Epilogue: Flashforward and Back Again

Disclaimer: I don't own Spock or Nyota. Alas.

Almost a year from now, they will get caught.

Facing the disciplinary board, Spock will marvel how in every other area of his life, he has plotted and calculated the risks and rewards of his actions.

Even in moments of great anger—his backhanded acceptance to the Vulcan Science Academy, for instance, and the public snub of his mother—he has kept his wits about him and weighed his present actions against future consequences. He is here in Starfleet because in that heated moment before the Vulcan council, he had thrown in his lot with his human heritage—and though it was not the future his father had planned for him, it was one Spock had already explored in his imagination and found acceptable.

He rarely makes a move without some kind of cost-benefit analysis. He is the consummate planner.

Except for his relationship with Nyota Uhura.

He will confess to the nine men and women of the disciplinary board that he has not been logical or rational—that he tumbled into his relationship with Nyota without realizing that he was even falling at all—but once he had, he was lost.

As her former teacher and current supervisor, he could point out their intimacy is not as rare as the Academy would like to believe—and is, if inappropriate, only marginally so according to a strict interpretation of the regulations.

But he will not offer that defense, nor will he challenge one board member's assertion that as his subordinate, Nyota has been coerced into an unwanted relationship.

Although he is appalled by the suggestion bruited about by a clearly-sympathetic admiral that blatant prejudice is at work—"Why is this interspecies couple singled out for reprimand, I want to know?"—Spock will say nothing in response.

Except for the one thing that ends up saving him.

When he is finally asked to speak, he will offer no apology and his explanation is spare.

"I was unable to control my feelings."

If the nine human members of the disciplinary council are inclined to throw the book at a cold, rational Vulcan who should have known better, Spock's admission of a human failing will soften the blow. He will be given a formal reprimand only, with no loss of rank or privilege.

It is, in effect, a slap on the wrist, but to Spock it is a humiliating admission of his own lack of control—not because he has broken rules and regulations, for he isn't so hide-bound that he believes rules are sacred—but that he had let his emotions dictate his actions in a way no Vulcan ever would have.

Even more humiliating is his private admission to himself that he doesn't care. Despite the warning, despite the disapproval of most of the board members, he has no intention of ending the relationship with Nyota. They will be distant in public and circumspect in private, but they will be.

But that will come much later, months into the future. Right now, days after the bus crash, they do not know that they will become friends and lovers, or that their relationship will sustain them in times darker than they can imagine.

All they know right now is that they want to share an evening meal, and perhaps a quiet moment to talk about what it means that twice in the past week they have found occasion to pass so close to each other in the lab that their fingers have grazed, astonishing them both at the beauty of the hurried brush-strokes of each other's minds.

X X X X X X X

Although he tries to hide it, Spock is irritated by the cast on his left wrist to the point where he is seriously contemplating removing it a week before it is due to come off.

The bus crash that had broken his wrist is old news by now, the software glitch that had sent the bus falling from its path 30 feet in the sky repaired. No one had been killed in the crash, though several humans are still in the hospital recovering.

Spock's own recovery is taking far too long by his accounting. The cast on his left wrist is bulky; it turns his arm at an awkward angle; it limits his ability to use simple tools, such as scissors or kitchen knives.

Like now.

The kitchen knife in his right hand slips and nicks the two fingers of his left hand he is using to press the winter squash to the cutting board. The pain is momentary and he says nothing, but from the other room Nyota calls out, "What happened?"

Instead of waiting for an answer she comes into the kitchen and sidles up close enough to see what he is doing. For an instant he tries to angle his body away so that she doesn't see his cut fingers, but she is too quick for him.

"Go take care of that," she says. He is about to protest when he feels a tendril of her concern through her fingers as she reaches around and takes the knife from his hand.

The bathroom down the hall is the only place where he keeps topical antibiotics and skin adhesives. As he opens the medicine drawer in the bathroom, he thinks that perhaps keeping a small supply in the kitchen would be more efficient. How odd that he had not thought about doing so before.

Or perhaps not so odd. He rarely cooks for himself, preferring instead to eat whole fruit or grains—or when he is busy, whatever is on hand that he can get to quickly.

Since his recent visit to Vulcan, however, he has imagined cooking a meal like the one he helped his mother prepare—or like the ones she said she had shared with his father in restaurants on Earth. Something about the stories she told him about those meals gave him a sense of warmth and connection that he hadn't even realized is missing.

And so he has chosen a recipe that he thinks will work well in the red clay tagine his mother had given him years ago. He has faithfully carted the decorative pot and its cylindrical top through multiple housing changes, including three dorms and two different apartments, without ever using it.

The rind on the winter squash is particularly tough, and when he returns to the kitchen, he sees that Nyota is still struggling with it. He starts to reach around her for the knife and she shrugs him away.

"Nope!" she says. "You are the walking wounded. You aren't allowed to cook."

Spock can tell that she is teasing him, that her irritation is not real, but he steps back before answering.

"My intention was to prepare a meal for you," he says, "not have you prepare it for me."

"For us," she retorts without turning around. She slices the last of the squash and picks up a bunch of something that smells faintly of cilantro. "Unless I'm no longer invited to share the meal?"

Then she does turn around and look up into Spock's face. For a moment he thinks she is about to say something else—her lips part a fraction and she takes a breath—but then she glances down before turning back to the cutting board on the counter.

"You're crowding me in here," she says. "Why don't you go sit on the sofa and do something productive—like grade your students' assignments."

Spock looks down at the cast on his wrist and decides that she is right—he's not much help in the kitchen and since the bus accident, he has gotten behind in student assessments. A stack of PADDs is piled near the sofa and he lowers himself gingerly—several ribs are still tender—sideways across the cushions. In another moment he stretches out his legs and leans his head against the armrest.

The sounds of Nyota's movements in the kitchen are oddly comforting, and soon Spock relaxes and picks up a PADD from the floor and switches it on. He has finished marking several errors in the first student's assignment when Nyota walks out.

"Okay, all the chopping is finished. Where's that recipe?'

"I have several you may choose from," Spock says. "I posted them to the kitchen monitor."

Nyota rolls her eyes and pivots back to the kitchen

"Which one were you going to use?" she calls, and Spock replies, "The first was one my mother indicated that she and my father had tried before they were married. She seemed to have fond memories of it."

Even as he says this, something niggles at the back of his mind. How peculiar. The strange episodes of distraction and forgetfulness that had troubled him before his recent trip to Vulcan are still in play, apparently. He knows he should remember something about the recipe—some critical element in the story his mother had related.

Certainly the accident has shifted his recent memories. Spock picks up another PADD and reminds himself that worry over the unavoidable is illogical.

X X X X X X X X X

Nyota feels like an interloper when she comes into Spock's apartment. She has been here so rarely—and only today with Spock alone—that she has trouble feeling settled and finds herself stepping around the sitting room darting from object to object, listening out for Spock's movements in the kitchen.

She has agreed to dinner here not because she thinks it is a good idea for him to be up and moving around after his recent bang up in the bus crash, but because she cannot think how to tell him of her concern without sounding like a nag—or worse, like someone with a claim on his attention.

Most of the objects in the sparsely furnished apartment are familiar—a bookshelf with a few actual books but with many more digital copies; a holovid of Spock and his mother, and two of Vulcan scenery—red rocks and a deep purple sunset, and more surprisingly, a row of cabbage-like vegetables in a mound of sandy soil, someone's well-tended garden. His own, perhaps? She makes a note to ask him later.

The hallway is dark but Nyota drifts past the entrance and looks to where she knows the bedroom is—she and Spock's cousin Chris had helped get Spock situated there after the accident and she had spent several days ferrying materials back and forth until he was able to leave his apartment on his own.

So the hallway and the bedroom are no mysteries—she can picture the ceramic firepot on its tripod in one corner, the bare dresser with a mirror hanging on the wall above it, the heavy duvet pulled up over the bed.

Somehow she feels that knowing these details is wrong now—that Spock's accident had made her familiarity a necessity but not a choice for him…she feels a prickle of heat of embarrassment on his behalf.

She turns away from the darkened hallway and starts to sit on the oversized chair when a sudden silence from the kitchen alerts her that something is wrong.

"What happened?" she says, even as she hurries inside.

The blood across his fingers startles her—not just because it is oozing but because it seems unreal—so deeply emerald that it looks black in the light.

She is instantly deeply ashamed of being startled this way—but there it is. In moments such as this, she has to admit that their differences are a gulf that cause her discomfort.

To cover her surprise she becomes direct and bossy—"take care of that" she says, and she lifts the knife from Spock's hand. But even as he relinquishes it, her earlier sense of him as alien, green-blooded, is replaced by her larger worry that he is hurt.

As she listens to him walking down the hall and flicking on the bathroom light, she hurries to finish cutting the squash and is surprised at how difficult it is. She has to lean into the squash to slice it into thin slivers, but by the time Spock returns, she is almost finished.

The apartment is a few degrees too warm for her to be comfortable—asking him to adjust the temperature in his own home seems rude and so she says nothing—but suddenly she feels a flash of heat across her shoulders and neck and she realizes that Spock is standing behind her.

She flushes furiously and feels instantly exposed. Surely he knows that he is making her nervous.

First she tries to joke him away with a nudge and a mock scolding, but he stays so close that she feels the heat from the back of her neck spreading across her chest and arms.

This won't do. Without knowing exactly what she will say, she turns toward him and is suddenly overwhelmed.

Her earlier banter seems silly now, or foolish and flirty. She abandons another witty comment and decides to tell him a half-truth instead.

"You are crowding me in here."

She means it symbolically—that she isn't sure how close she wants to be—or how close they can be. She looks intensely at him, willing him to understand her—but the look of amusement in his eyes tells her that her seriousness of purpose has eluded him.

That he takes her suggestion to heart and agrees to grade student assessments rather than maintain the illusion of control in the kitchen is a revelation—she had prepared herself for an argument. He must be more tired than he lets on.

After the vegetables are chopped and she has the recipe posted on the kitchen monitor, Nyota opens the cabinet over the sink and pulls out the rest of the ingredients. The recipe he has referred her to sounds strange and exotic—and with a combination of things she would never have imagined on her own.

Cinnamon, for instance, with thyme and basil. The cinnamon is the random element—and not something she would have expected Spock to like. Doesn't cinnamon affect Vulcans oddly? Or is that chocolate? Somehow she thinks that both make them sick, or tipsy, or something….but perhaps Spock's human heritage protects him from Vulcan food sensitivities.

Unbidden, an image of his bleeding fingers come to mind, and her earlier shame makes her cheeks flush again. How hard this is—seeing past their differences—much less celebrating them.

At once she feels parochial and small. She thinks of Gaila, and of the Andorian Professor Artura, and the other non-humans she has come to know and admire while she has been at the Academy.

She has no trouble saying that she loves Gaila—even when she sometimes wants to kill her.

Perhaps she is simply being too hard on herself—seeing past Gaila's Orion alienness had taken time.

She and Spock are still new at….this. Whatever it is.

That thought cheers her and she finishes sorting the ingredients and begins measuring them and arranging everything in the tagine. The cinnamon is fresh—she has to prise the new bottle open—and she sprinkles a little extra across the top of the vegetables before covering the tagine and setting it on the cooker burner.

In the meantime she busies herself with making a green salad with odds and ends in the cooler. By the time she has found a large bowl to toss it in and has poured drinks, the main course is ready. Nyota lifts the tagine top carefully and takes a deep whiff of the spice.

The easiest way to serve everything is to place it on the counter top with several plates handy. Then they can carry their plates to the sofa and the chair and use the small table at the end as a makeshift dining area.

Nyota strides quickly to the living area to tell Spock to come fix his plate and she is stopped in her tracks.

There on the sofa he is sound asleep, a blinking PADD prone on his chest, a stylus still in his fingers, his head bolstered by the armrest.

She takes a breath to wake him but the light from the lamp on the table casts dark shadows under Spock's eyes and from her angle near the foot of the sofa, she can tell that, even asleep, he is favoring his wrist.

For three days now he has come to work as though he were unaffected by his injuries. With a pang, Nyota realizes that she has willfully ignored his exhaustion, so happy she was to have him back in the lab, life normal again or nearly so.

For a minute she stands as still as she can, hardly daring to breathe, and watches him sleep. Then she moves forward quietly and slowly, slowly, lifts the PADD from his chest and winkles the stylus from his hand.

She considers waking him and imagines trying to convince him to go on to bed. He will be mortified, however, and will insist on getting up and being company for her.

Instead, she goes back into the kitchen and covers the food and puts it in the cooler. Part of her is hoping that the noise will wake him and he will join her for the promised meal, but a larger, kinder part of her is glad that he doesn't. When she is finished, she turns out the light in the kitchen and moves softly to the hallway and beyond, to Spock's bedroom, tugging the duvet from his bed and gathering it in her arms.

Putting it across him is tricky—the time when he is most likely to wake—so Nyota is as gentle as she can be. For a second she thinks she has broken his sleep when a grimace flashes across his features.

His fingers are curled around the cast on his wrist and Nyota stretches out her hand to touch them, but she hesitates and pulls back. Then she leans forward slightly and brushes her fingertips across his brow instead, and in a moment he settles again and she is able to finish covering him.

In the end she decides to leave on one small light—when he wakes she knows he will be disoriented enough—and then she pulls the door to and takes a chilly walk back to her dorm.

X X X X X X

Three hours and thirty-nine minutes later Spock comes to with a start—stiff from sleeping on his back on the sofa and hot and tangled in the duvet. The silence in the apartment confirms what he suspected as soon as he awoke—Nyota is gone.

His disappointment surprises him. He takes a breath and reminds himself that regret is a waste of energy.

Mostly, though, he is ravenous, and a quick inspection of the kitchen leads him to the tagine and the cinnamon-laced vegetables.

Despite his intention of leaving enough to take to Nyota when he sees her in the lab that afternoon, in a few minutes he is scraping the bottom of the empty tagine….and quickly discovering that his human heritage has not protected him from the unusual food sensitivities that have made Earth-going Vulcans shy away from chocolate bon bons and cinnamon rolls.

But that's a story for another day.

A/N: Readers of "Truth and Lies" and "Slips of the Tongue" will recognize the red tagine (Spock's looks remarkably like mine). When it shows up in my kitchen, it's called a pot. When it shows up three times in Spock's kitchen, it is called a literary motif.

The hover bus crash appears in Chapter 8 of "My Mother, the Ambassador," from Spock's POV.

The last of this trilogy is "The Word You Mean," when Spock and Nyota finally stop dancing around the question of where this relationship is going.