The first time Amanda heard of it, she could not believe it. Apparently, there was no such thing as a special needs population on Vulcan. She didn't understand, really, how that could possibly be; did they murder little Vulcans who didn't live up to standards of normality the way it was rumored that Klingons did? Or had nature simply not granted Vulcans the joyful obligation of caring for individuals with special needs and helping them to care for themselves?
In any case, the concept of a species completely devoid of such variation strange, to say the least. Variation was the spice of life. That was one of the things that had attracted Amanda to the school, one of the few on Earth that had been created specifically to educate those little ones whose differences were so profound that they could not attend the same school as typically developing children: the variety, the unpredictability of events inherent to such a school and to such troubled children. And Amanda was inordinately fond of puzzles. Figuring out the individual needs of each child was like a humane puzzle to be carefully and compassionately completed.
In any case, it was well-known that despite their efforts to deny it, Vulcans were an incredibly curious people. So perhaps she shouldn't be so surprised that one of their ambassadors to Earth had requested to bring a team of delegates to a day-long visit to the school where she taught.
It was rather repugnant to Amanda, though. In her opinion, the students at this school had enough problems without being subjected to being stared at by of bunch of (reportedly judgmental) Vulcan delegates. She knew better, though, than to voice this to Ian Montgomery, who would dismiss her concerns at best and fire her for her dissension at worst.
Ian Montgomery was a visionary in many ways: he had conceptualized, at the very young age of 20, an entirely new way to teach the disabled, and since then the sole focus of his career had been developing the tools necessary to implement his new method. He had founded the school after getting his first doctorate in psychology, and was now one of the most respected minds in the entire teaching profession. Working under his tutelage was a privilege and an honor and to date, no one interested in the education of special needs minors had refused to work with him.
With privileges, though, came a price. Always.Ian Montgomery was a visionary, but there was much more to him than that. He was generous to a fault, but he was also incredibly arrogant. Yet he also had low self-esteem; any minor disagreement with his opinion ran the risk of being considered a personal attack, which was why Amanda took such care not to disagree with him. Elizabeth Johnson had disagreed with him a month into Amanda's employment at the school, and she had been sacked for it – insubordination, Ian had called it, but the whole staff knew that Elizabeth would never have been insubordinate to Ian – it just wasn't in her personality. Sharing her opinion without regard to the consequences, however, was something that Elizabeth would do.
Amanda loved her job. She loved the students, she loved the school, she loved her colleagues – even Ian was often incredibly funny and surprisingly considerate; for example, Ian always made sure the staffroom refrigerator was stocked with cold juice, water, and tea; that coffee and hot tea were always brewing; and healthy snacks were always on offer. There was even talk that he was thinking of purchasing a replicator for the staff. Amanda had no desire to leave.
So, when preparations for the visit began in early October, two weeks before it was scheduled to occur, Amanda embraced them wholeheartedly, not just because she didn’t want to risk her job by disagreeing; she also embraced the preparations because she did trust his judgment.
The whole school was given a fresh coat of paint, inside and out, and a professional cleaning service was brought in to give everything a proper scrubbing. Amanda had to admit she actively enjoyed this part of the preparation, as by the end, the floor in her classroom were positively shiny, the carpet fluffy and clean and soft, the walls beautifully clean and fresh-looking, and the entire room smelling of fresh paint and new beginnings.
The staff also went through some extra training during those two weeks, learning about Vulcans and their home planet, and basic etiquette when it came to dealing directly with Vulcans, especially Vulcan Ambassadors. The first and most important rule, of course, was that Vulcans were extremely touch-sensitive and therefore touching of any kind should be restricted to the absolute minimum necessary; even shaking hands was unacceptable.
Amanda just knew – she just knew – that she wasn't going to like these people very much. So standoffish that they couldn't even shake hands? What a terrible life Vulcans must lead, so stark and emotionless and probably terribly boring.
Still, Amanda Grayson was nothing if not professional, and a professional was always sure to prepare for whatever might be expected of her in her job. To that end, Amanda got on her computer the evening before the visit of Ambassador Sarek to look up what information there was about what the Ambassador did or had done.
Once she got started, though, Amanda found herself looking at much more than just Ambassador Sarek's accomplishments; looking one thing up on the online encyclopedia often led to looking up many other things. The treaty that the Ambassador had created with Cygnus Alpha IX had allowed each side to save face, and had saved a nearby pre-warp planet from the complete destruction of its life, and the series of treaties he was still negotiating with the Klingon Empire were well on the way to creating a lasting peace (though the effects were deliberately delayed as a part of the treaties).
The treaties with the Klingon Empire led to a description of Vulcan culture, which, much to Amanda's surprise, turned out to be much more intricate and interesting than the information provided in the training had implied. For example, there was some speculation that the reason casual touching was so discouraged was because Vulcan touch-telepathy caused casual touching to become far more intimate than was strictly intended. There was also a basis in history for the fact that Vulcans embraced an emotionless lifestyle; past generations had been so emotional that they had often been incited to commit violent acts and start wars because of the irrational reactions caused by their emotions.Amanda ordered some of the literature referenced in the articles about Vulcans and their culture and cultural practices, eager to learn more about them. What she found particularly interesting was Surakian principles, and she couldn't wait for the book that described them in human terms to arrive.
It was well past midnight toward one a.m. when she finally made herself slip into bed for the night.
The morning of the visit,Amanda dressed in her least-revealing outfit: a long cotton skirt and a blue pinstriped shirt, and tied her hair up into a neat little bun instead of her usual ponytail. Her head felt heavy this way, and she knew quite well that immediately after the delegates left she'd be taking her hair down – but while they were there she was determined that she would maintain a professional demeanor and appearance, no matter what.
Moreover, she knew that the Vulcan delegates would appreciate a slightly more conservative style of dress.
She also knew that neither the delegates nor Ian would appreciate tardiness, so since she had a terrible habit of tardiness, she arrived at the school an hour earlier than the usual teacher start time of 8:00 am, shivering in the early morning October chill, to prepare her classroom for the day ahead. Her assistant, a young student teacher from a local university by the name of Jeffrey, arrived at about the same time, yawning, with two cups of coffee from the staffroom. Jeffrey handed her a cup and silently, knowing what to do since mornings were the one constant of their hectic days, got to work on his own morning duties.
Amanda had just set aside a student's picture schedule page for the day when Jeffrey broke their usual companionable silence.
"Did you see the Vulcans when you came in?" he asked.
Amanda sipped her coffee and made a sound of pleasure before answering. "No, I came right to the classroom… they're here already?" She stretched out her legs and resisted the urge to slip out of her high heels. She'd seen pictures of the man last night, of course, and actually – she blushed a little just thinking about it – he was a very attractive man, but pictures were flat and lifeless; he was surely different in person.
Jeffrey nodded. "They were in the staffroom when I went in for the coffee. Ian's taking them on a preliminary tour, apparently. Ambassador Sarek is…" Jeffrey trailed off, laughing a little. "Well, he's imposing. He brought six other Vulcans with him."
"Six? That seems excessive; there are only seven classrooms… Oh. Oh, no." Amanda dropped her head to rest on her arms on the desk. "No, no, no!" she mumbled.
"What?" Jeffrey asked, perplexed, as he set up the last picture schedule for Archer.
"Don't you see what's going on, Jeffrey?" She implored, looking up at him. "There is a representative for each individual classroom."
To Jeffrey's credit, he understood almost immediately. "And they're staying with us for a whole day," he said dully, putting a hand to his forehead. "Here. One of them.In our classroom."
"For an entire day," Amanda repeated. She sighed a little bit, and they sat together for a moment in silent contemplation of the chaos that would ensue at the presence of a new adult around children who didn't take well to change of any kind. "Well," she said finally with a rueful smile. "We can't stop it now, even if we tried, right? So let's try to make the best of things. We'll play it by ear, of course, but to begin with we'll pretend nothing special is going on, since we can't ask our Vulcan to join us."
Jeffrey nodded reluctant agreement and went to hang the daily schedules on the wall. Amanda took the last few minutes of the hour to finish her coffee. From 8:00 am until the very last moment before the students began arriving was a welcoming breakfast party with staff and the Vulcan guests, which was why staff had arrived an hour early to prepare for the day ahead. In deference to the tastes of the Vulcan delegates, there would be fruits and breads offered, but not even so much as a hard-boiled egg. In fact, Ian had insisted that all meats in the staff refrigerator were to be taken home, and that no meat was to be on the premises – though he allowed an exception for Anthony, a student in Lisa Brown's class who refused to eat anything but milk and chicken fingers swimming in ketchup.
Amanda didn't mind fruit and bread for breakfast so much, or the vegan catered lunch that the Vulcans were providing, but she knew Jeffrey was going to be a bear by the end of the day; the boy ate more meat than anyone Amanda had ever met. "Did you eat something this morning?" she asked, and let out a sigh of relief at Jeffrey's nod.
"Yeah, I had some protein earlier." Jeffrey smirked at her and went over to his jacket, pulling a hard-boiled egg from a concealed pocket. "And if I started having withdrawal I brought this along just in case."
Amanda laughed and finished the last of her coffee. "Are you ready to go?" She collected a blue student folder labeled 'Matthew' in one hand; hopefully Ian would be able to spare her a moment to talk about the sudden, unexpected turnaround in Matthew's progress.
Jeffrey nodded, and they headed side by side down the hall toward the staffroom. "Do you think they'll have Danish?" Jeffrey asked hopefully.
Amanda considered. "That's just milk and bread… I can't think why they wouldn't have it. You don't have to kill a cow to get milk from it."
Jeffrey laughed and gave her a funny, hopeful sort of look. "Ever the optimist, Amanda," he laughed again, and pushed open the door to the staffroom.
Amanda flushed when she realized that the rest of the staff was there already, and from the looks of their plates, they had been there for some time. She winced a little bit, but gamely gave a sheepish smile and a wave, as everyone was staring at them both. "Sorry I'm late, we got caught up in morning prep," she said by way of excuse. Jeffrey, always uncomfortable under scrutiny, was trying to hide behind her. His attempt was probably pretty funny, though, because he had a good six inches and thirty pounds on Amanda.
Daniel Wilson, the kindergarten teacher, chuckled and shook his head fondly, and that broke the tension as everyone turned back to their conversations and plates full of fruit and toast with an affectionate chuckle.Ian waved Amanda over to where he was standing with the imposing Vulcan Ambassador who was looking at her – she could swear he was appraising her, but there was nothing in his stance or his expression at all. Maybe it was his intense dark eyes.
"I'm so glad you found time to join us, Amanda," Ian said pointedly, crossing his arms over his chest and giving her a stern look.
Amanda blushed again but gave Ian a steady look despite her heated cheeks. "I'd been under the impression the party started at 8:00, Mr. Montgomery," she replied.
"Well, regardless, you haven't met the Ambassador from Vulcan yet," Ian said, and Amanda smiled up, and up, at the Vulcan. "Ambassador Sarek, this is Amanda Grayson, our newest teacher. Miss Grayson, this is Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan."
Amanda bowed her head politely in greeting. "It's an honor to meet you, Ambassador Sarek," she said as sincerely as she was able.
Ambassador Sarek inclined his head, and this time she was sure she was being appraised, though she couldn't tell what conclusion the Ambassador was coming to. To her embarrassment, she felt a blush warming her cheeks under the intense scrutiny. She swallowed hard, willed her cheeks to cool, and turned to Ian. "When you have a moment, Mr. Montgomery, I want to speak with you about…" She trailed off and tapped the blue student folder in her hand.
"Now, now, Miss Grayson," Ian said reproachfully with a little smile. "Your work ethic is admirable, but this is a welcome party for our guests!" He took the folder from her arm, his fingers grazing over her breast, once, and then again, making her gasp. "I'll hang on to this for now, we can discuss it later."
Eyes wide with shock, she nodded, taking a step back. "Later, yes, we'll discuss it later, Mr. Montgomery," she replied, hearing her surprise and the wobbliness in her own voice. "I'll just, I haven't eaten any breakfast." Amanda turned to Ambassador Sarek, but this time she couldn't look him in the eye. "It was a very great honor to meet you, Ambassador Sarek," she said a bit faintly, and headed in a daze over to the food table. Mechanically, she started to fill her plate with food, looking at her plate but not really seeing it.
It was just an accident, she told herself. Nothing in her experience with Ian Montgomery fit any other explanation, though calling it an accident didn't account for the expression in Ian's eyes; but Amanda was trying not to think of that.He was just taking the file, that's all, and you were hugging it to your chest. Take a deep breath and move on.
Amanda took her full plate over to the one of the tables lining the room and sat down hard in one of the plastic teacher's chairs, closing her eyes and resting her fingers against her forehead. One deep breath, and then two, and suddenly, she felt a wave of placid, cool, calm strength infuse her entire body. With a little gasp, she opened her eyes again and looked around curiously, but no one appeared to be looking at her. That wave of calm, fortifying strength must have come from one of the Vulcans, but which one? And who would have known she needed it?
The answer came as quickly as the question. The strongest Vulcan in the room must have sent it, which was almost certainly Ambassador Sarek – he was at least the most intimidating – and Ambassador Sarek was the only one anywhere nearby when she'd lost control.
She stared at him, shocked. Why would a Vulcan Ambassador bother with the inconstant, shifting emotions of any human, let alone low-level junior teacher barely out of teacher's college, with only a single doctorate to her name?
The Ambassador turned his steady, penetrating gaze on her, and Amanda was struck by his eyes. She was embarrassed to find herself blushing under his frank scrutiny again. He nodded at her imperceptibly and her eyes widened as she realized the man must have read her thoughts – or at least her emotions.
She had nearly worked up the courage to go over to the Ambassador when Jeffrey slid into the seat beside her. He tapped her shoulder, wiggled his eyebrows, andgrinned an orange-wedge grinat her.
Amanda burst out laughing and Jeffrey looked triumphant.
The Vulcan assigned to Amanda's room was the smallest one in the delegation, a delicate-looking female with a boyish form, but Amanda could tell immediately that this woman, who called herself T'Prat, was not to be trifled with. She strode around Amanda's modest classroom as though she owned the place, looking down at clumsy cutouts and awkwardly placed collages with what Amanda felt was a disdainful expression in her eyes, though Amanda held her tongue since T'Prat would undoubtedly claim that disdain was an emotion and therefore she did not have any such expression in her eyes. She asked no direct questions of Amanda – which Amanda considered a blessing – but was continuously taking notes throughout the day.
It was surprisingly exhausting, actually, as she was only being thoroughly scrutinized and not actually directly bothered in any way, and Amanda had never been so glad to see the children off home. The Vulcan delegates would be meeting in Ian's office for their goodbye, but there was no need for Amanda to be there; it would be all business and if T'Prat reported something that Ian didn't like she'd hear about it later anyway.
Jeffrey begged off the afternoon prep and she let him go, since she wanted to slip out of her heels and into the pair of fuzzy pink slippers she kept in the locked closet anyway. They were very old; she'd got them for a going away present when she started at the Teacher's Academy. She was rather embarrassed about them, actually, as they were very threadbare and the fuzz had all but disappeared, but they were so incredibly comfortable to work in that she never bothered to get rid of them.
She sighed with relief and wriggled her toes back and forth once they were on. "So much better," she breathed, taking a seat behind her desk. Eagerly she tugged the hairtie out of her hair and dropped it in her desk drawer, then leaned back as far as she could and stretched her arms as high as she could over her head, then bent over to touch her toes in her seated position, stretching out her back a little bit before settling in to grading papers.
Some days, this was her favorite part about teaching: just sitting here, in her empty, quiet classroom, looking over sloppily glued booklets and scribbled crayon drawings, marking the pages with little notes and entering the resulting grades into the gradebook. It was soothing, relaxing; like meditation. She felt all the worries of today sliding away from her: the – hopefully unintentional – touching of her breast, the invasion of her personal professional space, everything that had gone wrong; the pressure holding her down seemed to deflate, and by the time she finished grading she felt completely relaxed, leaning back in her chair and closing her eyes with a little sigh.
There was a low chuckle from the doorway. "Does grading take that much out of you?" Ian asked playfully, and from anyone else that would have been funny, but coming from Ian, who had a way of twisting his words and changing his tone, it came out utterly insulting.
Amanda stiffened, suddenly completely alert, as if the last thirty minutes hadn't occurred. "Ian, hello," she greeted, standing up behind her desk. "Did you want to talk about Matthew now?" she asked hopefully.
Ian came into the room, shaking his head. "No." He came over behind her desk, only a couple of inches away from her, and looked down at the work she'd been marking. "What happened to 'Mr. Montgomery'?" he asked.
Yesterday, it would have seemed like an innocent question. Today, after what had happened this morning, it seemed almost threatening.
She swallowed nervously. "We're always informal here, except when there are guests… would you prefer I call you Mr. Montgomery?" she asked.
Ian smirked a little bit. "It does sound nice coming from… you," he replied, though it sounded like he'd meant to say something else, something much less chaste.
Amanda's eyes widened and she took a step back without thinking. He didn't pursue her – at least, not yet. "S-so I should call you Mr. Montgomery from now on?"
"Oh, it doesn't really matter." Ian waved off her concern and took a seat in her chair, behind her desk. Amanda hated it when he did that; it was so presumptuous. "Ambassador Sarek and his delegation were particularly interested in the technique you were using to teach your students."
"Technique?" Amanda frowned and perched on one of the tables. "I'm not sure what that means… I used your technique."
Ian collected the work and set it to the side. "Well, not entirely, apparently." He picked up one of the cut-out collages, this one made by one of the more inept students – and it looked like it. "You know I don't approve of this," he said.
Amanda flushed. "I don't always do that, Ian, I promise, I just like to keep up with how much the pupils in my class are capable of doing by themselves. That's all. Usually Jeffrey and I assist the students hand over hand, I swear to you--"
Ian held up his hand. "We'll discuss your formal reprimand later. Right now, I want to discuss what happened in my meeting with the Vulcan delegates."
Amanda swallowed hard at the idea of a formal reprimand and nodded. "What happened, Ian?"
"Ambassador Sarek requested to spend another day, this time alone observing your classroom specifically." Ian gave her a steady look and crossed his arms over his chest.
"My classroom?" Amanda said, surprised. "He wants to see my classroom?"
Ian nodded. "Indeed, yes, he'd like to spend all of tomorrow observing your class, and of course I told him you'd be happy to have him. Because I'm sure you will be, won't you, Amanda?" His expression was stern and expectant, and Amanda knew immediately that her answer had to be yes.
She nodded. "Of course, Ian, the children will be… er, happy to have another guest join us tomorrow." Her hand was shaking a little bit, and she wasn't exactly sure why but her stomach felt like there were a hundred butterflies flitting around inside it.
Ian smiled silkily in a way that turned Amanda's stomach. "I thought they might. And of course since Ambassador Sarek was so impressed with your technique, you'll let your students do things by themselves again tomorrow." He narrowed his eyes at Amanda. "Once they're gone, we'll discuss what will happen to you for going against my orders. I know much more about these things than you do, Amanda, and I expect you to follow my instructions." He sighed and shook his head. "I'll have to have a stern word with Jeffrey, as well, for going along with this."
Amanda bit her lip. It was true that this was one of the parts of Ian's approach that she disagreed with the most, but it was also true that Ian had so much more experience working with the students than she did. Experience was the only thing that really mattered when it came to special needs children; her doctorate wouldn't mean anything but the ability to get good grades until she'd been a teacher for far longer than six months.
That was an issue, too, one of the reasons she didn't feel confident to stand up to Ian when he got up on his pedestal the way he was now: she was just a first year teacher, still wet behind the ears really, and perhaps more to the point, she had graduated early from the teaching academy she'd attended; she was a full year younger than most first-year teachers, and Ian had 20 years of experience on her, plus more than one doctorate.
So she just nodded. "I'm sorry, Ian, you're right, you have much more experience than I do. Tomorrow, I'll do what I did so that Ambassador Sarek can see it, and after that I hope you can overlook my error. I won't do it again." She swallowed hard, and then, hesitantly, continued. "Please don't reprimand Jeffrey, Ian. He only does what I tell him to do. It's my fault, not his."
Ian looked mildly placated at that. "All right, Amanda." He stepped out from behind her desk and then before she knew it he was standing in front of her, looking her over with a smirk that made her stomach curdle all over again. "Perhaps," he said as though the thought had just occurred to him, "perhaps one day soon I'll let you explain the finer points of your personal theory over dinner and drinks."
Amanda smiled shakily and slid off the table, moving several feet away from him, thinking frantically to figure out the best way to refuse firmly without making Ian angry. "I haven't fully developed my personal theory yet, Ian," she said, returning to her desk to gather her supplies.
"Well, then, perhaps you're in need of a mentor to help you figure it all out, hmm?" Ian purred, and Amanda shuddered and closed her briefcase. "Well?"
"My mother's visiting," Amanda burst out without thinking. It was a blatant lie that would do nothing but stave off the inevitable, but Amanda hoped she could use that time to figure out a way out of this. "She's visiting me for the next few days, so I'll be too busy in the evening to go out, Ian, I'm sorry."
Ian sighed a little. "Well, I suppose I can wait a little while for you to entertain your mother, Amanda. Have a good evening, and don't be too nervous. Remember, you've already made a good impression on Ambassador Sarek," Ian said bracingly.
This was one of the most confusing things about Ian; one moment he was almost insultingly condescending or even irrationally angry, and the next moment he would be kind, understanding, and even encouraging.
Amanda nodded. "Thank you, Ian," she said. "I'll see you tomorrow morning, all right?"
"Tomorrow morning, Amanda." He gave her a fatherly sort of smile and left her classroom.
Amanda let out a sigh of relief and dropped into her chair.
What on earth was she going to do about this? Ian had never, not even once, indicated any kind of prurient interest in Amanda before today. She didn't know how she was going to handle this; it had never happened to her before, a superior taking such an interest, though of course she'd had her fair share of partners. She had options, but not, perhaps, too many. After all, he hadn't yet done anything so forward that she could claim harassment. Should she just quit? That would leave all of her students without a teacher for quite a long time. But she loathed the idea of leaving the students and leaving behind the friends she had made here. Perhaps she could simply try talking to Ian, telling him that she had no interest in pursuing that kind of a relationship with him. Perhaps he might be more reasonable about this than he was about his professional theories.
The very thought made her snort. If anything, Ian was going to be even more unreasonable when it came to his personal life.
Amanda shook her head determinedly and stood up, pulling off her fuzzy pink slippers and locking them in the closet. Sitting here overthinking the situation was plain stupid. What she needed to do was go home and talk to her mother on the viewscreen. Natalie would spare a moment for anger, give Amanda a lecture on her (probably correct) opinion that Amanda was too good to put up with a lecherous boss, and then her mom would sit down with her and go over her options with the logic and emotional distance from the situation Amanda had always been able to depend on, and help Amanda make the right decision, the smart decision.
Amanda took a very deep breath and remembered the feeling of calmness and strength that Ambassador Sarek had sent her this morning, and she was surprised to find that it was lingering in a way, that she could sort of dip her toes into the feeling mentally and that little bit of strengthwas enough for her to gather her courage in case she ran into Ian again, slip into her heels, gather her briefcase and head back home for the night.
"It seems to me, Amanda, that you have your answer. If he's starting to show a romantic interest in you that you don't share, and what you've told me about him is true, then it's time to leave your job." Amanda's mother said reasonably over the video line. "Unless, of course, you're prepared to give in to his advances regardless of your own feelings."
Amanda shuddered theatrically. "No. No, no, I'm really, really not prepared at all, actually. He's disgusting, and it's such a shame because he's so intelligent."
Natalie nodded in understanding. "Then that's settled." She took a sip of her coffee and favored Amanda with a small smile. "You'll find another job, and you know you'll fall in love with those children as easily as you have your current class."
Amanda shook her head. "No, no, it's not that simple, mom," she said. "I haven't even confronted him about his behavior yet," she admitted, flushing a little. "But I can just tell that he won't take that very well."
"With some men you really can know ahead of time that they won't respond well to refusal." Natalie agreed with a soft sigh. "Still, I think you're right. You have to give him the chance to be refused gracefully. Sit him down in a few days and have a discussion with him before you just quit – but there's no need to create ill will until after the Ambassador's visit tomorrow. Ian's not going to do anything while Ambassador Sarek is there."
Amanda blushed again, think about Ambassador Sarek. Hopefully her mother would think it had to do with Ian and not AmbassadorSarek… she wasn't sure why she was blushing, and she didn't want to have to try to explain that to her mother.
"Now, as to the excuse you gave him today," Natalie said, her voice reproving, "I don't approve of lying, but I understand that telling him that I was visiting was the quickest thing you could say. It makes me think that perhaps I should take the opportunity to come down and actually visit you. I haven't seen your new flat, after all."
"Mom, you know I'd be happy to have you," she smiled. Amanda loved her mother shamelessly and respected her a great deal. As a teenager, she'd blamed her mother for her father's death even though it had just been an accident, and had treated Natalie quite rudely, but now as an adult she was too grateful to have Natalie, and no other woman, for her mother – and she never let her mother forget she was loved.
Natalie chuckled. "Yes, well. I'll see if I can make some plans."
Amanda grinned widely and then sighed. "So what should I do about Ian?"
Natalie looked like she wanted to reach out and pat her shoulder. "I can't really tell you, Amanda. I wish I could, but you've got to decide that for yourself. Your choices are to continue on, telling the occasional lie, going into work feeling unsafe and nervous, and hope he finally understands without you having to break it to him; or you can confront him, which would be good practice for you for the future; or, you can just quit. What does your brain tell you?"
Amanda pressed her palms to her cheeks and shrugged. "I don't really know, Mom," she said, more than a little miserable. "I guess for now my brain's just telling me to take it one day at time."
Her mom looked sympathetic and more than a little worried. "That's all you can do, Amanda," Natalie said in understanding.
There was a moment of silence while they both gathered their thoughts. Amanda's mom opened her mouth again to say something, and then closed it with a little, sad smile. "My beautiful daughter… why is it you're not looking for a boyfriend to take care of this for you?"
Amanda laughed and rolled her eyes. "Because I can take care of myself, for one thing, and for another, you're just asking me that because you want me to give you grandchildren."
"So?" Natalie grinned unrepentantly. "I'm not getting any younger, you know."
Amanda laughed again and they spent the next few minutes trading good-natured insults. By the time Amanda said goodbye she was feeling immeasurably better. Nothing had been resolved, but that was what she loved about talking to her mother. Natalie made her feel better just by listening and being there for her.
By the next morning, however, the butterflies had made a triumphant return, and had brought three or four hundred of their friends with them.
She arrived at the school early again and finished up the lesson plan for today, though she was quite restless, shifting back and forth in her seat and sipping hot coffee to try to calm her nerves and her stomach. It didn't work, but Amanda could be just as stubborn as the next girl when she wanted to be.
Despite her jangling nerves she managed to get through the lesson plan and she was eternally grateful when Jeffrey showed up fifteen minutes before he was due. He'd been just as put out as she was last night that their classroom was going to be interrupted again today, but there wasn't anything either of them could do and they both knew it. She put him to work setting up the first projectand headed up to Ian's office, slipping her hair into her usual ponytail on the way.
Seeing the two men together was like seeing the difference between night and day. Ambassador Sarek was tall, and dark, and something about the way he looked made Amanda's heart flutter in her chest. He was like the first few minutes of sunrise, when it was still very dark but the orange glow at the horizon gave everything in sight a softer, more muted look. Looking into his dark, intense eyes was soothing; they were so full of something warm that Amanda wasn't able to identify and Amanda was reminded again of yesterday morning and the flood of calm strength he had sent her.
By contrast, looking into Ian's eyes, which were usually full of disdain whenever he looked back at her, often made her stomach turn.Now the expression in them was a strange combination of lust and disrespect, and Amanda felt grubby, dirty inside when he looked at her. Ian was twenty years her senior, a very appealing age for some of her friends. He was alsodirty blond, tall, and bright, but there was darkness inside him that filtered out to those who surrounded him; Ian Montgomery lusting after her was not something Amanda considered flattering.
"Ah, Miss Grayson," Ian said warmly, reaching out to urge her closer with a hand on her back.
Amanda took a step to the side and then forward before he could touch her, and smiled shyly at the Ambassador. "Good morning, Ambassador Sarek, Mr. Montgomery." She cleared her throat and stepped a little bit further away from Ian, which incidentally put her a little bit closer to Ambassador Sarek. He was very, very warm; Amanda could feel the heat radiating off of him even from her position almost an entire foot away. "Mr. Montgomery tells me you heard good things about my classroom yesterday, and wanted to see for yourself?"
Ambassador Sarek nodded once. "Yes. I requested to return alone today in order to observe your technique directly. I trust I have not inconvenienced you."
Amanda shook her head in firm denial. "No, I'm not inconvenienced, sir." She smiled up at the Ambassador again, and she could swear that she saw his mouth twitch in response, but it was too quick to be certain of anything.
"Good, it's settled then."Ian smiled and clapped his hands. "Ambassador, Miss Grayson will escort you to her classroom answer any questions you might have until the school day begins."
Amanda smiled and nodded. "It's just down this hall, Ambassador Sarek," she said politely, and turned to lead him away, relaxing as they got further and further away from Ian. "You can sit at my desk today, if you like." She indicated her desk and then Jeffrey, who was finishing the computer program that led the students through calendar time. "You've already met Jeffrey."
Jeffrey waved at the Ambassador with a smile, and the Ambassador nodded politely. Amanda bit back a giggle, but the vast difference between them was almost too much.
"Did you have any questions for me before the school day starts, Ambassador?" She asked, taking a seat in Jeffrey's chair on the other side of her desk.
The Ambassador inclined his head, which Amanda was learning was his more refined version of a nod. "Why did you become interested in teaching students with mental and physical defects?"
Amanda sighed a little bit; this was always the first question anyone asked her, and it was the one she least enjoyed answering. Without exception, no one outside the realm of special needs understood. "Assisting in a special needs classroom is required of all teaching students, along with gifted students and typically developing students. It was in working with the special needs students that I felt the most fulfilled."
"Your choice of professions was emotional and not logical," Ambassador Sarek stated.
"Most humans choose their job based on what makes them feel the most fulfilled," she said, a little stiffly, as she didn't quite like what she thought the Ambassador was implying. "How do Vulcans choose their job?"
"Emotional fulfillment is not a consideration," Ambassador Sarekreplied. "We find our particular skill set during the course of our education and pursue activities that utilize our natural abilities. For example, I discovered a natural skill for diplomacy at the age of seven when my classmates continuously came to me to arbitrate disputes."
Amanda smiled. "I did some research on your career; the treaties you've managed to negotiate with the Klingons are very impressive. And Alpha Cygnus IX…" She trailed off, her cheeks heating a bit at the memory. "I can remember watching the news as a teenager when you returned with the supplies. I almost cried when I realized that you'd done all of that for a planet full of people who might never be able to appreciate where their salvation came from." The Ambassador had negotiated a treaty with Alpha Cygnus IX that had led to vastly improved relations, and he'd come back with a planet's worth of seeds in order to cultivate a pre-warp planet that had been nearly decimated by the violence of Alpha Cygnus IX's war with Vulcan and the Federation.
AmbassadorSarek gave a single nod, acknowledging the act with surprising – or perhaps, since he was a Vulcan, not so surprising – modesty. "Once they were made aware that our collective actions had led to the near-total destruction of an innocent, pre-warp planet, they were eager to assist us in making amends for the misdeed. It helped many to see that we were not so very different from each other."
Amanda nodded in understanding. "Sometimes that's all it takes… Every now and then we get a student from another school that comes in to play with our children, and in the beginning they're a bit standoffish. But by the end of the day, they've made quite a lot of friends and they always come out of the experience with a greater understanding of special needs children."
The Ambassador considered that and inclined his head. "A logical comparison, Miss Grayson," he replied. "Do students from other schools often visit here?"
Amanda nodded. "Every month we'll bring in a group of students from the local school so that they each have some exposure to each other… we always try for a different group but some students like to come more than once. We try to make it fun for them, with games and toys, and sometimes we'll get a band to come play music."
There was a slight twitching of the Ambassador's mouth that could have been anything; disapproval, amusement, indigestion. Amanda suspected it was amusement. She opened her mouth to make this observation, but Jeffrey cleared his throat before she could say anything. "It's time, Amanda, the kids are pulling up," he said, sending Ambassador Sarek an apologetic smile.
"Oh!" Amanda stood up and slid her borrowed chair back into place, glad that Jeffrey had interrupted her; the Ambassador probably would not have appreciated her observation. "Ambassador Sarek, would you like to join us outside, or wait here?" she invited, pulling on her coat against the fall chill.
"I will wait here," Ambassador Sarek replied, eyes moving from Amanda's coat and then back to her face.
Amanda blinked and then blushed. "Oh! Yes, I'm sorry," she said sheepishly. "Winter, Vulcan, right."
The Ambassador's mouth twitched enigmatically again and Amanda smiled shyly in return, wondering at that fact that this austere man was able to make her feel like a blushing schoolgirl with just a quirk of his lips. "There is no need to apologize, Miss Grayson."
His eyes shifted to her left shoulder and she felt a tugging at her sleeve. She turned and blushed a deeper red when she saw Jeffrey, feeling like she'd been caught smoking in the girl's room for no apparent reason. "Sorry! Sorry, I'm coming," she said, following him down the hall.Jeffrey smirked at her knowingly and she glared back at him. "What?" she asked.
Jeffrey shook his head, but he didn't stop smirking. "Nothing, nothing at all… Miss Grayson," he said, and then he actually laughed out loud, the little prat.
Amanda blushed, suddenly wishing she hadn't been quite so informal with her assistant. "What does that tone mean?" she asked – just as Jeffrey pushed open the door that led to the drop-off area outside. He only gave her a knowing look, a smirk on his face, and headed up to help children out of cars, leaving Amanda to follow behind him.
The rest of the day was as chaotic as could be expected; the students were very off put by the presence of the Ambassador, who seemed to be completely unruffled by the whole thing even when Tabitha threw her soy cookies at him and screamed her little high-pitched scream that never failed to set Amanda's nerves on end.
Jeffrey and Amanda were both exhausted by the end of the day, and Ambassador Sarek must have been feeling at least some of it, but he looked just as fresh and handsome as he'd been when he arrived this morning. The Ambassador bid them goodbye when they returned, thanking both Amanda and Jeffrey for their time, and headed up the corridor, presumably to see Ian and thank him as well.
Amanda couldn't help but watch him leave. He had a long, confident stride which was stereotypical of Vulcans if the other delegates were anything to go by, but Ambassador Sarek's seemed to be of a genuine self-assurance rather than insecure bravado.
A hand dropped on to Amanda's shoulder and she turned around, smiling at Jeffrey. "That was… quite a day, wasn't it?" she said.
Jeffrey laughed. "You could say that, yeah," he agreed. "Come on, let's clean up in there, it's a mess and it won't get cleaner, being ignored." He grinned. "And you can tell me all about your crush on Ambassador Sarek."
Amanda groaned and followed Jeffrey into the classroom. "Am I really that obvious?" she asked.
Jeffrey patted her shoulder again before he went over to straighten up the homework baskets. "Of course you're that obvious, Amanda, to someone who knows you."
"Do you think Ambassador Sarek knows?" she asked, a little bit miserably.
Jeffrey shrugged. "Who could tell if he knows?" he asked reasonably. "His face is completely expressionless."
Amanda bit her lip and hid her face with her hand for a moment, then sighed and started cleaning up the play-do bits from the table, pressing the biggest glob of the stuff all around at the little bits until she had a much larger multi-colored blob. She started rubbing it all together, watching distractedly as it turned pinkish orange. "Do you think he was offended, if he knew?"
"Who, the Ambassador?" Jeffrey asked as he sprayed the whole room with disinfectant. "No, I doubt it. Who'd be upset about a cute girl making eyes at them?"
Amanda blushed and moved to the kitchen area, deciding to concentrate on picking up tiny plastic food toys from the floor. She wasn't sure what she was going to do about her feelings for the Ambassador… if she was going to do anything at all about them, really. Ambassador Sarek surely didn't share her feelings. He had already lived quite a life –he'd had a son with the Vulcan Princess T'Pak, and even though the boy – Sybok, he was called – was currently being taken care of by his mother and his mother's family, he was an undeniable part of Ambassador Sarek's life. Even with her feelings growing as they were every time she thought about the Ambassador, Amanda wasn't completely certain that she would be able to handle a ready-made family.
But of course, worrying about all of this was, most likely, pointless, because there was absolutely no indication that Ambassador Sarek thought of her as anything more than a talented teacher of human children with special needs. Amanda took a deep breath and told herself to stop worrying.
She stuck the last plastic chicken leg into its holder and realized that the room was perfectly silent except for her breathing. Sometime while she was thinking about Ambassador Sarek, Jeffrey had said his goodbyes and left for home. Probably she had even waved goodbye to him, though she had no memory of doing so. It wasn't a rare occurrence for her, though, to lose track of other people's comings and goings when she was lost in thought.
Amanda went over to her desk and began packing up her weekend work; she had marking and documentation to do, as well as her lesson plans for Monday and Tuesday. Tonight, though, she had every intention of sliding into a hot bath and reading a good book on her PADD.
"You did well today, Amanda," came Ian's oily-sounding voice from the doorway.
Amanda jumped and looked up at him, her hand going to her heart. "Ian, you scared me!" she said with a little laugh. "I did well?"
Ian nodded and started over to her desk. "The Ambassador was very impressed with you today, I think." She'd expected him to stop on the other side of her desk, but he came around to stand right in front of her. "I thought I would take you out to dinner tonight, Amanda, to celebrate your success."
"Ian, my mother's visiting me, remember?" she said, taking a step back and around the corner of the desk. Ian took a step closer and Amanda took another step back, eyes widening as he backed her against a table.
"Oh, I forgot, yes, your mother," Ian smiled silkily and Amanda swallowed a hard lump of disgust and fear in her throat. "Well, that doesn't mean you can't give me a little kiss right now, before you go off and be the dutiful daughter, does it?" he purred, reaching out to stroke his hand up and down her left arm.
Amanda shook her head, skirting around the table. "Ian, I'd really rather not kiss you," she tried, but he pursued her relentlessly, eventuallybacking her into a corner without her realizing it. Her breath was coming fast and she felt completely terrified, unable to move.
In school, when she was younger, she had studied all about the women's movement, so many years ago before women even had the right to work unless their husbands gave them permission. Her teachers and her book had explained that before the women's movement – and for quite some time after it – a woman in the workforce could expect to be discriminated against, sometimes to the point of sexual harassment, where a male coworker might bother her or even force himself on her. She learned that later, even before World War III, women had actually become so comfortable in the workplace that they had turned this on its head and begun harassing men. But all of these things were supposed to have been abolished. It was an acknowledged right that everyone should feel safe and secure at their places of work, and certainly no one should have to deal with being touched unless they wanted to be touched.
"Ian, stop," she said firmly, moving his hand from her arm where he was stroking her.
"Amanda," Ian said with infinite patience, as though she were a small child who didn't know what was best for her. "Just quiet yourself and let me take control, kitten." He pressed forward and pressed his palm lightly against her stomach, moving his hand up and up toward her breast, and she gasped out loud at the forced intimacy of it though he hadn't yet reached her chest. Fear and panic started to flood her and shocked surprise made it impossible to move for a small eternity, and then all of a sudden, for no reason she could discern, Ambassador Sarek was standing in the door of her classroom. "Ambassador!" she cried out, and shoved ineffectually at Ian's hand, just barely managing to keep it from touching her breast. "Please help me!"
Ambassador Sarek could really move when the occasion called for it, and apparently this occasion called for it. He was directly behind Ian almost between blinks, pulling Ian away from her with his superior strength. Amanda immediately moved as far away from Ian as she could, grabbing her coat and briefcase and hugging them both to her chest, shivering a little bit and feeling scrubbed raw inside.
The Ambassador pushed Ian none too gently against the wall, staring down at Ian as the other man cried out in pain and glared at Ambassador Sarek. "The young lady was protesting your advances," Ambassador Sarek said, and the words sounded like a barely-controlled snarl to Amanda. "I cannot imagine what logic you found in continuing to invade her person when you clearly had not been granted permission to do so." The Ambassador was pressing Ian into the wall with one hand on his shoulder, and by the look on his face and the small sounds he was making, Ian was in quite a lot of pain.
Ambassador Sarek seemed to realize this at the same moment that Amanda did, and he eased the pressure on Ian's shoulder but only slightly. "Miss Grayson," he said, looking at Ian as though not wanting to let the man out of his sight in case he ran. "If you would gather your things, I will escort you to your residence. Mr. Montgomery, you will have a seat and remain seated until we have left." His hand tightened again on Ian's shoulder and he led Ian firmly over to the nearest chair.
Amanda swallowed hard. "I-I've got my things, Ambassador Sarek," she said softly.
"Don your coat, Miss Grayson," the Ambassador said, coming over to her, though he did not turn his back on Ian, who was glaring at them both. "The weather outside has grown more intemperate since this morning." Gently he took her briefcase so she could pull the coat on, and she nodded a bit numbly and slipped her arms through the sleeves. Ambassador Sarek escorted her out , and as they walked further and further away from her classroom and from Ian, she started to relax.
"You don't have to escort me home, Ambassador Sarek," Amanda offered tentatively as they left the building. Her hands were still shaking and she was still quite shocked, but she knew that she'd be able to relax once she was safely home. The Ambassador's presence was comforting and she wouldn't mind in the least if he came home with her, but the last thing she wanted to do was inconvenience him.
"I would prefer to see that you arrive at your residence unharmed, Miss Grayson," Ambassador Sarek replied. "Your shaking hands may interfere with your ability to control your vehicle. If you will permit me to drive you home, my driver will of course follow us. If you prefer, you may ride with the driver."
Amanda shook her head. "No, I don't need to ride in the car with your driver," she replied. "I trust you. You just saved me, after all," she pointed out with a shy smile.
Ambassador Sarek inclined his head, and Amanda couldn't help but laugh a little though it wasn't really funny. A human man would have blushed and feigned nonchalance, or puffed out his chest and been a little bit smug. But Ambassador Sarek just acknowledged her statement as the fact it was.
"This is my car," she said, pausing in front of it. She held out her keys, to hand them off to him, then thought better of it. "You do know how to drive, don't you, Ambassador?" she asked, holding the keys just out of reach.
The Ambassador's mouth quirked, and there was no question at all in Amanda's mind now that this particular movement meant that he was amused. "Miss Grayson, I would not have offered to drive you if I were not well-versed in the control of Earth vehicles."
Amanda blushed. "Right, of course." She laughed softly and reached out to put the keys in his hand. He let out a very small gasp as her fingers accidentally stroked his palm, and she gasped in response, blushing even deeper as she remembered what the online encyclopedia had said. "Sorry," she said, feeling like a schoolgirl again, and she slid into the passenger seat of her car.
He folded himself into her little car, and to her, he seemed almost impossibly large in the tiny space. "My house is on the mapping system," she said, pressing a few buttons on the little screen in her dashboard. "Just follow the arrows."
Ambassador Sarek inclined his head again and started the car. Amanda watched, inordinately fascinated by the way his hands moved and kept smooth control of the vehicle as he pulled out of the school's parking lot. She suspected her fascination was partly a result of her adventurous afternoon, but as his hands slid over the smooth wheel, she suddenly pictured what they would look like if he were to slide them over her skin.
She hoped desperately that Vulcans didn't actually possess the ability the read minds, and spent the next few moments trying to think of anything but slipping into bed with a hot Vulcan man instead of a hot cup of cocoa.
"Miss Grayson," the Ambassador said out of the blue, and Amanda opened her eyes and looked at him. "I wonder if you would object to accompanying me tomorrow evening."
Amanda felt her eyes widen.
"There is a symphony to which I have been issued an invitation which suggests that a guest accompany me," he explained.
"Oh," she realized, "You have a diplomatic function and you need to bring a date?"
Ambassador Sarek inclined his head, his eyes never leaving the road. "Yes. Would you object to being my… date… for the evening, Miss Grayson?"
Amanda flushed. "Not… not object as such." She swallowed hard. "It's just… I wouldn't know how to behave," she admitted. "I've never been to a diplomatic function before… I'm afraid I'd make a mistake and offend someone. I really would like to go, Ambassador, but I… I'd hate to ruin anything you might be working on." Something about the Ambassador demanded total honesty, and Amanda knew she had to be up front. She was not a diplomat and she couldn't accept an invitation without making this crystal clear to the Ambassador.
"If that is your true objection and you are not trying to… 'let me down easy', then please allow me to reassure you, Miss Grayson. Having spent time today and yesterday observing you, I have been able to gather salient facts about your nature and personality. You are, as humans would say, a lady, who endeavors at all times to put those surrounding you at ease," Ambassador Sarek stated matter-of-factly. "Such a lady, as you are, would not cause offense through action or inaction."
"Well, I'm glad you're sure," Amanda replied with an ironic little smile. "Ambassador, I would be honored to be your date tomorrow night," she said, and suddenly her day had turned from horrific to hopeful. She wasn't even sure why she'd said a word against the idea, now, because the truth was she was absolutely dying to go with him.
Ambassador Sarek looked over at her; the muscles in his face and hands seemed a little bit tense, almost as though he was nervous. "I will come to pick you up at six p.m. tomorrow evening so that we may partake of a meal together beforehand, if you are amenable to the idea." He swallowed. "At past such events, I have found that diplomatic functions do not always provide adequate sustenance to maintain interest and proper deportment."
Amanda's jaw nearly dropped. The Ambassador was babbling! Well, for a Vulcan. She bit her lip to keep in the laughter that wanted to spill out, because she knew, though she wasn't sure how she knew, that the Ambassador was nervous. "I'd love to have dinner with you before the symphony, Ambassador," she said instead, and, smiling, she reached out to touch his hand.
There was a pause, during which Amanda realized what she was doing – who she was touching. "Oh, I'm sor-"
He turned his hand in hers and gave her fingers a gentle squeeze before she could finish, then settled his hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. "You need not apologize for taking such a liberty, Miss Grayson," he said, a rough quality filtering into his voice.
She blushed and smiled shyly, cradling her hand in her lap. "Please call me Amanda," she said. "If that's acceptable."
"It is," Ambassador Sarek replied, smoothly parking the car in her private carport. He handed her the keys and Amanda got out of the car just as the Ambassador's driver pulled up to the sidewalk. The Ambassador came around the car and gestured toward the front door. "If you wish, you may address me as Sarek, Amanda," he murmured.
Amanda beamed up at him as they headed for the door. "Sarek, then… so you'll be here tomorrow night at six?" She waved her keypass across the sensor lock and the door popped open.
Sarek inclined his head. "At six, Amanda," he verified.
She grinned and took a deep breath, gathering her courage, and then stood on her toes to press a very quick kiss to his cheek.
Something hot had surged into his eyes when she pulled back, and Amanda blushed and ducked her head. "I'm sorry," she murmured.
Sarekmerely raised an eyebrow, and she remembered suddenly that he'd told her not to apologize for taking liberties. But all Sarek said was, "As a diplomat, it is only logical for me to cultivate cultural information in context. You have demonstrated a typical affectionate gesture common to humans. Please allow me to respond in kind." He looked around as though to make sure there were no witnesses, then held up his hand, the first two fingers extended. Amanda caught on at once, and mimicked him, extending her fingers. "Just so," the Ambassador murmured, and gently stroked her fingers with his in a gesture that felt very much like a kiss, then withdrew his hand. He nodded once more, but the heat in his eyes seemed to increase. "I look forward to attending the concert with you, Amanda," he said. "I wish you a pleasant evening."
"And you," Amanda replied. She remained standing in the doorway as Sarek turned and walked with those same sure steps to his waiting vehicle, and waved at him as the car pulled away, then headed into her house, feeling far too carefree considering what had happened at her job not half an hour ago. She headed to her bathroom and started the water running in the tub.
The exchange between herself and Sarek had been utterly – at least in human terms – chaste, and an outside observer might even have thought they were arranging an evening between friends, but the entire encounter had been fraught with what Amanda could only describe as sexual tension. She felt almost as though she'd been making out with the man – and perhaps she had been, in Vulcan terms. The thought made her blush quite deeply and she let out a giddy little laugh, and then dug in her cupboards for the bottle of raspberry-scented bubble bath she only used on special occasions.