11. A'rie'mnu – n.(lit.) passion's mastery; mastery of passion and emotion
She spent the next week recovering and trying to distract Gaila from the upcoming disciplinary hearing. It wasn't easy. She'd never seen Gaila so sober, and even Kirk looked sheepish on the few times he dared show his face in their room.
Gaila remained as loyal to him as ever, but Nyota suspected that Kirk's golden reputation had been irretrievably tarnished in her eyes – which was no bad thing. Jim Kirk was dangerous property and even Nyota found him difficult to refuse – as evinced when he cornered her in the cafeteria and asked her to crew for him in the infamous Kobayashi Maru simulation.
Despite not having forgiven him for what he'd done to Gaila, she found herself accepting; where Kirk led people couldn't help but followed. Besides, she was curious to see what the notorious command test was all about.
As it turned out, it was all about fear. And death. And failure.
Though they knew it was a simulation, they came out shaken and somber. All accept Kirk, who came out furious and demanded, instantly, the chance to take the test again.
He was given two weeks to prepare.
At the end of the first week, Gaila was summoned to Captain Podhar's office.
"This is it," she said, neatly pressed and gazing at herself in the mirror. "This is the crossroads."
Nyota watched from her bed, sitting nervously on its edge. "Are you sure you don't want me to come with you? I could wait outside."
"No." Gaila lifted her chin, straightened her shoulders. "I'm a big girl, Nyota. It was my mistake and I'll face the consequences alone."
"Call me, then, as soon as you're out."
Gaila turned away from the mirror and looked at her. "You'll be the first."
They didn't hug, it wasn't that kind of moment. "Good luck," Nyota said.
Head high, Gaila walked out of their room and didn't look back.
Too nervous to just sit and wait, Nyota threw her PADD into her bag and headed outside. It was a cool morning and the quad outside their dorms was a sea of red uniforms. Among them she saw Kirk and McCoy, and made her way through the crowds toward them. Kirk, she noted, at least had the good grace to look uncomfortable.
"Hey," he said, as she came to sit down on the wall next to him. "How's Gaila?"
"Nervous," Nyota said. "The meeting was at nine."
Kirk nodded. "I feel bad."
He cast her a look. "Are you always this sympathetic?"
"You should see me on a bad day."
McCoy snorted. "They'd been morons to throw her out over this."
"Your point?" Kirk said.
"They're not morons, Jim." He glanced at Nyota. "He's still sore because of the Kobayashi Maru."
"Ah." She looked at Jim, at the tense shoulders and beetled brow. "You do know that no one wins, right? That's the point."
Jim shook his head. "Then it's a stupid point. There's no such thing as a no-win situation, not unless you program it to be a no-win situation. And what's the point of that?"
"The point is to test how you perform in a no-win situation."
"But I don't accept the premise of the test; there are no no-win situations."
"Come on," McCoy objected, "of course there are."
Kirk's frown deepened. "It's like when you're kids and you're playing Starfleet and Klingons, and suddenly this dorky kid's all 'Well my gun's better than all yours and I shoot you and you're all dead.' It's not realistic, it's manipulating reality. And it pisses me off."
Nyota exchanged a look with McCoy. "So why are you taking it again?"
"To see if I can beat the bastards."
"And if you can't?"
"Then I'll take it again..."
McCoy rolled his eyes. "You know, Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results..."
Jim gave a sudden, dangerous, grin but Nyota didn't hear what he'd been about to say because at that moment someone shouted "Nyota!"
She looked over and saw Gaila flying down the steps of the computer science building. "Nyota!"
The grin plastered across her friend's face was all the answer she needed and as soon as Gaila reached them Nyota hugged her hard. "I knew it," she grinned, even though she hadn't known it at all.
Gaila was bouncing, bubbling with excitement, hugged McCoy and then Kirk – for much longer, and with more kissing. But then she broke off and backed away. "Wait! Gah, I promised them and I already forgot!"
"Promised them what?" Kirk said, half smiling through his puzzled frown.
Gaila lowered her voice. "To be more professional with my personal relationships, not let them influence my behavior and stuff. It's a fair point, I know it is, and I have to try harder. I mean, what if it was a battle situation and I let personal feelings cloud my judgment? What if I let people die just to save one hot guy? That would be terrible."
McCoy grunted. "They'd like us all to be robots, I suppose. Or cold blooded Vulcans."
"Vulcan's aren't—" Nyota cut herself off, feeling vaguely uneasy, as if she were somehow giving herself away. "I heard they feel emotions as deeply as humans, if not more," she finished lamely.
McCoy lifted an eyebrow. "Then that makes it worse."
"Actually," Gaila said, "Commander Spock was more sympathetic than Captain Podhar."
Nyota's heart jolted. "Spock was there?"
"He gave me a bit of a lecture about the danger of 'embarking on emotional relationships with fellow officers,'" she said, making a face, "but then he said that I'd probably learned from what happened and wouldn't make the same mistake twice." She gave Jim a pointed look. "He was right – you can email your own virus next time!"
Kirk just smiled. "So," he said, "we should celebrate. Breakfast at Joe's?"
But food was the last thing on Nyota's mind. "I'm going to the library," she said, giving Gaila's arm a squeeze. "I'm so pleased for you," she added, with a smile. "I knew you'd be okay."
Gaila gave her an inquisitive look. "You okay?"
"Sure, why not?" And with a nod to Kirk she headed off across the quad.
But she wasn't going to the library. In truth, she didn't know where she was going, her mind was too full to concentrate. Spock was there, on campus. He was there and he'd convinced Captain Podhar to forgive Gaila her lapse of judgment. She smiled, a warmth spreading out from the centre of her chest; it was an act of compassion and generosity and she realized she was proud of him. She suspected he'd learned something from what had happened – or hadn't happened – between them, and that Gaila had benefitted from his insight.
But it was a bittersweet realization, because it was clear that he wasn't going to make the same mistake twice either. Whatever he might once have felt for her, he was clearly well aware of the dangers emotional entanglement posed and was determined to master the feeling. The realization was less of a relief than she might once have imagined.
She stopped, considering that notion for a moment. There was a tightening in her chest, a flutter in the pit of her stomach. Uneasy, she pushed them both away and carried on walking.
The fact was, Spock was on campus and he hadn't tried to contact her; they'd said their farewells at the fleet yards and the man she'd glimpsed aboard the Enterprise, sardonic, complex, and rebellious, was lost to her now. He'd take care that only Commander Spock was on display – cool, rational, and reserved – and she'd never get to know the intriguing mind beneath.
It was a loss she was incapable of quantifying – who knew what lay on the road not travelled? Yet she found herself sighing and it felt a lot like regret.
Shortly after Gaila's hearing, Nyota was summoned to Captain Healy's office. Her heart jumped when she got the message because there was only one reason why Healy would want to see her; her thesis had been marked.
By the time she reached Healy's office, she was breathless from sprinting across the campus and had to take a minute to calm her breathing. When she was composed she pressed the door chime and waited for the doors to slide open.
Healy was in her customary armchair near the window, but she was not alone.
Nyota stopped in the threshold, astonished to see Ambassador Sarek rise in a fluid motion from the chair opposite the captain.
"Lieutenant Uhura," he said, with a scant nod of his head.
Healy looked displeased and Nyota wracked her mind for a reason. Surely the Ambassador hadn't come to complain about the fork debacle?
"The Ambassador would like a few words," Healy said, casting a flat look at Sarek. It had all the impact of rain hammering on a duck's back. "I'll be back in ten minutes."
With that, and a significant look at Nyota, Healy walked out, closing the door.
The silence she left behind was excruciating, filled only by Sarek's trenchant gaze. Nyota wondered if he was trying to read her mind. Unable to bear the silence, she said, "I hope Doctor T'Prek is recovering well, Ambassador."
"Her progress is satisfactory," Sarek said, his voice clipped and precise. "But I have not come here to discuss her recovery."
His tone was harsh and it struck her how softly spoken Spock was in contrast to his father – she wondered if that, too, was an act of rebellion.
"You can have no doubt, Lieutenant," said Sarek, "why I came here before returning to Vulcan."
Bemused, Nyota said, "Perhaps to see your son...?"
"No." Sarek walked closer, his face forbidding. "Do not dissemble, Lieutenant. I am no fool."
Irritated by his tone, she straightened her back and squared her jaw. "I'm not—"
"It has been brought to my attention that you are involved in a romantic relationship with my son."
She stared. "Excuse me?"
"I do not believe your hearing is deficient, Lieutenant, however lacking you might be in good sense."
His tone piqued a sudden anger. "I'm sorry, Ambassador, I don't see how my relationship with your son is any of your concern."
"Whatever my son might have told you," Sarek said, "a relationship between you is impossible."
Nyota said nothing, refusing to dignify his words with a response.
"It is impossible," Sarek continued, "because Spock is already betrothed to a Vulcan woman; they have been bonded since childhood and in two years will unite in marriage."
It felt like a sucker punch, but Nyota refused to let it show. She refused to give anything away; Vulcans weren't the only ones who could play their cards close to their chest.
Sarek looked at her curiously. "Have you nothing to say on the matter? You see, now, that a relationship between you is impossible."
"I see that you'd like it to be impossible."
He frowned. "Spock is betrothed according to ancient custom. Would you have him abandon one of the most basic tenets of Vulcan culture, excluding himself forever from his own people, simply for the sake of a fleeting human liaison?"
"I wouldn't have him do anything he didn't want! But if you're expecting me to tell him what to do, then think again; your son makes his own choices." She shot him a pointed look. "As you did."
Sarek's brow drew low. "Spock's mixed heritage is precisely the reason why his choices must be more circumspect. If you felt anything for him, you would remind him where his interest lies."
"And if you felt anything for him, you'd let him do what makes him happy."
She saw anger in the tight lines of Sarek's face. "Do not presume to judge my feelings for my son."
"Then don't presume to judge mine!" Nyota sucked in a deep breath, steadying herself. After a pause, she said, "I think, Ambassador, this is a conversation you should have with Spock."
"Be assured that I will." His displeasure was evident. "And be assured, Lieutenant, that he will do his duty to his father and to Vulcan. Given his already precarious position within our society, and the sanctions he would face should he abandon his betrothed, it is the only logical choice."
Nyota inclined her head. "In that case, Ambassador, I wonder what logic brought you all the way here to talk to me?"
Sarek didn't answer, his expression darkening.
She smiled, saccharine sweet. "If you'll excuse me, sir, I'm running late for a class."
In silence she opened the door and stalked out, anger bristling like dry heat across her skin. But amid her fury and distress one thought crept insistently into her mind; Spock was betrothed. He had been duty bound to marry a Vulcan woman since childhood. What a different light that cast over his words!
I have taken into account the disapprobation of my family, of Vulcan society in general, not to mention the breach of Starfleet regulations. Indeed, in light of so much opposition, I can only consider my pursuit of this relationship to be highly illogical and potentially damaging to my future prospects. Yet I find that I cannot help myself, that I cannot overcome or control this emotion, and so – logically – I have concluded that I must embrace it...
She walked without seeing where she went, focused entirely inward. Only now did she truly understand what it meant to be a child of two worlds, torn between two cultures and their diverging expectations. Only now did she understand the profound confusion his feelings for her must have caused, and the degree of anguish he must have felt at her rejection. Her heart ached.
And only now, when it was too late, did she understand the nature of her own changing feelings. Admiration, respect, curiosity, fascination… All those she had come to feel for him, yes, but in a mysterious, alchemic reaction they had combined to produce something new and unexpected.
In a sunny corner between the linguistics building and the cafeteria, Nyota Uhura realized she had fallen in love.
12. Shan'hal'lak – n. (lit.) the engulfment; overwhelming emotion, esp. love
On a rainy afternoon, a week after Gaila was granted her reprieve, Jim Kirk sat the Kobayashi Maru for the second time.
His ship was destroyed and none of the crew were rescued. Kirk left the simulation with a scowl and a demand to be allowed a third attempt.
He was turned down.
"They're idiots!" he railed later, in the sparse comfort of Cochrane's bar. "Goddamn techie nerds cannot outmaneuver me."
"Hey!" Gaila protested, shoving his arm. "Who are you calling a techie nerd?"
He waved his beer – his fourth – in her direction. "Did you program the damn thing? No. Didn't think so."
"Give me another couple of years and maybe I will," she said, tossing her hair over one shoulder. "Computer genius, remember?"
Kirk smiled, that lightning bright grin that Nyota might have found devastating if she hadn't been so preoccupied by dark, ironic eyes. He knocked his bottle against Gaila's. "As if I could forget..."
"What aren't we forgetting?" McCoy appeared out of nowhere, hands braced on the back of Kirk's chair and raindrops on his hair and shoulders. He snagged the beer from Kirk's hand and took a swig. "God, man, why do you drink this gnat's piss?"
Kirk snatched his beer back. "Buy your own."
Ignoring him, McCoy grabbed a chair and stretched out his legs. "So?" He eyed them all with that world-weary look of his, daring someone to dish the dirt.
Nyota broke first. "Kirk took the test again."
"And now he's on his fourth beer and cursing the computer science department."
McCoy shook his head. "I've known dogs who learned faster."
"The bastards won't let me take it again," Kirk growled.
"Because it would be a waste of everyone's time? They may have a point." He took the beer from him again, swallowing another mouthful with a grimace. "Damn, that's bad."
"I said get your own!"
"If this piss-ant excuse for a bar sold anything worth—" He cocked an eyebrow, staring at something over Nyota's shoulder. "Well lookie here, Captain Pike down from on-high."
Turning around, Nyota was surprised to see the Captain – still in his command uniform – making his way through the crowd toward the bar. Then she caught a glimpse of blue in the shadows behind him and found herself riveted to her chair.
She felt a dozen things, all at once, and couldn't untangle one from the other: surprise, embarrassment, confusion, hope, fear. Heat. She turned back around and grabbed the neck of her beer bottle, letting the condensation cool her fingers.
He'd looked as uncomfortable as she'd ever seen him, making his way through the raucous crowd with his hands clenched behind his back. She couldn't imagine what he was doing there, in Cochrane's of all places.
"Uh-oh." McCoy arched an eyebrow and straightened in his chair. "Incoming."
Nyota felt the hair on the back of her neck stir and behind her a voice said, "Lieutenant Uhura."
It was Captain Pike.
Unsure if she was relieved or disappointed she turned, getting to her feet. "Captain."
He waved her back to her seat. "We're in a bar, Lieutenant," he said with a smile. Then he nodded across the table. "Kirk."
"Heard you took the Kobayashi Maru a second time. How'd that work out?"
Jim leaned back in his seat, defensive. "Not as good as the third would, if they'd let me take it."
Pike smiled. "They won't let you take another shot?"
Kirk probably answered, but Nyota wasn't listening. Over Pike's shoulder she saw Spock standing at the bar, nursing a drink he was clearly not drinking, and deliberately not looking at her. She knew it was deliberate because she could see the tension in his shoulders, the self-conscious way he resisted the temptation to look up. Who needed telepathy when you had body language?
She was just wondering how long he'd hold out, when his gaze slid fluidly to her own and for a heartbeat connected. There was no sardonic humor there, no irony, just an intent look that she couldn't fathom; he was as inscrutable as when she'd first known him.
Embarrassed, she looked away and found Captain Pike smiling at her. "I wanted to thank you personally, Lieutenant, for your actions aboard the Enterprise."
It took her a moment to catch up. Then, "Oh, anyone would have done the same, sir."
"I hope so," he agreed. "But you were there and my first officer informs me you performed admirably."
She couldn't suppress a smile, albeit an awkward one. "Thank you, sir."
Pike looked at her for a long beat, then nodded to the rest of them. "As you were, Cadets." He flung an amused look at Kirk. "I have my contacts, Jim. I'll see what I can do about getting you that third shot."
"You will?" He almost bolted out of his chair. "Thank you, sir."
Pike fixed him with a look. "You could do worse than studying the Kelvin in preparation."
"Yes, sir," Jim said, flipping from ecstatic to deadly serious in a moment. "I already have."
Pike just nodded his approval and walked back toward the bar.
Nyota watched him go, watched him say something to Spock and watched Spock answer with his gaze fractionally diverted from her own; she was languishing in his peripheral vision and it was driving her crazy. Was he going to ignore her entirely?
"There's Spock," Gaila said, nudging her arm. "Look."
"You were his TA, Nyota!" she laughed. "I know he pissed you off, but you can't ignore him entirely. That's rude – even by human standards!"
"I'm not—" The denial died on her lips.
Okay, reality check; was he really ignoring her? Or was he just embarrassed? More importantly, would she ever know which if she didn't march over there and find out for herself? Probably not.
Getting to her feet, she abandoned her beer. "I'll just..." She lost the rest of the words, let them slip away as she pushed her way toward the bar.
Act, don't think; she was taking a leaf out of Kirk's book for once.
Spock knew she was approaching, she saw it in the way his gaze kept trying to flick in her direction – his posture stiffened, his lips pressed into a taut line, but his attention never wavered from Captain Pike.
Conversely, her mind was chaotic with all things she couldn't say.
Thanks so much for helping Gaila out. Did you know your dad came over last week to warn me away from you? Oh, and by the way, I just realized I'm a little bit in love with you. Or maybe a lot.
With so much forbidden, when she came to a stop next to him and his eyes – those serious eyes – met hers at last, Nyota found herself lost for words.
"Hello," she managed after a long pause, acutely aware of Captain Pike standing right there, listening.
"Lieutenant." Spock said no more and she wondered if his mind was as confused as her own, or if he simply had nothing to say.
Music started playing; she'd forgotten there was a band tonight. It was loud and intrusive and she saw a tightening around Spock's eyes. He probably hated it.
"Ah, look," Pike said, dipping his head closer to Spock's to be heard. "Captain Nahil's over there. Think I'll go say hello." He nodded toward Nyota, a glint in his eye. "Lieutenant."
She watched him leave, then returned her attention to Spock. His gaze was now fixed on the band – a motley bunch of juniors with only a tangential grasp of tonality – and there was no humor in his eyes whatsoever. He was very much like the man she'd first known; cold, critical, and unsmiling.
And yet aboard the Enterprise…? There, he'd been something else entirely – wry, engaged, and open. There, he had made her laugh. She felt a beat of frustration; why had he come here at all, if he was just going to blank her? Searching for something to say – searching for that other Spock – she raised her voice over the music. "I hope your parents got home okay."
He looked at her briefly. "Thank you, my mother returned to Vulcan last week. My father…" Here he paused again, his gaze sliding away again. "I believe he returned several days ago."
Her stomach twisted; Sarek had spoken to him. Of course he had, she could see it in his eyes. Sarek had laid out in bald detail every reason why he should avoid a 'fleeting human liaison', and now Spock was cold and severe and couldn't look at her.
Didn't take a genius to solve that equation.
"Nyota!" Gaila engulfed her in a drunken hug, grinning. Then, to Spock, she said, "Excuse me, sir, do you mind if I steal her away? I want to dance."
"By all means," Spock said with a stiff nod, and before Nyota could say anything else, Gaila was dragging her into the crush near the band.
"You can thank me for saving you later!" she grinned, dancing through the crowd. "But now we need to party!"
In four long years at the Academy, this was possibly Gaila's worst-timed intervention. Nyota pulled her arm free. "I really don't want—" She turned around, looking back to the bar. Spock wasn't there. On her face she felt a cool, damp breeze and just caught sight of the door closing. "Gaila, I've got to go."
Pushing through the crowd and through the music, pounding and discordant, she finally managed to shove open the door and stumble outside. It was raining hard. Water sheeted across stone paths and rattled against windows. Looking in both directions, Nyota didn't see him until she glimpsed movement straight ahead.
In long, angry strides he stalked through the rain, across the grass and toward the graduate residences. She filled her lungs to call after him, but let the breath out on a sigh.
He was too far away, in every sense; his decision was clear.
Behind her the door opened, releasing a puff of music and noise, before banging shut again. A hand touched her rain-wet arm. "Nyota?"
Gaila came to stand next to her, peering into the rain. After a moment she said, "Wow, I had no idea."
Nyota flung her a look. "What?"
"Spock," she said with a smile. "When did that happen?"
"Nothing happened." Nyota shook her head. Spock had been swallowed by the rain, a blur of movement in the gray. "It's complicated."
"No kidding." After a pause, Gaila said, "Does he know?"
She laughed. "About your one-eighty change of heart!"
Nyota was silent, considering her answer. It was a good question. She'd assumed it was pretty obvious, that the softening of her feelings had been evident during their time on the Enterprise. But then she remembered how badly he'd read her before and how humiliating the consequences had been. He'd never take that risk again, not without firm evidence. Her heart began to race…
"He got it wrong," she said, thinking aloud. "He got it wrong and he'd never put himself in that position twice. "
Nyota grabbed her arm, everything crystallizing. "I have to go."
Head down against the rain, she started to run across the grass.
It battered his mind like the cold rain against his face. A human would have understood her darting looks and uneasy posture, would have been able to decipher the unspoken language of her body. A Vulcan would have never had to try.
He took the steps up to the residences three at a time, barely giving the automatic doors time to open before he stalked inside. His room was on the fifth floor and he took the stairs because he didn't want to stop moving. It helped, this exertion. It helped him control his frustration.
When he reached his floor he slowed. Even though it was quiet he did not wish his discomposure to be witnessed, so he walked at a reasonable pace down the length of the corridor.
A young lieutenant, one he didn't recognize, was passing in the opposite direction. His eyebrows rose. "Wet tonight, Commander?"
"Apparently so." He could feel the rain trickling through his hair, his clothes soaked and clinging to his skin. It was an extremely unpleasant sensation.
When he reached his door he pressed his palm against the pad, the first time he'd stopped walking since leaving the bar. He was breathing hard, though more from the effort of controlling his feelings than from the physical exertion.
If he hadn't known better, he might have suspected the onset of blood fever.
The door slid open and he stepped inside. It was dark and cold, he'd not been here for over two months and the environmental settings had reset. "Set temperature to thirty-four degrees Celsius." He left the room dark, however. Orange city lights bled in through the window, flaring in the raindrops to create a passing illusion of home.
It had been too long since he had stood beneath the Vulcan sun and felt its heat seep into his bones. Perhaps that was why he felt so conflicted? Here, in this cold, damp, and human place it was difficult to hold his dual nature in balance.
Feeling the heat begin to rise from the floor, he headed into the bathroom, stripping off his soaked blue shirt and leaving only the black undershirt. He rubbed a towel over his face and hair, and was just returning to the living area when the door chimed.
Towel in one hand, he stopped dead.
An irrational desire to simply not answer was quickly followed by an equally irrational hope that Uhura stood on the other side of the door.
He dismissed both thoughts, took a moment to compose himself, and touched the door control.
In defiance of logic, if not hope, Uhura was standing outside his quarters. "Hi," she said, offering a smile he was too dazed to interpret. "Can I come in?"
In silence, he stepped aside and she walked past him, into his quarters. The door closed. In the diffuse light he could see her features in outline, and her eyes – beautiful by any objective standard – shone. She smiled again, a different and equally mystifying smile, and said, "You're wet."
He had no idea how to respond to that other than to say, "It is raining."
"I know." She lifted a hand and smoothed it over her face, wiping away the rain.
His eyes traced the path of her fingers and he could not look away. That tension he had always sensed between them was painfully sharp; he had no idea what it meant, dared not even guess. He did not know what she wanted, or why she was there, and the doubt was paralyzing.
Uhura also appeared uneasy, her expression flitting between a smile and a frown, and her gaze alighting on nothing for more than a moment. He had the feeling she was waiting for him to do or say something, but what that might be was beyond his ability to discern. Instead, and out of acute frustration, he said, "Why have you come here?"
She blinked, he saw a flash of surprise – or offence? – and then she smiled again. Yet another, different smile. "I, um, wanted to thank you for what you did for Gaila – standing up for her to Captain Podhar? – it was kind and I..." She trailed off, looked down at the floor, and on the edge of a laugh said, "No. No, I'm sorry, that's not why I came here."
Time passed – a few moments, lengthened into hours by anxious anticipation. He slowed his breathing, slowed his heartbeat, seeking composure in that simple discipline. "Forgive me," he said, when the silence became unbearable, "I do not understand why you are here."
Uhura nodded. "I know." Then she took a breath and looked up; her expression was determined. "I've come here because I want to know you better."
Curious – refusing to be more than that – he cocked his head. "In what regard?"
She laughed, but only briefly. "In every regard."
Her words provoked a physical sensation that it took a moment to quell and he closed his eyes; the human habit of talking around, instead of to, the point had never been more exasperating! "Please speak plainly, Uhura."
"Nyota," she said in a low voice. "Call me Nyota."
He looked at her, watched her tip her head to one side. Raindrops had caught in her hair and they glittered when she moved. Like stars. "Nyota," he said, watching with interest the way her eyes widened. "Please speak plainly, Nyota."
She shook her head and said, "You're not making this easy, you know."
"Perhaps if I understood what—?"
She touched his hand, two fingers tracing a leisurely path from his wrist to his fingertips. It was deliberate, knowing, and extremely erotic. Her expression was serious. "Do you understand now?"
He looked down at their hands, watched as her fingers curled around his and her thumb stroked across his knuckles. "I believe," he said, with a decidedly human rasp, "that comprehension is dawning."
Uhura – Nyota – smiled. "Dawning?"
He lifted their hands, pressed his palm against hers and let their fingers thread together. "Rapidly."
"El'ru'esta," she said, naming the traditional embrace. She looked him in the eye, fearless as always. "Do you know what I'm thinking?"
"I believe I can guess," he breathed. "But I would not instigate a mind link without your permission; it is an extremely...intimate act."
She looked at him, drawing closer so that their joined hands were trapped between them. "Like this?" she said, and brushed her lips across his.
His body reacted; he recognized it as a release of oxytocin, serotonin, and adrenaline, the somatosensory cortex working overtime, and in past encounters had been fully able to regulate this physiological response to such stimuli. This time, however, there was heat, a charge, radiating out from an undefined point that might, fancifully, be called his heart. His pulse raced, his eyes closed, and as she pulled back he moved forward and kissed her again. Their joined hands came apart and her fingers traced a cool path along the line of his jaw, his own hand closing on her shoulder, his thumb at the base of her throat; beneath his fingertip he could feel her steady pulse.
Rising desire, emotional and physical, threatened to elude his control and he was forced to break the kiss. Heart racing, he rested his forehead against hers and concentrated on maintaining a barrier between their minds.
"Too much?" she murmured.
"No." He was breathing hard. "Yes." Another breath. "One moment."
"Is this…?" Her hand touched his face. "Is this new for you?"
He looked at her, saw only curiosity and concern in her eyes, and that provoked another ripple of warmth. "You mean physical intimacy?"
"It's okay if it is."
"Your reassurance is comforting," he said, both amused and touched, "but unnecessary. I am twenty-six years of age."
He could see her mind working and imagined she was counting backward in multiples of seven. Lifting an eyebrow he said, "Fourteen is the answer to your question."
There was a sparkle in her eyes, mischievous and delighted, and she kissed him again. His mind went blank, like a hard reboot, and he struggled to keep his pounding heart under proper regulation. And that was new; he had never before experienced this confluence of physical and emotional desire, and controlling them both was proving a challenge.
This time Nyota pulled back, studying his face. He had a feeling she had seen more than he would have liked to reveal. "Let's talk for a while," she said, taking his hand once more. "I don't think we've done nearly enough of that recently."
He nodded, unsure for which he was more grateful – the chance to gather his scattered control, or the fact that she had recognized his difficulty and given him the space he needed.
Curling one leg beneath her, Nyota sat facing him on the small sofa. His chest rose and fell fast, his hair as charmingly disheveled as when he'd first opened the door, and his eyes heated.
She wanted to kiss him again, to feel that slow burn. There was no ambiguity when they touched, no danger of mistranslation, but she knew they both needed a moment to restore some sense of control. And talking was an art they certainly needed to practice.
"If I hadn't come here tonight," she said, when it didn't seem as if he'd speak, "would you have come to me? Or would you have left and gone back to the Enterprise?"
"I cannot say with certainty," he confessed, studying her. Once she'd thought that look acerbic, but now she realized he was simply trying to understand her. Or, perhaps, himself. "I admit that my intention in returning to the Academy was, in part, to try and assess whether your opinion of me had undergone a significant change since..." He drew in a breath and Nyota could feel his discomfort in waves.
She brushed a light touch across his hand. "Let's not think about that night."
"The memory is unpleasant," he agreed, "but instructive. For me, at least."
"Instructive?" She shook her head, ashamed to remember the way she'd dismissed his feelings. "Yes, I expect you learned a lot about human ignorance and prejudice."
"You demonstrated neither quality," he said, with force. "It was my misunderstanding that caused the offense, my failure to comprehend how my actions were perceived. I..." He hesitated. "There are aspects of human behavior I find baffling, despite my heritage and my time spent at the Academy. I knew this about myself, yet failed to apply that knowledge; I assumed I understood your feelings, but did not stop to ascertain if I was correct until the blunder had been made."
"I think," she said, "you were simply being human. We often go on gut feeling, on intuition. And you are half human."
His lips took on an ironic tilt. "Yet, clearly I do not possess the capacity for human intuition."
She gave the matter some thought, not hurrying to respond. There had been many silences between them, but this time she didn't feel the need to fill the space with words.
Looking back, she realized that he may have been right all along – there had always been a chemistry between them, a tension. She'd experienced it as antagonism, he'd experienced it as attraction, but she suspected that it had really been an admixture of the two. "I think," she said, "that your intuition worked better than I'd have liked to admit." She smiled and cocked her head. "You were always at a disadvantage, you know, after you accused me of sounding like a Romulan."
One corner of his mouth curled. "I did not accuse you of anything; you were eavesdropping on a private conversation."
"Eavesdropping? I'm sure half the bar heard."
"That is unlikely, given the level of noise."
"Well then, you're accusing me of being unreasonable."
He looked briefly alarmed. "I—"
She silenced him with a finger to his lips. "I was being unreasonable. That's my point. I think you knew me better than I knew myself."
"That is unlikely," he said, and she noticed the way his breathing had become shallow as his intent gaze fixed on the hand she was lowering from his mouth.
"Humans," she said, her own pulse racing, "are prone to self-deception. Too ruled by our emotional responses, I suppose."
"There are times," he said, reaching out and taking her hand, "when I envy you that freedom."
"Freedom?" She threaded her fingers through his. "We're slaves to our passions, aren't we?"
"While Vulcans are slaves to logic." He leaned in, running a finger down the side of her cheek, his eyes dark and liquid. "There are times when I hardly know what I am."
Her heart swelled and she pressed her palm against his face. "You're you. Unique."
"Singular," he said, with that ironic smile. "Alone."
She shook her head and drew him closer. "Not alone," she said against his lips. "Not now."
He returned the kiss, slow and controlled, the hand on her face moving to curl behind her neck. His touch was warm, fevered, and she let her hand stray to his shoulder, slipping down his arm. His body was slender, but densely muscled and hard beneath her fingers. She broke the kiss, needing a breath, and let her forehead rest against his. It was a deliberate Vulcan gesture.
"Nyota." Her name was a whisper, a gentle breath. "I want..."
Her hand found a flash of heated skin beneath the hem of his shirt and when she ran her fingers along it he growled something unrepeatable in Vulcan. She smiled against his lips, delighting in his momentary loss of control. "What is it you want?"
"To show you, to let you see..." He kissed her again, deeper and with less control, then pulled back with obvious effort and touched two fingers to her temple. "May I?"
She knew what he was asking. "I'll feel what you feel?"
"Only what I choose to share."
She nodded. "And will you feel what I feel?"
"If you wish it."
"Only what I choose to share?"
"I would never seek more."
"But you could; it's a question of trust."
He looked into her eyes, searching. "All intimacy is a question of trust."
"But this is different," she said. "Isn't it?"
He hesitated and then said, "I do not know, I have never before attempted kash-naf."
"But you said—"
"I meant only physical intimacy."
There was a shadow in his eyes, a tension that spoke of regret, or perhaps shame, and she remembered what Sarek had told her about the Vulcan woman to whom he'd been bonded as a child. She touched his face. "Then it will be new for us both."
He gave a slight nod, his gaze turning inward as he lifted his fingers back to her temple. Nyota closed her eyes and listened to the rain rattle against the windows. His touch was warm and at first that was all she could feel, but then gradually she became aware not only of his warm fingertips against her face but also of her cool skin beneath his touch. She felt both her own steady pulse and his racing heartbeat, her own sense of wonder and his fierce longing.
She opened her eyes and in his midnight gaze she saw herself reflected.
Let me show you.
And then he kissed her again, opening his mind and letting her feel everything he could not say. Every touch, every breath had meaning, their slow exploration of mind and body needing no words. They shed their clothes to the sound of rain against the windows and lay down upon the bed beneath the city's golden light, discovering their differences and similarities with curiosity and delight.
When her teeth grazed his collarbone she felt his flare of desire; when he kissed the small of her back, she knew he melted with her. And when their bodies joined and moved together, her pleasure and his were woven so tight she could hardly tell one from the other.
It was like nothing she could have imagined.
And then there was his cautious presence in her mind, looking but not touching. She had no doubt he was right to be wary, the force of his psyche was astonishing and strange. Yet the alien architecture of his mindscape was strewn with familiar structures: affection, doubt, amusement, fear, pleasure, hurt. Love. She understood the narrow confines in which such feelings were permitted to run, like deep-cut streams across ochre sands, and when they threatened to overflow – when the intensity of their physical connection overwhelmed him – she let his flooding feelings flow through her.
She became the vessel into which he poured his passions. In the aftermath of his release, a white-hot detonation that triggered her own fierce climax, the dam broke and the deluge threatened to wash her away. But she held on, to him and to her sense of self, and soon the torrent receded until she felt only his weight and his warm breath against her neck.
The mind link dissipated and the loss was devastating. She clung to him and they lay like that, entwined, for minutes that ran together like raindrops on the window.
Eventually the feeling ebbed and he lifted his head to look at her. His control was still raw and she could plainly see the wonder in his eyes. "Fascinating," he breathed.
She shook her head, threading her fingers into his sweat-damp hair. "The words you're looking for are mind blowing."
He kissed her with a rare smile and murmured, "I defer to the preeminent linguist among us."
"You'd better," she yawned, suddenly and intensely drowsy.
He rolled onto his back, pulling her with him until her head was pillowed on his shoulder. "Extended telepathic contact is exhausting," he said, already drifting away. "We should...must..."
Outside the rain still fell, pattering against the window and flaring gold in the city's lights.
Later, Nyota woke. Hot.
She sat up and it took a moment to orientate herself in the unfamiliar room. It was still dark out and the lights shone in through uncovered windows, turning everything in the room a dusky gold.
At her side, Spock slept.
How strange that her day had ended here, with him. How right, though, and how perfect.
She lay her hand on his back, his skin hotter than her own despite the fact that sweat slicked her body. It was too hot, too hot to sleep, and she slipped out of his bed and padded to the environmental controls.
She adjusted it down to a more reasonable twenty-three and slipped back into bed, waiting to cool down.
Spock slept on, still and quiet.
The next time she surfaced, warm and comfortable beneath the covers, he was standing in the shadows by the window. "What are you doing?"
He walked back to the bed and in the dark she could see that familiar ironic gleam in his eyes. "The environmental settings appear to have malfunctioned and plunged the room into polar temperatures."
She smiled. "Polar?"
"A slight hyperbole, perhaps."
"It was thirty-four degrees in here!"
"It was. It is now," he glanced back toward the controls, "twenty-three degrees. I might add that it is probably warmer outside. In the rain."
She laughed and slipped her arms around his neck. To her touch, he was still feverishly warm. "I'm sorry," she said, kissing his lips. "Are you cold?"
"Suddenly less so."
She smiled against his mouth and kissed him again. "Now?"
The next kiss was longer, his arms coming around her and holding her hard against him. When she could breathe again she whispered, "And now…?"
But he was lowering her back onto the bed, skin sliding across skin, and there was heat aplenty between them.
Later, when she woke again, he was sleeping next to her in Academy sweats with the cover pulled up to his nose. Pre-dawn light filtered grey through the windows, heralding another rainy day, and in the washed-out light his hair and lashes drew stark lines against is pale skin. He looked cold, but if she touched him she knew he would feel hot.
Though the differences between them were more profound than anything physical, these little things served to remind her who and what he was. Singular, he'd called himself, and she didn't doubt that the double entendre was intentional. But to her he was neither solitary nor strange, he was simply unique. She hoped he'd never change.
She sat up and stretched. It was still early, but they'd crashed out early and she wasn't tired. What she was, however, was hungry. Slipping out of bed she saw that he'd laid her uniform neatly on a nearby chair – which was sweet, and funny, and nothing any guy she'd ever slept with would have done! She was still sensitized to his touch and didn't want to feel the harshness of her uniform against her skin, so instead, she opened one of his drawers, dug out an old Academy t-shirt, and pulled it over her head.
Padding quietly to the environmental controls she adjusted the temperature to a compromising twenty-nine and slipped out of the bedroom.
There was a little kitchenette to one side, but sadly the cupboard was bare. He'd been gone for weeks and there was nothing in the kitchen but a packet of theris-masu. She opened it, sniffed the dried leaves, and recoiled from the bitter aroma.
"It is an acquired taste," Spock said from the bedroom doorway.
She jumped, almost dropping the packet of tea. "I thought you were asleep!"
"I was." He smiled that barely-there smile of his, letting his eyes drift down to the shirt she was wearing. "It suits you better than the Iowa Nighthawks."
It took her a moment to remember. Then she laughed. "Spock! Were you jealous of Jim Kirk?"
"Certainly not," he said, nothing but humor in his eyes. "I counted eleven logical reasons why you might be wearing his shirt that morning, eight of which were entirely innocent."
"Where did drinking too much tequila and passing out in his room come on that list?"
"I believe that would be number twelve."
She smiled, crossing the room until she was close enough to kiss him. "And what about this shirt? Can you think of any innocent explanations?"
His hand was already on the bare skin at the top of her thigh. "None whatsoever."
She kissed him, slow and sweet, and— Her stomach growled. Loudly.
Spock pulled back to look at her. "You are hungry."
"And I am a poor host, with nothing to offer but stale Vulcan tea."
"I didn't come here for the tea," she said, kissing him quickly then pulling out of his arms. "But if you let me keep the shirt, I'll buy you breakfast…"
His lips quirked in half a smile. "I believe that would be a fair exchange."
Mubin's restaurant was just as he remembered it, though colored by a heightened emotional state that was new and unexpected.
Nyota – she would always be Nyota to him now – had given him something unexpected. Freedom. It was a startling sensation, but as they sat close together at a small table at the back of the restaurant he realized that he was not discomfited by her proximity. He felt no shame, no fear of giving himself away as something less than Vulcan.
His father, he thought, would have been appalled.
She touched his hand, a brief gesture to draw his attention. "You're miles away."
"I was thinking," he said, "of my home." Tangentially, it was correct.
Nyota sipped her chai, watching him through the curling steam. After a moment she said, "Do you miss it?"
"Yes," he said, "and no." He slid her a look and said, "It does not rain on Vulcan."
She smiled. "You miss the weather?"
"The heat," he admitted, glancing out at the cold, gray morning. "And the mountains. Vulcan has a harsh majesty that, perhaps, only its people can appreciate. One would not call it a beautiful world."
"I'd love to see it someday."
He met her warm gaze and held it. "I would be honored to show you."
After a moment she looked away and said, "I guess your father wouldn't be too happy about that."
"Happiness has never been his priority."
"You know what I mean."
After a pause he said, "When I chose Starfleet, I turned my back on many things – my obligation to T'Pring was one of them. My father cannot accept that fact."
She did not react, beyond taking another sip of tea. "T'Pring is your…?"
"We are bonded," he said, holding her gaze. "I have not seen her since my fourteenth year."
From the way her eyes slightly widened, he knew she understood the significance of that date.
"She was not—" Even with Nyota, such matters were difficult to discuss. He took a breath. "There is a mental bond. In our case it is not strong, but nevertheless I sense that she would prefer a wholly Vulcan mate."
"I see." She looked angry, and he realized it was on his behalf; he had seen similar expressions on his mother's face.
"I share her desire to break our bond," he reassured her. "In two years I will enter—" He cleared his throat, lowering his voice. "I would be required to marry, and to return to Vulcan and live there for a year after our marriage. The Enterprise's mission makes that impossible."
Her expression turned arch. "Even if you wanted to marry her?"
"Which I do not."
She gave a curt nod. "Then your father will just have to suck it up."
That conjured a peculiar image. "Pardon?"
Her smile flashed bright for a moment. "It means put up with it – he'll have to just put up with your decision."
"In his defense," she said, giving it obvious thought, "I do think he had your best interest at heart – I mean, what he considers to be your best interest."
He remained unconvinced, but was reluctant to debate the point. Instead he said, "Then perhaps he will be comforted by the knowledge that his interference has undoubtedly served my best interest." Nyota's confused frown provoked a smile as he said, "His attempt to dissuade me from pursuing a relationship with you was, in fact, the reason I decided to persist."
"Really?" Her delight was evident. "How come?"
Unsure how much to reveal, he simply said, "Mother had persuaded him that you were in danger of falling victim to my charms, and he believed I should be reminded of my duties." He smiled slightly. "You may imagine that my mother's assurance had quite the opposite effect."
"That's why you came back to the Academy?"
"I had reason to hope. Although, I might add, I was far from confident; my mother has always overestimated the efficacy of my charms."
"As every mother should." Covering his hand she ran her thumb over his knuckles and he didn't pull away, despite the public setting. "But in this case she was absolutely right. I think it was si fueris Romae, Romano vivitomore that did it."
"I was not aware it had any such impact."
"Then I'm glad your mother was paying attention."
She slipped her hand from his and picked up her mug, tossing her loose hair over one shoulder. She still wore his old shirt and he found it peculiarly erotic to trace the lines of her firm body beneath the casual fall of the fabric. He wondered if she wore it to arouse such thoughts in him, or whether the sensation of wearing his clothing was equally stimulating. Perhaps both applied.
"How about you?" she asked, after another sip of tea. "How did this all start for you?"
It was a complex question and one he could not adequately answer. He hardly knew how to explain it himself. Instead of attempting to pinpoint a time or place, he simply said, "You are familiar with the expression shan'hal'lak?"
She thought for a moment, then said, "Engulfment? Emotional engulfment." Then she smiled, a wide and beautiful expression. "Really? That's how it was for you?"
"And continues to be."
His words had a visible impact and for a moment he was afraid she might kiss him. Right there, in public.
Fortunately she managed to master her emotion and instead simply leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "Let's get out of here. Right now."
To that, he had no objection. Nor did he object when she held his hand as they ran through the rain back to his rooms, or even when she pulled him into the elevator and pressed her rain-wet lips to his all the way from the first to the fifth floor.
He felt no shame, he felt no sense of failure.
Through her eyes, he saw himself unbroken and at peace. He was not half human nor half Vulcan, but wholly and completely himself. Unique and valued. It was a happiness he had never imagined. He kissed her again, and when she smiled he saw the future in her eyes, glittering bright as the distant stars.
Three weeks later, Gaila opened an email and Jim Kirk pulled off the miraculous salvation of every crewman aboard the Kobayashi Maru.
His infamy lasted a total of three days and nine hours.
By the end of the fourth day Spock's world had ended and a new story had begun…
Thanks so much for reading! I really hope you've enjoyed the story. :)