A/N: This is my attempt to write out Uhura as a student; she's a little nervous, but she knows exactly how smart she is. I hope you enjoy reading her as much as I liked writing her.
Thanks so much to clonus7 for such a quick beta-readthrough and her corrections, which all made perfect sense! I got inspired by taraljc and her "Journey to Drabble" Spock/Uhura piece "boundaries" on the st_reboot LJ community; she wrote such a lovely piece about Uhura's singing and the small bit in this story about Uhura's choral concert stemmed from that.
Part One: The Test
The door slides open, allowing Cadet Nyota Uhura access to his quarters on base. It closes behind her, leaving her alone with him.
Commander Spock, please do not kill me.
She chides herself. Her fear is that, once she tells him about her discovery, the core of his Vulcan emotions will swirl within him and his human side will allow them to escape. Uhura shakes her head. The Vulcan way of life is of logic and peace; Vulcans will fight, sure, but they will only raise arms when necessary.
Perhaps telling her instructor that his translations are wrong might be one of those times?
Uhura commands herself to stop. She has a job to do, and if it displeases him, she will take the heat. Even if that means losing her spot as an Academy aide for advanced phonology for next year. She hopes it will not come to that.
She needs to do something, or else her train of thought will undo her.
There is ambient light and no other illumination in the room; the large window opposite the metal door is dark, shielding the midday sun for the moment. A pleasant odor fills his quarters; a sweet-scented smoke imbues the air around her. It reminds Uhura of the tuberose flower — her favorite scent. But it is not tuberose, because that flower belongs to the Earth. It is a Vulcan herb that smells quite similar and produces the same calming effects on her mind. She can feel her breathless anxiety waning.
He sits on the floor, his back to her. She sees a tendril of smoke float past his shoulder; it undulates toward the ceiling. Uhura knows this is the source of the comforting smell; he is meditating.
And, of course, she, who is without tact, disturbs him.
Slowly, gracefully, he rises. He presses his hand against a pad on the wall and the ambient light dims. The windows lighten gradually, allowing a measure of light to pour into the room.
The commander, dressed in his dark grey Academy-standard uniform, pivots to face her. "My office is always open for my students, Cadet Uhura. Do not think that you will interfere with my meditations."
She can't help herself. Sometimes, she is far too inquisitive for her own good. "Doesn't meditation work better when you do it uninterrupted?"
"For humans, that may be the case, although you, as a species, do not require the practice for your own… needs. Vulcans, however, have learned to use meditation as a remedy for certain ailments that afflict our race. As such, we have trained our minds to accept the therapeutic qualities of meditation and to preserve our mental states, regardless of any disturbances."
"I did not intend to imply that your presence in my room is disturbing."
She can only stare at him. "I… didn't think you did, Commander." She clears her throat and tries to return to a state of composure.
So much of Commander Spock throws her off, befuddles her. She supposes she harbors a crush on the man, if one wanted to define the quick palpitations in her heart whenever he was within close proximity. But, most importantly, she admires his mind, his discipline, and the calmness with which he approaches every facet of Starfleet life.
Uhura knows humans amuse and confuse him, particularly their shows of emotion and their indulgence in the irrational. But he is drawn to them, no doubt due to his parentage. He enjoys Earth, with all of its foibles, and instead of forcing his logic upon her world, he ingratiates himself into it. He uses his intelligence when asked, but she never hears him utter anything cruel or insulting about Earth and its denizens.
This leads to interesting musings for her. Often, she wonders what he thinks of her. Would he ever think of her in that manner? Or does he think about other women instead? There are moments when she fancies that his eyes linger on her face longer than the other cadets when she talks to him before and after his lessons. Or that he calls on her for answers five times more than any other person in his class. Briefly, she remembers the time he made an observation that her talents in the Academy's Chorale Ensemble would — logically, of course — translate into proficiency in phonology and acoustical engineering.
She still feels it was his way of complimenting her, as he made this particular observation after watching her sing a rather challenging choral piece about a month ago.
Of course, the fruition of anything developing between them could spell trouble for either party. Instead, she convinces herself that she has applied to be his aide next year for none of those schoolgirl notions, that she has applied because he is the best teacher of advanced phonology in decades and getting the position could mean great things for her future.
She might finally touch the stars, and live up to the meaning of her name.
"Commander Spock, I have finished looking over the entire report, a-and—"
She shuts her eyes and bites her lip. Uhura can see her dream slipping away from her.
Infinity stretches out before her, endless and unknown and frightening. "You are wrong, sir."
There is nothing but silence. He crosses his arms and stares at her, this time both of his eyebrows arching as high as they can go. "I am wrong?"
She ignores her pounding heart, her churning stomach, and she continues. "With all due respect to the relationship between Vulcan and Romulan societies, of which you are obviously aware and are probably very sensitive about—"
Uhura flinches. She needs to control this mouth of hers.
"Sir, the last portion of your work fails to properly take into account the phonetic dissimilarities between a now-dead Romulan dialect and one that is still used in the Romulan-dominant territories within the Beta Quadrant. Er… the outer rim of the quadrant, that is."
She points to the screen on which his report is displayed. She moves her fingers apart, and the image widens. A few more taps, and there is a bright green mark around the passage in question.
"Commander, you've mistranslated several sections of this passage because you didn't apply the correct dialect."
Spock leans closer to study her findings. He smells of the same sweet smoke that she inhaled when she entered his room earlier. Uhura pushes this observation out of her mind; she must focus on the task at hand, which is telling her Vulcan commander that he is wrong. Very, very wrong.
He pulls the small screen from her hands. He does not make any sounds or any moves. Instead he stands perfectly still.
Finally, after an eternity passes, he looks at her. "Are you well trained in the three active Romulan dialects, Cadet Uhura?"
She laughs, hoping it sounds light and casual. Maybe she could even try a small quip. "Oh yeah, I'm good with all their dialects. Romulan this… Romulan that. I'm up to my eardrums in Romulan."
He watches her, studies her with curiosity. She is getting even more nervous. And when she gets nervous, she can't shut herself up.
"Favorite way to spend a Friday night — curled up in my room with a bottle of Vulcan wine and a big book of everything Romulan."
She wants to kick herself now because she just sounds stupid. But, she pauses; for a split second, she thinks he is suppressing a smile.
"You keep saying that, sir, and I don't know. Is that a good fascinating or a bad fascinating?"
"Cadet Uhura, you are fascinating. And I would say that it is good."
This silences her. She has no idea how to reply. "Oh. Thanks?"
"First, if you are comfortable with it, you may call me Spock when you are in my office or away from my class."
This is not what she expected. She blinks and shakes her head a tiny bit, understanding, but not really, what he just said. "W-well then, thank you... Spock."
His name escapes from her mouth as if she asks a question. It is not unusual for some students to call professors by their first, or in this case only, name. But Spock is different. No one calls him by his proper name who isn't another commander. She thinks she may be the first student to be allowed this honor.
Her heart pounds away at an accelerated rate and she is thankful Vulcans do not shake hands, lest he takes hers and somehow reads or senses things running at lightning speed through her head.
A sudden urge to try something seizes her — although propriety and Starfleet's code of conduct certainly frowns on such forward actions between a cadet and a commander.
But then she thinks, why the hell not?
"You may call me Nyota when it's just the two of us." She has no idea what possesses her to phrase the reply like that, but she does and she waits for his response.
His face softens. "Very well then, Nyota."
She realizes her name sounds beautiful spoken in his voice.
"Second, I would like to address your assertion that I have made a mistake on this report—"
She braces herself.
"It appears that you are right."
"Yes… I am." Uhura prays that she sounds more confident than she feels.
"I find it curious that, when posed with the task of reviewing my work for a report that all of you were told would be submitted to the Federation's Journal of Xenolinguistics, none of the other five candidates found this error. Only you, Nyota, did so. And so you must allow me to say, once again, that you are fascinating."
She sighs. "Well, when you put it like… Wait, did you say candidates? Other candidates examined this before I had a chance to look at it?" Her eyes narrow; a growing suspicion creeps from the back of her mind. "When you say candidates, do you mean—?"
"I mean that all six of the remaining candidates for the Advanced Phonology aide position received the same report with the same error."
I should've known!
"Is there a problem?" he asks.
She pinches her face and looks away from him. "This is part of the selection process, isn't it?" She asks her question through gritted teeth.
"Indeed it is. It is the final part of the selection process. And only one applicant was able to find the error that was included in this exercise."
Uhura gapes at him. "I-I can't believe this. Sir, er… Spock, may I speak freely?"
"Aren't Vulcans incapable of lying? Isn't this a lie?"
"A lie?" He has the foresight to look taken aback by the accusation. "It is an intellectual and professional exercise, Nyota."
She forgets how nervous she was when she entered his quarters; Uhura feels annoyance and anger with Spock, and it is growing. At a rather rapid rate. "Please explain to me, sir, how this is an exercise of any kind."
"I sense you are angry with me."
"Pretty much, yes."
"Might I ask why? Is it because you feel like you were misled?"
"I was misled! Do you know how long it took me to figure that out?" She jabs her finger at the report Spock still holds in his hands.
"You may tell me," he says, his voice infuriatingly calm.
"Two weeks! Two weeks I poured over a big, dusty book of dead Romulan dialects and phonology because every time I looked at that report, something didn't feel right. And I wasn't about to let something get published with your name on it that was wrong." She flaps her arms, completely aggravated. "And if I'm the only person that figured out the mistranslation, then I have no idea what that means for the xenolinguistics department and the quality of cadets that Starfleet's graduating!"
Spock sets the tablet down on his desk. "Allow me to address the source of your frustrations with my methods, Nyota."
She is thisclose to telling him that he can no longer call her by her first name, but the sound of "Nyota" from his mouth and the unwavering calm of his voice inexplicably soothe her.
"I apologize since your understanding of this exercise led you to spend a greater amount of time on reviewing the report than you otherwise would have. But the cadet that will be selected for the aide position must be honest with me and the other instructors in the department. An aide needs to retain their own sense of independent judgment and speak up if they feel an instructor is performing erroneously, either to the instructor in question or to another. Do you disagree with this assessment?"
"Well, no, I don't disagree. It's sound reasoning."
"It is logical, Nyota."
She glares at him; he does not flinch, though. Uhura feels he regards her with a sort of bemusement. Normally, his stoicism would be cause for amused twitters between her and her friends; Gaila certainly relishes in teasing Uhura about her attraction to the commander whenever she can.
At this moment, she would like nothing more than to wipe the smug expression off of his face.
She is fairly sure that his current expression is smugness. As smug as a Vulcan can be. She hates to think that, perhaps, she can read him better than she thought she could.
"As for the quality of teaching and education in the xenolinguistics department, I can only surmise that two of your fellow candidates could not find the error. The other three, I believe, knew of the error and failed to inform me of it."
"Why would they do that?"
"It is possible they were afraid of my reaction. They were too apprehensive to tell me that I was wrong."
"I was scared out of my pants to tell you you were wrong, to be honest."
Spock nods as he stands next to the simple white couch that rests against his wall. "Yes, but you did tell me your findings and you were honest with me, regardless of your fears of how I might react. Nyota, let me ask you: why did you tell me?"
Why is he asking her this pointless question? Because, you nitwit, I don't want you and this department to end up the laughingstock of the Federation! The words rest on the tip of her tongue and she is about to let loose as she normally does when she gets angry or feels insulted.
But something stops her. She thinks for a moment.
She is winning.
The realization dawns on her. She passes this final test, and the position is hers. The way he watches her, with a serene, relaxed expression, his lips curving slightly upward, looking at her with the utmost satisfaction.
Do not ruin this moment!
"I told you the truth because I wanted only the best work to come out of this department." She funnels her anger into something far more mellow. Snark. "And I must admit that I thought telling a Vulcan he was wrong would be a… fascinating experience."
She cannot be certain, but she thinks his eyes widen in surprise at her last answer.
"I will agree with you, Nyota. Telling a Vulcan they are wrong is quite gratifying. It is something that I have had the pleasure of doing many times before."
She feels her confidence rising. She is nailing this.
"Does this mean that you're choosing me for the position?" She cannot hold back the grin that is blossoming on her face. He continues to regard her with that same satisfied expression. He walks towards her.
"What? But I passed. I'm everything you could want—"
"The final decision is not up to me. It is up to the head of the department. However, in his capacity as department director, Commander Patel has given me a substantial role in selecting the aide. I assure you that you fulfill all the requirements perfectly."
She is slightly mollified; she also does not miss a chance to build more of a rapport with Spock. "So I am exactly what you are looking for? Am I right in my understanding?"
She definitely does not miss it this time; he grins at her. True, it is close-mouthed, but she does see both corners of his mouth turn up a couple of millimeters, with the tiniest hint of lines forming around them. "Indeed you are."
"I just want to make sure, Spock. I don't want to walk away from here with any mistaken notions about where I stand with you."
He quirks his eyebrow and her heartbeat speeds up in her chest.
"I have no doubt in my mind that you will be a satisfactory choice for the position of aide." He bends down and picks up the report that started this whole mess.
"Do you know what your name means, Nyota?"
The change in tone and in the conversation catches her off guard. "It… it means 'star' in Swahili."
Spock nods. "It is an appropriate name for you, as you are one of the top pupils in the department."
"In the Academy, Spock."
He gives her a conciliatory nod. "Indeed."
She smiles, licking her lips as she thinks about the next thing she wants to say in the ensuing lull. "My mother was in love with the whole notion of traveling in space and the possibility of seeing stars up close. Naming me 'Nyota' meant she would always have a star in her life. At least that's what she said to me when I was younger."
He stares at her for several beats, not saying a word. It is not uncomfortable for her, though. It is calm, pensive. Much like the man that stands in front of her. There is nothing harsh or scary about his face; she wants to chide herself for being so nervous before. For one second, for one brief, fleeting moment, she imagines she can see just a hint of shyness, cloaked inside his Vulcan stoicism. The moment passes, but it lingers in the air. She breathes it in and it makes her wonder, despite the improbabilities, that somethingmore might be possible between them.
"I will inform you as soon as the director makes his decision."
"Thank you, Spock. May I be excused?"
With a nod, she turns around, thankful that he cannot see her smiling face or her skin, darkening ever so slightly as the blood rushes to her cheeks. As the door to his office slides open, she hears his voice, soft and deep.
Her hand on the wall, she turns around and sees him. He is holding his hand next to his face, his fingers separated into the shape of a V, in the custom of his people.
"Live long and prosper."
She smiles. Uhura raises her hand, but struggles with the salute. After a moment, she simply holds her palm up toward him. "And you the same."