astonishingly difficult to do. It was not the first time she'd caused him to experience emotions. He recalled his jealousy at seeing her engaged in deep conversation with Admiral Voras and his agitation when other males had looked at her long, bare legs on the day she'd taken him to the Around the World Festival. He remembered their finger embrace on the Ferris wheel and the tingling sensation when she'd touched his arm at the reception.

He took another bite of the soup. As the delicious broth slid down his throat, he thought of her earlier remark. "I care about you," she'd said.

He watched her fold the shirt at the foot of the biobed and glanced at the soup she'd brought. He gazed at her face. Her features were usually occupied by some passing emotion — her eyes had a tendency to glow when she laughed or when she challenged one of his assertions — but right now her face was soft and bore no obvious expression. Her eyes eventually drifted in his direction. "Sarek?"

"Yes?" he asked, swallowing hard.

"Is everything alright?"

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

"You're looking at me all weird. Did I do something wrong?"

"No," he replied quickly. "I merely wish to thank you for your generosity."

"Earlier you told me you were grateful. Wouldn't it be illogical to thank me twice?" Sarek blinked several times and she burst into laughter. "I was only teasing you, Sarek."

"I see," he said, his voice barely rising above a whisper.

"Are you sure you're ok? You seem… I don't know… off in some way."

He realized there was only one logical deduction, given the weight of the evidence. Amanda Grayson cared for him and he cared for her. He more than cared.

Chapter Text

"Thank you again, Sarek," Dr. Tarkington said, clearly fighting to avoid shaking his hand on instinct. "These magnetic constrictor designs are a game changer."

He was unsure to which game she was referring, but he nodded and simply replied, "You are welcome."

"So, I'll reach out to the people at the Gol Research Institute tomorrow and hopefully we can get a joint project going. Thanks for your advice on getting the ball rolling with that too. I don't see why we couldn't reduce the size of the current antimatter reactor by at least forty percent. Do you realize what this means? We could be looking at a future of affordable, warp capable private vehicles. It just boggles the mind."

Sarek had noticed Helene Tarkington had a habit of speaking more quickly when she was excited, which seemed to happen whenever she spoke of matter/anti-matter reactors. Due to his increasingly demanding schedule and health issues, he'd been forced to postpone touring her laboratory until that Thursday afternoon.

"I wish you could stay longer, but I understand you're busy," Dr. Tarkington said, following him out of the building and walking with him to the street.

Sarek would have preferred to stay and take an extended tour of her laboratory as well — many of the advancements she'd made in the past five years were far beyond anything even the Vulcan Science Academy had produced — but he was due to meet with Dr. Veilk at the Starfleet Central Hospital in precisely one hour. Given Dr. Tarkington's laboratory was located in Amanda's district of Oakland and traffic patterns on Earth were nearly impossible to predict with a great degree of accuracy, he preferred to give himself ample time to reach his destination.

"Do not hesitate to contact me, should you have any additional questions or require assistance with coordinating with Vulcan agencies," Sarek remarked, nodding to her as the consular vehicle pulled up to the curb.

"Sure, I have your info," she said, grinning. "What is it your people say? Live long and prosper?"

Sarek nodded and raised his hand in the ta'al and replied, "Live long and prosper indeed, Dr. Tarkington."

As the vehicle pulled back into traffic, Sarek attempted to focus on his upcoming appointment. Dr. Velik had examined him at the hospital in Oakland 11 days earlier, and after reviewing his symptoms and medical records, diagnosed him with damage to one or more of his heart valves that had likely occurred following a bacterial infection he'd had at the age of 22.

Though he'd undergone a medical examination prior to arriving on Earth, Dr. Velik had explained that standard examination protocols would not have detected minor heart damage and that Sarek's condition likely could have gone undetected for many more years, had it not been for his body's severe reaction to the hornet venom. Dr. Velik theorized the combination of sudden exertion from attempting to flee the attack and the vasoconstriction caused by his body's response to the hornet venom had induced sudden cardiac arrest.

Sarek glanced out the window and gently fingered the small silicone monitor adhered to the lower left side of his abdomen. To make a better assessment of the damage, Dr. Velik had prescribed him benjisidrine, given him the heart monitor, and instructed him to go about his daily activities while Dr. Velik periodically monitored the readings from his office in San Francisco. Now Sarek was en route to receive the results.

Sarek had done considerable research about his condition during the past 11 days. It would be illogical to worry, but equally illogical to remain uninformed about a serious health issue. There was a possibility he would require immediate and very hazardous surgery to replace the defective valves, but there was also the possibility his condition could be managed with minor changes to his lifestyle and medication as necessary. It simply depended upon the results he would receive shortly.

Tavik turned the car left onto a broad thoroughfare and Sarek quickly recognized they were near Amanda's school. Though his heart had occupied his thoughts during the past few days, Amanda had completely dominated them. She had stayed with him at the hospital until Dr. Velik arrived, at which point he had insisted she return home. He had also been unable to spend the previous Sunday with her, as per their informal arrangement, due to his duties at the consulate.

He missed her. It was irrational to long for a female who was not his mate, a human female, no less, but the longer he spent apart from her, the more he desired her company. Amanda Grayson was an exceptional person, but the idea of developing a bond with a human woman was highly unorthodox.

Though still rare, interspecies marriages became more common with each passing decade. In his youth, one of his father's aides had married a Rigelian woman he had met during his posting to Rigel V, and they had invited Sarek's family to the wedding. Skon had declined to attend, citing a scheduling conflict with his diplomatic duties, but the family had sent an appropriate gift.

Aside from that one instance during his childhood, Sarek had never given much consideration to the complexities of interspecies matrimony. He found himself thinking of it more often in recent days.

How easily could Vulcans reproduce with members of other species? The data was too sparse to be meaningful. Was it possible for Vulcans to form consequential mating bonds with humans? He had been able to calm her on the Ferris wheel and sense her emotions through their finger embrace, but that was markedly different from sharing a telepathic mating bond. Without that, how could a female of another species help a Vulcan male adequately manage pon farr? He was uncertain. Amanda evidently harbored some affection for him, but to what degree? What were her opinions on interspecies marriage? He did not know. What were his? Undetermined.

One thing he was certain of, however, was that Vulcans lived longer than of any other Federation member species, on average. He had done copious research the night before.

The average human lived approximately 109.4 years, though modern medical advances had allowed many humans to live well beyond that. Currently the longest lived human was still alive and had reached the age of 130.1 years, but physiologically, scientists believed that they were nearing the upper limit of possibility for extending human life in a physiological sense. Human DNA was simply too unstable and prone to error, and even with enormous medical intervention and organ replacement, there were no viable options for preserving the biological integrity of the human mind beyond approximately 140 years.

It had led to centuries of debate among humans about what life truly was, as technology advanced and allowed biologically sentient species to upload their consciousness into computers. It was strange how humans clung to the notion that a longer life was directly proportional to a better life. A long and prosperous life was an admirable achievement for any sentient species, but an infinite life was no life at all. While many Vulcans elected to preserve their katras, that was not the same thing as continuing a sentient existence.

Though artificially preserving the mind via computers was a fascinating concept in ethics and philosophy, it wasn't really the focus of his predicament. Barring some profound breakthrough in medical technology or creative interpretation of life through artificial means, humans currently only lived an average of 109.4 years, Vulcans, 201.8 years, measured in Federation Standard years. By the Federation calendar, Sarek was 61.8 years of age and Amanda was approximately 25. While that made her the equivalent of a 46.1 year-old Vulcan female — a suitable marriageable and reproductive age — they would still live along different trajectories. Assuming they both lived an average lifespan, Sarek would outlive Amanda by approximately 50 years. It was a simple fact of biology.

Then again, should he receive a poor prognosis from Dr. Velik, Amanda could well outlive him. Anxiety pooled in his stomach and he closed his eyes and took a deep breath to center himself. He reopened his eyes when the vehicle slowed and noting that Tavik had stopped for several people to cross the street, he looked to his right and observed they were directly in front of Amanda's school. Not only that, but Amanda was waiting at the same shuttle stop where she had sheltered him from the rain with her umbrella.

Tavik engaged the accelerator and they started to jump forward, but Sarek asked him to stop. He engaged the window release and leaned over to speak with her. Amanda was staring at something in the distance and still unaware of his presence, so he called to her. "Amanda?"

Her head snapped forward and her eyes focused on him, and in the following seconds, her face contorted with obvious exuberance. "Sarek? What are you doing here?"

"I am en route to San Francisco from Dr. Tarkington's laboratory. Do you require transportation home?"

Her mouth hung open. She was clearly deliberating his offer, but she quickly smiled and asked, "Are you sure? Do you have time? I don't want to be any trouble."

"Your home is on the way to my destination. It would be no inconvenience."

"Ok then," she agreed, smiling warmly.

She walked toward the car, but he exited and held the door for her. "This was really nice of you, thank you. And thank you, Tavik."

"It is my duty," Tavik responded.

"To drive him, maybe," she said, pointing to Sarek with her thumb. "But not me. So thank you."

"You are welcome, Miss Grayson," Tavik replied.

"So how have you been?" she asked, turning to Sarek. "I haven't talked to you much since the hospital. I've been worried."

Worry was illogical, but Amanda was not a logical creature. Tavik initiated the privacy divider, for which Sarek was grateful.

"So have you heard back from your doctor about your condition?" she pressed.

"I have not," he answered honestly. "Yet I am currently alive."

He considered telling her of his pending appointment with Dr. Velik, but it would be indelicate to speak of such things to a woman who was not his mate and would likely cause her additional worry. She had cried on his behalf at the hospital. He reasoned that telling her would only upset her further, so he decided to employ a tactic she frequently used and alter the course of their conversation.

"I met with Dr. Tarkington earlier," he said, making eye contact with her.

"Oh right! You'd said that! How is she doing? How did it go?"

"She is receptive to the idea of working with Vulcan scientists. I am grateful for your introduction."

"I met her practically the same time you did," she reminded him. "I think pretty much all the credit for your success there belongs to you. Anyway, it seems like you're staying busy."

"Yes. I regret I was unable to meet with you this Sunday past."

"It's ok," she shrugged. "I can't expect to see you every weekend. And I got some much needed and belated spring cleaning done and tinkered around with a graduate school application, so it wasn't a total loss."

"You intend to continue with your education?" he asked.

"I don't know," she sighed. "If this Andorian teacher exchange program doesn't come through, I'd like to do something to keep improving myself. A master's degree doesn't sound like the worst idea, though I still have no idea when I'll find the time."

The thought of Amanda leaving for Andoria troubled him, and while he endeavored to suppress that unpleasant emotion, he turned his mind to he subject of how to proceed with Amanda Grayson. He had no interest in pursuing a woman he ultimately would not or could not bond with, so perhaps it would be sensible to end his contact with her.

Yet Amanda had proven herself to be not only a valuable ally and advisor in human affairs, but also a genuine friend. Their partnership had endured naturally thus far, so how had the realization that he cared for her altered the paradigm of their friendship? In truth, it hadn't. Perhaps things could continue as they always had, and he would simply have to find a way to suppress his affection.

"I don't suppose you're free this coming Sunday?" she asked, a pink color rising in her cheeks.

"I believe I am," he responded, sensing she was seeking to engage him in some activity.

"Well… do you want to do something?"

He noted the vehicle had turned into her neighborhood. "What did you have in mind?"

"I picked the last thing we did, remember? And I doubt you really enjoyed Friday the 13th anyway, so maybe you could decide this time. If you want."

"We had scheduled a tour of Alameda Beach before our diversion to the Around the World Festival," he suggested. "Perhaps we should make a second attempt."

"The beach sounds lovely," she said, flashing him a smile. "Should I meet you there at our usual time? 1000 hours?"

"That will be acceptable."

The car came to a stop in front of her home. "Then I'll see you on Sunday. And you will tell me what the doctor says, if it's anything serious?" she insisted, scowling as she opened the door.

He cocked his head and stared at her.

"What, you thought I didn't notice you changed the subject earlier?"

"I shall inform you if I have reason to believe my death is imminent," he replied.

Her scowl deepened and she sighed and rolled her eyes. "That's all I ask."

He was glad they had reached a mutual arrangement on the subject of information about his health. She shut the rear door and knocked on the front passenger window to wave farewell to Tavik, who seemed puzzled by her excessive friendliness. Sarek watched her proceed up the sidewalk to her front door, feeling conflicted about their plans to meet on Sunday.

It troubled him that he longed to be in her presence. Their initial meetings had been much like any other voluntary diplomatic task — he had gone partly out of mild curiosity, but mainly because he had believed it prudent. Nothing more.

No matter how much he meditated or attempted to subdue his emotions, nothing would alter the fact that he now met with Amanda because he very much wanted to.


Amanda's eyes scanned the PADD, and with each correct answer, her eyebrows rose a little higher. She turned to look at Richard. "You got every single one right on your first try."

He shrugged, offering a smug smile. She lifted her hand to give him a high five, which he readily returned. "Math isn't so bad."

"I don't know what clicked for you, but this is really good work, Richard. Really good. I'm so proud of you. I told you if you just stuck with it, you'd get it eventually."

"Mr. Sarek helped me," he confessed.

"Sarek? My Vulcan friend?"

"Yeah, when he was over here that day, he showed me some tricks or something. Made it make more sense."

"Can you show me what he showed you?"

"I don't know," Richard grumbled. "It's kind of like thinking about the numbers like they're letters and making a story, but it's not a story, you know?"

"He taught you to turn numbers into a story?"

"No, I mean, kinda, I don't know," he groaned. "You said if I got this done I could go play basketball."

Amanda chuckled and shook her head. "Who am I to stand in the way of the almighty basketball hoop looming at the end of the driveway? I think your dad should be home any minute anyway."

He bolted out the front door without another word, leaving Amanda to try and sort out what Richard had just told her. Sarek had spent a little time with Richard several weeks ago while she was getting ready, and unless he was secretly tutoring him on the side, he'd somehow managed to transform a struggling student into a math whiz in about 20 minutes. It didn't make sense.

She scratched her head and leaned back in her chair. Richard seemed to be coming by less and less lately, but she'd had so much going on with the end of the school term and thinking about Sarek that she hadn't really thought about it until now. Whenever Henry did drop Richard off, his behavior toward his son had seemed different: almost affectionate. Henry had mentioned Richard seemed more interested in computers the other day, so maybe they'd found something to bond over. It was about time.

She decided to go watch Richard play and work on her personal statement for her graduate school application on the front porch, but the moment she sat down, she saw Millie coming up the street with a bottle of wine in her hands.

"Is that for me?" she teased.

"For us," Millie grinned, holding it up. "It's Saturday evening and the world is our oyster!"

Amanda was about to tell her she was babysitting, but as if on cue, Henry Daystrom's car appeared at the end of the street. Amanda said her goodbyes to Richard and went inside with Millie.

"What's the occasion?" she asked, getting two wine glasses down from the cupboard.

"Ok, first of all, have you heard back about this Andorian Educator Exchange?" Millie asked.

"No, why?"

"I wanted to let you get any good news out of the way first," Millie grinned. "Because mine is huge!"

"Are you going to make me guess or are you going to tell me?"

"I think Pete is going to ask me to marry him," Millie said, faking a swoon as she opened the bottle.

"What? How do you know?" Amanda gasped. Her friend had been hoping her boyfriend would pop the question for years, but a ring and a proposal had been elusive thus far.

"So I got home from the gym this afternoon and Pete was in the shower and his PADD kept going off so I put it on silent and that's when I saw the notification from the jeweler for a final payment on a ring."

Amanda's jaw dropped open and they both hugged and squealed. "I'm so happy for you!" Amanda cried. "How do you think he'll do it?"

"Oh, this is the best part," Millie said, clapping her hands together. "We have tickets for the Sunday after next to a Giants and Dodgers game. Eeeeek!"

Amanda scoffed. "You hate baseball."

"Yes, I do," Millie agreed. "But our first date was a Giants and Dodgers game four years ago."

"Ok, never mind, that's romantic," Amanda laughed, pouring herself a glass of wine and taking a sip.

"I know. Besides, I told him if he ever proposed, I wanted it to be special and in public and I wanted to have my friends there. And guess what? He has two extra tickets and told me to invite whoever I wanted. So are you coming, right?"

"The Sunday after next?" she asked, playing with her wine glass and thinking the only time she got to see Sarek was Sundays.

"Yes, clear your calendar."

Amanda couldn't imagine not being there for her friend on the day she got engaged, but she still couldn't deny her minor disappointment that she would miss out on the opportunity to see Sarek. She wasn't a huge fan of baseball either — it was a niche sport that had been brought back from the dead after World War III — but a handful of people still followed it avidly. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Great," Millie said, taking a long draught of the wine. "Now for that last ticket. I was going to invite Jenny, but I already know she has plans with Aaron and I can't imagine her putting on a ball cap and throwing back a beer anyway, but Pete has this friend Andy that he's been hanging out with at work and I think the two of you would definitely hit it off. Pun intended."

Amanda finished the last of the wine in her glass, poured herself another, and muttered, "I don't know."

"Have you been on a date since you broke things off with Eddie?"

"No, not really." Amanda somehow didn't think that her Sunday afternoons exploring the idiosyncrasies of humanity with a Vulcan diplomat counted. Some of their excursions had been date-like, but she knew there was no way he had ever or would ever think of them that way.

"Amanda, it's been what- two years?"

"Barely a year," Amanda corrected. "We broke up last spring."

"Whatever. You still have pictures of him hanging on your walls," Millie declared, waving her arms dramatically and moving toward the living room. She pointed to a digital photograph of her and Eddie at Big Sur in the same way a lawyer might point to crime scene images in a courtroom. Amanda remembered the day that picture was taken quite well, mostly because of what had happened later that evening. She briefly closed her eyes and smiled sadly as the memories drifted to the surface.

"I could live here," Amanda laughs, watching the brilliant fading sun cast dozens of orange and red hues across the ocean. It is growing chilly, but she doesn't mind.

"I think we'd both need to make a little more money first," Eddie laughs, reaching for her hand. He squeezes. It should send butterflies racing through her stomach, but it doesn't. It's never really been like that with him.

"So I was thinking," Eddie continues. "We've known each other a long time…"

"Yeah," Amanda agrees. All through college and beyond they've been together. They are alike in so many ways – they are both outgoing, tireless optimists, they are both teachers who love kids – and maybe that's the problem.

The hairs on the back of her neck are standing up and she dreads what he's about to ask. She can barely bring herself to look him in the eye, but the occasion demands it somehow. He fumbles in his pocket. His next words are no surprise.

"Amanda, will you marry me?"

She stares at the offering in his hand. It is a beautiful ruby engagement ring, his mother's.

"I'm hoping your protracted silence means you're too stunned to answer?" he grins, his face torn apart by anxiety.

Her eyes dart from the ring to his face; she knows she loves him, but it's not enough. She doesn't want to settle for a homogenous life with a guy she gets along with, she wants someone to challenge her and introduce her to new things. It is far better to tell him the truth now rather than later.

"Eddie, I- I just- wow," she breathes, desperate to find the kindest words for the worst situation. Perhaps there are no good words for breaking another person's heart.

"Wow?" he asks.

"I love you, but- but not like that," she finally stammers.

His forehead scrunches and his hand with the ring begins to shake and she feels the first tears sliding down her face for what she's doing. He deserves to be happy, but so does she. She wonders if there's a cure for this kind of guilt.

"Amanda, you've got to move on," Millie sighed, snapping her fingers and drawing her back into the moment.

"Yeah, I know," Amanda groaned, forcing herself to look at the picture of her and her near-miss fiancé.

She probably kept the picture around because of the guilt, or maybe as a reminder of happier times. She'd gotten a wedding invitation three months ago. Eddie had wasted no time filling the void she'd left in his life and though she wanted to be happy for him, she worried he was rushing into things with this new girl, Susan or Sarah or whatever her name was.

"So let me invite Andy," Millie urged, a mischievous smile spreading across her face.

Amanda frowned. "I'm sure he's probably great, but… it's complicated."

Millie's eyebrows rose nearly to her hairline as she flopped down on Amanda's loveseat. "I like to think I'm smart enough to understand."

Amanda dropped down next to her and took another swig of her wine. "So, there's sort of this guy…"

"Oh?"

Amanda could feel her face growing warm and wasn't sure if it was the wine or embarrassment or both. She hadn't told anyone about her outings with Sarek, and she'd never quite figured out why. She wasn't ashamed, but she also wasn't sure if people would understand.

"Ok, so I doubt he would ever be interested in me like that, but I've kind of developed this little crush on him and it's taken on a life of its own."

"So? Tell him you like him."

"It's not like that, it's…"

"Complicated," Millie finished. "Yeah, you just said that."

"Well, he's definitely very different than any guy I've ever dated. I don't really know how to approach it."

"I don't know what to do with this version of Amanda," Millie teased, waving her hand in a circular motion in Amanda's direction. "You're the least shy person I know. You're the person who contacted the Vulcan Consulate to get-" Millie's eyes widened and she uttered a sharp gasp. "Oh my God. It's the Vulcan guy!"

"What?" Amanda sputtered.

"It is! It's him! Your face is turning beet red! Oh my God! I thought something was up when you brought him to the culture fair, but whoa! This is exciting! Tell me about him."

"There's nothing to tell," Amanda moaned, draining the last of her wine and feeling very light headed all of a sudden.

"Your face tells a different story. Spill it!"

"Well, he works at the Vulcan consulate, he was an astrophysicist-"

"Wait, didn't he say he was like 60 years old or something?" Millie interrupted.

"Vulcans live much longer than humans," Amanda countered.

"Oh, so when you're 80 he'll practically still be a teenager?"

"They don't live that much longer," she sneered, rolling her eyes.

"How long do they live?"

"I don't know?" Amanda admitted. "About twice as long as humans, I think?"

Millie suddenly cackled. "I wonder what it's like having sex with a Vulcan. Like, is that even possible? What is logical sex like? Do they have the same, you know… stuff?"

"I am not having this conversation with you," Amanda huffed, starting to feel uncharacteristically mortified. The truth was, she didn't know. Almost everything she knew about Vulcans she'd learned from Sarek, and appropriately enough, the topic of sex had never managed to come up during their long chats about music and dining customs.

"I have never seen you turn this shade of red," Millie laughed. "You are completely smitten with him."

"Well, now you see how awkward and complicated it is," Amanda whined, slumping against the back of the loveseat. "All the unwritten rules of dating don't apply to this guy."

"It's probably not as complicated as you think," Millie argued. "I tell you what; bring him to the baseball game."

"I don't think he's a baseball kind of person," Amanda replied.

"Neither am I, but I'm going."

"You're going because you're getting engaged," Amanda retorted.

"If he likes you, he'll come," Millie said knowingly. "I don't care what species he is, if he likes you, he'll make time for you."

Something in the way her friend's words came out gave Amanda pause. Their arrangement of exchanging lessons plans for social instruction had expired a long time ago, but she and Sarek still found excuses to spend time together. She'd assumed it was because he was naturally curious, but could it be because he actually wanted to be around her? For the first time, she started to wonder if Sarek might actually return her feelings, but then quickly decided it was ludicrous.

They were just friends and it was never a good idea to read too much into things. As if Vulcans could be easily read anyway.

"Invite him," Millie begged, playfully bumping into Amanda's shoulder with her own.

"I'll ask," she shrugged, thinking her friend had opened a can of worms.

Chapter Text

Amanda sat at her desk, drumming her fingers on the smooth metal. She stared at the computer screen, reading over the personal statement for her graduate school application and wondering if it came across as too enthusiastic. Or was it not enthusiastic enough? She figured the people reading it would judge the degree of exuberance for themselves, and since she didn't know who they were, it was better just to be herself.

She took a deep breath and sent it; suddenly a weight was lifted off her shoulders. She'd been on the fence about doing this for nearly a year, always telling herself she was too busy or reminding herself that she was still figuring her life out. She was almost 26 years old — it was time to stop making excuses and start making decisions.

She loved teaching and she was interested in working with alien students and hoped to one day develop cross-cultural curriculum for different Federation planets. Whether or not this rare opportunity to teach on Andoria came through, she felt like it was time to make some progress in her career.

She knew that to increase her chances of getting into graduate school, it made sense to apply to multiple universities, but in the end, she'd decided to apply only to the University of California at Berkeley because it was the only nearby school that offered a program specifically for interspecies education and she wasn't interested in wasting her time and energy working on a program that wasn't exactly what she wanted.

She glanced at the clock at the corner of her computer screen and chewed her lip. She was due to meet Sarek at Alameda Beach in about two and a half hours and felt like a bundle of nerves. Telling Millie about her interest in him somehow made it more real.

Her cheeks instinctively started growing warm when she remembered certain specifics of their semi-drunken conversation from several days earlier. What had Millie asked? What was having sex with a Vulcan like?

It felt childish and immature to get so embarrassed just thinking about a perfectly natural topic like sex, but some taboos refused to die. She'd had sex education in middle school just like everyone else, but she had only learned about having normal healthy sexual relationships with humans.

There had been talk about including interspecies sexual relationships in the curriculum for decades, but it remained a controversial topic. Because of varying social attitudes in some places, there was no standard for how interspecies sex ed was taught. Some schools covered it in depth, some just touched on it, and some never mentioned it at all, as though burying one's head in the sand and pretending like it didn't exist was an effective means of arming students with the knowledge to be healthy and safe.

Amanda's school had fallen into the last category, but she'd never really thought about it at the time. She'd definitely been boy crazy at age 12, but she'd only ever seen aliens in passing and had never really thought about having a relationship with one until very recently. Before she allowed her mind to linger too long on the fact that when she had been 12, Sarek had been 47, she turned to her computer and searched for Vulcan anatomy and reproduction.

She was mildly terrified she would find whatever passed for Vulcan pornography in the databases, but she found nothing of the sort. In fact, there was remarkably little information about anything at all. Almost nothing. She found two articles in Terran medical journals of relating to treating cancers of the Vulcan reproductive gland. She stumbled across a medical case study written by a Denobulan doctor seventy years earlier who had theorized that certain microbes could increase libido in Vulcan females, but there were no concrete details. The article did state, "Much information has been omitted out of respect for cultural attitudes regarding sexual intercourse among Vulcans."

After an hour of searching through one database after the next, she finally found an article by a human urologist who had developed a pioneering surgical technique for treating something called epididymitis that had been adapted from a similar Vulcan procedure.

"Computer — define the word 'epididymitis.'"

"Epididymitis is an inflammation of the epididymis."

She rubbed her forehead in frustration. "Computer — what is the epididymis?"

"The epididymis is a duct at the back of the testicles in many humanoid species that stores and carries sperm," it replied.

Amanda grinned weakly. "Good to know."

She went back to perusing the article. It had been published in 2169, but Amanda figured Vulcan physiology couldn't have evolved much in sixtyish years. She learned from the abstract that the author, a man named Dr. Julian Farrow, had spent three years working in a Vulcan hospital, a fact that intrigued her. More interesting was that he'd treated a human patient on Vulcan, a 31 year-old man who apparently had immigrated there. She was starting to wonder if any regular human had ever lived and worked on Vulcan, and here were two examples.

What caught her eye was a sentence that read, "This method of treatment is accepted as standard among Vulcan healers for epididymitis, and due to the marked similarity between the human and Vulcan male genitourinary systems, this course of treatment was attempted on this patient."

She skimmed through the rest of the article, not because she was particularly interested in what had been going on in the scrotum of a 31 year-old human man sixty years earlier, but because she was curious what other details she might uncover. Halfway down the third page, she found exactly what she'd been looking for all along — a side-by-side comparison of male human and Vulcan anatomy.

A juvenile blush streaked across her cheeks. Internally, they were quite similar, aside from differences in the prostate gland and position of the bladder. Externally, they were nearly identical, excepting very minor conformational differences in the head of the penis. Her blush deepened.

Her curiosity satisfied, she powered down her computer and went to her room to get dressed for the beach, but that didn't stop the gears of her mind from turning. If Vulcan men and human men were so much alike physically, surely they had sex the same way? Surely they wouldn't be built along the same lines only to do something completely different?

She thought about the Denobulan doctor's observation that Vulcans had certain "cultural attitudes regarding sexual intercourse." She wondered what that meant. Her first instinct was to assume that Vulcans had a very Puritan view of sex; the lack of available information on the subject certainly lent weight to the idea. But on the other hand, maybe their sex lives were completely kinky weird by human standards.

She chose not to dwell on it once she remembered it was a moot point; it was very unlikely she'd ever be diving under the covers with Sarek anyway. But if she ever did

No. She didn't want to allow her mind to take her there. Researching sex had the curious result of making her feel like an inexperienced, horny teenager all over again and the last thing she wanted was to show up to the beach and have things be even more awkward than they already felt. Why did Millie have to go and get her thinking about this stuff?

The moment she opened her drawers, she found herself facing another uncomfortable situation — what should she wear to spend a day at the beach with a Vulcan? She'd agonized over her decision the last time they'd planned an outing to Alameda Beach too, but she was even more self-conscious now. With any of her human companions, she'd throw on a swimsuit without hesitation. The water was too cold to do more than wade out past her knees, but it was still fun to take a couple of blankets and enjoy lying out in the sun with friends.

Should she wear a swimsuit under her clothes, just in case? She couldn't decide. Sarek always wore long sleeves and pants no matter what the weather was like, and there were times she couldn't help but wonder if he found things like tank tops, shorts, and knee-length skirts inappropriate and immodest. But Sarek obviously knew she was human surely he'd picked up on the way humans dressed by now during their numerous outings.

She thought of their agreement in the café to be honest with each other when one of them committed a major social error, so she was confident he would have told her by now if she made him uncomfortable with her style of dress. Still, she ended up putting on and taking off her two-piece swimsuit four times before finally accepting that she needed to make up her mind soon because she was due at the beach in exactly one hour.

Amanda stared at the tall, boyish frame in the mirror, which was covered only by a small triangle swim top and boyshort bottoms. She'd been losing weight these last months and was approaching the thin side of healthy. Even though she remained comfortable in her skin, she still wondered if Sarek would find the reflection staring back at her attractive.

She sighed. Her exhalation almost turned into a throaty growl. Why was she overanalyzing everything where Sarek was concerned? She hadn't acted this way about a member of the opposite sex since she was in her early teens. Maybe not even then.

She hadn't cared about what men thought of her in years — they could either take it or leave it as far as she was concerned — but Sarek wasn't a human man. At least with her human counterparts, she had a general understanding of what most of them liked. There were variations, sure, but most male members of her species tended to like the same physical attributes and seek out certain personality traits. Maybe some were more attracted to breasts while others were sold on a pretty face. Maybe some admired humor while others might like someone more nurturing. Sarek was just a giant question mark. Aside from probably valuing logic in a potential partner, everything else about his taste in women was a complete mystery.

She stripped off her swimsuit and put on a normal bra and pair of underwear, a pair of olive green shorts, and a white t-shirt, deciding in the end that no matter what Sarek liked, all she could do was be herself. That's all she'd ever been around him anyway.

She grabbed an oversized bag, stuffed it with some beach towels and water, and headed for Alameda Beach. She arrived at 0953 hours and wandered along the boardwalk looking for Sarek. Despite the early hour, the weather that day promised to be beautiful; there were already dozens of people milling around in the sand and surf, plus hundreds more cruising through the shopping centers across the street that ran parallel to the water.

The towering skyscrapers of San Francisco lay straight ahead across the Bay. The laughter of beachgoers or the roar of the Bay Area Rail in the distance occasionally drowned out the cries of seagulls. The sand stretched out nearly two kilometers in each direction and she began to wonder where she should start looking for Sarek. She assumed he would maybe wait near one of the high-traffic visitor centers or marinas in Crab Cove, but she wasn't sure what the most "logical" place to look was.

She started to pull her PADD from her beach bag to contact him and ask where she should meet him when she spied him about thirty meters ahead, standing on the concrete walkway adjacent to the beach and engaged in what looked like a staring contest with a pelican. The large bird was perched atop a wooden post attached to a bridge leading from the walkway down to the beach. Sarek was as he always was, elegantly postured and dressed in heavy dark clothing.

She glanced at her PADD and noting the time was 0956, she decided to take a page out of his book and show up at exactly 1000 hours. She snuck up on him at a lazy pace, watching him watch the pelican. He was clearly deeply fascinated by the creature. The bird suddenly opened its wide mouth and leaned forward, prompting Sarek to take a wary step back.

Amanda smiled at the exchange. She knew from numerous trips to the beach with her family over the years that the pelican was begging for food, but it was obvious Sarek had no idea how to interpret the animal's intentions. She supposed it was the first pelican he'd ever seen. What would it be like to have no concept of a pelican? She imagined there were probably many things on Vulcan that would amaze her that he would find commonplace.

She watched the time tick upwards toward 1000 hours exactly, and just as 0959 came to a close, she said, "Good morning, Sarek."


Sarek was intrigued. The unique avian creature before him was a fascinating specimen, but that was not what currently occupied his mind. He could sense Amanda's presence. She was nearby. He did not share a formal bond with her, but he could feel her approaching. With each passing minute, he felt her more surely.

That was why when he heard her call, "Good morning, Sarek" from directly behind him, he did not immediately respond. His mind was too busy analyzing what this unusual perception of her relative proximity meant.

"I'm right on time, as per Vulcan punctuality standards," she declared.

He unfolded his hands from behind his back and turned to face her. She wore the shorts that displayed much of her legs with a simple white shirt. He understood this style of dress was typical for humans — many of the humans on the sand near the water were wearing far less clothing than Amanda currently was — but he'd never given as much thought to any other human's legs as much as he had Amanda's. She was tall for a female of her species and her legs were long and slender. He glanced away. It was inappropriate to think of a female who was not his mate in such a way.

"So you are," he replied, repressing the lingering thoughts of her legs as he looked her in the eye.

"I see you made a new friend," she laughed, nodding in the direction of the waterfowl behind him.

"It is illogical to foster companionship with undomesticated lower life forms," he replied. "I was merely observing it."

"It's called a pelican," she explained, moving slowly in his direction. She stopped right next to him and they both paused to observe the bird, which was once again making the unusual display of opening its exceptionally large beak.

"It would be wise to move away," Sarek said, glancing at Amanda. "It appears to be threatened by our presence."

She laughed, startling the bird. "Quite the opposite, actually."

"Explain."

"It's begging. It wants food."

"This creature is tame?"

"No, not exactly," she replied. "It's probably just learned from experience that it can rely on humans to toss it pieces of bread or other scraps."

"Why would humans feed wild animals?"

She didn't answer right away. She cocked her head, gazed at the bird, and frowned. "The novelty of it, maybe? I think most people understand it isn't good for them — it makes them dependent and human food rarely overlaps with their natural diet — but I think some people just like feeling connected to nature, perhaps?"

Sarek raised his eyebrows but said nothing. Amanda took another step forward and the pelican spread its expansive wings and took flight in the direction of a port to the right.

"Would you like to go down to the beach?" she asked, looking over his shoulder to the sand and water behind him.

"If you prefer." He followed her across the small wooden bridge onto the thick brown sand. It was soft underfoot and reminded him of the dunes near his home in Shi'Kahr. The air held a saline quality that he suspected emanated from the nearby ocean.

He was in the process of speculating which particular salt compounds were present in Earth's oceans when Amanda asked, "What would you like to do?"

"What do you recommend?" he asked, observing the behavior of the humans nearby. He had no interest in wading into the water to join the barely clothed humans who were already there.

"We could sit and talk and watch people?" she shrugged. "I brought some towels if you'd like."

"If that is what you wish."

He watched as she spread down two brightly colored, rectangular blankets directly on the sand about ten meters away from the water. It seemed odd that she would willingly get them dirty, but judging by other humans who had performed the same ritual, laying down these "beach towels" was customary for a visit to this place. She sat down on the purple beach towel and motioned for him to take a seat on the nearby orange one she'd laid out. He complied.

"So how have you been since I saw you on Thursday?" she asked, kicking her legs out in front of her and leaning back on her elbows. "Any news back from your doctor?"

He had received welcome news. Dr. Velik had determined the damage to his heart was not severe enough to warrant immediate surgery. He had been advised to lower the fat content of his diet, avoid engaging in sustained periods of rigorous exercise, and continue with annual health screenings to monitor his condition.

Yet even with minor lifestyle changes, Dr. Velik had informed him that the damage would shorten his lifespan if it were not repaired eventually. Despite centuries of medical progress, the three-chambered Vulcan heart remained a difficult organ to repair and many healers were reluctant to perform cardiac surgery unless it was absolutely necessary.

Though there had been improvements in a number of surgical techniques in recent years, Sarek agreed with Dr. Velik's assessment that it would be logical to postpone an operation if his life were not in immediate danger. Perhaps in the future, surgery to repair the minor damage to his heart valves would be less risky. Or perhaps Vulcans would finally replicate human successes in engineering artificial replacement organs.

The first laboratory grown human kidney had been implanted nearly seventy years ago, the first bioengineered human heart, thirty years after that. Sarek considered the rift between human and Vulcan scientific research that he was working so ardently to bridge. How much further could both of their societies have progressed — not only in terms of medical advances, but in general — had this distance between their cultures not grown to its current proportions? It would be illogical to dwell upon a question that was impossible to answer.

"I take it you either haven't heard back from your doctor or don't want to tell me," Amanda said, offering a grim smile.

"I am well," he replied, unsure why she remained so concerned with his current health status. No Vulcan would ever pry so deeply into another's personal matter unless they had professional cause to do so.

"I'm glad to hear it."

"Have you received news regarding your application to the Andorian Education Directorate?" The thought of her leaving for Andoria still troubled him.

"Are you changing the subject?" she asked.

"No. I merely have nothing more to say on the subject of my health."

A small smile formed on her lips. "I haven't heard anything, no. I did manage to get my grad school application sent off this morning though."

"What do you intend to study?"

"I want to get my master's in interspecies curriculum and instruction," she replied. Her eyes suddenly became alight with excitement. "And speaking of interspecies education, Richard told me you helped him with math."

"I merely provided an alternative perspective for understanding numbers than he was apparently acquainted with."

"But you don't understand — he's improved by leaps and bounds."

"Leaps and bounds?"

"He's improved a lot," she explained quickly. "What did you teach him, exactly? He said something about seeing the numbers as a story?"

"After briefly speaking with him, I determined his concept of numeracy was unusually compartmentalized. I merely offered a suggestion for conceptualizing numbers in a different way."

"And as a second grade teacher, I'm really interested in what that different way is. Can you explain it to me?"

Sarek stared at her. It had been difficult relating to Richard how Vulcans were taught to perceive numbers from their infancy, but evidently the boy had found something worthwhile in his lecture. He began trying to explain the fluid way Vulcans manipulated numbers and soon after, Amanda started writing equations in the sand with her fingers to demonstrate how human children were taught elementary mathematics.

Human approaches to arithmetic were effective, but they were also tedious and cumbersome. She was in the middle of explaining strategies for doing mental operations when he stopped her. "When you are speaking with an individual, before you speak, do you first compose the sentence in your head, mentally visualizing every letter to accurately spell each word?"

She shot him an unusual look. "No? Why?"

"If you do not do it with letters, then why do you do it with numbers?"

"But numbers aren't letters. Letters can only form a finite number of words in any given language. Numbers are infinite."

"That is technically incorrect. Even with a finite alphabet, an infinite number of words are theoretically possible, even if the majority of them are nonsense and have no definitive meaning."

"So you're saying you do math like people speak a language?"

"Not precisely, no."

The unusual look deepened into one of confusion and he began explaining how he performed calculations in his head that humans evidently considered incredibly complex. They discussed it for the better part of an hour. He was fascinated by the way her facial expressions shifted when she reached a point of understanding or illuminated when she formed an idea.

She started asking him to solve increasingly difficult operations to demonstrate his methods and he was in the process of explaining that half of the square root of 98,647 was 157.0405998 when he saw a flash of movement in his periphery. Amanda tensed and turned toward it, but Sarek's autonomic nervous system was already sending signals throughout his body to prepare for a fight.

It was canine in form with long, golden brown hair. It moved so purposefully that he logically concluded it had targeted Amanda for attack. By the time it reached her, Sarek was already on his feet and preparing to break the animal's neck — a quick and merciful death. Amanda's fit of giggles was the only thing that gave him pause. Its body wriggled excitedly and its feet were spreading sand everywhere. The creature with the flowing fur began to lap at Amanda's face with a long, pink tongue. Sarek noted the presence of long canine teeth and moved forward to try and pull the creature away from her in the event its behavior turned violent.

"Molly!" a man shouted. "Molly, no! God, I'm so sorry. You can shove her off!"

Sarek glowered at the man. Like most other visitors to Alameda Beach, he was hardly clothed. He was bare-chested and wore a pair of brightly colored trousers that descended only to his knees. He thought the man might be considered tall for a human, but he was still at least 15 centimeters shorter than Sarek. His body was oddly hairless and possessing of well-defined musculature.

"I'm so sorry she jumped on you," the man laughed, approaching their position. "We were jogging along and she started chasing after seagulls and the leash got away from me."

Amanda scrambled to her feet and grabbed a black tether attached to the animal's harness. "It's ok. She's a gorgeous dog."

"Thanks," the man replied breathlessly, grinning widely as he took the tether from Amanda. "A golden retriever mix. She's about a year old. She's my best friend."

Sarek disliked the way Amanda smiled at this stranger, but he liked the expression the man offered her in return even less. Why did humans smile so readily at strangers? After several seconds, his eyes darted to Sarek and the grin evaporated. "We'll just uh… get out of your way. Sorry to bother you."

"It's perfectly alright," Amanda replied, placing her hands in her front pockets.

The man led his potentially dangerous canine companion back toward the ocean, leaving Sarek and Amanda alone.

"I've never seen you move so quickly," she remarked, giving him a curious look. "I don't even think you ran away from the hornets that fast."

Only then did Sarek think of Dr. Velik's advice to refrain from excessive physical exertion. He had moved rather quickly, but he would hardly qualify his actions as excessive. "That animal might have injured you."

"I don't think so," she argued. "She's practically still a puppy and very excited. I thought you said you had something kind of like a dog growing up."

"A sehlat, yes."

"And did it never get excited to see you?"

"Yes, and he also often became excited hunting desert voles, and he wasn't kind to them. My sehlat was a companion, but I remained mindful that he was an animal capable of inflicting serious injury."

"She's obviously a sweet, overly eager puppy," Amanda scoffed.

"One which also possesses a set of formidable teeth that were in close proximity to your face," Sarek retorted.

Amanda took a deep breath. Sarek knew from experience she was preparing to launch a counterargument, but she seemed to think better of it. "You have sand all over your pants."

Sarek glanced down at his trousers. Silicate dust clung to the thick fibers of the fabric. "We are surrounded by sand and yet you seem surprised."

He watched her bite her lower lip to avoid smiling too broadly. "Would you like to go for a walk since you're already sandy then?"

He assisted her in rerolling the blankets and a minute later, they were tucked away in her large bag. They proceeded down the sandy expanse toward a cluster of buildings more than a kilometer in the distance. As they walked, Amanda slowly guided him toward the water and soon, her feet were wet. Not only did she not seem to mind, she appeared to take delight in the experience.

Sarek had no interest in having wet feet. He already had a large amount of sand in each of his shoes.

"You said Vulcan had five distinct seas," she mused. "What are Vulcan beaches like?"

He glanced around. Vulcan beaches were nothing like this. Everywhere he looked, people in minimal amounts of clothing frolicked with few inhibitions. It was taking him enormous effort to ignore the abundance of visually overwhelming stimuli. It had been easier when they had been sitting on her beach towels and engaging one another privately, but now they were in the midst of a loosely packed crowd of people.

Disorderly children ran in and out of the ocean, giggling and screaming as they moved. People were exercising, playing at sport, and walking various species of dogs. Or at least he presumed they were dogs: some were so small it was hardly larger than Vulcan ground squirrels. Just behind Amanda, a very buxom woman was splashing in the surf and wearing only two tiny triangular patches of fabric held together by a piece of string over her large breasts. He felt no attraction to this female, but the sight was distracting nonetheless.

"Vulcans do visit the beach, but not typically for recreational purposes."

"Vulcans don't enjoy swimming or just laying out in the sun?"

"Vulcans are not proficient swimmers. Furthermore, Vulcan's local star-"

"Wait, Vulcans can't swim?" she interrupted, placing her hands on her hips.

"Vulcans are capable of swimming, but not as efficiently as many other humanoids."

"Why?"

"Low levels of body fat and high bone density both serve to decrease buoyancy, which makes Vulcans less efficient at moving through the water," he explained.

"I guess evolving on a pretty dry planet didn't create a lot of evolutionary pressure to turn out good swimmers," she replied, wading further into the water until the tide lapped at the middle of her calves.

"No," he agreed. "Though I believe Vulcan's seas possess a higher salt concentration than Earth's oceans, which lessened the evolutionary disadvantage imposed upon Vulcan swimming abilities."

"How do you figure?"

"All known natural salts have more mass than pure water. When dissolved in water to create an aqueous solution, they add mass to the water, causing it to exert a greater upward force on a submerged object."

She gazed at him over her shoulder. "I think I actually knew that. It sounds like Archimedes' principle."

"Define."

"Archimedes was an ancient Greek mathematician," she explained, leaving the water to walk back in his direction. "There's this story of a king who came to Archimedes with a crown and wanted to know if it was made of pure gold or whether silver had been mixed into the metal. No one had ever figured out how to measure the volume of an irregularly shaped object in order to determine density, so Archimedes put the crown in water and measured the volume of the crown by displacement."

"Crude but effective," Sarek agreed. "Early Vulcan mathematicians used similar methods."

They continued along the beach at a languid pace for more than two hours, discussing early scientific developments made by each of their cultures. She lacked the scientific background to go into extensive detail about certain experiments, but she spoke confidently of the history of Terran scientific advancements, telling him of humanity's development of vaccines and telescopes and spaceflight with fervent passion. Sarek was particularly fascinated by periods in Terran history in which scientific progress had stalled due to human superstition or lack of obvious economic gain.

He listened as she talked, thinking that her voice had a pleasant quality. As usual, they seemed to be an object of fascination for those around them, but unlike previous encounters, Amanda seemed to be drawing an excessive amount of male attention. He could not determine whether that was due to his presence or her aesthetically pleasing form, but she seemed either oblivious or indifferent to their reverence.

As they approached a row of buildings, Sarek took note of three things. Firstly, it occurred to him that they'd spent far more time speaking with each other than they had observing human interactions, contrary to their original plan. Secondly, he didn't mind. Lastly, Amanda's face was red, but unlike all prior occasions when it would fluctuate between pale and reddish, it was remaining red and had extended to the other exposed areas of her skin.

"Are you ill?" he asked, theorizing that the color may be indicative of fever or overheating. Human blood was red and therefore it would make sense for her complexion to become pink rather than green in the event of an elevated temperature.

She touched her fingertips to her face and winced. "How long have we been out here?"

"Four hours, 27 minutes," he replied.

Her mouth fell open. "I'm going to be so sunburned."

"Ultraviolet radiation from your planet's local star can induce burns after such a brief period?"

"Four and a half hours in the midday sun isn't brief," she replied, giving him a strange look. "I can't believe I lost track of the time like that. I was enjoying your company. I see long hours with a dermal regenerator in my future."

Had he known human skin was so sensitive, he would have encouraged her to end their meeting sooner or to seek shelter from the sun's radiation. She called for a cab and they walked back to the road together. She took up a position under the shade of a shuttle stop bench as they waited for their transportation.

She set her bag on the ground, revealing pale lines where the bag's straps had shielded the skin of her left shoulder from the sun's rays. Humans were far more delicate than he'd appreciated.

"Are you busy next Sunday?" she asked abruptly.

"I do not believe so," he replied.

"So, listen. My friend Millie — you met her at my school's exchange fair — she invited me to go to a baseball game next Sunday with her boyfriend and told me to invite you to come with us. I understand if you don't want to go or you're too busy. You can say no."

"What is baseball?"

"It's a sport — a game that humans play. It used to be really popular centuries ago and a few people still like it."

"And you wish to participate in this game?"

"No," she laughed. "Not to participate: to watch. I'm not a very big fan of baseball myself, but Millie is my friend and she's getting…" Her words trailed off. "Anyway, there would be some of my friends there so I understand if that's too personal or whatever. I just wanted to extend the invitation because she asked me to."

"I am willing to accept Miss Rogers' invitation if it is socially correct to do so."

A look of surprise crossed her face. "It is, but only if you want."

"I know nothing of this sport, but I am willing to learn."

"Yeah?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Why do you continue to seek confirmation when I have already given it?"

"I'm just surprised is all. You don't seem like the sports type."

"You also did not imagine I had any fondness for the arts."

Her expression faltered. "You're right. The more I learn about you, the more you surprise me."

He saw a light blue vehicle pulling up to the curb. Amanda checked the number on the side and picked up her bag. "I guess this is my ride. I'll see you next Sunday then?"

"Yes."

"I look forward to it," she replied.

He did not tell her so and was slow to admit it to himself, but he looked forward to it also. As the vehicle departed, he found himself once again missing Amanda Grayson's company and unsure of how to effectively suppress that unfortunate emotion. It occurred to him that he could sense her leaving just as he'd been able to sense her approach, and this unusual development would give him much to reflect upon until their next meeting.

Chapter Text

Sarek's eyes scanned the screen; he was putting the finishing touches on his report from yesterday's conference. The Federation's 75th Annual Space Sustainability Symposium had featured keynote speakers addressing the growing problem of waste in planetary orbits and subspace distortions caused by overuse of warp drive in certain corridors. In general, it had been very informative.

He had encountered Jerome Whitney and they'd discussed the progress of the Federation's joint scientific database. The project had already been in the works for two years, and with Sarek's information about the Vulcan Science Academy's protocols, the database launch was well ahead of schedule. A beta test was already planned for the following month with unclassified Starfleet and Terran data, and it was the Federation Science Council's hope that once other Federation members saw the value in a centralized database for scientific information, they would add their own work.

Sarek had agreed to speak with his contacts at the Vulcan Science Academy, Shi'Kahr Academy, and the Gol Research Institute about submitting their files to the database, but approaching the Vulcan Science Council would be more difficult. Minister Suvak, a man from a very old, very conservative Vulcan family, led the agency, and Suvak was known to tend toward caution when sharing or cooperating with other species.

Sarek remained uncertain how to convince the Science Minister to be more receptive to the Federation's joint database — it would violate Vulcan protocols for the science attaché to the Vulcan consulate on Earth to directly request an audience with the head of the Vulcan Science Ministry without first going through the maze of necessary channels — but he'd drawn some inspiration from Amanda. She had once used a term called "laying groundwork," and after explaining it had nothing to do with heavy construction or building trades in general, he'd initially thought it an illogical and manipulative tactic. Yet he could not deny how effective it was.

There had been a delegation of Vulcan scientists at the conference that included a former colleague from the Vulcan Science Academy, a woman named T'Lana. Sarek knew T'Lana was married to Solkan, a fellow astrophysicist and Suvak's son. He had spoken with T'Lana at length about the benefits of the database and answered her questions about proprietary issues. By the time they'd parted ways, she had become extremely interested in the idea of a joint Federation database, and it was his hope that she would relay that interest to her husband and father-in-law while Sarek worked on securing a meeting with the Vulcan Science Council.

First Sarek would need the ambassador's permission to send a formal request to the undersecretary to the Vulcan Science Council, who would then forward it up the chain. Unfortunately T'Lera was unwilling to grant his request based on the fact that she was only serving as interim ambassador and instructed him to wait for Selden's return, which would be in precisely eight days.

Sarek had enjoyed the high degree of autonomy Ambassador Selden's absence had afforded him, but he sensed that would come to an end when the ambassador resumed his duties. Ambassador Selden's return would likely result in a lighter workload for everyone at the consulate and in some ways, this would be welcome. Sarek had attended a luncheon on Thursday afternoon with the Federation Environmental Engineering Coalition and had been coaxed into eating something called a crostini with his hands. Regrettable.

Yet Sarek was willing to participate in various social events if it assisted him in accomplishing more in his professional life, but Selden rarely saw the need to attend most of these functions or inform the more junior members of his staff about them. Until T'Lera had started assigning social duties to the consular staff, Sarek had had no idea just how many invitations the consulate received on a regular basis.

Aside from professional advancement, attending so many functions occasionally provided Sarek with a pretense to see Amanda outside of their informal Sunday meetings. Several people, including Jerome Whitney, had asked about her at the Sustainability Symposium. After explaining that Amanda was not his mate, or wife, as humans preferred, he had informed them Amanda was in good health but unable to join him due to her own duties as an educator.

Even before everyone's inquiries into Amanda's whereabouts, he'd found it difficult to keep his thoughts from wandering to her in quieter moments. He had slept a total of 9.7 hours in total since their visit to Alameda Beach the previous Sunday. He glanced at the clock, noting it was 0114 hours on Sunday morning and he hadn't slept since Thursday night.

During the past week, he'd devoted much of his rest period to meditation, reflecting upon the nature of his relationship with Amanda. He had turned himself in mental circles to no avail. Several weeks ago, he had briefly deliberated ending contact with her, but had decided he would endeavor to terminate whatever affection he was developing for her through meditation. It wasn't working.

He could now sense her presence when she was nearby. Were she a Vulcan, he would have accepted that they'd formed a loose empathic bond from their frequent meetings and occasional physical contact. Minor telepathic links were not uncommon between relatives and close friends, and the existence of such a bond did not necessarily imply any sort of romantic attachment.

Though she was his friend, it would be illogical to deny his fondness for her ended at friendship. Sarek did not have any friends he thought of as frequently as he thought of Amanda Grayson. He also could not recall having any friends who possessed a physical form that captivated him quite like hers did. Were she Vulcan, he could have accepted that he might one day grow to love her.

But Amanda was not Vulcan. He had wondered before whether Vulcans could form telepathic mating bonds with members of other species, but given this new development, he concluded a deeper, more permanent connection might be possible. But possibility did not indicate prudence. They were so unalike, not only in terms of species, culture, age, and ambition, but also in temperament.

He was beginning to rule out the possibility of suppressing his feelings for her through meditation and found himself wondering if it was logical to continue to cultivate their friendship. That brought him back to the original problem. If he could not terminate his developing feelings, he was left with only two logical options: distance himself or admit his affection to her.

Neither of those options appealed to him. Her company was too important to him to dismiss, but even if he was willing to overlook their differences, he was uncertain that she would. It occurred to Sarek that if he told Amanda of his regard for her, she might reject him, which would probably lead to a loss of her companionship anyway. For all his Vulcan logic, he could not find a logical solution for coping with his budding affection for a human woman.

He glanced at the clock again, startled to realize it was approaching 0200 hours. He so rarely lost track of time, but it seemed to be occurring more often lately. He was tired, but he didn't feel capable of sleep. He was due to pick Amanda up in approximately 11 hours so they could attend a baseball game.

Sarek knew nothing of baseball. He had intended to research the sport during the week to be able to follow along without the need to ask questions — he disliked relying on Amanda to explain things so often — but he had been too occupied with work and meditation. He turned back to his computer, switched off voice response, and said, "Computer, research baseball." Then he began to read.

Baseball is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of nine players. The teams alternate batting and fielding. The pitcher of the fielding team pitches a ball to the batter of the batting team, who attempts to strike the ball with a bat…

For the next several hours, he studied of the nuances of American baseball, learning terms like inning, catcher, and shortstop. He studied diagrams of the field and reviewed common tactics of batting and baserunning, and eventually decided baseball was a truly remarkable game. It was a curious blend of strategy and athleticism, told through a story of meticulous statistics.

He read about baseball in popular culture, everything from baseball cards and caps to fantasy sports. He was most fascinated by the idea of organized teams that represented large municipalities and the loyalty they fostered in their fan bases. Vulcans recognized the value of engaging in sport, but he could not see a purpose in arbitrarily selecting a team, particularly a team one did not actually play for, and declaring loyalty to it.

Baseball's popularity had declined sharply in the middle of the 21st century due to World War III, and professional baseball ended in 2042, but following the war's conclusion in 2053, there was a slow revival in older forms of popular culture as people desired a return to a simpler time. In 2142, 100 years after the last official World Series was held, the Intraplanetary Baseball Organization was founded. Even though baseball never regained its earlier popularity, it had a small subset of devoted fans. A handful of teams were reorganized and stadiums that had been destroyed or fallen into disrepair were rebuilt.

He learned about the Intraplanetary Baseball Organization that regulated 18 teams across the planet. He reviewed the histories of the Dodgers and the Giants, the two teams he would observe later that afternoon, and discovered both teams were founded in New York City in 1883 before moving to Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1958. The rivalry between them was widely regarded as the fiercest and oldest in baseball history.

He read about both organizations' storied performances and notable players, learning about people like Jackie Robinson and Barry Bonds. One of the most legendary moments in modern sports history had occurred in 2029, when after a restructuring in league organization and rules, the Dodgers played the Giants in the World Series and lost due to a home run by Randy Taber in the ninth inning of the seventh game.

He had just finished reviewing the current rosters of both teams when he decided it was time to get dressed and fetch Amanda for their outing. He left the main building and made his way back to his quarters on the other side of the compound, showered, shaved, and trimmed his hair. Once again he surveyed the result in the mirror by the door for longer than was probably appropriate.

When he arrived at Amanda's house 45 minutes later, he found her already waiting on the sidewalk. He'd been able to sense her presence from nearly a kilometer away, a fact he found both intriguing and surprising. She wore dark blue shorts and a white shirt with long red sleeves. Her canvas bag was draped over her shoulder and she had the same bright yellow headband in her hair that she'd worn the first time he met her at Piedmont Academy.

He prepared to exit the vehicle to open the door for her, but she pulled it open and said, "Scooch over."

"Scooch?"

"It means move over," she grinned.

He complied with her request and slid into the seat on the left so she could assume his seat on the right. Despite an intense urge, he refused to look at her long bare legs and instead turned in his seat to face her.

"Your burns appear to have healed," he commented.

"Hmmm?" she murmured, digging around in her bag. "Oh, right! My sunburn. Yeah, I went home last Sunday, stripped naked, slathered myself in aloe, and spent the rest of the night going over my skin with a dermal regenerator. I ended up with a pretty nice tan."

Rather than reflect upon the fact that her complexion was several shades darker than it had been previously, his mind was frozen on the idea of her naked and covered in whatever substance aloe was. He swallowed hard and looked away.

"Are you ok?" she asked, giving him a strange look.

"Yes."

"You look off in some way," she said, cocking her head to the side. "Tired maybe?"

"I have been occupied with work," he explained, marveling at her perception. It wasn't the whole truth, but neither was it untrue. It was better to tell a half truth than admit he'd been thinking of her in an impure way.

Her eyes narrowed. "You would tell me if something was wrong, right?"

"I am healthy, I assure you."

She sighed and set her bag in her lap. "Well, I'm glad you're coming with us today. I don't know all that much about baseball myself, but the experience is always fun. And it's a great place for people watching."

"I conducted some research into the sport earlier this morning. I find it fascinating that humans tend to swear allegiance to teams."

Amanda uttered a throaty laugh. "I've never heard it put quite that way, but that might actually be the best way to put it. People can get pretty devoted to sports teams. Not just baseball either — basketball, Parrises squares… And of course there are rivalries."

"Yes, I learned the baseball clubs of Los Angeles and San Francisco have been in intermittent conflict for 346 years."

Amanda flashed a wide smile. "Do you not have any kind of sports on Vulcan?"

"We do," he explained. "There are many team and individual sports played on Vulcan, but none are organized on a planet-wide level and followed so fervently as baseball."

"It is pretty illogical," she nodded, offering a half smile. "There's really not a lot of rhyme or reason to how people pick their favorite teams. Millie's boyfriend Pete is a huge Giants fan, but he's not from San Francisco — I think he's from Miami originally."

"Then should he not be a fan of the Marlins?"

"Is that the baseball team in Miami?"

"It is."

Amanda's eyebrows rose. "You must have done some extensive research, because I'd be hard-pressed to name more than about five different professional baseball teams."

"It was logical to acquaint myself with this game in order to discuss it intelligently with you."

"Very logical, yes, but I'm starting to think you already know more about baseball than I do."

Her eyes held an unusually warm quality that Sarek found unsettling. His mind started to drift back to her earlier remark about stripping herself naked to apply aloe to her burns. Rather than allow himself to dwell on such inappropriate thoughts, he asked, "If one is not obligated to pledge loyalty to a team based on geography, what factors are used instead?"

She chuckled. "You don't pledge loyalty to a team in the sense that you go somewhere and register as a fan. There really aren't any rules. Most people tend to be fans of teams that are nearby, but sometimes, people just decide at random. Maybe they like a certain player or maybe they went to college in that city. I don't know."

"You said you were not a fan of baseball, but which team do you support?"

She made a face and shrugged. "I guess if someone put a phaser to my head and told me to pick a team, I'd say the Giants because I've lived in the Bay area all my life, but I'm not exactly a passionate fan. I doubt I could even name more than a handful of players. Baseball isn't nearly as popular as it was a few centuries ago anyway."

"Why would someone put a phaser to your head and make you pick a team?" Sarek asked, intrigued by the lengths baseball fans would go to in order to drum up support for their respective teams.

"No one would ever put a phaser to my head — it's just another one of those expressions I promised to stop using but sometimes forget about," she explained, leaning back in the seat. "Why don't you tell which team is your favorite? You said you did all this research."

"I have no opinion on the matter. Shinji Takahashi of the Giants appears to be the best pitcher within the Intraplanetary Baseball Organization. The season is still early, but he has an earned run average of 1.79, and during the last season he achieved an overall earned run average of 2.01."

"What's an earned run average?" Amanda mused.

"It is a metric of pitcher performance, calculated as the average of runs surrendered by a pitcher per nine innings pitched."

"It sounds like you did a lot more research than I imagined," Amanda laughed. "So you like the Giants because they have a good pitcher?"

"I have no preference for the Giants. The Dodgers have two of the top ten batters in the league. Jason Samuelson has already hit 20 home runs this season and Hector Gonzales has a current batting average of 0.342."

"Is that good?"

"It is, but it is still early in the season."

"So you're rooting for the Dodgers then?"

"It would be illogical to conclude my acknowledgment for the talent of the Dodgers' batters is indicative of support."

"If you had to pick one or the other to root for in today's game, who would you pick?"

"Am I required to declare my support for one of these teams? Can I not simply admire the athleticism of all players involved?"

Amanda roared with laughter. "That's what I plan to do, but I keep it to myself. You might not want to cheer too loudly for the Dodgers if they end up winning, at least not if Pete is within earshot."

"Based on my historical analysis of the past five years, I estimate the Dodgers have a 64.3% chance of victory today."

"That seems like an weirdly precise estimate. More of your math skills in action?"

"After considering the data based on the weather and the players' previous performances, both with other teams and against each other, the Dodgers are more likely to be victorious."

"I wonder what Pete would say to that," Amanda sighed.

"Earlier you referred to Pete as Miss Rogers' boyfriend. Does that mean they are mates?"

"Um... in a way. They're just dating, which can mean a lot of things. For Millie and Pete, it means they like each other enough to only be with each other and explore the possibility of getting married someday. Speaking of which…" Her words trailed off and the skin on her cheeks reddened.

"Continue," Sarek urged.

"Um, nothing." She turned and glanced out the window at the bay. Sarek was curious about human courtship rituals but he also wasn't certain he wanted to learn about them from Amanda. Courtship and mating practices tended to be some of the most complex of all social practices for any species, and also some of the most taboo.

He also theorized that asking Amanda questions about these things would invite questions about Vulcan customs, and he wasn't eager to explain topics like pon farr and bonding ceremonies. He thought of her advice from the café nearly two months ago: watch people and do as they do. If he already knew that Millicent Rogers and Pete were involved in a romantic relationship, he could simply observe them.

As if on cue, Amanda announced, "Here we are. And there's Millie!"

Sarek disengaged the privacy divider and asked Tavik to stop at the curb. Amanda thanked Tavik for the ride — an odd ritual, given it was his duty — and they exited the vehicle onto a very wide sidewalk swarming with people. Sarek craned his neck to gaze up at the red brick arena. It was an impressive structure.

"Hey Amanda," Miss Rogers called. "Nice car."

"It's from the uh- the Vulcan consulate," Amanda muttered. "Anyway, you remember Sarek?"

Sarek turned to see Amanda's friend, Millicent Rogers. She was wearing a light pink dress that exposed the top half of her breasts. He couldn't deny she was a handsome woman, but he didn't feel compelled to look at her the same way he looked at Amanda.

"Mr. Sarek, so nice to see you again," she said.

"Good afternoon, Miss Rogers," he replied, nodding to her.

"Oh please, call me Millie."

Millie stared at her right hand, played with her fingers, and asked, "How does the ta'al thing go again?"

Sarek raised his hand and delivered the traditional greeting. Millie smiled and returned it and they both said, "Live long and prosper" at the same time.

"See Amanda, that cultural fair wasn't a bad idea after all," Millie said, whipping around to face Amanda.

"You look so beautiful," Amanda said, gently touching her friend's bare shoulder.

"Yeah, I bought this dress for today. I want to have something hanging in my closet that I can look at to remember this occasion."

Amanda nodded and glanced around. "Speaking of which, where's Pete?"

"Parking the car," Millie replied.

"Did I hear someone take my name in vain?" called a male voice from behind Sarek.

"Took you long enough," Millie said, crossing her arms.

Sarek turned to see a tall, slender man with fair skin and light hair approaching. He had a gray shirt with black and orange letters bearing the name "San Francisco" on it and a matching black cap with the letters "SF" stitched on the front in orange thread. "The main entrance to the parking garage was blocked off."

"Well, no rush, I suppose," Millie replied.

"What do you mean, no rush?" he scowled. "If we don't hurry, we're going to miss the first pitch."

Millie rolled her eyes. "Pete, this is Sarek, Amanda's boy- uh- Amanda's friend."

"Oh, yeah," Pete said, shaking his head and looking over at Sarek. He extended his hand and said, "It's great to meet you. Glad you could make it."

Sarek studied his hand for a moment. Just as Millie started to hiss something at Pete, Sarek braced his mind and accepted his handshake. It was uncomfortable but quick. "Thank you for inviting me."

He could sense Amanda staring at him from the corner of his eye and turned his head to look at her. There was surprise written all over her face.

"Well, should get inside?" Amanda grinned. "Like Pete said, we don't want to miss the first pitch."

As they made their way toward the entrance, he heard Millie mutter to Pete, "I told you Vulcans don't shake hands."

"He seemed ok with it?" Pete mumbled in reply.

"We talked about this on the way over," she hissed. "We don't want to offend him."

Sarek sensed from the low tone of their voices that they hadn't intended for him to hear their conversation, but he had excellent auditory acuity. They scanned their electronic tickets at the gate and wandered inside. Loud voices bounced off the concrete floors and walls, amplifying the sound, and whatever Pete and Millie were saying was drowned out in a sea of noise.

He noticed Pete and Millie clasp their hands together as they walked, and ahead in the distance, he spied another pair doing the same thing. Vulcan mates would often touch forefingers in public: perhaps gripping the entire hand was a human analog. But of course, he had witnessed this behavior at the beach between a woman and a boy who appeared to be her son. No Vulcan parent would touch forefingers with their child — it would be grossly inappropriate. He decided to research the practice of hand holding when he returned to the compound.

"So Sarek, I don't suppose they have baseball on Vulcan?" Pete asked, looking over his shoulder at him.

"We do not," he admitted.

"So is this your first baseball game?" Pete asked.

"It is, though I studied the game in preparation for today," Sarek replied. "I understand the rivalry between the Dodgers of Los Angeles and the Giants of San Francisco is one of the oldest in this sport."

Pete slowed his pace and laughed. "The Giants of San Francisco?"

"Yes, Amanda has informed me you prefer the Giants to the Dodgers."

"I'd say I prefer the Dodgers about as much as a colonoscopy," Pete laughed.

Sarek glanced at Amanda and noticed she was sneaking a glance at him out of the corner of her eye and chewing her bottom lip. Millie let go of Pete's hand and said, "Don't be gross. Not everyone hates the Dodgers as much as you do."

"I'm feeling really good about today," Pete argued. "Takahashi is finally back from that neck injury he got two weeks ago and Parker is serving a two game suspension-"

"No one knows what you're talking about," Millie groaned.

"Yet even with Adam Parker's suspension, Jason Samuelson and Hector Gonzales will likely make up the shortfall for the Dodgers," Sarek argued.

Pete's eyebrows rose nearly to his hairline and he turned to Millie. "Apparently someone knows what I'm talking about. Please tell me you're not a Dodgers fan?"

"No," Sarek insisted.

"Good," Pete laughed. "I was really starting to like you and it would be a shame to throw all that away."

Sarek marveled at the dedication this man had for a group of baseball players whom he'd never personally met. It was most illogical. And intriguing. "Be that as it may, I estimate the Giants only have a 35.7% chance of successfully defeating the Dodgers today."

"How do you figure?" Pete asked, slowing his stride even further to walk next to Sarek.

Sarek began to explain how he'd performed his calculations as he followed Pete through a tunnel and emerged overlooking a brilliant green field. Beyond the stadium was the ocean, which was littered with a formation of small boats. They continued their discussion of baseball statistics as they descended a set of steep stairs to section 9, row 8.

"I'm kind of thirsty," Millie said, glancing around the park. "I'm thinking a cherry soda sounds nice."

Pete reached into his pocket and handed her a small cloth object. "If you're going to concessions, mind bringing me back a beer and a hot dog? Oh, and whatever Sarek wants."

Millie pursed her lips and sighed.

"Here, I'll go with you," Amanda said, gripping Millie's arm.

"Yeah, sure," Millie frowned. "What can I get you, Sarek?"

Sarek wondered what social protocol best fit this situation. It would be highly irregular for a female to serve a male who was not her mate, but it would be appropriate for a host to serve a guest. She had invited him here, but this baseball arena was not her domicile. Furthermore, Millie's prospective mate was present and had asked her to serve them. But those were Vulcan customs and they were not on Vulcan. What was the correct human procedure for this scenario? He ultimately chose to reply, "Thank you for your consideration, but I do not require refreshment."

Amanda leaned over and whispered, "I know it's uncomfortable for you to have a woman waiting on you, but it's really not a big deal. It's just what humans do. I can get you some water, or some popcorn maybe?"

She was standing on the step above him, making her roughly the same height as he was. He gazed straight into her dark eyes and raised his chin. "Whatever you think is appropriate."

She smiled and nodded. His face was in such close proximity to hers that he could detect tiny light brown flecks dotting the outside edges of her irises. He'd never noticed before. A tiny, involuntary shiver rippled down his spine.

"I'll be back," she said. She turned to Millie and said more loudly," Let's hurry. Wouldn't want to miss the game."

Sarek watched them proceed back up the stairs, observing the subtle sway of Amanda's hips as she moved.

"So what do you think the odds of Takahashi getting a no-hitter are?" Pete asked from behind him.

The words broke his momentary reverie. He felt greatly disturbed. He hadn't been so distracted by a female since his formative years, back when he'd still be learning to subdue his emotions. He took a slow breath and turned around. What was happening to him?

He followed Pete into the row of green chairs and replied, "It is impossible to estimate such a question without accounting for a large margin of error."


"I can't believe you were about to introduce him as my boyfriend," Amanda groaned, shuffling forward in the food dispenser line.

"I'm sorry, but it feels like you two are together."

"Trust me, we're not."

"And trust me, any man who stares at your legs like that wants to be together."

"He doesn't stare at my legs!" Amanda snapped.

"Yeah, ok."

Amanda rolled her eyes and noticed one of the food dispensers had just become available. She and Millie walked over to it. Millie ordered a beer and hot dog for Pete and a cherry soda and a plate of nachos for herself. Amanda studied the menu over her shoulder, wondering what Sarek might like. After the movie theater, she knew he would at least eat popcorn. She was about to order a medium sized bucket of it, but saw another item further down the list and smiled. She selected it and ordered two servings.

She then decided on two strawberry sodas and a cup of water, just in case Sarek wasn't feeling adventurous enough to drink a fruit flavored carbonated beverage. She stopped by the condiment area and grabbed two spoons and some napkins and started walking back to their seats with Millie.

"You really think he stares at my legs?" Amanda asked suddenly.

"Not just your legs, but yes," Millie laughed. "I honestly don't see how you don't notice."

Amanda started mentally reviewing their interactions. She'd never seriously considered the idea that Sarek might be attracted to her. Just because he looked at her legs didn't mean he didn't look at other women. Or maybe she was getting her cultural signals crossed again – maybe to a Vulcan, looking at a woman's legs didn't imply any sort of sexual interest at all. Or maybe it did. She started to feel anxious and felt the drink holder in her left hand begin to tremble.

"Any chance I could get you to take a picture when the moment happens?" Millie asked, looking over her shoulder at Amanda.

"Huh?" Amanda mumbled.

"When Pete proposes," Millie hissed, glancing around and slowing her stride to walk next to Amanda.

"Oh, right," she replied, nodding. "Of course. I'll keep my PADD handy and keep my fingers crossed that I can get a good angle."

"If I know you, you'll shove people out of the way if you have to," Millie grinned.

Amanda gave her a nervous smile. She hadn't told Sarek about the likelihood of Millie getting engaged today, but she wasn't really sure how to bring it up. She had nearly mentioned it earlier, but she'd been afraid it would lead to awkward questions about dating and marriage, questions that a month ago would have felt like no big deal but now felt agonizing.

Millie stopped near the bottom of the stairs and shuffled through the narrow aisle with Amanda on her heels. Sarek and Pete appeared to be in a deep discussion about something; Pete seemed to be hanging on Sarek's every word. As they got closer, she realized they were debating methods of calculating baseball statistics.

"Millie, we gotta take Sarek to Vegas!" Pete announced cheerfully when he saw them coming.

"What or where is Vegas?" Sarek asked.

"You don't know about Las Vegas?" Pete exclaimed.

"No," Sarek replied. Amanda watched Sarek's eyebrows furrow. She grinned ear-to-ear at the thought of Sarek making a human friend all on his own. The thought of him unintentionally hustling a blackjack or craps table was also almost too much to bear.

"Well, we're not going to Vegas today," Millie sighed. "We have seats 8-82 to 8-85, right?"

"Yeah, why?" Pete asked.

"I'm just wondering where Amanda and I are supposed to sit."

"Uh, I guess 8-84 and 8-85?" Pete teased, pointing to the two seats on his right.

"But then I can't sit next to you," Millie argued.

"We can both scoot down a seat," Pete offered.

"Right, but then I can't sit next to Amanda. Why can't Amanda and I sit in the middle?"

"Because then I can't sit next to Sarek," Pete shrugged, looking at Millie as though the answer were obvious.

"It is impossible to meet each of your requirements with the seating configuration assigned to us," Sarek interrupted. "Furthermore, the ticket I received was for seat 8-83. I am in the correct location."

"Seat numbers don't matter," Pete said, waving his hand dismissively. "No one is going to come around and check that close. All that matters is we have four tickets and four people. We can sit however we want."

Amanda stifled a snicker at Sarek's reaction. He almost looked alarmed at the idea of such a casual arrangement.

"Seat numbers matter if I want to sit next to my boyfriend," Millie argued.

"Look, what if me and Sarek sat together for the first few innings and then we'll switch," Pete shrugged. "I'm sure you girls have a lot of gossip or whatever to catch up on."

"I see Amanda almost every day," Millie pouted, glancing over her shoulder at Amanda to add, "No offense."

"Pleeeeeeease," Pete whined playfully, offering Millie a cheesy smile. "I don't have any guy friends I can talk baseball with."

"Ugh, whatever," Millie sighed, rolling her eyes. "Here's your beer and hot dog."

"You're the best!" Pete exclaimed, rising halfway out of his seat to kiss her on the lips.

Millie narrowed her eyes and replied, "I know."

Millie inched forward, left a seat for Amanda to sit next to Sarek, and motioned for her to take a seat. "At least one of us should get to sit next to our boy- uh, well, the person who brought us."

Amanda gave her a dark look and sat down, trying to balance the drink tray in her lap as best as she could. Amanda looked at Sarek, but he was already deep in conversation with Pete about the Giants' loss to Minnesota in the 2031 World Series. Amanda waited for Pete to take a bite of his hot dog before she cut in.

"Hey Sarek?"

He twisted in his seat to give her his full attention. "I got you a water because I know you'll drink it, but I also got you a strawberry soda. If you don't like it, you don't have to drink it."

She held out one of the soda cups with a wrapped straw. He studied the cup in his hands. She thought about their conversation in the café, when he'd told her it was inappropriate for a woman to wait on a man who wasn't her husband, but surely this didn't count? She started to blush, but he set the cup in the arm holder, unwrapped the straw, inserted it into the lid, and said, "Thank you."

"I also got this," she said, holding out one of the small bags.

"What is it?"

"It's called crackerjack," she replied. "It's a traditional snack served at baseball games. It's candy-coated popcorn with peanuts. And…" She bent down and extracted one of the spoons she stashed away in the drink carrier, "I got you this, so you could avoid touching it with your hands."

"Thank you," Sarek said again, looking her in the eye.

She thought about what Millie had said about him looking at her legs and she felt her cheeks start to burn. She turned her head to look across the ballpark. They were situated not quite halfway between home plate and first base and had a great view of the field and ocean.

"This beverage is very sweet," Sarek remarked after taking a cautious sip of the strawberry soda. "It is reminiscent of kasaa juice."

"Is that good or bad?" Amanda asked.

"I often drank it as a child and enjoyed it."

"I don't suppose nostalgia is logical?" she teased.

"Recollections of the past are perfectly logical."

"Try the crackerjack and tell me what you think," she suggested, glancing at the bag in his lap.

He opened the bag, cautiously dipped his spoon into its contents, and took a bite. "It is also extremely sweet."

"That's crackerjack for you."

"Good afternoon, Giants fans!" cracked the voice of an announcer. A wave of cheers echoed through the small park.

Soon the first pitch was thrown and the game got underway. Amanda never really got the chance to talk to Sarek, because he was too engaged in conversation with Pete and she had no idea what they were talking about. It felt like any time there was a lull in their conversation, music would start blaring or some important play would happen and Pete would jump to his feet, either in glee or disgust depending on what had happened.

Amanda filled her time chatting with Millie and tried paying attention to the game, but her mind was too occupied to focus. She was sitting so close to Sarek but felt so far away. She propped her elbow up on their shared armrest, and once they accidentally brushed the sides of their hands together. It almost felt electric.

After the first four innings, the Giants were down one run to five and she started to feel a little jealous of Pete. Millie seemed to be thinking the same thing of Sarek.

"I'm starting to wonder if he's going to ask Sarek to marry him," Millie grumbled, crossing her arms. "What a beautiful interspecies bromance they have going."

"Pete really loves baseball," Amanda muttered. "And Sarek really loves math."

"It is illogical to have affection for a field of study," Sarek countered, turning to face her.

Amanda felt her face turn scarlet. "You heard that?" she whispered.

"Yes," he replied, meeting her eyes.

She had no idea Vulcans had such incredible hearing. What else had he overheard? Her heart picked up speed. His eyes were so calm but it seemed like there was so much more lurking beneath the stoic Vulcan surface. She wanted to talk to him, to sit quietly as they usually did and share commentary on their differing cultures.

"Hey Pete?" Millie called. "I'm getting thirsty again. Do you want to come with me and get some more drinks?"

Pete waved his hand, shot her a teasing scowl, and gestured to a nearby concession vendor who was walking in their direction. "No worries, I've got this covered."

"I was thinking we could get up, stretch our legs, maybe switch seats?" Millie pleaded.

"It's not even the seventh inning," Pete whined.

"By the seventh inning, the game will be more than half over," Millie argued.

"Yeah, so?"

Amanda clenched her jaw, thinking it would be nice if she could smack some sense into Millie's boyfriend/maybe fiancé. The tension brewing between Millie and Pete was becoming more awkward by the second, but rather than allow herself and Sarek to be literally caught in the middle of their fight, she decided to take action.

"Hey Sarek, would you like to come with me to get another soda?"

"I do not require additional refreshment," he replied.

She gave him a pleading look, wondering if he would know how to interpret it. "But I do, so will you come with me?"

He canted his head and seemed ready to protest further, but he slowly nodded and replied, "If that is what you prefer."

The fifth inning started during their climb up the steep row of stairs. Amanda looked over her shoulder to see Millie had taken Sarek's seat and was in the middle of a very intense discussion with Pete. She felt awful, knowing how hopeful Millie had been for this day to turn into a perfect memory. Sure, Millie could be pushy and a little controlling sometimes, but Pete was almost always clueless.

They made it to the top of the stairs and wandered toward one of the concessions dispensers. As usual, Sarek's presence was attracting a lot of curious glances and a handful of stares. Rather than let rude people annoy her, she asked, "Are you having a good time?"

"Quite enjoyable."

"Really?"

"Yes. I once asked you why that was so often your response to my answers, and you replied that humans have a habit of saying things they do not mean. Vulcans do not share that habit."

Amanda rolled her eyes, groaned inwardly, and nodded. They strolled up to the dispenser and Amanda took her time scrolling through the selection. "Do you want anything?"

"As I said earlier, I do not require refreshment. I have yet to finish the water you gave me."

"It's only water," she replied. "Why don't you try something new? I don't suppose I could tempt you into giving beer a shot? It is one of the most traditional things to drink at a ballgame."

"That was what Pete was drinking," Sarek remarked. "What is beer?"

"It's a drink made from fermented grain. It's alcoholic, but you once said Vulcans sometimes drink wine."

"They do," he replied. "And what do you mean by alcoholic? Do you imply the compound contains alcoholic functional groups?"

"I think it's ethyl alcohol?" she shrugged. "That's the actual thing that makes you drunk, I think, but one beer doesn't have enough of it to have a big impact on mental function."

"Ethyl alcohol has no effect on Vulcan neurochemistry."

"Wait, you can't get drunk?"

"I did not say that. Many compounds can produce an altered state of consciousness in Vulcans. β-phenylethylamine, for example. It is found in a substance humans call chocolate, I believe."

"Wait, are you saying chocolate makes you drunk?"

"In sufficient quantities, yes."

"So you could drink a keg of beer and feel fine but a chocolate bar would make you toasty?"

"How much beer is in a keg and how much chocolate is in a bar and of what purity is the chocolate? And define toasty."

Amanda shook her head and looked up at the ceiling. When she glanced back at Sarek, she noticed his eyes dart back toward her face. He had been staring at her legs, just like Millie had said. It would have been cute and funny if it didn't also have the effect of making her supremely self-conscious.

"So um, if I uh- get a beer will you try it?" she stammered, desperate to do anything to take her mind off the thought that Sarek might actually be interested in her. "You don't have to, I uh-"

"You claim it is a traditional beverage to consume at these events," he replied. "I shall partake if you think it is the correct thing to do."

"It's not mandatory," she tried to explain.

"Which form of beer do you recommend?" he asked, glancing at the dispenser screen.

"One of these, if you just want to try it," she said, pointing to several light beers at the top.

"I defer to your judgment," he replied.

She chose her favorite beer and entered a quantity of two, and moments later, they appeared in the dispenser tray. "Here you go," she said, offering him one of the cups. "Bottom's up."

"Bottom's up?"

"It means drink," she explained.

They sipped from their respective cups simultaneously. The resulting look on Sarek's face was hard to categorize.

"What do you think?" she asked.

"It is extremely unpalatable."

She chuckled at his honesty. "Beer is an acquired taste, I suppose. I don't mind if you pour it out. I'm glad you gave it a chance."

They walked in silence back toward section 9. Amanda dreaded returning to Pete and Millie's awkward relationship problems, but she knew they couldn't avoid her friends forever. She followed Sarek down the stairs and listened as the crowd pulsed and cheered with excitement. Amanda looked around to see what was going on, and her brief moment of inattention caused her to plant the arch of her foot on the edge of a step and slip.

Things felt like they were moving in slow motion. The beer in her hand fell to her left and both hands instinctively reached out in front of her to catch herself from falling. Unfortunately, the only thing to catch her fall was Sarek. She couldn't explain why or how, but he was already pivoting at the waist to catch her, almost as if he'd somehow anticipated this series of events.

He caught her under the arms and her face smashed into his chest. Her legs folded awkwardly between his and struggled to find their footing. Unfortunately, the harder she tried to break away from his grip, the more of a stumbling disaster she became. Sarek was incredibly strong. He seemed to be supporting most of her weight with almost no effort.

"I'm sorry," she yelped, trying to steady herself by pushing off from his chest. Her words were drowned out by the shrieks of people nearby. What was going on?

Sarek didn't acknowledge her apology. He was already turning back toward the field and in a seamless motion, freed his left hand from around her back, lifted it overhead like he was shielding his eyes from the sun, and caught something. The crowd's shrieking reached a fever pitch.

Amanda looked up at Sarek's free hand and discovered it was clutching a baseball. He'd caught a foul ball with a single bare hand. Or maybe it was more correct to say he'd stopped it from colliding with the side of her head. Amanda finally managed to stand upright and get her bearings. Nearby fans were slapping Sarek on the shoulders and cheering and she could see their images being projected on the two dimensional screen on the backside of the field.

She continued to gawk at him, mouth open and unsure of what to say. I'm sorry? Thank you? Good catch?

"Where do I return this?" Sarek asked, holding the ball up.

She choked out a disbelieving laugh. "I think you get to keep it."

"But it is not mine," he insisted.

"It is now," she explained breathlessly. "Or did your research not tell you about the informal rules of catching foul balls?"

Sarek's left eyebrow rose. "You have spilled your beverage."

She glanced down at the empty cup of beer on the ground, watching little rivers of alcohol stream down the stairs. "Seems like a small price to pay to avoid a skull fracture. That catch- that was amazing."

"The ball's trajectory was quite predictable."

"But I think you might have just saved my life. That ball- if it had hit me..."

She was standing on a step above him, which made them about the same height. She was able to look him directly in the eye; he looked uncomfortable.

"Perhaps we should return to our seats," he said quickly.

She followed him down about two dozen more stairs, taking deliberate steps to avoid another disaster and kicking herself for her clumsiness the whole way.

"That was unbelievable!" Pete yelled when he saw them coming. "That's going to be all over the news tonight."

Amanda felt the blood drain from her face. Pete was probably right. Baseball might not be as popular as it once was, but people loved videos like this. She could see in her periphery that the monitors in the stadium were still showing the replay of Sarek's catch, but she was too mortified to watch it. Everyone she knew was going to see her hanging off the right side of Sarek's body, looking like she was either slobbering drunk or half asleep while Sarek effortlessly caught a foul ball one-handed. She didn't even begin to know how to feel about that.

The rest of the game passed by in a dull blur. Amanda could barely bring herself to look at Sarek without blushing, which was immature and ridiculous and frustrating. He almost seemed to be ignoring her and she couldn't figure out why. Unfortunately, Pete also seemed to be ignoring Millie for the sake of baseball after the Giants started to cut into the Dodgers' lead in the fifth inning.

The marriage proposal Millie had been hoping for never came and all Amanda wanted to do was have another drunken girls night and rant about their problems with men. Several hours later, the Giants managed to beat the Dodgers nine to eight, and Pete was nearly beside himself. The four of them strode out of the stadium together; Pete looked like Christmas had come early, Millie looked heartbroken, Sarek looked more serious than ever, and Amanda feeling like she probably looked emotionally lost.

"This has been the best day," Pete exclaimed, giving Millie a hug from behind which she promptly shrugged off. "We should do this again."

"It was a very informative outing," Sarek replied.

"You should come to our barbecue next weekend. We're having a get together with some friends of ours at our house on Sunday afternoon."

"I believe I am able to attend," Sarek replied.

"In case Pete didn't make it clear, you're always invited too, Amanda," Millie grumbled.

"Of course she can come," Pete yawned. "I just assumed she and Sarek would come together. Like a package deal, you know."

"We're not together," Amanda blurted. Her fierce correction surprised her, and the moment the words were out of her mouth, she wished she could take them back.

Pete's face twisted into a look of awkward apology and for the first time all day, he seemed to sense he'd said the wrong thing. He started to mumble dismissively, but Millie grabbed him by the hand and said, "I hope we'll see you both next Sunday. Our car is parked in the opposite direction and we should hurry if we want to get ahead of the traffic."

Amanda nodded. When they were out of earshot she said, "You don't have to go to their barbecue, if you don't want to-"

"I agreed to go," he said, cutting her off.

Part of her wanted to just end the charade and explain to Sarek that they'd just been invited to her friends' house as though they were a couple, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. They stood on the sidewalk outside for nearly a full minute, neither of them speaking or looking directly at each other. Suddenly, Sarek stretched out his hand, presenting the baseball he'd caught to Amanda.

"You explained it was my right to keep this ball, but I have no use for it. Will you accept it?"

She stared at his offering and bit her lip. How many more little ways could they keep unintentionally acting like a couple until she finally lost her mind?

Chapter Text

It was a warm Friday afternoon and Amanda was in the middle of sorting art supplies when her PADD chirped. She tossed the watercolor kits into a plastic tub and reached behind her to grab her PADD and check her messages. It was from her sister, Clarissa.

Hey you,

I'll be in town in two weeks. Can't wait for you to show me a good time. Save space on your couch for me.

Your sis

Amanda started to reply when she received another message almost immediately.

Oh, and who is this Vulcan guy you went to a baseball game with? Mom sent me a video from the holos. We want details.

Clarissa

Amanda grimaced. Apparently last Sunday had been a slow news day and Sarek's impressive catch was the most interesting thing the media could find to talk about after the few hard news stories had wrapped up. Her mother had called later that same evening to ask about it and she'd explained Sarek was just her friend and she'd been at the game with several other friends and he'd been such a good friend to catch her when she'd fallen. She'd said the word "friend" so many times in that short conversation with her mom that it probably sounded stilted, rehearsed, and weird.

She'd also fielded a few questions from her colleagues on Monday when she'd come into work – everyone at school remembered Sarek from the fair – but most people had forgotten about it by now and were focused on packing up the school for the five week summer session break. She gazed around her classroom, thinking she still had so much to do to get ready for a new batch of second graders later that summer.

Amanda hit the button to dictate a response to Clarissa, explaining that Sarek was just her friend when she received a third message from her sister.

Also, baseball? You like baseball? When did that become a thing? And where did you meet a Vulcan guy? What is that like?

Me

Amanda didn't even have time to formulate a thought before a fourth message came in.

Oh, and do I get to meet him?

You know who it is

She held down the dictation button and said, "Can't wait to see you. My couch is your couch. Me and the 'Vulcan guy' are just friends."

She chuckled and set her PADD on the floor under her chair. Amanda was outgoing, but her older sister was an indomitable social butterfly. Clarissa was flaky and fun and had a remarkable talent for inviting herself to things without making it seem rude. Even though Amanda and Clarissa looked so much like their mother, they both joked they'd been adopted because their mother Judy was so quiet and reserved.

She couldn't imagine Clarissa and Sarek in a room together making conversation; Sarek was so introverted and private and Clarissa was so gregarious and open. She'd known her sister her whole life — in the most literal sense — and would have never doubted Clarissa's ability to get anyone to open up about themselves… until she'd met Sarek. If Amanda weren't falling for him, it might have been an interesting experiment to lock them both in a room together and see what emerged 24 hours later. Best friends? A speechless Clarissa? A rattled Vulcan? Who could say?

She put the lid on the box of art supplies and stacked it on one of the back shelves, pausing to look at the empty playground behind the school. Sarek had thought the fenced in play area was so strange. He'd implied young human children were stupid for not knowing they shouldn't run out in the street, and then their conversation had devolved into a verbal scuffle. How far he'd come since then. How far they'd both come.

It was funny how often she thought of Sarek. Even the tiniest of details would spark some memory of a conversation they'd had or a time they'd spent together. She had a baseball sitting on her kitchen table that demanded she recall the feelings she'd gotten when he'd held her in his arms on the steep steps of the baseball stadium every time she looked at it.

Maybe he hadn't held her in his arms as much as stopped her from face planting on the stairs, and maybe stumbling and flailing around like a drunk trying to catch her balance had been embarrassing, but the touch of his hands on her body had felt… she didn't have an adjective. She blushed.

Amanda looked around her classroom and sighed. She felt restless and on edge. She'd said goodbye to her students yesterday for the summer break and not only would she miss them, she now had nothing to occupy her time besides getting things ready for the next group of students. And thinking about Sarek. And wondering what she would do with the rest of her summer. And the rest of her life.

She'd decided at the last minute to volunteer for Adventure Camp, a program that took kids from Piedmont Academy on day trips to nature preserves and protected parks around the continent, but that didn't start until June 12th. That meant a whole week of sitting around doing nothing, and Amanda wasn't very good at that. From a young age, she'd lived her life from one project or event to the next, but she'd been in a bit of a rut lately.

She hadn't heard back about the Andorian educator exchange program yet. She was certain she would have been notified by now and figured it was safe to assume she hadn't gotten the position. She wasn't shocked — she didn't have very much teaching experience and didn't have a graduate degree either. But she couldn't deny she was disappointed. And maybe relieved. The more she dwelled on it, the more she wasn't sure how she felt. Going to Andoria for two years had sounded so exciting, but the idea that she would have to pack up her life and move light years away was also a bit too overwhelming, even for Amanda's taste.

Since her chances of going to Andoria grew smaller each day, she tried to focus on her next set of goals, but she didn't know what they were. She hated feeling stagnant. It could be weeks or even months before she found out the status of her graduate school application and if that didn't pan out, she had no idea what she would do.

She realized she was probably being silly. If she didn't get into grad school, she would keep teaching second graders at Piedmont Academy, finding new projects to juggle, and spending time with her friends. That was a good life and there was nothing wrong with that. But surely there was nothing wrong with wanting more? With wanting to tackle some new challenge or adventure? So maybe moving to Andoria by herself was a little too challenging and adventurous when she really thought about it, but staying in San Francisco doing the same thing year after year was definitely too boring.

She stretched her arms above her head and scowled. Sometimes she felt like it was such a burden to have a wandering soul, but she had always been that way. Her mother loved to tell the story of how she was walking by eight months old, presumably because she'd decided at that early age that sitting still just wasn't an option from the moment she discovered the use of her legs.

Toward the end of high school, before she'd decided on a career in teaching, she'd occasionally had wild thoughts of joining Starfleet. How exciting it would have been to travel around the quadrant and even the galaxy, meeting aliens from other cultures and seeing new things and never staying in the same place for too long. What had ultimately put her off of Starfleet was the sober realization that not all aliens were friendly and though new things could be exciting, they could also be deadly. There was just too much they didn't know about the universe.

She recalled Tim Dorner, a boy who had graduated from Amanda's high school a few years ahead of her, had enlisted in Starfleet as a crewman. The survey vessel he'd been assigned to had been charting some space anomaly somewhere and had simply vanished without a trace. Such things were supposedly uncommon, but not uncommon enough to make her feel comfortable with donning a Starfleet uniform.

It had been nine years, but the fate of Tim's ship remained a mystery. Her high school had held annual candlelight vigils for a few years, but those had eventually fallen by the wayside as people moved on with their lives. Amanda wanted more for her life than to end up dead or missing at a young age, remembered only by her friends and family and a tree planted in her honor at the school she'd graduated from. Maybe that was her biggest problem — she still hadn't figured out the right balance of adventure and caution for her life.

Amanda's PADD dinged again, snapping her out of her reverie. Assuming her sister had messaged her back to pester her about Sarek some more, she ignored it and made her way over to the mathematical learning aids. She had just started to sift through a hodgepodge of place value cards, 3D shapes, dice, spinners, dominos, and rulers when her PADD emitted another cry for attention.

She tapped the screen and her jaw dropped as soon as it illuminated. The first message was from the Andorian Education Directorate and the second was from Nareen, the Andorian ambassador's wife. The first one was notifying her of her acceptance to the Federation Educator Exchange Program and was full of instructions about the documents she would need to submit to get final approval for her work visa as well as copious information about living and working on the planet.

Her hands were shaking as she skipped to Nareen's message.

Miss Grayson,

I heard from my sister-in-law who heard from a friend that the Education Directorate sent out its decision notices this afternoon. I also heard from a friend who heard it from another friend that you were selected. I wish to offer my congratulations, both in this message and in person. Would you be available for tea at my home on stardate 2226.43 at 1130 hours? I believe that corresponds to next Wednesday, by the Terran calendar. Jila has also asked me to send my regards.

Cordially,

Nareen Tarnas

She felt numb. There was so much information to process all at once. She'd been accepted. She needed to get ready to move to Andoria. She needed to quit her job. She needed to pack. She needed to accept an invitation from an ambassador's wife to go to tea. She needed to brush up on Andorian tea customs. A soft ringing began to reverberate through her ears.

"Knock knock," uttered a soft voice in the doorway.

Amanda was slow to look away from her PADD, but when she did, she found Millie standing there. Her friend had been morose and aloof ever since the missed marriage proposal at the baseball game last Sunday; Amanda had been trying to give Millie her space and let Millie decide when she was ready to talk about it. Judging by the look on her face and the posture of her body, Amanda sensed she was getting ready to invite her to lunch to rant about Pete and how dense and clueless he was.

"I'm done with sanitizing most of my learning aids," Millie continued. "I was wondering if you wanted to go to lunch?"

Amanda lowered her PADD and nodded. Millie cocked her head and raised an eyebrow.

"You look pale," Millie noted. "Don't tell me you just got bad news or something?"

"I got it," Amanda murmured, finally smiling as the reality of the situation started to sink in.

"What?" Millie asked. "Now your face is glowing. What's up?"

"The position on Andoria… I got it!"

Millie's mouth snapped shut, but only for a moment. Whatever personal pain her friend was going through, she'd always been the kind of person to set it aside when it really mattered. "This is so exciting!" Millie exclaimed. "When do you leave? Oh my God- I'm going to miss you! But you have to go! Eeek!"

"I was so sure they were going to turn me down," Amanda said, uttering a small laugh and leaning back on one of the short desks to study the message again. "And I got invited to have tea with Ambassador Tarnas' wife. She asked me to meet with her. Me, at an ambassador's house."

"You've done that before though, right? Didn't you say you went to some ambassador's house with your Vulcan boy toy?"

Amanda would have shot her an annoyed look for the casual implication that Sarek was some kind of pet or romantic fling, but the mere mention of him immediately stalled her exhilaration. Going to Andoria would mean saying goodbye to Earth, and Sarek lived on Earth. How strange that she didn't feel the same sadness over the idea of leaving her other friends and loved ones. Maybe it was because her family and close friends would still be waiting for her when she came back, but who could say what would happen to her casual friendship with Sarek?

"You don't have to be so sensitive about it, you know," Millie clucked.

"Huh?"

"I hope you know I was teasing when I said that bit about your Vulcan boy toy," Millie explained. "I actually like Sarek; I think he's a good guy. And Pete adores him, as I'm sure you know."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Amanda murmured, looking at the message Nareen had sent her without really reading the words. "And yes, to answer your earlier question, I went to the ambassador's house, but that was with Sarek. I mean, he is a diplomat. I'm just- I'm just a teacher."

"If you're just a teacher, then what am I?"

"You know what I mean," Amanda sighed. She knew Millie was right, but she was too occupied with absorbing all this information and trying mightily to avoid thinking about Sarek.

"You were so happy and now you look like someone died," her friend exclaimed. "I've been in the dumps all week. One of us needs to be happy!"

"I'm… over the moon," Amanda lied.

"Then tell your face," Millie chuckled, crossing her arms and walking into the classroom.

"I really am excited," she insisted, forcing herself to smile. "It's so much to take in; I'm overwhelmed."

"I thought overwhelmed was just your normal state," Millie laughed. "Always too much going on but always somehow getting it accomplished. Speaking of which, how much time do you have? You know, when do you leave for Andoria?"

Amanda toggled back to the message from the education directorate. "Stardate 2226.58.317?"

"Uh… when is that?" Millie shrugged, making a funny face.

"I have no idea," Amanda admitted, thinking Sarek would probably know. She lifted her PADD to speak clearly into the microphone embedded at the top of the device and asked, "What is the Terran date for stardate 2226.58.317?"

"August 1st," the PADD's singsong voice replied.

"Great, so I have less than two months to get my life packed and in order," she sighed, feeling the urge to drop everything she was doing and run home and start sorting through her belongings. "I also only have four days to learn the ins and outs of having tea with an Andorian ambassador's wife. Learning all the rituals of lunch was daunting enough. By the way, did you know napkins have to be folded in half lengthwise and placed in your lap with the opening facing to the left but when the meal is over, they should be refolded into a triangle and placed on the table to the right side of the plate with the opening facing to the right?"

"What are you talking about?" Millie laughed.

Amanda scowled and pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. "Andorian dining customs. They're insanely complex. I studied for hours for that lunch I went to with Sarek."

"Well, consider studying for tea good practice for when you live there, I guess," Millie shrugged. "Speaking of lunch, I'm starving. Do you want to talk about this over a salad at the deli?"

"Sure."

"Oh, and speaking of Sarek, is he coming with you to the barbecue on Sunday?"

"As far as I know," she replied. "I haven't heard from him since the baseball game."

Amanda felt a pang of sadness at the idea that she was now facing an official countdown of Sundays she had left to spend with Sarek. Were it up to her, they would go somewhere more private. She felt like she'd barely spent any time with him last Sunday due to Sarek's near perfect recall and Pete's unhealthy obsession with a sport that had surpassed its heyday by a few centuries.

Millie started to talk about the upcoming barbecue and eventually opened up about her bitter disappointment that there was still no ring on her finger, but Amanda was only half listening. Her thoughts were focused on having tea with an ambassador's wife, Sarek, Andoria, Sarek, moving, Sarek… She marveled at the fact that she had gone from being worried about having too much time on her hands to having none at all. Such was the life of Amanda Grayson.


Sarek gazed out the window of the consular car at the sparkling water of the bay. He did not suppose he would ever grow accustomed to residing on a planet with such an abundance of water, but perhaps he would not have to. He exhaled and read the Vulcan Science Academy's message again.

Preliminary findings from a joint research project between the United Earth Space Probe Agency and Andorian Science Directorate have raised serious concerns about the nature of interstellar turbulence and its impacts on extended deep space missions and Starfleet's 50-year strategic plan. The Federation Science Council has asked the Vulcan Science Academy to lead a research team in conjunction with Terran, Andorian, and Starfleet scientists to further investigate the phenomenon. As you have previously performed exemplary work on this subject for the past 15 Standard years and have recent experience in interplanetary collaboration, you have been selected by the Academy's committee of advisors to supervise this project, which is scheduled to begin on stardate 2226.66.805. We await your decision and require a response within 21 Standard days.

Chief Councilor V'Nar
Vulcan Science Academy

Though the offer was unanticipated, it was an honor to be chosen for such a prestigious position. Supervising a large joint project was a prerequisite for serving on the Vulcan Science Academy committee of advisors. He had only been at his current posting at the consulate for 82 days, but it would be illogical to refuse the committee's proposition.

Ambassador Selden would be returning tomorrow; Sarek would speak with him about this opportunity then. The ambassador was a fellow scientist and would appreciate the importance of accepting a supervisory position of a joint research project between the Vulcan Science Academy and other Federation and planetary agencies.

There were only 88 days until the project would begin, but making arrangements to return to Vulcan would be simple. He had brought few personal belongings with him and prior to arriving on Earth, he had employed a caretaker to manage his small house on the back of his family estate on the outskirts of Shi'Kahr. There was little to do aside from submit his resignation to the ambassador, inform Councilor V'Nar he intended to accept the position, and arrange for travel to return to his home planet.

That should have been the end of his thoughts on the matter, but something troubled him. He had come to Earth at his father's advice due to the minor scandal his presence at T'Rea's bonding ceremony had caused, not because he had any interest in serving as a science attaché. Though many members of his family had diplomatic and political aspirations, Sarek had never experienced an urge to share in that tradition. He had always been captivated by science, astrophysics in particular.

Returning to Vulcan would mean occasionally encountering T'Rea, but that was not what presently concerned him — time, distance, and meditation had healed those wounds. Returning to Vulcan meant leaving Earth, and leaving Earth meant leaving Amanda. It took longer periods of meditation to sort out and suppress his feelings for her each time they shared each other's company. It had taken hours of reflection over the course of several days to process just several seconds of physical contact with her at last week's baseball game, and his emotions regarding that encounter were not yet fully quelled.

They had been descending the stairs. His eyes had been on the batter, and seeing the precise angle of the bat and the declination of the pitcher's arm as he'd pulled it back to throw the ball, Sarek already knew the ball would be deflected into the stands at their approximate location. He had been in the middle of processing that when he'd sensed a powerful surge of panic and turned to Amanda to see what was the matter, and realized her fear was the instinctive result of falling. She'd reached out to him and he'd caught her around her torso, and though he knew humans had a much lower bone density than Vulcans, he'd been surprised by how little she weighed.

The feel of her ribcage in his hands had induced an autonomic response within him he hadn't ever anticipated. He'd become aroused. He had only snapped out of his momentary lust by remembering a stray baseball was due to land nearby, and he'd wisely turned and caught it just before it made contact with the side of her head. It had traveled at a velocity significant enough to cause soreness in his hand for several days; had it actually struck Amanda, it would have certainly fractured her fragile human skull or even possibly killed her.

There was so much about those 4.3 seconds he still had difficulty understanding. Before that incident, he'd only been able to sense her presence, not more specific emotions. Excepting emotional exchanges between bonded mates, non-psionic telepathy was extremely rare in Vulcans, but he'd sensed her fear without any physical contact. There were only two possible explanations. He had either developed an ability to sense emotions within others despite the absence of a permanent mating bond — something he'd never previously been able to do in his life — or his informal bond of friendship with her had deepened to a point where it bordered on a mating bond.

It not only disturbed him that he could feel what she felt, but that touching her in such an intimate, albeit necessary, manner had made him instinctively want to mate with her on a subconscious level. If he could sense her emotions, could she sense his? He wasn't sure. Humans were not a telepathic species. It certainly hadn't seemed like she'd been aware of his physical desire for her, because she'd spent the rest of the game asking if he was "ok," to use her oddly imprecise human term.

As he had on so many occasions, he wondered if it was wise to continue meeting with her. What had begun as an arrangement to acquaint each other with different facets of their respective cultures had become a friendship, but now forces within him hungered to be with her in ways that were inappropriate. He had already spent a great deal of time rationalizing why it would be illogical for a Vulcan to take a human mate — not that Amanda had ever indicated any interest in becoming his mate — but now that logic dictated he should return to Vulcan to progress in his scientific career, his continued attraction to her had become even less prudent.

Even if their species were theoretically compatible, their individual lives were not. They had different plans and ambitions; their lives had intertwined for a brief period, but that period was coming to a close. Her lessons had been invaluable to his short-lived diplomatic career and would likely prove useful when he worked with human colleagues in the future. He would be forever grateful to her, but they were not suited to each other.

He detected a thrum of nervous excitement and sat a little straighter. The car pulled onto a wide street with long rows of single story houses on each side. This district was very near Amanda's, and though he was not certain which was the correct house, he knew Amanda was near. He felt her more strongly than he ever had.

He closed his eyes and worked through a series of elementary meditative techniques to pacify his emotions. He reopened them when the vehicle drifted to a stop, instantly noticing the tall woman in a white and yellow dress with large, dark eyes and a yellow piece of fabric in her hair. Amanda.

The pace of his heart quickened and the sight of her made him instantly recall their last encounter, the way his hands had traveled up her midsection as he'd prevented her from falling. The sight of her and the mere thought of that incident produced another involuntary sexual response in his body. He frantically tried to push it from his mind, but she wore a broad smile on her face and was waving at him. He couldn't ignore her. He swallowed, adjusted the fit of his trousers, and slowly opened the door.

"Hi stranger," she said, giving him a small grin. "Right on time, as usual."

"I believe we are well acquainted," he replied stiffly, unsure why she would refer to him as a stranger.

"I know," she replied. She was smiling, but he got the impression she was anxious. "So anyway, everyone's out back. Want to come with me?"

Sarek followed Amanda around the side of the house to a small gate in a red wooden fence. A curious aroma of smoke and other unidentifiable scents hung in the air. His earlier research had told him a barbecue was a meal or gathering at which food, usually meat, was cooked out of doors on a rack over an open fire or on a grill. He did not consume meat, but he had already accepted Pete's invitation.

There were a total of eight people in the large yard: Pete, Millie, and four adults he did not know stood on a deck, and two female children who were running along the back grassy portion of the lawn. They were holding each other's hands and giggling, which Sarek found intriguing.

After some casual research, Sarek now knew humans exhibited handholding behavior for a number of reasons, both social and psychological. When done between adults, it signified romantic attachment in most contexts. It could enhance feelings of intimacy, demonstrate to others the existence of a pair bond, or reduce anxiety when one or both parties were threatened or anticipated the experience of pain. In essence, holding hands for human adults shared many functions of the Vulcan finger embrace.

Unlike Vulcan practices though, handholding was also common between adults and children as a means of physically directing and protecting the younger individual. It had seemed so peculiar the first time he'd witnessed it at the beach, but what would be a moderate social taboo for Vulcans was apparently perceived as natural among humans.

But what could be the function of handholding between young children? Were they beginning to explore and experiment with aspects of intimate adult relationships? He glanced at the adults on the high wooden deck attached to the house, noting they seemed oblivious to the children's activity. All children behaved inappropriately at times — social boundaries were taught and not inherently understood — but it was the responsibility of their caretakers to teach them correct behavior, particularly in such a public setting.

"Are you ok?" Amanda asked, looking at him.

"I am," he replied. "I was unaware there would be children present."

She looked over to the girls and asked, "I hope that's ok? There should be at least one more kid coming. That's Maria and Kayla — they're Ray and Mark's daughters."

"They are… sisters?" he asked, studying them more closely.

They now had both of their hands clasped together and were spinning in circles, clearly enjoying the sensation of the centrifugal force of their movement. They did bear a moderate resemblance to each other — both had rich brown skin, dark eyes, and black hair. Amanda hadn't reacted to the sight of them holding hands, so it was logical to conclude this was also typical behavior among children, perhaps as a game or sign of familial companionship. Fascinating.

The gate opened behind them and two people walked through — a tall man with an olive complexion and shiny black hair and a woman with much darker skin, so dark is nearly appeared blue. He had never seen another mammalian, humanoid person with skin as dark as this woman's, but the brilliant undertones in the color gave her face a distinctly lovely quality. She was quite beautiful indeed.

There was a moderate amount of diversity within the Vulcan population. Those who resided in the hotter, drier regions of the planet with less vegetation tended to have darker complexions and thinner physiques than those who hailed from cooler climates, for example, but humans were far more diverse.

A third person appeared between them, a child, and judging by her features, she was the offspring of the two people she currently stood between. The moment she spotted the other female children twirling in the distance, she exclaimed, "Bye mom!" and sprinted in their direction.

The woman made eye contact with Amanda, shook her head, and laughed. "You know how kids are."

"How are you doing, Fatou?" Amanda asked, pulling the woman into a hug.

"So good," the woman laughed. "Jason and I are expecting another one."

Amanda pulled back and clasped one hand over her mouth and the other hand over the woman's belly. He had never seen her perform this unusual gesture.

"Congratulations!" Amanda cried, hugging the man. "When did this happen?"

"Do you mean when did it actually happen or when did we find out?" the man laughed.

The woman Amanda had addressed as Fatou gave the man an ugly look and a gentle slap on the shoulder with the back of her hand and replied, "We found out two weeks ago. It's a boy this time."

"When are you due?"

"January. At least it won't be summer this time. I had Mari in July and those last months were miserable."

Using the available information, Sarek deduced the woman was pregnant. How peculiar they would discuss such a private matter so openly. Pregnancy and childbirth were perfectly natural events and it would be illogical to pretend such things didn't occur, but Vulcans would consider it mildly indelicate to openly refer to the pregnancy and extremely inappropriate to ask a female the approximate date she anticipated giving birth.

Sarek looked away and made eye contact with the man. He smiled, extended his hand and said, "Hey there, I'm Jason. Jason Kim."

How regrettable that humans seemed to insist on touching hands for all manner of interactions. Just as he had done with Pete the Sunday before, he steeled his mind against unwanted mental transference and quickly shook Mr. Kim's hand, replying, "I am Sarek."

"Oh, I guess I should have started with introductions," Amanda said, offering a nervous smile. "So I see you've already met Jason, but Sarek, this is Fatou, Jason's wife."

Fatou gave him a warm expression, but rather than offer her hand in a handshake, she raised it in the ta'al and said, "It is an honor to make your acquaintance. Live long and prosper."

Sarek nodded and returned the greeting.

"I should also probably go introduce you to everyone else," Amanda said, nodding her head in the direction of the deck.

Just as she finished speaking, Pete's face appeared over the edge of the deck and he called, "There's the man of the hour! Sarek! How are you?"

Amanda led their group up to the wooden deck where they greeted Pete and Millie and Sarek was introduced to Raymond and Mark, the parents of Maria and Kayla. They were mates, or husbands, to use their term, which Sarek found fascinating. Same sex partnerships existed on Vulcan as well, and though they weren't as common as opposite sex marriages, they were hardly rare either. One of the few socially accepted reasons for terminating an arranged childhood bond stemmed from one or both parties realizing they had a sexual orientation incompatible with their intended mate.

Sarek was also introduced to a man named Andrew, who insisted on being called Andy, and a tall woman with long golden hair named Devon who he presumed was Andy's mate based on their incessant hand holding. He greeted each in turn, forcing himself to bear a number of uncomfortable handshakes in the interest of observing human customs.

Pete was wearing an apron and brandishing a set of tongs with one hand and holding a drink in a glass bottle in the other. Fatou and Millie quickly ushered Amanda and Devon to a long table covered with a bright green cloth and several colorful dishes and Pete motioned for Sarek to join the group of males. He had never been to a party where the guests were segregated by gender, but perhaps the split had occurred randomly. Or perhaps this was how barbecues were held, though he had encountered no mention of this custom during his research.

"This is the guy I was telling you about!" Pete exclaimed.

"Pete sent us the video of you catching that fly ball last weekend," Mark added, taking a swig from a glass of yellow and green liquid. "That was incredible!"

"Incredible is defined as something that is impossible or nearly impossible to believe," Sarek replied. "It was merely a demonstration of hand-eye coordination and my understanding of simple geometry and physics."

Mark blinked a few times and then laughed. Sarek noticed Amanda staring at him over Mark's shoulder. She started to walk in his direction, but Millie said something to her and she paused.

"Can I get you something to drink? Beer? Water? One of these disgusting mint juleps Mark likes?"

"What is a mint julep?"

"It's a cocktail, made with bourbon, sugar, and mint."

"What is bourbon?"

Pete, Mark, Jason, Raymond, and Andy all turned to stare at him in fascination. They began a joint lesson in teaching him about various mind-altering liquids humans consumed, each which apparently contained different quantities of ethyl alcohol. Andy was in the middle of explaining that vodka didn't have any taste and that was the whole point of vodka when Pete looked up from the circular grill and asked, "How do you like your burger, Sarek?"

"What is a burger?" he asked. The group gave him another incredulous look.

"A hamburger," Pete laughed. "It's ground meat made into a patty, served on a bun, usually with cheese and tomatoes or lettuce or ketchup or whatever."

"I do not consume meat," he explained.

"Then what do you eat?" Mark and Andy asked simultaneously.

"A plant based diet," he replied.

"These burgers, they're modeled after meat, but people stopped using real animal meat a long time ago. Modern meat is produced in some kind of machine that assembles proteins or something."

"Yes, proteins derived from several species of bacteria," he replied, remembering a similar conversation he'd had with Amanda during their first meeting.

"What do you mean, bacteria?" Raymond asked.

As he had done with Amanda, Sarek explained the process of harvesting amino acids from specially cultured bacteria for use in protein re-sequencers. When he'd finished detailing the specifics, the group had grown quiet and Pete was staring at the food he was preparing with unusual focus. "Really, bacteria?"

"Yes," Sarek replied.

"Is everything ok over here?" Amanda asked suddenly, appearing next to Sarek.

"Of course," Pete murmured. "Can you tell Millie the bac- uh, burgers are ready?"

The parents herded their children indoors to cleanse their hands and the adults began to converge on the long central table with the green tablecloth. Sarek waited for direction on where he should sit, but none was given until Amanda motioned for him to join her near the end of the table. Soon plastic plates were passed around and people started shuffling a number of brightly colored dishes from person to person, adding portions of food to their plates.

"The main course is burgers and hot dogs, but the beans, slaw, and melon are all meat-free," Amanda murmured, offering him a bowl containing something that looked like a red lentil stew.

"Thank you," he replied, careful to avoid touching her hands as he accepted the dish. The beans were delicious, the "cold slaw" was unusual but edible, and the green and orange melon reminded him of extremely sweet gespar. The red melon was more fleshy and contained seeds, but it was also palatable.

He was already aware humans preferred to draw out the length of meals out by holding discussions as they ate, and Pete and Millie's barbecue was no exception. He was quiet through most of the meal, preferring to focus on extracting the black seeds from his red melon. He listened as Fatou announced to the larger group that she was expecting another child, listened as Amanda talked to the three young girls about their schooling, and listened as Pete and Andy talked about their mutual profession, which involved something in agriculture research.

Andy's mate, the blonde woman named Devon, was sitting directly across from him and when he finally looked in her direction, she smiled and asked, "So Amanda was telling me you work at the Vulcan embassy? What exactly do you do?"

"I serve as science attaché to the Vulcan Consulate to Earth," he replied.

"That sounds really interesting," she said. "I take it you have a scientific background?"

"Yes, I hold an advanced degree in astrophysics," he explained.

She uttered a low whistle. "I'm a geologist. I doubt my math skills are sharp enough to handle the calculations you must do on a daily basis."

"I am not currently working in the field," he admitted, thinking that he would due to resume his career as an astrophysicist soon enough.

He canted his head to his right to look at Amanda, noting that she was studying the food on her plate with unusual interest. He needed to tell her he would be leaving in several months, but he would prefer to have that discussion in private.

"Did someone say math?" Pete suddenly asked from the other end of the table. "Sarek is a math genius. You should have seen him calculating stats at the ballgame the other day. Watch this — Sarek, what's 761 times 8,942?"

Sarek was about to answer that it was 6,804,862 when Millie groaned and said, "Don't mind him, Sarek, we invited you here as our guest, not our calculator."

The meal came to a close half an hour later and Sarek began assisting in clearing the table, as would be expected of a guest in a Vulcan household following a midday meal. Millie and Pete insisted they required no help, so he followed Amanda down the deck's stairs and onto the lawn below where the children had resumed their play.

There was a small garden lining the base of the deck featuring flowers of all shades of red, pink, yellow, and purple. He was in the middle of examining a grouping of short plants with an unusual odor and golden flowers when Amanda said, "Those are marigolds."

"Are you familiar with horticulture?" he asked.

"Not really," she admitted. "My mom has a green thumb. Not me though."

"Why is her thumb green?"

Amanda covered her mouth as she laughed. "It's not literally green. It's an expression meaning someone is good with growing plants."

"I see."

He glanced around. The children were playing near the back fence and Raymond, Mark, Fatou, and Jason were standing by a shed on the far left side of the lawn watching them. Millie was sitting at the table on the deck talking to Andy and Devon. Noting that they had a relative degree of privacy by the garden, he contemplated telling her of his offer from the Vulcan Science Academy, but she spoke first.

"So, there's something I should probably tell you…" she began.

Before she could speak her mind, Pete cut her off. "Can I have everyone's attention?"

The gathering fell quiet and turned to see Pete standing in the middle of the deck. The parents had collected their children and moved forward to hear Pete more clearly.

"So I know it's been a while since we got together like this," Pete laughed. "And we've got some new friends here. Welcome to our little group, Sarek and Devon. Uh, anyway, it's uh- it's great to see everyone. I had another reason for planning this get-together, and it has to do with the incredible woman sitting right over there."

Pete gestured to Millie, whose face had suddenly turned a brilliant shade of red, much as Amanda's often did.

"Oh my God, he's going to do it," Amanda whispered, almost inaudibly.

"Do what?" Sarek murmured.

"So Millie and I have been together for years and like anyone, we've had good times and bad times, and a few times when she's threatened to kick me out and probably should have," Pete continued. "But she stuck with me, and I love her for it." He reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like a black box, took several steps toward Millie, and said, "I guess what I'm trying to say is, Millicent Rogers, will you marry me?"

He fell to one knee, opened the box, and held it out to Millie. Millie had begun crying, presumably because she was so distressed by his offer of matrimony. Despite her tears and much to Sarek's surprise, she vigorously nodded her head and exclaimed, "Yes!" Pete stood and Millie threw her arms around his neck and pulled him into a kiss so passionate Sarek felt compelled to look away.

Claps and cheers rang out through the yard. Amanda bounced up and down and clutched her chest. Were human marriage ceremonies really so informal?

Everyone made their way back up to the deck to congratulate the new mates. Sarek didn't know them well and wasn't sure what would be appropriate to say, so he simply revised the Vulcan marriage blessing and said, "May you find contentment together."

The guests began to leave soon after, but Amanda remained to talk to Millie. Sarek wasn't sure if it was correct for him to stay also and he was considering sending a message to Tavik to come collect him when he overheard Millie say, "I know you're going to be so busy packing and all, so I won't bother you with helping me plan the big day, but you have to find a way to come back to Earth for the ceremony. It wouldn't feel like my special day without you here."

Amanda glanced sidelong at Sarek and nodded. "Of course I will."

Sarek was perplexed by the exchange. Where was Amanda going that she would have to come back to Earth for a ceremony? Had she been selected to teach on Andoria after all? The thought troubled him, though it shouldn't have, given he was also departing Earth soon.

"I'm so happy for you, Millie," Amanda added, pulling her friend into a prolonged hug. "Sarek and I should probably get going. I'm sure you have a lot of calls to make, but I'll see you tomorrow."

Sarek and Amanda bid their goodbyes to the new couple and exited the yard through the same gate they'd come through. When they reached the sidewalk, Sarek pulled out his PADD to notify Tavik, but paused when he saw Amanda watching him.

"Are you going back to the consulate?"

"Do you have an alternative suggestion?" he asked.

"It's about 1600 hours," Amanda mused. "I know you didn't eat much at the barbecue, so is there any chance you'd like to come to my house for dinner? I feel like I still owe you from that time I invited you over and then led you past a park where you got attacked by hornets."

Sarek had never been so eager and so reluctant to accept an invitation. He had not been truly alone with her since she'd brought him dinner in the hospital. He enjoyed the contentment he felt in their private moments together, but the idea of being alone with Amanda also stirred certain impulses that he wished to avoid experiencing. He also needed to tell her of his appointment to the supervisory position of the research team, but now he was having conflicted thoughts about that as well.

"As I recall, you brought me dinner at the hospital, as well as a shirt," he replied. "I believe it is I who am indebted to you."

"Well then, if you really feel like you owe me, you can repay me by joining me for dinner."

"Then I accept."

Chapter Text

Sarek walked beside Amanda, noticing the hem of her skirt brushed against his trouser leg with every other step she took. The sidewalk was narrow, so to avoid walking in the grass, they had to stand at closer proximity than they otherwise would have. Amanda lived only half a kilometer from Millie, and so they had agreed to walk to her residence.

Her white and yellow dress exposed her shoulders, which appeared soft and smooth, just like her legs. She had a distinctive dark mark approximately two centimeters in diameter on her left shoulder blade. He had seen her bare shoulders before, but this was the first time he'd noticed the small imperfection in her skin was the approximate shape of a crescent moon.

Amanda turned her head and noticed he was glancing in her direction. Sarek hadn't even realized he was looking at her until she'd caught him. He looked away, surprised by his inattention. He studied the lines of the concrete sidewalk, trying to regain his focus.

Amanda was uncharacteristically quiet. Sarek considered telling her of his plans to relocate to Vulcan in the coming months, but he was mulling over something Millie had said at the barbecue. He had never asked a personal query of Amanda, at least not intentionally. Even though she asked them of him regularly, Sarek found it difficult to overcome a lifetime of ingrained social protocols and pry into her private affairs.

He had just decided to make his inquiry when she asked, "Are you interested in trying vegetable spaghetti?"

He recalled from their excursion to the grocery store that spaghetti was a variety of pasta in the shape of long, thin strings. "I will be satisfied to eat whatever you decide to prepare."

"You're easy to please." Her eyes flicked in his direction and she smiled slightly, but she remained facing forward.

They continued on for several paces and turned left onto a main residential street. He could see Amanda's house in the distance.

"So I didn't get much chance to talk to you at the barbecue," she murmured. "How have you been?"

It was an opportune time to inform her of the Vulcan Science Academy's offer, but he found himself beginning to explain his dealings with the Vulcan Science Ministry and Ambassador Selden's scheduled return on the following day.

"What will happen when the ambassador comes back? Does this mean you're going to be busier than you are now?"

"I do not know," he confessed, thinking he should explain that his first order of business with the ambassador would be to resign his post.

"You look tired," Amanda noted, craning her neck to look at him.

Sarek said nothing. There was nothing to say — he hadn't been sleeping well in recent weeks. He also wasn't shocked by her remark — she was so willing to discuss any aspect of anyone's private routine, including pregnancy, apparently, but he was disturbed that she could so readily perceive his exhaustion. He'd spent so much time meditating in recent weeks that it was interfering with his usual period of rest.

It suddenly occurred to him that his overt curiosity regarding Amanda's situation could easily be disguised using a technique she had taught him for human socializing. He could talk small, or make "small talk," by expressing interest in a separate but related topic. It was highly illogical by Vulcan standards, but it was a common habit among humans, and since he was speaking with a human, there was some logic in observing human customs. Rather than directly ask Amanda where she was going that she would have to return to Earth for a ceremony on Millie's behalf, he could he could indirectly inquire into Millie's situation instead.

"Earlier Miss Rogers utilized the terms, 'big day' and 'special day' in reference to a ceremony," he mused. "To what ceremony does she refer?"

Amanda's face contorted into an odd expression. "She was talking about her wedding ceremony. What else would be referring to?"

"Is she not already married?" Sarek asked, now genuinely confused.

Her eyebrows furrowed and her mouth drifted open slightly. "No? Pete only just proposed to her. You were there."

Sarek knew nothing of human matrimonial rites. The exchange he had witnessed between Pete and Millie had been highly informal, but most human activity was informal by Vulcan standards, including the formal reception he had been to with Amanda.

There had been no gong, no procession, no marriage drum, no guards in the event a challenge was declared, no mutual oaths, and no priest to formally join their minds. But humans could not form telepathic links, so he had not expected that their marriage ceremonies would mirror Vulcan bonding rituals. Pete had made a speech about why he had selected Millie as his mate, had uttered the words, "Millicent Rogers, will you marry me?" and had fallen to one knee to present her with a piece of jewelry. Was there some additional procedure for Pete or Millie to perform before they were officially married?

"I am not familiar with your customs in these matters," he explained.

"Oh!" Amanda replied, her voice loud and cracking on the singular syllable. "You thought that was their wedding? No! Although, I suppose I can see how you would think it would be, if you've never seen a human wedding before. And by all accounts, some human weddings really are that quick and casual, but I can guarantee Millie has her heart set on doing something more by the book."

"By the book?"

"She wants to have a real wedding. White dress, bridesmaids, flowers…" Amanda said, her voice trailing off. "And it occurs to me you probably have no idea what I'm talking about."

"No," he admitted. "But if they were not married earlier this afternoon, what precisely transpired between them?"

"Pete proposed to Millie."

"Do you imply he merely made a proposition that they marry? Like a form of betrothal?"

"I don't know if betrothal is the right word. Betrothal sort of suggests someone else made the decision for you."

"I see."

"Now you've got me curious… how do Vulcans decide to get married?" she asked, her complexion reddening.

"Most do not decide. It is decided for them, as you already said."

"You don't get to choose your partners?"

"Some reformists have abandoned the practice, but many parents still arrange partners for their children, who participate in a joining ceremony at age seven."

"Like… an arranged child marriage?" she muttered, her tone shifting into an unusual pitch.

"The joining takes place when the couple are children, but they are not formally married until they reach both physical maturity and the age of majority."

"Oh," she replied, her voice pensive. "So are you… married? Or joined? Or…"

Sarek was hesitant to answer her question. As was so often the case, Amanda was oblivious about the indelicate nature of her inquiry. He thought of T'Kala, the woman his parents have chosen for him, and T'Rea, the woman he'd chosen for himself. He glanced at Amanda and suddenly found himself unable to focus on either of those women, only the one walking beside him. "I was bonded at age seven like most Vulcans, but it was a poor match and we dissolved the union."

It wasn't the entire truth, but she seemed to accept it. The red color in Amanda's cheeks deepened and she began to stammer, "I didn't mean to pry- that was probably a really inappropriate question. Uh- I'm- I'm really sorry. Sorry for asking and for…"

"Your apology is unnecessary."

"Miss Grayson!" called a voice up ahead.

Sarek turned his attention to a man on the sidewalk near Amanda's house. He was standing beside a vehicle in the neighboring driveway and behind him was the boy called Richard.

"Hello, Dr. Daystrom," Amanda replied, raising her voice slightly to project it over the distance between them.

Before Sarek could ponder whether Daystrom was a common surname among humans, Amanda quietly explained, "That's Richard's dad, Henry Daystrom."

They came to a stop on the sidewalk a meter away from Richard and his father. Amanda gestured to Sarek and made a louder, more formal introduction. "Sarek, this is Dr. Daystrom. You already know Richard. Dr. Daystrom, this is my friend Sarek."

Sarek delivered the customary Vulcan greeting and Richard offered a little wave and said, "Hey, Mr. Sarek."

Henry Daystrom took a slightly less friendly approach than his son. He looked Sarek up and down and nodded. "I've heard a lot about you."

"You have?" Sarek replied.

"Yes, Miss Grayson informed me she attended a formal reception for the Federation Science Council with you, and Richard tells me you are responsible for his recent improvements in mathematics."

"I see."

"Dad," Richard whined.

"I haven't seen either of you around much lately," Amanda interjected, cutting off Dr. Daystrom before he could speak and then turning to Richard, she said, "I haven't even seen you since before school let out. How have you been?"

"Ah, yes, Richard has been coming with me to the lab or we've been staying home tinkering," Dr. Daystrom replied. "He's developed an interest in computers."

"Yeah," Richard muttered.

"Are you Dr. Henry Daystrom, a leading researcher in the field of duotronics?" Sarek asked.

Dr. Daystrom's face adopted a mistrustful expression. "I am."

"You published two papers last year on the quantum mechanical phenomenon of superposition that were remarkable," Sarek replied. "I contacted you two months ago and requested to tour your laboratory, but you refused."

"I do seem to remember something about that," Dr. Daystrom agreed. "You must be from the Vulcan consulate."

"Yes."

Dr. Daystrom's eyes narrowed and he said, "Let's be going inside, Richard. It was nice to meet you. It was also nice seeing you again, Miss Grayson."

Dr. Daystrom directed his son up the narrow path to the house. Amanda gave Sarek an astonished look and murmured, "What was that about?"

"Clarify."

"We were having a regular conversation but once the subject of the consulate came up, he stomped off. Why does my neighbor seem to hate you?" Richard and his father disappeared into their home and Amanda took a few cautious steps toward her house.

"I have never met Dr. Daystrom prior to today," Sarek replied, following her. "Furthermore, hatred is-"

"Illogical, yes, I'm sure. But you didn't notice the way the atmosphere shifted when you started talking about his laboratory? He almost seemed hostile."

"He said it was nice to meet me, and that it was also good to see you again."

"Right, those were the words that came out of his mouth, but there was something in his tone and the abrupt way he ended the conversation."

"I had not noticed."

Amanda rolled her eyes and started up the path toward her house. Once they entered the dwelling, she said, "Dr. Daystrom's always been a little temperamental. He really embodies the whole 'mad scientist' vibe — he loses track of time, sometimes goes days without a shower, gets easily annoyed, mildly eccentric — but I'd still say this is a record. Are you sure you didn't do something to make him angry?"

"Until today, I have only corresponded with him on one occasion. His response suggested he believed Vulcans were only interested in discrediting him or stealing his technologies. I had no interest in doing either of those things. His work is still very preliminary, but if he is correct in his theory that circuitry can function beyond electronic equipment, it would revolutionize computing."

"Wait, what does he do?" Amanda asked, hanging her bag from the back of one of the chairs at her kitchen table.

"He is attempting to develop duotronic technology."

"What is that?"

"At present, computers are electronic and have quantum limitations due to the nature of metals in circuitry. In order to make computing faster, computers must be built larger, which is a significant drawback for many fields, particularly nanorobotics and space exploration."

Amanda blinked several times and formed a slow smile. "I don't really know that much about computers."

"Prior to Dr. Daystrom's research, duotronic technology was entirely theoretical, but he's made limited progress in designing computers that transcend circuitry. In order to develop a purely duotronic system, considerable improvements would need to be made to transtators, another emerging technology, and more study is needed on the relationship between subatomic structures and data processing, but I estimate duotronic computing may be feasible within the next thirty years."

"So he might actually be onto something?"

"I believe he is," Sarek replied.

"And he thinks you're trying to steal his work?"

"I cannot say what he thinks."

Amanda placed her hands on her hips, laughed, and stole a glance at the food preserver. "Fair enough. So did we decide vegetable spaghetti was a good plan for dinner?"

"I know little of Terran cuisine, so I have no preference."

Amanda began pulling vegetables from the preserver and turned to the sink to wash her hands. "I have tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, yellow onion, and asparagus. Is there anything you don't want mixed in or are you game to try it all?"

Sarek looked at the brightly colored foods on the counter. "Is there not a prescribed recipe?"

"Not really," she shrugged. "It's kind of whatever you want."

"I am content to eat whatever you prepare," he replied.

"Ok then," she said, filling a pot with water. When it was two-thirds full, she set it on a thermal unit and extracted two thin, plastic boards from one of the lower cupboards. "Do you want to start slicing vegetables while I work on the marinara?"

He was mildly surprised by her suggestion. He did not mind assisting her in preparing their end meal, but it was strange that she would enlist his help at all.

"I mean, you don't have to if you don't want to," Amanda added, pulling a long knife from a block on the counter. "I just thought it would make it go faster and make it easier to talk."

"I am willing to assist," he responded, following her example and cleansing his hands at her sink using the soap and water just as she had done.

"And I thought Vulcan guests helped prepare meals anyway," she said thoughtfully, picking up a tomato to begin peeling away the flesh.

"That is true only of first meal," he reminded her.

"Oh, that's right," she replied, glancing up at the ceiling. "And women cook dinner and men cook… is it asallyem?"

"Asal-yem," he corrected, placing heavier emphasis on the end of the word. "Yes, first meal."

"Asal-yem," Amanda repeated, rolling the word over on her tongue as easily as any Vulcan would. "Well, anyway, thank you for helping me cook, even if making dinner isn't supposed to fall to men or guests. I don't really think of you as a guest anyway."

"I do not live here," he replied, slicing a green vegetable called zucchini. "Therefore, I am your guest."

"You're not a guest," she laughed. "You're more of a friend."

He turned his attention back to slicing the green vegetable into one centimeter thick slices, thinking that he also thought of Amanda as his friend, and despite his best meditative efforts, he occasionally thought of her as something more.


"I don't know exactly what garlic is," Amanda guessed, adding another pinch of minced garlic to her bubbling marinara sauce. "I think it's probably in the onion family?"

Sarek picked up a clove of garlic and studied it, pinching it between his thumb and forefinger. Amanda loved watching how fascinated he could become by the most mundane things, because it forced her to think about typically boring things in a novel way. She picked up the pasta spoon from the spoon rest and turned the spaghetti noodles around in the water to keep them from sticking.

"It is very fragrant," Sarek noted, holding it near his nose and inhaling.

"Yeah," she laughed. "It's garlic. That's the whole point."

She wet her fingers in the sink and flung several droplets of water into her sauté pan, and determining the oil was hot enough, she dumped the vegetables Sarek had sliced and spread them out as much as she could to get them to cook evenly.

She rinsed the tomato juice from the cutting board and pulled several sprigs of basil from the preserver. She jerked the handle of her sauté pan to turn the vegetables and set to work pulling the basil leaves from the stems. Silence fell between them as she slid into a groove of dicing herbs, tossing vegetables in a pan to keep them from burning, and stirring spaghetti noodles. It was nice to be occupied with cooking to take her mind off other matters.

She hadn't been able to have any meaningful conversation with Sarek at the barbecue. She had just worked up the nerve to tell him about her new job on Andoria when Pete had taken it upon himself to propose to Millie. She was thrilled for her friend, especially after what had happened the week before at the baseball game, but it had rattled her.

It had been awkward starting to talk about weddings with him, and then also to find out that Vulcans had arranged marriages. Sarek had been engaged to someone. Or had he been bonded? She hadn't kept up with the terminology after the initial shock of finding out that Vulcans still observed a cultural practice that humans had given up more than a century ago.

She had mixed feelings about the fact that Sarek had been engaged to someone. Jealousy was ridiculous — they'd only known each other for a little over two months and of course he'd had a whole life before her. She'd dated other people too; she still had pictures of Eddie hanging on her walls. But maybe she was a tiny bit jealous, and also shocked. His revelation just served as a stark reminder of how little she knew about him or his culture.

The sizzling of the vegetables in the frying pan grew louder, so she grabbed the handle and tossed them a few times, noting they were about the right amount of browned on both sides. Tiny red splatters of marinara began to land on the counter.

"Can you grab me a spatula from that drawer?" she asked, pointing to the top drawer by Sarek's hip.

He complied with her request without saying a word, but the moment he extended his arm to give it to her, the timer for the pasta went off and she twisted at the waist to turn the burner off. She reached for the spatula without looking and ended up making contact with Sarek's fingers rather than the spatula's handle.

She jumped and wheeled around at the unanticipated sensation that shot through her fingers and up to her elbow. It was a feeling very much like the intersection between elation, tickling, and a static discharge. She drew her hand back almost immediately, groping through her recent memories for where she'd felt that feeling before. The Ferris wheel. She took a step back and her waist hit the handle of the sauté pan, nearly sending it crashing to the floor, but she managed to catch it with her right hand.

"That was uh- weird. Must have been static or something," she stammered, repositioning the pan on the burner and gently taking the spatula by the tip of the handle.

Sarek said nothing; he simply offered her the utensil and took a step back. Amanda stole a look at him and noted his lips were pursed and his brow slightly furrowed, which for Sarek was practically an emotional outburst. Desperate to move past the uncomfortable moment, she pointed her chin to the cabinet by his head and asked, "Will you get plates down?"

He did as she asked while she strained the pasta and added the marinara sauce to the sautéed vegetables. The moment her back was to him, she snapped her eyes shut and cursed herself silently. How could she be so awkward and clumsy?

She heaped a spoonful of pasta on her plate, slathered it in the hearty vegetable marinara, and sprinkled some of the chopped basil on top. She grabbed two sets of silverware from the drawer by the dish cycler and headed to the small kitchen table, watching Sarek follow her lead out of the corner of her eye. She was about to sit down and dig in, but remembered Vulcans stood on more ceremony than humans, so she breezed back into the kitchen and grabbed a set of cloth napkins from the towel drawer, trying to remember the last time she'd used them.

"Would you like something to drink? Water, juice, wine?"

"Water will be acceptable, thank you," Sarek replied, taking a seat facing the rear window of the house, opposite from where she'd set her plate.

She grabbed two glasses from the cabinet, packed hers with ice, and filled them both with water from the filter. When she returned, she noticed Sarek had placed his napkin in his lap and was holding both the fork and spoon in his right hand. She sat down and watched him study his spaghetti, slowly realizing he was unsure of how to eat it. Rather than draw attention to this, she quickly picked up her fork and spoon, grabbed a small portion of the spaghetti between the fork's tines, spun the noodles into a spool, a pierced a carrot to hold it on the end. Sarek immediately followed her lead.

For a time the only sounds were the clinking of the utensils on the plates and the muffled voices of her neighbors, Geoff and Christina, through the shared wall of the duplex. The silence stretched on, making her anxious.

"So uh, my sister is coming into town in a few weeks," Amanda muttered. "She's excited to meet you."

"Then I look forward to making her acquaintance also," Sarek replied.

Something about his polite and casual response startled her. He still had so many moments were he was cold, gruff, blunt, and almost rude, but his social manners had come a long way in the short time that she'd known him. She realized she was staring at him when he looked up from his plate to take a drink of water. She glanced away, feeling her cheeks growing warm.

She felt his eyes on her and snuck another look in his direction. When their eyes met, her heart pulsed faster. She really liked this man.

"Is something the matter?" Sarek asked.

She gave him a nervous smile and shook her head. "No, uh, I was wondering if dinner is ok?"

"It is very palatable," he said, preparing to take another bite. "Thank you for your hospitality."

She gave a tiny bob of her head and returned to heaping spaghetti on her fork. She had lied just a moment ago: something was the matter. She didn't want to go to Andoria. She was certain. She was in the middle of convincing herself that it would be crazy to throw away the opportunity of a lifetime just to stay on Earth and keep spending time with a Vulcan guy who had no idea how she felt about him when he said, "I understand your tenure at Piedmont Academy has come to an end."

She blinked. Was he reading her mind? Of course not, someone must have told him.

"Where did you hear that?"

"Fatou asked Millie how she planned to spend her sabbatical now that your school is not in session and she replied she would be participating in an activity called Adventure Camp."

"Oh," she mumbled, recognizing that he was making an effort at small talk and feeling a tiny bit proud of him. "Yeah, um, it's this thing where we take kids from the school whose parents work during the day on day trips to monuments and North American nature parks. I did it last year too and it was a lot of fun. Yosemite was beautiful. The Grand Canyon was nice too, but it was blistering hot the day we went. We had to come back early because the kids started getting heat exhaustion. Do you have nature preserves on Vulcan?"

"Do you refer to geographical areas set aside for the purpose of study or recreation?"

"Both. Either. I don't know. Earth's natural parks serve both purposes, I guess, as well as to keep certain places as free from human development as possible."

"The Vulcan government has designated numerous sites as either ecologically or historically significant where it is prohibited to build or excavate."

"Like where?" Amanda asked.

"As you know, I come from Shi'Kahr, which is near Vulcan's Forge. It is very hot, arid, and subject to frequent electrical storms, but more Vulcans visit this region annually than anywhere else on my home world."

"Why?" Amanda asked, skewering a piece of asparagus and popping it into her mouth.

"You explained Earth's natural parks possess ecological and geological features which make them an attractive option for scientific study and tourism. Vulcan's Forge does also, but additionally, it is known to be the site where Surak began his journey toward logic nearly two millennia ago. Many people elect to make a pilgrimage at least once in their lives, travelling Surak's route from the Gateway to the T'Karath Sanctuary in remembrance of the time before logic. It is considered a great test of character to perform this journey — the path is long and the terrain is grueling, and in addition to storms and seismic activity, the Forge is home to many of the most dangerous plant and animal species found on Vulcan."

"Have you taken this pilgrimage?"

"Yes, in my twentieth year, to honor the completion of my kahs-wan ritual in Vulcan's Forge a decade earlier."

"Kahs-wan… you mentioned that once a long time ago and said it was sort of like a rite of passage for young Vulcans," Amanda mused. "What all does that involve?"

"Vulcan adolescents enter the wilderness with nothing but their clothing and survive for a period of ten days on whatever they can forage," he replied.

"Alone?" she sputtered.

"Yes," Sarek replied, raising his chin to look at her. "It is a test of maturity, strength, resourcefulness, and endurance."

"And you did this when you were ten? In what you just described as one of the most hostile places on Vulcan? And your parents were ok with this?"

"Yes."

Amanda's mouth drifted open, but as usual, Sarek was completely unfazed by her stunned reaction.

"Are there not any analogous trials for human youths?" he asked.

She furrowed her brow, thinking to herself, but nothing came to mind that even came close in comparison. "Different cultures do different things, but I can't think of anything that extreme that still exists in modern society. I feel like I've heard that indigenous tribes in North America and Australia often sent young men into the wilderness as part of a rite of passage into adulthood, but I don't know if they still do, nor do I know enough about those rituals to speak intelligently on them."

Sarek raised an eyebrow and nodded. "It is commendable to admit what one does not know."

"There are a lot of things I don't know," Amanda replied with a small grin. "So tell me more about the Vulcan wilderness. What are the best sights to see?"

She listened as he told her of the lava fields of Vulcan's Fire Plains and the pit vipers in the Osana Caverns. Amanda was overjoyed that he was starting to come out of his shell and that the conversation was finally flowing naturally between them again. He was in the middle of telling her about the aggressive behavior of wild sehlats in Vulcan's Forge and Amanda was just starting to wonder who in their right mind would ever take a vacation to Vulcan when she heard muffled giggling on the other side of the wall. A small knot of anxiety formed in her gut.

Geoff and Christina, the people who lived in the other half of her duplex, had a very tumultuous relationship. They went in cycles of drinking, fighting, and making up, and their style of making up was usually of the more amorous variety. The layout of their home was a mirror image of Amanda's, which meant their combined kitchen and dining room was just on the other side of the shared wall, and so their bedroom was at the opposite end of the house. Either the walls were thinner than she'd ever realized, or they had decided to be more adventurous in their intimate pursuits.

She could hear giggling and then heard Christina distinctly say, "Geoff, stop, let's go to the bedroom!"

Amanda swallowed, feeling the blood drain from her face. There was a loud thump against the wall and she heard Geoff, just as clearly as if he were sitting at her table, say, "Oh come on, babe, it's a sturdy table. Let's have a little fun."

There were about three full bites of spaghetti left on Amanda's plate, but she shoved the rest of her food into her mouth in a valiant effort to be finished and get up from the table before her neighbors started having sex. Sarek looked up from his plate when another loud banging sound reverberated through the wall. He had just finished and was folding his napkin to set it next to his empty plate, but unfortunately, Amanda was still chewing her massive bite of food. Seconds later, some of the most shocking sexual language Amanda had heard in a long time began flowing from her neighbors' mouths.

Sarek's head turned slowly toward the wall, almost as if he were in complete disbelief of what was currently transpiring next door. Christina began shrieking and moaning her husband's name and the framed picture hanging above Amanda's kitchen pub table started to tremble on the wall. She had to drink a huge gulp of water to get the rest of her food down.

"Are you all finished?" she asked, her voice shrill and cracking.

Sarek slowly turned his head back toward her. "Y-yes."

She was too mortified to really notice that he'd stuttered the word. They both rose from their seats, Amanda moving at a scrambling pace and Sarek moving almost in slow motion. Though she'd already run it that morning, she engaged the dish cycler as she moved toward the sink, all of a sudden grateful the rotors were going out. Ordinarily it made a soft clanking noise that she found irritating, but now she found herself wishing it were louder.

She turned on the sink and started rinsing her plate with incredible enthusiasm. If she were with any other person, this situation would have been hilarious, but human sex practices were the last thing she wanted to discuss with Sarek.

"Amanda?"

"Yes?" she yelped, whipping around.

Sarek had been standing right behind her with his dirty dish and silverware, but he apparently didn't have the best grip on the plate, because when she accidentally clipped the edge with her elbow as she turned around, it went crashing to the floor and shattered. She closed her eyes and cursed her clumsiness once again, this time in full view of Sarek.

Unfortunately, she didn't start opening her eyes until her knees were in the process of bending to pick up the larger pieces of broken porcelain. Evidently, Sarek had been of a similar mind, and as they bent over simultaneously, their heads smashed together.

"Ow!" she cried, half from pain, half from surprise. She straightened her legs and clutched her forehead, believing she was definitely going to have a lump.

She reopened her eyes moments later to discover Sarek's eyelids were fluttering and he was holding his nose. Maybe it was the teacher in her, or maybe it was some other related instinct to nurse injuries, but she reached for his wrist to pull it away and assess the damage to his face. "Oh my God, are you-" The moment her hands made contact with his skin, she experienced a pleasant, jolting sensation and Sarek's eyes jerked wide open.

Amanda completely forgot what she was going to say. She let go of his arm and leaned back as much as she could, but she was caught in the small space between his body and the sink. There was something so unusual about the way he was looking at her, and though she wanted to feel embarrassed, she was too mesmerized by the way his eyes seemed to be drinking in the whole of her face.

"Are- are you ok?" she breathed, looking over his face and feeling relieved that his nose wasn't bleeding, but also too afraid to look him directly in the eye.

"I… I am," he replied, swallowing visibly. "I- I wish… to…"

Her eyes drifted to the left and finally locked onto his. It marked the beginning of what felt like an eternity, standing there facing each other, unmoving and unspeaking, so close their chests were nearly touching. The pain in her forehead was a distant memory, vague and indistinct.

Amanda slowly rocked back on her heels. She was startled to discover his body seemed to naturally lean forward as hers started to lean back. She rose up on the balls of her feet, inching her face closer to his, but he remained motionless. When their lips finally touched, a faint sensation rippled through her body, but neither of them pulled away.

Chapter Text

His lips were soft and his skin put off an incredible amount of heat. Their chaste kiss lasted several seconds until Amanda leaned in closer and deepened it. Sarek stood still, not frozen in shock but not actively participating either. Just as Amanda started to think he was simply tolerating this rather than enjoying it, he ran his tongue along the part in her lips. His fingertips brushed her wrists and wound down to her hands, leaving tingles of pleasure in their wake.

The experience was vivid and exhilarating. She'd wanted to do this for so long and now that it was happening, it was hard to convince herself she wasn't imagining it, but the sensation of his warm breath and gentle tongue were real enough. They pressed their bodies closer together and Amanda lifted her hands to caress the sides of his face, but the moment her fingers made contact with his cheeks, he violently jerked away.

She stared at him, blinking and trying to process what she'd done wrong. Sarek's eyes were uncharacteristically wide and searching. Amanda opened her mouth to apologize for whatever she'd done, but she seemed to be incapable of making sounds.

"Forgive me," Sarek said, his voice barely a whisper.

"I- I- um, I'm really sorry if that- if I…" Amanda stammered, no longer able to look him in the face.

"I had not anticipated such a response to our collision," Sarek replied, taking several steps back. "It was never my intention to behave inappropriately toward you."

"You didn't," she blurted. "You didn't behave inappropriately, I mean. Did I? Did I do something wrong? I- I- I don't really know what to say."

"Perhaps there is nothing more that should be said on the subject," Sarek responded, retreating even further.

"I didn't- I didn't mind," Amanda mumbled, doing her best to swallow her mortification. She tapped into her dwindling stores of courage and added, "I thought it was nice."

Though she wasn't looking directly at his features, she could see his body stiffen and his left eyebrow dart upward in her periphery. "It was… pleasant," Sarek replied.

"Then if we both agree we liked it, why is this so weird?" she asked.

"It is illogical to cultivate romantic attachment if we cannot form a bond," Sarek replied.

Amanda held her breath, sensing one of the most brutal rejections of her life was resting on the tip of Sarek's tongue. He didn't clarify his statement, he just stood there, gazing almost disinterestedly at the edge of the counter behind her.

"What are you saying?" she squeaked. "Are you saying you're not interested in me, even though kissing me was pleasant?"

"I did not say that," he replied.

"Then what is it? Is it because I'm human?"

His initial silence hit her like a punch to the stomach. Amanda suddenly felt very naïve and embarrassed. She wanted to crawl into a hole or run away, but her feet remained glued to the floor.

"I shall soon leave Earth to return to my home planet," he finally said. "I have been offered a supervisory position of an interplanetary research project at the Vulcan Science Academy."

"Oh," she replied, her tone balanced between matter-of-fact and stunned. "Oh, uh, congratulations, I guess."

She would have preferred answers to her other questions rather than deflection, but this new piece of news changed everything. It didn't matter if he liked her — he was leaving and she suddenly remembered she was leaving too.

"I'm going to Andoria in less than two months," she blurted. "I found out a few days ago I was accepted to the Federation's Educator Exchange Program."

"You are a highly effective educator," Sarek replied. "You have taught me much. I am confident it is a well-deserved honor."

Amanda clenched her jaw and offered a small nod. It occurred to her that a tiny part of her subconscious had been hoping Sarek would ask her to stay or profess his feelings for her, not tell her he was leaving to go back to his home planet. Her chin trembled and she looked away. The shock of the past minute was wearing off and allowing the hurt to surface.

"I appreciate your efforts to educate me on humanity," Sarek continued.

Amanda nodded, feeling too numb to respond any other way. She wanted to yell that she hadn't taught him nearly enough about humans, because he was standing in her kitchen with her heart in his hands and acting like he was breaking off a business arrangement.

Another loud thumping sound rattled the wall and the sound of Christina's ecstatic screams pushed Amanda's nerves over edge. She gritted her teeth, stormed over to the wall, and pounded her fist on the sheetrock. "Do you mind? We can hear everything!"

A flurry of giggles erupted from the other side of the wall and after some more banging and clattering, her neighbors took their lovemaking to a different location. Amanda's face burned, but she couldn't say if it was from embarrassment, frustration, or disappointment. Maybe all three.

"So how much longer will you be on Earth?" she asked, speaking carefully to hide the shake in her voice.

"That is undetermined."

"Would you still be interested in getting together on Sundays until you go back to Vulcan?"

He paused. "I do not believe that would be wise."

"Wise?" Amanda murmured, staring at the tips of her toes.

"Yes, a term describing experience, knowledge, and-"

"I know what wise means, Sarek," Amanda retorted, crossing her arms to shield herself from whatever he had to say next.

But he said nothing. He gazed in her direction, but not directly at her. Amanda started to feel light headed and realized she was holding her breath. When she finally dared to inhale, the words seemed to fall from her mouth. "I think I'm falling in love with you."

Except for a series of slow blinks, his face remained motionless. "I see."

"You see?"

"Yes."

She glared at him. Embarrassment converted her hurt into anger. She staggered to the cupboard by the kitchen entry, grabbed a broom and dustpan, and stalked toward the shattered plate on shaking legs.

"Is it appropriate for me to assist you?" Sarek asked, taking a step back to allow Amanda access to the porcelain shards on the floor.

"Huh?" she mumbled, leaning the broom against the counter and kneeling down.

"I am responsible for breaking this dish," he replied. "I am willing to clear the debris and offer compensation so that you may obtain a replacement."

"I don't want your money," Amanda snapped, tossing the larger pieces into the dustpan with her hands. "Accidents happen."

"Have I caused some offense?" Sarek asked, stooping down to help her.

She scoffed and glanced at him. "I'm not offended, Sarek."

"Your tone indicates hostility."

Amanda clenched her jaw. "I- I just told you I was developing feelings for you and all you could say was, 'I see.' Anything would have been better than that."

"What would you have me say?"

"Do you feel anything for me?" she asked, locking eyes with him. "I know you say it's illogical to feel things, but…"

Sarek threw the last large fragment in the dustbin, paused, and after several seconds replied, "I hold you in high regard. Anything beyond that is irrelevant as we are both due to relocate to other planets in the near future."

"And if we weren't? You know, moving away?"

"It is illogical to consider what will not come to be."

"It's like you're saying the only logical thing is to never speak to me again," Amanda sighed. "I don't accept that."

"I did not say it would be logical to never speak to you again," he replied.

"No, you just said it wouldn't be wise," she reminded him, reaching over to collect the broom.

"That is not what I said," he insisted. "I merely said it would be unwise to continue-"

Amanda's yelp cut him off. The broom was further away than she'd anticipated, and her squatting position was awkward. She realized too late that she was off-balance and put her left hand down to catch herself from falling, but unfortunately, her palm landed in the midst of the smaller porcelain shards, giving her the sensation of being simultaneously pricked by dozens of needles.

"Dammit!" she yelled, pitching backward onto her heels. She gripped her left hand tightly by the wrist and stood, watching tiny red dots appear around the debris embedded in her skin. She had expected a lot more blood for the amount of pain she felt.

"You are injured," Sarek remarked, rising to his feet.

"Isn't it illogical to state the obvious?" Amanda retorted dryly, wheeling around to the drawer by the sink to grab a clean dishtowel.

She wasn't bleeding badly; the razor-sharp porcelain shards had penetrated the outer layers of skin, leaving only very superficial cuts. She probably wouldn't even need liquid stitches or a dermal regenerator, just a pair of tweezers, some antimicrobials, and ten minutes of grit and patience.

Sarek's eyes darted from her hand to various locations throughout the room. "How may I best assist you?"

Amanda closed her eyes and took a breath, but her hand continued to shake. "Sarek, I don't want to talk about my hand or a broken plate. I want to talk about us. You and me."

"Specify."

"Ugh," she groaned, rubbing her brow with her right thumb and index finger. "I can't believe I have to spell this out! It took a lot of courage for me to tell you how I feel, but you can't even give me a simple yes or no when I ask you if you feel anything at all for me. How can dodging a simple question be logical?"

Her vision blurred with tears. She whipped around so he wouldn't see and ground her teeth so hard she worried they might break. She hadn't ever seriously planned on pouring her heart out to him, but now that it was happening, it was a bigger disaster than she could have ever imagined.

"Vulcans do not feel as humans do," Sarek began.

"I know that," Amanda interrupted. "But surely you can care about people? Surely you can love people? I mean, I'm not saying you have to love me, I- I…"

"Yes," replied, cutting her off. "Vulcans are capable of romantic sentiment."

When she finally dared herself to look at him from the corner of her eye, they became locked in a staring contest. Her cheeks grew hot as she started to replay the conversation in her mind. She'd let her emotions get away from her. What must he be thinking? What had she expected him to say?

They broke the silence at the same time. Amanda began to mutter, "Listen, I'm very sorry if I-" just as Sarek started to say, "I did not intend to-"

They paused, waiting for the other to finish. Sarek's dark eyes watching her sent tingles down her spine. "Please, go ahead," she muttered.

"I did not intend to anger you."

"I'm not angry."

"I see. My presence seems to have caused you some form of emotional disturbance, and that was never my intention."

Amanda's lip twitched and she gazed at her left hand. The harder she stared at it, the more the pain seemed to fade.

"Rather than risk causing you additional emotional distress, I believe it is prudent to forgo future Sunday meetings prior to our respective departures, but your friendship has been invaluable to me, and in time if you decide you would like to correspond, I would willingly oblige you."

Amanda blinked. That was his proposal? That they should pretend like the kiss and Amanda's mortifying confession had never happened, stop spending time together, and just be pen pals? She scratched at one of the larger pieces of porcelain in the meat of her fist, feeling like she should say something. But what?

How could she have allowed this to happen? She wanted to yell. She wanted to cry. She wanted to rewind time and take back the idiotic moment she'd decided to kiss him. Why stop there? Why not rescind her offer of a quiet dinner at her house and opt for a restaurant instead where people weren't likely to be having noisy sex?

"Or if you would prefer to terminate our acquaintanceship-"

"No," Amanda interrupted, picking one of the larger shards out from between her middle and index finger. "Um, if you want to send messages, yeah… sure."

A heavy quiet settled over the room and Amanda occupied herself by scratching at the tiny plate fragments buried in her hand. It occurred to her she could hear a faint ringing in her ears, but it disappeared the moment Sarek chose to speak again.

"Is it correct for me to attend to the soiled dishes while you see to your injured hand?" he asked. "I am not familiar with your protocols in these matters."

Amanda swallowed the knot in her throat and squeaked, "Normally when someone rejects another person, they don't offer to stay and help clean up."

It was a petulant and childish thing to say, and the second the last syllable rolled off her tongue, she regretted it. She didn't want him to go, but nor did she want him to stay. Not like this. Sarek shifted his weight and glanced from her to the dishes.

"Maybe you should go," she added, her voice cracking. A single tear slid down her face and she quickly brushed it away with her right hand, but Sarek had taken notice.

He nodded and took several steps toward the front entryway. He paused, lifted his hand in the ta'al, and said, "Live long and prosper, Amanda Grayson."

She swallowed a sob, delivered a thin-lipped smile, and nodded. Of all the things he could have said, that was the worst. It sounded so final. Less than five minutes ago, she'd been enjoying dinner with a man she was falling for, and now that man was trying to extricate himself from her life after an awkward kiss. Why had she gone and kissed him?

But he didn't walk away. His eyes scanned her, making her feel self-conscious and irritated, but it occurred to her he was waiting for her to say goodbye. She remembered their first Sunday meeting, standing in her doorway and discussing Vulcan pleasantries. He'd explained that Vulcans said goodbye in different ways — there was a "goodbye for now" and a "goodbye forever." What was she supposed to say?

"Peace and long life, Sarek," she whispered, turning her back to him so he wouldn't see the tears that were now cascading down her cheeks.

Her ears put the next series of events together. She heard his boots click on the tile kitchen floor, but his footsteps grew muffled when he reached the rug in the central hallway and continued to grow fainter as he proceeded to the front door. There was a rustle of a lock, the creak of a hinge, and the gentlest of thuds as the door closed. He was gone.

She leaned her elbows on the countertop and closed her eyes, too stunned to fully process everything, but soon enough, the tears finally began to rain down her face. She let them.

Her PADD chirped. She jerked upright and raced to the kitchen table to wrestle it out of her bag, certain Sarek had sent some kind of explanation. Her bag was draped over the back of the chair she'd been sitting at during dinner, and fishing it out was awkward with only one hand. The PADD's edge got caught in the canvas flap and it flipped forward, sending the device crashing to the floor with a solid crack.

She swore, picked it up, and upon seeing that a spider web of cracks now covered the top third of the glass screen, she swore again. Her PADD chirped again; her heart sank as the notification scrolled onto the front screen. It was from Millie.

"Call me when you can so we can gush about wedding details!"

Amanda tossed the device on the table and slumped into the chair. She stared ahead, studying the dustbin and broom on the floor. She leaned forward, sliding her elbows across the table until her forehead rested on the polished metal. She felt perfectly wretched. A broken plate, a broken PADD, and a broken heart.


Sarek stood between Varen and Mela, just behind T'Lera. The long car moved through compound gates and down the short drive. Ambassador Selden had returned.

Sarek blinked, but it did nothing for his dry and itchy eyes. He was exhausted. He hadn't slept at all the previous evening and he had only slept for several hours in the weeks leading up to his disastrous encounter with Amanda in her kitchen the night before. He'd been unable to purge Amanda and the memories of their intimacy from his thoughts even with the deepest of meditation. Every time he managed to focus himself, the thought of her mouth on his or the tears in her eyes raced back to the forefront of his mind.

The car pulled underneath the carriage porch and came to a stop at the curb. Tavik breezed around the rear of the vehicle and opened the door. The first person to exit was an ambassador, but not Selden: it was his own forefather, Solkar.

Selden emerged from behind Solkar and stood to the superior diplomat's left shoulder. Solkar met Sarek's eye but offered no indication that he regarded Sarek any differently than the rest of the consular staff.

"Ambassador Solkar, you honor us with your presence," T'Lera said, offering the ta'al. "And Ambassador Selden, we have awaited your return. Live long and prosper."

Sarek had not known his forefather would be coming to Earth, but he deduced T'Lera hadn't known either. She would have certainly informed the rest of the staff if such an important dignitary were expected at the compound.

Sarek's father Skon had served a number of decades in the Vulcan Diplomatic Service before taking a position in the Vulcan Security Ministry, but Solkar had dedicated his life to diplomatic relations. Solkar had been the first ambassador to Earth and now served in limited capacity as a Federation ambassador at large, negotiating with hostile governments on behalf of the Federation Council. He had served the Federation for all of its 65 years, and had served the Vulcan government for 98 years prior to that. He had helped draft the Federation Charter. He had been present during the construction of the compound in which they now stood. There were few within the entire Federation who did not know his name. 

Selden led Solkar through the entrance of the main building and the rest of the staff followed him. T'Lera shot him a glance but there was nothing Sarek could say.

"T'Lera, I would speak with you," Selden said, offering a small gesture with his right hand.

"Of course," she replied, giving Sarek another unusual look. He was uncertain what she was trying to convey, until he saw her stare at Ambassador Solkar.

"Perhaps you could secure some accommodations for our guest," Selden said, looking at Sarek.

"Certainly, ambassador," Sarek replied, glancing at his forefather.

T'Lera and Selden disappeared into Selden's office and Varen and Mela retreated to their private workspaces, leaving Sarek alone with his forefather.

"Ambassador," Sarek said, positioning his hands behind his back.

"Sarek."

"Would you follow me?"

"I am quite familiar with the compound," Solkar replied. "I can find my own way to the guest lodgings."

"Very well." Sarek turned and prepared to take his leave, but Solkar interrupted him.

"But you would honor me with your company."

The two men left the main building for the row of small houses on the left side of the compound. Several of the janitorial staff were unloading trunks from one of the consular cars, along with several other Vulcans Sarek had never met. He presumed they were members of Solkar's staff. They were carrying the trunks into the large house at the end of the row of guest lodgings, so it was logical to conclude this was were Solkar intended to stay.

"I was unaware you would be arriving with Ambassador Selden."

"I have never previously informed you of my whereabouts. Why should this occasion be different?"

Sarek raised an eyebrow and nodded. He spoke the truth. He had never spent much time in his forefather's company, and given his prestige, Solkar certainly didn't owe a junior diplomat at the Vulcan consulate on Earth any advance notice of his arrival.

It had been years since he had last seen his forefather. Much of his gray hair had faded into white and his skin was wrinkled and spotted with age. At 198 years old, he was at an age when many Vulcans would have retired from an active public life.

Solkar shortened the length of his stride; Sarek slowed his pace to match his forefather's. "Your father sends his regards."

Sarek had only spoken to his father on two occasions since departing Vulcan. "If you speak with him before I do, I entrust you to inform him that I send mine also."

"I shall not be long on Earth," Solkar replied. "I have business with the Federation Council and intend return to Vulcan the day after tomorrow. If you are amenable, I would invite you to share end meal with me this evening in my temporary lodgings."

His forefather's invitation was unanticipated — they were relations, but Sarek had no expectation of partiality. Solkar had come to Earth to meet with the Federation Council, not to pay his grandson a social visit. Still, it would be illogical to refuse the offer of a man who was both his forefather and superior.

"I accept."

They stopped several meters away from the main entrance to the guesthouse and Solkar directed one of his staff to place a small trunk in his private bedroom before he turned to Sarek and said, "Then I shall see you at 1900 hours. I have much to discuss with you. Live long and prosper, Sarek."

Sarek returned his gesture of the ta'al and slowly walked back toward the main building. His forefather had never previously expressed any interest in discussing anything with him. He had few memories of the man. Solkar had been present at a few family gatherings and holidays during Sarek's formative years, but they had never shared an extensive, private conversation.

It would be illogical to speculate about the nature of the discussion they would have later that evening, but he suspected it involved the scandal he'd created by his unfortunate presence at T'Rea's bonding to Torik. That had been nearly nine Standard months ago, and though he no longer thought of T'Rea, he sensed the consequences from that day would follow him for years to come.

He sighed. He had cared for T'Rea, loved her even, but any sentiment he had ever felt for her paled in comparison to what he currently felt for Amanda. T'Rea had cost him many hours of meditation and poor sleep, but that had been only after the unfortunate incident at her bonding ceremony.

When they'd first met, he'd found T'Rea attractive. He'd enjoyed mating with her and spending time in her company. They had spent 39 Standard years in an informal partnership and had shared much together, but he had never lost sleep thinking about her or wondering what she thought of him, not even in the early days of their acquaintanceship before they confessed their attraction to each other.

He had recovered from the distasteful emotional pain she'd caused and the void she'd left in his life in a matter of weeks, but it had been much harder to work through the shame he'd brought to himself and his family and his anger he felt for her refusal to allow him to challenge Torik. His logical Vulcan side had prevailed and he felt nothing for T'Rea anymore, and he had cared for her for nearly four decades.

He had known Amanda for less than two full Standard months, but she was consuming him. He could not repress his feelings for her for any length of time. He could not adequately control his sexual desire for her. When she'd kissed him, he'd hungered for her in a way that went far beyond anything he'd ever experienced.

Kissing her had frightened him. He'd wanted to be close to her, not only her body, but also her mind. He wanted to touch her in every way he could, to mate with her and to meld with her, but there were many things about Vulcan mating rituals she almost certainly didn't understand, and if she did not fully understand, she could not fully consent.

It frightened him because he had initially lacked the self-control to extricate himself from her kiss. He had intimately touched her hands. He had run his tongue over her lips. He had wanted to do more. If she hadn't shocked him back to reality by touching his face, he might have allowed himself to do things with her that he would have never permitted were he in control of himself.

To touch another's face was a deeply personal thing under any circumstances. It was not only taboo, but also illegal on Vulcan when done without express consent. When it was done in a romantic context for the purpose of initiating a mind meld, it was perhaps the most intimate thing that could transpire between two people. It went far beyond the physical act of mating.

Humans were not a telepathic species and as such, Amanda wouldn't have been able to meld with him no matter how hard she groped at his cheeks, but it almost seemed like that was what she had intended to do. It had been immediately evident when he pulled away that she was ignorant of her actions and the implications of touching his face. Had she been acting on some kind on instinct? Did humans regularly grip each other's faces during romantic encounters? He didn't know.

He wandered into his small office and took a seat. He had finished drafting his proposal to Ambassador Selden earlier that morning to request that he be permitted to petition the undersecretary to the Vulcan Science Council for a meeting to discuss the Federation's joint database project. Even though he intended to resign his post at the earliest opportunity, he was for the moment still the science attaché to the Vulcan consulate on Earth and felt obliged to assist the Federation Science Council in any way he could.

He perused his proposal, reflecting on his short tenure as a diplomat. Politics and diplomacy had not come naturally to him, but Amanda had made it bearable, almost gratifying, even. Now that he was facing the opportunity to resume his scientific work at the Vulcan Science Academy, it occurred to him that he would regret being unable to see the things he'd started during his posting as science attaché through to completion. He had never seriously considered a career as a diplomat, until now.

When he'd told Amanda he was leaving Earth to resume research at the Vulcan Science Academy, the look on her face had made him reconsider, if only for a moment. It had occurred to him that though it was an important position he'd spent much of his adult life working toward, he didn't have to accept it. He still had nearly three weeks to inform the Academy of his decision, and he had been contemplating the logic of refusing Chief Councilor V'Nar's offer when she'd informed him she was leaving for Andoria.

Were Amanda going to remain on Earth, he would have given serious consideration to remaining on Earth also, but now that she was due to leave, he had insufficient reason to stay. She had told him she was leaving, and then had told him she was growing to love him. Why? Why confess to something so deeply private when nothing could come of it because they were both departing for different planets?

Not that anything could have come from it anyway. She was human, he was Vulcan. He had gone over the practical considerations of taking Amanda for his mate many times — the cultural differences and the biological differences and the projected lifespan differences. They were poorly suited to each other, but logic couldn't purge his unconscious desire to be her bondmate. It wasn't only a matter of emotional attachment; he needed to secure a mate for himself before the onset of his next pon farr in two years' time. He wanted her.

But because he could not have her and also could not rid himself of his desire to be with her, there was no logic in continuing to share her company. Explaining this to Amanda had made her cry. Why? It was illogical to cry over facts. It was illogical to cry at all. But… he had made her cry, and that unsettled him. How curious that he could be drawn to such an emotional creature.

"Sarek?"

He snapped out of his ruminations to find T'Lera standing in the doorway. He rose to his feet out of respect.

"Ambassador Selden will see you."

Sarek raised an eyebrow, but nodded and made his way to the ambassador's office. He found Selden sitting at his desk, hands neatly folded and awaiting Sarek's arrival.

"Have a seat," the ambassador urged, gesturing to a chair opposite him.

Selden's hands had been shaking the last time they'd met, but they were steady now. Sarek had suspected his superior had personal motivations for returning to Vulcan on such short notice, but that was none of Sarek's concern. Selden had never invited him to sit before. Sarek slid into the chair and placed his hands in his lap, wondering what could have happened to cause a shift in his professional relationship with the ambassador.

"The consulate has been quite active in my absence," Ambassador Selden began.

"Yes."

"I attended many meetings during my visit to Vulcan, and one name that was continually referenced was yours."

Sarek was uncertain of the most appropriate response. "I see."

"There are many within the Vulcan government and Federation Science Council who have been impressed with your efforts on behalf of the consulate and the Federation at large."

"To what efforts do you refer?"

"I am told a Dr. Helene Tarkington has begun a joint effort with the Gol Research Institute to reduce the size of the current antimatter reactors for Starfleet's inventory, which is projected to accelerate the timeline for Starfleet's 50-year strategic plan by an estimated 30 years. She explicitly states you are responsible for the collaboration."

"Yes."

"And the Chairman of the Federation Science Council contacted me personally to praise your assistance with the establishment of a universal Federation scientific database."

"I did not anticipate that Chairman Lenski would contact you."

"As I recall, you had once expressed interest in creating a joint database, but I dismissed your proposal in favor of the current Starfleet databases."

Sarek lowered his chin. "That is correct."

"Despite my misgivings, it appears there are many who favor such an enterprise, including Suvak, the head of the Vulcan Science Ministry."

"Minister Suvak has approved the database?" Sarek asked, thinking of the proposal he'd spent hours drafting to submit to Selden for the consideration of the undersecretary of the Vulcan Science Ministry just to request an audience with Minister Suvak.

"He has. And apparently his daughter-in-law thinks very highly of you."

"I see."

"It seems you have a aptitude for diplomatic relations that I did not recognize when we first met. You must understand, the position of science attaché often remains unfilled and when someone is assigned to the posting, it is typically in a nominal capacity. You have far surpassed my expectations."

"It is an honor to serve."

"There are others who have noticed your potential. Justice T'Pau has contacted me and asked if you were available to accept a senior position on her staff when she returns to her previous position as head of the Vulcan Security Ministry next year."

Sarek blinked but said nothing. T'Pau had spoken with him following the luncheon at Ambassador Tarnas' house about his career ambitions. It had seemed strange that she would take an interest.

"It is a considerable promotion," Selden continued. "It would be logical to accept."

"Yes, it would," Sarek agreed.

"Yet that is not the only offer I have to make."

"It is also not the only offer I have received."

It was Selden's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Permit me to address my offer first."

Sarek bobbed his head. "Of course."

"I have been presented with a unique opportunity for promotion within the Diplomatic Service, and as such, protocols dictate that I should submit a candidate as my replacement. Kuvok would have been the most appropriate choice by rank and experience, but he has accepted the post of ambassador to Rigel V."

Sarek had wondered why Kuvok had not returned with the ambassador, but had surmised he would discover the reason eventually, and here it was.

"Serving as ambassador to Earth is a challenging position. There are few among us who are well equipped to handle the emotional fluctuations of humanity and also represent Vulcan in an appropriate manner. It is why ambassadors to Earth often serve for decades when most other postings only last for a period of five years. It will be five months before I resign my post as ambassador to Earth, and in that time, I intend to train you as my successor, should you accept."

It took considerable effort to restrain his surprise. Prior to this conversation, he had merely considered himself a respectably competent science attaché, but he had never imagined becoming the ambassador to Earth.

"Your suggestion honors me, but I do not believe I possess the experience for such a position," he replied.

"No, you do not," Selden agreed. "But there are many within the Diplomatic Service who agree that the correct candidate is more essential than the correct experience."

"You will allow me time to consider?"

"Certainly. It is only logical. It seems you have a third offer for your consideration as well."

"Yes," Sarek replied. "Chief Councilor V'Nar of the Vulcan Science Academy has offered me a supervisory position on a joint research project to investigate interstellar turbulence."

Selden's brow flickered upward. "Three exceptional offers for three exceptionally different careers."

"Yes," Sarek replied.

"The Vulcan Diplomatic Service requires I submit a candidate within the next 14 Standard days. You have until then to make your decision."

"I thank you for your consideration. Do you require anything else from me, ambassador?"

"No. You are dismissed. Please summon Varen."

Sarek nodded and rose from the chair, but once he reached the door, Ambassador Selden said, "And Sarek?" He turned on his heel to face his superior.

"Our planet has a number of distinguished scientists, but it does not have nearly as many notable diplomats. There are many ways to serve Vulcan."

Sarek bobbed his head and strode into the hallway in the direction of Varen's office. His mind should have been occupied with weighing the merits of each proposition, but he was exhausted and all he could think of was Amanda. Her kiss and her tears and her impending move to Andoria.

Sarek went about the rest of his day, trying to keep her from his thoughts while he worked and deliberated V'Nar, T'Pau, and Selden's offers. Sarek's logical mind was in tatters from lack of sleep and fruitless meditation and he felt ill prepared to meet with his forefather, but he was in no position to refuse the invitation. Later that evening, he left the main building and made his way to Solkar's guest lodgings for end meal. Solkar, his forefather, who had much to discuss with him.

Chapter Text

"Sarek." His forefather's dark eyes cast a look over him.

"Solkar," he replied, lifting his right hand in the ta'al and nodding to his elder. "Your invitation honors me."

Solkar closed his eyes, steepled his hands, and bowed his head slightly. "End meal awaits."

Sarek followed his forefather down a wide and well-lit corridor to a formal dining room featuring two place settings. They would dine in private.

He had never entered the compound's guest quarters. They were reserved for visiting dignitaries, but the compound hadn't hosted any official guests during Sarek's entire tenure on the planet. It wasn't that Vulcan officials only visited Earth on rare occasion, but that many of them evidently preferred to secure commercially available lodgings nearer those places they planned to conduct business.

Both Starfleet and the main facets of Federation bureaucracy were located in San Francisco, and though the consular compound was nearby in Sausalito, it would be illogical to commute to San Francisco if it could be avoided, particularly given the unpredictable nature of Terran traffic patterns.

Sarek stood behind the chair to the right of the head of the table and waited for Solkar to invite him to sit. A Vulcan man emerged from the kitchen and set steaming bowls of soup on the plates before them, and Sarek noted an odd impulse to thank him for this offering. The man was employed for this purpose; there was no need to express gratitude.

Yet the urge had been there, a custom he'd adopted from spending so much time in the company of humans. Humans were happy to thank guests for attending a function to which they'd been invited or thank complete strangers simply for holding a door. It was remarkable how readily he'd embraced the illogical habit.

Once the server had left the room, Solkar took a seat, glanced at Sarek and said, "There is no need to wait for me to invite you to sit."

"Is there not?" Sarek replied, perplexed that his forefather would forgo Vulcan hospitality customs.

"I am old and you are my grandson," Solkar declared, turning to face him. "I fail to see the logic in standing on ceremony and observing ancient traditions that should have been abandoned long ago. I already invited you here to share end meal: surely no second invitation to actually sit should be required."

Sarek cocked an eyebrow but slid into the seat without further comment. His father Skon had instilled in him a great respect for the old ways, and though Sarek had never said so, he'd often thought many Vulcan customs were redundant and illogical. A number of traditions had carried over from before the Reformation and some even before the time of Surak. Vulcan devotion to logic went back many centuries, but Vulcan adherence to tradition went back further still, and when the two were in conflict, tradition had a unique ability to win out over conventional logic.

Sarek took a bite of his soup and no sooner did the hot liquid begin to trickle down his throat than his forefather said, "Your actions during T'Rea's bonding ceremony were regrettable."

Sarek's mind stalled and it took considerable effort to check his surprise. Solkar had indicated he didn't see the logic in observing Vulcan traditions, so it shouldn't have been shocking that he'd elected to speak during end meal when custom demanded silence. But to speak of such a highly delicate matter had certainly not been anticipated. Sarek set his spoon in his bowl and stared at the vegetables floating in the broth.

"You are at this posting because of the events of that day," Solkar continued.

"Yes." A single word seemed insufficient, but he was unsure what his forefather would have him say.

"Your behavior was unfortunate."

"I cannot alter the past."

"No," Solkar agreed. "But you are in control of your future."

"Yes."

"She gave birth to a son four days ago."

"Clarify."

"T'Rea, the woman you would have had for your own has been delivered of a son. She has named him Sybok."

Sarek fought to keep torrents of shock, irritation, and confusion at bay. He had not expected her child would be born so soon. He traced over memories of his former mate and their last meetings and could do nothing to slow the quickening of his heart. Assuming the infant had reached the correct state of maturation for a Vulcan pregnancy, it seemed quite possible, likely even, that Sybok was Sarek's natural born son.

His mind probed this revelation, considering the possibility and finding no obvious way to dismiss it. He would like to believe T'Rea would have told him if the child were his, but he decided she probably would have elected to keep that information to herself to avoid worsening the scandal. If her mate Torik knew the truth, he would have logical cause to conceal it as well.

Sarek and T'Rea's bond had been severed the day she'd married Torik. By allowing Sarek to be present at her wedding as a challenger to Torik, even though she had ultimately decided not to allow the two men to fight, T'Rea had also brought dishonor to herself and her family. Sarek had eventually left for Earth and T'Rea had committed herself to Torik – all that remained was for time and distance to wash away the disgrace. She had nothing to gain and much to lose by revealing the child's true paternity. It was much better for all involved if she raised the boy with no involvement from Sarek.

As he turned from considering T'Rea and Torik's position to deliberating his own, he could find no logical or socially desirable course of action he could take. Legally, he could challenge her for the right to the child, but no Vulcan court would rule in his favor when the child's mother and her family were perfectly capable of providing an adequate upbringing. And what could be accomplished by taking a newly born infant away from his mother? And even if he could work out an arrangement with T'Rea to know Sybok, what purpose could Sarek serve, other than to complicate his life? If Torik was willing to acknowledge Sybok as his own, it would be logical to allow him to do so.

And yet… the idea that he had a child he would never know upset him more than he'd ever been upset by anything in his life. He suddenly understood he was being illogical: he could not be certain that Sybok was his son, but knowing that he would likely never know the truth made it worse. He could not help that his lips curved into a frown and his hands clenched under the table. Distress and despair gnawed at him and he was almost powerless to repress those uncomfortable emotions.

"Have you nothing to say?" Solkar asked.

"Why are you telling me this?" Sarek replied, somehow managing to keep his tone neutral, even if his emotional state was not.

"It seemed appropriate."

Sarek could think of few things less appropriate to discuss with a forefather he barely knew over end meal than the woman he had disgraced his family for and the illegitimate son she had born. It was end meal: by the Vulcan custom, they shouldn't even be talking at all. Sarek glanced at the aged Vulcan and found Solkar already staring at him, continuing to take gentle sips of his soup while he watched his grandson struggle with painful news.

His eyes were black sparks, lively and searching. Sarek began to wonder if his forefather was in his right mind — a degenerative neurological disorder referred to as Bendii Syndrome had occurred in several members of his paternal line in their later years — but Solkar appeared quite lucid.

"It is evident you believe my mental faculties are waning," Solkar noted, raising his spoon to his lips without taking his eyes off Sarek. "I assure you, they are not. Your soup grows cold, and it is far more pleasing to the senses when consumed warm."

Sarek's eyes trailed back to the spoon resting in the dish. "Will you permit me a query?"

"I doubt I could prevent you from asking, but I will not guarantee an answer."

Sarek took a slow breath, waiting for his mind to predict the path their conversation would travel once he'd posed his question. "Why did you invite me to dine with you?"

"Because you are my grandson and I have an interest in your future."

"How does that relate to my former mate?"

"How does it not?"

"T'Rea has bonded with another male."

"And you accept this?"

"I do."

"And her child?"

Sarek's words caught in his throat. He would have to find a way to accept it. Before he could collect himself enough to compose a response, Solkar added, "Simple mathematics suggests the child is not the product of a union that has only existed for 8.9 Standard months."

Sarek exhaled slowly. He already lacked sufficient discipline to control his emotions over Sybok, his shock and helplessness and anger, and now he was growing angry with his forefather for continuing to probe into the matter. He considered excusing himself, but he thought of his father, Skon, who had been raised by the man sitting to his left.

Skon had often said, "Control your emotions, or they will control you." As a young boy, when Sarek had asked what he should do if he could not repress his emotions, Skon had answered, "The outward appearance of control is the first step on the path of true mastery."

It had been the most valuable advice Sarek had ever received. It was true. If he could not control his emotions, he must at least seem to control his emotions. Fleeing the table would be the same as surrendering to sentiment, so he relaxed his face, unclenched his fists, and picked up his soup spoon, forcing his hand to remain steady.

"What do you intend to do?" Solkar asked, setting his spoon in the empty bowl with an audible clink.

"I do not see there is anything I can do that would not further complicate matters."

The server reentered the dining room with the next course but hesitated when he noticed Sarek's full soup bowl. Sarek felt irritated by the unexpected intrusion, but managed to tamp the swell of emotion before it spilled onto his face. He was as proficient as any Vulcan at projecting logic over emotion, but Solkar had an unparalleled ability to unsettle him.

The server made eye contact with Sarek and looked down at the broth on the table. "I have taken my fill of it," Sarek explained, thinking he had rather liked the soup and would have preferred to finish it, but finishing it would only extend his time at his forefather's table. The man raised an eyebrow, collected the dish, and set a bowl of noodles and vegetables before him. Once again, a word of thanks threatened to spring from Sarek's mouth, but he held it in. The man left the room and Sarek wasted no time tucking into the main course.

Solkar was slower to begin eating. He steepled his fingertips and gazed at his grandson. "Do you intend to accept Ambassador Selden's offer?"

Sarek chewed his food, contemplating his response. He had mulled over that very topic for most of the day and had yet to arrive at a decision. "Why do you wish to delve into my private affairs? We are hardly acquainted."

"It is regrettable I did not come to know you better during your formative years."

"Regrettable, yes, but things are as they are."

"Your father and I were not always on good terms," Solkar admitted. "We did not speak at all for a number of years, and as you may surmise, this division prevented me from speaking with you."

Sarek strained to swallow the food in his mouth. He had never known of any conflict between Solkar and Skon. Skon had rarely spoken of Solkar, but Sarek had deduced that was due to his forefather's unpredictable occupation that often kept him off world for years at a time. Emboldened by Solkar's openness thus far, Sarek disregarded conventional etiquette and boldly prodded, "What was the cause of your disagreement?"

Solkar cocked an eyebrow and picked up his knife and fork. "Ours is a family of diplomats, but your father had little interest in diplomacy."

"He served in the Diplomatic Service for 31 years prior to accepting a position at the Vulcan Ministry of Security," Sarek argued.

"Yes, and yet he is a diplomat no longer."

"Why?"

"Skon was an adequate diplomat, but he was an exceptional adjutant. When he initially decided to study law, I believed it would give him a reasonable foundation to follow my path in the Diplomatic Service. And he did for a time, even serving on Earth as legal attaché to the Vulcan consulate. But he became involved with the Syrranites."

"And you did not approve?"

"No."

It occurred to Sarek he was openly staring at his forefather. He had always known Skon had played a significant role in the Vulcan Reformation that began in 2154 following the discovery of the Kir'Shara by T'Pau and the human Starfleet captain, Jonathan Archer, but he had never known how his father's actions had been perceived by the rest of his family. Sarek had been born 11 years after the beginning of the Reformation and had never experienced a time before Surak's true teachings were widely known.

"Skon was always particularly devoted to logic: perhaps it is why he flourished in legal studies," Solkar added. "But your father was also determined to make Surak's teachings more accessible to non-Vulcans, which some disagreed with."

Sarek nodded. His father had been the first to translate The Teachings of Surak into English, before the Kir'Shara had been discovered. Sarek had read Skon's translation in his youth while learning Federation Standard and had found it to be reasonably accurate, even for passages that did not translate well linguistically or culturally.

"By some, you imply you."

"I did not oppose sharing Surak's teachings with humanity, but Skon's translation was controversial. There were those who called it heretical."

"Explain."

"Your father's translation was remarkably accurate, but only as we understand Surak's teachings today. That was not the case 85 years ago. Many believed he took excessive liberties and demanded its retraction."

Sarek took another bite, deliberating his next remarks. It was difficult to envisage his father as a radical of any sort. Vulcans were stark and logical as a rule, and Skon was particularly rigid in his adherence to fundamental Vulcan tenets. "The discovery of the Kir'Shara certainly must have vindicated him from accusations of heresy."

"Yes," Solkar agreed, holding up a long bean and eyeing it before putting it in his mouth. "And his efforts to spread Surak's teachings were recognized within the Syrranite faction. Upon the dissolution of the Vulcan High Command in favor of a unified Vulcan High Council following the Kir'Shara's discovery, Justice T'Pau, who was at that time Minister T'Pau, offered him a ranking position within the newly restructured Vulcan Security Ministry."

Sarek set his silverware on his plate and wiped his mouth. His mind was teeming with entirely too many things. Amanda, T'Rea's son, his forefather's unusual openness, and an alternate version of his father's life were too much to process.

"I understand Justice T'Pau has made you an offer as well."

"She has."

"Surely you must know she will be offered a seat on the Federation Council when Councilman Lhzi retires. Accepting her offer would leave you well positioned to perhaps one day attain such a high office for yourself."

"I have no interest in governing," Sarek replied. "I have also received an offer from Chief Councilor V'Nar at the Vulcan Science Academy to supervise a joint research project on interstellar turbulence."

Solkar's left eyebrow flicked upward. "You asked me earlier why I invited you to dine with me. Your assertion is correct: we are essentially strangers. The purpose of my invitation was to assess the legacy I shall leave behind. I did not know what sort of man you had become, and I was curious. I have no expectation that I shall live to see the passage of another decade. Though I eventually came to an understanding with your father, he chose a very different path than my own, just as you chose a very different path than his."

The server returned but Solkar motioned for him to leave them. "Your involvement with the Vulcan princess has brought considerable discredit, both for you and our family, but you judiciously elected to pursue the more logical course of action and extricate yourself from the situation. We are a logical race, but matters of the heart are rarely governed by logic."

"Expound."

"Your affair was regrettable, but I commend you for your conduct since that time and encourage you to continue as you are."

Though it was illogical to speculate, Sarek wondered what Solkar would say if he knew just how agitated he was thinking of T'Rea's son. What would he say if Sarek confessed his affection for a human woman?

"I am told you are a capable scientist, but I have also been told by several credible sources you possess the makings of an extraordinary diplomat," Solkar continued.

"You have been misinformed," Sarek replied. "I credit much of my success to a human schoolteacher who has acquainted me with human culture and customs during these last months."

Solkar bowed his head. "And is not diplomacy a profession concerning the establishment and management of relations with others?"

Sarek paused. He should be able to deduce what his forefather was implying, but his mind was too unfocused by peripheral matters and that irritated him. "It is. Yet it should not have fallen a human to educate me on these matters. I received a month of cultural instruction in Shi'Kahr prior to my posting, but it was entirely inadequate."

"While improvements could be made to the training of diplomatic staff, I believe the current curriculum is sufficient. Diplomacy is not a science – there are no postulates or theorems to serve as a foundation for you to build upon. The initial stage of diplomatic training is designed to impart a minimal level of understanding about a particular society, and the secondary stage is guided immersion within that society."

"To be guided, one must first have a guide."

"Yes," Solkar replied, bowing his head. "A duty typically performed by the ambassador or a senior member of the consular staff."

Sarek held his tongue. It would be unwise to speak ill of his superiors, but none of the senior staff had ever made an attempt to mentor him, aside from T'Lera on occasion, and even then only after she'd assumed the role of interim ambassador in Selden's sudden departure to Vulcan.

Solkar seemed to sense something in Sarek's silence. "You must be aware your appointment as science attaché was more honorary than practical. Selden's scientific background is superior to your own."

Sarek's eyes flicked in Solkar's direction. He had long suspected this, but it had never been appropriate or necessary to speak on that which was evident.

"You imply no one thought I was worthy of a more comprehensive education in diplomacy."

"That is so, yet you still managed to educate yourself, apparently through somewhat unorthodox means, if you enlisted the aid of a human schoolteacher."

He thought of Amanda, unable to squash his distress at the thought of her. He did not trust himself to speak of her without displaying emotion, so he did what Amanda had taught him to do when conversing with humans and shifted the subject slightly. "The most consequential thing I have come to learn is that there is a significant divide between Vulcan and Terran scientists, and perhaps even Vulcan and the greater Federation at large."

"I agree."

"You speak as though you are content with this fact."

"I am not," Solkar replied.

"Then how would you rectify it?"

Something that almost looked like a smile twitched at the corners of Solkar's eyes and mouth, even if only for a fraction of a second. "I served as the first Vulcan ambassador to this planet. There was no one to guide me, just as no one has guided you. I eventually developed an appreciation for humanity, but relations between our planet and Earth were often strained by Vulcan bureaucracy and the irrational human need to explore the galaxy. The formation of the Federation following the Earth-Romulan War eased some of these tensions for a time, but they could never erase thousands of years of opposing cultural identities."

Sarek blinked. Solkar hadn't answered his question, but Sarek already fundamentally recognized there was no simple solution for improving relations between Vulcans and humans: only persistence and the passage of time could do that. But perhaps the right individuals persisting in the right way could accomplish more on a shorter timescale. Solkar's response had caused him to reflect upon the dilemma he'd faced from the moment he'd arrived on Earth.

To function as a Vulcan liaison to any alien species, one needed to strike a delicate balance between adhering to logic and submitting to the idiosyncrasies of illogical beings, but to truly excel, one would have to both embrace and abandon Vulcan ideology on a personal level. One would need to maintain a steadfast grip on logic while knowing how and when to give in to illogic. Amanda had spent months helping him explore this quandary, and whatever success he'd had as a diplomat, he genuinely owed to her.

Learning to think as humans thought had taken an enormous toll on his logical faculties, and he did not believe himself capable of doing it indefinitely. The two men sat in silence for a time while Sarek deliberated V'Nar, T'Pau, and Selden's offers.

"It is a difficult thing, to live two lives, to live a logical life among a highly illogical and unpredictable race," Solkar said at long last, giving voice to Sarek's thoughts. "It is why there are so few notable Vulcan diplomats — there are not many among us with the aptitude, desire, discipline, and most importantly, endurance for this occupation."

"You and Ambassador Selden claim I have a talent for diplomacy, but I believe your confidence is misplaced."

"Self-doubt is illogical," Solkar countered.

So it was. Like all sentient creatures, no one would ever know Sarek as well as he knew himself. "I do not doubt my ability, but I am not convinced I possess the mental stamina to do this long term. These last months have been difficult. It has been difficult to maintain my logical discipline."

He stopped himself from continuing; Amanda was the source of his greatest struggles and he preferred not to mention her more than was necessary.

"It is indeed a paradox," Solar nodded. "To be an effective diplomat, one must possess a flexible disposition, and Vulcans lack a reputation for having malleable personalities. Those among us who do are at greatest risk for abandoning logic as time goes on, and unfortunately time is a requirement for experience and a logical mind is necessary to adequately represent our home planet."

"You have served in the Vulcan Diplomatic Service for 163 years," Sarek replied. "How did you manage to retain logic and earn the trust and respect of those you were sent to meet with?"

"I was not always successful," Solkar admitted. "Your father once accused me of having a casual attitude."

Sarek raised an eyebrow. Solkar was like no Vulcan he'd ever met. He did have a casual attitude… for a Vulcan. But he'd also spent the majority of his life off world, meeting with delegations of Klingons, living amongst humans, or negotiating with Orion mercenaries. Both men looked up and met the other's eye, and Sarek sensed for the first time just how alike he and his forefather were.

"Our discussion has shown me you carry your emotions closer to the surface than your father, but deeper down than I do."

Sarek looked away, ashamed at his transparency. "I have been unable to effective meditate and-"

"It was not an insult," Solkar interrupted. "Emotions are a burden. They run deep within our race — in some respects more deeply than in humans. Repressing them requires a lifetime of practice, but it is far more difficult to experience and understand one's emotions prior to purging them for the sake of logical serenity. But master that, and you will master diplomacy, so long as you do not allow your emotions to master you first."

Solkar's advice ran counter to everything Sarek had ever been taught about emotions and logic and yet… it was an intriguing thought. Could permitting himself to occasionally feel emotion truly make him better at communicating with humans and other aliens? He doubted it, but decided to reflect upon it more later before dismissing it outright.

Solkar rose to his feet, prompting Sarek to do the same. Once in the hallway, Solkar stopped and turned to face his grandson. He appeared even older now in the pale light of the wall sconces.

"It is unfortunate that I do not know you better, but that is my fault, and your father's."

Sarek folded his hands behind his back and nodded. "Though unsolicited, I thank you for your counsel, and for the meal."

"Vulcan has many excellent scientists, but far too few excellent diplomats."

"Ambassador Selden said a similar thing this afternoon."

"It is the truth," Solkar replied, moving in the direction of the front entry. "Only you can decide your path, but do not forget that much of your path is dictated by the companionships you forge along the way."

Sarek sensed he was speaking of T'Rea or perhaps even T'Pau, but his initial thought was of Amanda. "I shall consider your advice. Thank you."

His forefather opened the front door. "Live long and prosper, Sarek."

Sarek raised his right hand to return the ta'al and replied, "Peace and long life, Solkar."

It would be a conversation he would remember for the rest of his life. By the time he returned to his quarters, his mind was so full of conflict and overwhelming emotions that he was convinced he would remain sleepless for yet another night.

Therefore, it was a surprise when he awoke the next morning to sunlight streaming in from his bedroom window, blanketing his face with a bright, warm glare. Apparently, his considerable troubles had been no match for the power of sheer exhaustion. He was very nearly late reporting to his office, and the day's schedule kept him so occupied he barely had time to mull over his predicaments regarding T'Rea, Sybok, Amanda, and his future in general.

He returned to his quarters late in the evening, but despite hours of intensive meditation, clarity eluded him. He had a son he would likely never know, loved a woman he could likely never have, and was being encouraged to pursue a profession he'd never seriously considered. Hours of deliberation turned into days, but still Sarek was uncertain how to proceed.

It should have been a simple choice. He was a scientist by training and had spent his life working toward the sort of recognition Chief Councilor V'Nar was offering. But to be offered such a prestigious position as Vulcan ambassador to Earth at such a young age was also a great honor and one he could not lightly refuse.

After a week, he decided he was certain he had no interest in becoming Justice T'Pau's protégé. Were he seeking to follow his father's example and pursue law, it would have been an ideal position, but it was not the position for him. He contacted her and expressed his gratitude for her consideration, and that was that.

But both Ambassador Selden and Councilor V'Nar awaited answers, and he could not remain undecided forever. Following a night of deep reflection and contemplation, Sarek arose the next morning still feeling unsure, but as certain of his decision as he probably ever would be. He collected his PADD to compose a message to V'Nar at the Vulcan Science Academy, but paused when he noted a single unread message in his inbox.

It was from a most unlikely source, detailing an unusual proposal.


Amanda watched Nareen's antennae swivel from the corner of her eye. She was sure it was probably rude to stare, but they were so delightfully expressive, as if they had personalities independent of the woman upon whose head they resided.

Nareen's eyes locked onto hers. "You seem changed."

Amanda nearly choked on her tea. Her left hand started to itch, almost as if the dozens of tiny wounds she'd inflicted on herself from the broken plate had been reopened.

"I hope for the better?"

"No," Nareen frowned.

Amanda grimaced at the dose of Andorian honesty. She supposed she would have to get used to it, if she was going to be living among them for the next two years.

"I'm just getting nervous about leaving Earth and moving to Andoria, I suppose." Amanda turned and glanced at Nareen's daughters, who were playing on the lawn below.

"That is understandable."

Amanda quickly scanned all the rules of Andorian tea etiquette and realized she was holding her teacup and not drinking from it. Though Nareen had told her she was happy to excuse Amanda's ignorance of her customs, she still set the ornately carved teacup, which was really more of a mug, onto the tiny circular table between them. Andorian tea was cold and very bitter, which reminded Amanda of highly concentrated, unsweetened iced tea with mild notes of unnamed spices. It wasn't bad, exactly, but it certainly was an acquired taste.

She thought of Sarek and their meeting at the coffee shop when she'd encouraged him to try coffee. She would have smiled if she didn't miss him so much. Their last meeting had been so awkward and painful. A whole lifetime had passed since three days ago. She wondered if he'd already gone back to Vulcan, but somehow, she didn't think so.

"Tell me, how is your Vulcan friend? The scientist?"

Amanda swallowed hard, wondering if Andorians were telepathic. "He's good," she answered, far quicker than she'd meant to. "I mean, he's going back to Vulcan. He was offered a job. A better job, I think."

Nareen's facial features went blank. "How very interesting. My husband thinks highly of him. A diplomat of his caliber was sure to receive a promotion."

A sharp squeal rung out over the garden and then a chorus of sobbing. Amanda's instinct was to rush to the scene, but she managed to defer to Nareen, who rose to her feet to investigate the source of the wailing. Amanda stood and wandered toward the railing, observing the source of little Lise's distress appeared to be that her older sister had refused to let her eat the yellow flowers growing at the base of a bird bath. What a family they were. So happy, so normal.

She gripped the railing with her right hand while absentmindedly scratching the palm of her left hand with her left middle finger. She sniffed at the warm, humid air and surveyed the brilliant colors of the garden. In exactly 54 days, she would be boarding a civilian transport ship for Andoria, where she would spend the next two years living underground in icy tunnels. She'd never liked the cold much.

Her mind eagerly anticipated her upcoming Andorian adventures, but her heart wasn't really in it. How strange to think something she was sure she'd always wanted seemed hollow now that she was on the verge of achieving it. 54 days. On Monday morning, she'd listed her house for sale and started working on packing her belongings, but it was slow going between visiting various Federation offices to get the necessary documentation to work on Andoria and arranging to store her larger personal effects.

She was limited by what she could take on the transport with her, so in order to have the things she needed waiting for her on Andoria, she would have to send them ahead on a freightliner, and thinking of that reminded her that she needed to set an alarm to wake up at 0200 hours and contact the housing authority in Laikan during their regular business hours to make sure she had a secure apartment in the Andorian capital city that could receive her household goods.

She massaged her brow. Moving was stressful and she hated the anxiety of feeling like she was always overlooking some critical detail. Adding to her strain was the frustration of being put in charge of coordinating the logistics of Piedmont Academy's summer Adventure Camp, which started on Monday, and her sister's visit in less than two weeks.

Hovering like a shadow over all of it was Sarek. Strange to think that a guy she'd only known for a few months could have such an impact on her heart. She'd been with Eddie for nearly five years and though she'd enjoyed their time together, she'd only felt ambivalence when he'd departed from her life, along with some guilt for not feeling about him the way he felt for her. Maybe Sarek was some kind of karmic justice, a person whose sole function was to show her the other side of unrequited love.

She grimaced. Karma, the belief that the sum of one's actions in this and previous states of existence decided a person's fate in future existences, was probably illogical according to Vulcans. She thought of the time when she tried to explain human superstitions to Sarek and his utter confusion about human perceptions of black cats and broken mirrors and horseshoes.

She sighed and closed her eyes. Why had she allowed herself to kiss him?

When she reopened her eyes, she saw Nareen approaching the bottom of the steps on the lawn below with Lise on her hip and Jila and Hura in tow. Seeing this wonderful family almost made her sad. She was a little more than halfway through her twenties — still much too young to heed the ticking of her biological clock. But it was ticking, even if it was barely audible in the back of her mind.

"I apologize for the interruption," Nareen said breathlessly, reaching the top of the stairs and setting Lise down.

The whites of the toddler's eyes were stained brilliant purple from her tears and she was still struggling to breathe from her recent fit. She waddled over to Amanda and hugged her legs, evidently dissatisfied with the degree of comfort her mother was offering. Amanda desperately wanted to pick the girl up and cuddle her, but she didn't want to overstep her bounds or give in to the child's tantrum either.

"Jila, take her inside. I believe she is overtired."

Amanda noticed Jila roll her eyes behind her mother's back, but she did as she was told without vocalizing her complaint.

"Maybe I should go," Amanda said, shooting a glance at the garden gate before peering down at the tiny Andorian clinging to her calves. "It looks like someone is due for a nap."

"Yes," Nareen nodded. "I shall see you out."

Once Jila took her two younger sisters inside, Nareen and Amanda proceeded back down the stairs. "I want to thank you so much for everything. For the tea. For helping me get this teaching position. For your recommendations of things to see and do in Laikan. For all of it."

"You are welcome. I believe you will do well on my home planet, but speaking with you this afternoon, I wonder if you would do better elsewhere."

Amanda balked. "Have I said or done something that offended you?"

"No, why would you think that?"

"I guess it sounds like you're saying I'm not a good fit for this position."

"On the contrary, I have every reason to believe you will exceed all expectations."

Amanda blinked. "Then I don't understand. Why would I be better off elsewhere?"

"I see a lot of myself in you," Nareen explained. "I don't mean to be too forward, of course."

Amanda pursed her lips and gave a slow nod. Andorians were notorious for their blunt and occasionally confrontational personalities. "I know. I really am very excited to move to Andoria and plan to use this opportunity to learn everything I can…"

"I have no doubt," Nareen agreed, interrupting Amanda's train of thought. "I believe I told you I came to Earth to teach the previous ambassador's children."

"You did."

"When my pupils outgrew their need for me, I began looking for employment elsewhere and secured a position within the Andorian Education Directorate. Tarnas proposed to me two weeks later. I believe you can deduce the story's end."

Amanda realized her heart was picking up speed. Was Nareen trying to imply she should try to work things out with Sarek? She knew Andorians were in the habit of being direct, but it was still awkward to receive a lecture on love by someone she barely knew. She felt relieved when they reached the gate.

"Thank you for inviting me."

"You already said that."

Amanda offered a strained chuckle. "So I did."

"I wish you well, Amanda Grayson, whatever you do. My only advice is that which no Vulcan would ever tell you. Follow your instincts, even if you are afraid it might cause offense."

When the gate shut behind Nareen, Amanda found herself staring at it in a daze. Was Nareen giving her permission to back out of going to Andoria? Was she hinting that she should try to get together with Sarek? That seemed awfully presumptuous. Or maybe she was trying to gently suggest she'd made a mistake in recommending Amanda for the job. Self-doubt started to flood in. She hailed a cab and slumped into the backseat, picking apart her entire conversation with the Andorian ambassador's wife.

She turned on the notifications on her PADD and was dismayed to find she'd received 14 new messages in the hour she'd spent at Nareen's house. She skimmed the first one from Jenny McIntosh, which was asking about parental and medical treatment consent forms for the kids they were taking to Mount Rushmore next Tuesday as part of Adventure Camp. She made a note to herself to find out which kids still needed permission slips and continued reading.

Every new message was just one more mental note. Fill out customs forms for household goods. Get health certificate notarized and turned in to Andorian Health Directorate by Friday. Spend time with dozens of friends who wanted to get together for "one last drink or lunch or dinner" before she left. Figure out a good time for the real estate agent to come and take pictures of the house. Decide once and for all if she really wanted to sell her house or if she wanted to find a way to keep it.

Amanda thrived on staying busy, but it was too much. She spent her days touring North American landmarks and nature preserves with several dozen children under the age of ten, desperately trying to impart lessons about ecology when she wasn't constantly taking head counts or tending to scraped knees and forgotten lunches. She spent her nights elbow deep in the tedium and bureaucracy that came with moving to a new planet to start a new job. A week went by and she felt like she could barely keep her head above water. By Friday of the following week, she was almost convinced she was drowning.

She was halfway to sleep and slumped in the transport shuttle seat on her way back from touring Bridal Cave in the Lake of the Ozarks. It was nearly 1800 hours and though her boots were caked with mud and her clothes were still damp from the late afternoon shower they'd gotten caught in, she didn't care. It would take 45 minutes for them to travel back to San Francisco, and that meant 45 minutes of precious sleep. That was until she heard her name uttered from the seat behind her.

"Amanda?"

"Hmmm?" She didn't even bother to open her eyes to look at Millie.

"What are you doing tonight?"

"Packing."

"Jenny and I were wondering if we could come over and give you a hand. We could have a bottle of wine, some snacks…"

She finally opened her eyes and turned to face Millie. "You have no idea how welcome that would be! Oh wait: my sister is coming into town tonight."

"The more the merrier," Millie shrugged. "Unless you had plans to spend time with your sister."

"I have so much to do," Amanda groaned. "I want to spend time with everyone, but so far all I've packed are the kitchen appliances I never use."

"Then let us help you. I know you wanted to bail on doing Adventure Camp with us, and no one would have blamed you, but you're helping us out when we're short staffed and we want to return the favor."

Amanda knew Clarissa fed off social energy and wouldn't mind having two other women at the house for the evening. She felt truly lucky to have such great friends, but also felt sad that she would be leaving them behind in a month and a half.

It was 1930 hours by the time she trudged up the stairs of her front porch. Several parents had taken the time to express their disappointment that their children were returning home muddy, and it had taken everything Amanda had not to tell them exactly how she felt about their complaints when she was just as filthy and tired as the kids. She kicked off her boots at the door, stripped herself on the way to the bathroom, and enjoyed a longer and hotter shower than she'd had in ages.

She had just started to towel dry her hair when the doorbell rang. She pulled on a pair of cotton shorts and a gray tank top and found Clarissa standing on her porch, ecstatic and triumphant. "My baby sister!" The two women hugged, and despite all of Amanda's current troubles, she felt a small weight lifted from her shoulders the moment her older sister stepped over the threshold.

"I can't believe you're leaving us!" Clarissa cried, heaving her bag onto the loveseat in the living room.

"I can't either," Amanda admitted, gazing around her small house. "I've barely even started packing. Speaking of which, some of my teacher friends are coming over to help sort things into boxes."

"Girls night?" Clarissa said, her jaw dropping open in glee.

"Somehow I didn't think you'd mind."

"Of course not! Anyway, your hair has grown out so much!" Clarissa said, fingering Amanda's dark locks and making a face. "You've got a lot of split ends."

"I know. The longer it grows, the more frustrating it gets. It's hanging in my face now but it's still too short to tie back."

"Won't you let me cut it?"

Her sister was a hairdresser and had been almost since birth. She'd given Amanda her very first haircut at the age of two — Clarissa had been five — and though the result had been very short and uneven bangs, her skills with a pair of scissors had improved dramatically over the past two decades with training and experience.

"I was really hoping it would grow out," Amanda admitted, petting the long, feathery hairs at the back of her neck.

"Oooooh! We could lengthen it then. I brought my stuff. We could do a protein synthesis treatment."

Amanda smiled and looked at herself in the mirror. She remembered wondering if Sarek would find long hair attractive. She supposed it didn't matter now, if it had ever mattered at all. "Yeah, maybe. Anyway, how long are you in town for? You never did say."

"I have a few beauty classes going on next week, but I don't really have to go back to work until the end of the month. I can be here as long as you want me here for. I want to spend some time with you before you fly off to the other side of the universe."

"Andoria is only 14 light years away."

"And how long does it take to get there one way?"

"About eight days."

"Exactly. It took me an hour and a half to get here on the evening shuttle from New York."

The doorbell rang again and Clarissa raced to answer it. Amanda grinned. Her sister had such a disarming way of making herself right at home. Clarissa had met Millie several times before, but Jenny was new, so of course she introduced herself by giving her a giant hug and promising to show her how to style her hair into the same elaborate fishtail braid Clarissa was currently wearing.

Jenny popped the cork on a bottle of white wine and the four women settled into idle chit chat. Nothing was really getting packed, but Amanda didn't care. It felt good to be normal and distracted by companionship. Amanda was into her third glass of wine when Clarissa convinced her to have a seat in one of the kitchen chairs, draped a towel around her shoulders, and got to work reinventing her hair.

Millie and Jenny agreed to start sorting and packing all the knickknacks from the living room into crates as Amanda watched from the kitchen, protesting that she didn't feel right watching other people work on her behalf while she was getting her hair done. Her friends promptly told her to shut up and enjoy the experience.

"Are you taking the pictures on the walls with you or putting them in storage?" Millie called, holding up two of the frames from the wall for Amanda's inspection.

"I'd like to take some of the digital frames, but I doubt I'll have room for all of them in a one bedroom apartment."

"So can I safely assume you're not interested in taking these pictures of you and Eddie with you?"

Amanda smirked. "I don't care. Surprise me."

"Whatever happened to that guy?" Clarissa asked, checking one of the foils that was coating Amanda's hair with synthetic lengthener.

"He got married a few weeks ago," Amanda replied, feeling guilty she hadn't even sent a card.

"Who cares about Eddie though?" Millie called from the living room. "Sarek is much better."

"Sarek?" Clarissa repeated, rolling the name off her tongue. Suddenly, her eyes lit up. "Is this the Vulcan guy?"

Amanda's heart sank. She hadn't told a soul what had happened in this very kitchen nearly two weeks ago. She'd figured she wouldn't be able to avoid the topic of Sarek forever, but she didn't feel ready to talk about him.

"Wait, what Vulcan guy?" Jenny asked. "Are you talking about the guy you brought to Piedmont's cultural exchange fair?"

"Yep," Millie said, shooting her a sly grin. "He went with us to a baseball game and came to our barbecue. He's such a gentleman. And so adorable."

Amanda felt her cheeks growing hot, unsure whether from embarrassment or pain or irritation. Sarek wasn't adorable, he was Sarek. And she definitely didn't want to have this conversation with such a gossipy, captive audience, especially when she was all but trapped in a kitchen chair waiting for her hair to turn out.

"Awe, you blush!" Clarissa squealed.

"I'm blushing for you too," Jenny laughed. "He was pretty cute. Kind of a stiff personality, but the kids loved him. A man who's good with kids is always sexy."

"I knew you were more than just friends," Clarissa insisted. "I just knew when I saw that video of you on the link mom sent me."

Amanda was about to snap at her sister that it was ridiculous to say she "just knew" from a short video clip, but Millie cut her off. "How did he take the news you were moving to Andoria?"

"Fine," Amanda said flatly. "Just fine. He's moving back to Vulcan soon anyway."

"How are you taking it?" Clarissa asked, starting to pull the foils from Amanda's hair.

She glanced at her shoulder, shocked to see a long tendril of newly formed hair emerging from the foil wrapping. "It's fine. Even if there was something between us, and there wasn't, it was never going to work anyway. We really were just friends."

"Yeah, ok," Millie muttered from the living room, causing her and Jenny to burst into mildly drunken laughter.

"Anyway, did Millie tell you she's getting married?" Amanda blurted, capitalizing on the fact that Clarissa was drawn to the topic of matrimony like a moth to a flame.

The conversation naturally flowed back to her friend and the topic of wedding planning. Amanda breathed a little easier, knowing the focus was off her and Sarek… for now. She knew Clarissa well enough to know that once Millie and Jenny were gone, the real interrogation would begin, and she just didn't feel up to it.

Two hours later, Clarissa was running her fingers through Amanda's new tresses. She'd added some soft highlights to her dark hair and trimmed in some long layers, and the end result was vibrant, flowing locks that fell just past her shoulder blades. The sensation of long hair felt heavy, exotic, and foreign, and still she wondered if Sarek would recognize her or think she was overly vain for altering her appearance this way.

Clarissa tinkered with Jenny and Millie's hair for the next hour while Amanda sifted through the remains of her living room. Her friends had made decent progress in just one evening, and she actually started to feel better about the prospect of moving.

The next morning, she and Clarissa decided to dedicate their entire Saturday to packing up the rest of her house, aside from the furniture and the things Amanda would need to get by until she left for Andoria on August 1st. Seeing her home slowly grow empty made her feel wistful and nostalgic, and she continued to question her decision and dwell on Nareen's cryptic advice. Was it too late to call the whole thing off? She decided it probably was.

Much to her surprise, Clarissa avoided pestering her about Sarek and for the entire day, they stuck to neutral topics like Clarissa's lack of a love life, her despair over turning thirty, gossip about distant family members, and Amanda's upcoming move. Later that evening, Amanda got to work preparing dinner while Clarissa sat at the kitchen table, thumbing through her PADD. "Eeeek! They're showing The Privateer at Tarleton Theater tomorrow at 1530 hours."

"The Privateer?" Amanda asked, tossing the peel of a potato into the matter reclaimator. "The original 2029 film or the remake they did in 2080?"

"The original. We have to go."

"You really want to see a movie? The weather is supposed to be near perfect. We could go to the beach or maybe go for a hike."

Clarissa thought to herself for a moment and counted something out on her fingers. "No, we're going to a movie. My treat. We go every time I come to town: it's tradition."

"Fine." Amanda smiled and shook her head, still unaccustomed to the sway of her hair on her back. Her sister loved her romance movies, but at least this one had the Napoleonic Wars and other intrigue to keep Amanda interested.

And it did end up being better than Amanda remembered, as she found out the next day at 1530 hours. It was a beautiful story of two men in the British Royal Navy who fell in love in a time when same sex partnerships weren't accepted. The main character, Jack, was also moonlighting as a time-travelling privateer struggling to infiltrate the French Admiral Villeneuve's ranks and stage a mutiny, but in the end, he chose to give his life to save his lover during a dangerous covert mission rather than perform his duty, which led to the Napoleonic Wars continuing for another decade.

As they were leaving the theater, Clarissa stopped to use the lavatory and Amanda found herself staring at the same Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster she'd analyzed with Sarek. Weird how looking at an image of a psychopath tormenting a woman hanging from a deer trestle could remind her how much she missed him.

Even though they had parted ways on bad and awkward terms, a huge part of Amanda wished she could just see him one more time before she left, even if just to have a proper goodbye. They'd discussed maintaining correspondence, but she hadn't received a message from him since the night he'd left her leaning over the kitchen sink and clutching a wounded hand.

"Hurry up, we've got to go."

Amanda snapped out of her reflection to find Clarissa rushing out of the restroom.

"We do?"

"Yeah, it's getting late."

"It's not even 1730 yet. Do you have somewhere you have to be?"

"No, I just… it'll be dark soon."

"It's June," Amanda argued. "The longest day of the year is in a couple of days. I was actually thinking we could get some dinner…"

"To be honest, I didn't want to say anything, but I don't feel very good. I ate too much popcorn and I just want to get back to the house and lie down. I hope that's ok."

"Yeah, sure, ok," Amanda shrugged. "Do you want to call a cab instead of walk?"

"Sounds perfect," Clarissa called to her, already exiting the theater ahead of Amanda.

It was a short ride back to the house, and the whole time, Clarissa was fiddling with her PADD.

"Do you want to stop by a pharmacy and get some medicine?" Amanda offered.

Clarissa didn't reply.

"Or I have some ginger ale."

"Huh?"

"Ginger ale. To settle your stomach."

"Oh… yeah. That would be great."

When they arrived at Amanda's duplex three minutes later, Clarissa nearly bounced out of the cab. She seemed to shadow Amanda up the narrow walkway to the front porch, and the moment she inserted the key and cracked the door, she understood why. The lights came on automatically to reveal dozens of people standing in her kitchen and living room.

"Surprise!" yelled the crowd assembled in her tiny house.

Amanda reeled back in shock, not only because her friends had managed to plan a surprise party without tipping her off, but because she spied a very tall, dark haired man standing at the back of the room next to Pete and Millie. Sarek.

Chapter Text

The sights and sounds of everyone else seemed to fade into the background and for a few seconds, she almost felt like she was alone with Sarek. She couldn't bring herself to look directly at him, but was afraid of what she would find in his eyes. She took a nervous step forward, and was plunged back into the present when a pair of arms gripped her around the waist.

Amanda looked down to see Mari, Jason and Fatou's daughter. "Were you surprised?" the little girl asked.

"Oh boy, was I ever," she stammered, feeling a warm flush come over her face as she bit her lip and glanced around at the faces of her friends.

Half the school faculty and administration was packed into her house, as were many of her neighbors, including Henry Daystrom, which surprised her, and Geoff and Christina, which irritated her. She took several deep breaths and was shocked to find she was having a hard time breathing.

She was happy to see almost everyone and would have taken extreme delight in the fact that her friends had cared enough about her to do this, if not for the fact that she felt like she was on display in front of Sarek. Her heart sunk. She was going to have to talk to him, and in front of about three dozen other people. Why was he even here? Who had invited him? Surely surprise going away parties weren't logical?

"I can't believe you didn't figure it out," Clarissa was laughing from behind her. "Have I ever turned down a dinner date with my sister?"

"Uh, no… I guess not," Amanda muttered, not really thinking about the question.

"You said last night that you wanted to spend time with everyone before you left, so we thought we'd save you some hassle and get everyone together in one place," Jenny said, peeking her head around the corner of the support post that partially separated the kitchen from the hallway.

"Yeah, this is… this is great. I don't even know what to say."

The thrum of voices filled her ears and Amanda squeezed her way into the crowd of people. Her friends had rearranged the furniture in her living room and set up a long table that extended out from the kitchen into the front part of the hallway to warehouse an immense supply of snacks and drinks.

She watched as people started helping themselves to the guacamole and spinach artichoke dip, doing her best to greet every person by name that she saw. Where was Sarek? Was he still at the back of her living room? Was he watching her?

"I hope this wasn't too much of a shock for you," Millie said from behind her.

Amanda turned around and mumbled, "No, it's wonderful. Thanks."

"And don't you worry about cleaning up or any of this. Me and Jenny have it under control. You just focus on having a good time."

She looked around her limited vantage point in the kitchen, lowered her voice, and asked, "Who invited Sarek?"

"I did. I took a page from your book and contacted the Vulcan embassy. He wasn't all that hard to find."

It dawned on Amanda that not only had he been invited, but he'd accepted the invitation. He'd agreed to come and stand in a confined, crowded room full of people who were mostly strangers to him, sacrificing his comfort and personal space. He'd wanted to come. Why? To say goodbye? To apologize?

A small group moved out of the way and she finally saw him, standing in the back corner and speaking with Pete. Sarek's head turned in her direction the moment she laid eyes in him, almost as if he knew she was being watched. She whipped back around to the refreshment table.

"Is something wrong?" Millie asked.

"I just… didn't expect to see him here. What did he say- you know, when you invited him?"

"I sent him a message telling him when and where and he replied back right away saying he'd be here. I still don't think he really understands the point of a surprise party, but-"

"Amanda, I love your hair," said a voice from behind them. Fatou's face popped in between Amanda and Millie's shoulders.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, my sister did it the other night." She gently touched the long hair flowing over her collarbones, feeling Sarek's eyes on her.

Amanda was coaxed into grabbing a plate with some crackers and cheese and spent the next twenty minutes shuffling from group to group, making polite conversation but unable to focus. She wanted to relax and enjoy herself — this was probably the last time she would see many of these people before leaving for Andoria — but that was never going to happen with Sarek present, standing in the corner like a giant Vulcan elephant in the room.

She was in the middle of detailing the process of moving to a new planet for what felt like the hundredth time to several fifth-grade teachers from Piedmont when she felt the hairs on the back of her neck standing up. She didn't need to look to know he was standing right behind her. The group broke up when her friends went to refill their drinks and when she turned around, she was face to face with the person she was both desperate to see and desperate to avoid. Several seconds passed, neither of them directly looking at the other.

"Hi," Amanda finally said, carefully monitoring her tone and refusing to look him in the eye.

"Hello."

"I'm really surprised to see you here."

"Miss Rogers invited me."

"Yeah, I know. I'm just surprised you accepted the invitation is all. Anyway, I would have thought you'd be on your way back to Vulcan by now."

"I still have not accepted the Vulcan Science Academy's offer."

His admission caught her off guard and she instinctively checked his face to see if he was serious. Of course he was serious. He was Sarek. He was Vulcan. "Why not? I thought this research project was important to you."

"It is, it is merely that I-"

"Amanda!"

She gritted her teeth and looked to her left to see Christina approaching with Geoff in tow. "Hi Christina, how are you?"

"Good, good. I can't believe you're moving away! And to Andoria. I can't imagine living among aliens."

Amanda didn't even bother to try and hide her look of disgust. She gestured to Sarek and replied, "Um, Christina, Geoff, this is Sarek. Sarek, these are my neighbors."

"I am familiar," Sarek replied. Amanda was certain her face was turning scarlet with embarrassment, but neither Geoff nor Christina seemed to pick up on the fact that Sarek was already more intimately acquainted with them than he probably wanted to be.

"Amanda, come take a picture with us!" Millie called from across the room. "We want to get everyone from Piedmont."

Amanda nodded and waved, abruptly excusing herself from her neighbors and muttering to Sarek, "Well, thanks for coming."

One quick picture soon turned into everyone asking for pictures to commemorate the evening, and Amanda didn't get the chance to speak to Sarek again. She did almost have a heart attack when she spied Clarissa chatting him up. Even from a distance, Amanda could tell she was laying on her usual coy charm particularly thick, and though she tried to get away from everyone and stop Clarissa from badgering Sarek, she couldn't quite summon enough rudeness to tell people to leave her alone and storm through a crowd of her friends to drag her gregarious sister away from the socially awkward Vulcan.

A short time later, the first guests started trickling out the front door and Amanda started doling out hugs and accepting well wishes. Indecision paralyzed her: Sarek would be leaving soon too. Should she let him go or try to talk to him? The crowd thinned down, but Sarek remained. She should talk to him.

She had just walked the Daystroms to the door when she noticed him standing alone at the entry to the living room, hands tucked neatly behind his back in his usual standoffish Vulcan posture. Now was as good a time as any.

She took a deep breath and started down the hall, but Pete beat her to it. Sarek left his post to join Pete and Jason by the back door, and soon the three men stepped out onto the patio. She picked up two empty wine glasses from the entry table and made her way back to the kitchen, conscious of the fact that her heart was pounding from her missed attempt. She found Millie and Clarissa sitting on the counter, sipping wine and laughing.

"I told you- you don't have to clean up!" Millie teased, leaping from the counter and seize the glasses from Amanda's hands.

"Yeah, I know."

"Are you ok?" Clarissa asked, sliding from the counter and inching toward her. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Amanda shrugged.

"You've been off all night."

"What were you talking about with Sarek earlier?"

Clarissa and Millie smiled and exchanged irritating, knowing looks. "I just asked him about his life. Where he's from, what he does. I guess you told him about me. He seemed to remember that I hate eating black beans."

Amanda scowled. "Huh?"

"I guess you took him grocery shopping and told him I hate black beans."

She only vaguely remembered. "Why did you invite him?"

"Because we invited all your friends, and even though some of them couldn't make it, he apparently could," Clarissa shrugged.

"It almost sounds like you don't want him here," Millie added, crossing her arms.

Amanda looked around the room and noticing Sarek was still outside with a small group of people, she inched forward and said, "I messed things up. So bad."

Clarissa and Millie's expressions shifted into concern. Amanda took a deep breath and gazed at the tile floor, thinking Millie was standing in the exact spot where she'd kissed him two weeks ago.

"How so?" her sister asked.

"A few Sundays ago, I had him over for dinner and I kissed him. It was kind of an accident. We bumped heads and I must have misread his signals and we kissed. I told him how I felt, and he- he got all weird."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Millie hissed, pulling Amanda into a hug.

"I didn't know what to say. He's leaving, I'm leaving. I thought I'd never see him again. I wanted to put the whole embarrassing thing behind me and try to forget about him." Amanda stepped out of Millie's tight embrace and stared up at the ceiling.

"Maybe it's not as bad as you think. I mean, he did come."

"And he definitely cares about you," Clarissa added. "He's been staring at you all night. And no man remembers trivial details about a woman's sister if he's not interested in her."

"Vulcans have insanely good memories," Amanda rebutted. "And it was a party thrown in my honor and he didn't really know many people here. Who else was he going to look at?"

"You need to talk to him," her sister insisted. "You'll regret it for the rest of your life if you don't."

"You're being dramatic."

Clarissa rolled her eyes. "And you're making a mistake if you don't talk to him. Don't leave things unresolved."

"I want to talk to him. Or at least I thought I did. There were so many people here and I couldn't get a private word."

"He's still here, why don't you-"

"Hey babe!" Pete interrupted, poking his head through the back door. "Are there any more beers left?"

"Yes, but I'm talking to Amanda," Millie groaned, rolling her eyes. "If you want a beer, come get it yourself."

Clarissa turned to Amanda. "Seriously, go talk to him."

"And say what?"

Clarissa's eyes darted over Amanda's shoulder and a wide grin descended upon her face. "Sarek, how are you? Having a good time?"

Amanda froze, half turning to see him standing in the threshold of the kitchen. "Thank you for your invitation, Miss Rogers, and your hospitality, Amanda. I was also honored to make your acquaintance, Miss Grayson, but I should return to the consulate."

"It's still early," Clarissa cooed. "But I understand. Tomorrow's Monday, after all."

"Thanks for coming," Amanda said, giving him a pained smile.

"Why don't you see him out?" Clarissa asked. "Me and Millie should probably get started on cleaning up."

Amanda couldn't decide whether to give her sister a thankful or a dirty look. She expected Sarek to say it was illogical to walk him three meters down the hallway to the front door, but he didn't, so she took a few steps forward, crossed her arms over her body, and muttered, "Um, sure."

Sarek stepped back, giving her a wide berth to cross the threshold, and followed her to the front door. Her heart raced and her palms were sweaty. Time slowed as they approached the front entryway. She should say something, but what? Clarissa was right — she didn't want to leave things like this, but she'd already made a fool of herself once.

They paused by the door, stuck at an impasse. Her lip started to quiver and she was about to blurt out all kinds of empty pleasantries about how it was nice seeing him one last time and she wished him luck in his new job when he simply asked, "Will you join me outside?"

Her breath caught in her throat. "Um, sure."

She pulled the door open, her movements sluggish and purposeful. They stood on the front porch about a meter apart facing the street, Sarek on the right and Amanda on the left. The air was warm and heavy and a light breeze licked her face. It would probably rain later that night.

"I hope my sister didn't embarrass you."

"Embarrassment is illogical."

She briefly closed her eyes and scoffed. "I know. What I mean is, I hope she wasn't too pushy. I noticed she had you cornered earlier."

"She spoke very highly of you. You share much in common with her."

"If I know my sister, she's probably pressing a glass against the kitchen window to see if she can hear our conversation," Amanda replied, glancing over her shoulder to see the curtains in the kitchen window swishing.

"A crude but effective way to focus sound waves."

Amanda choked on a bitter laugh. "Look, I'm really glad you came, but I don't see that things have changed. You're still going back to Vulcan, I'm still-"

"May I speak with you in a more private setting?" he interrupted.

She was conscious of the pulse in her neck as she swallowed and muttered, "I guess. Would you want to go for a walk? There's the park just a few blocks away and I doubt there are many people out this time of night."

He blinked, clearly deliberating her proposition. "If that is what you prefer."

Amanda thought about grabbing an umbrella in case it rained, but she didn't feel like going back into the house. She stepped forward boldly, skipping the middle step up the porch and landing on the concrete walkway. When they reached the corner of her street, he said, "You have altered your appearance."

"You mean my hair? Yeah, Clarissa is a hair stylist and I let her do it on a whim the other night."

He didn't say anything else and she knew better than to go fishing for his opinion. "So, you wanted to speak with me in a more private setting… what did you want to talk about?"

"I have yet to accept Chief Councilor V'Nar's offer to lead a joint research team at the Vulcan Science Academy."

"Yeah, you had said that," Amanda said, chewing her lip looking down at the hem of her skirt. "If this project is so important, why wouldn't you go?"

"Because another opportunity has presented itself." She crossed her arms and dared herself to look at him. He swallowed and continued. "Ambassador Selden wishes me to assume his role as Vulcan ambassador to Earth when in vacates the posting in four months."

She couldn't contain her shock. "The ambassador to Earth? That sounds like a pretty substantial promotion."

"It is. He honors me with his recommendation. I must notify the Vulcan Diplomatic Service of my decision by tomorrow evening."

"So wait, if you took this job, does that mean you would stay on Earth?"

"The role of Vulcan Ambassador to Earth is to represent Vulcan to the people of Earth."

Amanda chewed the tip of her tongue, wondering what she should say. The thought that he might not leave after all thrilled her, but what would it matter if she was leaving for Andoria in a month and a half? She thought of Nareen. She didn't have to go, but she'd just come from a party her friends had thrown in honor of her upcoming departure. Moreover, Sarek hadn't made up his mind yet.

The gears of her mind turned over the various possibilities as she struggled with her feelings, the fear of disappointing people, and the foolishness of even thinking about throwing away the opportunity of a lifetime for a man she'd only known for a few months, a man who had rejected her two weeks ago. Hope turned to guilt, guilt turned to anger, and anger looped back into hope. They were halfway into the park before Amanda really took stock of her surroundings and realized Sarek was simply following her as she wandered.

The sky was a deep purple color from the fading dusk, but the street lights were bright overhead with hundreds of insects flittering around them. She saw the park's twin ponds fifty meters ahead and moved in that direction. The stopped at a cast iron bench and Amanda watched as a couple walked by with a dog. She nodded and smiled at them, then turned to Sarek. "Would you like to sit?"

He sat without a word and Amanda occupied a space at the opposite end, leaving about half a meter between them. They sat silently for several minutes and she could hear nothing but the sound of distant cars and the pulsing of blood in her ears.

"So what will you do?" she finally asked.

"I do not know."

"It sounds like you need to figure it out pretty soon."

"Yes."

More silence. Amanda traced her toes over the round landscaping rocks underfoot, waiting for him to say something. Hadn't he been the one who wanted to speak privately with her, after all? She felt like she could go crazy from the lack of talking, but didn't want to have another awkward incident like the one two weeks ago.

She bent down and picked up one of the stones, feeling its smoothness with her thumb. It was flat and almost perfectly round, ideal for making a stone mosaic or skipping across water. She snuck a look at Sarek and saw he was facing forward and staring out over the quiet water. Everything was too still, and it was setting her on edge. She decided she couldn't take it anymore. She stood, took several brisk steps forward, and in the sweeping motion her father had shown her as a little girl, loosed the smooth rock over the pond, watching it skip once, twice, three times before disappearing beneath the water's surface.

She watched the ripples spread out from the impact points, neat and orderly at first, then chaotic as they grew wider and collided with each other. She knelt down and sifted through the stones, looking for ones that would skip well, and finding a few, she repeated the action several more times. Just as she was starting to wonder if Sarek thought she'd lost her mind, he appeared by her left shoulder.

"I believe this is an ideal candidate for this particular purpose." He extended his palm outward, revealing a large, flat rock.

"It's a little big, don't you think?"

"The conditions for bouncing a solid object off a liquid surface depend upon the velocity, tilt, angle of attack, density of the liquid, and mass and diameter of the object."

"But assuming all these rocks have generally similar composition, aren't mass and diameter loosely correlated? The bigger the diameter, the more it's going to weigh."

He cocked an eyebrow, turned, and effortlessly skipped the rock over the pond. Amanda tallied at least 15 skips before she lost count. She couldn't help but laugh in delight at his success.

"You are correct, but with sufficient velocity, the drawback of increased mass for the sake of increased surface area may be minimized."

The teacher in her loved his ability to turn the mundane into a scientific lesson, but another side of her grimaced. Sarek was a scientist. Whether they were discussing bread making, swimming, popcorn, or skipping rocks, his mind naturally tended toward an appreciation of the scientific principles behind each and every subject. He couldn't seriously be contemplating such a drastic career change at this stage in his life.

She sighed and offered him the last rock in her hand. He turned it over several times, observing several dimples on one side, and then performed another impressive feat of at least 10 skips before it dipped into the pond for good.

"You must have a lot of practice at this," she said, not looking away from the pond.

"None."

"What? You've never done this before?"

"No."

"I guess throwing rocks into water probably isn't very logical."

"It does provide a rudimentary demonstration of a number of aspects of elementary physics," he replied, tilting his head toward her.

"I don't think I've ever gotten a rock to skip more than about six times. Is there anything you're not naturally good at?"

She saw him open his mouth out of the corner of her eye, but he didn't speak immediately. She craned her neck to look at him and saw he was turning in her direction.

"I am not particularly adept at expressing my fondness for you."

She held her breath and waited for him to continue, but he looked away. She bit her lip and huffed. "So does that mean you are fond of me?"

"I am."

"I'm fond of you too, but I guess you already know that."

"Yes."

Amanda pursed her lips. "Ok then."

More silence. They were getting to be experts at not saying things. Amanda sighed. "So what now?"

A rumbling echoed from the distance, heralding the oncoming storm was nearly upon them. She didn't flinch.

"Perhaps we should seek shelter."

Amanda took a deep breath, trying to subdue her irritation that he was avoiding the subject. "I don't want to go back to my house. There are still some people there and my sister is staying with me."

She racked her brain for an alternative location that was still semi-private, figuring the coffee shop down the street was probably closing soon if it hadn't already. "Would you consent to join me in my home?"

She balked. "You're inviting me over to your place? Don't you live in that big compound in Sausalito?"

"I do."

"And it's ok for me to be there?"

"There are no regulations prohibiting guests."

She steadied her breathing. She wasn't exactly sure, but she sensed a shift had just taken place in their dynamic. She did her best to remember that he was still Sarek, and just because a human man inviting a human woman over to his house implied he was interested in something more didn't mean that's what he, a Vulcan, was after. Or was he?

She blushed, thinking she wouldn't mind finding out, and then mentally kicked herself for seriously entertaining the idea. If he really were looking for something more romantic, what good could come from agreeing to go to his place? If he really did just want to talk, nothing more, it was probably a horrible idea to get her hopes up. And yet her mouth started forming words almost independently of her mind. "I guess so, if it's ok with you."

They started down the path just as the first raindrops began to fall. Sarek whipped out a PADD from the inner pocket of his outer vest. As if on cue, a cab pulled up to the curb just as they exited the park and the rain really hit its stride. He pulled open the door and waited for her to enter, and she looked into his eyes, searching for some hint at his intentions. Lightning peeled across the sky and she thought of the time she'd caught him at the bus stop, huddled under a young oak tree.

"Perhaps you might hurry," he suggested, blinking rainwater from his eyes.

Whatever doubts she had about doing this faded. She slipped into the seat and slid over to allow him space, and moments later, they were sitting together in the back of a cab, heading for Sausalito and whatever else lay in store.


His selection of the private cab over a consular car had been practical for two reasons. Dispatching a car from Sausalito would take far too long, particularly in the current inclement weather, and he was also not certain he wanted Tavik knowing Amanda would be joining him in his quarters. It was true there were no regulations preventing him from inviting guests to his private accommodations, but there was a large degree of impropriety in permitting an unbonded human female to join him alone at this hour.

He was beginning to believe inviting her into his home had been unwise. He had no intention of behaving improperly toward her, of course, but what function could it serve? He had wanted to speak to her privately and could think of no better place to ensure absolute privacy.

But what exactly did he wish to say? He wasn't sure. How illogical. He wasn't even entirely certain why he'd agreed to accept Miss Roger's invitation to attend a surprise party in Amanda's honor. It had seemed such an odd concept when he'd first heard of it and after he'd seen the charade performed, it was even odder still.

Both Pete and Miss Rogers had both attempted to explain why it was "more exciting" and "more fun" to wait in the dark for Amanda to appear in her own home, but they'd given up and simply told him to go along with it, and out of respect for human customs, he did. The horrified expression on her face when she'd seen the crowd assembled in the common areas of her house certainly didn't make it seem like "fun," at least as he understood the definition of the illogical word.

Truthfully, he believed Solkar's advice had been instrumental in his decision to attend the party. "Only you can decide your path, but do not forget that much of your path is dictated by the companionships you forge along the way." He longed for her companionship. He longed for it even now, when he was sitting so very near to her.

She uttered a small cough and he tilted his head to see her gazing out the window over the bay. The choice of commissioning a private taxi to ferry them to the consular compound had come at the cost of a privacy divider. There was nothing separating them from the driver, a human woman who was unknown to either of them, and so they hadn't spoken a word since entering the vehicle.

Every time they passed under the artificial lighting of the bridge, her side of the car was bathed in a warm yellow-orange color. From that angle, much of her face was concealed under the blanket of her damp hair. He disliked that it shrouded some of her features, and yet the length was also pleasing in a way.

The occasional light of the passing streetlamps also allowed him a better view of her form. Her wet shirt clung to her body and the water in the light-colored fabric gave it a transparent quality, allowing him to discern the lines of her undergarments. He looked away and dismissed the thought before it could fully form.

Ten minutes later, the cab pulled up to the gates of the compound. It was raining steadily, but unauthorized vehicles weren't permitted beyond the walls. He settled the bill with the driver and looked to Amanda. "We shall have to walk the rest of the way."

"I don't mind," she said, the corners of her mouth pulling upward. "We're already both wet."

They exited the vehicle and he hastily moved to the access panel and entered his code. The gates crawled open and he led her down the main road toward the individual row of staff houses to the left. Unfortunately, his lodgings were near the main building and even at a brisk walk, it took nearly five minutes to reach his front door.

By the time they arrived at his front porch, the rain was once again approaching a deluge. When they stepped through the door, the lights automatically illuminated to reveal Amanda's clothes were soaked and her long hair was plastered to her cheeks. She crossed her arms over her body and brushed the tendrils away with her fingertips. She chuckled when she noticed his eyes on her, her eyes darting nervously to the floor. "I don't suppose you have a towel?"

"Yes. Come."

Just three steps into his journey to the linen closet to fetch a towel, his wet shoes slipped on the slick floor and he started to pitch backwards, but Amanda managed to steady him before he completely lost his balance. The touch of her hands on his back sent shivers down his spine. He pivoted on his heel and making sure his footing was more secure, he said, "Thank you."

His words were softer than he'd intended. They were standing quite close, close enough for him to see the trembling of her body and the fact that her eyes were fixated on his mouth. His instinct was to kiss her, to touch her, to do all the things he'd wanted to do that evening in her kitchen two Sundays ago. His desire to maintain logic battled his impulse to touch her.

"Sarek?" she whispered.

"Yes?"

Their bodies started to draw closer together and soon he was startled to realize he had reached for her left hand. The sensation of her fingers on his was irresistible, and the next thing he knew, their bodies collided with nervous energy. He hungrily traced his forefingers over hers as she pressed their mouths together. They groped at each other; all Sarek wanted to do was be nearer to her. He moved closer, as close as he could physically be, until he realized he had her pinned against the wall.

She uttered a squeak as he continued to press into her, snapping him back to reality. What was he doing? She was so small: he could easily injure her by asserting himself so forcefully. He peeled himself away and struggled to find the words to apologize and explain his motives for inviting her to his home hadn't been to assault her, but she followed him, moving her body with his. Her eyes were wild and penetrating.

She took his hand and gazed at it. She clearly had no concept of just how stimulating the sensation of her slender fingers truly was.

"I don't want to go to Andoria." Her voice was quiet but certain.

He blinked several times. Two days ago, he'd been fairly sure the position at the Vulcan Science Academy was what he truly wanted, but now, standing in the entryway of his home, all he really wanted was the soaking wet human woman who was currently shivering and holding his hand.

She took a step forward, and anticipating her next move, he leaned his head forward and met her kiss more gently than before. Their tongues played at each other; the taste of her mouth was sweet. When her hands made contact with his cheeks, he shuddered but tried to relax.

She pulled away and rested her forehead on his collarbone. "Did I do something wrong? Do you not like me touching your face?"

"It is… it is an extraordinarily intimate gesture among my people."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

"I do not mind. I was merely surprised."

"I won't touch you there if you don't want me to."

He pulled back and clutched her hands. They were soft and cool to the touch. "Will you permit me to meld with you?"

Her face twisted in a series of odd looks. "Meld? Do you mean… is that some kind of euphemism for… you know…"

"I wish to initiate a mind meld."

Her worried expression shifted to a blank one. "Mind meld? I don't understand."

"I wish to meet our minds together. Vulcans are a telepathic species."

Her jaw drifted open and her eyebrows furrowed. "You want to… what? Read my mind?"

"Not precisely," he explained. "It is possible to read another's thoughts through a mind meld, though it is also possible to simply transfer sensations and emotions."

"I- I don't know? That sounds very… very…"

"I am not attempting to coerce you. I understand if you wish to refuse."

"I'm just not really sure," she replied. "I have a lot of things, a lot of thoughts and feelings about you. I'm not sure I want you knowing all that stuff. I'm not saying no… I just, I don't know."

"Then I respect your wishes."

"I don't mean it to sound like I don't- like I don't want to be with you."

She wished to be with him? In what way? "Clarify."

"I didn't mean to make things weird. I really like you, I'm just not sure I want you poking around in my head."

"I respect that." And he did. It was difficult to quash his disappointment — he wished to know her in every way possible, to gauge her feelings for himself before proceeding any further with her — but he could appreciate the trepidation a non-telepathic individual might have at the suggestion of allowing a person access to their mind.

She sniffed and nodded. Her face was pale and wet and she tightened her arms around her body and began chewing on her lower lip.

"You had asked for a towel," he said.

"Yeah."

"The linen closet is this way, if you will follow me."

He showed her to the closet just outside his bedroom and the lavatory, and offered her one of the plush gray towels. She patted her face and started to squeeze water from her hair. "You have a really nice home," she remarked, running the cloth over her neck and gazing at several plaques on the wall.

Sarek looked at the plaques. Like most everything else in the dwelling, it belonged to the consulate. He had brought very few personal possessions with him from Vulcan.

"Would it hurt?"

He glanced at her. "Expound."

"This mind meld thing?"

"You would physically feel nothing, aside from the slight pressure of my hand on your face."

"And it's safe? It works on humans?"

"It does. I have never personally melded with a human, but there is no evidence to suggest it is harmful to your species."

"And you- what would you get out if it?"

"The sensation of becoming closer to you by sharing certain aspects of your consciousness."

Her expression softened and she rubbed the bottom half of her face with her hand. "Ok."

"You are certain?"

"Not really, but I'm willing to try. I want you to be as close to me as you want. I want to be closer to you too."

"If you are not certain, I will not do it."

"I don't think I'm ever going to be certain without really knowing what I'm getting myself into. But I trust you."

"It was not my intention to compel you, I-"

"How does it work?" she interrupted. "You said something about your hand on my face?"

"Yes, I would touch a series of pressure points on your cheek, jaw, and forehead and merge our minds together."

"Is it... permanent?"

He thought of their loose empathic bond but decided against telling her they likely already shared a weak semi-permanent connection. "There is a type of mind meld which can initiate a permanent link between two individuals, but the one I intend to attempt lasts only as long as physical contact is maintained."

"How can you be sure it won't be permanent?" she asked, her eyes widening.

Her question was valid, considering her ignorance about the practice. "I am quite skilled in most melding techniques, but if you are unsure, I would prefer not to."

She glanced down at the floor, scrunching her eyebrows together. Once again he noticed the lines of her undergarments through her white shirt, and once again he looked away. Perhaps he had been hasty in recommending any mental transference. He desired her, and though he had no concept of what a human would experience during a mind meld, it was a distinct possibility she might detect all the impure thoughts he'd repressed about her during these last months.

"Do it," she murmured.

"I am beginning to believe my suggestion may have been unwise."

"Please? I trust you." Her dark eyes locked onto his, and they were as calm and resolute as ever.

He hesitated, but he decided he trusted her as well. She had been bold enough to tell him what she felt for him two weeks ago; perhaps he could show her the regard he had for her. He closed his eyes and attempted to clear his scattered mind, but it was difficult with her standing before him, eager and trembling.

He took a step forward and raised his right hand to her face, but she flinched, causing him to hesitate. She blinked rapidly and offered a nervous smile. He could sense the swell of her anxiety, even without touching her face.

"We do not have to do this," he reminded her.

"I know," she said, her pale cheeks reddening. "I'm sorry. I just got nervous. Will you try again?"

A faint voice in the back of his mind urged caution — this was highly imprudent for any number of reasons. She was human. She wasn't his mate. She was leaving for Andoria. She didn't completely understand, so how could she truly consent to this? His hand remained suspended in front of her face. He detected a sudden streak of impatience and the next moment, she eased her cheek into the palm of his hand. His fingers slowly worked their way into the correct positions, and suddenly, the whole of Amanda's consciousness was laid open to him. He felt lost and suddenly overwhelmed.

She yelped. The change in position of her jaw loosened their connection, but she didn't back away. He hadn't anticipated the pliability and innocence of her mind. Any Vulcan, even two closely bonded mates, would have mentally braced themselves for the mental contact, but Amanda clearly had no concept of how to do that or even that she should. She was terrified, but also extremely sexually aroused. So was he.

In total, their meld lasted approximately six seconds before he decided to release her for both their sakes. When he stepped back, he saw her eyes were clamped shut and she was shaking violently. There was some strong, unnamed emotion lingering between them.

"I apologize. I was too forward to ask this of you."

Her eyes sprung open to reveal a pair of very dilated pupils. "No, it was- it was- not at all like I was expecting, but it wasn't bad."

"No?"

Her features softened and her dark eyes gazed into his. She was more beautiful than she had ever been. When she reached for his hands again, he instinctively lowered his face to hers, and the moment their lips collided, he was wholly lost to her. She nestled against him, sliding her hands under his arms and tracing her fingers along the bottoms of his shoulder blades. He burned for her.

Suddenly her back was against the wall again. She threw her arms around his neck and wrapped her legs around his body. He was supporting the majority of her weight, but she was so light he hardly noticed as his excitement continued to build. This was impulsive and illogical and reckless, and though he was capable of controlling himself — his next pon farr was still several years away — he realized he did not want to.

She ground her hips into his and uttered a low moan, and suddenly they were both stumbling toward his bedroom. The moment they crashed through the door, they both seemed to regain some awareness of themselves and the situation.

"Perhaps we should cease," he said, trying to catch his breath but not letting go of her.

Her red cheeks flushed an even deeper shade of red and she gave him a light and slow kiss. "I'm ok if you are."

"Ok is a highly imprecise term."

She barked a high-pitched laugh. "So it is."

He nodded, suddenly unsure of how to proceed. He wanted to mate with her, and he knew from their very brief and very chaotic mind meld that she wanted to mate with him too. But he had no understanding of human mating practices. Given the many similarities between their species, surely the biology and mechanics could not be so profoundly different, but their cultures were and it stood to reason that they probably had differing expectations when it came to physically taking a mate.

"Why don't we go slow and see where it takes us?"

"I do not wish to injure or offend you."

"Me either, which is why I said we can go slow. If you touch me in a way that hurts or I'm uncomfortable with, I'll tell you. I hope you would do the same with me."

He exhaled a slow breath and nodded. "How do you prefer to be touched?"

She laughed a single, nervous note and looked down at the floor. "I'm not sure. How do you like to touch a woman?"

They looked into each other's eyes and Sarek began to kneel. He touched a knee to the floor and placed his hands upon Amanda's ankles. She watched him in curiosity until he began to run his hands along the lines of her slender calves. Her skin was as soft and smooth as he'd imagined it would be.

When his thumbs traced along the inside of her knees and the backs of his hands brushed against the hem of her skirt, she moaned and stiffened her posture. He looked to her for guidance, finding her eyes half open and her mouth slightly open. She nodded to him. "Don't stop."

He pushed past the fabric of her damp skirt, applying a bit more pressure to the inside of her thighs as he trailed upward toward the part of her legs. He realized she was holding her breath and her muscles were tensing, and though it took considerable willpower, he stopped to ensure she was still receptive to this act.

He started to pull his hands away and look up at her again, but she gripped his wrists and ran them up to her hips, hiking her shirt up enough for him to see her lower undergarments. They were gray in color and did not fully cover the bottoms of the muscles of her posterior. The effect was very visually appealing.

She started to pull her shirt over her head, and his eyes were instantly drawn to the bulge of her petite breasts against her white brassiere. He staggered to his feet and traced his hands along the angles of her ribcage, marveling at how thin and flexible human bones were. Her skin was cool and clammy from her wet shirt and his hands left unusual bumps in their wake.

She gripped the sides of his neck and kissed him again, which initiated a slow dance back toward his bed. When they reached it, she ran her hands into the inside of her skirt and pulled it down in a wriggling motion, allowing the garment to fall to the floor and reveal more of her lithe body. She gave him a nervous glance, leaned back, and slid herself onto his bed.

He crawled over top of her on all fours, caressing her stomach and chest as he moved. Whatever concerns he had about checking his emotions and impulses completely evaporated as she started tugging his shirt over his head and gripped his waist with her legs.

What ensued was a considerable amount of fumbling and anxious desire, misunderstandings and bursts of pleasure, but an hour later, they were both completely naked, satisfied, exhausted, and trembling beneath his blankets. Neither of them spoke, but there was nothing that needed to be said.

She snuggled against him and quickly drifted off to sleep. He watched her and enjoyed experiencing the rhythm of her breathing and the tickle of her long, unruly hair on his chest. After ten minutes of remaining motionless, the lights in his bedroom automatically shut off, but he could not join her in sleep.

He thought of Sybok and the Vulcan Science Academy, of Andoria and the woman who was currently curled into the right side of his body. A part of him had wanted to tell her about the strong possibility that he had a son, but he decided that knowledge was a burden he would carry with him to his grave. There was nothing that could be done, so it would be illogical to speak of it.

He was surprised he'd allowed himself to act on impulse and mate with her, but he did not regret it. They were still poorly suited to each other, but he knew then and there he wanted her for his mate. Taking a human mate would certainly be unorthodox — assuming she would agree to be his mate at all — but he had made up his mind and considered how he might broach this subject with her.

There was still the matter of her leaving for Andoria. She had said she did not wish to go, but even if she did, two years was not so very long. If she consented to stay, he would accept Selden's offer and remain on Earth with her. Whatever doubts he had regarding his skills as a diplomat, he did not doubt them when he was with Amanda.

He dozed in and out of sleep, unaccustomed to sharing his bed with another person, but he found he enjoyed watching her move through the different cycles of sleep. Occasionally she would whimper or twitch and each time this happened, she would press herself more tightly against him.

The room slowly started to illuminate as dawn broke, sending soft rays of light peeking through the curtains of his bedroom. He would need to rise soon and make preparations to begin the day, and suspected she needed to do the same. He had just decided to wake her when she jerked and sat up, sending her long, tangled hair spilling over her bare breasts. "Oh my God, what time is it?"

"0552 hours."

She uttered a slow sigh and fell back against the bed, pulling the blankets up over her naked chest. "I have to be at work in a few hours."

"As do I."

"I don't want to get up."

"I do not believe it is a question of wanting."

She sighed. "Where do we go from here?"

He turned his head on the pillow to look her in the eye. As she so often did when their eyes met, her top teeth started to gnaw on her lower lip. He replied, "I leave it to you. Where do you wish to go?"

Chapter Text

Seven months later…

"Computer, search for all consular business within the last ten years concerning the Vulcan Science Academy and database management," Sarek said, sitting back slightly in his chair.

The computer returned 1,719 results. "Refine parameters to include only those results that are relevant to collaborative projects." Only 43 results remained.

Sarek was grateful Selden had kept meticulous records of his time as ambassador to Earth. Sarek had been ambassador in his own right for exactly two months as of today, but he found he still needed to refer to his predecessor's personal and professional files for assistance in many situations.

There was valuable information to be had in Selden's logs, if one knew where and how to look. Ambassador Selden had a scientist's appreciation for detail, but even Sarek thought much of the data was extraneous and excessive. Selden had recorded not only his conversations with many high-level bureaucrats and dignitaries over the past 12 years, but also made notes about his impressions of them and other personal details of their lives that Sarek had found exceedingly useful in his early days as Vulcan ambassador to Earth. But mixed among these handy dossiers and elaborate records were also copious notes about Selden's daily diet and meditation schedule, musings on humanity, and even notes about changes in traffic patterns outside the compound's walls.

Sarek was searching for information as a favor to Chairman Lenski. The Federation Council had taken note of the Science Council's efforts to establish a Federation-wide scientific database and had ordered a feasibility study on the establishment of a central library at a neutral site within Federation space to serve as a physical hub for both tangible and digital information.

It was the Council's first mandate of the fiscal year, and by convention, was referred to as Mandate Alpha One: 2227. During the debate session, a joke by the Tellarite representative on the Council had made light of the fact that Tellarites used the same word for "library" and "memory," and news agencies had taken to calling the project "Memory Alpha One" which had eventually been shortened to "Memory Alpha."

There was no formal legislation for the library as of yet — the feasibility study hadn't even begun — but already the idea had widespread popular support. Tellar Prime had volunteered to donate a planetoid at the edge of its sector of space and the Ithenites and Andorians were willing to contribute the engineers and equipment to build the physical infrastructure. Finding the necessary computer engineers to undertake such a massive project as building the largest server in recorded history had proven slightly more difficult.

Vulcan had a reputation in the Federation for producing superior computer engineers and scientists, and Abraham Lenski had personally asked Sarek for information about the Vulcan Science Academy and an informed opinion on whether or not the Academy would be willing and able to accept such a monumental project.

As Vulcan ambassador to Earth, investigating things on behalf of Federation officials was somewhat beyond the description of his duties, but he was quickly learning that most other species operated on an informal and illogical system of favors. As Amanda had once explained euphemistically, he should scratch another person's back in the hopes that the other person would respond in kind.

Sarek skimmed through Ambassador Selden's notes on his interactions with the Vulcan Science Academy, finding several entries that appeared promising, but one near the bottom caught his eye. Without a second thought, he selected the link near the bottom titled, "2219.72 – 0924 Hours; Meeting with Henry Daystrom."

I met with a Terran computing engineer called Henry Daystrom, a junior researcher at the California Institute of Technology. He is typical of humans: given to passionate discourse about his field of study. He is attempting to arrange a meeting with researchers at the Vulcan Science Academy to present his recent discoveries in subatomic structures that would lend itself to the theoretical field of duotronics, a subject that my former colleague and friend T'Vres has been investigating for some years. I informed him I would notify the correct parties.

Sarek was surprised that Selden had been receptive to Dr. Daystrom's proposal. The Vulcan Science Academy had dismissed the possibility of duotronic circuits six years ago, if Sarek's memory served him correctly. He noticed a cross-reference to a message sent to T'Vres, senior researcher in the Theoretical Computer Science Division of the Vulcan Science Academy.

Vulcans admired curiosity, but they did not hold the same regard for distraction. It was improbable that Henry Daystrom was relevant to his inquiry for Chairman Lenski, but he clicked the link to access Selden's message to T'Vres and continued to read their correspondence as it unfolded over a period of five months. What it revealed was mildly disturbing.

T'Vres had been independently working on the same problem as Dr. Daystrom, and Selden had passed along Daystrom's research, which T'Vres had attempted to incorporate into her own. After a short series of trials, she had been unable to make further progress and had co-authored a paper with her colleagues concluding duotronic technology was not unfeasible, but impossible. T'Vres was highly respected and had more than a century of experience in the field of computer engineering, so the Federation had accepted her conclusion and pulled funding from further research into the field of duotronics. At no point had Henry Daystrom been included or consulted.

The last related entry regarding Dr. Daystrom and duotronic technology was dated 2220.01. Deciding it was only logical to follow the story to its conclusion, Sarek opened it and read:

1530 hours – Dr. Henry Daystrom arrived unannounced and demanded to speak with me. His appearance is much changed. He has lost considerable weight and does not appear to have performed any hygiene ritual for some time. He accused me of stealing his duotronic technology and attempting to discredit him. When I explained that I had saved him much wasted effort by referring his research to more experienced scientists, he became extremely agitated. He spoke of disgrace and the loss of his position, then began weeping and speaking incoherently of suicide and of an infant son. Volara contacted the Terran authorities, who had to remove him from my office by force. The authorities have assured me that Dr. Daystrom is not well and that he would be taken to a facility to evaluate his mental health. It seems evident the human mind may be even more fragile than I'd initially supposed…

He read through the rest of the entry, perplexed by his former supervisor's words. Sarek had disagreed with many of Selden's methods and policies, but he had always respected him. But to know now that Selden that had squarely judged humans as being "regrettably short-lived and slaves to their hot tempers and feeble minds" did much to alter his opinion of the man.

Sarek thought of his own exchanges with Henry Daystrom, when Daystrom had accused Vulcans of discrediting him and stealing his research. It hadn't been a fanciful human exaggeration, it had been the truth, as told to Sarek by the Vulcan who had stolen his research and helped discredit him. He began pondering the ramifications of this series of events from seven years earlier.

Sarek held the minority opinion that duotronic technology had been prematurely dismissed, but Selden and T'Vres' actions had put a halt to any additional research. Research into duotronic technology had been omitted from Starfleet's 50 Year Strategic Plan based on T'Vres' paper. It was illogical to consider what might have been, but difficult to ignore that the actions of a pair of less-than-scrupulous Vulcans had potentially altered the technological landscape in such a significant way.

"Excuse me, ambassador."

Sarek looked up to see Selak, his aide, standing in the doorway. It was already 1520 hours, and according to his knowledge of the chaotic traffic patterns of the Bay area, if he did not leave within the next five minutes, there was a high likelihood he would be overdue for his afternoon commitment.

"I trust the car is ready?" Sarek asked, rising to his feet.

"It is, Ambassador."

Sarek smoothed out his formal tunic and touched his breast pocket. It was illogical, but he did it nonetheless, just as he had done every day for the past month. He followed Selak to the carriage porch where Tavik waited with the consular car, shivering from the chill in the winter air.

"What time should I expect your return?" Selak asked, standing by the rear passenger door as Sarek slid into the backseat.

"I cannot say. I do not anticipate urgent consular business this afternoon, as it is the sixth day of the Terran week and few offices are open. You are no longer on duty. I have my PADD and am able to receive any critical notifications."

It took 31 minutes to travel from Sausalito across the bay into San Francisco and arrive at his destination. He pondered the injustice done to Henry Daystrom, but once inside the city his mind became occupied with other matters.

Ahead, he could see the towering buildings of downtown San Francisco, where the new consulate would open in 27 days. It was adjacent to the Andorian and Denobulan embassies and less than half a kilometer from the Federation district. It was not nearly as grand as the compound in Sausalito, but the location was quite convenient. The current compound had been built decades before the Federation was formed, at a time when humans and Vulcans were only casually acquainted. They were allies now, in league with many other planets, and there was no logic in continuing to hide away in a compound with high walls far away from the center of Terran and Federation politics.

The car pulled to a stop in front of a white, square, well-constructed house amid a throng of vehicles and pedestrians. Sarek would have preferred to open the door himself, but he allowed Tavik to do it. He was ambassador now, a position that commanded a certain degree of respect.

Several people glanced in his direction as he moved up the sidewalk, but none overtly stared. Sarek was accustomed to this kind of curious reception outside of diplomatic and political circles. He followed a group of four humans into the house, the two men wearing dark black suits and the two women hobbling along on towering footwear and dresses that seemed insufficient for keeping them warm in the frosty weather. Despite his efforts to maintain absolute control, his mind tingled with anticipation.

Beyond the entry of the house were rows of chairs on opposite sides of an aisle that lead up to a staircase with thick wooden railings and a narrow white carpet running through the center. On the far-left side of the room behind the last row of chairs, a woman in a crème-colored dress and dark hair tucked into a simple bun was speaking with several guests. Her thin shoulders were bare, exposing a small kidney-shaped skin imperfection that Sarek knew quite well.

"Sarek! Good to see you!"

Sarek glanced over his shoulder to find Raymond, Pete and Millie's friend, sitting in in the third to last row. His husband and daughters were nowhere in sight. Sarek nodded politely, preparing to address him, but he saw the woman in the crème-colored dress move out of the corner of his left eye and couldn't resist the urge to look at her. She smiled, revealing a row of white teeth in a smile he understood was entirely meant for him. Amanda.

"I was afraid you weren't going to make it," she said, broadening her smile.

He cocked his head. "You look well."

Amanda made a small face and glanced at her figure in the form-fitted dress. In truth, she looked better than well. He hadn't seen her in 22 days. He had accepted his current posting in part to remain close to her, but with his busy schedule and her life in Oakland, he did not spend as much time in her company as he would like.

"The ceremony is about to start, so I need to go line up with the rest of the bridal party."

"Is there assigned seating?" he asked, glancing around at the rapidly filling chairs.

"No," she answered, patting his arm. "Though I would recommend sitting on the groom's side. Millie has so many friends: I don't want Pete's side to look empty."

Sarek surveyed both sides of the room, noticing that the left was less full than the right. In all his research about wedding customs, he hadn't encountered anything in the literature about specific areas for the bride and groom's guests. Vulcan wedding customs had remained unchanged for more than 4,000 years, but Terran wedding customs were highly variable and unfixed, according to most sources.

He nodded and prepared to leave her, but she ran her hand down his arm until she found his hand. The touch of her fingers pleased him. She grinned. "Catch you on the flip side."

She disappeared through the front entry out into the cold winter air before Sarek could ask for clarification of the term "flip side." Sarek took a seat next to Raymond, whom he had not seen since Amanda's party.

"I heard you're an ambassador now," Raymond said, grinning.

"Yes."

"Congratulations."

"Thank you. Where are your mate and children?"

"Oh, they're in the ceremony. Pete needed a best man and Millie needed some flower girls and-"

A piano interrupted his explanation. Sarek recognized the instrument from the multi-cultural art museum, but the song it played was much less vibrant than the demonstration he'd heard previously. Between Amanda's tutelage and his own informal research, he believed he knew what to expect from Millie and Pete's wedding ceremony.

There would be a processional of men and women important to both the bride and groom, followed lastly by the bride and her father, at which point he was to rise until instructed by the officiant to sit. Everyone turned in their seats to see a mature woman in a pale blue suit marching down the center aisle. Millie's mother, he presumed. She was seated in the front row on the right, then men in dark suits began walking down the aisle with women in crème-colored dresses identical to Amanda's. They were slow and purposeful and the women carried small bunches of purple and white flowers.

Amanda appeared last, moving slowly next to Raymond's husband, Mark. He knew from his discussions with Amanda in these last months that Millie had appointed her "maid of honor," which according to Amanda meant "jumping through hoops" and "putting up with more than she should because of the sacred bonds of friendship."

Mark and Amanda arrived at the end of the aisle and stood flanking both sides of the grand central staircase. A man in a white suit, whom Sarek presumed was the officiant, came next, followed by his daughters, Maria and Kayla. They carried wire baskets and flung purple and white flower petals along the white carpet, and once they reached the end of the aisle, a hush fell over the room and the pianist abruptly ended the song, only to switch to a separate tune.

"Here comes the bride," Raymond murmured, rising to his feet. Sarek and the rest of the congregation joined him.

Miss Rogers appeared on the arm of a slender man with gray hair — her father, if he understood the custom correctly. Her dress was peculiar and impractical; it had sheer sleeves and fit so tightly against her torso that Sarek wondered if she could breathe. In juxtaposition to the top half of her gown, a massive lace skirt flared around her hips and descended to the floor, grossly exaggerating her proportions. How could she possibly sit in such a garment?

What followed was a relatively simple affair in which the officiant offered a blessing and both Pete and Millie addressed each other. Unlike the Vulcan tradition of ritual blessings and oaths, their vows were full of anecdotes, personal and unrehearsed. Millie began to cry when she told Pete she looked forward to growing old together and Pete laughed awkwardly and clutched her hands. Millie put a ring on Pete's finger and Pete added a second ring to Millie's left hand. Then the officiant invited them to kiss, which they did, resulting in much excitement from the captive audience.

After the ceremony, Sarek followed Raymond to a nearby room full of round tables and chairs and bedecked with elegant place settings and white and purple sashes and flowers. An enormous cake sat on a table on the far wall, next to a long table with a light purple tablecloth. They sat together and were soon joined by his daughters.

"Millie's dress broke," Kayla announced.

"Yeah, daddy stepped on the back and it got ripped," Maria added.

"Oh really?" Raymond replied, giving them an anxious look.

"But Miss Grayson is fixing it."

Mention of Amanda caused Sarek to look up. Their informal telepathic bond was still weak, but she was nearby and he could faintly detect her panic and frustration. After several minutes, it faded and Pete and Millie entered the room to much cheering, with Amanda and the rest of the bridal party just behind. Pete, Millie, and their families sat at the long table and Mark and Amanda joined Raymond and Sarek.

"This day has been teetering on the edge of constant disaster," Amanda groaned, slumping into the chair next to Sarek. "The caterer's replicator broke so he had to call in a team to make all the quiches by hand and I don't think there are enough. Millie also wanted holographic images to play as she walked down the aisle, but the staff only told us this morning that the mansion is too old and can't handle that kind of power output without special backup generators."

"Don't forget the pearls!" Kayla announced.

"Ugh, and Millie's grandmother's pearl necklace broke at the rehearsal dinner last night. It was her something borrowed. I had to take it to get restrung first thing this morning. Thank goodness for these girls and their sharp eyes. They helped me find all the pearls."

Sarek only understood a fraction of what Amanda said in context. Quiche? Holographic images? Pearls? Something borrowed? Despite her evident irritation, he watched her, enjoying the movement of her mouth and the way her eyes illuminated.

"Anyway, before I forget, I need to go outside and make sure all the car arrangements are taken care of so they can leave right at 1930 hours for their honeymoon. Care to join me?"

Sarek would have preferred to remain indoors where it was warm, but he would brave the cold if it could offer a few private moments with her. She led him out through a side entrance into the icy afternoon. At the front of the house was a long, black car with a sign saying "Just married" in the rear window. She breathed a sigh of relief.

"The next time I agree to be someone's maid of honor, slap some sense into me," Amanda sighed, wrapping her arms tightly around her body and shivering.

"I fail to see how slapping you could impart additional sensibility," Sarek replied, shrugging his overcloak from his shoulders to give it to her. He did not like the cold, but with certain semi-meditative techniques, he could adjust his body temperature to cope. Amanda on the other hand lacked that sort of mental discipline, and she was also poorly dressed for the weather in a thin gown with exposed shoulders.

Her mouth drifted open as she eyed his offering. "I'm too short for it. The bottom will drag the ground."

"A minor inconvenience."

She chuckled and turned around, allowing him to slide it over her shoulders as she stuffed her arms into the sleeves. "I didn't get the chance to tell you earlier, but you look really nice."

"As do you."

"And sorry for my rant. It's been a very stressful day. Anyway, what did you think of the wedding?"

"It was fascinating."

"Fascinating?"

"Yes. Might I ask, is there no winter version of your current ceremonial uniform?"

"Uniform?" she laughed. "Oh, you mean this dress I'll never wear again? It's not a uniform: it's a bridesmaid's dress."

"You are uniformly dressed with the other female members of the bridal procession. Is that not the correct usage of the word uniform?"

"Bridesmaids often end up wearing the same dress out of some really old tradition. I'm not sure, but I think it had something to do with confusing evil spirits or acting as decoys in case rejected suitors attempted to crash the wedding and steal the bride."

"Steal the bride?"

"Like I said, it's a really outdated tradition that sort of stuck around for centuries."

Sarek thought of Vulcan bonding customs and his appearance at T'Rea's wedding. Bride stealing wasn't necessarily outdated in the Vulcan tradition, but he decided not to disclose that fact.

"I really should go back inside, but it's so nice to just be alone with you, even if it is freezing out here."

Sarek shared her sentiment, but a short time later, they were forced to return to the festivities when Amanda decided it would soon be time for the buffet to begin. When someone said there wasn't enough champagne for all the tables, Amanda disappeared to hunt down the caterer, leaving Sarek alone once again.

"Thank you for coming to my big day," said a bright voice from behind him. "I'm so honored to have an ambassador at my wedding." He turned to see Millie, standing triumphant with her hands on her hips and flashing him a wide smile.

"You honored me with your invitation, Mrs. Adams."

Millie's smile softened, becoming warmer. "You're the first person to call me by my married name. It feels nice."

"Many blessings to you and your new family."

"Thank you. So, have you decided what you're going to do yet?" Millie asked, taking a step forward and lowering her voice.

"No."

"I still haven't said anything, but I don't know how much longer I can keep my mouth shut," Millie said, forcing a frown. "She's my best friend."

Sarek didn't reply. He did not prefer to have such a private conversation in such a public place.

"She deserves to be with someone who will make her happy." Mille's cheerful expression faded into one of quiet caring. "You deserve to be happy too."

He gave a small nod of his head. "I shall take it under advisement."

Millie sighed. "Just remember what we talked about."

"I shall."

The evening wore on, exposing Sarek to even more peculiar human traditions. After the meal, Millie and Pete began dancing and soon every human in attendance took turns sailing around in an open area. Despite all attempts to get him to join them, Sarek remained resolute in his decision to avoid participating. Vulcans did not dance.

He only caught glimpses of Amanda as she darted between the maze of tables, ensuring the servers were doing their jobs and locating certain guests for Millie. An hour later, both Amanda and Mark made speeches and there was a ceremonial cake cutting that culminated in Pete and Millie literally forcing yellow cake into one another's mouths amid squeals of laughter. Humans weddings were very odd indeed.

At 1900 hours, Sarek excused himself to the entry hall to check his messages. He was replying to a query from the Vulcan Transportation Ministry when he became aware of shouting in the dining room. He looked up from his PADD just as the partygoers erupted in cheers and laughter. He sent his message and returned to find Amanda pushing her way through a crowd, red-faced and radiating embarrassment.


Amanda sighed, flexing her ankles and wondering if her blisters were bleeding yet. Her head hurt, her feet hurt, and the underwire of her strapless bra was digging into her skin. She'd been running around trying to manage everything and had been unable to talk to Sarek for more than five minutes at a time. But today was Millie's wedding; it wasn't about Amanda.

But everything with the caterer was finally settled and the evening was starting to wind to a close. In exactly 17 minutes, the bride and groom would be hopping in a car and driving to the shuttleport for a two-week honeymoon in Thailand and Amanda could put this whole stressful wedding business behind her.

Figuring she had a few minutes, she glanced around the expansive dining room, but Sarek was nowhere in sight. He was hard to miss, what with being so tall and being the only person wearing royal blue robes with a large pendant. She constantly missed him.

She'd decided to forgo the opportunity to teach on Andoria to stay on Earth with Sarek. She told herself there were other things that factored into her decision, her friends, her family, her students, her house, her eventual acceptance to graduate school... but if she was being honest with herself, Sarek was the real reason. She had started grad school a month ago and stayed busy enough, and she'd supposed ambassadors were also very busy people, but she hadn't expected them to be quite as occupied as Sarek was.

She had never felt so close to someone, or more far away. He was occupied during the week from morning to night and worked most weekends, including many Sundays. She'd attended more than a dozen diplomatic functions with him, but that wasn't the same thing as spending quality time together. The time they did manage to steal for themselves was incredible. There was no adequate word for the way she felt when she was with him. The best she could come up with was "complete," which was such a silly sentiment because she'd never believed in the idea of soulmates.

It had been months since their unexpected tumble into bed. The hairs on her arms stood up and she blushed at the mere memory, but that was all it was: a memory. They'd kissed and touched hands on several occasions when safely out of public view, but that was as far as they'd gone since the night of her going away party.

Everything else felt dull and one-dimensional after the experience of sharing their bodies and minds. She wanted to be with him, to be close to him. She craved him, but was too shy to express it. She didn't want to come across the wrong way, but she wanted more.

She had begun to wonder if his new job as planetary ambassador had made him reassess their relationship, not that they'd ever formally defined what their relationship was. Maybe having a human girlfriend just wasn't "suitable" for someone in his position. She scowled, swiped a glass of champagne from a nearby table, and took a hearty drink.

She'd been down the rabbit hole of self-doubt so many times. Sarek cared about her and she cared about him and that was that. Things were moving much slower than she'd like, but maybe that was the way Vulcans did things.

She polished off the rest of the champagne and set out to find Sarek. The wedding would be ending soon, but the night was still young. She was just about to leave the main dining room when Jenny stopped her. "Where are you going? Millie is about to toss the bouquet."

Amanda groaned. She'd begged Millie to forgo that ridiculous tradition. "You go on. I'd rather not."

"Oh, come on!"

Jenny grabbed her by the wrist and despite Amanda's protests, dragged her to the corner of the dance floor where Millie was already turning around to pitch her bouquet of hydrangeas and roses over her head and into the crowd of women on the dance floor. Amanda and Jenny were at the back, so she decided she was probably safe. She could be a good sport and participate with little risk of being the unlucky woman to actually catch the thing and have to endure teasing about when her wedding date was going to be.

Unfortunately, she hadn't taken into account that Millie had played tennis all through high school and college and had exceptionally toned arms. She hurled the flowers back at a perfect angle and Amanda could tell they were going to land nearby. Women and girls started to scramble to be in a perfect position to catch it, but Amanda did the opposite, stepping back to get out of their way.

She wasn't fast enough. Though Amanda tried batting it away with her right arm, the bouquet hit her in the chest and the pin holding the purple ribbon in place around the stems snagged on the lace in her bodice. The crowd roared with laughter and excitement as Amanda struggled to free herself from the flower arrangement tangled in her dress.

Millie's bouquet toss had ended up being something more like pin the tail on the donkey. It would have been less embarrassing to just catch the damn thing. She finally managed to get the bouquet loose and fought her way through the mob, trying to push through the teasing and jokes.

"Amanda?" Millie called. "You really caught it?"

"No, it caught her!" someone yelled.

Amanda bit her tongue and forced a smile, but Millie's face was aglow. Millie pushed through the crowd, giggling and wringing her hands. "I have such a good feeling about this!"

"It's a ridiculous tradition," Amanda muttered.

"You never know what might happen," Millie said, rolling her eyes playfully.

There was something in her tone that set Amanda on edge. "I should make sure the driver is ready for your departure."

"Oh, don't be sensitive," Millie cooed.

"I'm not, I just- yeah."

The crowd was starting to break up and return to their tables and Amanda set off for the main entry. To her surprise, Sarek was standing in the doorway, watching her. She looked down at the flowers in her hand and immediately wanted to get rid of them. Throw them away, burn them if she had to. She knew Sarek had been studying human weddings in preparations to attend Millie and Pete's, and she wondered if he knew about the tradition of the bouquet toss and the superstition that the woman who caught it would be the next to get married.

"Are you well?" he asked.

"Fine." She could feel the mortification burning her face. "I'm just going to make sure the driver is ready."

"May I join you?"

She took a deep breath. "I'd like that."

They walked through the front room where the wedding had taken place. The event planner had already collected up the chairs and restored the mansion to its original layout.

"The wedding appears to be coming to an end."

"Yeah, Millie and Pete are leaving in a few minutes."

"Do you have plans for the rest of the evening?"

Amanda's heart began to beat faster. "No. Do you? I know you stay very busy and-"

"I would like to engage your company," he interrupted.

"Yeah?"

"Your tone indicates doubt."

"I would love to. I miss you."

"Amanda, they're getting ready to leave and Pete can't find one of his bags!" Jenny called from behind her.

Amanda uttered an irritated sigh.

"Attend to your duties," Sarek said, lightly touching the back of her hand. "I shall arrange our transportation."

The next half hour was full of frantic scrambling to find Pete's luggage and happy goodbyes as Pete and Millie drove away and the rest of the wedding guests trickled out of the mansion. Amanda was trying to coordinate with the event planner when Jenny interrupted her. "You go. I can take it from here. Oh, and don't forget your flowers!"

Amanda had set the bouquet on one of the tables, hoping it would be forgotten, but when she found Sarek waiting by the entry, hands she was shocked to see he was holding them.

"Where'd you get that?"

"Miss McIntosh believed you would forget them and gave them to me so that you might retain them. Were these not the flowers the bride carried during her wedding ceremony?"

Amanda swallowed and took them gently, not daring to make eye contact. "They are."

She donned her coat from the cloakroom and they left together. Once inside the consular car, she turned and asked, "Where should we go?"

"I had a thought that we might visit the new consulate and assess the progress of its construction."

It wasn't exactly what Amanda had in mind, but she supposed any time with him was better than nothing. Sarek received an urgent message and began dictating something into his PADD about some meeting he was due to have next week. She pulled at the straps on the backs of her shoes with her index finger, gently feeling the blisters on her feet as she watched the traffic through the window.

They arrived at a dark five-story building just north of downtown near the government district. The architecture looked unremarkable, excepting the three high arches over the sidewalk leading up to the main entrance. The construction workers had gone home long ago, but Sarek had an access card.

They entered the building and found a tall, covered atrium overlooked by two balcony floors. On the balconies were intermittent doors, suggestive of private offices. A wide staircase led up to the upper levels and a bank of lifts was off to the right side next to a circular reception desk. It smelled new, like lingering dust and paint and the sweat of workers.

"It's very big." It was such an obvious statement, but it was also the truth. It was much bigger than she'd imagined it would be.

"Yes."

"But it's also empty. When are you officially moving everything over from the compound on Sausalito?"

"Construction is scheduled to be completed in 27 days, and I have planned three days to transfer the equipment and furniture from the current compound."

She eyed the stairs, wondering how there could only be three levels. "It looked so much taller from the outside."

"There are two additional private floors that will house myself, the staff, and any visiting Vulcan dignitaries."

"So, you'll be living here?"

"Yes."

"It's very nice. I'm sure things will be more convenient being located in San Francisco too."

"There was no logic in sequestering ourselves in a compound in Sausalito. At our first meeting, you said, 'I don't know why we distance ourselves from each other.' I agree with that sentiment."

"I said that?"

"You did."

"It sounds like something I would say. Do you remember everything that comes out of my mouth?"

"Vulcan memory and recall is exceptional; however, it is not perfect. That being said, people often have a tendency to remember things that are important to them."

His confession shocked her, but she tried to hide it behind a sly smile. "Are you saying the things I say are important to you?"

He took several steps forward to stand beside her, folding his hands behind his back and gazing at the staircase. "I do not believe any of this would have been possible were it not for you."

She bit her lip, hating the blush that was streaking across her face. "I didn't do anything."

"You have done more than you realize. I would not be ambassador if I had never met you."

"You're so smart and people respect you. You could have been anything you wanted, with or without me."

She saw his mouth open from the corner of her eye. He gently touched his chest, but his hand fell away with unusual awkwardness. "Perhaps we should go."

"You can take a compliment you know. It's ok. I won't tell."

"I thank you for your confidence." His jaw clenched slightly and she almost got the impression he was agitated or nervous.

"Is everything ok?"

"Ok is-"

"A very imprecise term," she finished, crossing her arms and wondering what was the matter.

"Yes."

She took a deep breath; she was starting to feel anxious herself. "I'm not ready for the evening to be over. I hardly see you anymore."

"I regret that I have been occupied with adapting to the ambassadorship. But I am free for this evening, and I am content to spend it in your company."

She glanced around the empty room and took his hand. A familiar, warm sensation spread through her fingertips, but it was different somehow. The energy between them seemed more vibrant and active. Their faces slowly drew together into a light kiss, but Sarek quickly pulled away and smoothed his cloak.

He seemed reluctant and preoccupied, and it bothered her. All she wanted was a little intimacy, but he was acting like a shy schoolboy.

"Would you like to come back to my house?"

He seemed to think to himself for a moment. "That would be acceptable."

"Acceptable isn't the same thing as wanting."

"No, it isn't."

"So do you want to come?"

"Yes."

Sarek, you seem… off."

"Expound."

She sighed. "Tell me what's wrong?"

He cocked his head but did not look at her. "Nothing is the matter."

She didn't believe him. They rode back to her home in Oakland, discussing the things they'd done in the three weeks since they'd last seen each other. It was nice to talk, but it still felt stilted in a way. When they reached her house, she let herself out of the car and started up the sidewalk, but Sarek said, "You have neglected to take your flowers."

He came up behind her and presented her with Millie's bouquet. She mumbled a word of thanks. Once inside the house, Amanda pulled off her coat and kicked off her shoes with an almost perverse amount of pleasure. She stretched her calf muscles and wriggled her toes, noting the angry red blisters on her little toes and heels.

"Are you hungry? Thirsty? Can I get you anything?" she asked, looking over her shoulder to Sarek.

"I am quite satisfied." He glanced at the bouquet on the entry table and added, "I believe those would last longer were you to place the stems in a light solution of nutrients and water."

"You're probably right."

Amanda grabbed the flowers, made her way to the kitchen, and cut open the silk wrapping on the stems that had served as a soft handle. She dug through her bottom cabinets for a vase and upon finding one, turned to fill it with water from the sink only to notice Sarek was watching her.

"It is an odd custom to cut away the reproductive organs of plants for decorative purposes."

Amanda paused for a moment before bursting into laughter. "I've never thought about it like that, but when you put it that way, I agree."

"Would it not be more economical to retain the entire plant?"

"It would, if I knew anything about cultivating temperamental rosebushes."

She added two spoonfuls of sugar and white wine vinegar to the vase and began trimming the stems.

"It smells of an organic acid," Sarek said, taking several steps in Amanda's direction.

"That would be the vinegar."

"What is the function of the vinegar in the solution?"

Amanda's jaw dropped. "You mean you don't know?"

"If I knew I would not ask."

"Am I really about to have the chance to explain something science related to you?"

"I know little of Terran plant biology. Most Vulcan plants would optimally survive for a period of four to six days in a solution of salt when removed from their root system."

"There might be some Earth plants that would, but most do well with sugar. The problem is, bacteria also grow well in a sugar solution, so that's the point of the vinegar, to keep it acidic so that bacterial growth is inhibited."

"Logical."

She chuckled to herself, feeling a bit proud as she arranged the last of the flowers into the vase. They really did look quite nice. She set them on the table and collected up the silk and ribbon to toss into the reclaimator when Sarek said, "Miss McIntosh informed me that coming into possession the bride's floral arrangement was associated with a superstition that that individual would be the next to take matrimonial vows."

Amanda almost choked, but managed to collect herself enough to say, "You once told me in no uncertain terms that superstitions are illogical."

"They are."

"Well, ok then." She scooped the silk and ribbon she'd cut from the bouquet and tossed them into the reclaimator. She placed her palms on the counter, leaning forward slightly to stretch her calves.

"It would be illogical to believe that the act of catching a bouquet would be the cause of a marriage proposal, but the two events could happen independently by chance."

"What are you talking about?" Amanda asked, turning around to face him.

What she found gave her the shock of her life. Sarek was standing in the middle of her kitchen fumbling in his breast pocket before pulling out a small circular object to examine it. A ring.

"I have done extensive independent research, but concluded that modern human betrothal practices are extremely variable. A month ago, I enlisted Miss Rogers, or Mrs. Adams, as she is now known, to assist me in understanding how I should proceed. She explained that I should purchase a ring, and knowing that you had no fondness for diamonds or bulky jewelry, she recommended I should choose something with a simple gold band and a small, unique stone."

Amanda didn't dare to breathe. She gripped the counter behind her to steady her balance. "Are you proposing to me? In my kitchen?"

A tiny expression flashed across his face before disappearing behind the calm mask he typically wore. "She also recommended that I should select a private setting that held some significant personal meaning for the both of us. It is illogical to attach sentiment to a particular location, so perhaps I am a poor judge of what place would hold significant personal meaning. I selected your kitchen because it is private, insulated from the winter weather, and the site where you first openly expressed your regard for me."

He looked from the ring to Amanda. She felt too shocked to move, but somehow, she found herself drifting in his direction, throwing her arms around his neck, and pulling him into a deep kiss. Unlike at the consulate an hour before, he didn't pull away. When they finally broke apart he said, "It would be illogical to assume your display of affection was indicative of affirmation."

She stared at his face, recalling a flood of memories. She remembered how stiff and formal he'd seemed the first time they'd met in the hallway of Piedmont Academy. How awkward and standoffish he'd been at social gatherings. She hadn't even known him a year, but it was amazing how much her impression of him had changed. She loved him, and now he wanted to marry her.

That was an overwhelming thought. In many respects they were still strangers, but they seemed to have a profoundly deep connection.

"If you wish to take time to consider my offer…" He looked down at the ring again.

"I don't know how to be an ambassador's wife," she blurted.

"I did not know how to be an ambassador. Then I met you."

She started shaking and tears blurred her vision.

"It was not my intention to cause you distress. Perhaps I should go."

"No!" she snapped. "You're not walking out of my kitchen that way a second time. I'm not upset, I'm just… surprised. It seems like we started growing apart and now- now you're asking me to marry you."

"Miss Rogers had indicated the element of surprise would be well received. I am beginning to believe she was mistaken."

Amanda barked an involuntary laugh. "No, this was really nice. I just wonder- are you sure?"

"I decided you were the only woman I wanted to have for a mate the night you allowed me to meld with you."

Streams of salty tears finally trickled down her cheeks as she kissed him again, quickly and firmly.

"Why do you cry?"

"Because I'm happy."

Sarek's eyes narrowed. "You may take as much time as you wish to consider my proposal."

"I want to say yes, but I haven't even met your family. You haven't met mine either, besides Clarissa I guess. And we've never lived together. What if the fact that I sing in the shower gets on your nerves?"

"Why would one sing in the shower?"

Amanda closed her eyes and smiled. "What I'm saying is, we don't know each other very well. We don't know how we'd be together."

"There are many aspects of our lives and respective physiologies that make us poorly suited to one another, and yet, I have touched your mind. It stands in stark contrast with my own, but I believe such contrast makes us uniquely compatible. I do not need to know everything about you; I know enough to be certain of my decision. I should consider myself fortunate if you were to agree to become my mate."

"Then yes," she whispered.

"You are consenting to be my bondmate?"

"Yes," she replied more firmly, wiping away her tears. "This is crazy, but yes."

He held out his right palm, showing her the ring. A dazzling opal of reds, greens, and blues was mounted on a simple gold band. It was a very unconventional engagement ring; he had no idea how perfect it was. "I believe you are entitled to this."

"It's customary for the person asking to put it on the other person's finger," she teased, tracing her fingers over the backs of his hands.

"The third finger of the left hand. Yes." He pinched the ring between his thumb and forefinger and Amanda lifted her hand, allowing it to slide into place.

Their fingers inevitably brushed from the action, sending a euphoric sensation running from Amanda's hands all the way to her spine. Whatever uncertainty she had evaporated as he drew her into a kiss.

He had said he would think himself fortunate if she would agree to marry him, but as his hands slid over her cheeks to meet their minds together, all she could think was that she was the lucky one. She was a very fortunate Earth woman indeed.