Uhura eyed the Cadets before her critically. She had spent these first six weeks of the semester harping and harping on the idea of not judging other sentient beings based on the ideas of their own culture and beliefs, and here was yet another example of how they seemed simply incapable of grasping the concept.
Not that they weren't good students, or that they shirked their work. Far from it, they were the top of their year in languages, and they did all assigned work with minimal complaining.
The problem was, Uhura couldn't seem to get them to grasp the idea that languages were not the only issue involved in dealing with other races. Culture was a big influence on communicating with others, and these students couldn't seem to get it.
It didn't help that most of them were from earth this year, and used to dealing with only one culture. It was understandable, to a point, but she had been trying for six weeks now to get them to see that the standards they took for granted would not always be, well, standard.
And she had failed. Nothing she had said or done so far could get them to get it. Uhura had secretly wished she could drag Mister Spock in and let him disillusion them of the idea that everyone in the universe had the same cultural background and beliefs as they did. She had grinned as she imagined it, then shook her head. Spock was, unfortunately, not available, and Uhura had to make do with what she had.
Then it had hit her. The next best thing. She would have a guest speaker come in, although it would not be Spock. And it would, hopefully, blow their minds.
Uhura fought back a smile as a man, certainly not a student, entered the room wearing civilian clothes and meandered his way through the students. He smiled at some, nodded at others, but said nothing in response to their queries. He eventually found a seat near the front of the room and sat down.
He hadn't seen her yet, she realized. It was one of the advantages of this room, that from where she was sitting she could watch essentially anyone in the room without being noticed.
She watched the students as they noticed the man and began to speculate. They went from quietly curious to outright confusion with a tinge of disapproval within a few minutes. Uhura turned back to look at the man again and allowed herself a small giggle as she realized why the Cadets were now so blatantly talking about the stranger. He had fallen asleep.
His head snapped up and his eyes flew open. Uhura had no doubt he had heard her, and stepped forward to greet him as his eyes began searching for her. The class had gone silent.
"Pavel Andreivich." She greeted him warmly. His eyes met hers, warm and friendly, though she did not miss the weariness in them, and he sprang up and had crossed the distance between them in few steps.
"Nyota." He greeted her enthusiastically, pulling her into a hug and kissing both her cheeks. In the back of her mind, Uhura noted the sudden tension from her Cadets. "Privyet." He added, stepping back, though not enough to satisfy Uhura's normal requirements for personal space.
She settled this thought, reminding herself that it only bothered her because it had been such a long time since they had seen each other that she was no longer as acclimated to his lesser need for personal space. She frowned at that thought.
In his native tongue, she mentioned this. "I haven't seen you for a while." She commented gravely.
His eyes flashed with regret, and he shrugged. His answer, too, was in Russian. "I've been busy." He defended himself. "But I am here, today, to do your bidding."
She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "I know. And I appreciate you coming, even as tired as you are."
He flushed, and ducked his head. "It's no worse than pulling a double shift on the Enterprise."
Uhura laughed, and turned to her class. The Cadets were staring at him, at her, well, at both of them. She took a moment to reorient herself to their viewpoints.
They were standing close, nearly touching, his hand on her arm. He had hugged her, and kissed her, and she had returned the gesture.
Apparently the conversation in Russian was not the warning it should have been that Pavel was one of those people with different ways that Uhura had once again been warning them about last class.
She also scanned to see if any of them spoke Russian, or had followed any of their conversation. She was pleased to see that a few had, at least, been able to understand them. It was a start, and it would do.
She tried not to let herself be disappointed as she addressed the class. "Cadets, I would like to introduce you to a good friend of mine, Pavel Andreivich."
This time he caught the use of his Russian name. Cheery puzzlement shone through his eyes as they flickered to meet hers before he turned to nod to the Cadets.
"Hello." He said, his accent as thick as Uhura had ever heard it. She silently thanked the stars that he had taken the hint. He smiled again, vaguely, as if to suggest he wasn't all that sure of what was going on, and waved.
Of course, he wasn't exactly sure what was going on, just that Uhura had asked him to come and be himself in front of a bunch of Cadets.
He was probably one of the few people Uhura knew who could be told something like that and still manage to do it.
The Cadets stared. They were just as uncertain as to what was going on as Pavel seemed to be.
Pavel smiled again, and nodded to Uhura. "Your teacher?" He asked them cheerfully, his accent still at full power. When he received a few puzzled nods, he managed to look immensely pleased. "Wery good. Good teacher. You listen good."
Uhura almost let the smile escape as a few Cadets conferred, then decided that English was not Pavel's first language. Everyone else merely sat and stared.
One brave Cadet raised her hand, albeit timidly. Pavel nodded to her. "Yes?" He asked.
She swallowed nervously, then asked her question, forming the words slowly and clearly in the hope that he would understand. "Why did Lieutenant Uhura ask you to come speak to us?"
Pavel looked up at the ceiling, then at Uhura, then back at the Cadet. Then he shrugged before turning back to Uhura. "I am speaking?" He asked. "Vhat am I speaking-saying?" He corrected himself.
Uhura smiled innocently. "Whatever you please. This is a communications class."
Pavel nodded and brightened. "Are students, no? I tell about vhen I vas student."
Uhura laughed. "That will do nicely." She said, reading in his eyes that he had by now figured out what was going on, and had guessed why she had wanted him here.
"Vhen I vas here." He said dramatically. "Vas wery different." He waited until one Cadets asked,
"How was it different?"
Pavel studied her for a moment, and Uhura could almost hear the Cadets making the same mistake most people did when meeting Pavel for the first time. Most people assumed he was quiet for a moment because he was translating whatever had just been said.
Then he spoke. "English is not my home language." He said solemnly.
This response startled some laughter from the Cadets at Pavel's expense, laughter that died away abruptly and left nervous Cadets watching Uhura with apprehension.
Pavel didn't seem to get the joke. If Uhura hadn't known better, she would have thought he hadn't.
He waited politely for the Cadets to settle down before continuing. "Also, had many problems vith other students." Again he waited for someone to ask.
"What kind of problems?"
"Language problems, for one." Pavel replied. "Two, personal space."
"Personal space?" Pierce, the brave Cadet from before inquired. Pavel nodded.
"Is different at home." He explained. "Most at Academy need more." When the Cadets still didn't get it, he moved forward to speak specifically to Pierce, who was unfortunate enough to be on the front row. Her eyes widened as his face came within about four inches of hers.
"This make you uncomfortable?" He asked. When she hesitated, he continued, "Is okay, you can say truth."
"Yes, sir." She said, blushing. He smiled at her reassuringly, then backed off.
"Is like vhen you meet Wulcans." He said. "Their personal space is different from yours. Yours is different from back home." He was suddenly a little more verbose than he had been, not that it made any sort of difference by now. The Cadets stared at him with complete bafflement, as if they had never seen someone like him before.
They probably hadn't. That was part of their problem.
Pavel continued after a second. "I only spoke English for year before Academy. Vas not so good. Other students kept think I vas stupid. Some teachers, too. Not many." He added reflectively.
Mischief gleamed in his eyes. "One other thing, had trouble vith hand gesture." He formed a circle with his first finger and thumb, the gesture for 'okay' among many of the Cadets at the Academy. "Kept getting me in trouble."
She could tell by their puzzled expressions they had no idea why Pavel would have a problem with the sign, and had to force her own expression to stay neutral.
So quickly that they almost weren't certain he had done it, Pavel made another hand gesture, one that nearly sent the Cadets into shock.
He blushed, then smiled apologetically. "The sign so many of you use for 'okay' here at the Academy means something not quite so polite back home." He explained. "Took me a vhile to realize I vasn't getting flipped off by my classmates." He said with a chuckle.
Pierce raised her hand again, a little less timidly this time, perhaps because Pavel was no longer in her face. When he nodded, she dove straight in. "Do you speak English better now than you did then?" She asked.
"Vhen I vas in Academy?" Pavel asked. He thought for a minute. "I understand it better." He said. "And I suppose I do speak a little better."
There was a rude snicker in the back, but the culprit froze as Pavel's eyes went straight to him. Being in security had left its mark; Pavel was pretty good at locating people by hearing. He had done the same with Uhura just before class, after all.
The Cadet dropped his eyes for half a second, then looked back up boldly. "Just how well would you say you speak English, sir?"
Pavel shrugged. "I suppose I would say I speak English as well as I feel the situation merits." He said, accent gone, sounding for all the world like someone who had grown up speaking English. It still impressed Uhura to hear him do it, even after all these years.
Once again the Cadets were staring. Pavel laughed, not unkindly.
"Usually, though, I speak about somevhere in between vhat you've just heard and how I vas speaking at the beginning of your class." He said, the Russian tinge in his words back to what was normal for him.
Pierce frowned at him, all shyness forgotten. "But why? If you can speak that well, why make people think you can't?"
"It makes things easier." Pavel explained. "Is hard, vith humanoids. Mostly ve don't realize someone who looks like us and talks like us could have been raised in a completely different vay than ve vere. But vith the knowledge that the language is different, it helps a little. Cultural misunderstandings are less likely to cause serious problems. If I slip, and accidentally insult somebody, they're more likely to accept that it vas unintentional. Usually."
"Then it doesn't always work?" Pierce asked. "Why not?"
Pavel shrugged. "Sometimes people think because of vhere I vas born and grew up I should automatically know their culture and their language."
"That's stupid!" Pierce insisted, adding a little belatedly, "sir. If you weren't born on earth, then how could you-"
She stopped as a small giggle escaped Pavel. The Cadet eyed him warily. He managed to wipe the grin from his face and explained. "I vas born on earth." He told her.
This only confused Pierce more. "Then were you raised somewhere else?" She asked.
Pavel shook his head. "I vas raised on earth." He explained. "But vhat you, and most people, actually, don't realize is that I'm Russian." He paused, habitually, and let the blank stares confirm that that meant nothing to them.
Uhura regarded her class solemnly. "Does that mean anything to anyone here?" She asked, knowing full well the futility of the question. No, it didn't. Of course it didn't.
Pavel chuckled and launched in a brief description of his childhood. He had perfected this over the years, a lecture that would jar the listener just enough for them to realize that even though he had been born and raised on Earth, that didn't mean that his culture was anything like theirs, and yet did not require the listener to comprehend or understand Russian culture itself.
By the time class was over, the Cadets wore expressions that suggested that someone had just turned their brains inside out. Uhura supposed that, in a sense, someone just had. When dismissed, they filed out quietly and thoughtfully, all except for Pierce, who eyed Pavel thoughtfully as she left.
Uhura turned to smile at Pavel. "Thanks." She said. "I've been trying to make them think since the beginning of the semester."
He laughed. "No problem. Really." He stifled a yawn. "But if you really wanted to repay me you could buy me some coffee."
"I thought you didn't drink coffee." Uhura teased.
"I don't." Pavel retorted. "Unless I've been up for the last twenty-six hours."
Uhura's smile faded. "I'm sorry, Pavel. You should be in bed."
He shrugged. "Then I vouldn't have gotten to see you." He said easily. "I didn't mean for it to be so long before I saw either of you again."
"Which reminds me." Uhura said. "Do you mind if Sulu joins us for lunch?"
Pavel's face lit up along with his eyes. "Of course. I can't stand him. He's so stuffy and dignified."
"I'll tell him you said so." Uhura said seriously. Pavel's eyes widened in mock horror.
"You wouldn't!" He protested.