spock: break down these walls

Fic: Not Her Body, But Her Life (Spock/Uhura, Amanda)

Title: Not Her Body, But Her Life
Author: igrockspock
Characters/Pairings: Spock/Uhura, Amanda
Summary: They do not hold a human funeral for Amanda. Later, Spock will wonder if this was a mistake.
Rating: PG
Notes: Inspired by a quote from The Things They Carried - "and as a writer now, I want to save her. Not her body, but her life."



They do not hold a human funeral for Amanda. Later, Spock will wonder if this was a mistake. He can picture her now, standing before him: "you will always have a proud mother," and he knows that in death as in life, she will accept whatever tokens of love her husband and son are capable of giving. Still, his mother's human qualities were her greatest legacy; he questions whether the formal mourning rituals of Vulcan adequately acknowledged them. The Vulcan language has no words to say "she loved us." But he does not know how humans grieve.

***

Nyota surprises herself by not knowing what to say when Spock asks her how humans remember the dead.

"I've been to so many funerals since..." she starts and trails off. "It's different everywhere."

Spock looks up at her expectantly, and she steadies her voice as if she is giving an textbook summary of human funeral rituals rather than an account of how her friends have been mourned.

"Well, in American and European Earth cultures, funerals are usually held in places of worship. People wear black, and someone close to the deceased delivers a eulogy. At the graveside, they throw roses or handfuls of earth onto the coffin after it's lowered into the ground."

She stops. This isn't right. She doesn't know why he's asking these things, but her flat, academic summary cannot be what he needs, or what she needs either.

"They did some of that for my friend Christine," she says. "The church, and the eulogy. But there wasn't a body to bury." They had tried to play happy songs, but everyone had cried anyway. She had hated looking around at that sea of black, so different from the colorful funerals she had known at home. She doesn't voice those thoughts aloud though; Spock's not the only one who isn't used to sharing vulnerability.

"For Anh, you know, my friend from the chorale ensemble, they burned incense and money," she continues, suddenly overwhelmed with the need to share. His eyebrow quirks at the mention of paper money, and she answers the question before he voices it aloud. "It was fake money. Just to respect an old custom. And monks came to chant so her soul could find the afterlife peacefully. It was beautiful, actually."

Spock sits closer to her than he would anyone else, but they are not touching. Another day, she might have been able to pinpoint what precise shift in facial expression and body language creates the impression that he is listening to her with his entire being. Today, she's just grateful for the way his self-restrained intensity envelopes and comforts her far better than the endless hugs and condolences of the last two weeks.

"And what do you do in your homeland?" he asks. His voice is soft in the way it always is when he is trying to suppress emotion. He is searching for something, but she doesn't know what. Maybe he doesn't know either.

"At home, we have a party," she says.

"Forgive me, but this does not seem a logical response to grief. Though I do not know if logic is relevant in this case."

"In a way, it is logical." She feels more confident talking about her own people, her own culture. This way of expressing grief makes sense to her. "We can't stop death, or change it, so there's nothing to do but celebrate life. So we stay up all night and sing and dance and talk to the dead."

"You speak to the body of the deceased?" he asks, eyebrows raising, and she has to suppress a smile. She can actually feel him struggling not to tell her that talking to dead bodies is illogical.

"Yeah. To say good-bye, or that you'll miss them, or whatever else you didn't say when they were alive. So you don't have regrets."

"It is illogical to fail to communicate such important information to a living person." A pause. "But I confess that there is much I did not say to my mother before her death."

"Is that what this is about? Your mother?"

"I do not believe the Vulcan funeral rites adequately memorialized the human complexities of my mother's life. But as I lack experience in these matters, I do not know what else might be done for her. The very desire to do more is illogical; it will change nothing for her."

"Funerals are for the living as much as they are for the dead. That must be true even on Vulcan."

"You are largely correct. Even so, the human rituals you have described seem...ill-fitting."

Spock is right. She cannot picture him dancing, or hosting a party, or holding an imaginary conversation with...well, there was nothing left of his mother to speak with anyway.

"People tell stories," she says. It's the only constant in all the funerals she's attended in these last weeks, and the only thing that makes anyone feel even a little better. "Would you like to tell me a story about your mom?"

***


The request is unexpectedly challenging. Stories on Vulcan serve a didactic purpose; they are not told to satisfy emotional needs. Still, his mother had frequently related stories, both ancient human fairy tales and more modern legends of the early days of space exploration. Denying their impact on his life would be both dishonest and illogical, and he must conclude that this human custom of story telling is a fitting tribute. Still, he does not know how to begin; his mind is unaccustomed to organizing data in this way.

"I am uncertain how to proceed," he says truthfully, grateful for Nyota's guidance. She does not replace his mother, but the comfort he feels in her presence is similar.

"Is it okay if I ask you some questions about her?"

"Such guidance would be appreciated."

"What's your first memory of her?"

"When I was approximately one Terran year old, I walked toward her across the carpet of the living room. Her arms were open, and she appeared exceptionally joyful. From the praise she lavished on me afterward, I can deduce that these may have been my first unassisted steps."

"You can remember that far back?" she asks.

"Indeed. Such acuity of memory is not unusual in a Vulcan, though some doubted whether I would possess it."

This brings forth another memory of his mother, and he is able to share it without further prompting.

"Vulcan schooling commences at 18 months, but the head mistress of the local school visited my home personally to advise against this."

He remembers walking to the door at his mother's side, his view obscured by the flowing fabric of her robes. When she had opened the door, the sunlight had been blinding, and he had used its position to correctly ascertain the exact hour of the day. The head mistress, aged even for a Vulcan, had peered down at him with raised eyebrows and then turned to face his mother. "I would examine the child," she had stated in the language of a superior speaking to a subordinate, and he had felt his mother's body stiffen next to his.

"And then what happened?" Nyota asks next to him, and he realizes that he has been silent for some time.

"I apologize. I became distracted. When the head mistress requested to examine me, I stepped forward. I wished to prove myself, though I recognize now that my behavior was motivated by an emotional desire. However, my mother refused to allow it, stating that if other children were not examined, I ought not be. The language of her refusal was...less than diplomatic. It caused some conflict between my parents, though they endeavored to conceal that from me."

"Did that kind of thing happen often?" Nyota asks. Her eyebrows are furrowed as if she is angry or confused, and he admires that her voice had remained level in spite of the feelings the story had provoked.

"Indeed," he answers. "I accepted such occurrences as a matter of course and even came to view them as logical. The primary school which I was scheduled to attend also requested additional examinations. My mother's response was the same, but this time, I insisted that I complete them."

He had stood beside his mother in the administrative office, two fingers resting against hers, until she had stated her objection to the additional tests. Then he had stepped forward, dissociating himself from her. It had been the last time he had touched her in public.

"My mother's behavior is illogical," he had said. "I am different from the others, therefore it is logical that you should wish to test my mental acuity. I will complete whatever tasks you set before me."

"I was gratified to see the headmaster's approval, though I now recognize that an emotional reaction to the successful use of logic is inherently contradictory," he tells Nyota.

"How did your mother react?"

"I do not know. I proceeded to the examination room without looking at her. When I emerged, she did not congratulate me on my successful performance as was her habit. When we returned home, I requested that she immediately cease accompanying me to educational facilities or interviews."

He pauses for a moment; he has not related the story accurately. He had not, for example, requested that she refrain from accompanying him to such engagements.

"Your presence shames me before my elders," he had said. "I no longer require your attendance at school." He could see the sadness in her face, but it did not move him, and he was pleased. In fact, he had studied it to make certain that no such expression would ever appear on his face.

"I will comply with thy wishes," she had said in formal Vulcan, and he had turned to leave, but she had summoned him back as his father might have: "thou has not finished receiving my instruction."

When he had turned again to face her, she stood over him instead of kneeling to place her face level with his. He had felt a surge of fear then, though he was certain he had not displayed it on his face.

"I will comply with thy wishes," she had said again, "but I am disappointed. You pretend to serve logic when you merely seek acceptance. I thought you better than that."

Her stare was magnetic; he could not look away.

"Spock, you will never again accept prejudice as logical. I demand this."

He had disregarded her advice, of course, but only now does he recognize that he had buried the memory out of shame he felt that day -- shame that he had hurt the only person who loved him, and shame that his rejected, emotional human mother had understood logic better than he had. Rebellion and pride had only compounded his error; because he refused to acknowledge it, he had continued to tolerate others' prejudices against him and neglected to thank his mother for her valuable -- and much-needed -- instruction. The first error he had remedied many years ago; when he had declined his position at the Vulcan Science Academy, he heard his mother's words even as he looked at this father's face. The second error he can no longer correct, and he must settle for the approximation of confessing to Nyota. But he is weak; he desires Nyota's respect, and to reveal the full story would shame him. His confession is therefore inadequate, but he hopes that his mother, if any part of her remains in this universe, will understand.

"I must add an addendum to the previous story," he tells Nyota. "At the end of the day, my mother spoke to me in formal Vulcan and enjoined me not to accept prejudice as logical. I regret that I did not accept her advice until much later in my life."

Nyota lays two of her fingers over his own, perhaps sensing the depth of his shame over his past behavior. He had once distanced himself from her, fearing that her ability to perceive his unspoken emotions would weaken his grasp of logic. Now he recognizes her compassion as an asset and a necessity, as was his mother's.

"No one listens to their parents when they're young, Spock," she says. She smiles, perhaps remembering advice that she had once unwisely discarded. He wishes to ask her about it, but refrains; he is grateful that she had not questioned him further regarding the previous story, and he wishes to extend the same favor.

"It must have been hard to connect with your human heritage when you lived on Vulcan. Was there ever anything she could share with you?" she asks, clearly wishing to help him summon a more pleasant memory.

He pauses for a moment, recalling his mother illuminated by the light of the window in front of the stove. The kitchen had been the one place where his mother's and father's worlds seemed to meet harmoniously, and he had found refuge in the precise measurements, the carefully alphabetized spice rack, the bottles of oils and vinegars painstakingly classified according to their flavor and use. When he was young, he had even sometimes meditated by the deliberate, methodical pounding of her knife against the cutting board. He had given up the practice as childish when he reached adolescence but resumed it when he discovered that his father sometimes did the same.

His pause stretches from seconds into minutes. Such silence is illogical; the stated purpose of this activity is to share memories of his mother, and this one is a fitting tribute. Yet he cannot find the words, or he does not wish to speak them. He does not know himself well at this moment.

Nyota's two fingers brush against his for a moment, and then her hand closes around his in a human gesture of affection that he has come to appreciate in the past several weeks.

"It's okay if you want to be alone." She squeezes his hand to emphasize that her words are sincere, and he returns the pressure carefully, still afraid that he will hurt her with his superior strength.

"I would prefer that you stay."

The corners of her lips lift in a faint smile.

"Anything that you need."

They pass the rest of the evening in silence, and it is only many hours later that he is able to ascertain what troubles him. Like most Vulcans, he possesses a photographic memory. He can therefore summon an exact recollection of every moment he had spent with her and ever letter she had sent him. At one time, this led him to believe he had known her well. Yet, after her death, he received an astonishing number of transmissions from friends he had not even known she possessed. They identified themselves as childhood playmates, distant cousins, college roommates, fellow researchers, and occasionally -- and, he must admit, intriguingly -- as former romantic liasons. He must admit now that he had known her primarily as a mother, but she had had a rich life beyond her family, and he had never thought to inquire about it.

Months after her funeral, even after his departure on the Enterprise, her friends have continued to send messages, and sometimes even paper letters and cards. Each one ends the same: let me know if you need anything. The request had seemed incomprehensible at first; his physical and material needs have not altered since his mother's death. Indeed, he is in far better condition than many Vulcans, whose homes and possessions were destroyed along with the planet. Now, though, he realizes he does need something, and he resolves to write them back. He will ask them to tell him a story.
This snapshot of Amanda makes me happy--there is so much to explore with her and we don't get to see that in the new Reboot movies so have to settle with fiction.

I say "settle," but this is not settling. Your story is rich with emotion, causing my heart to break just a little in sympathy with Amanda and a small, approval-seeking Spock.

And Spock seeking memories is powerful, just as we love these characters so much that we seek to create our own memories of them.
Thank you so much! I am not feeling particularly articulate right now, but your comment was very gratifying :)
Today, she's just grateful for the way his self-restrained intensity envelopes and comforts her far better than the endless hugs and condolences of the last two weeks.


Have I mentioned recently that I love how you write? Because I love how you write.

This is the story of Spock mourning Amanda that I've wanted since I first saw the movie. I'm so glad you're the one who wrote it.
Thank you so much! I've been wanting this story for awhile too - it had been hanging out in my wip folder for about three months, and I was sure I was never going to finish it. I'm glad you liked it :)
I really, really love this. I think this is a moving portrait of two relationships and two cultures. The way you brought them together in this story was just beautifully done. I can hear all of the characters voices very clearly, too.

"Your presence shames me before my elders," he had said. "I no longer require your attendance at school." He could see the sadness in her face, but it did not move him, and he was pleased. In fact, he had studied it to make certain that no such expression would ever appear on his face.

"I will comply with thy wishes," she had said in formal Vulcan, and he had turned to leave, but she had summoned him back as his father might have: "thou has not finished receiving my instruction."

When he had turned again to face her, she stood over him instead of kneeling to place her face level with his. He had felt a surge of fear then, though he was certain he had not displayed it on his face.

"I will comply with thy wishes," she had said again, "but I am disappointed. You pretend to serve logic when you merely seek acceptance. I thought you better than that."

Her stare was magnetic; he could not look away.

"Spock, you will never again accept prejudice as logical. I demand this."


What a powerful moment! I love that you created this terrific story and shared it with us.
I love Amanda here, so, so much. Human, all right, but you can totally see why she would have made the choice she did, and how she could stand Vulcan for the sake of its ideals so closely aligned with hers, even if its realities were wholly inadequate. And Spock, too, and Uhura, and the subtle parallels. Also, that image -- them together in the kitchen, one graceful seaming of worlds in all that conflict -- is vivid as hell.
Thank you! I was really happy for an opportunity to explore Amanda a bit more. I'm still kind of scared to tackle a whole Amanda-centric fic, but I hope this story could be a stepping stone to that one day.
"Spock, you will never again accept prejudice as logical. I demand this."

This whole fic is effing fantastic. I love how vividly and carefully you play out the ideas. And that opening line, too, about what kind of funeral Amanda has is going to haunt me for days.
Wow, I loved this. Storytelling as the most important ritual of human grieving -- I had never thought about it quite that way, but you're right, and you play out that theme so beautifully here. Such a lovely last line.

And you get bonus points for quoting from The Things They Carried, which is one of my favorite books of all time. ♥
Thank you! I made myself a whole list of prompts from The Things They Carried, so hopefully there will be more stories to follow :)
love this story and how you capture Spock and Nyota's compatibility. She really understands him, and I'm glad he has the comfort of Nyota as he deals with his mother's death.
oh god. this really brought tears to my eyes. this was a great great story. you have Spock's voice down so well and have fleshed out a fully realized relationship with Amanda. bravo!! i especially like how Nyota's able to help talk him through it through stories.
Thank you! Spock is a really challenging character to write, so I'm glad you think the voice worked :)
That was *really* beautiful. Thank you. And thank you for writing Amanda as the BAMF she was. :D
Well done. The portrait of Amanda and Spock's relationship with her as a child is touching. I also enjoyed how Uhura was able to draw on her own cultural traditions to help Spock cope with his grief.
Wow. This was beautiful and sad. Life must have been so hard on Vulcan for Amanda.
I'm really intrigued by what her life would have been like there. I agree - it would have been a very hard culture to live in.
As I recently woke up, words are not quite...there...yet, but I wanted to let you know that I was in tears for almost the entire fic. Great job.