by Claire Gabriel
Always when Amanda woke in the night, it seemed that her husband was awake, too. Finally she began to wonder if her restlessness disturbed him, and it occurred to her briefly to suggest that they might both sleep better if they had separate rooms. But she knew without asking that he would consider that suggestion illogical. Of course, he would say that. And when he did, his human wife of one month, having as yet to achieve the emotional control that a Vulcan wife would have achieved by the age of three, would probably lash out with the words that she had managed until now to keep only a thought: "It's 'illogical' for us to sleep together, my husband, when we are now doing nothing of the kind." And he would be confused, as always, by her Earthly euphemisms. And then she would have to explain.
She kept her eyes closed, knowing that this subterfuge fooled him not at all, but also aware that she felt safer that way. She did not allow herself to speculate on what she meant by 'safer,' for she had not, as yet, consciously admitted to herself that she wished to keep his mind from hers until she had managed to bring her frustrated physical desires and her agonized disappointment permanently under control--not for his sake, but for hers. Instead, she told herself that the link was upsetting to both of them at this transitional point in their relationship, and tried to substitute 'more considerate' for 'safer' whenever she lay as she did now--wide awake, physically tense and emotionally in turmoil, wishing that he would either fall asleep or leave the room so that she could relax her telepathic shields and turn her rapidly developing mental disciplines to the matter at hand.
But he was not at the moment what she had come to think of as 'tuned in on' her, aware as he might be that she, too, was awake. Her perception of the absence on his part of any attempt to establish contact was acute; it was as though he had already left the room in spirit. And so she relaxed and turned in upon herself mentally.
The method was, she had to admit, much more effective than the proverbial cold shower. And its effects were of longer duration. With any luck, her recently awakened and even more recently frustrated sexual needs would not trouble her again for several days; each time she performed the mental exercise that she had come to think of as her Tri-ox Routine, her expertise at it became more formidable.
But the disappointment was another matter.
Reluctantly, she permitted her mind to dwell on the small device that had been surgically implanted in the brachial artery in her left arm shortly before her marriage. She understood only vaguely how the Genetic Synthesizer worked, but she understood enough to know that, in theory, it should have worked. In theory, she should now be several weeks pregnant with Sarek's child--the child that she knew he wanted as much as she did. But the Synthesizer remained 'Alpha'; try as she would, she could not detect the slight pulsation that her physician had told her would signify that the implant had detected conception and automatically switched to Beta-level operation--the level necessary to achieve and preserve implantation until a hybrid fetus was sufficiently developed for it to be surgically transferred to an Artificial Gestation Unit.
And Amanda did not like to think of how long it would be before she would again have another chance to bear Sarek's child.
And bear it she must--or at least gestate it until between 15.6 and 42.5% of the mean normal gestation period of Vulcans and humans had passed. Conception of a Vulcan/human hybrid in vitro had never been successfully accomplished. Conception in utero followed by a carefully monitored surgical transfer to an Artificial Gestation Unit was the only way such a hybrid had ever survived even the first half of its fetal life.
Deep disappointment. And deep relief, overriding the disappointment.
Suddenly Amanda realized that her telepathic shields had slipped, and the warring disappointment and relief she had just perceived were not hers, but Sarek's.
If he felt her involuntary intrusion into his mind, he gave no sign. But after a moment he rose quietly and slipped out of the room, closing the door silently behind him. And presently a shaft of light under the connecting door told her that he had turned on a low light somewhere in his private library.
The feeling of having been abandoned was so strong that she had trouble controlling it. Fool. She had wanted him to leave, hadn't she? Tears? Damn, damn, damn! What was the matter with her? The sexual excitement was completely gone, but this--this aloneness was infinitely harder to bear, perhaps because she could only vaguely pinpoint its source: despite her frustration, despite her disappointment and deep sense of failure, despite her conscious attempts to prevent mental linkage between them, his physical presence had been reassuring and comforting. Foolish human! He now permitted no physical contact other than that blasted two-finger touch that seemed to mean so much to him; if she had so much as touched his shoulder, he would have withdrawn. And yet--foolish human!--the proximity of the beloved's warm body was life itself, and its absence a little death.
She sat on the edge of the bed and pulled a wrap around her, shivering although the dry, pre-dawn air was already growing sultry in anticipation of the blazing inferno that was a bland spring day on Vulcan.
Why should he be relieved? That he had wanted her to conceive was no surprise to her, and his never-verbalized disappointment had been as fire-on-tinder to hers. But relief?
Slowly she rose and went to the door, wondering if she ought to knock and then hating the fact that such a thought had even occurred to her. Instead, she manipulated the door catch slowly so that its audible click would warn him that his Vulcan privacy was about to be invaded.
As always, the multitude of tapes that adorned the walls disturbed her as she entered. Books, she thought absently. What this place needs is some real, old-fashioned books, with pages to turn and bindings to caress with loving hands.
The hi-intensity reading light above his desk was indeed on, but Sarek was not seated at that imposing oval. He had, quite uncharacteristically, turned an easy chair toward the greying window and sat down to observe the dawn. Even more uncharacteristically, he had placed his sandaled feet, ankles crossed, on a round hassock that she had never seemed to notice before.
Without speaking, Amanda approached the hassock and sat down, facing him, aware that he did not seem to notice that his feet had come slightly in contact with her even as he had extended his two fingers in wordless greeting. His dark eyes met hers directly, with perhaps even a tiny smile of welcome in their depths. But as she dutifully touched her fingers to his, she saw in his face a wistful sadness that elicited more pain in her than would the most articulate expression of regret.
"It must be my fault," she said quietly. His eyebrows rose, and she realized that their link was no longer strong enough for him to perceive her thoughts in any consistent manner. "That I'm not pregnant, I mean," she finished, realizing that some things can be very hard to say out loud--a distinct advantage to being married to a telepath, if one permitted oneself to take advantage of it.
His eyebrows continued to rise. "But," he said expressionlessly, "that conclusion is illogical."
"Oh, Sarek--." Desperately, angry, not thinking: "Whose fault is it then--yours?" And then she thought: Oh my God. He might not be human, but he was all male.
But it was obvious that he not perceived her ill-considered question as a slur on his masculinity. "It is illogical," he answered calmly, "to impute personal blame for genetic incompatibility, or for a condition in which random factors may have played a significant...." His voice trailed off. "My wife, does it disturb you that my conclusions are not identical to yours?"
"No! Ah--no, it's not that. I--." She took a deep breath. "I--ah--I'm afraid I still expect you to react to things I say the way a man would react. But in this case I'm very glad you didn't." One eyebrow, arched. "Don't--let's just forget it. Please?"
"As you wish." Puzzled. In fact, totally bewildered.
Thank God. "Sarek, why did you ever marry a human? Surely you knew that genetic incompatibility would be more than--a 'random factor'."
"It was a logical choice on my part," he answered, and again she thought she detected a smile flickering in the depths of his eyes. "The situation--developed, and you were suitable."
At the word suitable, all thought of the original rationale of her question vanished in a flash of mingled anger and disappointment. She had already learned that English translations of Vulcan semantic analogues were often subtly inaccurate, and for an instant the thought crossed her mind that renewing their weakened mind-link might enable her to grasp an important nuance of suitable that she was totally missing. But she was at that moment both too angry and too hurt to permit that intimate contact. Why did he just sit there, making no move to comfort her when she wanted so desperately to comfort him? Why?
"A 'suitable' object, you mean?" she asked coldly.
"In one sense--perhaps."
Her mind saw quite clearly the probability that he had failed to perceive an important nuance in what she had said. But her roiling emotions would not permit that knowledge to take hold.
"Well, the 'suitable object' seems to have outlived her usefulness--on several counts. T'Risl called me this aft--I mean yesterday afternoon. She says it's time to de-activate the GS, since it, too, has outlived its usefulness. I'm to see her today."
Relief. There was no mistaking it, even though he tried to keep his face expressionless. "Indeed. That would be a most--."
"--Logical action to take under the circumstances," Amanda finished shakily. "See how fast I learn?"
Even though she had half-turned away from him to hide the tears in her eyes, she was aware that his mind was reaching toward hers. What is it, my wife? What is distressing you so? The temptation to capitulate to that gentle, almost loving attempt at contact was so strong that she rose hastily and half ran toward the bedroom door.
But by the time she had slammed the door and flung herself across the bed, she no longer wanted to cry. The red and gold dawn was breaking outside the open window, and for a moment she was drawn back in time to another dawn--the first time she had awakened in this bed after a night that was part of the one memory that she least wanted to relive.
You are too trusting, Amanda.
Even in the darkness, the strength of their link had permitted her to share his infinite, agonizing fear--a fear that his growing inability to control his blazing physical desires would inevitably prevail over an equally strong emotional need that his mate be partner rather than victim. The conflict between the two brought almost unbearable torment even to her, who only perceived it telepathically; she understood clearly now that the same chemical imbalance that drove him toward physical union had also stripped away his emotional control, finally exposing an almost human need to cherish and to share, as though that need were an incredibly sensitive nerve that had suddenly come into contact with the surrounding air. The pain of that exposure was excruciating, but the conflict between that awareness and the simultaneous physical drive toward violence was exquisite. And yet, there was no question in her mind as to which would ultimately prevail.
I know you.
"No!" The word was wrenched from him with incredible pain. But still she remained unconvinced as he laid his trembling hand in hers. "Teach me, then," he whispered brokenly, hoping against hope.
Her immediate understanding of exactly what he wished to be taught brought with it a wave of embarrassment that overtook her so quickly that she was unable to prevent him from perceiving it. Immediately he attempted to withdraw his hand from hers, his physical desperation now magnified by a hopelessness that was as discernible as choking smoke. And so her hand tightened on his as her embarrassment fled before her desires, leaving her inhibitions scattered as though by a freshening breeze.
Later, she remembered that the lesson had ended rather abruptly in the middle. But she could never quite remember which of them had abandoned it first.
The time that followed was also unclear, and after it was over, she soon learned that trying to remember it clearly inevitably did her more harm than good.
She was certain that he had rarely slept at first. In the midst of that initial dawn and more than once thereafter, she was awakened from an exhausted half-sleep by her own mental and physical response to his seemingly insatiable need. Because she was young and healthy and deeply in love, her body and her emotions responded to his with an intensity that she contemplated at times with incredulous delight. At other times, she wished fleetingly for the lost moments of rosy afterglow that were always cut short by her need for sleep or his for renewed contact. But this relatively passive inclination on her part was not omnipresent. Occasionally, her own behavior reminded her somewhat of that of a pet tabby she had once owned, whose cyclical activities had shocked Amanda's mother while answering many of her daughter's pre-adolescent questions. Yet the tabby had been unremittingly unselective, while Amanda the wife knew that any touch but the one would have been unbearable torment for her. And because her mind was open to his, she knew that he was aware of her single-minded longing--a knowledge that obliterated any lingering shame so completely that its absence eventually seemed to erode on his.
At first she had been unable to deal with his anguished self-hate, and so had simply accepted it as a part of him, comforting him with mind and body as one would comfort a child in pain. Then she gradually perceived a slight change in his attitude toward his own uncontrollable desires--a change perceived through the character of their physical joining as well as through the link that bound their minds as one. Her own lack of control seemed to compliment his without enhancing it, and once, on the verge of total abandonment, she perceived a question in his mind: What manner of joy is this? Afterwards, realizing that he was now even less given to idle questioning than otherwise, she tried to answer him with her consciousness of mutual commitment as well as mutual need, interwoven with the lingering echoes of their momentarily sated desire. But the answer had to be given again and again before she perceived any comprehension at all. And even then, his comprehension brought no real understanding, but only an incredulous astonishment.
Eventually he began to sleep for longer periods, unmoving, barely breathing, as though his body were drinking in the rest he had so long lacked. Waking, he was calmer if no less demanding, and at times she found it possible to simply hold him and delight in his nearness without the immediate coupling that left them both almost unable to think for sheer weariness. His mind was clearer now, and his hands wandered more slowly, discovering. And for a short and very happy time, she began to hope that she had reached him and obliterated his shame at last--until she began to realize what his relative calm portended.
The room was filled with sunshine by the time Sarek returned from his library, and Amanda had had time to accomplish her second Tri-ox Routine in as many hours.
She was still lying prone across the bed, chin pillowed on her crossed hands, as he paused a few feet away from her.
"I am," she said softly, "engaged in a human activity preserved from antiquity. It is known as 'sulking'." She raised her head slightly, knowing that apologies were virtually verboten, but wanting him to see that she was smiling. "Extremely unproductive."
One eyebrow rose, and he almost smiled. "Indeed?" Wry, tender, and yet faintly disapproving--what she had come to think of as his What-am-I-going-to-do-with-you-Amanda look.
And suddenly the truth hit her--at that moment a very obvious truth, to her--stunning her as though it were a physical blow.
His unexplained relief could have only one meaning: a 'suitable' wife was quite possibly not a 'suitable' mother for one's children.
The mental shields that she had momentarily forgotten flew into place, and she wondered how she could have gotten so good at this in so short a time.
He seemed to be waiting for something--what, she could not imagine. But she could not face him now.
"You'll want some breakfast," she said quietly, and scrambled off the bed with as much dignity as she could muster. It was only after she had reached the dining room that she remembered that Vulcans seldom ate breakfast.
She did not like being alone during the day in this house, where her predecessor's logical spirit seemed to pervade every sparkling, self-maintaining corner. She did not like trying to plant Earth perennials in the blazing morning sun while simultaneously trying to keep I-Chaya out of the flowerbeds, even though she already loved the aging sehlat too much to exert proper discipline, let alone tie him up. But most of all, she did not like her physician.
T'Risl was an old friend of Sarek's family--a widow with two adolescent sons who were as crazy about Sarek as Vulcan youngsters could be about the Vulcan equivalent of a favorite uncle. And it was Amanda's opinion that T'Risl was crazy about him, too--although the Vulcaness was the closest thing to a stone-faced spinster that Amanda ever hoped to see on the planet.
Waiting for her appointment in the domed, skylighted central waiting room of the Science Academy's medical section that afternoon, Amanda exerted all her newly learned mental disciplines in preparation for her visit to the doctor. She was aware that T'Risl liked her about as much as she liked T'Risl, and her own initial social contacts with Sarek during their courtship had taught her that she was a telepathic broadcaster--even more capable of projective telepathy than she was receptive. Vulcans were largely only touch telepaths, but that had not prevented Sarek's occasional, involuntary perception of her thoughts even before their Bonding. And there would be considerable physical contact between her and T'Risl as the physician performed the procedure necessary for the de-activation of the Genetic Synthesizer. And so Amanda prepared herself carefully, determined that T'Risl was the last person on Vulcan that she wanted to become aware of her profound and deepening unhappiness.
So. He was relieved.
No. No tears. Not now. Later, perhaps. But not now.
At precisely fifteen seconds past the Vulcan noon--1300 hours by the local time--T'Risl's intern-assignee, expressionlessly beckoned Amanda into the physician's office. T'Loreth was about Amanda's age, and breathtakingly lovely as only a Vulcan girl could be--slim and tall, her dark hair piled high, her white medical tunic setting off her dainty, quasi-oriental beauty. They had seldom spoken directly, for Amanda had discovered that Vulcan maidens seldom spoke to anyone, male or female, outside of their families and close acquaintances. But Amanda had sensed that T'Loreth was not unsympathetic with her, although she could not decide why the girl should like her.
T'Risl greeted her stiffly as usual, although Amanda noticed that the physician's trained eyes scanned her attentively, almost as though in search of some abnormality. In her own way, T'Risl was as beautiful as her young assistant--tall, statuesque and firm-fleshed (although Amanda had already calculated nastily that T'Risl had to be pushing fifty.) But there was no warmth in her--nothing even approximating a bedside manner, none of Sarek's gentle perceptiveness, none of T'Loreth's fresh young attentiveness to her surroundings. T'Risl was a medical genius, renowned for her work in the relatively new field of hybrid obstetrics. But if she studied her patient with passing concern, there was bound to be a scientific reason for that concern. For personal dynamics were as foreign to T'Risl as were the iron-laden erythrocytes of her patients.
The de-activation was performed in slightly less than fifteen minutes. As T'Loreth removed the electronic equipment, the physician commented expressionlessly, "Perhaps it is well, Amanda, that you responded promptly to my suggestion that the Synthesizer be de-activated. The device has been in use for only two point three five years, and its side effects have not yet been reliably determined." Almost petulantly: "It is perhaps unfortunate that circumstances necessitate its use at the present time. Such marriages as yours require measures that one would prefer to avoid until their reliability had been established."
"'Such marriages' exist, T'Risl," Amanda said quietly. And for a moment it seemed that T'Loreth glanced at her with approval.
"Obviously. However, we have recently had some disturbing results follow upon the use of the Synthesizer."
Slowly Amanda raised her eyes to meet the physician's, trying to keep the horror of one of her waking nightmares out of her voice. "Was--did someone have a deformed baby?"
"There was no issue. Two Earth females have died--the first three point seven days ago, the second one point two days ago."
Yesterday morning. "But--there were only five of us in the program here! Who--?"
T'Risl named names, and Amanda bowed her head, heartsick. One girl had met her Vulcan husband shortly after his Bondmate was killed in a spaceliner crash, and the other--Amanda could not remember the circumstances of the other girl's interplanetary marriage, for they had only met once, very briefly, in the waiting room. She remembered only that both of them had been less than four months along--not quite far enough along to transfer their babies to an Artificial Gestation Unit with optimum chances for survival.
"We do not yet have sufficient evidence to make a considered judgment on the cause of death. However, it appears highly probable that the Synthesizer malfunctioned in both cases, causing a massive increase in the number of erythrocytes per cubic millimeter--a condition Earthmen call polycythemia vera. It would appear that the condition you call 'coronary thrombosis' developed shortly thereafter."
Still stunned, Amanda reluctantly began to feel relief that the device had been de-activated. "But, what about--the future?"
"There is a probability of 59.6% that the Synthesizer will be perfected before you have need of it again," T'Risl said expressionlessly.
"Good. I'll tell Sarek all about--."
"Sarek is aware of the two malfunctions. I informed him of the situation shortly after the second subject died." And again, Amanda thought Yesterday morning. "It was his wish that I request you to permit me to de-activate the unit immediately." Rather testily: "I do not follow his logic, for your unit has remained at Alpha status, since you failed to conceive. But he was quite insistent."
Again Amanda bowed her head, remembering with great pain how he had lain silent in the dark beside her, his relief over-riding his disappointment.
"Do you wish to use a tissue?" T'Risl asked with polite contempt. But it was T'Loreth who silently handed the human the wherewithal to blow her nose.
Amanda had crossed the waiting room and was about to enter the lift when she heard T'Loreth softly calling her name. She took a moment to compose herself and then turned to face the Vulcan girl.
T'Loreth approached without haste and stood a meter away--calm, poised, unruffled. If only I could be like that, Amanda thought. How proud he would be....
Then she realized that T'Loreth was a bit tense, and guessed the cause: the girl had asked permission to leave the office while on duty, and therefore had no time to do anything but come, with haste, to the point.
"It is my understanding," T'Loreth said with quiet dignity, "that Sarek will be traveling from the Focus within three-point-five days."
"You are correct," Amanda answered formally, trying not to show how much she hated to contemplate Sarek's absence on government business, however brief. She knew that she had married an important individual, who’s academic and scientific pursuits would often be sidelined in the future in deference to his diplomatic career. But their impending separation was their first.
"Four-point-three days hence," T'Loreth went on, "at 20.5 Vulcan hours, there will be a musical performance in the Academy amphitheater. I, and a group of my acquaintances will be in attendance. Should you desire to do so, we should be honored by your company."
Amanda stared, rapidly translating from Vulcan English to human English: I know you'll be lonely while your husband's away, so why not come to a concert with me and my friends?
Why? But she suppressed the question. "I should he honored, T'Loreth." Their gaze held, and she saw with regret that the other girl had perceived her unspoken question: Why?
"It is a tradition of my people," T'Loreth said simply, "to extend hospitality to a newcomer."
"And it is a tradition of my people," Amanda replied in kind, "to express gratitude for such hospitality. May I be permitted to say 'Thank you'--just this once?"
"As you wish." T'Loreth inclined her head slightly.
Then, suddenly, a thought crossed Amanda's mind. She was a married woman now. "T'Loreth, I--will there be--is this a mixed group?" This drew a blank, and Amanda realized that she would have to be blunt in order to get the information she wanted. "I'm sor--I regret my discourtesy, but I should like to know if there will be males as well as females among your friends. I mean, I'm married now. At ho--on Earth, married women just don't--."
"We are all Bonded, Amanda," T'Loreth said quietly.
"Of course." Oh, God. "T'Loreth, I'm so--."
"Apologies are unnecessary. There is much for you to learn, but you will learn, because you wish to." T'Loreth saluted her gravely. "Live long and prosper in your new life, Amanda. I shall be in contact with you before the event of which we have spoken transpires."
When she left the medical center, Amanda was in heaven. But by the time she reached home, depression again surrounded her. How could she tell him of all that had happened to her? Oh, Sarek, I've made a friend.... Was there any such word in the Vulcan language? She had no idea. And even more important: Now I know why you were relieved. And I love you, too....
She closed the garden gate and sat down on a bench, pulling the pins out of her hair so that it fell to her shoulders and beyond. How she hated having to put her hair up every time she went out--hated the formalities, large and small--hated most of all the word understand.
Only once had she tried to express her love in words, when he was leaving her alone for the first time in this house. She should have known better, she knew; the Time of Mating was over, and his emotional control was again complete. And yet, foolish human, she had tried to put her arms around him: I love you so much. Please.... Gently but very firmly he had removed her arms and then offered her his two fingers, his eyes grave. Do you still not understand....
"Oh, I-Chaya, go away!" She pushed the sehlat's warm nose away from her face. "Don't you 'understand'? There is no such thing as--." And then her rising voice fell silent. She had expected I-Chaya to lie down and coo reproachfully at her. But instead, he turned away and trotted silently back to his sleeping area.
She followed him there and sat down beside him on the ground, pulling his head into her lap. "You do understand, don't you?" She leaned against the sehlat's great body while he closed his eyes and nuzzled her arm. "What am I going to do? He just won't let me get close enough to love him, I-Chaya. What am I going to do?"
By the time Sarek came home, she was strung up like a tight wire, and very close to loss of control. The sun had already dropped close to the top of the garden wall as she watched from the window as he entered and paused to greet I-Chaya. The sehlat raised his head as Sarek laid his hand on it, and he and his master regarded each other for some time in silence. Overcome by the unverifiable conviction that I-Chaya was silently telling tales out of school, she turned away from the window and busied herself with the supper preparations, expecting Sarek to join her. But soon she realized that he had remained in the garden, and went out to greet him there.
She told him briefly of her visit to T'Risl, scanning his face for a response. Nothing. He remained seated on the bench beside her, listening carefully, nodding now and then, his position slightly formal but somehow not stiff or rigid. Then, when she repeated her conversation with T'Loreth, he seemed at first pleased, and then disturbed.
"Oh, I know it was a terrible thing to ask her," she said, trying to remain calm in the face of his faint but obvious disapproval. "But, Sarek, on Earth young married women simply don't go running around in mixed company, and I'd forgotten they were all--that young people here are all--Bonded...." Her voice trailed off hopelessly into silence.
"Forgotten?" he repeated softly.
"Oh, all right! So I've committed a--a heinous crime that no Vulcan wife would ever think of committing. What do you expect? After all, I'm only human!"
She did not like the sound of her own voice, and was not surprised when he rose and paced a short distance down the garden, hands clasped behind him. "I had expected," he answered calmly, "that such incidents would occur from time to time. I had not expected that you would find your--mistakes so difficult to accept. Your emotional reactions to your own cultural preconceptions and their inevitable results are--most disturbing. I trust this will be temporary." But he raised his eyebrows as though it were a question.
"Why didn't you marry T'Risl?" she asked, her voice dangerously thin.
"T'Risl," he answered gravely, "was not suitable."
"Oh my God! Sarek, she has had two children, a veritable population explosion around here. She has no emotional reactions whatsoever, and she never, never makes a mistake. And yet I was 'suitable' and she was not?" Like a shrew, she thought desperately. I'm starting to sound like a shrew. But she could not stop. "'Suitable' for what?"
"For me, Amanda."
For a moment she simply stared. But when he did not move or look up, she slowly turned away, laid her arm on the back of the bench and hid her face in it, overcome with the deepest shame she had ever known. His last three words were, in all probability, the closest equivalent of I love you that she would ever hear from him. And they had been spoken at the moment when she least deserved to hear them.
She heard him return to the bench, but she could not look at him. More than she had ever wanted anything she wanted to throw herself into his arms and sob out her love and her repentance. Yet she knew that if she so much as tried, she would again be rejected.
"Must I be in control even now?" she whispered hopelessly.
"Especially now," he answered gently. "When one must discover solutions, tears are an ineffective substitute for words." But the wistful gentleness in his tone prevented her from being angry--that, and the fact that he was right.
"Do you still find me 'suitable'--for you?"
"My wife, I cannot find you at all. You will not permit it." And this time, his wistfulness almost broke her heart.
Hearing a slight movement, she realized that he was offering her the finger-touch that still seemed so meaningless to her, and so utterly incapable of expressing even affection, let alone love or commitment. And so, torn between a desire to respond and a desire for much more expressive physical contact, she hesitated for a moment before raising her head and touching her fingers to his.
"Why do you hesitate?" he asked, frowning a little--but not, she realized, with disapproval. And for the first time since their Time of Mating had ended, she dimly began to perceive the truth: he was not purposefully denying her anything of himself; he simply had no understanding at all of her desperate need for physical contact with him; or of the very human reasons for that need.
"Sarek, is the Vulcan way always best for everyone--even humans?"
"I am a Vulcan. You are my wife." The answer obviously satisfied him completely. But even though their link was still very weak, she was able to perceive his awareness that his answer was not a satisfactory answer for her, and also that he was waiting for her to explain why.
He really doesn't know, she thought dazedly--and began to speak before she thought more carefully.
"Yes, I'm your wife. But humans--physical contact is very important to humans. It's--we've learned to express love that way, and it's so hard--."
She stopped, horrified. It was as though his body and mind had turned to stone, and yet she knew that, beneath the frozen exterior, his emotions were in chaos.
"I believed--that you--understood--." His throat was so tight that he could hardly get even those words out, and she realized too late that this time she had completely failed to anticipate a human-like reaction from a humanoid male who was both possessive and proud--that, objectivity in the face of genetic incompatibility to the contrary, failure to satisfy one's woman sexually might well be a universal leveler.
"No--you don't understand! I'm not talking about sex! Please listen--."
But he could not listen. She realized that two seconds more of this conversation would be precisely one point five seconds more than he could stand, and thought despairingly: I didn't even make a dent. It's as bad as it ever was. But at the same moment she also realized that, having compounded his intense sexual guilt and shame by her hasty words, she could make him understand in only one way. And if she herself had not all but eliminated that one most effective channel of communication between them, they might well have understood one another long before now.
This time she did not concern herself with her own cultural preconceptions and her emotional reactions to the results thereof, even though those reactions were devastatingly self-abasing at the moment. Instead--and very quickly, before he could pull away--she took both his hands in hers and placed them on either side of her head.
She remembered them very clearly, even though neither the girl nor the boy had actually been her classmates at the university. She had seen them often studying together in the library--never actually holding hands, but with the boy's hand and the girl's always on the table between them, relaxed, palms downwards, the side of his hand just touching the side of hers. The arrangement was so casual as to appear unintentional. And yet, every time she had seen them that term, their hands had lain close together on the table--two humans touching one another as they worked alone.
The neighbors were a clearer memory. By current Earth standards, they were a bit young for retirement--he possibly ninety-five, she about ninety. But their consuming interest in their home, their vast vegetable garden and their almost omnipresent great-grandchildren left them neither time nor energy for boredom or self pity. Often, early in the evening, the man would sit on his patio facing his vegetables and possibly accessing his infinite non-material wealth, smoking his pipe while his wife prepared supper. Then, when the meal was ready, she would come out and stand behind him, her lower arms resting across his shoulders and her hands clasped loosely in front of him. Sometimes he would rest his head against her as they discussed the garden; sometimes she would rest her chin briefly on the top of his head.
But the most vivid memory was of Amanda's own parents, the day her father had bought her mother the tree. A military family, they were always on the move, and frequently lived for months on arid planets that had little that an Earthwoman could call vegetation. And so the "tree" was only a rubber plant, able to thrive in hot climates and rooted in its own pot for mobility. Her mother had promptly burst into tears. Going down on her knees to examine her tree more closely, she had taken her husband's hand as it lay on her shoulder and silently held it against her cheek as her tears continued to fall, while he bent over her, gently stroking her hair with his free hand....
Amanda had no idea how long she had remained lost in her memories, nevertheless intensely aware of the silent but attentive observer who traveled with her to that distant country. But she suddenly realized that the sun had now set, and that it was cool in the garden.
"I have not seen such things transpire between Earthmen and their mates," Sarek said quietly as his hands came to rest on her shoulders. She knew that he was puzzled, even troubled. But he no longer seemed tense.
A great longing rose in her, and knowing that because his hands still rested lightly on her shoulders, he could well perceive its nature, she tried to control its urgency.
"No," he said softly. "The prospect you envision is not unpleasant." And then, a bit awkwardly but with infinite tenderness, he put his arm around her and drew her head onto his shoulder.
It came to her with stunning clarity that he, himself, felt no need for the contact whatsoever, and that her need was still a baffling mystery to his logical Vulcan mind. He understood only that she was dying of thirst, and was offering her the cool refreshment of his embrace with what she perceived as unquestioning love, although she knew that he, himself, would never have called it that.
At first it seemed that she would surely die if she couldn't cry. But she realized almost immediately that the peace and security that they both sought in their relationship was there for the taking if she could but relinquish her human need to respond to his gift with a turbulent mŽlange of chaotic emotions. And slowly--at first with conscious effort, and then with growing serenity--she found herself able to relax and to rest against him, wanting nothing at that moment but what she already had.
That accomplished, she became aware that he had communicated something almost verbally--a message that she understood clearly and that would have elicited a flood of repentant tears had she not been so very far from tears. But just then, she felt no need to verbalize the message, even to herself.
A moment later, he spoke, his voice again expressionless. "Your inferences are supported by insufficient data."
Startled, she pulled away slightly and raised her head to stare at him, totally confused. Whereupon he continued impassively,
"Given the number of possible alternative explanations for my reluctance to envision your demise, the supposition that emotional factors predominate is pure speculation on your part."
Understanding, she almost smiled, but continued to regard him without expression, almost without blinking.
"Indeed?" Her tone mimicked his perfectly. "Specify."
If he were human, he would have laughed aloud, she knew. As it was, a smile of pure delight sprang to life deep in his eyes--just before he dropped his gaze abruptly.
Look at me, she thought calmly.
And then, quite suddenly, it was no longer important at all to make him admit what she already knew.
She bowed her head slightly so that her forehead barely touched his temple. It's all right, my dear. I understand. And without conscious intent she raised her hand, two fingers extended, knowing that this first offering of hers to him would mean every bit as much to him as the gentle weight of his arm across her shoulders meant, even now, to her.
And as his fingers touched hers in response, it came to her that the non-verbal message that had almost threatened to reduce her to tears had been something very close to Welcome home, Amanda.