Rrelthiz gazed contentedly at the four other people seated around the table. Her neon blue eyes settled on the blood-friend who had saved her life and her honor, and who had, in turn, entrusted her with one of her most sacred secrets. The Carreon's throat sac ruffled in deep emotion at the memories of that day and her tail swished in pride.
The intimate designation instantly caught Saavik’s attention and she tilted her dark head as she looked over at Rrelthiz from her place beside Spock with that deep eyed intensity Rrelthiz knew from fond experience meant calm respect. Though the two Vulcans heads had been closely together as they discussed something -- Well mated, Rrelthiz thought pleasantly -- her friend’s focus now turned entirely upon her. She abruptly remembered when she had asked Saavik a similar question back in the first days they had known each other.
Though now, she noted with a happy click of her talons, the firepot embedded in the center of the table top emphasized how Saavik's normally steady gaze sparkled with a life in that unique way only her mate brought out. My friend is at peace at last. A fact made all the more noticeable by the easy way Saavik still hugged Spock's personal space with her own and he did the same with hers. It told Rrelthiz she was indeed asking the right question.
“Friend Saavik, why do Vulcans marry?”
From the seat on the other side of Spock, the elderly Human male dropped his eating utensils down on his plate with a clatter that drew more than one curious glance towards their table. Actually, she realized with sudden amusement, not so much dropped as tossed them down in irrepressible glee. "Someone pinch me!" McCoy declared.
His hair and face had grown old and worn, but the bright blue eyes and impish smile hadn't faded or changed one bit. And it pleased her almost as much as his interest in her question. "Pinch me, because that is such a perfect question, I must be in heaven!"
Despite the way the ShiKahr restaurant kept each table private by only lighting its perimeter, it also catered to non-Vulcans who couldn't see as well in low light, needing brighter pools in each area. So the eyes of other patrons were able to drift to the upswept ears of most of her table companions and soft chuckles could be heard from more than one corner.
"Doctor," Spock said in a mildly rumbling rebuke -- or a warning, Rrelthiz could not precisely tell. She was not as versed in his body language as she was in Saavik's. Which was actually very interesting because she had met the famous Spock first. But when he turned to her calmly enough and inclined his head as a mark of his joining his mind to her question, her own tail curled in pleasure. "I do not understand your question, Rrelthiz."
"I do!" McCoy shouted and pounded one fist on the table, setting his drink glass dangerously to jumping and now an even larger portion of open curiosity was coming from the other tables because of the noise. "I just wish I had thought of it first! I must be getting old." Rrelthiz hissed her humor at his enthusiasm.
She noticed that unlike her mate and the others at the table, Saavik had ignored him. Well, not ignored him, Rrelthiz could see the dry glint in her expression, but in true friendship, she had never looked away from Rrelthiz’s lidless eyes while she contemplated the question respectfully. She did, however, tilt her head in mild confusion. "I must agree with Spock. Rrelthiz, do you question our marriage?"
Rrelthiz gave a hissing laugh. "Never yours!” No one around the table stiffened, giving no greater confirmation that they understood she had meant no insult. She did notice that the Vulcan healer and her husband -- T'Selis and Ruanek, friends of Spock she had just had the opportunity to meet tonight — looked at each other and then curiously at her. "I know your mating is well done!” Saavik’s eyebrow inclined. “I meant in general and no particulars.” Her tail swished. “Why do Vulcans marry?"
T'Selis interrupted. “Why would you ask such a question?”
Saavik leaned over to her other side where T'Selis sat. “Will you excuse us?” she asked and began whispering in Vulcan to the healer and Ruanek.
The black skin around Rrelthiz's eyes tightened, making the neon blue striping narrow too, and her tail began to thrash. “Is my question wrong?”
But T'Selis nodded to Saavik and turned towards her. “No, Saavik explained you speak out of cultural interest and not to invade private matters. It is the nature of your association. Any question may be asked in the safety of your relationship."
Ruanek added, "She said it is part of her naming you as guest-friend."
Saavik had once explained the Vulcan term to Rrelthiz, so she agreed, "Yes, good friends. Also, we have a blood debt."
The way he perked up at those words reminded Rrelthiz of a cousin of hers who usually had to be restrained from leaping up when he got interested in something new. "Blood debt?" His eyes drifted to Saavik who arched her eyebrows and let Rrelthiz answer.
"Or honor debt, I may not be translating my people's term correctly. Sorry, still I have problems with this language."
Ruanek seemed to understand. "It is a difficult one. You should have heard my accent when I first tried." He slipped McCoy a look and the doctor chuckled.
"No one has ever mangled my name the way you did, son."
"The doctor," Spock drawled, "is not mentioning the way he can 'mangle' the simplest Vulcan word. For the sake of everyone here, I ask that you do not request him to demonstrate."
Rrelthiz got the idea that Ruanek actually was ready to smile. "I still hear an accent, different than the others," she said and added quickly, "A compliment, I mean. It is charming. You are from a different region?"
There it was again. That idea that he was about to grin. “A very different region.” And he seemed so eager. "You really ask any question?"
"Yes," Saavik answered, her eyebrows up again. "I advise not asking her to exhibit her ability to do so. We will be here far longer than we originally intended."
Rrelthiz warbled in a laugh before replying to Ruanek on her left. "I would also answer any question you have. Spock told me you and T'Selis saved his and Saavik's lives.” She could only give a small version of the formal bow to those considered honorable. The chair restricted her from giving the full one.
McCoy gave an odd choking sound. Ruanek and T'Selis glanced over at Spock with the identical, masked expressions.
Not identical, Rrelthiz corrected herself. She is better at it than he is.
"No details, of course. It happened in a confidential mission, yes? But you saved Saavik's life and she saved mine. So I will answer what you ask. Besides,” she splayed the seven taloned fingers on each hand, "look at who we are. Scientists and diplomats. We learn by asking questions!"
McCoy took advantage of that. "Which brings us back to the very interesting thing that you asked, Rrelthiz. I just wish I had something to record so momentous a conversation. I can't believe I’m sitting at a table full of Vulcans and none of you has a tricorder. If I didn't know better, I'd swear it was a conspiracy.”
Saavik refused to be diverted and shook her head at Rrelthiz. “I still fail to understand what you are asking. Why would Vulcans not marry?”
The scientist in Rrelthiz relished this. A civilized thing, debate! "Oh, for many reasons!" Her tail swished wider, brushing the edges of the small space cut out in the back of her chair in her excitement. And it made her hiss in amusement. She did not have the Human habit of listing reasons on her talons, but Saavik had noted dryly once that her tail movements acted like the same thing. "For one thing, Vulcans practice mastery over emotions, Saavik, yes? Which eliminates many reasons given for marriage."
When McCoy barked a laugh this time, Ruanek snorted. The very maleness of it and the intense way he eyed his mate stopped Rrelthiz right away in confusion.
T’Selis said something in Vulcan again and his head swung sharply on his wife. She did not appear at all fazed.
“What was that?” McCoy asked.
“She said she thought I could be trusted to behave in public,” Ruanek interpreted, as if that would change his wife’s attitude. She merely arched her eyebrows as if demanding proof she was wrong. He was so big in his build that he made her look even tinier, but clearly, T'Selis was not tiny in nature.
"We have often thought the same of Dr. McCoy," Saavik said, "with the same results."
McCoy protested and Ruanek narrowed his eyes at her, but there was no challenge in them, only a merry humor. “My pity, Spock, I did not know I was the only husband so blessed.”
Saavik bristled, but McCoy jabbed a finger at her. "Ha! There's a taste of your own medicine! This night keeps getting better and better!" he chortled, raising his glass to drink. He shook his head mournfully. “Damn, I’d so give my left kidney for a tricorder.”
Smelling the rise in Saavik's body language (and Ruanek's), Rrelthiz held the table’s edges uneasily. "Did I misspeak? I had no intention to cause strife."
"Not at all!" McCoy grinned mischeviously. "You said it absolutely right, don't worry about them. They're being killjoys over something else entirely. Now then, what was that point you made?” He gave Saavik a pointed look. “Mastery of emotions?"
The Carreon healer eyed Saavik uneasily, but when she inclined her head accepting his statement, Rrelthiz dipped her head hurriedly to redirect the conversation to something her friend would find more comfortable. "Yes! It is what I do not understand of Vulcans. Does not the reasons for marriage, in all cultures, return many times to emotions?” Her tail swooshed as she counted her thoughts. “After all, modern technology removes any biological need for the requirement of joining.”
Ruanek choked hard on his own drink and McCoy doubled over his plate in laughter.
Saavik pressed a finger against the center of her forehead. “Rrelthiz . . . .”
Rrelthiz looked back at her with great, liquid eyes. "You said, did you not, Friend Saavik, that Vulcan society, as many cultures do, turns about the bloodlines? Not just continuation of the species, but of one's family and house?”
T'Selis glanced over to Saavik too. "Are you re-evaluating allowing her to ask any question?"
"Yes," Saavik answered, "to answer both of you."
“Is this not true?” Rrelthiz asked the other Vulcans.
Spock and T’Selis exchanged looks. “It is,” confirmed Spock.
“Was not the purpose then of marriage to ensure offspring of rights?”
Saavik's eyes grew dark, making Rrelthiz flinch and quickly lean forward with infinite tenderness to show she meant no reminder of her friend's own past.
Spock nodded slowly, keeping his own watchful gaze over his consort with a protective guard that made Rrelthiz thrum with delight. “Illegitimacy has, in many cultures, long been a cause for the denial of a child’s rights to possession, inheritance, or social placement.”
Saavik’s mouth was thin, but her eyes did not hold the deep pain of her youth over the subject.
Rrelthiz flicked her tail triumphantly and continued her line of thought. “But why?”
“Taboo,” said McCoy, crossing his arms and his eyes sobered.
Saavik abruptly straightened, and Rrelthiz felt excitement in the sudden knowledge that her friend had come already to her own mind’s thought. And was amused.
"But--" Rrelthiz’s tail swished widely now in full humor, "this taboo comes from shame. Shame is an emotion. And Vulcans . . . ." She let her lean muzzle stay open in silent laughter.
Saavik shook her head, her eyes wryly enjoying the turn. "Vulcans practice a mastery of emotions."
"Yes!” Rrelthiz thumped her tail. “Therefore in logic progression -- no shame, no taboo! No taboo, no cause for marriage practice!"
McCoy was laughing now so hard he had to clutch his sides. “Oh, I can die a happy man, right now! Rrelthiz, you have the absolutely most fascinating mind!”
And Ruanek -- Ruanek seemed to be very careful about not giving his wife another reason to comment on his behavior. But he did ask, "Your culture never had this taboo?"
"No, not this one. Although we had the other issue so many did. Technology has removed it too."
A server stopped at the table to see if they needed anything else. Saavik waited for him to clear. "And this other matter is?"
Rrelthiz teased, "You ask so reluctantly! I spoke of the old practice of using marriage to make sure children were born from a particular male. Which was foolish!"
Saavik nodded. "Since the child could be fathered by another male while the female lied in her claim that it was her consort."
"And DNA testing made sure the females told the truth a lot more than marriage ever did," McCoy said. "So that's another reason shot down."
"And following a tradition merely for the sake of following it is illogical," said Ruanek and then asked his wife, "Didn't you say that once?"
"Son," McCoy interjected, "if you're not careful, you're going to find out why Vulcans divorce."
T'Selis lifted an eyebrow to emphasize the doctor's point.
Have I caused trouble? Rrelthiz wondered.
"Ignore them," McCoy told her. "Newlyweds are the same wherever you go. Go on, Rrelthiz, you were saying?"
Saavik met her uncertain look with a soothing nod. “You have caused no offense, Rrelthiz, please continue.”
Hesitantly, but bobbing her head, she looked at McCoy again. "I include the other emotional uses for marriage -- our cultures each have different words for it--"
"Yeah, what's the word my culture uses?" McCoy said, tapping his chin, his eyes wickedly merry. "It's on the tip of my tongue. Begins with 'l', ends in 'e' -- Spock, you're half human and you speak a lot of languages. What's that word?"
Spock looked up at the ceiling, summoning patience. "Dr. McCoy, your continuing outbursts will lead to this restaurant reassessing their policy of catering to non-Vulcans."
"That's a crock and you know it, Spock! You just don't want to answer my question. But while you're thinking about that, here's another word for you. It's 'Gotcha!', meaning 'You can't squirm out of this one!'"
"Are all your dinners like this?" T'Selis asked.
Spock lifted an eyebrow. "Diversity has its pitfalls."
"I cannot speak for Leonard's word," Rrelthiz said. "I only speak for my curiousity. I am a healer with a minor in xenobiology."
"The first of your people to live among aliens," Saavik added.
"Which is how we met!" She danced her talons close to Saavik's fingers. "So understand you, yes? A scientist's curiousity in other people's ways. We return to my question. Why do Vulcans marry?"
Saavik leaned back in her chair and arched her eyebrows. “Your argument missed a vital reason, Rrelthiz. To make a binding commitment to the one with whom you build a life."
Spock nodded. "After all, as adults, we make these commitments in citizenship, career, family, and legal responsibilities. Each are binding contracts as well as personal commitments to bring attention to their importance. Saavik, for example, has an oath to Starfleet as an officer as well as one to Vulcan and one to you. She is equally bound in her responsibilities to our House. It continues to such minor levels as signing for a cargo delivery. Her signature is a binding contract to that responsibility."
"Surely, Rrelthiz," said Saavik, "you agree. Does a life’s partner such as Spock not deserve an equal commitment as my financial responsibilities?”
Spock cocked an eyebrow. "I would prefer to believe so."
"Wait a minute-" McCoy began.
Rrelthiz's throat sac inflated as she hummed a tune that was a cross between agreement and laughter. She had always admired the economy in Saavik's attacks. "I certainly agree! I see that I very much missed that important point. Thank you for answering my question."
McCoy slammed his drink down on the table. "Just a damn minute--"
T'Selis's chin lifted at the curse, and then her eyes drifted to Saavik with a suspicious look.
"--that's it?!" he exclaimed.
"Of course, Doctor," Spock said. "As Rrelthiz has said, we did answer her question."
"What more would there be?" Saavik asked rhetorically.
McCoy stared for a second and then threw his napkin down. A corner of landed too close to the firepot and had to be rescued before the flames caught it. "I got a question for you and it's the same one that I brought up at your betrothal. Have you two learned anything?"
"Of course, Doctor," Spock repeated. He rose to his feet and nodded, as host, to T'Selis and Ruanek. He held out paired fingers to Saavik who rose gracefully to touch them with her own.
"What?" McCoy demanded, not letting it go.
"Clearly, Doctor," Saavik said, finishing Spock's statement, "we learned why Vulcans marry."