Disclaimer: See Chapter 1. Wow, I'm amazed at the amount of support this story is getting! Thank you so much to bina W, LoyaulteMeLie, tahmtahm, Nyotarules, and maba7x, but especially to Fameanon for letting me bounce ideas off her head. ;D.
Emmie stretched her arms above her head, grateful that it was finally her day off. She padded across the cool tile floor in her apartment, lingering over her morning coffee. Cool blue shadows spilled across the floor as she crossed dusty beams of sunlight from the wall of windows, and she took another sip of her java as she scrolled through her messages. Her mother had sent her yet another invitation to visit her and Emmie's grandmother in Cairo, and a friend from college was in town and wanted to go out for drinks sometime and catch up, but the last message sent to her caught her eye and made her frown.
She immediately deleted the message without even opening it, glaring at the wooden lattice-work hanging on her wall, as if the art were the cause of this. Carter simply would not stop harassing her, and it was getting to the point where she was ready to file a restraining order against the man. She glanced around the room and sighed; the magic of the morning seemed stolen away as the chill of reality settled over her. She sat on her couch and leaned against the plush pillows, contemplating her problem. Emmie soon realized that she was being too nice to Jack, that she needed to set firm boundaries and make her feelings (or lack thereof) clear to him. If he persisted after that...she would go to HR and ask them for advice.
Her heart already seemed lighter, and she took another sip of her coffee with a wan smile. She had completed most of her chores the previous evening and was free to do what she wished today, and she took a moment to appreciate the freedom. But she didn't feel like relaxing today. Rising quickly from the couch, she made herself a list and grabbed her keys, then headed out the door.
Dusty beams of sunlight crossed L'Vek's desk at the Vulcan Consulate, but he could not concentrate this morning. His meditation had been fitful, perhaps due to the strain of working with these humans for so long. Maybe returning to Vulcan for his Time would be fortuitous...
He pushed his PADD away in a fit of uncharacteristic frustration, and he leaned back in his chair and tried to examine himself from an objective point of view. He was nearing his Time, yes, but he wouldn't exhibit symptoms for another three months. No, his irritability and impatience of late had to be due to his unbonded state. He had been warned against remaining unmarried, but in his haste to follow his career, he had thrown caution to the winds and decided not to take a mate. His family had been protesting ever since, and his clan mother was particularly displeased with his "arrogant disregard for his and other's safety". It was true that his current state could be potentially dangerous, especially when he neared his Time, but no female had caught his eye, and none of the candidates his clan mother sent him to review for marriage had interested him either.
Unbidden, an image of Ms. Sadir setting tea before him rose before his mind's eye, and he quickly banished it from his mind. Emotional, childlike, reckless: these humans were no more worthy to mate with a Vulcan than an Andorian! The thought...
He quickly banished the warm spring of interest that bubbled in his abdomen, determined to put Ms. Sadir and thoughts of their encounter out of his head. He didn't need any distractions from his work, much less a human woman...
L'Vek passed a hand over his eyes and tried to concentrate on reading his latest report, but it was fruitless. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over for five minutes before he realized he wasn't absorbing any information. He sighed and stood up, then nearly stormed out of his office in his haste to find fresh air and a change of scenery.
The Consulate gardens gave him no relief, and it was with reluctance that he requested a pass to go outside the walls. Usually he traveled with at least an aid, but he found he wanted to be alone to think.
After he had traveled a block from the consulate and was truly among the humans, he slowed his pace, winding his way through a nature park, which today was sparsely occupied, but still lively. He stared up at the trees and breathed in the cool autumn air, and it was strangely calming and engaging to watch the humans interact with each other. There was a group of teenage boys to his immediate left throwing a brightly colored disc to each other, and a few pairs of young adults were lounging in the grass, presumably lovers completely engrossed in each other, with no concern for their fellow humans' opinions. He turned his eyes away from them and chose to watch the boys throw the disc, and he stopped abruptly in his tracks when the disc whizzed over his head and one of the young men ran after it. The boy turned mid-stride and apologized before doing a double take and slowing his pace. Without another word, he turned and ran after the disc, and L'Vek moved on.
The trees encroached closer to the path, casting cool shade across the paving stones. In this section of the park, he saw a sharp increase in park benches, but many were unoccupied. He continued walking, lost in his thoughts, but a sudden burst of sunlight brought his attention back to his surroundings, and he looked up. L'Vek stopped.
She was sitting on a park bench no more than twenty feet away, reading a book in the sunshine. Her hair was braided back over her shoulder, and her legs were casually crossed. He considered turning back and returning to the consulate as to not encourage any more fraternization with this human, but it seemed she could feel his gaze on her. She looked up and her gray eyes widened and brightened, and a smile broke out across her face like the dawn cresting over the trees in the morning. He quickly suppressed the strange lift in his abdomen and slowly approached her.
"Mr. Adviser," Emmie greeted him, her eyes twinkling in amusement. "Of all the places to run into you."
He raised an eyebrow, taking that as an inquiry as to why he was here. "I felt the need to take a walk," he said simply.
"May I join you?"
He swallowed. "If you wish," he said somewhat unenthusiastically. Although she seemed to find his presence agreeable (her reasons escaped him; she didn't even know his name, not that he was aware), he still desired to minimize his contact with her. He would contemplate this desire later when he was alone.
"Where are you headed? Or did you even have a destination?"
He raised both eyebrows. "I believe the purpose of a walk is to simply walk and think. I was not aware a destination was required."
She grinned. "I was just wondering. If you want to be alone, I was planning on going to market later, but if you'll let me join you on your stroll, there's a coffee shop back the way you came. Let me get you something."
L'Vek stared at her a moment, saw the hope glimmering in her gray irises, and sighed. "That would be acceptable." He wasn't sure why he was agreeing to let her join him, or why his need to be alone to think had suddenly disappeared. The Vulcan gestured for her to lead him on, and she waited for him to fall in step beside her.
"I don't know your name, Mr. Adviser," she said as they passed the boys playing with the colored disc. "I hardly think that's it."
He raised an eyebrow. "My name is L'Vek."
She nodded. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you. Has the commodore talked to you yet?"
"That cultural exchange program. I thought it'd be an interesting experience, so I volunteered to be the cultural attache."
"I have not given it much thought."
They walked in silence for a while, exiting the park and strolling down a city street. "May I ask why you don't want to involve yourself in this program?" She almost sounded accusatory.
He sighed. "I have plenty of work to do already. I don't mean to offend you, but your program sounds like a waste of time."
L'Vek paused, truly at a loss for words. He thought she might descend into an emotional tirade, or at least be silent, but she had stumped him with a simple question.
"I have my reasons," he said, wanting to drop the subject. She turned to him.
"If you think we're trying to insult your intelligence, we're not. Or at least I'm not. I'm sure you must have some questions to ask me. I bet you can think of several things we do that simply baffle you."
"Yes, your need to ask incessant questions is one."
To his surprise, she laughed. "We are curious creatures, Mr. Adviser. We love to learn and explore. Surely you've seen this in the humans you work with at Command."
"Yes, the rampant eagerness to explore without acknowledging the dangers one may face in deep space. I see it every day."
She smiled ruefully. "Some might say we live to find danger. And throughout our history of space flight before warp technology, we had a history of being extremely careful."
He turned to her, but she stared straight ahead before meeting his gaze. She smiled at him, and he felt that foreign lift in his abdomen again, accompanied this time by a tingling in his fingertips. He frowned at the pavement; arguing with her was strangely enjoyable.
His thoughts were interrupted when they reached the coffee shop, and he looked around the establishment with a curious gaze. It was light and airy and spacious, and the walls without windows were partially plastered with white paper, on which were drawings and messages in various languages.
"I don't see any Arabic up there, do you?" she asked lightly as they joined the line. He raised his eyebrows.
"I do not know what it looks like."
Her eyes brightened. "When we sit down, I'll show you."
They fell silent as the line progressed, and L'Vek couldn't help but notice that several of the men in the establishment were staring at his companion with curious gazes. His fingertips were tingling again, and he turned his attention to Emmie when they reached the front of the line.
"What do you want?"
He frowned. "Whatever you wish to get me."
She grinned at him, and he noted that the mood of the male behind him had taken a sharp downswing. She ordered coffee for herself and green tea for him, then led him to a table in the corner. It did not escape his notice that several pairs of eyes followed them to their table, and the majority of the glances directed at him were dark. The eyes taking in his companion were hungry.
She didn't seem to notice the amount of attention she was getting, and something deep inside him was inordinately pleased that she was focused on him. But he tamped the sensation down before it had a chance to escape the shadows of his being, and he watched as she took an ink marker from a cup on the table and moved the napkin stand so she could write on the paper tablecloth.
Her script flowed from the marker, elegant and thin, and he was reminded somewhat of Vulcan writing. What he found the most interesting was that she wrote from right to left, opposite of the normal order in the English language.
"Did you intend to write that starting on the right hand side of the paper?"
She smiled. "I did. Arabic script always begins on the right and goes left."
He raised an eyebrow. "Fascinating."
She looked up at him, her expression one of surprise and warmth, and he could not bring himself to break her gaze. But after a few moments she looked down again to what she had written.
"What does it say?" he asked calmly.
"That's my name," she replied simply.
He raised an eyebrow. "It looks...aesthetically pleasing. But tell me, Ms. Sadir...what is the purpose of the decor on the walls? Why decorate with messages, and not artwork?"
She smiled. "As far as I know, they've been doing it for years."
"Yes, but why?"
Emmie stared up at the messages. "The aesthetic is debatable, but I think I can answer your question." Her gray eyes found his. "Who doesn't want to be remembered, if only for a moment in time?"
He shook his head. "But what is the purpose?"
She opened her mouth, but did not respond. It seemed he had rendered her speechless for the moment, and she seemed lost in thought as their drinks came and were set before them. L'Vek did not pay any attention to the woman who waited on them, but focused on Emmie, waiting for her answer.
"To make an impermanent life as permanent as we can," she said after sipping her coffee. "We long to be remembered after we are gone, and I think that springs from our fear of death, of the unknown. Though we are simply a speck of sand in the desert, we long to stand out among the dunes."
He frowned in amazement at her analogy, and she glanced at him with an uncertain look. "Does that answer your question?"
He bowed his head and examined the other messages scrawled on the tablecloth and took a sip of his tea.
He glanced up at her and took in her concerned glance. "Are you all right?" she murmured, putting her coffee cup down.
He could only nod. "I am fine."
She stared at him a moment longer, then raised her marker and began to write again, this time scribbling five lines, perhaps a hasty attempt at prose or poetry. He was intrigued nonetheless, absorbed in the sight of her hand moving over the tabletop and of the script flowing from the tip of the marker, and he glanced up at her when she put the marker back in the cup.
"What did you write?" he asked softly, staring at her handwriting.
She glanced down at it, then began to recite words in a tongue he had never heard before. He didn't have a translator on him at the moment, and he found he didn't want one. The sound of the language she uttered was enchanting in its own right, like music on her tongue.
"Say it again, in that language," he said softly. "Slowly."
Her eyes flashed with an expression he couldn't read, and she obeyed his request, slowing her speech and lingering on certain words. He found his eyes fluttering closed for a moment, and he folded his hands on the table and leaned back in his chair.
"What are you saying?" he asked after a beat of silence.
She paused, staring at him, then glanced down at her writing. "I have the thought/ that eyes as blue as yours/ have never lingered on the sea." Here she hesitated and glanced up at him. "I wonder if they would rather gaze/ upon the skies above the dunes."
He frowned at the tabletop and requested that she repeat it. She obeyed, reciting the poem slowly for him, and afterward he pondered it in silence. It took him a full two minutes to come up with what she might be trying to say.
"Who is the 'you' in the poem?" he asked tentatively.
She smiled wryly. "I thought it would be obvious."
He stared at her. "I don't understand."
Emmie smiled and took another sip of her coffee, regarding him with open amusement over the rim of her cup. "I'm talking about you, L'Vek."
He raised both eyebrows and gazed with new amazement down at the poem. He would have never expected this morning that he would be drinking tea across from a human woman who could apparently compose a poem in little more than a minute. He admitted to himself (very privately) that she was an intriguing creature, to say the least.
"And I assume your inquiry as to whether my eyes would rather gaze upon a desert sky means that you would like to take me to this place?"
She grinned and nodded. "Have you ever been to the pyramids at Giza, Mr. Adviser?"
He shook his head. "Memphis, Egypt?"
Again, he negated it. "Cairo?"
He sighed. "I have never been outside the San Francisco-Sausalito area."
Emmie rested her chin on her balled-up fist and stared at him with a level gaze. "Well, it's no wonder you're so unenthusiastic about this program. If I had my way, the first thing I'd do is at least show you the Grand Canyon."
"My assignment does not include excursions."
Her eyes sparkled with amusement. "And you wonder why we are so confusing? Have you ever made an attempt to study human culture?"
He shook his head. "My assignment does not permit such things."
Her eyes narrowed then, and he got the distinct impression that he was being challenged. "Then why are you on this planet?"
He narrowed his eyes in return. "I was assigned here as the head of the Vulcan Advisory Council."
She shook her head at him. "Unacceptable. If you want to understand human culture, if you want to know why we become so uncooperative when you push us, then you're going to have to step out of your comfort zone and take some chances."
L'Vek had no answer for her. Deep down, he knew she was absolutely right, but he couldn't bring himself to admit that to her. Her accusatory expression softened to a gentle smile.
"I know the weather in this city must be uncomfortable for you. It's always cold, even in winter and spring, and the moisture seeps into your bones."
He stared at her, bemused.
"You'd like Egypt," she continued. "And if I had my way, the Vulcan Consulate wouldn't be in this dripping metropolis. You'd be sitting pretty among the oldest monuments humans have ever made. You are from a desert planet, are you not?"
He still had no answers for her. He drained his tea and looked at the clock on the wall, and he sighed.
"Perhaps it would be best if I returned to the consulate," he murmured, still aware of the dirty glances many of the male patrons were giving him.
She was still for a moment, then she nodded and hailed the waitress. They walked out of the coffee shop and back toward the consulate, and once he was a block away, he turned to her and thanked her for the tea and the conversation.
"I will...consider your offer, Ms. Sadir," he said earnestly. His interest had been piqued, not only at the prospect of finding a place on this planet that was hot and dry, but of the woman who had eloquently answered his questions and had composed poetry in less than a minute. Intriguing creature indeed.
She grinned at him, and he blinked a few times as if that would dispel the tingling in his fingertips. "That's all I ask," she said quietly, then bid him good day and made her way back down the street.