Chapter Fourteen: The Verdict
Disclaimer: I'm a scribbler and a pauper, roughly in that order.
The week before her 16th birthday, Nyota was struck by lightning.
She and two friends were camping in the Mahare Nature Reserve when a storm blew up, common in the piedmont where barren stretches of desert butt up to old growth banyan forests and thick underbrush.
The first hint of a storm was a steady uptick in the afternoon heat and a gusty wind from the south. Nyota and her friends, Jason and Anike, had just finished assembling their tent when the first rumbles of thunder rolled over them. Experienced campers all, they hurried to finish and were inside when the first raindrops fell, fat stones of water that swept down so hard that one end of the tent collapsed almost immediately.
Nyota was the first one out, with Jason and Anike close behind. No sooner had they grabbed the metal tent supports than Nyota felt the hair on the back of her neck rise and heard a peculiar buzzing in her ears.
Suddenly her head was slammed into the ground and her vision went white and then black—and for a few moments she floated in what she realized was the aftermath of a lightning strike.
Or a near strike. A tree 20 meters away was the actual target, its trunk split and scarred as the lightning traveled down it and into the ground.
When Spock stands up at the disciplinary hearing and tells the board that Nyota's academic achievement is absolutely her own—when he goes to such pains to divorce himself from her success that he provokes Admiral Komack with his deliberate recitation—she feels as she did all those summers ago, the moist heat rising around her face, the hair on her neck prickling in anticipation of what she knows is coming.
He's going to sacrifice himself and tell—but not until he makes clear that she earned her grades, that she has been granted nothing in the way of favoritism.
It is a generous offer—and as she watches Samuel T. Cogley rise and Admiral Komack shout—Spock stands between them like someone caught in a storm.
Are you involved with your teaching assistant emotionally? Are you involved sexually? Are you involved to such a degree that you are past caring about your career?
The meaning behind the admiral's words ricochet around the room.
"Are you?" Admiral Komack asks once, twice, and Spock glances back briefly before looking straight ahead.
"I am," he says, and Nyota exhales so loudly that Gaila grabs her hand.
"May I remind the board," Cogley says, raising his voice over the murmur in the room, "that the Commander is accused of fraternization, and that has not been proven."
Admiral Edmonson leans forward into the microphone and says, "Commander, you may step down."
Like watching someone in slow motion, Nyota sees Spock turn and walk back to his seat beside Cogley.
And then the Admiral's eyes are on her.
"Cadet Uhura," he says, and she stands and makes her way around the low wall separating the gallery from the floor of the auditorium. To her own ears her footsteps are loud and percussive, almost angry.
Well, she is. She can't hide that.
Approaching the lectern, she is careful not to make eye contact with either Spock or Cogley. Instead, she trains her gaze to the board members sitting in front.
"Cadet," Admiral Edmonson says, "you've heard the Commander's characterization of your relationship."
"How long have you known the Commander?"
"I met him when I took his introductory xenolinguistics class," she says, "my second semester at the Academy."
"And how long have you been his teaching assistant?" the admiral says. Nyota fights back her irritation at having to answer questions she's sure the board members already know the answers to.
"I began working for Commander Spock in August of this school year."
"And you are a third year cadet?"
"I just finished my third year."
Again she struggles not to sound annoyed. From behind her she hears a huff—Samuel Cogley, most likely, telegraphing his displeasure.
"Commander Spock claims that while you were his student, he showed no favoritism to you and did not engage in a personal relationship."
"Yet your academic record shows almost perfect scores in each of the three classes in which you were his student."
The heat rises to her face again. The insult to them both is infuriating.
"Sir," she says, aware that her voice is shaking slightly but unable to steady it, "if you check my academic record, you will see that the grades I received in Commander Spock's classes are the lowest grades I have earned at the Academy."
A murmur from the end of the semicircle of desks—one of the admirals, Admiral Garner, a thin woman with salt and pepper hair, bends down and speaks into the microphone.
"Did the Commander treat you unfairly? Did he expect more of you, perhaps, than he should have?"
This insult is as bad as the first. Worse, because it implies malice on Spock's part.
"The Commander has always been fair to all of his students," Nyota says too loudly. "Even those students who complain that he is a difficult professor can't complain that he is unfair."
"And this…relationship," Admiral Garner says. "Did the Commander ever imply that you would be punished if you refused to participate? Did you worry that your grades might suffer more if you did not…give in?"
Haven't they been listening! Nyota feels a wave of despair.
"As the Commander told you," she says, her hands flat on the lectern, her body tilted forward, "he never treated me as anything other than a student while I was enrolled in his classes. Our…personal relationship…did not begin until later."
"But he is your supervisor. You are his teaching assistant?"
"Has he ever suggested that your continued employment is dependent on your personal relationship with him?"
"No! He wouldn't do that!"
"Cadet," the admiral says, "I'm not asking these things to upset you. Your own conduct is not under investigation. As your superior officer and your direct supervisor, the Commander is in a position to be able to pressure you into a relationship against your will—"
"Please hear me out. I'm not saying that he has, but this board is tasked with making sure that such inappropriate conduct has not occurred. It is for your benefit, Cadet, that we follow this line of questioning."
Nyota falls silent. Of course the admiral is right. If Spock weren't Spock—if he were, for instance, an unscrupulous or manipulative supervisor—
But that idea is so ludicrous that she can't finish it.
"If you are uneasy," Admiral Edmonson adds, "you may testify to the board in private."
His words shock her out of her lethargy. The admiral is suggesting that she is afraid of Spock, that she is being dishonest even now. She shakes her head.
"No, sir," she says, looking down at her hands.
"You may step down," Admiral Edmonson says, and Nyota has a frisson of fear. That's it? She looks at the board members sitting in front of her, most who are reading their PADDs or talking softly with a neighbor. Their relative inattention at this moment of awful weight makes her angry.
"Sir," she says, loudly and without preamble. The board members look up and she is careful to catch each person's eye before she continues.
"You must believe me when I tell you that Commander Spock is an excellent professor who would never fraternize with a student. I haven't taken a class with him in almost a year and our…relationship…only began a few months ago."
"But he initiated it."
This stated as a fact by Admiral Komack, who turns to the officer on his other side and nods.
"No!" Nyota says, and then adds, "I mean, I don't know who initiated it. It just sort of evolved. I never felt forced. It was a mutual decision."
"Thank you," Admiral Edmonson says, and she knows she is being dismissed.
When she moves away from the lectern she feels Spock's dark eyes following her. If she could only speak to him, or feel him in her mind, the bright geometry of his thoughts intersecting her own! The loneliness is hard to bear.
Her legs feel wooden as she makes her way back to the gallery. Sliding into her seat, she hears Chris say, "It's okay," and she shakes her head. It isn't okay. The board doesn't look moved at all by what she had to say.
Now that she's been called to testify, the board will probably deliberate. If Samuel Cogley's prediction is right, they won't recess but will deliberate here, now, so that they can question Spock about any unresolved concerns before they settle on a verdict.
"Once they go into deliberations," Cogley told her two days ago when they met briefly to discuss strategy, "you will be able to leave the hearing if you want to. It could go on for some time. And if they choose not to withdraw for the deliberation, you might not want to listen to everything. It's bound to be upsetting."
She had given him what she hoped was her most scornful expression.
"You don't really think I'd leave, do you?"
He had eyed her closely before answering.
"No, I guess I don't."
Yet here she is at that moment, listening as Admiral Edmonson tells the audience that the board members will now discuss the charges and the evidence presented before coming to a judgment, and what she wants most of all in the world is to get up and walk out the short hallway to the marble foyer of the administration building, push open the front door, and descend the long steps, following the sidewalk to the transport shelter and hopping on the first bus that stops.
If they find Spock guilty…
It will be because she hasn't been convincing enough, because her assertions that Spock is just and fair have fallen on deaf ears.
If they find Spock guilty….
She told Admiral Komack that she didn't know who initiated their relationship—but she does know that both of them were astonished when it happened—not because they hadn't imagined it many times, but because they had said nothing to each other about the growing, gnawing attraction that made working together both a looked for gift and a dreaded burden.
"We could be censured if we continue," he said to her the night they were caught in a sudden downpour and found themselves alone in his apartment.
"I want this," she had replied, pulling him toward the bedroom, undressing and watching him undress, letting herself slip into his mind as willingly as she slipped into his bed.
If they find Spock guilty…
Samuel Cogley said that the board had many options at that point, only one which was dismissal.
"They could reduce him in rank or take away his posting on the Enterprise," Cogley said, and Nyota said, "That would be worse than being dismissed outright."
"Maybe," Cogley said, not bothering to hide his skepticism. "Though he could always work his way back up."
"Not to the Enterprise," she said. "That would be gone forever."
"So he gets another ship one day," Cogley shrugged, and Nyota shook her head slowly.
"You don't understand. The Enterprise is special. Anything else would be…unacceptable."
If they find Spock guilty and he loses the Enterprise, she loses it, too.
Somehow she hadn't figured that into the equation until now, and the idea makes her take a breath.
"You okay?" Gaila asks, and Nyota nods briefly.
"I'll be back," Gaila says, exchanging a look with Chris. They've been conferring through most of the hearing, so softly that Nyota hasn't followed their conversation. Clearly they still are.
Gaila slips her hand into Chris' and gives the Orion farewell finger stroke.
If she weren't so distracted, so frantic with worry, Nyota would ask them what they were up to, but before she can, Admiral Edmonson's voice rings out.
"The chair recognizes Professor Sanchez."
Dressed in the deep charcoal gray of the Academy faculty, the only member of the disciplinary board not an officer in Starfleet is an elderly physics professor that Nyota knows from a symposium she attended. He clears his throat and says, "Members of the board, I move that we vote now to dismiss the charges. I've heard nothing today that suggests Commander Spock wouldn't be more valuable back where he belongs, at the Academy and preparing for the launch of the Enterprise."
X X X X X X X
From the moment the double bells rang to begin the hearing, Chris was thankful that he talked Amanda and Sarek out of attending. Until the last moment they had planned to come—but Chris had appealed to Amanda's emotions ("Your presence will add to Spock's distress," he told her) and Sarek's logic ("All nine members of the board are humans—and they may see the presence of the Vulcan Ambassador as a heavy-handed reminder of whose son is accused…and they might resent it.")
In the end, he promised to go in their stead and to keep them apprised throughout the hearing. All morning he kept one promise and broke the other. He didn't leave the hearing room but he also sent no messages—unable to predict what the outcome would be and not willing to mislead his aunt and uncle.
The hearing was the proverbial roller coaster ride. As he listened to the JAG officer present the evidence, Chris felt his heart sink. But then Samuel Cogley got up to speak.
Despite his frumpy appearance, Cogley acquitted himself well. He diffused the most troubling evidence—the medical records, the surveillance tapes—and made Spock and Nyota seem like nothing more than what they try to present to the world—a young professor and his student aide.
A sham, of course, as Chris decided the first time he met Nyota after Spock was injured in the hover bus wreck. Her distress when Spock lay unconscious in the hospital, her initial reluctance and ultimate success in linking with him telepathically, her alerting the doctors to Spock's over-sedation and the dangers to him as a Vulcan—something more than professor and aide was going on there.
And later, when Spock was discharged and Chris had an opportunity to see them together unobserved—their tender affection shown in small gestures, their meaningful looks, the way they turned in unison when Chris approached, as if they were in tune with each other's perceptions.
Which perhaps they are. Spock may have bonded with her in that peculiar way Sarek and Amanda are connected. However, as much as Chris wants to ask, he won't. This much he knows about Vulcans—and about his cousin in particular: they value their privacy and are adept at dodging unwanted questions.
So when Spock was called to the stand and Admiral Komack began his relentless questioning, Chris wasn't surprised to hear Spock sidestep the obvious verbal traps.
The Admiral's dislike was disturbing, revealing a loss of objectivity that Chris found shocking for a disciplinary hearing judge. The other judges looked discomfited during the badgering, as well, though Admiral Komack continued probing, almost needling, Spock who stood quietly, apparently unflustered.
But Chris wasn't fooled.
When he is angry, Spock becomes quieter than usual and more deliberate in his actions. Even from his seat in the visitors' gallery, Chris saw a flush creep up Spock's neck and around his ears. The slight frown on his brow was another giveaway.
"Are you in such a relationship?" the Admiral almost shouted, and Chris flinched.
"Are you? Answer the question!"
And Spock did.
The entire landscape of the hearing changed with those two words.
Clearly Nyota was as surprised as Chris was. From his right he heard her let out a little gasp, and Gaila caught his eye briefly before taking her roommate's hand.
A good thing Gaila was here. When he first saw her, she reminded him so much of his old girlfriend C'rina that he was momentarily taken aback.
He tries not to think too hard about why that relationship hadn't panned out, but her loss is like a missing tooth, and when he isn't careful, or when he has too much time on his hands, he probes that ache.
In many ways Gaila is nothing like C'rina. For one, Nyota's roommate has classic Orion features and the luxurious red ringlets that characterize the largest and best-known clan.
C'rina's father, by contrast, was a Romulan slave trader, her mother part of his cargo. Her mixed heritage made C'rina fierce and ambitious and determined in a way that was sometimes frightening.
Gaila radiated friendship and concern when she brushed Chris' fingers when they met—unlike C'rina, whose touch always felt seductive—or if not consciously manipulative, at least erotic. Compared to C'rina, Gaila is a kid—beautiful and pleasant, but young.
The way Nyota is young, though Nyota has a gravitas, a seriousness, that makes her seem more mature—
He quickly squelched that line of thinking, feeling a little silly to think of himself as some elder with lots of experience. At 31 he's not exactly an old man.
Still, he felt protective as he sat with Gaila and Nyota in the visitors' gallery.
When the admiral called Nyota's name, Chris saw her jump and he half rose from his seat, his hand extended to help her navigate her way to the aisle.
As the board began questioning her, Chris felt again what he had when they first met—that she had some sort of inner resources that made her worth knowing, that explained why Spock would drop his natural reserve and risk a friendship—and more.
Sitting so straight that he didn't appear to touch the back of his chair, Spock was still, his face in profile, a slight frown on his brow, his eyes black and opaque in the overhead light as he watched Nyota closely, his hands splayed over his knees.
The inquisition position.
Amanda's phrase for the way Spock leans into a problem, both metaphorically and physically.
"Like he's about to attack you if you dare question him," Chris overheard Amanda tell her sister Cecilia one evening during an annual summer visit. "When he perches on a chair like that, I know it's too late. He won't talk unless it's his idea. Completely shuts down on me."
It's true, Chris thought. He'd seen Spock get into that position before when he didn't want to deal with something unpleasant.
Like the time their grandmother accused them of trampling her prize camellia bush. How old had they been? Seven and ten? Fairly young, at any rate.
They hadn't trampled it—not exactly—but they had stripped most of the flowers, the buds, and the newest leaves from the branches. Chris no longer remembered why—something Spock wanted to investigate with his scanner. Mitochondrial migration? Something like that. Whatever it was, Chris had been a willing participant, if not the instigator.
Never a particularly demonstrative person, Grandmother Grayson was livid when she walked out into the back yard and saw her bush almost bare. Although all four of her grandchildren were in the back yard playing, she dismissed the two girls immediately, sending Anna and Rachel into the house. Chris remembered Rachel looking back over her shoulder, her expression worried, and rightly so. The few times their grandmother had scolded them, she had been relentless in her criticism and harsh in her punishment.
No supper, for instance, and a phone call to the offender's mother—who in turn received an earful about her wayward child.
Both Spock and Chris stood still and watched as Grandmother Grayson picked up the few blooms littering the ground under the camellia bush. She straightened up, looked at the bruised flowers in her hands, and threw them on the ground in disgust.
"Come with me," she said, and Spock and Chris trooped into the house behind her.
From the stairwell Chris could see Rachel peeking over the banister. So could their grandmother.
"I sent you to your room," she said, and Rachel scurried up the stairs.
"You two, sit here," she said, and Spock and Chris sat side-by-side on the old-fashioned floral sofa. Spock was so short that his feet did not touch the ground. Chris' barely did.
"That camellia bush," she said as soon as she settled herself into a chair opposite, "is an heirloom, and because of your interference, it may not survive another season."
Chris was taken aback. He had heard his grandmother brag more than once about the flowers. Indeed, she had won several awards from her local garden club. Perhaps his grandmother had planned to enter the flower show this year and now couldn't. He hung his head and looked at his hands, still stained green from helping Spock grind up the leaves for the scanner.
"I believe you are in error," Spock said, and Chris heard his grandmother take in a breath. "We left enough new foliage to maintain the health of the plant, and the flowers had already pollinated."
Uncertain who to watch—his grandmother or Spock—Chris settled on darting glances between the two of them.
Clearly his grandmother was angry—though because of the damage to the camellia bush or because Spock had contradicted her, Chris wasn't sure. Both, possibly.
Spock, on the other hand, didn't seem to recognize her anger.
"If you like, Grandmother, I can—" he began.
"This is outrageous," their grandmother said. "I always thought Vulcans were taught to respect their elders, but you have disrespected my property and lied about it. What would your father say if he knew you were lying?"
"Grandmother," Spock said, his neck flushing and his expression darkening, "I have not lied to you, and I would never disrespect—"
"Christopher," their grandmother interrupted. "I expected better from you. You should have been making sure things like this didn't happen, but look at you."
She pointed to his stained hands and Chris felt his face grow hot.
At his side, Spock slid forward along the sofa and Chris wondered if he might be about to bolt from the room. Looking at him, he was surprised to see Spock's face set in a steely attitude, his fingers curved over his knees, his posture statue-like, immobile.
"What would you think if I called your father and told him what you have done?" their grandmother said, though her words were obviously meant for Spock alone. "And your mother? This is how she's raising you? I suppose it's to be expected, without anyone around to help her. Well, she can't say she wasn't warned."
Again Chris darted a glance at Spock, who hadn't moved, not even an inch. He looked as solid as marble, and as mute.
Only after their grandmother dismissed them, telling them to rake up all the fallen leaves and stems before heading up to their rooms for the rest of the day, did Spock come back to life.
"I'm sorry," Chris said later as they pulled the rakes from the garden shed. "She's just funny about her flowers."
At first Spock had said nothing, had simply attacked the ground under the bush so hard that bits of grass and clods of dirt were tangled in his rake.
"I did not lie," he said, and Chris said, "I know. Everybody knows Vulcans can't lie."
Spock had given him such a strange look then that even now Chris squirms recalling it—such a stupid assumption, and a stupider comment. No wonder Spock was private about his life, if the people who know him best can let what they think they know about Vulcans color their expectations this way.
When they were teenagers, Chris almost overcompensated for having once believed the stereotypes by willfully ignoring Spock's Vulcan heritage, even taking umbrage when his friends referred to him casually as a Vulcan.
"Why do you always call him that?" he snapped one day at his best friend Jonathan.
"All I asked was when your Vulcan cousin was coming for a visit," Jonathan said, his hands raised in surrender. "I didn't mean anything by it!"
"If he were a human you wouldn't call him my human cousin," Chris said, and Jonathan shrugged.
"Why are you so mad?"
"Because you act like being Vulcan is the most important thing about Spock," Chris said, and Jonathan threw up his hands again.
"Back off!" he said. "I didn't mean anything by it!"
But Chris knew better. At some level, Spock's being Vulcan was the most important thing to many of Chris's friends—even the ones who socialized with Spock when he visited. Chris commented on it once to Spock, who seemed neither surprised nor distressed by it.
"They know so few Vulcans," he said matter-of-factly, reasonably. "It's my defining trait to them."
Chris wasn't satisfied.
"But that's…insulting," he said. "It's like saying that your personality and what you like to do and how you think aren't as important as that one trait. I don't even think about your being Vulcan anymore."
Spock had become very still then, had sat with his back straight, his hands on his knees—almost in the inquisition position, but not quite, his raised eyebrow a wry note in his expression—and said, "You may not think about it, but I always do."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I am always aware that I am a Vulcan, that people see me that way, that they expect me to act a certain way."
"But that's…wrong!" Chris said, and Spock said, "That is how it is."
"Then the only place you don't have to think about it is back home."
"Yeah. At least there no one sees you as just a Vulcan."
"No," Spock said thoughtfully. "On Vulcan they see me as a human."
It was one of those funny little throwaway glimpses of his life that Spock let slip from time to time.
"It's okay," Chris reassured Nyota when she sat back down in the gallery, though the truth was that he hadn't been listening as closely as he should have. Her face was drawn and when he took her hand he felt her tremble.
She needed to get out of here—but he had no illusions that he could convince her to leave before the verdict was decided. Now that she'd finished her part, the board might not take too long to deliberate. If Gaila was going to get an overnight bag ready for Nyota, she probably needed to go ahead and do it.
He gave the Orion a look and she nodded.
"I'll be right back," she said into Nyota's ear.
Chris' flitter was parked in the overflow lot near the visitors' center. He'd given Gaila the access code so she could put Nyota's bag there. Before she left, she ran her hand along his, one finger extended just so, and he wondered again where C'rina was these days and what she was doing.
Better not to think about it too hard.
A commotion from the front of the room pulled him back to attention.
"The Chair recognizes Professor Sanchez."
For the first time since the hearing began, Chris realized that not all of the board members were admirals. Or at least, the professor who was speaking was not wearing a military uniform. Spock told him that some of the teaching staff at the Academy were not Starfleet officers but were civilians—his colleague in the language department, for example, the Andorian who developed that successful lab tutorial program with Spock.
Would a civilian professor be more or less likely to be sympathetic to someone accused of fraternizing with a student?
Nyota grabs his hand when the professor asks that the charges be dismissed.
Is that it? Can it possibly end this quickly, this easily?
"I'm not satisfied that Commander Spock did not coerce Cadet Uhura into a relationship," Admiral Komack says, and Admiral Edmonson replies, "Why? They both deny that he did."
"He's a Vulcan," the admiral who had questioned Nyota earlier, Admiral Garner, says, "and we know they are strong telepaths. The Cadet may not be aware that she is being coerced through telepathic means—"
Chris is on his feet before he knows what he is doing. The implication that Spock would manipulate anyone—much less someone he cares about—for personal gain is so shocking that Chris isn't certain what he will say. He just knows that someone has to.
Fortunately Samuel Cogley beats him to it.
"Admiral Edmonson!" Cogley says, standing at his seat.
"Understood," the admiral says. He leans forward toward Admiral Garner at the end of the row of desks and says, "Please refrain from speculation unless you have evidence to support it."
"I apologize and withdraw the statement," she says, though she doesn't sound abashed at all. In fact, she looks somewhat smugly around at the other judges, and Chris is dismayed to see them exchanging glances.
The axe is going to fall. He can feel it, like a tide beginning to turn.
No matter that they haven't proven any fraternization according to their own rules. What was it—fraternization had to involve either offering an advantage or threatening a punishment? By that definition, Spock isn't guilty.
On the other hand, he has admitted to being in a personal, sexual, emotional relationship with someone he supervises—not a good idea for lots of reasons, though not unheard of, either.
Then one of the other admirals, an older man who hasn't spoken before, says, "Why is this interspecies couple being singled out for reprimand? That's what I want to know. If the Commander were human, would we be here now? I don't think so."
As much as Chris agrees, he is horrified that the words have been said aloud. Almost at once the mood in the room darkens and the other judges shift in their chairs.
"What are you implying?" Admiral Komack says, but no one answers. "Are you suggesting that I am prejudiced against off-worlders?"
"I'm just noting the unusual rise in anti-alien sentiments and the coincidence of this relationship coming under the scrutiny of a disciplinary board," the older admiral says.
"Then you are accusing me!"
"Gentlemen," Admiral Edmonson says, but Admiral Komack continues.
"I don't care if the Commander is a Vulcan or not, if he is some hero or not, or if he's Chris Pike's only choice or not! My only interest is in making sure that Starfleet regulations are followed!"
"Even if the person accused has proven, time and again, his value to the Academy and to Starfleet?" Professor Sanchez says, and Admiral Komack replies, "No one is so valuable that he doesn't have to follow regulations. Not even someone who uses his influence to jump rank—"
"Admiral Edmonson!" Samuel Cogley shouts from his seat.
If Chris suspected that Admiral Komack was jealous of Spock before, now he is sure. His comment about using his influence is a thinly veiled reference to Sarek, though anyone who knows Spock—or knows about him—could not accuse him of being promoted too soon. If anything, his extra duties at the Academy have kept him from advancing further in Starfleet.
Before Admiral Edmonson can respond to Cogley's objection, Admiral Komack says, "I withdraw that last comment. But I do want some clarification about one thing. What confuses me," he adds, "is why a Vulcan—pardon me, Admiral Edmonson, but I don't think I'm saying anything unsubstantiated here—but why a Vulcan, known for logic and rational thought—would throw away all his cultural upbringing, turn his back on everything his people hold dear, and engage in a relationship that, if not strictly fraternization, is close enough to it to be unwise. If I seem confused, Commander, it's because I can't understand how you, of all people, could let this happen."
His last sentence is clearly directed at Spock—who sits, ramrod straight, his hands resting on his knees, his eyes straight ahead.
Watching him flick his gaze to Admiral Edmonson, Chris watches as Spock stands slowly, his hands dangling uncharacteristically at his side, his shoulders hunched forward as if he is about to step into a strong headwind.
His posture makes him look vulnerable somehow, and Chris' heart lurches as Spock steps gingerly toward the lectern but pauses a few feet back, as if he cannot make himself go on.
Every eye in the room is on him. When he sees Spock open his mouth, Chris holds his breath, the better to hear what he is saying.
"I was unable to control my…feelings," he says so quietly that Admiral Edmonson asks him to repeat himself.
This time his voice is firmer, but Chris hears the anguish in his admission.
"I was unable to control my feelings."
Of all the people in the room, Chris may be the one who understands best what those words cost Spock. They are an abnegation of what he strives to be—what his father expects from him, what his culture values most.
Because Chris is watching him so closely, he sees Spock blink as he faces the board, sees a tiny tremor in his left hand, as if his control over his body is as tentative as his control over his emotions.
And then Spock moves back to his seat, his face pinched, his mouth set.
"The board will recess to discuss the verdict," Admiral Edmonson says into the microphone, startling Chris. He had assumed the deliberations would conclude here, in the hearing. Is that a good or bad sign?
"No way to know," Samuel Cogley says as he steps over to the visitors' gallery as the judges file out. "It does suggest that the board is divided. Komack's a definite guilty, and I think the professor will vote to acquit, but I learned long ago never to predict what a jury will do."
"Is it okay if I—" Nyota says, lifting her hand to where Spock sits near the lectern, and Cogley shakes his head.
"Better not," he says. "After this is over—"
He waves his arm as if to include the entire hearing and Chris puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out a thumb drive.
"Here," he says, pressing it into Nyota's palm. "Here are the access codes to my apartment and my flitter. You'll need them…later."
Nyota takes the thumb drive and gives a ghost of a smile.
How inconvenient, Chris thinks when his hand touches hers, to feel a surge of attraction when he's trying so hard not to—
He looks around for Gaila, who should have been back by now.
"Excuse me," he says to Cogley and Nyota, making his way out the hearing room and down the hall to the front door of the administration building.
Some air will help.
Standing at the top of the stairs, he sees Gaila almost at the same time that she sees him, from 50 meters down the sidewalk. She waves and flashes him a smile—and in spite of himself, he laughs. What was he feeling earlier? Like some old codger next to these young kids?
By the time he and Gaila re-enter the hearing room, the judges are filing back in—a surprise, since Cogley had suggested that the board was divided and Chris expected the verdict to take some time.
His heart beating hard, Chris files into his seat and watches as Cogley joins Spock at the lectern.
"Commander Spock," Admiral Edmonson says when the last judge is seated, "are you prepared to hear the judgment of this board?"
"I am," Spock says.
Admiral Edmonson clears his throat and reads from his PADD.
"After due deliberation, this board finds that Commander Spock is not guilty of fraternization under Articles 73 and 74 of Starfleet's disciplinary code."
Gaila lets out an almost inaudible squeak. When Chris glances at Nyota, he sees that her mouth is pursed, her nostrils flared. She takes a quick gulp of air and darts a look in his direction.
"However..." Admiral Edmonson says, and Chris feels his heart in his throat.
"The board does find that the relationship that the Commander admits to having with his teaching assistant is both ill-advised and offers ample opportunities for future misconduct. As such, it is the feeling of this board that while the cadet is enrolled at the Academy, the Commander should cease and desist in said relationship."
Admiral Komack, Chris notes, is sitting slumped in his chair, his head tilted to the side, his eyes on Spock.
Is this "cease and desist" order the price the rest of the board had to pay to get Komack to agree to a not-guilty verdict?
Probably. He looks unhappy enough—put out, as it were.
"Because the fraternization charges were unsubstantiated, the Commander's record will remain clear and his rank and postings are unchanged."
Before he continues, Admiral Edmonson glances at Admiral Komack.
"For now. Commander, do you understand that the board advises you to have no further contact with Cadet Uhura?"
"And you understand that if you disregard that advice, you can be called to account and possibly sanctioned for it?"
"This isn't just your career you jeopardize, but hers as well. Starfleet's investment in you both is considerable," Admiral Edmonson says, and Chris sees Admiral Komack cross his arms. "It would be a shame for you to risk your careers for…emotional reasons."
Chris sees Spock's eyes narrow a fraction—something he does when he is annoyed.
Well, the Admiral's comment about emotional reasons is insulting.
To a Vulcan, that is.
Even to a Vulcan who has admitted to doing just that—leading with his heart.
"This board is dismissed," the admiral says, and the judges stand up and mill about for a moment. Admiral Komack, on the other hand, leaves abruptly.
Nyota has already started past Chris toward the aisle when he reaches out and catches her arm.
"Not here," he says, shaking his head marginally. "Gaila will take you to the flitter. Your things are already there. I'll bring him out in a minute."
There it is again, the look Nyota gives that makes his stomach lurch—her chocolate eyes wide and luminous, her mouth curved up in genuine joy. From the corner of his eye he sees Gaila looking at him oddly.
Then Nyota leans down to his ear.
"Thank you," she whispers, "from both of us."
He feels her lips drift chastely across his cheek and he looks down, flustered, as she and Gaila make their way up the aisle and out the room.
I could not control my emotions.
The truth, certainly.
In more ways than one.
X X X X X X X X X
As soon as he engages the starter, Spock sees that someone—Chris, most likely—has already programmed a flight pattern into the flitter and registered a flight plan. All Spock has to do is mark the start time and as far as anyone knows, Chris Thomasson will be on his way back to Seattle.
It means Chris will have to depend on public transport all weekend—or slug a ride with a commuter car.
But Chris assured Spock he didn't mind—that he came to San Francisco with that plan in mind already.
"I promised your parents I'd look after you," he said, grinning, as they walked from the administration building to the overflow parking deck where Nyota waited in the flitter for him. "After you take off, I'll call them and let them know you are okay."
At that Spock had paused briefly and reached inward to his parents. There they were in one corner of his mind—like faint lights: his father steady, his mother warm.
I am well, he reassured them.
Chris could fill in the details for them when he called.
The flitter rises swiftly and Spock circles over the bay before heading north up the coast. Even over the noise of the engine he can hear Nyota's steady breathing. If he concentrates, he can hear her pulse, too, slower than his own, sounding like some ancient music he learned once for the ka'athyra.
As soon as they reach altitude her fingers drift to his hand and he feels her seeking him out through her touch.
"It always feels like electricity," she has said more than once to describe his hand on hers. He never tires of her saying it.
At last he dares to look at her, and when he does, he is surprised that she does not look upset or distressed or angry—none of the emotions he had predicted he might see after the ordeal of the hearing.
Instead, she looks—serene.
Utterly tranquil and calm.
As if she has been meditating cross-legged in front of an asenoi for hours.
He feels a flash of annoyance with himself that his own face is not nearly so composed.
As he watches her, she looks in his direction and folds her palm into his, and suddenly they are linked in a wordless communion.
Her presence in his mind is a balm, cooling his lingering fury and embarrassment of the hearing.
It's over, she thinks, and he takes a breath.
It is, and it isn't.
The board's cautionary note about the relationship—not an order, exactly, but he knows he is expected to treat it like one.
To cut off all communication with Nyota, to avoid her company, to focus exclusively on his career.
And not to do what he is doing now—letting his hand drift up her arm, her shoulder, his fingertips skirting the edge of her jaw, cupping her ear, pressing lightly along her temple, sending her his unspoken gratitude, telling her as his finger slides back down and across her bottom lip that his need for her is making his heart race in his side, is making the temperature in the flitter almost too warm even for him.
The afternoon sunlight is so bright that he switches on the window filter. Soon, however, he angles the flitter east and the sun is no longer a hindrance.
"Where are we going?" Nyota asks immediately, but he says nothing at first, busying himself with the flitter controls.
"If you look below," he says after a few moments, "you can see the distinctive markings from the Des Moines Lobe of the last Pleistocene glacier."
And at once she understands. Her swiftness of comprehension delights him as it always does.
"You're taking me to the Enterprise!"
She says it with certainty and obvious excitement, and he allows himself a moment of pleasure in her reaction.
"Yes," he says, pointing out the window. "The Riverside Shipyards are on partial shut-down for the quarterly retooling. Only a skeleton crew will be in attendance."
He sees her expression fall just a bit—his comment is, after all, an admission that they will have to be just as circumspect as ever—indeed, more so—in each other's company.
But her grin returns when the first construction silo looms on the horizon like a desert oasis.
They bypass that silo and the next, too, skirting the quarry before making a sharp descent.
And at last the ship comes into view, sleek and gleaming in the afternoon light, the saucer almost completely finished, the nacelles partly so.
When Nyota visited with Captain Pike on a barnstorming tour three years ago, the ship had hardly looked like a ship at all—had looked, for all the world, like a crazy spider of struts and metal spikes welded together at weird angles—a description she's amused Spock with frequently.
Not even the updated holovids of the progress come close to communicating the wondrousness of the ship. And Nyota's overlay of emotion makes the ship alive to him.
Makes everything in her presence alive, including him.
The flitter safely parked, he takes her to the lift at the bottom of the silo and they make their way up to the first access point, near engineering.
The bowels of the ship are crisscrossed and tunneled with exposed wiring and large sheets of transparent aluminum waiting to be molded into the cooling system conduits. All ordinary and therefore uninteresting, yet Nyota quizzes him on everything.
"And this?" she says, pointing to a large fan-like object being assembled on the floor, a hoist ready to lift it twenty feet in the air.
"The coolant separator," he says automatically, and she squints before she says, "And it weighs how much?"
"When it is completed, 1091.95 kilos."
"With or without the water?"
"Without, of course."
"And with it? When the water is running through it, how much will it weigh then?"
The calculation takes less than the time it takes him to note her impish grin.
Ah. She's teasing him.
A game she plays from time to time, luring him into a recitation of numbers or facts and then springing a question on him which she assumes he will not know—watching him cast about for an answer. If other people are nearby when she asks, she makes sure to catch his eye and run her tongue along her top lip, or exhale slowly, or turn her face in profile and tuck a lock of hair behind her ear.
Anything to distract him, to slow him down.
If they are alone, she's been known to resort to…more extreme measures.
They see several construction workers on their way to the turbolift, most nodding silently or moving to the side of the corridor to let them pass.
He takes her to the communications hub next, the large anodized tanks of sound sensors already in place. She runs her hand along one tank and jerks it away.
"The sensor baffles require it," he says simply, and she reaches out once more to the metal canister and laughs.
Watching her seek sensation this way is another thing he allows himself to enjoy.
The bridge is last, and when they step out into the circular work area, Spock tries to let go of his resentment about the day—for the way the hearing colors what he wants to say to Nyota right now.
Everything reminds him of the hearing—even the arrangement of the workstations mirroring, to some degree, the semi-circular desks where the judges had sat and listened to his confession.
Though in the end, his "I am" does not come close to confessing what he shares with Nyota.
Standard has no word large enough.
And Vulcan is too vague.
They do not sit in the captain's chair—though Nyota lets her fingers drift across the armrest. She does sit at the communication station, fingering the switches and looking at the place where the subspace relay will eventually be installed.
"This is the science area," he says, seeing her glance up across the short distance from the communication station. He doesn't need to touch her to see that she is amused.
"Did you design this?" she says, waggling her eyebrows, and he says, "I would never have put these two stations within such close proximity. The potential for distraction is…considerable."
No workers or crew are on the bridge but Spock feels constrained there, as if they are under surveillance. Not until they enter the turbolift does he consider how to say what has troubled him since they left San Francisco.
He reaches to the control panel and presses the stop.
At once the lift is still and silent—almost eerily so.
He sees her look up at him, a question in her expression, and then comprehension.
They move together at the same time, their arms pulling each other close, their foreheads touching.
He tries to hide the anger and frustration of the day from her but she is too quick.
What aren't you telling me? he hears her say, and he debates how to answer.
"I wanted you here," he says aloud, his voice echoing in the turbolift, "so you have all the data before you decide."
"Decide? Decide what?"
He can't bear to repeat Admiral Edmonson's last words so he shows her instead—an image of himself behind the lectern, the cease and desist crashing in his ears.
You could lose the ship, he thinks, and he feels her impatience.
So could you!
How to tell her that the loss of the ship pales in comparison to losing her? That nothing anyone at Starfleet says can make him weigh his career against his…feelings…for her and not find her worth more?
That even now, barely touching, with all the attendant anxiety of being discovered and reprimanded, he feels more alive than he does when they are apart?
He lifts his forehead from hers and breaks their link.
"If we continue, people may say—"
"People say all kinds of things," she says, lifting the fingers of her right hand to his lips to silence him. "Very little of it is worth hearing."
A weight drops from his shoulders.
She slides her fingers down his chest and finds his palm—and there, he feels it, the snap of electricity as a spark leaps from her hand to his, like the distant hint of thunder on the edge of a receding storm, leaving him like a tree scored by lightning, unshattered, illuminated.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this story half as much as I enjoyed writing it. Let me know what you think.
I'm working on a story that picks up where this one leaves off and carries forward with some S/U and a parallel story involving Chris Pike and his attaché, Natalie Jolsen. Author Alert me if you are interested so you'll see it when it comes out!
Thanks as always to StarTrekFanWriter, whose support keeps me going! Look for her many terrific stories in my faves.