My dearest Spock,
Your grandmother, my mother, has passed away. I know you were fond of her, even if you did not know her very well. I will be undergoing the traditional latusa, and I thought you might wish to do so the same.
My love and best wishes,
He does not write a response, because none is needed.
What Spock remembers best about his grandmother is the patch of warm yellow sun on her kitchen floor, his first taste of chocolate-chip cookies on his tongue, the dark green leaves of the trees on her front lawn, the bright smell of flowers and Earth herbs on her windowsills. Her fingers were clever, he remembers, and her laugh could fill a room. He only visited her once or twice as a child, when his mother and father were occupied by diplomatic functions, but he remembers the contentment he found there, in the tiny house that had belonged the Graysons for many generations.
He visited her again while he was studying at the Academy, and when he showed up on the slightly rickety front porch, she kissed both his cheeks and welcomed him in. She baked him two batches of her chocolate-chip cookies and demanded details about all his classes and gave him the recipe for the cookies so that he could bake them while he was at school. Her fingers were older than he remembered, with loose skin lined with deep wrinkles, but they had lost none of their cleverness, and when he was required to leave in order to catch the next transport back to San Francisco, he found he was reluctant to go.
Like many other things, the Vulcans do not speak to outworlders of the latusa.
A few outworlder scholars have discovered the existence of such a ritual, through a few buried references to such things in ancient Vulcan poetry. However, when they bring such a thing up to the Vulcan scholars, they are met with polite disinterest.
We believe that it is a ritual for mourning the dead, but the details of such a thing have been lost to us for some time., the Vulcans say, and the scholars eventually give up their search.
What the Vulcans say is not entirely untrue. The particular details of the latusa are a personal thing. Each one is different. Each one is unique. Each one is lost after a time.
It is a fact that Vulcans do not lie.
When Spock begins, he stands naked in the center of his quarters, a pot of dark green ink in one hand, a brush in the other. He has shaved the hair from his chest, and the room echoes with a chiming bell that befits mourning.
He writes the oldest words first, the mountains on which the katras are kept on his right arm, the sand to which all will return on the left. On his chest, he writes the symbols for death, for dying, the dead.
Along his right arm, he draws long, curved lines from his wrist to his shoulder so that the pattern wraps all the way around his arm. The mountains stand tall and proud, and they will continue to do so, resisting the winds of the desert. On his left arm, he draws one line that circles his arm from the wrist to his elbow. The transformation of the body into sand is inevitable and should not be slowed. On his right leg, he draws the picture-symbols of the carrion-eaters of the desert. On his left, he draws the desert plants that grow best near burial grounds. These are the lives that flourish with each passing death.
He writes the words for light and nourishment on his abdomen and draws a circle around these words so that they are all contained but not bound by death. He traces the symbols for life along the outside of the circle, an unbroken cycle.
When he is finished, Spock dresses in his Starfleet uniform. The ink has set and dried, and the marks will remain until Spock wishes them to fade. He returns the bridge, and he nods to an ensign as he passes by.
Spock is very careful, and no markings show from underneath his uniform, not even on the most dangerous away missions. They are meant to be hidden, and have been since emotions became a private matter in the times of Surak. Spock finds it comforting to know that the ink is there, that he can wear his grief on his skin instead of in his mind or in his heart.
In the olden days, the Vulcans would wear such markings as war paint, a symbol of their desire to revenge their loved ones in battle, so that their enemies would see the ferocity of their pain and quake in fear.
The wars of Vulcan are long gone, but the grief still remains.
The captain smiles often and easily around Spock, and there is almost always a question in his eyes. There is an offer for more than just friendship in the way he will pat Spock on the shoulder, in his warm presence at Spock's side.
Spock keeps himself distant, professional, while he is still grieving. When he is ready, he takes the captain's hand in the turbolift and holds it his palms. "Jim," he says, his voice deepening with restrained emotion, and Jim's answering smile is brighter than any Spock has seen before.
He knows that Jim wishes to ask as he takes off his clothes, each layer revealing more ink, but Jim remains silent and watchful. There is a different question in his eyes now.
"We wear them in times of mourning," Spock says. "We only show these markings to another when the time of mourning has passed."
"Mourning," Jim says, his mouth quirked up into a teasing grin. "Isn't that a bit...emotional?"
Spock almost feels a matching grin appearing on his face, but he keeps his expression as neutral as possible. "Jim," he chides gently. "You of all people should know that Vulcans are not nearly as simple as humans believe them to be."
Jim laughs, a warm, bright sound that seems to fill the room. Then he kisses Spock once and then again once more, his human skin cool against Spock's neck, his cheeks, his mouth.
Spock finds that Jim likes to trace the ink with his tongue, lingering on the the inside of Spock's wrist, along the planes of Spock's abdomen, behind the bend of Spock's knee.
Spock explains each symbol as Jim touches them, the words falling easily from his lips in a litany. Heya, the mountain. Mazhiv, the sand. Ha'ge, the light. Ten-tame'es, nourishment. Tevik, the dead.
When Jim traces along the outside of the circle, Spock whispers, "Mene, for life," and touches Jim's back, right over the beating heart, before he lets the markings fade away.