4. Skamaya – n. attraction; the quality of arousing interest
A punishing sun turns the afternoon molten, heat shimmering against parched and barren rock.
He burns, dry as dust. Thirsting.
A whisper of silk, drifting cool against his fingers. A mist of rain against his face. He yearns for it, wants to taste it, opens his arid lips and...
She crashes into his mind – a tidal wave of emotion. Quick, curious, burning. Burning for life. She wants everything, all at once – now. He’s drowning in her, losing himself. Losing control.
He can’t think. Can’t breathe. He—
—woke with a gasp, bolt upright and slick with sweat. In his silent room, all he could hear was the rasp of his breathing.
Vulcans didn’t dream. Their mental discipline ordered even their unconscious thoughts. But Spock had always dreamed – dreamed and sweated and battled. His human physiology never let him forget his mother’s heritage, and he was grateful for it.
He closed his eyes and regulated his breathing, slowing his racing heart. Restoring control. But his damp skin chilled him, so he climbed out of bed, pulled on the old sweatshirt he wore to run, and walked to the window.
The sky was starting to pale, gray rather than the burnt sienna dawns of his childhood. Like everything else, it served to remind him that he was far from home – a stranger in a strange land. Always.
He could still feel the cold burn of her fingers on his hand, the brief flash of her mind, a sense memory that had filtered into his dream, and he could not deny the attraction he felt for her. It was not the first time he had found himself drawn to a human woman, and he remembered with warmth the time he had spent with Christine Chapel during their senior year at the Academy. That had been little more than a brief infatuation on both sides, born of xenophilic curiosity, but this...
He had never dreamed of Christine Chapel.
Of course, there was no question of pursuing his interest in Nyota Uhura – the fraternization regulations strictly forbad any kind of relationship between faculty and student, and soon he would be departing with the Enterprise for a five year tour of duty. And then, of course, there was T’Pring...
He looked down at his hand, pale in the morning light, and remembered the strength of Uhura’s grip – fierce, like her mind. She did not deserve to be toyed with, and he knew he must be careful not to encourage the flame he sensed kindling between them.
“That cold-blooded, hypercritical, uptight jerk!” Nyota flung her PADD onto the bed and slammed the door. “He wrote all over my ethics paper and only gave me a B! I’ve never had a B, ever. For anything.”
Gaila had her head buried in the closet, rummaging. “Who are we talking about?”
“Who do you think?” Nyota dropped her bag and sank onto the bed, grabbing her PADD to read over his comments for the fifth time – ‘this is only assertion’, ‘while well expressed, this point skirts sophistry’, ‘I would expect a more tightly reasoned argument’, ‘this language is too emotive’.
Apparently ‘hello’ was too emotive for Commander Pole-up-the-ass.
The PADD was yanked from her hands and flung back onto the bed. “Never mind that,” Gaila said with a grin, “come with me.” Disturbingly, she was out of uniform and holding a pair of binoculars.
“Something like that.” She grabbed Nyota’s hand. “Come on, it’ll be fun.”
Lacking the will to argue, she let herself be dragged along until they stood among a growing group of students milling about in the quad outside the imposing physical sciences building. Everyone was gazing up, necks craning, and a few fingers were pointing.
Gaila had her binoculars out immediately, scanning the building.
“What are we doing?”
“Hang on,” Gaila said. “Hang on... Oh, there he is! I see him!” She shoved the binoculars into Nyota’s hands. “Look, right above the third floor labs.”
Curious, despite herself, Nyota looked. “You have got to be kidding me...”
“Isn’t it cool?”
She tightened the focus, zooming in on the lone figure scaling the building. “And of course he’s not climbing on a rope.”
“Amazingly stupid.” Nyota lowered the binoculars, squinting at the building; from this distance he was just a black dot against the gleaming stone. “Even by Jim Kirk’s standards, this scores a ten on the ‘How dumb am I?’ scale.”
“No one’s ever climbed it before,” Gaila said, snatching the glasses and looking again. “Not in the whole history of the Academy. When he gets to the top, he’s going to plant a flag.”
She beamed. “An Orion flag.”
“Is this...?” Nyota grabbed Gaila’s arm. “You and Jim Kirk? Gaila...”
“What?” She yanked her arm free, lifting the binoculars again. “It’s nothing. We’re just hanging out.”
“Oh God... Tell me you haven’t fallen for Jim Kirk.”
Gaila grinned. “Oh, he’s waving!”
“Of all the people... Gaila, you know what he’s like! And right before finals, before we graduate.”
She touched her arm again, and this time Gaila lowered the binoculars herself. Her smile faded. “I didn’t do it on purpose. It just happened.”
“But Jim Kirk?”
“I know! It’s just— He’s so...” She gave a helpless shrug. “One day it’ll happen to you, then you’ll see.”
“Not with Jim Kirk, it won’t!” Nyota sighed. “Just be careful, okay?”
Gaila didn’t answer, turning back to watch the climb, and Nyota already knew it was too late for caution.
All that remained was to kick Kirk’s ass for going anywhere near her friend – if, that was, he didn’t save her the trouble by falling and breaking his stupid neck first.
Three days after their shared lunch – three days after that single, burning touch – Spock decided to put Nyota Uhura out of his mind.
It was the rational thing to do, given the degree of preoccupation he had been suffering on her account. While consulting with Captain Pike on recruitment for Enterprise’s science department, he had caught himself, twice, replaying their lunchtime discussion word for word, while simultaneously trying to define the exact shape of her cheek bones, the slender lines of her neck, the precise way the sun had glistened upon her skin.
It had proven a persistent distraction, so he chose to put her out of his mind.
He put her out of his mind when he ate breakfast in the cafeteria and noted the preponderance of cheese. He put her out of his mind as he graded ethics papers that parroted established texts, without once attempting to subvert or challenge the orthodoxy. He put her out of his mind when he saw her on the opposite side of the quad, sitting in the sun and deep in animated conversation with a fair-haired human male – Kirk, a cadet of infamous and reckless ability. And he put her out of his mind until the very moment he stepped into the interspecies ethics class and saw her watching him with a hard gleam in her eye.
She was primed for confrontation and he burned at the prospect.
It was imperative, however, that he not betray his unprofessional feelings and so he deliberately sat as far from her as possible, yet on the same side of the rectangular table so that she would be out of his direct line of sight. He did not call on her once during the seminar discussion, and was ashamed that he was forced to resort to such extreme measures. But given the surge of adrenaline he experienced at the mere sound of her voice, he knew that to address her directly – to invite another verbal sparring match – would mean disaster. His attraction, so uncomfortably close to the surface, would surely be visible not only to Uhura, but to the group in general, and the prospect of being so exposed was appalling.
The seminar’s subject was the universal ‘golden rule’ and its significance in creating interspecies understanding and trust. It was a subject, typically, upon which Uhura held challenging opinions.
“The golden rule – treat others as you wish to be treated – can’t apply when dealing with a race who wish to be treated different to ourselves. The whole concept is predicated on the notion that we are all the same. It works when dealing with species with broadly similar moral boundaries, but you couldn’t, for example, use it when dealing with Klingons.” She cut him a bold look. “Or even Vulcans.”
It was a deliberate provocation, and a retort was hot on his lips. Had they been alone he would have taken great pleasure in debating her to a standstill. But they were not alone and he had to be careful, so he denied the smile that threatened and refused to rise to the bait.
“An interesting point, Uhura,” he said, and turned his attention to the cadet opposite him. “How do you respond, Verdugo?”
Verdugo’s eyes went wide. “I— I’m not sure you could say that Vulcans... I mean,” he cast a desperate look at Uhura, “they’re not that different from us, morally. Are they?”
“That is hardly the issue,” Spock cut in. “The point is whether or not the golden rule has any value when dealing with two such different races. In a given situation, a Vulcan may not wish to be treated as a human might. That is Uhura’s point.”
“The assumption that we all have the same basic moral compass is to impose a human bias on all our dealings with other species,” Uhura added.
“And yet, does it not provide a common standard from which to operate?” Spock said. “With some imagination, one can extrapolate the impact of one’s actions – even on a member of an alien race with different expectations – and decide if, in that situation, one would wish to be treated so?”
“Not all species have imagination.”
“We are only talking about ourselves, Uhura – about our response.”
“You apply the golden rule yourself, do you, when dealing with other species – say, humans?”
“I attempt to, though I make no claim as to my success in every situation.” He hesitated. “However, I do not consider humans to be another species.”
“Yet you hold us to a Vulcan standard. You judge us as you would expect to be judged, even when that standard is impossible for us to reach.”
The heat in her voice suggested that the issue had some personal weight that he could not fathom. He was about to question her objectivity, when he remembered the eyes upon them and realized, belatedly, that once again their discussion was dominating the class. He took a breath, let it out slowly, and said, “There is always the possibility, Lieutenant, that the alien race you are encountering has a superior moral code than your own. The golden rule cannot be seen as the only measure by which interspecies encounters can be judged; we must always keep an open mind.”
She didn’t respond and he let the subject move on. He might have said something to her about it later, as the class ended and the other students left, but Uhura was first out the door and the opportunity did not arrive. On reflection, it was for the best and he admired her decision; had she lingered, he was sure the suspicion of the other students would have been aroused.
He was still considering her circumspect behavior as he left the seminar room, heading for the computer labs, and so did not hear his name being called until a hand touched his shoulder. “Commander?”
He looked up with a start. “Captain Healy, pardon me, I was...” He found himself at a loss to explain.
Healy just smiled. “I’d like a word, if you have a few moments, Spock.”
“Walk with me. I’m on the hunt for a coffee.”
Her direction turned toward the cafeteria and Spock found himself outside, in the glare of a cool sun.
“How are you finding the phonology class?” Healy asked. “I trust Nyota’s working out well.”
“She is a gifted linguist,” he said, hoping the truth of the answer would mask any undue feeling in his words.
“She is,” Healy agreed, cutting across the grass. Spock followed. “She’s also alarmingly ambitious and a dreadful perfectionist. Did you read her dissertation?”
“An accomplished piece of work.”
“Well above undergraduate level. It needs some tweaking, but I’m going to suggest publication after she graduates.”
“I felt the section on prosody was given too much weight...”
Healy nodded. “My thought exactly. I’ll mention it at our next tutorial.” She laughed. “Nyota won’t be happy.”
“I anticipate not.”
“Can I get you a coffee?” she asked, as they stepped into the crowded cafeteria. “Tea?”
“No, thank you.” He glanced around, and didn’t realize he was looking for Uhura until he saw her alone at a table on the far side of the room. He might have approached her if he had not been with Captain Healy, if he had not been her instructor, if many things had been different... She looked up and, for a moment, met his eyes. He quickly looked away. Captain Healy was already stirring her coffee and Spock moved to join her, aware of Uhura’s gaze on him the whole time.
“What I wanted to ask you about, Spock,” Healy said, oblivious to his discomfort, “was the visit by Ambassador Sarek to the fleet yards prior to Enterprise’s maiden voyage.”
Spock did not react; this was an emotion with which he had long experience. “Is my presence required, as a representative of Starfleet?”
“Not required,” she said, sipping her coffee and heading back outside, “requested. Admiral Komack believes your presence will symbolize the close cooperation between Earth and Vulcan; the axis, if you will, upon which the Federation turns. However, he is aware of the personal sensitivities involved and wanted to give you the opportunity to decline.”
“That will not be necessary,” he said, smoothing down that old feeling of rejection and hurt. “It will be an honor to represent Starfleet.”
Healy cast him a speculative look. “An honor too, perhaps, to show the Ambassador around our new flagship? A ship of which you’ll be the First Officer.”
He considered his answer with care, aware of his own bitterness and ensuring it did not color his words. “If you hope that my father will feel pride in my achievement, then you will be disappointed. From a Vulcan perspective, the lowest graduate from the Science Academy is of more worth than a dozen Starfleet captains.”
She sighed, and patted him on the arm in a gesture that reminded him of his mother. “Well, they’re wrong and I hope you know it. But good on you, lad, for standing up to them.”
“My motivation in attending is simply to serve Starfleet. I have no personal agenda.”
Healy just smiled. “I’ll have the details sent through, Commander – I believe there may be some interpreting involved, among the meeting and greeting.”
“Inevitably.” He slowed, the computer labs close to hand. “If there is nothing else...?”
“One more thing,” Healy stopped, squinting at him in the sunshine. “Have you had time to look through the students I suggested for the MGC?”
“I apologize, I have not—”
She waved a dismissive hand. “There’s no rush, I just wanted to add one more candidate – if that’s okay?”
Healy nodded. “Nyota has asked me to put her name forward, just on the off-chance.”
“Nyota? I mean— ” His surprise was mortifyingly evident. “The MGC is designed for students approaching the end of their doctorates. Lieutenant Uhura, while gifted in her field, is—”
“No harm in letting her apply, Commander. She knows the odds are against her.”
“There are many highly qualified candidates.”
“Yes, but she wants to try – as I said, the girl is alarmingly ambitious.” Healy smiled. “She has her eyes on the Enterprise, and she thinks this might clinch it.”
Spock had to fight to keep his voice neutral. “I shall review her application, Captain, alongside all the others.”
But it would be a test of his objectivity that he was unsure he could pass, and for a moment he considered confessing as much to Captain Healy. However she was already walking away, and his horror of discussing something so personal quickly assured him that, with sufficient meditation on the subject, he would be able to reach a rational decision unbiased by his increasingly powerful feelings.
He would control the emotion, not permit it to control him.
She looked up, without knowing why, and found him watching her with that intense gaze that made her feel like a slide on a microscope. Then, without even a nod, he walked away and started talking to Captain Healy, hands clasped behind his rigid back.
Over the noise of the cafeteria, there was no chance she could overhear their conversation, but her paranoid imagination filled in what her ears missed.
“She is adequate, but on Vulcan a child of ten would have twice her skills. A posting to the Enterprise? That is unlikely, given her constant use of sophistry, ill-reasoned theories and—”
“Who are you ogling?” Gaila appeared out of nowhere, sliding into the seat across the table from Nyota and setting down her tray. “Commander Spock?”
“I’m not ogling!”
Gaila cocked her head, appraising. “Nice body.”
“Lithe?” She slapped her hands over hear ears. “Stop! That’s just— Ugh.”
Gaila laughed, and started eating. “Don’t tell me you didn’t notice, because I won’t believe you.”
“Are you kidding?” Nyota glanced back over, watching Spock heading toward the exit, still in close conversation with Captain Healy. “He gave me a B, Gaila. Trust me, his physique is the last thing I care about. Even if it was worth noticing. Which it isn’t.”
Finishing her mouthful, Gaila said, “Did you know Vulcans can only have sex once every seven years?”
Nyota gave her a flat stare. “What?”
“I swear!” Gaila held up a hand. “They go into heat once every seven years, and then they’re like animals. Mate or die. It’s brutal.”
“Oh my God, will you stop it?”
“Can you imagine?” She leaned over the table, eyes glittering with mischief. “It’s probably, like, the best sex ever – all that Vulcan passion, under pressure for seven long years, and bam!” She shot her fist in the air. “Erupting all over the place.”
Nyota was on her feet, torn between laughter and discomfort. “Gaila, I swear I’m going to kill you if you don’t shut up.”
“Don’t pretend you haven’t thought about it.” She stabbed a straw into her juice sachet and gave it a deliberate suck. “Wondering what it would take to cause an eruption.”
“You’re twisted, you know that? You’re a sick and twisted woman, Gaila. That is absolutely, unequivocally the very last thing on my mind. And, I might add, his.” She started gathering up her work; the library would be a safer bet. “He gave me a B, Gaila, that’s all I care about.”
She laughed. “As if that proves anything!”
“It proves that he thinks I’m an idiot!” She clutched her PADD under her arm. “But I’m not going to let him get away with it.”
Gaila’s face was suddenly serious. “You’re going to appeal? Nyota, that’s pretty serious, I’m not sure you should—”
“I’m not going to appeal,” she said, patting her PADD. “I’m going to resubmit.”
“What?” she snatched the PADD from her hand, turning away before Nyota could grab it back. “Oh my God, you’re rewriting your paper! Are you insane?”
“Give it back.”
“Nyota, a B isn’t a bad score.”
“Not good enough for the Enterprise. Now give it back.”
“And you say I’m twisted?” Reluctantly, Gaila slid the PADD across the table. “You can’t get A’s for everything, Nyota.”
Gaila shook her head, her curls jostling. “Come out tonight. A bunch of us are going to Cochrane’s. It’ll be fun.”
“I might stop by later, when I’m done.”
“You know what?” Gaila slumped back in her chair. “I actually wish you were lusting after his hot Vulcan ass, because at least it would make more sense than this.”
“That would make no sense at all!” Nyota exclaimed. Then she softened, “Look, I’m okay, Gaila. I promise.”
Gaila gave her a long look, then nodded. “I wish I had your drive,” she said, with a rueful smile. “You’re going places, Nyota Uhura, I know it.”
“The only place I want to go,” she said, “is to the bridge of the Enterprise. And I’m not letting him get in my way.”
It was late by the time she made the final changes to her paper, and the library had already given its fifteen minute warning. The sunny day had faded into a damp evening, and as Nyota stepped out into a misting drizzle she shivered and wished she’d brought a jacket. Luckily, she didn’t have to go far, dashing through the rain and up the steps that led to the graduate halls of residence.
She knew it fairly well and had no trouble locating Spock’s room. It was only after she’d pressed the door chime that it occurred to her he might already be asleep – he looked like the type who’d be tucked up in bed with a Starfleet manual by ten – and she had an apology on her lips as the door slid open.
He stared, his surprise evident. “Uhura…”
“I’m sorry to disturb you.”
“Why are you here?”
She hesitated, thrown by his bluntness, then held out the PADD. “I’d be grateful if you’d let me resubmit this, sir.”
He looked from her face to the PADD and back again. “That is why you have come here?”
“I know it’s late, I’m sorry.” Behind her, she heard the swish of an opening door further down the hall, a muffled laugh. “But if you could just—”
“You should come in.” He glanced past her, out into the empty corridor, then stepped aside.
“Oh, there’s no need…”
“It would be prudent,” he said, walking away from her and into his room. She had no choice but to follow, letting the door slide shut behind her.
Unlike her own room, his was larger and included a small sitting area, separate from the bedroom, that was dominated by a small sofa and one large chair. He cleared a stack of books from chair and gestured for her to take a seat. There was quiet music playing, obviously Vulcan, and a fragrant aroma in the air that she realized was drifting from a steaming mug on the low table between the chairs.
“I’ve disturbed you,” she said, perching uncomfortably on the edge of her seat.
“You have,” he said, sitting opposite her, “but it is not unwelcome.”
Unsure what to make of that, she didn’t answer.
He sat back and looked at her, stretching out his legs and steepling his fingers; she blamed Gaila for the fact that she noticed, for the first time, that his legs were rather long and his waist rather trim. She looked up, in case he thought she was staring, and found herself captured by his flat gaze. After an awkward moment he turned his attention to her PADD and an eyebrow rose. “Your paper was adequate, why have you chosen to resubmit?”
“Because ‘adequate’ isn’t good enough, sir.”
“Working on your thesis would have been a more profitable use of your time.”
“Well,” she said, bristling, “it is my time.”
He looked up, but didn’t answer, studying her as if she were a puzzle he was trying to solve. “This is really why you have come here?”
“Yes. Why else?”
His brow twitched into a frown. “Very well,” he said, and began reading.
It was a five thousand word paper; he read it in ten long minutes. When he was finished, he touched the screen a couple of times, and offered her the PADD without any comment.
Holding his implacable gaze, she took it from him. “Well?”
She looked down and felt a flare of triumph. Yes! “Thank you,” she said, unable to contain her pleasure.
His lips tilted in a barely-there smile. “That was what you wanted?”
“Yes, sir.” She rose to her feet, but he didn’t move and there was something disconcerting about looking down on him. He seemed less imposing, somewhat baffled, and Nyota felt a sudden need to explain herself. “I have to be the best,” she said with an embarrassed smile. “I want the Enterprise.”
“Which is why you wish to attend the MGC next month?”
Startled, she said, “How did you know about that?”
“Because Captain Healy forwarded your application for my consideration.”
“Your…?” Her heart leaped with a sudden hope. “But why are you—?”
The corner of his mouth gave an ironic curl. “Such administrative responsibilities are often given to junior academic staff.”
“So you get to choose who goes?”
“To recommend candidates to the selection board.”
She smiled, she couldn’t help herself. “Which means you choose, because the senior staff can’t be bothered to vet the applicants themselves. Right?”
That ironic curl was almost a smile. “I have no comment.”
“Oh…” It came out on an excited breath, a sigh. “Wow, I would love the opportunity to present my thesis there, to get that kind of attention.”
“It would be a substantial academic achievement.”
“To put it mildly. That would get me the Enterprise, don’t you think? That would impress Captain Pike.”
He frowned. “I have no input into the selection of the Enterprise’s crew, beyond the science department. If you believe that I may have some influence over Captain Pike’s decisions, you—”
“No, I didn’t mean that.” She felt heat rise to her face, uncomfortable because he had – partly – seen through her. “I would never ask for a favor. I want my academic record to speak for itself.”
He looked away, brow still furrowed. “That, at least, I can ensure with a clear conscience; your paper is admirable.” He rose then, and she found herself standing close enough that she could feel the heat of him – which was strange, because she’d always considered him so pale and cold. Like snow. “In future,” he said, “it would be prudent to restrict our meetings to my office.”
Embarrassed, she nodded. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to invade your priv—”
“I mean, to avoid any suspicion of favoritism.”
“Favoritism?” Was he talking about the conference, about selecting her to go? Her heart raced and she couldn’t prevent a nervous laugh. “Well, no one’s going suspect that!”
He didn’t answer, but there was something in his eyes that looked like a flinch. Had she offended his sense of decorum, being so glib? She sobered. “Sorry, Commander. I understand your point, people make up all kinds of nonsense and I don’t want to put you in an awkward position.”
“Or yourself?” he said, uncertainly.
He looked like he might say more, but then had a change of heart and instead took a breath and moved past her – so close that her shoulder brushed his chest. She made a point of noticing neither his warmth nor firmness, and silently cursed Gaila’s one track mind. At the door, Spock stopped, one hand poised to open it and the other clenching at his side. Then he touched the pad and the door opened with a swish. When he turned to face her, he was as impassive as always. “I shall see you on Sunday morning, to prepare for Monday’s phonology class.”
Nyota nodded. “Yes, nine o’clock.”
“I suggest you eat breakfast before you come, we have a substantial amount of work to complete.”
Which was thinly veiled code for ‘don’t expect to get a lunch break this week’.
They parted with no more than a nod on either side, and she heard his door slide shut before she’d taken three steps.
Nyota let out a deep breath, shoulders sagging with relief. He was a strange, confusing, difficult man and she promised herself never to set foot in his quarters again. It was a promise she knew she’d have no difficulty keeping.
5. Aitlu – v. desire: to wish or long for; crave
There were times when running was not enough.
There were times when confusion required the clarifying impact of his fist against leather, the disciplined aggression of ke-tarya.
She had come to his room, late at night. Alone.
His fist hit the punch bag. The impact jarred, and he relished it.
She had come to his room, alone. Late at night. She had asked him to re-grade her paper.
He spun, kicking hard, and the bag slammed back against its bearing.
She had asked him to re-grade her paper, but was that really what she wanted?
He regained his balance, stilled himself, eying the target.
Had it been a pretence, an excuse to be private and alone? Had she expected something of him? Had she wanted him to—?
He followed up with a double jab, right then left. Sweat trickled down his spine, like mockery. He punched again, left, then right.
Humans were infuriatingly indirect. He struggled to understand their convoluted interactions, never knowing what they really meant.
She had laughed. Favoritism? Well, no one’s going to suspect that!
He took a breath, circled to the back of the gym, shaking his muscles loose. Preparing.
She had laughed, but had she laughed at him or with him? Would no one suspect because no one knew, or because no one would believe it possible?
He began to run, a sprint, muscles bunching.
Was she angry? Had she wanted him to act, to ignore regulations and resolve the growing tension between them? Is that why she had come to his room, late and alone? Is that what she wanted?
He leapt, twisting, and slammed both feet into the bag. There was a screech of metal, the punch bag broke free and careened into the wall, and he landed in a low crouch, breathing hard.
“Bath’pa,” he cursed, wiping a hand across his face as he stood up and surveyed the damage.
He still had no answer to his questions.
Saturday night at Cochrane’s. Every so often, it had to be done.
Three beers, three tequila slammers, and the music slid under her skin. It was coming from inside her, a heavy pulse beating hard and hot with her own surging blood. She moved with it, flowed with it, felt it from her toes to the roots of her hair.
She was hot, sweating, alive. There were other bodies moving with her, around her – faces she knew, split wide and frozen in laughter, faces she didn’t know, serious and intent. They danced, she danced.
Someone pressed a drink into her hand. “My round!”
Kirk grinned, downed his shot with a shake of his head and a whoop. He’d lost his shirt, again, and in her tilted, impressionist world she could admire the sheen on his skin, the curve of muscle. There was heat in his eyes, invitation and mutual approval.
Nyota leaned closer, whispered into his ear. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“Always,” he grinned, with that cocksure confidence she admired and hated in equal measure. “Want me to show you?”
And then Gaila was there, slipping her arms around his waist, and eying Nyota with a speculative look she recognized.
“He’s all yours,” Nyota said, backing away. “I’m only here to dance.” She knocked back the drink and let the music take her.
Later – who knew how long? – she was outside.
There were people around her, and her back was wet because she was lying on the grass and above them were the stars.
“That one,” Kirk said, and she saw his arm point. “I’m going there.”
“Which one is that?”
“The furthest from here.”
She turned her head, saw him in profile. Gaila was gone, she didn’t know where, and Jim Kirk looked sad. “You don’t like it here?”
“Too much gravity,” he said, letting his arm fall to the ground. “Too much...weight.”
She watched him, and thought of him bruised and bloodied in that Iowan bar. There was something heroic in his need to fly, to escape, something that made her want to follow where he led. “I’m drunk,” she said, because it was the only explanation for such cock-eyed thoughts.
He turned his head and looked at her, grinning. “So am I.”
Then someone shouted “There it is!” and she looked up and remembered why they were lying on the grass.
“Enterprise,” Kirk whispered, soft, like a lover’s caress. “That’s our star.”
And Nyota shivered beneath destiny’s cold touch.
“I’m dying… Oh God, I’m going to die.”
Someone groaned, and an arm landed on her face. “Then do it quietly.”
Nyota peeled open one eye and found the ceiling spinning above her; her mouth was dry, her stomach heaved and rolled. “Oh God…”
She made it to the bathroom in time, just, and clung to the toilet in case the spinning room decided to throw her off. She closed her eyes, but it didn’t help.
After a while, she heard shuffling footsteps behind her and a growly voice said, “I gotta pee.”
“Use your own bathroom.”
“This is my bathroom.”
Miserably, she looked up and found herself staring at Jim Kirk’s knees. “Oh God…”
Clinging to the wall, she made it back to the bed and collapsed onto the rumpled sheets. Someone else was snoring.
“Please tell me I didn’t sleep with you,” she said, as Jim shuffled out of the bathroom.
“Well, you slept,” he said, sounding far too amused. He flopped down next to her on the bed, making it wobble.
She groaned. “Stop moving.”
“You look terrible.”
There was no point in answering that, and besides she needed all her focus to keep from throwing up again.
The snoring continued, and Nyota guessed it wasn’t Gaila.
With a sigh, Kirk stretched out next to her. “Thank God it’s Sunday, huh?”
“Shit!” She sat bolt upright, sending the room into a tailspin. “Shit, what time is it?”
But she didn’t have time to hear his answer, because her stomach was climbing back into her throat and she had to scramble for the bathroom again. Once more clinging to the toilet, and between heaves, she shouted, “Kirk? Time!”
After some muttering and groaning, and something heavy falling onto the floor, he called, “Almost eight-thirty, why?”
“Shit!” She felt so wretched she wanted to cry, and might have done if Kirk hadn’t been there to laugh and point. “I have to go.”
Predictably, he laughed. “There’s no way you’re going anywhere.”
But she forced herself to her feet, the room still spinning. “I have to…TA prep. At nine.”
There was a silence, then, “Shit.”
The room was turning, even with her eyes closed she could feel it. “Oh God.” And she was back on her knees over the toilet. “Oh shit.”
From behind her there was more shuffling and bumping, then Kirk was saying, “McCoy, wake up.” Something thumped, it sounded like a thrown pillow. “Bones!”
“Wha—?” another voice groaned. “What the hell are you throwing things for?”
“Uhura needs one of your magic shots.”
“Uhura. She’s in the bathroom.”
More shuffling, cursing and floundering, and then a surprisingly gentle hand was pressed against her forehead. “I’m Leonard McCoy, nice to meet you.”
She threw up and he patted her on the back.
“Nice.” Then, “What the hell did you give her, Jim?”
“Me?” Kirk sounded outraged. “Nothing.” There was a pause. “Nothing but tequila.”
“Nothing but tequila…” McCoy muttered in disgust. Then he was gone, returning with small black bag. “This is between you, me, and the john,” he said, pulling something out of the bag.
There was a sharp pain in her neck, and then, like a miracle, the world stopped spinning. Nausea faded. All that was left was a head stuffed with cotton, eyes that squinted against the light, and a vile- tasting mouth. Nyota sat up; the room stayed still. “Oh thank God.”
McCoy studied her from beneath a thatch of dark hair, eyes narrowed in a face too old to be your average cadet. “Better?”
“I could kiss you.”
He recoiled. “Please don’t.”
Gingerly, she stood up. The floor was solid beneath her feet, the walls stationary. “Time?”
“Eight thirty-eight,” Kirk called from outside, and she didn’t miss the note of glee in his voice. “You’re going to be late, Cadet.”
She slid a glance at McCoy, who met it with a quirked eyebrow. “Care to take a bet, Mr. Kirk?”
“The first round says you don’t make it.”
“You’re on.” Nyota held out her hand. “Now give me your shirt.”
“You appear tired,” Spock said that afternoon, as she tried to refocus her attention on the paper she was marking. But the words were slipping all over the screen, another yawn cracking her jaw, and she had to give up.
“Sorry, I had a bit of a late night.”
“It is not profitable to study so late, Lieutenant. Your work will suffer.”
“Oh I wasn’t—” She stopped herself, just too late.
He looked at her across the desk they were sharing, his gaze dropping briefly to the large t-shirt she’d borrowed; it had Iowa Nighthawks splashed across the front. “I see.”
Irritated by his judgmental tone, she said, “I like to wait up and watch the Enterprise pass overhead, that’s all.”
“Big shiny new ship?” She cocked her head toward the ceiling. “Moored at the fleet yards?”
His lips compressed. “I am familiar with it, but there can be little to see from this distance.”
“It’s beautiful,” she protested. “It looks like a star. Our star.”
There was a pause, then he said, “Our star?”
Embarrassed by her sentimentality – which she blamed on the hangover – she said, “That’s just something Kirk said last night. Our star. Everyone dreams of the Enterprise, don’t they?”
Another pause, this one longer. “James Kirk is... a friend of yours?”
“Not exactly.” She glanced at the clock and wondered if he’d let her escape for a coffee. “Mostly I think he’s insufferable, but there are times... There’s something about him, I guess. An energy. He’s so vital.”
“Energy without focus has little effect,” Spock said, sitting back in his chair. He was frowning. “James Kirk often lacks focus.”
“You know him?”
Abruptly, he got to his feet and paced to the window. When he spoke his tone was measured, but the set of his shoulders was a study in tension. “Only by reputation; he has a long record of infamous pranks.”
“He can be an idiot,” she agreed. “But I’ll give him this; the guy knows no fear.”
“Then he will fail,” Spock said, as imperious as she’d ever heard him. Behind his straight back, his fingers knotted like rope. “A man who knows no fear cannot understand it; a man who does not understand fear cannot conquer it.”
“Maybe he doesn’t have to conquer it,” she said hotly, “maybe he just has to live with it. Like the rest of us mortals.”
Spock didn’t answer, and after a while she went back to her work in silence.
Over the next few days, she saw Spock quite often. Not on purpose, and not always to talk to, but it seemed that if she was leaving the library he would be walking in, and they would stop to exchange a few words. Or she would bump into him after class and, instead of a quick ‘hello-goodbye’, he would walk with her all the way to her next class. He never had much to say, beyond a few queries about her thesis, but he did insist on looking at her. What he was looking for, she couldn’t imagine, but he studied her so intently that she began to suspect she was part of an anthropological research project. It was somewhat unnerving, as she told Gaila one sunny lunchtime as they ate together on the grass outside the refectory.
Gaila’s reaction was predictable. “Maybe he likes you.”
“Gaila, he doesn’t even like me, let alone like me.” She sighed and poked at her limp sandwich. “Besides, not everything in life is about sex.”
“You’d be surprised,” Gaila said with a grin. “But the thing is, you’re being too human about it – as always.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that maybe that’s what Vulcans do when they like someone.”
“Follow them around in silence?” She laughed. “Unlikely.”
“He’s watching you.”
“I know. That’s what I—”
“No, right now. Look, over there, he’s totally watching you.”
Nyota glanced up and saw that she was right. He was watching her as he walked past, on the way – it appeared – to the computing labs. She raised a hand and waved, he gave a brief nod and looked quickly away. “See? Don’t you think it’s weird?”
“He was embarrassed!” Gaila’s voice brimmed with delight. “Oh, he’s totally into you!”
“No, I’m serious. He’s totally into you. It’s so obvious – God, I can practically smell it.”
Nyota scowled. “Will you stop it?”
“Desire,” she said, smiling up at a couple of grinning freshmen walking past. “Orions are extremely sensitive to it.”
“You’re imagining things.”
Gaila cocked her head. “Why does it bother you so much?”
“It doesn’t bother me.”
“Yes it does.”
“It doesn’t bother me, because it’s not true.” She frowned, “No, there’s something else going on.”
Gaila flopped back onto the grass. “Do you like him?”
Ignoring the question, Nyota let her thoughts wander; he was watching her, studying her, assessing her. Assessing her? “Oh my God, I know!”
Gaila watched her through eyes slitted against the sun. “What?”
“It’s because of the MGC.”
“The MGC – the Multidisciplinary Graduate Conference. I’ve applied and he’s assessing the candidates.” She smiled, satisfied that she had her answer. “That’s what he’s doing, he’s assessing me.”
Gaila laughed. “Yeah, right, ‘assessing’ you. That’s what he’s doing.”
“You,” Nyota said, getting to her feet, “are a terminally romantic, sexually incontinent Orion lunatic.”
“And you,” Gaila said, closing her eyes and lifting her face to the sun, “are a self-deluded, self-denying, uptight human being.”
Nyota smiled. “See you later.”
“Where are you going?”
She glanced toward the computer labs. “To help my assessment along.”
“Be careful, Nyota.” Gaila lifted her head, suddenly serious. “Just because you think you know what’s going on in his head, doesn’t mean you do.”
“Oh,” she said with a smile, “I think I have a pretty good idea.”
Over the next few days, Spock saw Uhura more often than could be explained by random chance. She had taken to eating her lunch on the grass outside the computer labs, and often seemed to be walking past his office as he was leaving. She was friendly, smiling, though talked almost exclusively about presenting her thesis at the MGC conference. He surmised that she considered this a safe topic of public conversation.
It was clear, however, that their frequent meetings were not coincidental, and the pleasure he took in that knowledge was considerable. Though their opinions frequently clashed, he found that the friction between them generated significant heat; a heat he struggled to control. A heat he found, increasingly, that he did not wish to control.
His mother would have counseled him not to try, yet it was impossible to deny his Vulcan sensibilities entirely; choosing to pursue Nyota Uhura was a significant matter. His attraction to her went far beyond the mere physical. This was a human desire to touch her body, entwining dangerously with a Vulcan desire to touch her mind, and he knew that intimacy between them could not be undertaken lightly. She was no Christine Chapel, and this was no xenophilic infatuation.
That brief contact they had shared, skin to skin, had opened her mind to him – so ardent, so challenging, so incisive – and he found himself enthralled. He desired to know her intimately, to explore her, to understand her – and, through her, himself. That was the crux.
Through that brief touch he had sensed, on some atavistic level, that Nyota Uhura could guide him through the complex maze of his own humanity. She could help him understand the slippery emotions that had always eluded his mental discipline. She could bridge the division that defined him.
Yet still he hesitated. To take a human mate, to break his betrothal to T’Pring, would be seen as a final rejection of his home. It would assure his ostracism from the higher levels of Vulcan society, destroy any chance of a rapprochement with his father, and commit him forever to the life of an exile. Viewed in such a light, it must be considered an illogical choice.
Standing at the window of his office, he watched as she crossed the quad towards the computer labs, her ponytail swinging and hips swaying. The truth was, when it came to Nyota Uhura, he found that logic failed him.
To be continued in Miscommunication: part three.