"You wished to meet with me." It was a statement, not a question. They both knew it to be true.
"Yes. I did." He faced her across the table of the small conference room. "Have you yet bonded to another?"
"This is my first trip to Vulcan in two years. I have not had the opportunity to establish a betrothal to another."
"I have also not established a new betrothal."
Her eyebrow went up. "I would imagine that this is becoming a pressing concern."
"Yes. But I wished to speak with you before making any new arrangements."
"I am not sure there is anything to speak of. Your mother was quite clear that she did not consider me suitable for you."
"My mother is not the one who is getting married. When I was seven, it was appropriate for her to make my decisions for me. This is no longer appropriate."
Her eyebrow went up even further. "I have never before heard you defy your mother in anything."
"My mother is difficult to defy."
"Yes. I have noticed. Why do you choose to defy her now?"
He stood up and went to the window, hands clasped behind his back. Thirty years ago she had met him for the first time, a small, stocky moppet with slightly unruly hair, just a little bit too thick and wild for the tastes of most Vulcans. She had found his hair fascinating. He kept it cropped unusually short now to hide its thick, wild nature. This struck her as somewhat regrettable. "Ten years ago you chose to go to Earth, to help guide the humans. I have long considered this an admirable career choice. The species exerts a certain fascination, wouldn't you agree?"
"I would imagine that if I did not agree I would not have spent the past three years aboard their first long-distance warp vessel."
"Yes. Such a duty is more important than familial obligations. More important than tradition. You have the responsibility of helping and guiding a promising species-- a species that, without proper guidance, could destroy itself. Or other races. And that with proper guidance could achieve much."
"I agree with that assessment. The humans are remarkable. Although their intelligence is generally considerably lower than Vulcan, they consider tradition no barrier to the quest for knowledge... a barrier I have come to see as illogical."
"Ironic that Vulcans would need aliens to see illogic in our own practices."
"Indeed. They are restlessly curious-- which I fear might well destroy them, but which has enabled them to learn things no Vulcan has. They form connections in a completely irrational way and yet they derive insights more quickly than the steady progress of logic would produce. They make alliances easily-- even though they are inherently more warlike than we are, it seems they are also more talented at forgiving, and coming to terms with a former enemy."
"Guiding them is a very respectable cause."
"Your mother doesn't think so."
"I have begun to lose interest in what my mother does or does not think. I have the greatest of respect for you, and when you denied your obligation to me and to tradition in order to carry out a greater work, that only increased my respect. I did not agree with my mother's decision to sever our betrothal, and I have refused to accept any candidates for wife until I had had a chance to speak with you."
"Have you come to ask me to... renew our betrothal? To marry you?"
"Apparently it is obvious. I wish you to know that I consider your career no difficulty. If you cannot remain with me for the first year-- and if your humans' ship has no room for another Vulcan or for a mathematician-- it would be acceptable. You only need to be with me during the Time, and afterward, I am willing to wait until your career has room to make a life with me."
"I am flattered... but..."
"Is there a difficulty?"
"There is... an impediment. A matter of... personal health."
"I see. I do not wish to pry, but perhaps this matter of personal health might seem less of an impediment if we spoke together and considered how best to resolve it."
"There is no resolution. The illness is not currently considered curable."
"What is this illness? It may be possible..."
"It is called... Pa'an Syndrome. You may perhaps have heard of it."
His face had gone entirely blank, entirely correct. "I believe that I have."
"Then you will understand the impediment."
"I..." He hesitated a long moment. "I am not sure..."
"What I have heard... of this illness... it is not consistent with what I know of you."
"Perhaps I am not what you believe me to be."
"Or perhaps it is not what I have heard it to be. Without more detail, I cannot know."
"Do you have any specific questions?"
"What I have heard... this is an illness that is contracted from... sharing bonds. With anyone, not solely between the betrothed. Wantonly seeking emotional experiences from the minds of others... seeking to recreate the time of madness when it is not needed... is this true?"
She considered. "It is both true... and not true."
"I am not sure I understand such a paradox."
"I have learned..." She raised her hand. "There are those, who are not healers, who have the ability to simply... create the bond... not between two children, who will then be drawn together as adults, but between themselves and another. They do this in the same way that healers bond children together, but it is far more invasive... far more... intimate."
"Is it a matter of the Time?"
"No. I have... endured symptoms much like that, introduced by an alien virus. The Time is... I cannot describe it. It destroys logic, destroys will, destroys all control entirely. Fortunately it is difficult to remember what happened."
"An alien virus?" He could not quite hide his shock. "What happened? You said there was no other..."
"There is no other. I was cured. It was a virus, not the Time in actuality. Curing the virus ended the symptoms. But I was speaking of the mind meld."
"Is that what it's called?"
"Yes. Those with the power may share this with one another freely, as adults, without requiring a healer to create the bond. I was approached by a Vulcan who belonged to a sect of outcasts, seeking lives without Surak. I was... curious. And I did not realize until much later that this mind meld he offered was exactly what we are warned of when we are told of the practices of those who contract Pa'an Syndrome."
"It seems humans may not be the only ones curiosity can destroy."
"You accepted a bond with another."
"I didn't actually know it was a similar thing to the bond between you and I at first. But it stimulated... strange feelings, feelings I could not seem to suppress. I informed him I wished to go no farther with this experimentation-- I had begun to feel that perhaps it was trespassing on something that should remain within a marital bond."
"But it was too late to avoid contracting the syndrome, I take it?"
"It would not have been too late, then. He assaulted me and forced such a bond on me. The damage caused the illness. It is the deep mental contact, the joining of minds and katras, that can cause the neural degradation. I was unwilling to go so far. He... did not care that I was unwilling."
"T'Pol..." His voice was very soft. Even through his control she could see horror and pity.
"So you see, I am unsuitable. When the Time comes and the bond between us activates, to draw us together, you may risk contracting this illness from me. We must go to the healers to dissolve the bond between us before your Time begins."
"How... will you bond with anyone, then?"
"I will not. Women do not need to."
"That is unacceptable."
"That is what is. Arguing with it is illogical."
"Surely there must be a cure soon."
"There is almost no work being done on such a cure. The doctor aboard the Enterprise, Phlox, has done more in the past year than the Science Academy did in ten. Healing those who wantonly choose to share their minds with others, of their own power, is apparently not on anyone's list of priorities on Vulcan."
"No. This is not acceptable. I will speak to my mother."
"You will do no such thing. I have no desire to have her involved in this matter."
"But if she were involved, the Science Academy could not refuse to act."
"Your family is one of the oldest and best respected on Vulcan. That does not mean even you can change long-held prejudices overnight."
"T'Pol, can you bond? Still?"
"I... believe... that unless the healers dissolve our bond, we will be drawn together at your Time in the usual way. Yes."
"Then marry me."
"That is completely illogical."
"No. Understand my logic. Your doctor is working on a cure for this disease, and obviously, he has found a way to control or slow the symptoms, since you show no sign of neural degeneration."
"Yes, that much is true."
"If I do not contract this disease from you, you will still be the wife of Skon, son of Solkar, nephew of T'Zai and cousin to T'Pau. It will be in my family's interest to see you cured in order to preserve my health, and my family has the power to pressure the Science Council. If I do contract this disease, again, it will be in my family's interest to see a cure. And if the disease can touch one of Vulcan's oldest and most powerful families, surely our people will see that no Vulcan can be truly immune. You should not die for experimenting with a practice you did not know could harm you... or for being assaulted."
"I will not risk your life."
"I do not believe there is a risk. And I do not wish to live the life my mother wishes me to live. I have been obedient to tradition all my life and I feel it does not serve the true ideals of Surak anymore, if it ever did. Our people need to embrace the new, to grow and change. And you have had the courage to seek that change before most Vulcans were able to grasp the necessity. I very much wish you to stand at my side, to infuse that willingness to embrace the new into my family. I believe it may be Vulcan's only hope."
"I believe you are engaging in hyperbole."
"Perhaps. But a marriage with you would fulfill all my ambitions for our people, and would be very suitable to me personally as well. My understanding was that you allowed my mother to break our betrothal, not out of a desire not to marry me, but because you held a higher obligation to the work you were doing. Is that true?"
Very quietly she said, "It is."
"Have you changed your mind?"
"I have had to. The disease..."
"I may choose to risk my life, if I wish. I would rather risk my life with you than endure the safety of the traditional, conservative brides my mother is presenting me with."
"If I continue my career, it is possible I will be too far from Vulcan when the Time arrives."
"You will need to take leave. Or I will need to take a ship and go to join you, wherever you are. We could marry this week, before you leave again, and then when the Time comes none would prevent me from taking a ship to go to my wife."
She took a deep breath. "I must consider this."
"I understand. But do not consider long. The Time will come within the year. If we do not marry before you have left Vulcan again, I will not be able to wait for you, as much as I would wish it."
She had never thought Skon would defy his mother for her. His father, yes, he and Solkar were barely civil to one another, but his mother had always controlled him completely. If he were willing to defy his mother to have her as his wife... The significance of marrying within a week had not escaped her. There could be no elaborate ceremony, no inviting of all the dignitaries that would expect to be at the nephew of T'Zai's wedding. His mother would be hard put to contain her anger in appropriate control. Perhaps he would even be disowned for it. Plus, there was the matter of her disease. She should not bond with any Vulcan. It was completely illogical, inappropriate, and, as Trip would put it, downright dumb.
And she wanted to. If Skon could defy his mother for her... then she wanted to.
This required much thought and consideration. Meditation on the problem. Careful weighing of the alternatives.
She thought of Trip, offering her pecan pie and asking her what she wanted.
She had never thought any Vulcan would want to touch her. If she did not go with the man she had looked to as her future mate since she was seven years old, she would never marry any Vulcan.
It was no secret to her that several of the humans were attracted to her. She had learned to have great respect and trust in them. But to let one touch her in the most intimate of ways, to mate... no, that could never be possible. The incompatibility of human need for constant emotional reassurance in their pairbonds, and the simple visceral wrongness of mating with a non-Vulcan... in the madness of the disease that had brought her Time on her without a bondmate, she knew she had intended that, but there had been no Vulcans present. If she did not marry a Vulcan, she would never marry. And the one she had always intended to marry was standing before her offering to defy his mother, and tradition, and even logic itself, because he believed what she believed and he would risk his life to have her.
T'Pol closed her eyes, trying to master the sudden yearning ache within her.
Trip would have told her to do what she wanted. Archer would have told her to follow her heart. She would have pointed out that Vulcans, lacking emotions, have no heart in the sense he meant. She would, of course, have been lying.
"I will marry you," she said. "Today."
He took her hand and clasped it tightly. "We may be able to persuade my cousin to perform the ceremony. She is not quite a century, but she has the authority."
"Sundown is in seven hours. If we wish to marry today we will need to move quickly."
He pushed open the door of the conference room and they stepped out into the hot spring day together.