Read an Excerpt
The Smell of Dead Roses
by Gerri Leen
Perrin huddled on the balcony, trying to will herself into invisibility as the fight between her parents raged on. She stared out at the other building, hating that the people across from her might be staring back, might be feeling pity.
"Perrin?" Her sister snuck out through the open door and crawled into her lap.
"It'll be all right."
Nanda was too little to understand what had happened. She'd been bouncing around Perrin all day. Excited to eat Perrin's birthday cake -- cake that was now all over the floor.
It had made a strange sound as it hit, knocked off the table by her father. Not a crash -- it was too soft for that. But not a gentle sound, either. There had been a sucking noise, as frosting met wood, as cake smashed down, causing the frosting to spread out even more. Nine candles had hit first. Nine candles that were broken now and would never be lit.
"Why do they yell at each other?" Nanda asked, scrunching her eyes closed as if that could make the voices stop.
"Because they can."
"But it's your birthday."
Perrin looked back at what had been her pretty cake. It had come out of the replicator already decorated with roses in pink and yellow, just the way she'd wanted it. There'd been little forget-me-nots in light blue, and a long, trailing vine of dark green ivy rambling over the whole cake.
It had been the most beautiful cake Perrin had ever seen. She'd just known it would taste better than any of her other birthday cakes.
"Is it because I cheated?" Nanda whispered. "What?"
"When you weren't looking, I took some frosting. From the back, where you wouldn't see. Is that why they're mad?"
Perrin hugged her close. "No, that's not why."
But Nanda was sniffling in the way that meant she might break into tears at any minute.
"What color was the frosting you tasted?"
The border had been yellow, all scrolled and thick. "Was it good?"
Nanda nodded. She seemed to relax, crying jag averted.
"I thought it would be." Perrin sighed, and went back to studying the other apartments as the yelling inside her family's went on.
The park smelled like summer, even though it was barely spring. London had warmed early, but the bright sun did nothing to warm Perrin as she walked slowly with her mother. She willed her fourteen-year-old heart to slow down -- or just to stop.
How could anything hurt this bad?
Her mother touched her arm. "Say something."
"Such as?" Perrin knew her mother hated her taking that tone. She'd slapped her for it at other times, had told her to stop pretending she was something other than what she was. To stop acting as if she was better than the rest of them.
Perrin thought she was better than the rest of them, if only because she didn't scream first and ask questions later.
"Don't you care that I'm leaving?" her mother asked, her voice edging toward the dramatic end of the scale. Before too long, she'd be crying.
Perrin hated tears almost as much as shouting -- both were weapons. "Would caring stop you from doing it?"
Her mother swallowed hard.
"You're leaving me with him."
"Things will be better if I'm not there. He won't have anyone to fight with."
She stroked Perrin's hair, and it felt comforting, until Perrin thought about how she wouldn't feel it anymore after today. "You're so calm, Perrin. You never get mad. You soothe him, the way we don't."
We: her mother and Nanda. Nanda wasn't calm. Nanda was quick to anger, quick to yell, quick to rile their father up. It was why Nanda was going away with their mother. She'd earned herself a ticket out of Hell by being a spoiled brat.
Perrin wished she could yell and scream, but it wasn't her way. She was the good girl. The one who stayed calm.
"I love you, Perrin."
Her mother started to cry, and that was the last straw. Perrin ran from those tears, ran hard and fast, knowing her mother would never be able to keep up. She pelted down the path, heading for the rose garden.
It was already in bloom, and there was a large cluster of people to her right, seemingly on a tour of some kind. Perrin turned the other way to avoid them and ran hard into a robed figure. Stepping back, he caught himself, but she fell to the ground and stayed there, more in defeat than actual pain.
"Are you hurt?" His voice was the calmest thing Perrin had ever heard.
She looked up at him, realized he was Vulcan. "I'm sorry," she said, barely able to get the words out.
"You should be more careful." Those words coming from her father would have been followed by a hard slap. Her mother would have turned them into a wounded monologue, the precursor to more accusing words and finally tears. This man just said them. They were just words.
She took a deep breath. "I didn't mean to."
"I hope not."
She realized there was some warmth in his eyes, and a soothing humor that hurt no one as it lay cradled in his air of dignity.
"Sarek, what have you got there?" The voice was melodious, full of good will. A human woman -- petite and smiling -- stepped around the Vulcan. She pulled Perrin to her feet, checking her knees and elbows. "Nothing damaged."
"I ran into him, ma'am." Perrin tried to sound older than she was, wanting this woman to think well of her.
"I didn't mean to, though."
"I'm sure you didn't, dear." The woman studied her. "What's your name?"
"Well, Perrin Landover, you just ran into Ambassador Sarek from Vulcan. I'm afraid this may have the making of a diplomatic incident."
Panic rose inside Perrin. To her surprise, the man put his hand on her shoulder -- the briefest of touches.
"I believe I will recover, my wife. I feel only minimal damage from the collision."
It took Perrin a moment to realize they were teasing her and each other.
The woman laughed softly. "I'm Amanda, my dear. Why were you running so desperately?"
Perrin was about to tell her -- even though she never shared her troubles with anyone -- when she heard her mother calling her.
"Your mom?" Amanda asked with a knowing smile.
"She appears to be worried," Sarek said.
"Maybe for her pretty new future." Perrin mumbled it so they couldn't hear.
And Amanda didn't seem to, but Sarek cocked his head to one side, an eyebrow rising slowly as he studied her. Perrin suspected those pointy ears made him hear better.
"I think she is worried, dear," Amanda said, turning Perrin to face her mother. "I know that tone. Now, go on."
Perrin's mother came into sight, waving furiously at the sight of her.
"Go," Sarek said. He and Amanda moved off, and for Perrin, the moment was frozen in a sense of calm and the smell of just-opened roses.
"Wait." She did not know why she called out, and when Sarek and Amanda turned to look at her, she wasn't sure what it was she wanted to say.
"Goodbye, my dear." Amanda smiled at her gently.
They walked away.
"Goodbye," Perrin said, trying to hold onto the serenity she felt from them, but failing as her mother came up, her voice harsh and accusing.
Perrin imagined herself as Sarek, tried wrapping herself in dignity the way he did. She looked up at her mother, letting one eyebrow rise the way his had.
Her mother stopped talking, her angry lecture finding no purchase in a face of stone.
The funeral was crowded, not just humans and Vulcans standing around the gravesite, but beings from all sorts of species. Perrin stood off, near a large mausoleum, and watched the service -- and Sarek. She'd followed his career, and sometimes, once she'd come to San Francisco for school, she'd even followed him and Amanda around town. She'd noticed over the years, since she'd first run into them at the park, that Amanda had seemed to be getting weaker. And one day, Perrin had only seen Sarek walking, his face unreadable, but sorrow evident in the way he took his steps, in the set of his shoulders. Amanda had never come out with him again.
A few days ago, the newsvids had announced that Amanda had died. That kind, gentle woman was gone, and Perrin felt more grief than she had when her own father died, beaten to death in a barroom brawl on the darker side of London's East End.
Perrin's mother had been wrong. Perrin's ability to soothe her father had been short lived -- or perhaps he'd just lost the urge to even try to be decent about things. He'd yelled and slammed things around. And once or twice, in a fit of drunken rage, he'd hit her.
Each time he'd done that, she'd run to the park, trying to call up the calm she'd felt that day with these two strangers. Each time, it had almost worked.
Now Amanda was gone, and it was easy to see that Sarek was in pain, even if he hid it. Grief didn't spill out of him the way her mother's had been wept out at her father's funeral. And for no reason other than her mother's love of drama.
Sarek stood straight, his son on one side, a woman that had to be Saavik on his other, as his wife was laid to rest. Perrin slid farther back behind the building, leaning against marble kept cool by the temperate San Francisco weather. Since she'd met Amanda and Sarek, Perrin had made it her business to discover as much as she could about them. And Spock was famous. She'd known about him earlier, of course, but had never connected him to the man she'd nearly mown down in the park.
People started to wander off in groups of two or three, and Perrin realized the funeral must be over. She clutched the rose she'd brought with her, a rose she'd grown on her little balcony. She'd learned to find solace in flowers long ago, when her mother and sister had left her to face her father's anger alone.
Her mother was remarried -- another stormy relationship. She'd come to San Francisco a few weeks ago, looking for a place to stay for a while.
Perrin hadn't handed her the keys to the kingdom.
"You're hard. And unforgiving." Her mother had cried, of course. She always managed to cry without smearing her makeup. It was an art.
"You made me hard when you left me with him."
"I couldn't take you both, Perrin. And you were always his favorite. I thought he'd be kind to you."
"No. You thought he'd be less cruel. And there's a difference."
She'd shut the door in her mother's face, had ignored the knocking that eventually stopped.
But she'd watched her mother through the upstairs window, hating that she'd cared as the woman had walked out of her life again.
Perrin closed her eyes, unwilling to relive those memories. Opening them again slowly, she realized there was no one by the grave. She scanned the area; Sarek, Saavik, and Spock were walking slowly up the path. She waited until they rounded a corner and disappeared, then hurried down to Amanda's grave and knelt by it. The grass was cool and still slightly damp, the turned earth smelling rich but final.
"You were kind to me," she whispered as she set the rose down. "You saved me. You may not know that, but you did." Letting her hand rest on the lovely, rose-streaked marble headstone, she said, "Whenever things got too bad, I'd think of you. And Sarek."
She imagined Amanda smiling at that.
"I wish -- "
"Who are you and what do you think you are doing?" Sarek's voice no longer had the perfect calm Perrin remembered.
She pushed herself to her feet, shaking as she did so. "I'm sorry. I meant no harm." Her English accent, which she'd worked hard to erase so she'd stand out less here, came back with a vengeance under his glare.
He studied her, his eyebrow going up. "Do I know you?"
"I nearly ran you down in Regent's Park. Eight years ago."
He seemed to be thinking back. "The young girl -- Perrin."
"Yes." She felt a flush of pleasure that he remembered her.
"I'm so very sorry about your wife. She was kind to me. You both were."
"We did very little."
She could tell he did not remember the day as something special.
"No, you did a lot. You taught me there's such a thing as control. Even the air around you was serene."
"And that is important to you?"
She laughed, the barest puff of air, to show brittle, angry humor. "My life has not always been that way."
"I see." He looked at the rose. "Is that from you?"
"It's one I grew."
"My wife loved roses."
"I know." It was a terrible admission. He'd understand that she'd been too interested in them.
His eyes grew colder. "Did you come to San Francisco just for this -- to be... close to us?" There was a note of concern in his voice.
"No, I live here now. I go to Berkeley." A liberal place, full of people determined to make the universe better. "I'm in graduate school, studying xenodiplomacy." Her choice of disciplines was because of him.
He seemed to realize it.
"You influenced me greatly, sir."
"So, I see." He looked away.
"I don't mean to make you uncomfortable, and this all must sound quite mad. But you see, meeting you was a revelation. A way to act that did not involve yelling or crying or anything else overly emotional."
He stared at her, then nodded, his expression more wry than she expected. "It is fitting, I suppose. I could not influence my son, but I have this effect on someone else's daughter." She heard the unsaid: someone else's human daughter.
"My life has been much more peaceful since I took an interest in Vulcan." She was attending a meditation class at Berkeley, taught by a visiting Vulcan scholar.
"I speak at your school occasionally. Have you attended my lectures?"
"Oh, only all of them."
"I see." This time the concern seemed less, but it was still there.
"I can explain this better than I have."
"I am sure you can." Suddenly, he looked very tired. "I do not, however, think today is the day, Perrin."
"No. You're right. Of course, it's not." She looked down, feeling guilty that she'd intruded on his private time with his wife.
He did not seem to hear her, did not acknowledge the hand she lifted in goodbye before hurrying away.
She had a sick feeling -- how badly had she just embarrassed herself with this man?
"These internships are hard to come by," Perrin's friend Monroe said, as he turned to her while they waited in line. "Five openings and all of us." He gestured ahead and behind them, where students stood patiently, waiting to go in for their fifteen minutes of opportunity. Only a quarter of an hour to sell herself. Perrin wasn't sure she could do it.
"Make that six," the student ahead of them whispered. "I heard that Ambassador Sarek has agreed to take an intern. Can you imagine learning from him?"
"Can you imagine interviewing with him?" Monroe asked with a laugh. "The man's a legend. And he has no sense of humor."
"He doesn't need one," Perrin said, feeling her cheeks color as both men looked at her. "I mean, he's Vulcan. They never have one."
"Well, rumor is he's not interviewing today, anyway," the other man said. "He's just going to pick someone. He can do whatever he wants, I guess."
"Perrin Landover," she suddenly heard the loudspeaker announce. "Please report to registration."
"Oh, you're in for it now. What'd you do?"
"Nothing." Perrin glanced at the line. They were almost to the front, and she didn't relish losing her place.
The page repeated, her name seeming to fill the crowded hallway.
"Break a leg," she whispered to Monroe as she walked to registration, passing students who would no doubt clinch the slots before she even had a chance to compete.
The woman manning the desk at registration looked up at her. "Oh, Perrin. This was left for you." She handed Perrin a padd.
The message said only, "Thirteen hundred. The Chalice. I have heard you are looking for an internship. -- Sarek."
She handed the padd back to the woman and checked the time. She had thirty minutes to either get back in line and secure her future the normal way, or to hurry across town to the best Vulcan restaurant in the city and see if the man she idolized was serious.
She made it to the Chalice ten minutes early. Sarek still beat her. He seemed to be studying her as the maitre'd led them to a table.
She could feel herself blushing under his appraisal -- she thought he could see right through her, could determine what kind of person she was just at a glance.
"I have examined your transcripts. They are most impressive. And your professors speak highly of you."
It was odd to think he was now studying up on her.
"I am a demanding master," he said.
"That's fine. I perform well under pressure. Just ask Professor Kincaide. I was his assistant." The man gave new meaning to the word "demanding."
"I spoke with him. He had nothing but positive things to say about you."
"Indeed." She was not sure where this confidence was coming from, but it felt good.
"He did, however, say your life appeared to center around your studies -- to the exclusion of all else."
She could feel her face fall. Kincaide had said that? The man who spent every night and weekend at the University? "Coming from him, sir, that might have been high praise."
Sarek seemed to be amused, even though his eyes barely lightened and his lips did not curl up. He seemed to find some humor in her statement. Or possibly just in her. Was it a good thing if a Vulcan laughed at you?
"Give me a reason to offer you this internship, Miss Landover. There are many students who have already petitioned for the honor."
She met his eyes, did not flinch from them. "I want it more than those others do."
"Because I can learn from you. Not just diplomacy, although I doubt there could be a better teacher. But I would like to learn more about the serenity I sense in you. The control."
"You seem very controlled for a human."
"For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." At his look, she smiled tightly. "My parents taught me how not to behave."
"Ah. What you were saying in the cemetery."
She was surprised he remembered; that conversation had been nearly a year ago. "Yes. Exactly."
"It will not be an easy assignment."
"Then I am the perfect candidate. I am unused to ease." She met his eyes, keeping her own calm and assured. But her heart was pounding, and she could feel her palms sweating.
"Very well. You will start tomorrow at the Embassy."
"Thank you, sir." She started to get up.
"I did not invite you to this restaurant to leave before eating."
"Oh." She saw the waiter coming, the plate loaded with traditional Vulcan foods, most of which, she knew from her studies of Sarek and things Vulcan, would be exceedingly hot. "A test?"
"Do you think I would do that?"
"Then, yes. It is a test. Let us see how you fare."
She was sweating and her nose was running a bit when she finished. But she didn't choke or sputter.
"It is possible you will work out."
"Eating is important?"
"In your capacity on my staff, you will attend many functions. Being able to enjoy -- or at least tolerate -- the local cuisine is a key aspect of the job."
"You're a vegetarian. How do you manage?"
"I did not say I had to do it." There was definitely some humor in his voice. "Although if it is not the flesh of an animal, I will find a way to 'choke it down,' as my wife used to say."
"You must miss her." She thought for a moment it was the wrong thing to say, because he became very still and did not answer. "I'm sorry, it's none of my b -- "
She feared she might say something gushy and human, but the waiter saved her, bringing the bill, which Sarek paid, then leaving them alone again.
Sarek rose gracefully from his chair. "I will see you at oh-six hundred at the Embassy tomorrow."
She got up, probably with much less grace, but she was too excited to worry about it. "Thank you, sir. You won't regret it."
He did not answer, just left her with a quick nod of his head.
She nearly floated home. Her apartment seemed too confining, so she went out to the balcony, busying herself with her roses as she tried to relax. The bush that she'd cut Amanda's rose from last year seemed to have come alive, the blossoms open and perfect, their aroma beautiful in the still air.
She knew she'd remember this day forever.
Perrin felt a surge of happiness, bit it back so that it would not find a way to her face. Spock would not approve of her if she was overly emotional. He'd barely tolerated her as it was as his father's intern, then as Sarek's assistant. Now -- what would he think of her becoming his father's wife?
She could feel her legs shaking and decided to walk, roaming the halls of Sarek's house. This lovely place she'd worked in until all hours of the morning, helping Sarek prepare for a mission, would be her house soon. She'd surrender the comfortable suite of rooms he'd given her and move into his -- into theirs.
She walked out to the rose garden Amanda had started. The garden Perrin had found dying when she'd first visited the house some years after she'd started working for Sarek as an intern.
He'd looked at the garden, then had turned away as if in pain.
She'd wandered around the plants, checking them. Someone had watered them, but not enough. And they needed pruning.
"Those were Amanda's," he said softly.
"I can save them. Make them thrive again."
It had been a big claim. They'd been very nearly dead -- and in this Vulcan heat, she'd be hard pressed to bring them back. But she'd wanted to do it. For this man she'd come to respect and enjoy so much. For the woman who had been so kind to her on the day she needed it most. And maybe for the son she'd only met a few times. The son who'd stared at her with such disdain, as if he thought she was trouble.
She realized now that Spock had understood how she felt about Sarek long before she had.
She'd gone to work on the garden the next day, when she'd been between duties for Sarek. It had taken a long time to make the roses beautiful again. A great deal of coaxing and tending and fertilizing. And of course, water. A commodity so dear on Vulcan it was almost a crime to waste it on flowers. Except that it would make Sarek happy, and she'd wanted that more than anything else.
"Perrin?" Sarek was coming down the hall. He, too, looked nervous. Was the idea of telling Spock so terrifying? Did he think Spock would disapprove?
She thought so but hoped that her fear was just a case of human nerves. "Sarek, all is ready." Her voice was more resonant since she'd been with him; she thought it was from the breath control she'd learned in her twice-weekly meditation classes. She'd progressed much more rapidly here, where she was surrounded by all things Vulcan.
He looked at the garden. "When you asked me if you could restore it, I did not think it was possible."
"Then why did you let me try?"
His expression lightened, and there was something -- something that felt like love -- in his eyes. "Because you wanted to."
She smiled. The restrained smile he liked best. She'd learned to do that, to scale back her emotions. It felt good. It felt right. It felt light-years away from what she'd grown up with.
"Saavik is coming today, too."
Perrin worried that she didn't have enough food. But Spock never ate much when he came over. It was as if he lost his appetite the minute he crossed Sarek's threshold.
"Saavik was most pleased to accept," Sarek said.
Perrin read the contrast in Sarek's words: Saavik's reply had been gracious; Spock's must not have been.
"It is not you, my dear." Sarek actually sighed. "You must not think this is about you. Or about his mother. Spock's issues have always been with me."
"What issues could he have with you? You are such a good man."
"Such blind loyalty." Sarek touched her cheek gently. "You love with such ferocity, Perrin."
It always startled her when Sarek spoke of love. But he did, and often. He understood it. He embraced it. Perrin suspected it was why Amanda had seemed so filled with joy -- to be loved by a man like this was extraordinary.
The chime rang.
Sarek sighed. Spock could have just come in -- to ring the chime established a distance, a sense that this was not his house. Saavik would have just come in, calling out to them in her brusque way that somehow combined Vulcan dignity with warmth and humor.
Perrin hurried to the door, unwilling to let the dark feelings get worse, and o pened it, to find Spock standing with his hands behind his back, his face stoic in the extreme.
She stood aside. "Please, enter."
It was not the ritual greeting. One did not use the ritual greeting with family. And to take advantage of that was a moment of rebellion she had not intended to indulge in.
Spock looked at her in surprise, then his face tightened even more. He turned to Sarek. "You have news, I take it?"
"Perrin and I have decided to wed."
Of all the ways he could have put it, that was the most neutral. But it included her in the decision, made her part of the choosing, not just the prospective bride who'd waited to be chosen.
"My congratulations," Spock said, every note perfect. But the temperature in the house seemed to go down several degrees.
"What are we congratulating them for?" Saavik asked, coming up behind him, her expression easy.
"Perrin and my father are to be married."
"That is very good news." She sounded like she meant it. She pushed past Spock, touched Perrin's arm gently. "It is a pleasure to welcome you to the family."
Spock did not look like he shared the sentiment. But he was part of the family by birth. Saavik, like Perrin, had been taken in. She was a member by chance, a member by the desire of those within. In Saavik's case, all of those within. Perrin could see she'd have to settle for two out of three.
"You should see the rose garden, my son." Sarek sounded as if any diversion at this moment would be a good one.
Perrin led them down to it. Spock wandered it in silence, while the other three looked on from the doorway.
"It looks healthier each time I see it," Saavik said. She'd had a hand in the restoration, too. She'd often helped water the plants.
"I am very pleased with it," Sarek said, his gaze warm as he looked at Perrin.
She smiled back at him. "My mother would be pleased," Spock said, and his tone was more open.
"I hope so." Perrin sensed Sarek drawing Saavik back into the house. "I restored her roses, Spock. I didn't plant new ones. I'm not trying to erase her."
"Yet, you take her place." He stood staring at the ground for a long moment, then looked over at her. "Forgive me. My words were not kind. I do not bear you any ill will."
"It is not your fault this happened."
"Fault? Your father is happy. He's been alone for some time. Is it so bad that he has found someone he wants to share his life with?"
Spock started to say something then bit it off, turning away to stare at the sky. He always seemed so alone. Saavik had told Perrin that the death of James Kirk had changed Spock, robbing them of a man who'd understood his human side -- who'd made peace with it and embraced his own form of warmth and good humor.
She wished she'd met that Spock.
"Come," she said, "dinner is nearly ready."
He seemed almost to attempt to make small talk as they enjoyed the meal. Saavik worked extra hard to draw him out, glancing over at Perrin as she did so. Sarek seemed pleased at how hard Spock appeared to be trying.
Perrin forced herself to relax. Maybe this would all work out?
Cardassian roses bloomed along the path of the government center, filling the air with a meaty sweetness that Perrin found offensive as she hurried after Sarek. He was angry. Visibly angry.
"How dare he disagree with me in public?"
She was angry, too. Angry at Spock, yes -- he could have found a way to do what he had to do in a less public way.
But she was angry at herself, as well, for not seeing what had been right in front of her.
Sarek had been getting more emotional. He'd been having short memory lapses. Had seemed to reminisce more, to express frustration more. And now this: anger. True, raw anger.
She'd known the danger of Bendii's Syndrome. The doctors at the Institute had told her what to watch for, but she'd only listened with half an ear. Sarek was her touchstone when it came to control. He'd never give in to something like Bendii's. The disease would find him too great an opponent to bother with.
She'd been a fool to think that.
"I will make a statement," Sarek said. "And then I will disown him."
She touched Sarek's hand, trying to calm him, but he whirled on her, slapping her hand off his, his face reminding her of her father's. She shrank back.
And he seemed to understand immediately what he had done, and where she had gone for that moment. "My wife, I beg...I beg forgiveness."
He stood, staring down at his hand as if it had betrayed him. "I have never struck you."
"You did not mean to this time."
"I did." There was confusion in his eyes, pain in his voice.
"No, Sarek, you didn't. I just surprised you. You were startled and reacted by instinct." She touched his hand again, and this time he did not flinch, instead put his other hand over hers.
"I would never hurt you, Perrin."
"I know." But she felt suddenly trapped by his hand.
He let go of her, and she knew by his face that she had been transmitting what she felt.
"Sarek, it is forgotten. We must plan how you will counter Spock's argument. I know you did not expect him to oppose you, but he has. And now we must find a way for you to win."
His look was very bitter. "I never win when it comes to him."
"Then forget it is Spock. Think of it only as a puzzle you must solve. I have faith in you, my dearest." She took his arm, urged him to walk more down the path.
He did as she wanted, drawing her with him, his hand coming over hers again, but not trapping. It showed how much he needed her that he would touch her this way in public. She had somehow become his touchstone, too.
She pulled every bit of control she had around her and made him talk, plan, strategize. He would win this one, or if he could not win, he would fight it in the way only Sarek of Vulcan could, with overwhelming logic. With the natural timing of a master swordsman. With the pure power of centuries of Vulcans behind him.
And she -- one small, human woman -- would help him. Even if she did not feel up to the task. Even if she was nothing compared to him. She would help him.
They walked, and he spoke while she listened and offered a suggestion here, a correction there. All done evenly, calmly. All done to hide the fact that this man she loved so dearly was beginning to lose his mind.
He must never, ever know. Not until it was so bad that she couldn't hide it from him anymore. She began to assess who in their household she could trust, which of her family, how many of Sarek's staff. The number was overwhelmingly small.
Saavik. Saavik could be trusted. And Sakkath.
She would have two allies in this. That was all.
"My wife? Are you listening? Is this not a fitting argument?"
"Very fitting, my love." She patted his arm, realized she'd done it as if he were a child -- or an addled old man.
He was neither. He was Sarek of Vulcan. He was the greatest man his planet had ever produced. And she would protect him if it killed her.
They walked on, the overpowering smell of Cardassian roses only adding to her muted despair.
Perrin walked through Amanda's rose garden, trying not to step on the trampled flowers that just that morning had been afire with blossoms. Blood-red blosoms -- the color of the blood in her veins, not in Sarek's. Although there were drying green stains on the door from where Sarek had rested his thorn-sliced hands before pulling the door open savagely and striding inside and back to his study. He'd paced for hours.
He hadn't yelled as he'd caused this destruction. He hadn't shouted or hit her. And she hadn't cried. But, during the time it had taken him to destroy the garden she'd been back in London. A frightened child trying to not attract the attention of a raging adult.
Perrin heard the door open again and braced herself in case it was Sarek.
"It is only I," Saavik said, walking gently as if she could do the roses any more damage than Sarek already had. "Oh," she said, taking in the amount of the damage.
"It is the disease." That was Perrin's answer for everything. Sarek laughing uproariously at a joke only he understood: the disease. Sarek calling her by Amanda's name and saying things she knew had nothing to do with her: the disease. Sarek huddling in the corner of their bedroom crying for his sons: the disease. This damned disease that was making Sarek act...human.
Saavik walked over to one of the bushes near the back. Sarek had missed it, or perhaps some part of him had overruled the wild man and made him leave something standing.
"These were her roses," Perrin said.
"They're yours, too."
"So I shouldn't assume he's just striking out at her?"
Saavik shot her a look full of compassion. "Yes, that is what I mean."
"I used to come out here when I wanted to feel Amanda's presence. I know he did, too." Perrin sank down in the middle of the garden. The scent of crushed flowers rose around her, and thorns poked into her skin. "Why would he destroy this?"
Saavik sat next to her, her face giving no evidence that she, too, probably had thorns ripping into her flesh. She took Perrin's hand, letting it sit between hers, and said gently, "It is as you said. It is the disease. None of this is Sarek's fault."
Perrin nodded and started to get up, but Saavik didn't let go.
"I'll make tea, Saavik." Tea. The answer to an Englishwoman's woes. Bread refusing to rise? Drink tea. Aphids eating the roses? Drink tea. Living with a man three times your strength, who was more than a little crazy? Drink lots of tea. It had been Perrin's way of coping with her father -- would it now be her way of coping with her husband?
"Tea can wait." Saavik pulled Perrin back down, back to the piercing thorns and the sickly smell of bruised roses. "Has he done this kind of thing before?"
Perrin recognized the tone, the careful wording of the question. It was the way those who came from the Institute to check on Sarek would have asked -- with ever so much politeness -- if she was all right. Many times, they had offered her the out of this being too much for her. But she'd never taken it.
She loved her husband. And, in his way, he loved her, too.
Even if he never called out her name, anymore. He seemed locked in the past. Stuck with his lost sons and his dead wife.
"You need help here," Saavik finally said.
"We'll be fine."
"I don't want to leave you alone with him."
Perrin laughed, imagining what her life would have been like if her mother had only said that and taken her with her.
"If my husband has hurt me, I've learned there's very little left of the Sarek we knew to blame."
Saavik's face was full of unending compassion. "This disease rips away everything that matters."
Alcohol had been like that, too. What kind of man would her father have been if he'd never been infected with his taste for drink?
"Do you think Spock will come home?" Perrin asked, knowing Picard would find him. Picard found everything he sought. He'd found out about Sarek when Perrin had tried so hard to protect him and his reputation.
Saavik shook her head, deep sorrow in her expression. "No. Spock has chosen his cause. And we are not it."
We. His family. Saavik had never not included Perrin in that. It was why Perrin loved her so.
She felt tears sting her eyes and tried to blink them back.
"Don't." Saavik's voice was gentle, calling up Amanda's, making Perrin feel like she was fourteen again and back in that rose garden in that suddenly beautiful park. "Let go, Perrin. I won't tell."
"Let go," she thought she heard a ghostly whisper say in Amanda's voice.
She let go, but only so much. She allowed the tears to fall, but refused to give in to the sobs and tangled breaths her mother would have called up. She cried silently, her throat getting tighter and tighter, her vision blurring.
Saavik's hand settled on her shoulder, an easy grip, meant to comfort, not contain.
"He's going to die," Perrin managed to get out with a mouth nearly frozen in pain.
"Soon. It will be soon." Perrin tried to stop the tears, but they weren't ready to cease falling. So she stared up at the sky, and squeezed blooms as her fingers found them, causing the scent of roses to grow.
She thought she would probably never want to smell roses again once this was finished.
But what would she have left once this was finished?
She was not Vulcan. She was not anything except Sarek's wife.
"Where will I go?" she said, realizing too late that she'd given voice to the thought.
Saavik looked at her in surprise. "Go? Why would you go anywhere? This is your home."
"This will be Spock's home, soon."
"Spock has no home. Or if he does, it's not here. It's never been here, Perrin." Saavik stood up, holding her hand out to pull Perrin up. "I plan to stay on Vulcan. You should, too. This house is big enough for both of us." She sighed and closed her eyes. "When the time comes."
Perrin let her pull her up. She kicked at the roses. "What should we do with these? I'd like to tear them up. Jasmine would be nice here. Wouldn't jasmine be nice?"
"It would. But it would be wrong." Saavik smiled at her sadly. "Replant the roses, Perrin. They're as much yours as hers."
The door opened, and Perrin recognized the look on the servant's face.
"Call the priestesses," she said to him. The priestesses must come so they could find Sarek's katra somewhere in his muddled mind and set it free.
The servant nodded, shutting the door quickly.
"It is time," Perrin whispered.
She imagined her father at this moment, railing at the stars, his voice harsh and loud.
Her mother would have fallen in a lump on the roses, making much noise and fuss.
But Perrin -- Perrin would face this thing as she'd learned from Sarek. She'd face this with dignity, hiding the emotion. She wiped her face. There must be no trace of tears.
Then she followed Saavik in, walking slowly down the hall to her husband's rooms, knowing that no matter how many times she walked down this hall in the future, it would not be to a room that held her husband.
Saavik reached back, squeezing Perrin's hand when she grabbed hold. At first, Perrin thought Saavik had done it to comfort her. But as Saavik caught up to her, she could see by her expression that Saavik had been seeking comfort, not giving it.
"It'll be all right," Perrin said softly, and Saavik nodded.
It would be all right. Perrin just had to keep telling herself that. She would find her way -- on her own.
The door to Sarek's room stood open and she walked in, head held high, breath slow and easy despite the fear that washed over her. She walked in, ready to face her future -- a future without Sarek to guide her.
It would be all right. Copyright © 2007 by CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.