Hi everyone! I won't even try to explain the long delay between chapters. But on the upswing, I have quite a few plotted out in my head. Enjoy!
Uhura wasn't sure if Spock was nervous or distracted, it was hard to tell those two moods apart, especially since Spock would never admit to being nervous or distracted in the first place. She studied him carefully as they walked to lunch together, still a little surprised that he was there, as if his showing up after class was a delusion brought on by being hit in the head. But the sun, bright and beautiful in the clear cloudless sky, cast his shadow on the ground, and Uhura felt Spock's presence more concretely than ever before.
"We do not have to go to the cafeteria," Spock said eventually, eyes focused on the middle distance.
Uhura shrugged. "I don't feel like going anywhere else dressed like this." She was still in regulation sweats, edges a little frayed from being washed so many times. The Academy would give her new ones if she asked, but coming from a big family Uhura was no waster. Spock had on an informal uniform, but it looked immaculate.
"We could stop by your residence if you desire."
"Nah, this is fine. I'm hungry." Spock let out a small sound, somewhere between a sigh and a huff. "What?" Uhura asked, amused.
"The parameters of the bet were that I purchase lunch for you."
"If you use your card to gain entry to the cafeteria, then you are indeed paying." It was almost as if he were pouting.
"Actually, my parents paid for my meal plan, so technically they are paying." Uhura stopped walking and looked up a bit at Spock, grinning. Spock simply stared, but she could sense his displeasure at her attempt at humor. If she was with Galeth, she would have tried another joke, but Uhura had resigned herself to the fact that this was not Galeth long ago. "We can reschedule."
Spock looked to the right of her head. "But you said you were hungry."
Uhura turned her head just enough so her face disrupted Spock's line of vision, challenging his indecisiveness. "Then I suppose we have a dilemma."
Spock didn't look away but a tendon in his neck tightened like a twisting rope. "I…"
"Look, I'm hungry, so using some basic cause and effect, I'm going to have lunch. If you would like to join me, that would be fine." Without anger, Uhura walked away. After about ten paces she threw a glance over her shoulder. Spock was staring at her, hands clasped behind his back. "Are you coming?"
"You are," he commented, walking toward her, "unique."
Uhura batted her eyes innocently. "I certainly hope you aren't being euphemistic with your use of unique." He raised an eyebrow. "Some people," she explained, locking her hands behind her back to match his posture, "use 'unique' as a euphemism for abnormal."
"Abnormal would be a more negative description."
"Would it surprise you to hear that people have called me 'unique' in the past?"
Uhura didn't try to hide her chuckle. "I'm not sure surprise is the right word."
Spock didn't consider his answer for long, looking Uhura deep in her eyes, leaning forward just enough to be in the periphery of her personal body space. "I stand by my original statement. You are unique. And that is not a negative."
The weather was unseasonably warm, but there was a sudden chill down Uhura's spine. He'd noticed something unique? Noticed what, exactly? She smiled. "Thank you."
Spock's arms unwrapped from behind his back, as close to a smile as he could muster. "You are welcome."
Uhura crooked her head a bit, smile continuing to shine. "Come on, let's go get lunch."
The mess hall was huge. During the full swing of the school year the place was full, and its size and grandeur were appropriate. But in the summer, when there appeared to be more sunlight scatter on the floor then people at tables, Uhura felt uneasy. It was as if she were a child who'd somehow wandered into a place only for adults, and if she stayed too long someone might discover her and kick her out. When the school year was on, and finding a seat was difficult, Uhura would linger in the hall, listening carefully for the different languages, taking a perverse pleasure in listening in to conversations that others had assumed to be private. But when the hall was empty during the summer, and her ears were surrounded by mostly English, Uhura sat at tables by herself and made plans to call her parents later.
Spock selected a table for them in a corner, away from most people. Still, a few pairs of eyes tracked them from behind cup rims discretely.
Their trays clanked lightly against the tabletop. Spock had a large salad, and Uhura's hamburger dripped with barbeque sauce. She compared their meals, then gave a somewhat nervous point toward his plate. "You got a salad."
"Are we playing the food identity game?"
"No no…I just forgot that you're a vegetarian. Maybe I should get something different."
Spock poked at his leafy greens. "I am a vegetarian by choice and temperament, not because I have objections to the slaughter of animals for meat. You should feel free to eat your meal. Though I wonder why you would want to eat a burger after working out. It seems…counterproductive."
Uhura picked up her burger and took a large bite, chewing and swallowing quickly. "Are you kidding me? I'm eating this burger because I just worked out." Spock opened his mouth to say something but Uhura waved a hand. "It's girl logic, I couldn't even start to explain."
Spock nodded, and they ate in silence for a few bites. Despite being together often, this new setting for interaction made both participants weary. Uhura stretched out her legs and accidentally hit Spock's foot, making her own appendage snap back like a rubber band. "Sorry."
"Can you see though the table?"
There was nothing to mask her confusion. "Say what now?"
"Can you see through the table?" Spock asked again, his voice mimicking the same effect as the first time, a unique casual curtness that Uhura had identified as his familiar tone. A tone he only really used around her.
"I forgot my x-ray glasses at home, so no."
"Then do not apologize. It is doubtful you could have seen my leg."
Uhura put down her hamburger and sucked sauce off her thumb. "My my, are you using that famous humor on me."
"As I informed you earlier, I can be funny."
"And often on purpose," she added.
"I'm curious if I was successful."
"In telling a joke?" Spock nodded. "Am I smiling?"
"It is most often illogical to answer a question with another question. It slows down the flow of information"
Uhura pointed a finger at him. "Stop stalling."
Spock put down his fork and stared at her intently. Uhura grinned at him, careful to show no teeth in case there was food. "Yes, you are smiling."
"Then let's count this joke experiment as a success."
"Agreed." They gapped into another silence and Uhura ate steadily. Spock pushed the salad around his plate. Was he nervous? Or was he just looking for a mushroom? "I do not often have informal meals with others," he said. "Discussion topics can differ based on context."
Uhura's eyebrows knit together, but she thought before speaking. She could get into a long debate with him about 'conversation ethics' and appropriateness, but looking at Spock, who had turned up the sleeves on his shirt just to eat a salad without dressing, just in case of a devious carrot sliver, she decided not to. How many meal time etiquette discussions had he already had in his life? On Vulcan, none the less (though she did enjoy the mental image of a young Spock, eating a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off). She didn't want to beat a dead horse in public and finally decided on asking "How's your salad?"
Spock jumped a little, like a joint in his chair had bit him. "My salad is…satisfactory. I find the quality of the food in this commissary to be consistent."
"The salads here are good. I like the almonds."
"Almonds have a high nutritional value."
"I like how they make the salad crunchier."
"Yes, I also enjoy that quality, it creates diversity." They paused and Uhura waited, urging Spock on through sheer mental will. "How is your meal?"
Ah ha, so he could learn by example. She let out a breath. "Delicious, but it could maybe use some onions. Not as good as what my dad grills though."
"Your father is a chef?"
Uhura chuckled. "My father is a plant supervisor, but he loves to cook. My brothers and I once got him a 'King of the Grill' apron."
Spock seemed slightly agog. "Did he actually wear it?"
"To satisfy his children."
There was a tone of superiority to the statement that Uhura didn't enjoy. She set down the meager amount of burger that remained and leaned back in her chair. "Oh no, he probably would have worn in again, but he accidentally set it on fire on the Fourth of July. I have a great video of him running around our backyard, hitting himself with a spatula as my brothers and I throw drinks at him."
"Your mother did not try to help?"
"I'm sure she would have if she could have stopped laughing. That's all you hear in the video, my mother laughing and laughing. She only stopped when she figured out this meant our dinner got burnt. I think we ended up having pizza that night."
Spock looked out the window to the glistening sea. "My mother used to say that was the hardest part of living on Vulcan. She missed the food on Earth."
"Didn't you guys have very similar things? Our cultures trade so much."
His face remained in profile, sunlight through the windows warming his cheekbones. "Yes, but she said it was not the same if it was grown on Vulcan." Spock turned back slowly, put his fork down. "My mother would write her parents and beg them to send her mixes and powders. Things like cakes, brownies, cheesy potatoes, waffles, and rice. She always claimed that she wanted to save the food, and space out the pleasure of its consumption for as long as possible. But the supplies rarely lasted the first week."
"Your father must have hated that."
"He certainly objected to the extravagance of shipping such items. Additionally, producing and eating so much food in such a short period of time could be seen as very wasteful. But…"
Uhura rested her head in her hand, burger eaten, wrapper folded into a perfect square on her tray. "But?"
"But one time my mother made a big meal and as she looked at the food she said 'It's just like Thanksgiving' and my father reached for her hand under the table. We all had seconds that night."
Though Spock was staring right at her, his mind was across the galaxy, lost in time. There was a certain softness to his features. The knowledge that Spock loved his family, even if he didn't realize that that emotion existed inside him, warmed her heart. Uhura tried to make her voice unobtrusive. "I think that your father secretly likes human food."
Spock snapped back to reality, pupils less dilated. "I think my father was acutely aware of the burden my mother carried living away from her home and biological culture, and allowed indulgences for her…"
"Something like that, yes."
"And what about your human-ness?"
The coolness in his cheekbones returned. "I do not need such indulgences."
Spock returned to eating the remainder of his salad, and Uhura picked up her paper napkin and discreetly began ripping it to shreds in her lap. She hadn't meant to stick her foot far enough into her mouth to really taste the leather. Hadn't she, at least a little, tiny bit, been hoping to have a one-on-on meal with Spock? It was the next logical step in their what… friendship. Was that what this was? She wasn't at all certain. And she'd had to go and make things into a discussion about being human, about feelings. As the quietness stretched on, Uhura lurched through her mind for something to say.
"My grandmother used to sing when she made waffles." The outburst was so random that she had to resist the urge to slap her hand across her mouth and try to shove the words back in.
Spock looked back up at Uhura, fork stopped in mid air, lettuce tumbling off the prongs. "Excuse me?"
Uhura smiled and willed her back to relax into a more comfortable posture. She'd started this hole, might as well keep digging. "When I was about five my grandmother, Mama, came to live with us. My mom wanted to go back to college with my brothers; they're older, all in school. So Mama came and stayed, and she started this tradition of making waffles on Sunday. And she'd sing these songs, these beautiful songs, in Creole."
"Mama was born in Haiti and didn't immigrate to America until she was fifteen. And her grandmother used to sing to her, so she sang to us." Now it was Uhura's turn to have her voice take on a dreamy quality.
"What were the songs about?"
"The songs?" Uhura met Spock's eyes and, to her surprise and relief, he seemed genuinely interested. His eyes were trained on her, unblinking, yet he ate without ceasing or spilling. "They were about a lot of things. Some were like fairy tales. Others were more traditional, about love, romance, you know what songs are like."
"In general, I listen almost exclusively to instrumental selections."
Uhura paused. On one hand he could be making a dig at her choice in music. On the other, he might be trying, in his own stilted way, to keep the conversation going. She opened her mouth to further explain, but was saved by a booming voice. "Uhura!" Both swiveled their heads to see Galeth striding across the cafeteria, waving at Uhura with one hand, smoothie in the other, fingers long enough to glide almost completely around the enormous cup. He reached their table quickly and Uhura felt her stomach clench. "Imagine meeting you two here. I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
Uhura almost took Spock's fork and put in into Galeth's neck. "Spock," she said, trying to sound natural, "I'd like you to meet my friend Galeth."
Galeth smiled and extended a hand. "Hi, Uhura's said great things about you."
Spock stood and shook, "Likewise. Please, join us." Galeth took a seat on Spock's side of the table, and Uhura's heart sank a little. So much for a whole lunch one-on-one.
"So," Galeth started, turning to Uhura, "I didn't realize that you had plans. If I had known you had a date, I wouldn't have waited for you at the gym."
Involuntarily, both Spock's and Uhura's eyes widened and locked with each other. Within a blink Spock looked away. Uhura had to jump start her lungs in order to speak. "We aren't on a date Galeth. Spock lost a bet."
Galeth let out a short, squeal sounding laugh. "That even better! Tell me more." Galeth locked both hands around his cup and started to suck enthusiastically, looking back and forth between the two.
"I think I need more to drink," Spock mumbled, getting up awkwardly from his chair, obviously perturbed by the loud clunking noises the armrests made against the tabletop.
Uhura felt a wave of panic. "No."
"I will return," Spock said sharply. When he saw her face, his voice softened. "Can I get you anything?"
My dignity, Uhura though ruefully. "I'm fine." Spock nodded and walked away swiftly. When Uhura believed he was out of ear shot, she whipped on Galeth, gripping his arm tightly. "Do you have a death wish I don't know about, because I could seriously kill you right now."
Galeth grinned. "Ha, I was right. This is a date. That's adorable."
She dug in her nails like a lioness taking down a gazelle and Galeth began to shake his arm to get her lose. "It is not," Uhura said through clenched teeth, "a date."
Galeth gave his arm a final tug to freedom. "Could have fooled me."
"Stop being an ass." She looked around and noticed Spock making his way back to the table. "Now are you going to play nice, or am I going to have to repeatedly kick you under the table?"
"I'll be good, Girl Scout's honor."
Spock was almost upon them, a tea cup in hand, so Uhura had to whisper her question. "How in the hell do you know what a Girl Scout is?"
"I like their cookies," Galeth said, giving a thumbs up.
"Unbelievable…" Uhura muttered.
"So, Galeth," Spock offered as he smoothed his uniform and sat down, "Uhura tells me you are in security?"
"It's true. With my physique," Galeth stretched his arms above his head, further emphasizing his serious size, "they were originally going to put me into the elite ballet and cookie making division here at Star Fleet. But after some bribes and crying, I convinced them otherwise."
Uh oh, sarcasm, Uhura thought. This could go one of two ways.
"Did you know I was selected for the professional scowling team here?" Spock responded, sipping his cup as if commenting on the bland color of the table. "Very prestigious."
Galeth's grin must have made his cheeks ache. "Very. And so highly organized too."
"Indeed. So tell me more of your studies. How do you see security integrating and changing with the new class of Enterprise? The size alone must present several unique challenges."
Uhura's first instinct was to fall from her chair in a state of shock. But that emotion passed quickly, and was replaced with an even more surprising one: happiness. Spock has lunch with her. He talks about home. He jokes and makes nice with her friend. It wasn't easy, and at times uncomfortable. But she was pleased with the results. As she watched Spock and Galeth chat, she noticed they were both enthusiastic, but in their own ways. Galeth spoke loudly, his voice and arms emotive with expression. Spock had turned in his chair, his attention fully on Galeth, not even bothering to touch his tea. He asked pointed questions and leaned forward and back, tilting his head while following the flow of conversation. Uhura was certain she could break out into the Charleston then and there, shoes clicking on the table top as she danced, and Spock would not be swayed from his duty. Hadn't anyone noticed before? His formalness was his sign of respect. Had humans fallen so low in their understanding of etiquette that they'd missed it? Was this why Spock was so misunderstood? Of course not, nothing was so simple in her, it would be silly to say that about Spock. But it was a starting point. And even though she'd never admit it out loud, she was really starting to enjoy unraveling the layers of her friend.
Yes, she thought, that's right. Friend.
So when Galeth and Spock ended their conversation with a strong, genuine handshake, and Spock walked her home, Uhura didn't hesitate to lay a hand on his forearm while saying goodbye.
Neither person commented on the touch, but each remembered it through the night.