The first time T'Pring sat in the welcoming room of T'Pol's home, she was not quite yet aware of the significance. Her seven-year-old's attention was considerably distracted by an array of other things that were not part of her routine.
Even as a seven-year-old, routine was very important on Vulcan. On the third day of the week, in the eighth hour of the day, T'Pring should have been dressed in her every day robes, the ones that were white, and came down to ankles, making it hard to walk very quickly across the city street to her meditation classes, but whose length also were a great protector against the dust that would assault her clothes if a dust storm grew before the next meal time.
But today she was dressed in formal wear, silver and black, as befitting the traditions the women in T'Pring's family had passed down through generations, and the hair pulled up tightly in a more adult style than she traditionally was permitted to wear. Spock too was dressed in formal black and red of his family lineage.
T'Pring did not notice that, particularly. All her seven-year-old mind was ready to take in was the fact that her betrothed was permitted to wear much more comfortable clothing than she was, and her mind had the brief, fleeting thought of the unfairness in the disparity.
The ceremony, like all bonding ceremonies, was prolonged, and T'Pring tried not to squirm or otherwise show her irritation - "remain calm" was an order even Vulcan children understood - and in general, tried not to allow her feelings to show, either to her betrothed's family or to T'Pau, whose significance T'Pring understood slightly better than T'Pol's.
Whether T'Pring was any more successful than a typical seven-year-old Vulcan child at their first bonding ceremony, she didn't know, but she assumed not, because after the ceremony was over, T'Pau glanced down at her and said, "In time, you shall develop affection towards your intended."
It was supposed to be a way to comfort, T'Pring would know, years later, because as logical as her people were, sometimes children needed comfort.
The seven-year-old took T'Pau's words as a failure, but took true, unabashed comfort in T'Pol's words: "All our years of logic, and what hair styles we continue to force upon our young."
It was the first inkling that T'Pol was on her side, but T'Pring knew, even at seven, that it would not be the last.
The next time T'Pring sat in T'Pol's welcoming room, she had just celebrated her eleventh year, and as such, understood significant things much more clearly than she had during her last visit.
Unlike the last time, T'Pol wasn't just a distant cousin of her parents. With the additional knowledge of 4 years, T'Pol was also one of the saviors of Surak's teachings, and a woman who had traveled further from Vulcan than T'Pring could even begin to imagine, even with all the additional knowledge she had accumulated in the past four years.
She fully understood the importance, then, of T'Pol being willing to give her additional tutoring in the languages. No one, outside of an Ambassador, was as well-equipped in languages as T'Pol.
But T'Pring found herself far more intrigued by the pictures that lined the walls. The technology used was old, and foreign to their world.
"Terran," T'Pol said in the Spanish language from the planet in question, from her spot in the kitchen, making the noon meal. "Several decades ago."
"I did not think even humans practiced such ...out-dated forms of memory retention any longer," T'Pring replied in the same language, her hand reaching out to touch the pictures. The texture was soft, like the paper Amanda Grayson brought with her from Earth, like the scrolls T'Pring had only read about in history class.
"They don't," T'Pol replied, switching to French. "A companion in my travels who had a fondness in the history and art, behind the 'ancient' technology."
"What was his name?"
"Her name," T'Pol corrected, her tongue switching to Federation Standard, "Was Colleen. She's the one in the middle. I took the picture myself."
The picture in question was different than the others. People sitting and standing in their uniforms or other formal wear decorated the wall, many of whom T'Pring recognized from her history lessons. Admiral Archer, Ambassador Sato, Captain Reed, and Ambassador Shran all were easy to identify, and all stood at attention, smiling or scowling, and generally looking very non-Vulcan.
But Colleen sat curled up on a couch, distinctly different from the others. The pose was more relaxed and the attire far less formal.
The picture, and T'Pol's choice of descriptor for that friend, gave T'Pring the same vague feeling of discomfort she got when the storms blew dust in her mouth.
When T'Pol called for her to eat, in Swahili, T'Pring was grateful for the distraction.
T'Pring had the sensation of too much sand in her mouth once again, in another four years, as she walked home with T'Ling. T'Ling was two years T'Pring's senior, and had taken to wearing the more form fitting robes, with her hair swept up into a cascading bun high atop her scalp.
Next to her, T'Pring looked absolutely childish in her recently cropped hair and still ankle-length gown.
Jealousy, T'Pring told herself, as she hurried to T'Pol's home for a new lesson after leaving T'Ling's home. That was the very simple explanation for why T'Pring felt that way around the other girl.
It would require much meditation when she arrived home. Perhaps when she was as old as T'Ling, such illogical emotions would no longer be a concern.
"There is talk that Spock will not be attending the Science Academy," T'Pring told T'Pol, as they ate their noon meal together, a year later. T'Pring had long since grown accustomed to the odd meals T'Pol insisted on serving her, though T'Pring would have preferred a hearty dish of plomeek soup herself.
T'Pring was not quite certain what to make of this ... chocolate. It was less ridiculously unhealthy than the pecan pie T'Pol sometimes served, but T'Pol told her it had similar origins.
"I suspect he won't," T'Pol responded in Andorian as she lifted a sliver of the chocolate dish to her mouth.
"You know more than I do," T'Pring stated.
"He has come to me, to ask questions from someone who has been in a similar place," T'Pol confided. "He is determined to go, and is as difficult to dissuade from a matter as his father and grandfather before him. He wishes to leave, and he will do so."
T'Pring pressed her eating utensil into the cake thoughtfully, watching the food press back at her.
"Do you agree with the decision?"
T'Pol stirred her tea thoughtfully. "I explained to him the negatives. They do not seem to outweigh the positives. If that remains true for him, I cannot disagree with the decision."
"His classmates mock him still," T'Pring confessed. "We have long since stopped being children, but where his heritage is concerned, they have not noticed that it is time to put childish things away."
"Our people," T'Pol replied, "Sometimes forget that Surak believed the sum of our differences would make us greater."
The sand was there, in her mouth again, making the chocolate taste all the more unpleasant. T'Pring pushed it away and drank the tea readily. It was bitter, unsweetened, and familiar.
When Spock left, T'Pring did not grieve for him.
"I should have developed some affection for him, should I not have?" T'Pring asked, practicing the Terran language of Japanese.
T'Pol merely raised an eyebrow. "You have barely associated with him since the bonding ceremony. Why should you have developed affection for him?"
"T'Pau said I would," T'Pring answered. "In time."
T'Pol folded her hands in her lap. "You have lived briefly, according to Vulcan time," she replied. "My mother confessed to me, on my own wedding day, that she did not grow to have affection for my father until several years into the marriage. I suspect it is that way for most of our people."
"But what if I cannot develop that affection?" T'Pring asked, and the salty sting of the sand was there, again, waiting to be acknowledged.
T'Pring did not choose to do so.
T'Pol looked at her for a moment, and T'Pring was certain that T'Pol knew the discomfort, though the elder did not mention it. "You should be careful which questions you ask, T'Pring," she answered. "Only ask those for which you are prepared an answer."
T'Pring tried to tell T'Pol that she was ready for the answer, but instead, T'Pol handed her the data padd.
"The Complete Works of Surak," T'Pol told her. "It is written in the Terran English language. Begin reading it to me in Andorian, the Sh'ian dialect."
T'Pring followed the request, but the distraction was not quite enough to make the discomfort go away.
T'Pring's afternoons with T'Pol were interrupted by attendance at the University. She considered the Science Academy, but her interests remained in the languages she had so closely studied at a living legend's feet, and T'Pring went with the course of study that most easily allowed her to take advantage of that skill.
Vulcan did not have many historians, but they were treasured almost as much as their scientists. Her family was proud of her decision.
Along with her field, however, university study also introduced T'Pring to T'Lal. An archaeologist, T'Lal and T'Pring shared many things, among them an affection for history, languages, and debate.
Within time, T'Pring also discovered that they shared affection for cold plomeek, the way the sun set over Mount Seleya, and the way the other kissed when the other residents in their living quarters were asleep.
The salty, dry, uncomfortable feeling came back, with T'Lal, but with it came two very important differences. One was the noticeable addition of a fluttery feeling in T'Pring's stomach when she kissed T'Lal. The other was the very firm belief that her parents would find this completely unacceptable.
The lingering connection in her mind, with the man she had not seen in years, reminded her all the more of that fact.
But T'Pring wanted T'Lal. T'Lal wanted T'Pring. That was all the logic either of them needed.
"Tell me about 'th'y'la,'" T'Pring requested of T'Pol, the next time she sat in T'Pol's greeting room. She purposefully used the language of their people to ask the question.
T'Pol sat with a data console in front of her, and raised an eyebrow. "It is a word I would have thought you'd heard by now," she replied. "It is a word meant to refer to another male, one who is a very close friend, or brother."
"Or sometimes a lover."
T'Pol nodded. "Yes."
"But it is a word only used by men. There is no equal word for the women of our people to use. There are no close friends, sisters, or lovers for us." The voice was not raised, but the question was insistent.
T'Pring wanted T'Pol to know that she was ready for an answer.
T'Pol heard that unspoken request. "Intimacy among men has long held the logical purpose of saving lives," she replied simply. "Particularly in areas where the female population is low. However, outside of the occasional unfortunate space spore, the females of our species do not have the same concern."
There was a story there, about the space spore. Perhaps another day, T'Pring would want to hear it.
But then, perhaps not. T'Pring had never been very fond of space exploration stories. Culture, yes, scientific discoveries, no; also, there was a much more important matter at hand.
"You agree with our culture's beliefs, then?" T'Pring felt a rush of displeasure, and confusion that she had not understood the significance of the pictures on T'Pol's walls, after all.
"I was merely explaining the logical and historical precedent you will be up against if you ever bring this argument up to anyone else," T'Pol answered, and T'Pring's faith continued to waver, until T'Pol said, much more clearly, "There have been friends, sisters, and lovers, T'Pring. As an historian, you have the tools at your disposal to find those histories if you so choose."
"They have never been a 'th'y'la,'" T'Pring argued, because it was an important point.
"No. But they have been something else. Something that is their own."
T'Pring did not find the word she was looking for until she was pursuing graduate studies at the University. Written in Andorian and needing translation, T'Pring reclaimed that one part of her people's history, both in a public paper on Andorian Perceptions of Vulcan Interpersonal Relationships, and perhaps more importantly, in private.
The word, for them, was different, longer, and took more time to pronounce.
But T'Pring paused and said it anyway, as her body moved beside T'Lal's in the bright sunlight of the Vulcan afternoon.
The apartment belonged to T'Pring, and there was no need any longer to keep their affection restricted to the dark.
T'Pring practiced the paper she planned to give at the regional history conference in T'Pol's greeting room. Afterwards, they had chocolate cake, and T'Pol critiqued the paper, as well as T'Pring's pronounciation.
T'Pring promised to stop by after the conference, to tell T'Pol how things went.
She kept the promise, and brought T'Lal with her.
Stonn came to the university a week after the conference. It was her first meeting with him, and they had their noontime meal in the small office that T'Pring had worked her way up to. T'Lal ate with them as well, as did Sotar, whom Stonn introduced as his "th'y'la."
Later that night, T'Pring practiced the proper pronunciation repeatedly in her lover's ear, to make up for not being able to share it in public.
It was a week later that she stumbled across the description of the kal-if-fee. It was important information, of that she was certain.
She just wasn't sure how it could help her, yet.
Four years after meeting Stonn, the headaches began.
Fittingly, they began during an evening meal between herself, T'Lal, Sotar and Stonn at T'Pol's home.
She did not mention it, but she knew what they meant, even as she struggled to comprehend how the various parts of her heritage that seemed irreconcilable could be dealt with logically.
"You will require someone to voice their claim for you," T'Pol told her a mere four weeks later.
"You know of the ceremony?"
"Of course." T'Pol folded her hands in her lap and remarked, "It once seemed like a possible solution for my own problems."
"Koss," T'Pring said immediately. The ill-fated marriage was mentioned in the histories, but the detail was not explicit enough for T'Pring to know more.
T'Pol talked more of Commander Tucker, and of Colleen, than she ever did of Koss.
T'Pring had known T'Pol long enough, or perhaps her head ached enough from Spock's growing condition, to ask, "Your relationship was dissolved."
"Men in our culture," T'Pol replied, "Are able to do so. Particularly if they already have a th'y'la."
The decision was a tricky one, but T'Lal agreed with it, as did Stonn and Stovar. If all went well, no families would be disgraced.
"If all does not go well," T'Lal told her, "He will leave, and you will still have me."
Still, T'Pring swallowed down the revulsion she felt at the idea of mating with Spock, and for the first time in several years, the salty tang of her homeland's sand felt stuck in her throat.
Four months passed before Spock finally made his way to their homeworld. He came not in his ceremonial colors or garb, but T'Pring ignored the insult as she altered her plan slightly.
If she could reduce the risk to Stonn, her friend, that would make her plan all the more logical.
She watched Spock fight his friend and noted that still the affection and grieving for him would not come.
But she did not allow herself to think of why, not this close to T'Pau, not this close to Spock.
"The ceremonial dress continues to be illogical," T'Pol said, four hours after the ceremony was over.
T'Pring sat in the greeting room, drinking her tea next to her mentor. "Indeed."
"The ceremony went well, yet you appear to be distracted."
"I am thinking of something Spock said, before he left. 'Having is not so pleasant a thing as wanting,'" T'Pring quoted.
"It is a truthful statement," T'Pol allowed. "But sometimes having is far more satisfying than wanting could ever be. If Spock does not know that, perhaps he has been denied the opportunity to have what he wants."
Before returning home to T'Lal, T'Pring was able to feel, for the first time, grief for the man she would never share her life with.
But the affection did not come. For the first time since her seventh year, the fact did not concern T'Pring, as she walked home. The sand clung stubbornly to her formal dress, but T'Pring took her time in her walk and did not reach down to brush the sand away.