Everyone warned Cadet Uhura that the summer semester of Advanced Subspace Communications was an unreasonably difficult course, which only passed perhaps half of the class (on a good semester). However, given her current course load, she found no better alternative, and in any case Nyota Uhura was never one to be intimidated by a challenge. On the first day she was the only one who sat in the front row of the sparse lecture hall, expecting a soft-spoken, silver-haired Vulcan in weighty robes. She was considerably surprised when a smooth-faced Commander took his place in front of the class, uniform zipped tight, hands placed evenly on either side of the podium.
He greeted the class, introduced himself as Commander Spock. He was the youngest instructor she ever had, although she suspected he was much older than he appeared, given the Vulcan lifespan. As he spoke, his eyes surveyed the room and paused briefly when they rested on her. While the rest of the class sat at least three rows back, she watched him from just several feet away. He noted that she might come to be one of those troublesome students who tried to win good grades through incessant, unnecessary questions in a poor imitation of genuine academic interest. Even then, something about her sharp expression struck him as uncommonly intelligent.
The first time Uhura visited Commander Spock's office she dropped her PADD on the desk between them, reciting his closing comments with a stern voice. "There is no way I'm taking this."
Spock nodded, affirmed his theories about her. "I believe I was clear in my comments. Thus far, you are progressing towards a passing grade, but as I described, the work was adequate, not exceptional."
Uhura shook her head dismissively, her ponytail swaying as she took a seat before his desk. "I know that. I understand your comments perfectly well, and as expected, they are completely logical."
He set down his stylus, but gave no response.
"I want to make this paper exceptional."
"Miss Uhura, the marks have been posted. Regardless of your effort, I will not change them."
She rolled her eyes. "I know that too. That's not the point. So tell me what I'm missing."
He stared at her and she thought she saw the corners of his lips tug into a momentary ghost of a smile. "Very well. I will send you some contemporary papers on the subject that you have neglected in your research. Let us first examine the weakest section of your argument." He took the PADD and scrolled through her essay and she brought her chair slightly forward. Their conversation continued well past the end of his office hours.
Spock slowed his stride and glanced over his shoulder. Cadet Uhura was walking quickly across the quad, resisting the urge to break into a run. He stopped.
"Is everything alright, Cadet?"
"The article you sent me last night—I just read it over lunch—I'd really like to know your opinion on the third section." She was slightly short of breath, her cheeks flushed with energy.
He tilted his head almost imperceptibly. "I had expected, given your approach, a much more urgent inquiry."
Her lips curved into a smile. She adjusted the strap of her bag. "Are you laughing at me, Commander?"
His eyebrows gave a puzzled twitch. "As you can see, I am not."
"Your eyes are laughing."
"I fail to see how eyes are capable of laughter."
She ignored this and pulled out her PADD. "May I walk with you? I really would like to hear your thoughts before class."
They fell into step, her long legs matching his stride with ease.
A month into the semester, as the withdrawal deadline neared, almost half of the class had dropped. Uhura sat at a library workstation, knee-to-knee with two classmates who were scrutinizing her notes.
"That's so obscure!" One of them hissed.
"Do you think it's fun for him to nitpick like that?" The other one groaned.
"Can Vulcans even have fun?"
"Guys," Uhura cut in. "He's not that bad. I mean yeah, he's kind of tough, but it's partially cultural, right?"
"Are you defending him?"
"You're such a teacher's pet!"
Uhura didn't respond. She was used to this—classmates being nice to her face so that she would help them pass, revealing the things they said behind her back through sarcastic quips.
"It almost seems like you like him—"
"I don't." She said flatly. She did not want another rumor about her and a teacher circulating the class. This happened last semester too, when she was too enthusiastic with her Klingon Linguistics teacher, despite the fact that he was old enough to be her grandfather. "Listen, I'll just transmit the rest to you. I just realized I promised my roommate I'd have dinner with her."
They protested as loudly as the library regulations would permit, but she stood up regardless. Her eyes suddenly met with Commander Spock, who was sitting in the opposite workstation with his PADD plugged into a databank. Her lips parted slightly, but he looked back down before she could formulate any words.
The other two stood up and began walking away. They glanced over his sleek head of hair without registering it. Uhura tucked her PADD back into her bag and left.
The next morning, rather than greeting her with a brief "Good morning, Miss Uhura," Spock busied himself with something on his PADD when she walked in. It may have been a coincidence, but it seemed to her there was something deliberate about the way his fingers moved across the screen. She spent the entire lecture waiting to catch his eye, but he didn't look at her once. By the time she sat in his office for their scheduled meeting that afternoon, her stomach was in a tight knot of anxiety.
Spock went straight into a criticism of her second paper's thesis. He had been considering, since the previous day, that perhaps their frequent meetings were beginning to affect the cadet's relationship with her peers. It was something he had observed often in humans—resentment towards others' achievements—envy. He found her inquiries and comments on the material to be both insightful and engaging, and his responses, he realized, were bordering on enthusiastic. He was beginning to think it would be better if he moderated their interactions and tempered any interest that might appear preferential.
Spock stopped mid-sentence. "Regarding?"
"The other day at the library. It was rude, bordering on xenophobic. They just get moody when they don't get A's."
"It is illogical to apologize for the opinions of others."
"Do not trouble yourself. I am accustomed to it, and it is not in my nature to feel wounded by their words."
"Right. Vulcan." There were times when he appeared to her as almost human, in the expressive shape of his eyes. That afternoon in the library, she thought she caught a trace of hurt in them. She had to remind herself that she was just projecting human sentiments onto him.
He paused for a moment before continuing. "I realize I should express my gratitude. Although it was unnecessary, you countered your classmates with favorable opinions about my class. I understand that this is considered a service."
She shrugged and looked away. "I didn't mean what I said after, though."
"It's not that I don't like you."
"That is inconsequential." He hesitated before returning to the thesis. "But… in this situation, it might also be appropriate to say thank you."
She smiled. For a second she thought his eyes looked a bit softer. She indulged in that notion.
As the weeks drew on, Spock found it increasingly difficult to adhere to his plan to distance himself from her, until eventually he was forced to abandon it all together. He acknowledged, because Vulcans were not in the habit of lying to themselves, that she intrigued him.
The week before the final exam, Commander Spock pulled Uhura aside after class to request her presence in his office later that day. She felt her classmates' eyes on her as he spoke, and gave a terse nod.
She sat across from him that afternoon, watching him finish some notes at the edge of her seat. "How can I help you?" she said when he set aside his PADD and folded his hands.
"I wanted to discuss the paper you turned in last Friday."
She bit her lip.
"It was far beyond the scope of this class. In fact, I believe it could be a potential topic for a thesis, if you choose to pursue it."
Her chest fluttered with relief and she let out a breathy laugh.
He tilted his head slightly. "What aspect of my statement do you find amusing?"
She shook her head. "No… I'm just relieved. If I can impress you, I can impress anyone."
"That is an incorrect assumption."
"You really think this could be a thesis? I'm only a junior."
"That is what I said. I believe you have the aptitude to begin an early proposal. It will give you more time to develop your concept. If you would like, I can recommend you to an advisor."
"Yes, I think I would. I have a commitment this afternoon, but I want to discuss it further as soon as possible. Do you want to get coffee this weekend?"
"I do not drink coffee."
"Then tea. Or something? You know… meet somewhere?" She was disarmed by his confusion. She had proposed this with many instructors—some of the more open ones even preferred it over meeting in their office.
"We can meet here."
"On the weekend?"
"The building will be open."
She leaned back in her chair. "Don't you ever get tired of this office?"
"It is perfectly adequate."
She smiled. She was in a good enough mood to be amused by his obstinacy "Okay. What time works for you?"
The afternoon following her final exam, Uhura sat in Spock's empty office. She had never taken the opportunity to really examine it, usually wrapped up in some heated discussion. It was austere, as expected. Unlike other teachers' offices, there were no decorative touches, save for a strange-looking plant in one corner of the room. It was small, due to the number of more experienced, better ranked and decorated officers on staff. A gray, two-seat couch sat against the wall opposite his desk, just under a wide window. There was a low glass table in front of it, containing a stack of well-preserved, ancient paper volumes, Vulcan script curling down their spines. She wondered if he ever sat on the couch. She had never seen him leave his desk.
Spock paused in the doorway when he saw her.
"Sorry—it was unlocked, so I let myself in. Maybe I should have waited outside…"
He shook his head and sat down on the couch. She smiled a little as she watched him lock his fingers at the exact center-point between his knees. "How can I help you, Miss Uhura? Did you have questions about the final exam?"
She turned her chair to face him. "I wanted to ask…" She took a breath. "May I be a teaching assistant for your class? I heard that they decided to offer the fall section to you, and I noticed you didn't have an assistant this semester."
He just stared blankly at her for a moment, and she waited for the flat refusal she expected. Instead he looked down, calculating the meaning of her question. "You are the first student to make this request."
"Oh." Despite his unaffected manner, she felt a twinge of pity.
"You are certainly qualified," he continued. "I will have to adjust the curriculum to accommodate your role…"
"If it's too much trouble, I don't want to force you to…"
"I would like to," he said plainly. "I believe your presence would be beneficial for my students, and for myself."
Even though his face remained expressionless, the way he formed his words seemed like an effusion of praise. Astonishment left her momentarily speechless. In her pause, he surveyed the room.
"You will need a workspace."
Three weeks later, Uhura returned to his office to find that the plant had disappeared, and the couch sat a little bit closer to the door. A small desk stood in the corner, a PADD placed neatly at its center. He motioned to it without ceremony and launched immediately into a list of instructions leading up to the first class. Even then, she couldn't help but feel a little pleased.
By the third week they were side-by-side on the couch, explaining concepts in tandem as nearly half of the class lined up for his office hours.
Summer waned into fall. The days became shorter, and Uhura found herself in Spock's office after dark increasingly often. One night, they were in the midst of debating the relevancy of one paragraph in a student's essay when the power blinked out. The building fell silent without the ambience of its technological hums.
"Engineering department." Spock's voice carried through the dark. She heard him shift in his chair. "They perform power experiments on this building because it lacks any essential equipment."
"Except the doors," Uhura noted.
"Typically, the offices are empty at this hour. It will pass soon."
As her eyes adjusted, she saw the outline of his figure behind his desk, illuminated by the blue gleam of their handheld devices. After a pause he stood up, felt his way over to sit down next to her.
"Does this happen often?"
"From time to time." The low timbre felt intimate in the quiet peace that had settled over the room. "I often take it as an opportunity to meditate."
Their PADDs fell asleep one by one, and the room became awash with night. Neither of them moved, reaching a silent agreement to draw out the empty moment that was rare in their busy schedules. She had the fleeting realization that they might be the only two people in the building.
"What is Vulcan like?" Uhura asked suddenly. It was something she had wanted to ask for a long time, but found difficult to work into their conversations when met with his unyielding gaze. There was something careful and closed-off about the way he looked at people, more strained than other Vulcans she had met. She took it to mean that he was a private person, and never asked much of him outside of their academic concerns. Yet while his face was cloaked in shadow, she found a rare opening and leapt for it. Despite her determination, her words came out in a half-whisper.
"Specify which aspect of Vulcan you are referring to."
"Your favorite, I guess."
He paused thoughtfully. "I do prefer Vulcan cuisine over that of Earth. Replicators are unable to capture its subtlety of flavor, and I have not yet discovered anywhere in the city which serves it perfectly. I am able to eat it only when I have the chance to prepare it myself, which is not often, and there are many ingredients which are strictly regulated and difficult to come by."
"I've only been to that one place a little ways off campus."
"Their preparations are adequate."
"But not exceptional." In the silence that followed, Uhura thought she could sense a smile. "What about the landscape? Is it beautiful?"
"The hues of the desert are rich. Beautiful is, however, a subjective term. I cannot accurately affirm whether it is so, as we may not share an opinion on what we consider beautiful."
"I hear it's hot."
"Relative to Earth, quite so. Humans do not fare altogether well in the Vulcan summer."
"Winters here must be pretty hard for you then."
"At times. San Francisco is not unbearable. Unfortunately, my physiology does not allow me complete comfort on either planet. While I find Earth winters to be quite cold, I also find Vulcan summers uncomfortably warm."
"I am half human."
"Oh. I guess that would explain it."
In the silence that followed, the power thrummed back to life, filling the room with bright white light. Their gazes met suddenly, unexpectedly close. They both looked away. Uhura shifted closer to the armrest, rubbing her eyes.
"I should probably head home."
She caught a nod out of the corner of her eye. "Until tomorrow, Miss Uhura."
Hoping this isn't too gradual to be engaging. I just couldn't imagine their relationship unfolding very dramatically. More to come.