A/N: Thank you again for all the lovely reviews last chapter! I was especially nervous writing the basketball scene so I'm glad you all seemed to enjoy it (and I know I really appreciate your comments and criticism too!). Now I know somebody asked when the storylines for "Being Se'tak" and "Forging Her Own Path" were going to converge and all I can say is that I'm currently working on it. Don't worry people, it WILL happen!
Oh, and don't forget to leave a review for this chapter if you happen to feel so inclined! - )
Turn and Face the Strange
U.S.S. Enterprise, 2280.181, 1017 hours. Se'tak set his breakfast tray down in the Mess looking absolutely miserable. Mama warned him the day before that he needed to stop staying up 'til all hours of the night and then sleeping his summer away. It was his prerogative of course to ignore her and she got back at him good; she hid an alarm clock somewhere in his room with the volume set loud enough to send a deaf dog running for cover.
He cursed her ingenuity.
He was hunched over his cereal when another tray was plunked down next to his. "Hey 'Tak!"
G-d she was too cheery this morning. Se'tak nodded at Tabby and shoved another spoonful of wheatie-o's in his mouth. They'd always been good friends but they got a little closer after Dimora left; not that Tabby wanted for friends (she befriended the Beemer girls, Valerie and Robin, easily enough after their parents joined the crew) but she seemed to spend more time with him than the rest. He hadn't minded originally—they all missed Dimora—but lately things had been getting a little weird between them. Not bad weird or anything, just different.
"You're up early."
He quietly groaned as she stated the obvious and idly wondered if a cup of coffee might help perk him up. He'd never had one before but he was almost fifteen and it couldn't hurt, right? Besides, Uncle Jim drank like, what, twenty cups everyday? And he was alright.
"What're you up to today?"
"Dunno. You?" he asked through a mouthful of food.
She set her orange juice aside. "Dad said I could earn a few extra credits doing inventory in Sickbay if I wanted, but other then that I've got nothing going on." Tabby was picking at her when she was struck by an idea. "Hey, do you want to go swimming later?"
Se'tak shrugged. He hadn't anything better to do. "Sure, why not?"
She beamed. "Cool! Meet you there around 1?"
He ended up randomly meeting up with Egil and playing a game of pick-up, forgetting all about Tabby until she found them and stood in the doorway of the gym in her pink bathing suit with a towel wrapped around her waist. Se'tak tried apologizing but she wouldn't hear a word of it and she didn't speak to him again for a week afterward.
U.S.S. Enterprise, 2280.196, 1922 hours. The Rec was playing a new movie tonight, "Legends of the Urudine", and Se'tak couldn't wait to see it. The action flick had his favorite star, Constantine Dracovich, and besides that the ship hadn't screened a new film in ages. He, Tilk and Egil were sitting there picking at their popcorn and giving each other a hard time when they spotted Tabby walking in dragging Becca behind her. When she saw them she waved and as she made a beeline for the vacant seats beside him he wasn't surprised to find the sisters in the middle of a fight.
Becca stood before Tabby, arms folded across her chest and a frown on her face. "But I don't wanna see this movie! I said it's gonna be boring!" When that didn't work she began petulantly stamping her feet.
Her sister just rolled her eyes. "I don't care; Mom and Dad left me in charge and since you're still too little to be left by yourself you have to do what I say, and I say we're watching this movie!" Turning away from her whiny little sister Tabby smiled. "Hey guys, you ready for the fil—?"
Tabitha let out a huff of annoyance and flung herself back in her seat. "Oh for the love—!"
Se'tak leaned forward. "Becca?"
"Do you want to go hang out with Selas?" The offer quieted the littlest McCoy's imminent rebellion and she began nodding enthusiastically. "If Tabby says it's alright you can head over to our place; Selas and T said they were going to chill there tonight and I'm sure they'd love to have you."
Becca didn't even have to ask before Tabby let her go and the little girl ran for the door, her green eyes bright with delight. When her sister was gone Tabitha looked back at Se'tak with a huge grin on her face. "You're a lifesaver, you know that?"
He relaxed back into his chair. "I do but it's always nice to be appreciated," he said with a smile.
Now, Se'tak knew he wasn't the most observant guy in the world but something was different about Tabby tonight and he couldn't quite put his finger on it until Egil complimented her on the new clip in her hair.
"Thanks," she said, her hand reflexively going up to touch the barrette, "It's one of my Mom's, she let me borrow it."
"You're wearing your hair differently too, aren't you?" Se'tak blurted out. Normally she wore her blond hair straight and parted down the middle, but tonight the ends were curled and it was parted off to the side.
Tabitha blushed. "Yeah—Joanna called earlier and gave me a few ideas. Do you like it?"
He shrugged. Hair was hair in his book. There was a time when he wanted his to lie flat on his head like his sa-mekh's but when he realized that wasn't going to happen he kind of gave up and just let it grow wild. "It's alright."
The house lights dimmed and he turned his attention to the screen. Somewhat distantly he thought he heard her say, "Oh."
U.S.S. Enterprise, 2280.201, 2133 hours. He emerged from his room to get a glass of water and heard voices coming from the living room.
"I will go and collect him for you."
"Thanks, Uncle Spock."
Tabby? No sooner had Se'tak thought this then his sa-mekh appeared in the hall. "Ah, sa-fu, Tabitha is here to speak with you. She said that she only requires a minute of your time." His puzzlement must've showed because his sa-mekh's eyebrow also rose. "Is there something the matter?"
"What? No, everything's fine. I'll go see what she wants."
Sa-mekh nodded and continued on toward his office, giving the two of them some privacy. Tabby sprang up from the sofa as he entered the room, a PADD in his hands. "Sorry to pop by so late…"
"It's alright," he said, settling in the armchair as she re-took her seat. She looked nervous. "Everything ok?"
"What?" she replied somewhat distractedly. "Oh yeah, yeah, everything's fine, I just wanted to get your book back to you."
Se'tak furrowed his brow and accepted the second-hand PADD nonetheless. "You could've just done a transfer, you know. You didn't have to come over here and deliver it to me personally."
She blushed. "I know but I wanted to thank you for recommending it and then letting me borrow it; I might not have read it otherwise."
"Well then you'll have to thank Mama because if she hadn't made me read it I doubt either of us would have. So, what'd you think?"
"A little dark at times but other than that I thought it was very sweet."
He absently twirled the PADD around in his hands. "Yeah, me too." Not knowing what else to say the two teens sat there staring around the room until Tabby stood up again.
"Well I should get going."
"Sure, sure. Thanks again for bringing this by."
Se'tak walked her to the door and she stopped and looked up at him with a question in her eyes. Before she could ask it though she spotted something distracting on his head. "You have a little—here, hold on…" Tabby reached up along the side of his head very near to his ear and he stiffened wondering what she was up to. For a second he thought she was going to—but no, she just plucked at a bit of fluff out of his hair instead and casually flicked it away. "There, all better. Good night, Se'tak!"
"Good night." When she was gone he slowly headed back to his room, lost in deep thought. The way she touched him, it was kind of sweet and it almost felt like she wanted to run her fingers through further but stopped herself short. Was Tabby interested in him as more than just a friend, or was she really just picking lint out of his hair?
He decided to put it out of his mind and go back to his holo flick.
U.S.S. Enterprise, 2280.236, 1348 hours. Aaron had been gone for almost the entire summer visiting his grandparents on Terra. Now Se'tak knew his friend was coming home today but thought he'd be returning later in the evening, so when he almost walked right past him in the corridor that afternoon without acknowledging him his lapse could almost be forgiven.
You see, when Aaron had left he'd been a little chubby, a little pale, and a good 12-15 centimeters shorter than Se'tak; he also kept his brown hair a bit on the bushy side.
The guy Se'tak almost walked past was tan and lean with a military-crisp haircut and was nearly as tall as himself; in short he looked nothing like the friend he remembered.
"Hey 'Tak!" Se'tak looked up from his PADD and blinked at the stranger, taking a second too long to realize who it was. "Dude, you too busy to say hey to me?"
"Aaron?" When he nodded Se'tak clapped him no the back in a manly half-hug. "It's good to see you, man! I didn't think you'd be back 'til tonight!" Se'tak was still in shock as he stepped back and looked his friend up and down. "Man you look different!"
Aaron chuckled. "I know, right? When I got off the transport in Krakow my dziadzia took one look at me, shook his head, and put me to work. He even took away my video games!"
Se'tak looked at him skeptically. "Yeah right! I thought those things were welded to your hands."
"Me too, but I'm serious—see?" Aaron held up his palms which were hardened and covered in calluses. "And this is with the work gloves!"
"Damn! Remind me never to cross your jya-jya!"
Aaron tipped back his head and laughed. "It's dziadzia, and I would, only my babcia's home cooking was worth the hard work. I haven't eaten that well in like, forever, and I still lost over 10 kilos!"
"Yeah, well, you look good. Hey, where are you headed now?"
"Stores. I've got to get some new clothes for school 'cause nothing fits."
"Cool, cool. Well hit me up later and we'll do something, alright?"
"Ok, sure. What about Saturday? Think we can get the gang together for a laser tag fight before school starts?"
Se'tak nodded. "I know I'm free. I'll put the word out and see who else is up for it."
"Cool." Aaron punched him lightly in the arm. "Catch you later, man."
"Yeah, catch you later."
They went their separate ways. That night they ate dinner in the Mess and Mama spent 10 whole minutes talking on and on to Aaron about how good he looked—and she wasn't the only one to comment either. Everyone else was shocked that he'd grown up.
U.S.S. Enterprise, 2280.240, 1115 hours. He was the rock star of the group.
Or at least, he used to be.
Over the last four days Se'tak came to the very harsh realization that the status quo had changed among him and his core group of friends…and truth be told he didn't like it one bit. He'd been the rock star, Tilk and Dimora were the brains, Tabby was the social one, Egil the quiet one and Aaron the computer geek. Now Dimora was gone but Tilk, Tabby and Egil were still the same, it was only Aaron who'd changed—and now Se'tak didn't know where he'd fit in.
The shift in Aaron's popularity made itself obvious rather quickly and only when they were out in group settings. Deep down Se'tak knew Aaron was still the same guy but whenever they saw their friends or classmates everyone would start fawning over him like he was some kind of bronzed god. The girls especially couldn't get enough of him and Robin Beemer was practically glued to his side even though Aaron hardly paid any notice to her at all. It was getting to the point where Se'tak didn't want to hang out with his friend just because of all the attention he was getting. It was wrong and he knew it but it was how he felt and it couldn't be helped.
This morning they all got together near the gym and once they were inside suiting up Aaron just kind of took over (a role which Se'tak normally assumed). "So I guess I'll lead one team and…" he looked around at everyone "'Tak, you want to lead the other?"
"Sure." (As his jealousy intensified Se'tak found that one word answers were best). All the girls wanted to be on Aaron's team (save for Tabby, who didn't hesitate to make her preference known) and between them they decided that three rounds of laser tag should be enough.
Se'tak realized that the teams were kind of lopsided in terms of skill as he looked around the room once they'd split off into their respective groups. Aaron had Tilk and Marcy, two of the stronger players, in addition to Robin, Valerie and Louisa. Egil didn't need any convincing to join Se'tak's team and his friend always made a good second so he was glad to have him. Tabby wasn't all that good, nor was she normally very enthusiastic about laser tag, but today she was bouncing on the balls of her feet ready to get underway so he hoped her energy might give her more of an edge. In addition to that they had Walden Hush (kind of a loner whose mother heard about the game and made him be social) and Cari'nea (a new girl whose father was on temporary assignment on the Enterprise and who was untested).
Like he said, not exactly an even split.
But rather than mention the discrepancy and try and divvy up the teams more fairly Se'tak let it slide.
The first battle was over in a flash with Aaron's team dominating the field. Se'tak didn't even know who or what had hit him when he was knocked off and then the game ended shortly thereafter. The second round saw Se'tak and Egil hold off opposing forces from behind a strategic barricade. Their teammates tried valiantly to keep up but were slowly picked off by Aaron's forces. Walden got a lucky shot off and took Tilk out and then Egil nabbed Aaron and the game was over.
Then the third and final round started.
It became the longest by far as each team got craftier at hiding from (and shooting at) their opponents. Near the end of the round Se'tak didn't know who was left standing on his team—but he did know the identity of the only enemy target left on the floor: Aaron.
What ordinarily would've been an explosive shoot-out end scene became instead a quiet and tense stand-off. Se'tak had been crouched behind his large, square barrier for the last ten minutes and he knew Aaron was 4 or 5 meters away hiding behind his little triangular shaped wall because he had him trapped there. It must've been uncomfortable for Aaron, tall as he was now, to lay so still on his side when the wall wasn't high enough to let him sit up. Se'tak, on the other hand, had ample room behind his cover and was perfectly positioned so that when his friend decided to move or risk cramping up he'd catch him.
On the far right side of the triangle he watched as Aaron did slowly shift position, leaving a bit of his shirt fabric sticking up. It wasn't enough to tap him out but it was enough to give Se'tak a better idea of where he'd pop up when he moved again. He honed in on the spot, fixed his laser gun, and settled in again.
Another five minutes went by before he heard the rustle of fabric from someone running toward him. "'TAK, LOOK OUT!"
He spun around just in time to see Aaron come up over a wall behind him, take aim squarely at his chest, and miss as Tabby jumped in front of the shot. Se'tak fired his gun off at Aaron before his teammate had even hit the ground. The house lights came up and Se'tak punched his gun-wielding hand up in the air in victory. "Yes! Gotcha!" He glanced over at Tabby's supine form. "Nice save, McCoy!"
Aaron rushed down the little hill and hovered over Tabby. "Are you alright?"
She rolled over onto her back and nodded as Se'tak approached. "She's ok, she's tough," he answered for her, "But man oh man, you should've seen the look on your face…!"
Aaron pressed on, ignoring him as he focused on Tabby while acting all concerned. "Do you need to get checked out by your folks?"
Se'tak finally stopped talking and looked over at the two of them. This was exasperating. He struck out his hand to Tabby and quickly pulled her to her feet, then started dusting off the back of her armor. "She's fine, see? Anyway, I win, you lose. Better luck next time buddy."
A strange expression crossed Aaron's face as he turned his gaze away from Tabby and it sent a cold trill up his spine. It was just a game, so why was his friend looking at him like he'd just killed a beloved pet? Meanwhile Tabby was grinning and holding onto his arm as if her life depended on it. He'd lose circulation soon if she didn't let up.
Aaron hung his head then looked at him with lifeless eyes. "Yeah man, you're right. Better luck next time." He turned and left the field without another word, abandoning his friends and teammates and skipping out on lunch. Se'tak didn't see him again until the start of school and by then word had it that he and Robin were officially a 'thing'.
U.S.S. Enterprise, 2280.315, 1530 hours. Things were weird on so many levels that Se'tak didn't know what to think anymore.
Earlier in the semester Tabby switched her PE classes around; not a big deal in and of itself but she went from taking Modern Dance (which she used to love) to Badminton (which Se'tak didn't think she really cared for) and he found it rather strange. He wasn't sure what her reasoning was but he thought it was so they could be in the same study hall together and that was fine, he liked hanging out with her and stuff and she could do what she wanted, but recently she started acting pretty dumb. Not thoughtless or dim-witted but just plain old dumb…
…and she was starting to dress the part too. Tabby now wore low cut tops, short skirts, too much make-up…at first he thought all the changes were just her growing up and experimenting with her style and all that, but then Aaron made an off-hand comment yesterday that really got him thinking.
He'd been talking to Egil and didn't realize Se'tak was nearby when Tabby hurried past them all to get to her next class. When she was well enough away Aaron said, "She's trying so hard—too bad all her attempts at getting a certain someone's attention are falling on deaf, pointed ears."
Still in shock, Se'tak ducked into the nearest restroom just to process what he'd heard. At first he didn't believe it was true but then the more he looked at the situation that'd been building over the last several weeks the more he wondered just how the hell he'd missed all the signs that Tabby was interested in him as more than a friend. What was more was that now that he knew he wasn't entirely sure how he felt about her. She was a great friend and before all this started he always thought she was pretty and smart, but he'd never thought about her like that before; and sadly, over the last 24 hours things hadn't gotten any clearer.
So he did what any self-respecting young man in a romantic bind would do: he called his sister for advice.
She answered after the third ring and he let out a small sigh of relief. "T'Alora, you have no idea how glad I am that you're there!"
15 minutes later. Talking with T and Casey helped give him some perspective—now he just needed to screw up the courage to go and talk to Tabby.
U.S.S. Enterprise, 2280.315, 2106 hours. He stopped pacing back and forth in front of the door and finally palmed the chime, leaving a thin sheen of sweat in the outline of his hand against the metal. Se'tak started talking to himself under his breath, rehearsing what he would say, when the door slid open.
"Se'tak?" Uncle Len asked. "What're you doing here?"
All rational thought flew out the window. "I…uh…"
His uncle stepped closer. "Are you ok, son? You look a little sick."
Not wanting to take a side trip to Sickbay, Se'tak quickly recovered his wits. "I'm fine, I'm fine, I, uh, was just wondering if I could, uh, have a quick word with Tabitha…Tabby, I meant Tabby!"
Smooth. Uncle Len must've thought he had some kind of brain parasite or something because the way he was looking at him it was like he was trying to diagnose him without his tricorder. After a brief pause he said, "Alright, why don't you come on in and I'll…"
"No! I mean, um, I just need a minute—could she maybe come out here?"
Uncle Len frowned. "Ok…just a sec." He went off to go collect his daughter and Se'tak remained standing anxiously in the doorway. A moment later he saw Tabby come down the hall in her pajamas and the instant she spotted him she reflexively started smoothing down her blond hair. "Hi."
"Hi." He stuck his hands under his arms and hugged himself while staring at the floor. "Do you mind stepping out here for a sec so we can talk?"
"Ok." She followed him out into the corridor, the door shutting behind her. When he still didn't speak she asked, "Are you alright? You look a little green…"
"Do you like me?" Her face fell and Se'tak made a mental note to slap the backside of his own head later on. He hadn't meant to just blurt it out like that but, well, there it was.
Tabitha looked panicked for a second and he wondered what she might do until she took a deep breath and replied, "Yes, I do. Do you like me?"
He went straight for his trademark sarcasm. "Well…" One look at her crestfallen expression instantly sobered him up. "Sorry, sorry. Yeah, I do. It's why I came here tonight actually. I was wondering…"
"Would you like to go out? Sometime? With me?"
The smile she gifted him made him feel all warm inside and soon he was grinning like a fool. "Yeah, I'd like that."
"Ok then. It's a date."
"It's a date," she echoed.
As the blush rose to her cheeks, turning them a lovely shade of pink, Se'tak couldn't resist the urge to kiss her. He leaned in slow and laid a soft, chaste, peck on her cheek, now making her turn scarlet. "Good night."
"Good night." Tabitha turned back to her door and Se'tak headed off down the hall with a fresh swagger in his step-and each turned around to gaze appreciatively at the other as they went their separate ways.
A/N2: Just a few fun 'random' facts about this chapter. 1.) I began writing this chapter on the 46th anniversary of ST:TOS. Happy Birthday Star Trek, and thank you Gene Roddenberry! 2.) While researching the title (because I wasn't sure if the lyrics were 'turn and face the strain' or 'strange') I discovered that an episode of the TV show "Heroes", starring Zachary Quinto/aka Spock ST:09, had the same title. Pure coincidence all around and not really relevant to this chapter in particular but I still found it all very interesting. Thank you Google!
Also, in case anyone was wondering, the exact conversation between Se'tak, T'Alora and Casey can be found in Chapter 18 of "Forging Her Own Path".