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Author's note: Huge thanks to sineala for linguistics geeking help.
A Thousand Words for Snow
Linguists have been trying to explain for over a century—ever since a cultural anthropologist first published with the intent to connect differences in culture with differences in language by examining the roots—that the Inuit people of North America do not in fact have an inordinately large number of words for frozen precipitation. Only that in noting the differences been Standard and the Eskimo-Aleut language family, there was a morphological difference as to how water and snow-related words were formed from a limited number of free morphemes.
The problem is, "Eskimos have a thousand words for snow" sounds poetic. So people kept saying it, even though it wasn't true. It's an old almost-joke among linguists. For when the truth of a thing fades in the face of the lie becoming legend.
Vulcans have no word for "lover".
There are at least five different words Uhura has identified in both Modern Vulcan written and spoken language for spouse (bond-mate, joined-but-chaste, joined-but-parted, joined-never-parted, parent-of-my-offspring), and four for friend (companion, secret-keeper, friendship-like-kinship, and friendship-closer-than-kinship). There are Old High Vulcan endearments (half-of-my-heart/soul/being) that she has never heard spoken—and most likely never will, the embracing of the teachings of Surak changing the language of Vulcan even as it changed her people.
But there is no word for someone with whom one has an intimate, physical relationship outside of marriage.
The closest is t'hy'la (friendship-closer-than-kinship), but even that, while roughly equivalent to "an intimate" in Standard, does not expressly mean someone with whom you enjoy the physical act of love-making. It is used in Vulcan-English dictionaries of the type sold in commercial spaceports for "paramour", but the Sato-Heydt linguo-code translation matrix simply renders the word untranslatable, and substitutes ashal-veh (cherished one).
Even in the writings which survived from before The Time of Awakening, when Vulcan was tearing itself apart with petty wars and it was said the dry riverbeds of the Forge ran emerald with blood, love poetry was still primarily composed in the honour of one's bondmate. The most famous surviving poem, ni'var ke Shan-ha'lok ("Two Forms/Aspects of the Engulfment/Drowning"), while undeniably erotic, still used ashay-am (object of affection [possessive]) as the primary form of address. And that felt too... gentle. Too restrained. Too simple to contain within its narrow scope the breadth and depth of her relationship with Spock.
Listening to Spock's breathing as he sleeps, one arm draped across her waist so his fingers brush her hip, she thinks there must be a word for this—for the feather-light brush of his mind as his hands find the contact points on her cheek and brow and desire burns along every nerve ending. A single word that contains the touch of his mouth to her collarbone, her nails digging into his shoulders as his teeth nip lightly at her pulsepoint—never leaving marks where they can be seen, but still marking her as his in a way that makes her shudder.
She struggles with the idea that there has never been a sound or sequence of sounds paired with the concept of his hands cupping her small breasts as he presses a kiss to the nape of her neck as they move together in near-silence broken only by his breathing and her soft cries. There is no noun in his language for the finger-shaped bruises he leaves on her hips as he loses himself in her body and her eyes. Or the sound he makes in the back of his throat as the heel of her foot caresses the back of his thigh as she draws him into her.
She knows a hundred words for "beloved" in languages from across the Federation and beyond. Words that that burn in her throat as she buries herself in his fever-warm embrace. She can't push a sound past her lips, because she wants so much to find one that is his, and not borrowed or stolen. Not even from kiSwahili, the language she still speaks in her dreams.
He has lost so much, she wants to find something she can give him that can never be taken from him. So she tries to tell him, with the language of her body.
Every time they step into his quarters after a duty shift and his fingers tangle in the heavy fall of her hair, it's whispered in her smile and the warmth of his body against her back as she leans into his embrace.
With every kiss that steals the breath from her body, she shows him. Every time she parts her lips beneath his and he stills for a beat before answering her passion with his own, the sheer intensity of his focus overwhelming, she breathes her devotion into his mouth. Every time he presses her back into the mattress with the weight of his body, she arches her back to bare her throat so he can read the pulse beating in the hollow of her throat.
Under every fierce gasp of pleasure at the way their bodies are perfectly fitted together, burns desire he has kindled in her that only his touch can satisfy. Tries to tell him through the drumbeat of her heart beneath her breast and the singing of the blood through her veins that he is not alone. She writes sonnets on his bare back with her short blunt nails, and their staccato breathing as they move together and with every tear she sheds because he cannot, she hopes he can taste what she can never find words to say.
With every touch of her hands to his face, her fingers tracing the curve of his cheek and jaw, she draws a map of the uncharted lands between them so he might find a home in the circle of her arms.
There are no words for this. It cannot be contained by ink on paper or sounds carried by the wind.
Watching him sleep, she presses a kiss to the eyelashes fanned dark against his cheek.
His arms tighten around her, and she thinks it's poetry.