Amanda is humming a fragment of T’Vela’s Ki’Sarlah Nash-Veh as she works, haloed by the rich summer sunlight that tumbles like thick cream through the window. Outside, bleached by the contrast of the room’s cool shadows, the garden stretches and waves in a light breeze, the earthy scent of warm grass and early roses drifting through the open glass in a collision of sensory input that is almost soporific in its tranquil assault. Spock stands in the kitchen doorway and watches the methodical, rapid-fire movement of his mother’s hands as she works the knife with practiced ease, peeling, and slicing in time with the complex polymetric farr-dath of the central aria. Contentment washes over him like a gentle caress. In this quiet moment, with no-one to see but Amanda, he makes no effort to suppress it.
“You move like a cat, Spock,” says his mother without looking around. “Come and help me here a moment, will you?”
He crosses silently to where she stands in front of a heavy wooden butcher’s table, surrounded by the raw materials of today’s project. Pickling jars glimmer lazily in the sunlight, stacked two deep on the work surface. Arranged into careful piles in front of them are bundles of spices from her garden: long, curling chili peppers, gnarled ginger roots, bulbous garlic, pale horseradish. On the central island, suspended in brackish fluid, several flasks of skinned and glistening shallots testify to the morning’s efforts, and a pot bubbles sharp-smelling liquid on the stove.
She nods to a glass bowl sitting out of the sunlight a little way further down the worktop. “Bring that over here and hold it for me, please,” she says. The Ambassador’s residence comes with a modest compliment of staff, of course, but both Spock and his father have long since ceded this ground to Amanda. The garden is hers, she says, and she will manage its produce herself. It gives her pleasure, she says, and if her husband has reconciled himself to perpetual confusion in the face of his wife’s illogical proclivities, her son might secretly believe that he understands, at least a little.
He holds the bowl as she’s asked and she scoops the thin, translucent slices into her hand and carefully decants them inside. A cloud of pungent ginger-fumes explodes into the air between them as the oils are disturbed, and it cascades out of the canister, coloring the streaming sunlight and twisting against the sensitive olfactory receptors in his nose. She inhales deeply and pleasure lights her eyes, drawing them closed for a moment of unreserved satisfaction. Spock watches her agile face and its patina of emotion, carelessly broadcast for anyone to read. She is as changeable as the clouds that sweep the lazy azure sky beyond the window, a daughter of this planet of abundance where nothing is fixed.
Amanda breathes deeply and sets the jar to one side. “Are you busy, Spock?” she asks.
“I am currently occupied in...”
“Aside from helping me put chopped ginger into a bowl,” she adds with equanimity borne of long association with Vulcans.
“Negative. I have completed my studies for today.”
She sets a wide-bladed knife on a chopping board beside her, where red and green chili peppers lie, warmed by their hours in front of the window. “Then let’s keep you out of trouble,” she says.
He sets to the task without comment. Human idiom is like a second language to him - his mind switches effortlessly between Vulcan and Terran Standard, but the patterns of his mother’s speech occasionally require a little thought. As he carefully splits the waxy skin and pulls apart the damp, piquant flesh it conceals, the thought comes to him that her words and their unlikely implication may be her way of acknowledging that she understands him well enough to know that there is nowhere else he would rather be right now than slicing peppers by her side.
The morning sun is warm on his robes, settling into the fabric like tepid water and heating them to a narcotic whisper against his skin. Relaxed, the parental bond thrums peaceably between them, the way it always does when Amanda forgets to concentrate on it, and it’s like a lullaby in the centre of his brain. His hands work without conscious instruction, slicing and mincing Terran delicacies that, despite his mother’s patient exertions, refuse to thrive on his homeworld, and he feels himself settle into the first level of a meditative trance. Perhaps this is why, when she sucks in a tiny gasp and clutches her sleeve to her face, he moves without thinking.
“Oh!” she cries, digging the ball of her wrist against her eye socket. “Something’s in my eye...”
Thoughtlessly, carelessly, his hand reaches towards her face the way hers reaches instinctively for him, closing around her wrist. “Allow me to help, Mother,” he begins, but her free hand slaps his away.
“Spock - no!” she hisses, and turns her shoulder towards him, blocking him with her body.
He stiffens, realizing what he’s done, and shame floods his belly like ice water. “Forgive me, Mother,” he says quickly. “I have committed an unpardonable breach of decorum...”
“Spock!” she says, and he can hear the smile in her voice even though his gaze is fixed on the wall behind her head and her face is obscured by the wrist pressed into her aggrieved eye socket. “Spock, my sweet, beautiful boy. It’s not that, it’s only... Soak a corner of that tea cloth and pass it to me - soak it well, please. That’s it.” She takes the dripping cloth from his hand and swipes it over the crease where her eyelid flutters against her cheek. “You’ve been slicing peppers, Spock. The oils are on your hands, and they are very irritating to sensitive Human skin. They burn mercilessly.” She touches her hand to his face. “Don’t look so stricken, dear. You weren’t to know. These are things you must learn. In some ways, you’re my son. In other ways, you are Sarek’s. And I’m thankful for both halves.”
Spock is nine Terran years old. In less than a month, his father’s household will return to Vulcan, where Spock will be an oddity and an outcast, sectioned by the subtle, fundamental differences that his pale complexion and pointed ears camouflage on Earth. He belongs nowhere, but least of all where he ought to fit in and doesn’t. He touches a steady, perfumed finger to his eyeball and feels nothing but the press of skin on skin, nothing but the token protest of the sensitive mucus membrane at an unwarranted invasion. Amanda smiles, but another piece of him calcifies. Not Vulcan, and now a little bit less Human too.