A/N: A note to my reviewers, you wonderful folk, I love you. So much love. I sent out a few replies to those of you who left feedback- sorry if I missed you! To the anonymous ones, thank you for taking the time to leave a review.
To say she was disappointed was a gross understatement. She was devastated. Shocked. And just slightly angry, that he'd so readily abandoned her with nothing but a phone call that made no promise of when she would see him again. She understood his duty to Starfleet and she respected his dedication, but Hermione could not help the fact that she had feelings. She wouldn't let them get in the way of rational thought, but she certainly couldn't supress them either. She considered Spock her friend and mentor- not having him to turn to made her feel vulnerable and alone in this strange world.
He was true to his word, though, and sent her recorded video messages every week. She would collapse at her desk Saturday evening after dinner, turn on her computer, and there would be a small flashing notification at the bottom of the screen. When she pressed it Spock's face flickered onto the screen and he would tell her about his week- she couldn't deny that life aboard a starship seemed pretty boring on a day-to-day basis, but that might have more to do with the fact that the Enterprise was merely patrolling the same area over and over again. Often he would go off on a tangent and talk about himself in a rambling fashion she found a bit endearing. He would ask her questions, wish her luck in the following days, and end each message with the Vulcan salute.
Hermione was always very prompt in recording and sending an answering message. At first she'd tried to fix her hair and look semi-alert before hitting the record button, but several weeks in she gave up on that because frankly, at the end of her week she was far too frazzled and exhausted to care whether she looked presentable or not. If he noticed her dishevelled appearance Spock never commented on it except to remark that she seemed to be working very hard.
It was an admittedly awkward way to keep in touch, but she eventually became accustomed to it, even if she did have to watch her own recordings to remember what she'd talked about the week before. In this way they could carry on something close to a steady conversation. Spock appeared quite adept at this method of communication and she learned quickly enough- it was better than no contact at all.
She passed her final admissions examination at the end of August and began attending Starfleet Academy in September, enrolling in as many introductory courses as she possibly could so that she would have a basic understanding of various subjects. Hermione threw herself into her education with a vengeance. Time she didn't spend studying was spent either at the fitness center or in her dorm room sleeping. She barely had time for meals and her roommate Natalie often had to remind her to eat.
By her birthday she'd settled into her life as a cadet. By Halloween she realized she hadn't thought of home for several weeks, busy as she was with academics. By mid-November she'd learned the value of having at least a semblance of a social life- Natalie forced her to join the Starfleet Academy junior debate team. Spock seemed quite pleased with this news- his subsequent message contained something enticingly close to a smile along with quite a bit of advice on avoiding logical fallacies.
By December she'd written her final examinations for the term and passed every course with a 96 average. When she finished her Introductory Physics examination she went straight to her dorm room and slumped down in her chair, tossing her backpack under her desk and turning her monitor on. The little green light at the bottom of the screen flashed and she prodded it impatiently, waiting for the message to upload.
Spock's face flickered onto her monitor. She couldn't help but notice is hair- it never seemed to change. His fringe never grew and there was never a single hair out of place. But today one single lock of hair had fallen out of place and her Vulcan friend looked slightly tired- there were very faint dark circles under his eyes. "Hello, Hermione. I hope this message finds you well. I am certain you have done an excellent job on your final examinations for the term. Are you looking forward to your winter holiday?" One eyebrow quirked up and she knew he was mentally answering the question for her- of course she was looking forward to the winter break. He was only asking because it was the polite thing to do.
"It will undoubtedly be a well-deserved break from your studies," Spock added softy. "I am impressed with the coursework you showed me in your last correspondence. According to Mr. Scott your equations hold the promise of true genius- and Mr. Scott is a superb engineer. I would hold his opinion in high regard." Spock looked down for a moment as though he'd lost his train of thought.
Hermione leaned forward and propped her elbows up on her desk, settling her chin on her knuckles. She'd watched him speak enough times to notice when something was off.
"The Enterprise is returning to Earth," he said after a peculiarly long pause, his dark eyes flickering back up to the screen.
She exhaled sharply in excitement. That ought to have been the first thing he said.
"We have been on patrol for six months and the crew has earned shore leave. By popular request we will be taking it there." A faint ghost of a smile touched his lips as though he knew what she was thinking. "I would like to see you, Hermione. We will be arriving at approximately 10:37 A.M on the 19th of December. According to my calculations that will be the day after you receive this message." There was most definitely a hint of amusement in his eyes. "Until then," he added, raising his hand with his fingers pulled into the shape of a V.
Hermione fell back in her chair, feeling simultaneously giddy and exhausted.
The door swung open and Natalie stumbled in looking just as tired as every other cadet did this week. "Hey," she said, tossing her backpack onto her bed and unbuttoning her wool coat.
Hermione still found it mildly amusing that the native population of San Francisco seemed to think it was cold outside. Cold, in California. That was a laugh. There seemed to be only two seasons here. Cool and wet, or cool and dry. Never too hot nor too cold. San Francisco had perfect weather, at least in her eyes. But she was used to spending the school-year in northern Scotland, where they had proper winter. As for the rain, she was quite used to that. Britain could be a rather soggy place. "How did your exam go?" she asked her roommate.
Natalie pulled her long blonde hair out of its ponytail and shook her head. "It went well. Thank God it was the last one! I'm so ready for Christmas." She flopped down on her bed and took off her boots.
Hermione smiled and leaned back in her chair. Natalie was not the most organized roommate in the world but she made up for it with sheer kindness- she never hesitated to offer help in any way she could, and was always badgering Hermione to come out with her whenever she had plans. She seemed a typical American girl, tall and pretty and blonde, with a bubbly personality to match. She was also five years older than Hermione, which was probably a good thing. Hermione had never really gotten on well with girls her own age, but most of her fellow cadets had at least a few years on her and were very career-oriented.
Most of the time.
"Are you going back to Atlanta for the holidays?"
"Yeah, I'm leaving first thing in the morning." Natalie looked around at her clothes piled up on the floor and her toiletries cluttering the vanity. 'Want to help me pack?" she asked with a sheepish grin.
Hermione laughed. "Ermm… I'll pass. I think I need a nap. Or a hot bath."
"Well, make it quick. We're going out to O'Grady's tonight. Don't give me that look, you're coming with us."
"But I can't even drink, Natalie- what's the point?"
"We'll pre-drink, silly. I don't have enough credit to buy overpriced watered-down cocktails anyway." Natalie began to root through the closet and pulled out a large bottle. "They'll let you in, don't worry. You're a Starfleet cadet."
"I haven't got anything to wear."
Natalie tossed a few articles of clothing at her. "Try those on. Don't argue with me! We just finished our first term. Let's celebrate."
"Can't we celebrate some other way?"
"What, like stay in and read a dissertation on interspecies ethics?" Natalie laughed and began stripping down to her underwear. "You're in Starfleet Academy, Hermione. Loosen up a little. Have some fun." She slipped a stretchy black dress over her shoulders and rolled it down her hips, studying her reflection in the mirror.
She knew her roommate meant no offense. "What's wrong with reading? Reading is fun."
"Oh, honey." Natalie ran a brush through her thick hair and ran a palm-full of mousse through it. "You're seventeen. There's never a better time to go out and get reckless."
She'd had plenty enough moments of recklessness to last her a lifetime. But she knew Natalie wouldn't take no for an answer, and she could use a distraction tonight. It would make tomorrow come sooner, and she couldn't argue with that. "I'll come with, but I'm not drinking," she said sternly, examining the clothing in her lap. "What is this? A bandana?"
"It's a shirt, silly." Natalie swiped her eyelashes with mascara and grinned at her in the mirror. "And a skirt. Try them on."
Hermione sighed but relented, stripping down to her underwear and sliding the rather revealing clothes on. "No," she said.
"You look so pretty!"
"I feel like I've been stuffed into a sausage casing."
Natalie laughed so hard she had to stop applying her makeup. "I love you," she said when she'd gotten her breath back.
This is what I get for socializing with an older peer group, she thought in amusement as she clinked her glass with her fellow cadets and sipped at the bitter, tangy cocktail Rob had ordered for her. She wasn't one to cave to peer pressure, but Natalie and Courtney had been so insistent back at the academy that she'd had a few drinks with them, and now her alcohol consumption was starting to affect her. She was drunk. It wasn't all that bad, though she felt guilty being underage. According to Jonathan nobody really paid much attention to liquor laws once you reached sixteen, but Hermione didn't entirely believe him because she'd been ushered into the bar and straight into her seat very quickly, in an attempt to hide her from the bouncer and bartender.
"One term down, seven to go." Courtney tossed her drink back and giggled.
"Speak for yourself. I'm done in April," Jonathan said. "Got a plum post lined up too. On the Intrepid."
"Isn't that a transport ship?" Hermione asked, stirring her drink with her straw and sipping at it cautiously. The alcohol burned a hot trail down her throat into the pit of her stomach and she grimaced slightly.
"Sounds boring," Rob said.
"Hey, I just want to get my foot in the door. And it's off-planet. On a starship."
Posts off-planet or aboard starships were coveted amongst fresh officers. Hermione could see why. Many cadets seemed to have their hearts set on venturing out into the great unknown, and that meant leaving the solar system. She could still vividly recall the image of Earth from the view of a starship- it was spectacular, awe-inspiring, and frightening all the same time. It left her feeling small yet bold. She too wanted to work on a starship.
Specifically, the Enterprise.
She smiled to herself and thought about tomorrow while her friends bickered amongst themselves. Natalie caught her eye and grinned. The alcohol was going straight to her head now and Hermione found it very pleasant indeed. She grinned back at her roommate.
The next morning she woke to an empty dorm room and a ferocious headache that doubled in intensity once she sat up and rubbed at her tired eyes. She rolled out of bed with a groan and glanced at the clock. It was 11:00.
She cursed, stubbed her toe on the corner of Natalie's bed, and stumbled into the bathroom clutching her temples in agony. Too much to drink. Would Harry and Ron ever have believed her if she told them she'd gone out and gotten pissed with a crowd of twenty-somethings? It didn't bear thinking about- it was too painful, thinking about her friends. She missed them horribly, and worried about them, and wondered about the wizarding world and what was happening with Voldemort and-
Stop, she told herself firmly as she hopped into the shower. That was gone. This was her life now. And she liked her life- it was productive, it had meaning, she was making friends and had a promising future lined up for herself. She owed it all entirely to Spock, who'd gently pushed her in this direction, for which she would be forever grateful.
She showered quickly, cast a drying spell on her hair- though she knew it would turn into a ball of frizz- and dressed in her cadet uniform, then popped some ibuprofen and downed a glass of water before hurrying out of her dormitory building and out onto the green. Cadets milled about aimlessly, some wearing thick winter coats, others wearing jumpers. Hermione wandered towards the main building, which housed the atrium and numerous conference facilities, keeping her eye out for any crew of the Enterprise.
She stopped at the reception desk. "Excuse me," she said, "could you tell me if the U.S.S Enterprise has arrived yet? I understand the crew has been given shore leave and are taking it on Earth."
The receptionist, a middle-aged and bored-looking man, poked at his computer for a moment. "It docked at 10:37," he said. "Shuttles should be arriving in the hangar shortly."
Hermione thanked him and made her way towards the hangar, fighting her headache the entire way. She was not alone in waiting- many citizens were standing around, some of them tapping their feet against the cement floor impatiently, others chattering into their mobile phones. She found herself nervous, suddenly. She smoothed her hair down and ran her hands over her belly to smooth out her uniform.
The deafening roar of a shuttle approaching made her eyes water and she rubbed her forehead, wincing. The shuttle landed and the door slid open with a hiss. Captain Kirk was the first one out, looking much the same as he always did, confident and handsome with just a hint of cockiness in the way he smiled as he stepped out onto the pavement. His crew filed out after him, some of them rushing to hug and greet their loved ones, others looking around and grinning, stomping their feet on the ground as though to reassure themselves they were back on Earth.
Hermione stood back to avoid being squished or trampled. Captain Kirk spotted her, waved, and made his way through the crowd towards her. His eyes flickered up and down and he smiled rather roguishly. "Well, look at you. You look good in uniform, Hermione."
"Thanks," she said, blushing.
"Waiting for Spock?"
She wished desperately that she could control the heat spreading through her cheeks. "Ermm… yes."
Captain Kirk laughed and patted her shoulder. "You're sweet," he said. "Did you have a good term? You didn't get stuck with Commander Steckley for Introductory Law and Legislature, did you?"
"Yes, it was a good term. Commander Steckley is all right." Commander Steckley was a rigorous instructor, a strict authoritarian, and a generally nasty man, but Hermione had suffered five years in the classroom of Professor Severus Snape- compared to him, Steckley was a marshmallow. She smiled and craned her neck in search of Spock. "Did you run into any trouble on your patrols, Captain?"
"A few skirmishes, but for the most part it was pretty uneventful."
Hermione spotted a pair of curiously pointed ears and tidy black hair - Spock stepped out of the shuttle and looked around, one upswept eyebrow raised as though the sight of so many emotional humans bemused him more than anything. She flashed Captain Kirk an apologetic little grin before threading her way through the crowd towards Spock. They locked eyes and though his face was impassive as ever, she swore there was a hint of excitement somewhere in his expression- though she might be imagining that.
"Hello," he said.
She hadn't realized how much she missed him until now. She forgot the fact that he was a Vulcan and technically her superior, now that she was a cadet. All she could think of was the fact that he'd been gone for six months and she had so much to tell him. Being human, and a girl, Hermione had no recourse but to throw her arms around his thin frame and hug him giddily.
Spock seemed to freeze for a moment, his shoulders going rigid. He was taller than she remembered. She didn't want to let go of him. "I missed you," she mumbled, her chin resting on his shoulder.
"Evidently," he said. She realized that such an open display was probably unwanted and unprofessional, but before she could release him Spock startled her by slipping his arms around her waist and giving her a very light squeeze in return. He smelled of clean cotton and something else. "I am pleased to see you," he said, stepping back but keeping his hands on her shoulders, examining her. "Are you unwell? You appear tired."
Hermione shook her head. "I'm perfectly all right." She didn't particularly want to admit to him why she looked worn out. Whether he approved or not hardly mattered but she didn't think it would be wise to tell a Vulcan she'd done something illegal, even if he was her friend. She found the warmth of his hands on her shoulders quite pleasant, if a bit distracting. "How are you?"
"I'm well." He dropped his hands as though he'd read her mind, then looked her up and down as Captain Kirk had done. He didn't comment but she saw a gleam of approval in his eyes.
She beamed up at him happily, her nervousness gone. "Would you like to see my dormitory? It's not far. Or would that be considered inappropriate? Unless you're tired, of course, in which case-"
"I am not tired," Spock interrupted her, his mouth twitching, "however I am hungry. Would you care to have lunch with me?"
Hermione found that quite agreeable, so they left the hangar together- though not before she caught Lieutenant Uhura's eye and received a rather lethal glare. Her cheeks burned and she lowered her head, confused. Lieutenant Uhura had always been very kind to her. What had she done to earn such a look? She would have dwelled on that but Spock immediately began to interrogate her about her life at Starfleet Academy.
"Did you enjoy celebrating your last examination in the traditional way?"
Hermione looked up from her soup and blushed. "What do you mean?"
One eyebrow quirked up and Spock gave her a knowing look. "It is unwise to bluff with a Vulcan, Hermione."
"I'm not bluffing."
That earned her a rare treat- he allowed a very small smile. "I assume you indulged in alcohol last night? A curious human vice. Did you enjoy yourself?"
She dipped her spoon into her soup rather sullenly and decided there was no point in even attempting a white lie with Spock- he was far too clever for that. "Yes, I enjoyed myself, despite the odds."
He tilted his head slightly and studied her for a moment as she polished off her soup. "The odds?"
"I didn't want to go out, and I certainly didn't want to drink. My roommate insisted. It's rather strange being so much younger than my classmates. Sometimes I feel out of place," she said.
"A feeling I am acquainted with."
She supposed he would be. The only Vulcan in Starfleet- it had to be lonely at times. "Are there any new developments with the Klingon situation? I watch the news broadcasts most nights but they don't seem to have anything new to say about it."
"The Federation has conceded settlement rights on Sherman's Planet to the Klingons in exchange for a new peace armistice that includes an embargo on the Klingon Empire. Obviously the attack on Starfleet Headquarters was excessive retribution for the death one patrol squad, however the Klingons are difficult to negotiate with. I believe humans have a saying- give them an inch and they will take a mile."
Hermione was quite familiar with the concept. "The Federation really is quite good at maintaining peace, isn't it?"
"The system does have its flaws, but generally yes, it is efficient."
Reconnecting with Spock was startlingly easy. She'd been a bit worried and it was difficult to pin down why, but as the afternoon passed by it occurred to her that her real concern lay in the possibility that he would simply lose interest in her. After all, there was no real logic in his staying in contact with her. He seemed to genuinely like her. She found herself wondering if there was more to it than that. Hermione was quite used to keeping company with males- in fact, she preferred it- but comparing Spock with Harry and Ron was a futile and foolish endeavour. He was an entirely different breed of male, so to speak. Too old to be in her cohort but too young to be considered old.
And there was something undeniably attractive about him, on a strictly physical level. Objectively speaking, of course.
"You might consider taking on a more intensive course-load when term resumes," Spock said, offering her a cup of rust-colored tea. She stared into it curiously. "Plomeek tea," he added when she gave him a questioning look. "It does not contain caffeine. Vulcans consider it a very mild sedative." There seemed to be a slight tremor in his hands as he set the mug down in front of her.
"Are you cold?" she asked softly.
"You can turn the thermostat up if you'd like."
"You will be uncomfortably warm if I do."
"I don't mind."
Spock's mouth was set in a rather stubborn frown. "I am quite accustomed to lower temperatures."
Hermione stood up with a sigh and adjusted the thermostat. Stubbornness seemed to be a universal male trait, even among other species. "I've signed up for nine courses instead of five. The academy wouldn't let me take ten- I suppose I have to prove that I'm capable of handling this much work before they let me take on more."
"Nine courses- that is a serious commitment," he said, "but I am confident you will manage."
He always seemed to have confidence in her, which Hermione was very grateful for. It certainly did wonders for her self-esteem. "I hope so," she said, tasting her plomeek tea and finding it quite enjoyable. It was almost spicy, but sweet at the same time, like chai tea. Sugar would probably ruin it. She paused for a moment and worked up the courage to ask him a question that had been weighing on her mind for quite some time. "Has it been difficult working with Lieutenant Uhura?"
If he was uncomfortable with such a personal inquiry, he didn't show it. "It has been trying on occasion, if only because human emotions have the capacity to interfere with professional behaviour."
She was quite sure he was referring to Lieutenant Uhura and not himself. What could distract that perfectly logical mind of his? "That's unfortunate," she said carefully.
"Given enough time I am certain Lieutenant Uhura will work through her feelings."
She wanted to ask about his feelings, but didn't want to risk offending him. "Are you all right, though?"
He seemed almost amused more than offended- there was that faint gleam of humor in his dark eyes. "I appreciate your concern, Hermione. I am all right. It is certainly an unfortunate situation- the end of any relationship is unfortunate. But I believe it is for the best."
Hermione took that to mean he saw no point in discussing it any further. She finished her tea and stifled a yawn. "I'm glad you came back," she said.
Spock's stoic expression softened in a way she hadn't seen before- it made her feel slightly giddy, how his intense eyes became oddly liquid and the stern set of his mouth relaxed. "I did find myself missing your company, Hermione. I am very fond of you."
Her face felt suddenly very, very warm. At least she would never have to worry about him not speaking his mind- that was one thing Vulcans were evidently quite good at. She reached across the small table and touched the top of his hand lightly, wanting to communicate to him how grateful she was, and missing the feeling of their minds locking together. Spock brushed his fingers against hers and seemed to intuitively know what she wanted, because suddenly she was sucked into that reeling sensation of being connected to him.
He stared at their hands and traced a pattern on her palm. Hermione felt as though he'd never left.