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The Proposal

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She goes to him when he's alone, when his father and Ambassador Spock and all that remains of Vulcan have departed for the first colony. She knocks on the door of his rowhouse in Tellar Town and waits to be let in.

He opens the door and looks at her, the little frown on his face that indicates he's having difficulty corralling his emotions, but doesn't really tell her which emotions are being unruly. She waits in silence. A long moment passes before he steps back and pulls the door open wider.

She steps inside and is smacked by the dry heat. It's like stepping into summer at home, and there's a line in the small of her back that just loosens without her giving any thought to it. She breathes the hot, dry air in slowly through her nostrils. She turns back to face him, and he holds out a hand. At that, her shoulders relax, too. He expects her to stay, long enough that the macintosh she's wearing needs to come off. She passes him the red rubber raincoat without touching his fingers. It would be provocative, and she's still not sure where she stands, after the liberties she took on the Enterprise.

She goes into his kitchen and gets herself a glass of water because she'll need it soon. And to remind him that they're friends, that they were taking liberties with each other before the disaster, even if they'd toed the line and avoided doing anything explicitly sexual, used his reserve to avoid saying anything explicitly emotional. She sits on his couch and takes her sandals off, stows them neatly under the coffee table, curls her feet up underneath her thighs. "As-Salāmu `Alaykum" she says to him, and bows her head slightly.

"Live long and prosper," he replies with the briefest possible flash of finger V. "I know your assignment," he says. "I have decided to remain with Star Fleet, but I do not yet have a posting."

"I grieve with thee," she says in Classical Vulcan, the dialect in which such a thing can still be said.

She only sees his second eyelids blink because she's watching for it. Then he looks down at his own lap. "My mother is dead. My planet is gone. Eight thousand nine hundred forty-two of us remain, among which ninety-six pregnant women. You know all of these things." Vulcan Common, no surprises. "I am a—apprehensive," he says in Standard, and she can hear that he had started to say afraid, but she won't challenge that. "I have a sorrow that you do not—which I suspect you cannot share." He looks up at her again, leans forward a little, starts again in Vulcan Common. "I did not tell you something that I believed would have no consequence for us, but as with so much else recently, circumstances have changed."

"Spock," she says in Classical Vulcan, "I burn for—."

"Stop," he snaps in Standard, then takes a breath, speaks more calmly. "That does not mean what you think it means." He looks at his fingers again, breathes. He puts his hands over his eyes. "Please, tell me in Standard. The metaphors of Classical Vulcan speak to certain biological realities for which a human has no analogue."

She leans back, puts her feet on the floor. She has heard him speak harshly only once, and she does not wish to provoke him now, as he was provoked that other time. She doesn't know what she did to set him off. If he were human, she would say he was embarrassed, but he's not. "My apologies," she says. "This can wait. I can come back—."

"Please stay," he interrupts. His hands are back in his lap. "Let us continue."

"But I—,"

"You committed no error, except from ignorance. The ignorance is deliberate on the part of those who have knowledge."

And she still has no idea what that means, but she feels better about it, knows she is not blamed. "I am your friend. I love you," she says, slowly and as calmly as she can. She speaks this way because he takes her more seriously when she's not displaying her emotions, and also because it will be marginally less embarrassing if he rejects a baldly stated advance than ignores a pass. "I desire a publicly acknowledged romantic relationship with you. I need to know how you feel about me and what you want with me."

He nods, and she is almost certain that he knew everything she had just said. His face has the completely calm look he gets when he is not surprised. Then he says, "Vulcans share a telepathic bond with their mates. This bond is set at the koon-ut-la, the betrothal, and reinforced later at, at full maturity. I have not yet reached that level of maturation and had planned to travel to Vulcan and have my bond dissolved, properly and without harm. But my bondmate was killed in the Destruction, and I am damaged."

"Damaged how?" she asks. She does not point out that he completely failed to tell her what he wants, how he feels; either the damage will be relevant to what he wants from her or she will repeat her needs.

He shakes his head. "Please, the sequence of my explanation is intended to give you all the information you require to make an informed decision." He pauses, and she realizes he expects a response. She nods for him to continue; it's no great difficulty to hold her questions until the end. "I had resolved to dissolve my bond with T'Pring because, after my supervisory relationship with you was concluded, I wished to broach a romantic relationship with you. Additionally, I had received intelligence from mutual acquaintances which implied that T'Pring would welcome such a dissolution." He paused and looked at her, but not in the eyes. "We were promised to each other, but we did not know each other. We had spent perhaps two hours in one another's company, exchanged three thousand words of electronic communication.

"But her being was a part of my sense of self since I was seven, and her death has left me damaged." He stops speaking, holds his silence for just under five seconds. Her mouth is open, but he says first, "The standard treatment for the death of a bondmate is a new bondmate."

She counts off fifteen seconds before she breaks and says, "You want to get married."

"I must have a bondmate. I want you to be my bondmate. Marriage is a legal contract, broken at the discretion of the parties' involved. The mating bond is a telepathic link. It is unlikely that you would ever be able to break it. I cannot speculate as to whether I will ever recover to the point where I could. And it is unknown what will happen to a human mated to a Vulcan, if the Vulcan precedes the human into death."

"What happens if I say no?" she asks.

"I have identified three additional candidates for bondmate," he says. "I do not need to have a deeply personal relationship with my bondmate: it is more a question of compatible katras than compatible personalities. I believe none of them would object to my pursuit of a romantic relationship with you."

"I don't understand," she says. "How could you have planned to dissolve your bond? I mean, if you had dissolved your bond without telling me, would you have come back from Vulcan and asked me to bond with you, like this?"

"No," he says, and he's pleased. She thinks he's probably glad that she's still thinking about all of this, but that's just a guess. "If I may analogize, the difference between what I would have done and what occurred is the difference between a modern surgery with nanobots and digging out an organ with a rock."

She swallows hard and clasps her hands together, to stop herself from touching him. "But the future of our romantic relationship is not contingent on my becoming your bondmate?"

He rises from his chair, a huge armless rattan monstrosity with a canvas hammock seat, and sits next to her on the couch. "Nyota," he says softly, "I am not certain you could continue to be my friend if you refused this offer. My interest in you would remain undiminished, but my research suggests that you would feel…."

"Guilty?" she says.

He nods once. "Ashamed."

"Why did you change seats?" she says.

"I believed that my speculation would cause you emotional distress. I also believed that my physical proximity might relieve some of that distress."

She laughs, surprised. "Give me a hug," she says. "Proximity is insufficient to the cause."

He complies, puts his arm around her back and sits up straight enough to get her head under his chin, pulls their bodies closer together with the hand he wraps around her front.

"You're good at this," she says, surprised again.

"My mother often expressed her affection for me physically," he murmurs in her ear. "Is this contact having the desired effect, or should I rock you as well?"

She lets herself slump against him, puts her arm around his waist. His leisure clothing is made from a loosely woven light-weight fiber, smooth under her fingers like unwashed silk. "This is good," she says. "This is good."

They sit in a comfortable silence for a while. Then, abruptly, the silence becomes uncomfortable. She doesn't know why until Spock lets her go, and some, though not all, of her discomfort goes with him. "You're a projective touch empath?" she says.

"The distinction between telepathy and empathy is false."

"Hmmm," she says. She's picked up enough xenoneuroanatomy to suspect he's wrong, because language generation and emotions are seated in different areas of the brain, in approximately three of five sapient species. She doesn't care about that now, though. "But why are you upset?"

"Your information is incomplete," he says and stops. "You must be fully informed before making a decision."

Nyota's not just uncomfortable now, she's worried. Spock is visibly distressed—he's blinking a lot and he won't meet her eyes—and she can't imagine anything on a personal scale so awful as to do that. "Do you need my decision immediately? Would it help to tell me the rest later?" She flexes her hands on top of her knees. She wants to touch him, but she's certain he does not want to be touched.

"I can not tell you," he says. "There are no words."

"What?"

"There are no words for what you need to know in Vulcan Common, and, thus, no words in Standard." He looks at her and holds out one hand towards her face. She's seen visual of Vulcan mind meld, in a Comparative Physical Communications class, she recognizes the position of his fingers. "We do not speak of pon farr, even amongst ourselves. May I?"

She leans back from him. "Can you do this safely? You appear to be emotionally compromised."

He lowers his hand, turns it palm up. "You must have this knowledge before making this choice. I do not know of a Vulcan who can impart it to you without apparent emotion." He pauses, frowns. "I do not know of another Vulcan who would impart this knowledge to you." Another pause, and then he says in Classical Vulcan, "We are shamed."

She takes his hand, and the emotion she gets from that relatively simple point of contact is disquieting. It is…embarrassment, and feeling dishonored, and, even more strangely, it is impersonal. There is no feeling of Spock's own culpability, but something disgusting that happens because he is Vulcan. She drops his hand. "Will I think that what you're going to tell me is so terrible?"

"No," he says. "My mother said that we were being ridiculous, illogical, and puritan, and the only people we were hurting were ourselves."

Nyota's vision goes out of focus, her eyes open that far in surprise. She blinks until she can see normally. "Your mother called Vulcans illogical as a species?"

He nods.

"Okay," she says and picks up his hand, brings it to her face. "Tell me."

When he puts his hand down, separates their minds, she says, "Your mother was absolutely right." He doesn't answer her, and she turns on the couch to face him.

She puts her fingers on his face, on the meld points. She feels his presence, but no emotions. "You told me what you need, but you didn't tell me what I need to know." Now she feels something, a sense of…inquiry. "How do you feel about me, Spock? Are you able to publicly acknowledge our relationship?"

He pulls his face away from her hand and sits back, breaking all points of contact between them. He looks at her, face impassive, for long enough that she shifts her weight, leans into the back of the couch. "I do not know how to respond. I suspect that if I answer in my normal register, you will consider my emotional attachment insufficient for you to accept my suit. But if I answer more poetically, you will find it difficult to believe what I say reflects my true feelings, instead of an attempt to emotionally manipulate you." He pauses, and his hand moves in his lap, as if he's considering communicating that way again. What he says next is, "T'hy'la is not a public relationship, like a marriage, or even the koon-ut-la. But it is how I wish to describe you to my father."

"Oh," she breathes out. Then she inhales and turns to him, goes in for a kiss, and says against his lips, "You buried the lede." His mouth is hot and dry and smooth under her tongue, but the taste of him is fresh and clean.

He kisses her back, hands in her hair, with gentle, gentle pressure. Then he pulls back, but his hand skims down her arm, and her hand, and his fingers touch hers at what would be the secondary meld points in a Vulcan.

She curls her fingers around his reflexively, because he's back in her mind, and he's…waiting for her.

"Yes," she says, "I accept."