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December

 

"I don't understand why you're in the xenolinguistics club to begin with, since you don't speak anything but Standard," Nyota said as she pushed her way out of the hall where they'd held their final meeting of the semester. "And I really don't understand how you got yourself elected treasurer."

"It's called politics, Uhura." Jim Kirk matched her quick stride step for step, somehow managing to look relaxed while he did so. How did he do that? "It's called listening to people. It's called understanding their needs and concerns."

Nyota stopped in her tracks, put one hand on her hip and stared him down.

Jim's smile broadened. "It's also called bribery, if you want to be negative – just giving a certain guy's dorm number to a certain interested young lady in return for influencing the Centaurian vote–"

"Unbelievable. You get ahead by acting as the Starfleet Academy pimp."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. I promise you, no money changed hands."

"Which brings up another point. You took up a collection for funds to cover the club's trip to the museums in Beijing. I just checked; there's no admission fee for those museums."

"We'll have other needs," Jim insisted. "Let's just say that after the scholastic portion of the trip is done, there will be a beverage service."

"Somebody seriously needs to nail your ass to the wall."

"Somebody seriously needs to nail your –"

"Watch it, farmboy."

"Uhura, give me a break." When he stopped smirking, Jim's face was actually very handsome. It didn't happen that often. "This isn't a class or a seminar or official duty. It's a club. It's about having fun. Remember fun?"

"I'll remember fun when my thesis is written, my final grades are in, I've graduated with honors and I've got the assignment I want."

She must have sounded even more tired than she felt, because Jim actually started to look concerned. "Hey. Don't wear yourself out before we even get up there."

It was like trying to hold a grudge against a puppy. "In Beijing, I promise to slow down long enough to have a drink from the 'beverage service.' So there had better be Cardassian Sunrises."

"Any chance you're going to split one with me?" He had a trick of somehow getting in her personal space without moving any closer.

"Do you ever stop?"

"Not until I get what I want."

"Then you're never going to stop."

Jim smiled. "To answer your first question, I'm in the xenolinguistics club because I want to know your first name."

"Like I've been saying for three years, you can look it up in the student directory."

"But I want you to tell me."

It was a battle of wills between them, both annoying as hell for Nyota and yet perversely enjoyable. "Keep dreaming. Now if you'll excuse me, there's somebody I have to catch before he leaves."

Jim pressed his hand to his chest, mocking the response of somebody who has received a mortal wound. "Another man. So you do remember fun."

She just laughed as she walked away, both at the general absurdity Jim was capable of and the idea that she was going to meet a guy for some romantic rendezvous. First, Nyota had decided in her second year that serious relationships could and would wait until after her graduation from Starfleet Academy. Flirting was fine. So was sex, if the guy in question understood her boundaries. (Jim Kirk was a guy who did not understand boundaries, except as something to be broken, which ruled him out.) But getting involved meant getting distracted, and Nyota wanted to keep her focus on the stars.

Second, of all the men she might ever have been involved with, she was about to meet the least likely.

Nyota hurried down the Ji Hall steps, speeding up as she saw who she was looking for. If she shouted, he would hear her despite the din of cadets laughing and talking after class; he had the ears for it. But she suspected shouting was not the best way to start a conversation with him. When she was within a few steps, she raised her voice only slightly. "Commander Spock?"

He turned. "Lieutenant Uhura. Do you require my assistance?"

"Require? No. Request, yes." She smiled at him, before thinking better of it. Surely a Vulcan wouldn't want to see any unnecessary displays of emotion – even a pleasant one. "You might know that I'm doing my dissertation on the Romulan language, specifically nuances in the ch'Vian dialect."

"That is the lowest-caste dialect, I understand – but the vernacular for laborers on border colonies, traders, miners and others who would make important intelligence assets. You have chosen well."

"The ch'Vian dialect is the one most closely related to Vulcan. Obviously, I won't have the chance to talk with a Romulan before graduation –"

"Let us hope not." Ever since the slaughter of the Kelvin, the Romulans were known and feared throughout the Alpha Quadrant. Perfecting Federation intel on the Romulan Empire had been a top priority from that time on. Nyota knew that the Vulcans had not disclosed their connection with the Romulans before that incident, and then only unwillingly, so she'd been unsure about asking Spock for more information. He seemed untroubled, though, so she plowed on.

"—but I thought that if I could discuss certain questions in-depth with a native speaker of Vulcan, that might be useful. Obviously, the languages and customs have diverged widely since the split, but I still think I might come up with some useful insights by comparing and contrasting the two." Nyota took a deep breath. "We'd need to meet repeatedly from now until I finish my thesis in the spring. I know I'm asking for a lot of your time for uncertain benefits, but – I'm asking."

"All research is by its nature uncertain," Spock said. "Your hypothesis appears sound, and I recognize that you have no other Vulcan to whom you can readily turn. I agree to your proposition."

Nyota blinked. Both the courses she had taken from Spock in the past two years had heavily featured Socratic dialogues; she had been prepared for any kind of argument, but not ready agreement. "I – great. That's great. Thank you."

"When do you wish to begin?"

"As soon as possible, if that works for you." Quickly she checked her PADD. "I have time tomorrow afternoon. 16:00 hours? The linguistics lab?"

"I look forward to it." One slight nod, and he was gone.

**

"Tell me you didn't ask Spock out," Gaila said. "Please. Tell me you have listened to at least one thing I have told you about men in the past three years."

"I didn't ask him out. I asked him to work with me on a project. That's all." Nyota unfastened the clip around her ponytail and felt her thick hair fall free across her back. Sometimes she felt like this was the only time of day she got to relax.

"But you have a thing for him!"

"I should never have told you that." It didn't pay to drink with Orions. Gaila had the alcohol tolerance level of five strong men combined, and had learned most of their classmates' secrets during late-night binges. Nyota had found this out the hard way. "I just think he's attractive, that's all. Trust me, I know how it is. Vulcans – they're like spacedock jockeys, or married men, or poets. All sane women should stay the hell away."

"I disagree about the spacedock jockeys," Gaila said. She fell back onto her bed with a nostalgic smile that suggested she had one very specific jockey in mind. "Still, as long as you've got your head on straight. What am I saying? Of course you do. You're – you."

"Damn straight." Nyota paused, wondering whether she wanted to talk about this with Gaila, who could be a loving friend but was not necessarily the most introspective person in the galaxy. Then she decided she wanted to talk about it with someone, so it might as well be Gaila. "It would be interesting to get to know him better."

"I will tie you up in this room and refuse to let you out before I let you break your heart over a Vulcan. You might as well try to mate with one of the statues in front of the Academy museum. If the carving is anatomically correct, your chance of success would be higher."

"I don't mean that I want to seduce him. I mean – you know, a big part of linguistics is going beyond merely speaking the language. You have to understand the native speaker. You have to try to think the way they think, to comprehend what they've really said."

Gaila frowned at her. "We were talking about sex, and now we're talking about your coursework? Don't you ever stop working?"

"You were talking about sex. And I'm not talking about my coursework; I'm talking about my vocation. There's a difference." Nyota began rubbing lotion into her skin, weighing precisely what she wanted to say. "Xenolinguistics is, in part, about learning to think like an alien. Starfleet Academy lets a lot of biologically compatible lifeforms live and work together for a few years. I think I've learned a lot."

"You haven't learned that Orions need their sleep." Gaila had never fully accepted Nyota's morning routine.

Nyota ignored this interruption. "I've studied Vulcan culture, at least the basics, but I don't understand them. They're hard to crack. If I could understand more about them through Spock, then – maybe I could get someplace. And I feel like, once I figure Vulcans out, I can figure anybody out."

"Seems fair," Gaila admitted. "But watch yourself."

"I always do."

"And take a break once in a while, okay?"

"Not happening."

**

Spock's study of xenolinguistics had been cursory at best, at least in his opinion – he spoke only seven languages, and was not qualified to teach beyond the starting level in any subjects save Phonology and Morphology. He had earned multiple degrees in hard sciences, which did not leave time to achieve full expertise in other fields. All the same, he found the subject interesting, not least because his father and mother were both expert in the area. Sarek had been the first Vulcan speaker of many Earth languages, from Mandarin to Dutch, and Amanda Grayson had written the first Vulcan-English dictionary meant for common, rather than academic, use.

They would perhaps want to hear about Lieutenant Uhura's theories, if he and his father ever began speaking again.

The linguistics lab was by its nature a cozy place. Soft chairs were gathered around small tables where students from two dozen worlds could converse and, in so doing, teach one another. Warmly lit isolation cubbies, set into the walls, offered students places to work with recordings or holos; each of them shimmered slightly, evidence of soundproof shielding. The walls were a deep orange, a color he found soothing and somewhat reminiscent of home. Spock chose a smaller table in the far corner, where he judged the acoustics to be favorable.

Uhura looked chagrined when she came in to find him already in place. "I hope I'm not late."

"To the contrary, I arrived early. You are admirably prompt."

"You sure know how to flatter a girl," she said wryly as she sat opposite him. Her hair was knotted in a bun, pulled back almost severely, but the effect on her features was most pleasing. Spock did not consider abstract aesthetic appreciation inappropriate – and, when it came to Uhura, such appreciation was unavoidable. "All right. Let me explain where we're going to begin. My hypothesis, at this point, is that ch'Vian Romulan has retained not only certain grammatical constructs and word origins of its Vulcan root language, but also certain phonological, syntactic and semantic qualities."

"Logical."

"I'm not as positive about that as you are. Languages change rapidly, and while I've observed a lot of parallels – at least, I think they're parallels. Right now, I have less than perfect fluency in both Romulan and Vulcan. With your help, I hope to confirm my understanding of the Vulcan half."

"Then let us begin."

"Okay. Let's start with mechanics. Phonology. The eh sound, let's say."

"It is common in both Vulcan and Romulan," Spock said. She would of course know this, but with humans, he had found that repeating the obvious was a surprisingly effective conversational tactic.

"Yes, but in Vulcan, the eh sound is pronounced differently at the end of a word than it is when it's in the middle of a word. With the end of the word, you have that glottal stop."

This was something he had never consciously considered before, but instantly understood to be true. "Shau-zehl," he said. "Naliveh. You are correct."

"In ch'Vian Romulan, however –" Uhura's voice trailed off. For the first time since he had come to know her, she deviated from her chosen task. "Wait. Shau-zehl? I don't know that word. The literal translation would be something like 'break line,' but the meaning – no idea. Please tell me it's obscure."

"Not obscure, but unlikely to be covered in any of your texts. It is a children's game."

"Really?" A small smile appeared, almost uncertain, as if she were worried about causing offense. "What kind of games do children play on Vulcan?"

"We compete to see who can solve algebraic equations most quickly."

After a moment, she smiled even more broadly. "Does anybody believe you when you say that?"

So few humans understood when he was joking. "In shau-zehl, all the available children from two lines by holding hands. Each line chooses a runner, who in turn attempts to break the line."

"You mean, Red Rover! Vulcan kids play Red Rover!" Uhura laughed. "The only difference is, with humans, the opposing line chooses the kid who has to try to break through."

"Instead of calling forth the strongest individuals, they call forth the weakest." Among Vulcan children, he had often been the weakest; among human children, he would always have been the strongest. He would not have been called for in either case. "An interesting variation."

Uhura clearly wanted to ask him more about Vulcan childhood, but she returned to the subject with admirable discipline. "Anyway. In ch'Vian Romulan, they only pronounce the glottal stop when the word falls at the end of a sentence. Otherwise, if the eh sound is at the end of a word, they tend to run that word into the following word, combining them. It can make voice-only translation difficult to follow, so I'm hoping there are some precedents in Vulcan – some similar running-together of words. I'm not familiar with any, but are there dialects, special forms of speech, anything like that you can think of?"

Spock considered this. "There is only one similar use that comes to mind."

"What's that?"

"Combining words is a common form of – I believe the term in Standard is 'baby talk.'"

"Excuse me?"

"The kind of simplified speech that adults use to speak to children."

"You're telling me that lower-caste Romulans are going around baby-talking to each other all the time?"

"Apparently so."

Uhura did laugh at that. Spock felt some amusement himself: The idea was rather absurd, particularly for a race as feared as the Romulans.

"Wow. Okay. Baby-talk. I wonder what possible sociological –" She cut herself off. "No speculation. I have to stick what I can quantify. But if we could record some Vulcan parents – if they would be willing to speak informally in front of researchers—"

"Most Vulcans would consider that appropriate in the context of scientific inquiry."

"That might be very helpful with programming the translators." Uhura quickly jotted a few notes on her PADD. "I should have known you'd have all the answers."

"The right questions are fundamentally much more difficult to supply. Your insight is remarkable."

She paused at that, not looking up from her work. The moment passed quickly, and they resumed their discussion of phonology.

They continued for more than an hour, mostly remaining on-topic. Although they discovered no insights as surprising as Romulan 'baby talk,' the conversation seemed highly productive to Spock, and he observed that Uhura had stored nearly a dozen pages of data on her PADD before they were done.

As they walked out of the linguistics lab, the sun was setting over the Pacific. The Golden Gate Bridge gleamed in the radiant light. They paused on the steps, and Spock realized he was reluctant to say goodbye. He had always found Lieutenant Uhura's company agreeable, but this sensation was different. It occurred to him how few humans he had allowed himself to know well during his time on Earth; there were reasons for this, but none of those reasons seemed to apply at the moment.

"Thanks again for agreeing to do this," she said. "I hope it's not going to take too much of your time."

"The experience was both informative and enjoyable. I look forward to our next session."

Uhura tucked her PADD under one arm. "Glad to know you're liking this as much as I am. But when I said thanks, I meant – you didn't have to tell me everything you did."

"I meely answered the questions posed to the best of my ability."

"You went above and beyond the call of duty. You didn't have to tell me how your parents talked to you as a child, for instance."

"I did not tell you that."

She frowned. "But –"

"My mother always spoke to me in Standard." Spock hesitated, then said, "My father was not inclined to speak informally to me."

Slowly, Uhura nodded. Had she guessed the fuller implications of that statement? Possibly – humans were surprisingly perceptive in such matters, at least when they took the time to listen. Uhura always did. Although Spock did not care to expose his personal information, he realized he was not disturbed by the idea of Uhura realizing this much. She was discreet. She could be trusted.

"Good night, Lieutenant Uhura."

"Good night, Mr. Spock." She strode away across the Academy courtyard, and for a few seconds he indulged the impulse to watch her go.

 

January

 

6 a.m. – time to move.

Nyota slipped into her running suit and tiptoed into the hallway to put on her shoes, so Gaila could sleep in a little longer. Her roommate more or less stuck to the Academy-standard fitness training, which was grueling enough. Nyota put in an extra hour a day, every day: Running three days a week, grav-resistance training three more days, and then she chose the seventh day's activity each week for variety's sake: swimming, rock-climbing, Tellarite hoverball, whatever would make a nice change.

Today was for running.

The January air was unusually brisk that morning, especially for a woman who had spent much of her childhood in Kenya. Nyota reminded herself that despite all her efforts, she might wind up with a duty station on Andoria, a world snowbound almost to its equator, or the observation post on Delta Vega, which was even worse. So she didn't seal her jacket around her as she left the dorm – simply let the cold air bite into her skin. Better to get used to it, and besides, once she got moving, she would be beyond the reach of the cold.

Briefly she closed her eyes, shutting off the entire world except for the thudding of her feet on the ground, and the awakening burn of her muscles. Let other people hang around in bed throughout the morning. Nyota was on the move, and she did not intend to slow down.

**

The Academy mess was one of the most jumbled places on the entire campus. Non-humans who attended the Terran campus expected to adapt to Earth ways to some extent, but dietary needs remained constant. Beyond that, eating was one of the areas most resistant to cultural change; everybody wanted familiar food to eat and became very grumpy if they didn't get it occasionally. The mess therefore served meals from almost three dozen worlds, and featured a rather complicated layout to make sure that one race's treat (say, live Halwort beetles) didn't turn into another race's health crisis. Nyota had tried almost everything non-poisonous to humans, except for the beetles. She still liked waffles best.

As she sat down with her tray, sweat still damp on her skin after her run, she saw a few other students coming in, as well as a few instructors – including Commander Spock. Nyota gave him a half-wave and turned back to her own meal.

"Good morning, Lieutenant." Spock's tray held half a cantaloupe and a bowl of some rather joyless-looking shredded grains.

"Good morning." Nyota was surprised that he had come up to her; despite the increasing informality of their meetings about her thesis, this was the first time he had approached her in any social setting. She began with the simplest opener she could think of: "You don't usually eat in here."

"The morning is normally the best time to work on personal projects in the science labs. However, I chose to forgo experimentation today because I had hoped to speak with you in person."

Her fork seemed to have stalled somewhere between her plate and her mouth. "Oh?"

"Your records indicate that you achieved top marks in the Advanced Subspace seminar last semester. Professor Qrori has been called back to her homeworld for a family emergency and will be unavailable this semester. I have offered to teach in her place."

"That's a hard course to take on at the last minute," she said.

"Indeed. My purpose for speaking to you today is to ask you if you would consider serving as my teaching assistant. Your diligent effort on your thesis has convinced me that you would not be dismayed by Vulcan intellectual rigor, and I believe we would work well together."

It was a huge opportunity. That kind of responsibility in a top-level course would all but guarantee her the posting she wanted – namely, the new flagship of the fleet, the U.S.S. Enterprise.

So why did she feel like a thousand-pound weight had just settled on her shoulders?

"May I have until tomorrow to think about it?" she said. "I'm honored to be asked, and I know I would get a lot out working with you. But – my thesis, my other classes – I need to be sure I can manage it."

"Your consideration is most prudent."

"Thanks." From a Vulcan, "prudent" was probably the best compliment you could get. Nyota put down her fork and began collecting together her tray. She was too distracted to eat anything else.

Had it been some other man looking up at her as she rose to leave, Nyota would've sworn he was disappointed that she was going so soon. Spock said only, "Good day, Lieutenant."

Once outside, Nyota would normally have hurried back to her dorm for a shower and then to the library for some quality time with her thesis. Instead, she unzipped her jacket and started running again. She hadn't eaten enough to throw her off, and now she had tension to burn.

Why aren't you jumping at this opportunity? This is huge. This is important. You know you can do it. So turn around and tell Spock yes.

But it was one more thing. One more burden, one more responsibility, one more thing she had to get right or else. Ninety-nine percent of the time, Nyota felt as though she was able to manage her obligations well enough; that other one percent, when she let the exhaustion and uncertainty get to her, it could feel like her whole world was falling apart.

Today was a one-percent day.

She turned right instead of left, toward the Academy museum rather than away from it. At this hour, it was deserted, and the long steps up to the entrance were empty. Ignoring the antigrav ramps to either side, Nyota began pushing herself upward.

It's not that much more work in the greater scheme of things.

Fact.

You wouldn't have as much time to sleep – or to jam with Wei Su and the guys, or just hang out with Gaila – but that's not what you came to Starfleet Academy for.

Fact.

Sweat began to slick her skin. She ran faster.

If you're Spock's teaching assistant, you'll learn even more about subspace, and that's information you're going to need if you want to excel in the field.

Fact.

Your thesis project has helped you know Spock better, and at this point, if you felt like you were getting too snowed under, you could talk to him about it. He'd understand. He'd help.

Fact.

Her legs were aching now, but Nyota kept her eyes fixed on the gleaming edifice of the museum.

Even Vulcans can feel sympathy when others are in trouble.

Fact.

Nyota's breath came in gasps, cold and harsh in her lungs. The steps seemed to go on forever, but she kept pushing herself onward. And as she neared the top, a new thought came to her in a rush:

If I had to tell Spock that I couldn't hack this, I would feel like such a failure.

She half-stumbled on the last step but caught herself on a marble bench. Panting, she sat down on the cool stone to think.

The fear of failure haunted her, and it always had. Nyota had always thought that when she achieved more, accomplished more, that fear would dissipate. Instead, it seemed as though she were climbing higher and higher on a fragile framework, and if it broke apart now, she would just have farther to fall.

But she had never let fear of failure stop her before. She wouldn't start today.

**

"I am most gratified that you were willing to take on the work, given the short time we have to prepare." Spock handed her several data solids as they took their now-usual table in the linguistics lab. "However, we can arrange a separate time to discuss the class."

"That works."

Spock was busier even than she – and no matter how big and squishy that Vulcan brain of his might be, there was no way his schedule wasn't completely blown by the addition of a new class for him to teach, particularly one of the advanced courses. But he still considered her thesis a priority.

See, Spock finds a way to manage, Nyota reminded herself. You will too. Maybe that's the best reason to take this on – to learn how he does it.

"Okay," she said. "We left off on the ceremonial chant, didn't we?"

"Affirmative. You were attempting to replicate the k'gl sound, without success."

"Please, don't remind me."

"You asked whether or not we were working on the ceremonial chants. Why should I not have responded with the correct answer?"

"'Don't remind me' is just a saying. It means the speaker would rather not remember something they didn't handle well."

Spock tilted his head, considering her. "Your efforts should not be denigrated. The sound is exceedingly difficult for non-native speakers to replicate."

"The human mouth and the Vulcan mouth are shaped almost exactly the same. I ought to be able to get it."

"I am confident that with practice you will." Spock hesitated, and she wondered what he could be leading up to until he said, "Perhaps tactile information would be useful."

"You mean, a holo-simulation?" Nyota had used several in the past, putting her fingers within the mouths and throats of various alien-race holograms to feel the motions and vibrations of different words most correctly. "Is there one for the Vulcan chant?"

"No. I could create one if necessary, but it seems to me there is a simpler solution."

He was offering to let her touch him. At first Nyota didn't know what to say. Touching Vulcans, bare skin to bare skin, was considered violative; doing so transmitted human thoughts and emotions in all their chaos straight into the mind of a touch-telepath.

He'll know. He'll know how scared I am, how close I am to the edge. Nyota took a deep breath. It's okay if he knows. Spock won't be worried about how you feel as long as he also senses that you're focused on your goals, and his, nothing else.

"Thank you," she said. She raised one hand, giving him a chance to reconsider, or to clarify if she had misunderstood.

Spock lifted his chin slightly. Nyota brought her palm to his larynx and rested her fingers on the underside of his jaw. His skin felt so warm. This was a really bad time to remember how attractive he was, so she forced her thoughts back to the matter at hand.

Their eyes met. Carefully, Spock said, "Fa'wak'glansu."

That particular catch beneath the tongue – that was it. "Again, please?"

"Fa'wak'glansu."

"Fa'wak'glansu," Nyota repeated, and if it still wasn't as precise as Spock's pronunciation, it was close enough for jazz. She laughed out loud in sheer pleasure as she quickly withdrew her hand. "That's it, isn't it?"

"Indeed. Most impressive, Lieutenant."

Spock's expression conveyed nothing more than the simple liking and respect she had always seen before. Whatever weakness he had sensed in her – or even that momentary flash of attraction – he had accepted it, and her. He believed she was strong enough to handle it; Nyota chose to think that someday she'd believe it too.

"Okay," she said with satisfaction. "Now we can move on."

**

My beloved son.

She began every letter that way, she who had lived decades among Vulcans who disapproved of her every show of emotion. Spock's mother did not express herself as exuberantly as the humans that surrounded him at Starfleet Academy, but she had never ceased to remind her son that she loved him.

Mt. Seleya is rumbling again, threatening to awaken after thousands of years of sleep. You can imagine the consternation this has caused -- on any other world, I would say "outrage" instead. A centuries-old symbol of serenity is about to explode, and for all its insistence on logic, Vulcan is a world that values its symbols. But the physical world prefers irony, I think. We shall see what Vulcan makes of a Mt. Seleya that breathes and bleeds fire.

Spock had often meditated on the desert plains in the evening, gazing upon the silhouette of Mt. Seleya against Vulcan's stark red sky. He, too, had always seen it as a symbol of serenity and, in addition, of the very essence of Vulcan – what he had always desired but could never possess. Now it seemed that Mt. Seleya's true nature had been closer to his own, with fire banked down low, but still burning.

Your father and I have decided to attend the linguistics conference on Andoria next year. He travels so much for his diplomatic work that it's difficult to convince him to board a vessel for any other purpose. But he's like you, unable to resist the lure of intellectual challenge. I can't wait to see snow again, and when your father shivers and starts to complain about the cold, I will remind him that, for his sake, I have lived my life in a desert. Then I plan to throw a snowball at him.

Despite himself, Spock could not resist a small smile. His mother's letters often had this effect; this was one reason he always waited to read them until he was alone.

Speaking of linguistics, the paper your colleague is working on sounds intriguing. Be sure to let me know if she publishes her thesis; it's just the sort of thing that ought to be featured at that conference. Do you think she would be willing to present her work there? Don't talk to her about it yet, if you think she would feel pressured. I remember well what it felt like to have your unfinished thesis breathing down your neck.

Lieutenant Uhura seemed to thrive under pressure, a quality Spock admired. He resolved to mention his mother's suggestion at their next meeting.

I watched a holovid about the new Federation flagship last night. The Enterprise is supposed to be the pride of the fleet. I can understand why you've been so eager to be posted there. But five years of deep-space exploration – it's a long time, my son, and it's hard for me the bear the idea of not seeing you again for so many years. It's been too long already.

Once more, I must ask: Won't you think about returning to Vulcan, even for a brief stay? If you do not wish to see your father, I will not insist. But I would like to see you. Of course your schedule is very busy, but please, consider it.

Now I will stop being a nagging mama, and simply be a very proud one. You bring me joy with everything you do, Spock. Never forget that.

Mom

Spock clicked off the computer screen. His mother rarely resorted to employing blatantly emotional tactics such as guilt. Her willingness to do so now indicated that she missed him badly, and he wondered if this in turn was a sign that her emotional state was worsening.

He did not doubt that his mother was unhappy. As he had matured into adulthood, he had become more deeply convinced of this, and his conviction troubled him. Amanda Grayson presented a gentle, steady face to the world, but Spock knew better than most the gulf that could lie between an impassive face and a troubled heart. He also knew that, in order to be truly happy, human beings needed to feel that they were loved.

And his father did not love his mother.

Spock thought of her – living out her life on a desert world, she who loved cool winds and rain. Knowing herself to be forever bound to a man who considered their bond merely a matter of logic. And now estranged from her son, because Sarek had cast Spock out after his refusal to attend the Vulcan Science Academy. It was almost unbearable.

He would gladly have gone to Vulcan to visit her, even taken a leave of absence to do so, had the request been as simple as it appeared in her letter. But Spock knew his mother: She was more than capable of making her own journey to Earth if she wanted only to visit him. She had done so before, during his first year at the Academy. No, her request was an ill-veiled attempt at forging reconciliation between father and son. And that could not be.

**

"Wow," said Uhura, as they sat together in his office, quickly reviewing the results of the first Advanced Subspace quiz of the new term. "I have spent my entire Academy career worrying too much."

"You are troubled by your course load?"

"No, no – I meant, I didn't realize the competition was so – how shall I put this? – non-competitive."

Spock had experienced a similar reaction the first time he graded exams. "Given the stringent entrance requirements for Starfleet Academy, underperformance is rarely a reflection of lack of ability. It usually indicates unpreparedness, emotional turmoil or a subject beyond a particular student's strengths. Subspace is a challenging concept for even exemplary pupils."

"You're more generous than I am. This guy wants to know why, if we can send subspace messages faster than warp 10, we don't just fly our ships through subspace." Uhura snatched that particular data solid from her grader with what appeared to be disgust.

"That sounds most illogical. However, I am obliged to point out that, for centuries, scientists on both Earth and Vulcan had similar reactions to the idea of warp speed."

"One era's crackpot is another's genius?" Uhura sighed. "Maybe so. But some crackpots are actually cracked."

Reassured that Uhura's motivation remained unaffected by her new teaching assistant duties, Spock began, "I had a letter from my mother this morning."

Uhura looked up from her grading, obviously confused by the sudden shift in topic. "Oh. Okay. Is – is she all right?"

He had chosen an ineffective conversational segue. Quickly Spock explained his reason for mentioning his mother, and the idea of the linguistics conference on Andoria. She responded to the challenge quickly. "I was planning on waiting to publish for a little while – maybe until I got real field experience to back up some of this – but it should be strong enough on the theoretical level," Uhura said. "This is a fantastic opportunity. Thank you for mentioning it to her."

"I deserve no credit for benevolent motives. My mother was the one who conceived of this plan."

"Then thank your mother for me. Besides, you do deserve credit – in the literal sense, I mean." Uhura leaned forward slightly, her hands on the table between them. "You're all over my thesis as it is, but if I revise for publication, I'd want to credit you as a contributor."

"You overestimate my input."

"Hardly. Besides, hey, then we could both present at the conference. You could visit your mom. That would be nice, right?"

Spock knew that he could have sidestepped the issue by continuing to honestly emphasize Uhura's independent work. But the thought of himself on Andoria – with his parents – silenced him for one moment too long.

"Commander Spock?" Uhura frowned. "Did I say something wrong?"

"Not at all, Lieutenant. Your generosity does you credit. However, I do not wish to attend the conference on Andoria." That was simple enough. He felt he had moved on from the subject quite smoothly.

Yet Uhura continued to look at him, the furrow between her brows deepening. "Excuse me – I don't want to pry, but – you get along with your mother, right? You correspond with her; you talk about her often."

"My mother will be attending the conference on Andoria with my father."

She nodded. They were both quiet for a few moments, and Spock took up another data solid, willing himself to face more inadequate answers. Uhura made no move to resume her work, and finally she said, "I meant what I said before, about not wanting to pry. But – I want to understand. Humans in your situation would probably want to talk to someone about this. If that's also true for Vulcans, well, I'm willing to listen."

"Vulcans do not discuss such matters." Just as his father would not only not speak to his son, but currently refused to even speak of him. Spock considered it in that light, then said, "I am half-human. Perhaps I should hear a human perspective."

Although she seemed surprised that he had accepted her offer, Uhura put aside her data reader and folded her arms on the table. "Okay. Have you and your father always had --- difficulties?"

"He has always wanted me to live as the exemplar of all that is Vulcan, and he was sometimes severe with my shortcomings."

"Shortcomings? What are you talking about? You've got to be as Vulcan as any Vulcan out there."

She had such naïve faith in him. "I am the only Vulcan you have ever known, Lieutenant. I assure you, my shortcomings are plentiful."

"But you're one of the top young officers in the whole Fleet. That must stand for something."

"My decision to join Starfleet was the cause of the breach between me and my father. He wished me to attend the Vulcan Science Academy."

"Wait a second." Uhura stopped looking confused and started looking angry. "You're telling me your father threw you out because you went to a different college than he wanted? That's it?"

"Admission to the Vulcan Science Academy is among the highest honors my homeworld can bestow. Declining was undoubtedly seen by many as an insult."

"Is that how you meant it?"

"No. Starfleet Academy intrigued me, and –" This next was difficult to speak of. Spock believed, however, having undertaken this conversation, he should be thorough and accurate in every respect. "—I knew that, at the Science Academy, I would forever be considered not truly Vulcan. The admissions committee even said that I should be proud of excelling despite the 'disadvantage' of having a human mother. At Starfleet Academy, I am still judged by others' preconceptions, but they are at least new preconceptions."

Uhura's wrath had only increased. "They actually said you weren't worth as much because your mother was a human? Vulcans are supposed to be logical, serene, et cetera – and they still spout this racist bullshit? Excuse my language."

"No offense was caused," Spock said quickly. In truth, Uhura's reaction was strangely appealing.

"Your dad shouldn't be mad at you for wanting to go to a school where people would treat you decently. He should be mad at the people who put you down. What kind of a father lets people treat his son like that? Logic or no logic, he should have smacked that guy in the face. He should have stood up for you."

"I do not think that would have helped matters."

"No, but it would've helped you." She took a couple of deep breaths, visibly calming herself. "Any dad with his priorities in the right place would be proud of you. That's all I'm saying."

Spock wondered what it would have been like, to have been defended so passionately. He knew only that it was gratifying to see Uhura do so. Gravely he said, "Thank you."

She straightened in her chair, becoming once again the model cadet. "So, if I do publish my thesis, and I end up presenting at Andoria, I'll go alone."

"That would be best."

"And if I see your dad, I will kick him in the ass." Smoothly she took up her data reader to begin grading again. "Don't worry. I'll make sure they can't trace it back to you."

"You are employing humor." He felt he understood human conversation well enough to say this, but the fire in her eyes made him doubt himself. "You do not seriously plan to do physical violence to my father."

"Maybe." She said it in a way that left no doubt she was in fact joking, and yet he liked her refusal to admit it.

Spock glanced down at the next exam, the better to hide his face, and wondered how he could have let his control slip so far as to smile twice in the same day.

**

February

 

Nyota's friendships often developed slowly; she liked to take a person's measure before she shared more than a casual beer or road trip. Becoming friends with Spock was another matter altogether. It took forever, like waiting for a glacier to thaw.

But the thaw was worth waiting for.

"Fascinating." Spock stood in the Nairobi heat, not even a bead of sweat on his skin, watching the 65th Annual Neo-Traditional Luo Music Festival – a cacophony of sound so extravagantly joyous that even Nyota, who had been attending this festival her whole life, was overwhelmed. The singers and drummers on stage were only the center of the show – all around them, people were singing along, clapping hands or thumping their feet in tempo. Small children darted between the adults, clutching snacks or glow-spheres that shimmered in various colors.

Although Spock did not share in the freewheeling energy around them, he didn't reject it, either. There was something beautiful in watching a man so controlled accept the exuberance of others. He said, "You say this song's origin lay in a funeral chant, and yet the singers express vitality rather than mourning."

"When you face death, you can truly see the beauty of life."

"We must discuss this after your command-track classmates begin to take the Kobayashi Maru exam," Spock said.

"What do you mean?" Nyota had heard of the test, but knew no details; it was a hotly guarded secret among the cadets.

"For now, I can only say that I find the parallels intriguing."

"Then I'm glad to have intrigued you."

Spock inclined his head, not quite a nod, but it would do. Nyota had brought friends here before who simply tried to treat the festival like any other party – and it was a party, to be sure. But it was more than that, and Spock was the first one who had seen it. A shame, really, that he would never dance.

Smiling at that mental image, Nyota handed a couple of credits to a vendor, who in turn gave her a cup of roasted sweet potatoes, cubed, spiced and impaled on small skewers. "You have to try this," she said. "Much better than those twigs you eat in the mess hall."

That earned her a raised eyebrow. As the drums thumped all around them, Nyota held up one skewer of potatoes, thinking Spock would take it from her. Instead, he took a bite from the skewer in her hand.

Her heart beat a little crazily for a second. From a human, such a move would have been flirtation; from Spock, it was merely a missed social cue, one of the gaps between human and Vulcan habit. Nyota wanted to remember that --- but she also wanted to enjoy the moment.

"Most pleasant," he said. "I agree that it is a far superior example of culinary skill than virtually any offering in the Academy mess."

Nyota grinned. "I have to get you to try waffles sometime." She took the next skewer from herself.

And how was it that this friendship – this new sense of closeness with the most unexpected person – had set her free? She didn't expect anything from Spock, but that was just it: Spending free time with him was the first thing she'd done in years with no driving purpose behind it. The long grind she'd been on ever since she had set her heart on Starfleet Academy as a young girl had been wearing her down, more than she'd realized until now.

It wasn't that she was slacking off; in some ways, Nyota was busier than ever, and sometimes she felt more overwhelmed than ever. But freeing herself of the tyranny of expectations had energized her on almost every level, and restored to her something she'd almost lost – a sense of joy.

That feeling crept into her social life --

"Wait," Gaila said, sitting across from her in a bar in the Old Chinatown district where students often came to blow off steam. "You're starting a band?"

"Wei Su and Francois and Nruo'bek and I have been talking about it forever. If we don't do it now, when will we? Chances are we can't all end up on the Enterprise. It won't be too much for me to handle," Nyota said, hoping very much that was true.

"You're going to take time off to practice. Time off from studying."

"Time off for gigs, too. And we will get gigs. I don't care if we're just busking for credits in the Academy commons; this band is going to play."

Gaila's face had paled almost to the color of mint. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. When did you learn how to have fun? And why did you have to take four years to do it?"

Nyota might have gotten annoyed about that a few months ago. Instead, she simply took a strawful of Cardassian Sunrise and blew it at Gaila, spattering pink all over her clothes. Gaila laughed instead of getting upset, but Nyota still made it up to her by buying the next round.

It bled into her teaching assistant duties --

"What if subspace is capable of supporting life?" said the crackpot, aka Hikaru Sulu. "If there are dimensions within dimensions, why not multi-dimensional universes similar to our own?"

Instead of insisting that the study group get back to the subject at hand, Nyota considered this. "We haven't discovered any dimension remotely capable of that – but on the other hand, subspace is almost infinitely complex."

"Sometimes –" Sulu hesitated, as if afraid of mockery. A few members of the study group were smirking, but Nyota leaned closer, willing to listen. He continued, "Sometimes I think of it as origami. Folded-paper art? My grandfather was Japanese; he taught me how to do it." He took a sheet from his class materials and deftly began making creases, never fully looking down. "You can turn a one-dimensional plane into a three-dimensional object. When I study subspace readings, sometimes it seems to me that the different dimensions are creating their own shapes. Why not their own universes?"

"We should run that by Mr. Spock. See what he says. Who knows? You might be on to something."

Sulu smiled, grateful that someone had listened. At the end of study group, he put the folded sheet of paper – now a perfect dodecahedron – on her desk.

More than anything, it bled into her friendship with Spock.

"What purpose does the surface grid serve?"

"Wait and see."

Nyota poured syrup over Spock's plate, wondering whether he'd go into sugar shock. She didn't think that was a real risk for Vulcans, but maple syrup could do it if anything could. "Okay."

Spock took his first bite of waffles, chewed slowly, and swallowed. "The surface grid acts as containment for the syrup."

"Exactly. Do you like them?"

"They are quite satisfactory." The response might have come across as fairly cool, had Spock not been cutting himself another bite of waffles at that very moment.

Sometimes, when she let herself think about it – right before she fell asleep, or when she saw Spock across the Academy commons and felt her heart leap – Nyota had a sense of what was really going on with her. But she told herself that particular impulse was just mischief, the irrepressible urge to trouble still waters. Other times she told herself it was just the welcome contrast between Spock's cool intellectual appreciation and the panting eagerness she had to deal with from other guys, who seemed like eager puppies in comparison. Every once in a while Nyota let herself get as far as admitting that Spock was attractive to her, but told herself it was pretty simple, really. He was a handsome man, in an exotic sort of way, and both his mind and his character were appealing to her. Why wouldn't she find that attractive? She was driven, not dead.

But further than that she would not allow her mind to go, until one late night.

"The use of indirect speech acts in ch'Vian Romulan is extreme – I don't think those guys ever ask a direct question." Nyota scrolled through her notes for this section of her thesis. She and Spock had given up the formality of the linguistics lab, and now usually met in his quarters. As an instructor, he had a full suite: kitchenette in one corner, a small sitting room with table, chairs and sofa, and beyond the plexiglass wall, presumably a bedroom superior to dorm digs. The decor was stark to the point of being Spartan, with simple dark furnishings, fawn-colored walls and a simple holo of a Vulcan scene on one wall, but Nyota felt that it had a certain minimalist chic. He had poured them each small hot cups of tea. "It's strange to me, because there are almost no uses of indirect speech acts in Vulcan."

"Do you believe so? I would disagree."

"Vulcans? Passive-aggressive? Come on."

"Aggression is culturally denied us. Most adult Vulcans have moved past such primitive emotions – but for those who have not, passive-aggression is the only socially permissible outlet. People are commonly asked about their ability to understand certain ideas as a method of critiquing their failure to embody that idea to the questioner's satisfaction."

"When you put it that way, Vulcan doesn't sound like the most enjoyable place to be." Nyota waited for a riposte, whether serious or wryly humorous; none came. His eyes met hers, and she realized again what it must have taken for him to defy his father – and a whole planet besides – to follow his dream. Despite his quiet manner, Spock was a brave man. "What about performative illocutionary acts in Vulcan? Is the word ever the deed? As in, 'I now promote you to the rank of lieutenant,' or 'I pronounce you married by the laws of the Federation.'"

"I am familiar with the concept. Vulcan does indeed have such utterances, in which the act of speaking is in itself the deed. As in most languages, promises and oaths fall into this category."

"Promotions?"

"Those are handled separately. A Vulcan teacher advancing at his school would receive paperwork informing him of his new position and the duties entailed. He would take on those duties effective immediately; no ceremony would be required."

"Marriages? Please tell me they aren't handled through paperwork too."

Spock remained quiet for a moment, and she felt a flush heat her cheeks.

"I'm sorry – if I've been rude, I apologize."

"Your curiosity is natural." He seemed to be at a loss for how to explain, and yet she could tell that he wanted to. Nyota had learned, by now, to simply wait out such moments and let Spock decide how far he wanted things to go. There was a time for prying, with him – he wouldn't really open up any other way – but this wasn't one of those times, not yet.

Spock finally said, "The marriage ceremony for Vulcans is a private matter. The Silences govern this; I cannot speak of it, neither to an outworlder nor to any other Vulcan beyond the realm of the ceremony itself."

"Okay."

"I can tell you that it is not a matter of paperwork." Dry wit crept into his voice, but Nyota sensed this small joke had something of gallows humor about it. "Generally, Vulcans are betrothed as children. The pairings are handled between families. That is all I can say."

She nodded. Arranged marriages sort of made sense, for Vulcans; if emotions like love and affection weren't supposed to play a role in a lifelong partnership, why not get engaged when you were a kid? Why not have your parents pick for you? They'd studied odder customs in xenosociology.

Then the full implications hit her. "Wait. Are you telling me you're married?"

"Betrothed."

It hurt. It shouldn't have hurt, but it did. She quickly took a sip of her tea, hoping that would mask her reaction. The liquid was still slightly too hot, and it singed her tongue and throat on the way down, a dry, lasting burn.

When she looked up from her glass, Spock was studying her impassively. At first, Nyota wondered if he was resenting her intrusive questions – but that wasn't like Spock. In fact, he looked like he wanted to talk.

He would never do it, if left to his own devices; this was one of those times when being a friend meant prying. "Will you tell me about her?"

"Her name is T'Pring. She is a year younger than I am. I believe that she is studying history and political science."

"You believe she is?"

"We are not in contact." Spock's steady gaze faltered. He, too, suddenly became very interested in his tea. Steam from his cup wreathed his face. "Sometimes the bonding between a betrothed pair is very powerful. Sometimes it is not. For T'Pring and I, it is not."

"Do you like her?" When Spock did not answer, Nyota continued, "Do you even know her?"

"Not really. Perhaps that will come after."

They were quiet together for a few moments. Spock's quarters were slightly warmer than most at the Academy; Nyota suspected he kept them even hotter most of the time, but turned the temperature down before her visits for her comfort. The shades over the lamps tinted the light honey gold – again, something to rest his Sol-weary eyes – but to a human, the atmosphere came across as intimate, almost welcoming. Only here could Nyota have found the courage to say, "Is that really what you want?"

"It is what I promised to do."

"Back when you thought you would attend the Vulcan Science Academy, and live out your life there."

"Joining Starfleet changed the course of my life, but it did not free me from my obligations. When I – when the time comes, I will wed T'Pring. I must hope that, as my wife, she will be committed to finding the balance necessary for me to continue as a Starfleet officer."

"I hope she will. I hope – I hope she wants to see the galaxy, just like you." The next was hard to say, but she got it out: "Maybe I could have two Vulcan friends, instead of one."

Spock straightened, and had he been human, she would have said he was touched. "I thank you for your friendship, Lieutenant."

She gave her name to so few people, but this time, it was easy. "I'd be honored if you would call me Nyota. And I thank you for your friendship, too." He nodded solemnly, and she thought once more about performative utterances – whether they had just sealed their friendship by daring to name it.

After that, she knew, concentrating on Romulan was a lost cause. Nyota gathered her things as Spock took her teacup to the small 'fresher in the kitchenette. She slipped on the soft jacket she'd worn over her cadet reds earlier that night; in Spock's room, it felt as balmy as the beaches of Mombasa, but in San Francisco, the moisture in the air would still hold a chill. The temptation was great to find an excuse to stay, but she didn't give into it.

At the door, he said, "Good night, Nyota." Her name sounded beautiful in his voice.

"Good night, Spock." She left off his title before recalling that he hadn't given her permission to do so – but he didn't seem to mind.

Nyota didn't return to the dorm right away. Instead she walked over the Commons to the long line of benches that looked out on the bay. For a long time she sat there, hugging her knees to her chest.

The irrational pain she felt at hearing of Spock's betrothal tore away the last shreds of her denial. But Nyota would be damned if she'd sit around and weep about falling in love with a man she couldn't have.

The Academy had a light-filter shield around it to block out the city lights of San Francisco and allow its students to see the stars to which they would travel someday. Nyota gazed upward at the constellations overhead. By force of habit, she started to name the stars, to think of the races that dwelled around them, but then she stopped herself. For the first time in years, she saw it only as starlight – nothing more, nothing less.

**

Spock did not consciously realize that he was seeking out Nyota's company until the day he went to the room where she led her study group – to see a sign reminding those who had not checked their messages that the group had moved its meeting to two days from now.

It took him aback, though no logical reason existed for such a reaction. The study group could change its schedule at the teaching assistant's discretion. Nyota had never done so before, however, and Spock had intended to meet with her after the session ended, simply to walk across the quad and discuss the progress of the class, or whatever other matters came to mind.

He hoped she was not ill.

Pressing a hand to the nearest computer panel, Spock said, "Computer, locate Lieutenant Nyota Uhura."

"Lieutenant Uhura is currently in the Musicology Lab, Ji Hall."

That sounded as though she were in good health. Yet she had never mentioned any musicology classes after her second-year courses. Spock wondered if perhaps she had discovered some link between the traditional music of Vulcan and Romulus and intended to weave this into her thesis.

It was as good a reason as any to walk through Ji Hall on his way back to his quarters, and to stop by the Musicology Lab.

A concert was being held in the main area – classical Earth music for a string quartet, with all four parts being played by a talented Sulamid whose tentacles cradled each instrument lovingly. Spock glanced through the group, but Nyota was not among the listeners. He made his way along the side corridor, past several soundproof booths in which different students silently played instruments, sang, or apparently listened to music.

Just as he reached the end of the hallways – and began to wonder why he was so intent upon finding Nyota – he saw her in the very last booth. She wore civilian attire: a dark red tunic, black leggings and a headphone crescent, a dark band that circled the back of her head to cover each ear, and she faced the wall as she swayed to music only she could hear.

Spock believed he was possibly being overly intrusive, but it would appear odd to have located her and not spoken. He stepped through the door to speak to her; she did not hear it. Instead she lifted her hands to cup the crescent, as though it were a dance move. Her long dark ponytail swung from side to side, stark against the red of her tunic. Nyota tilted her head back, lost in the song, and her slender back and hips moved gently to the unheard beat.

And Spock felt the strong, unmistakable urge to place his hand just there, upon the small of her back.

He caught himself. Startled by his own reaction, Spock gathered his control and stepped sideways into the field of her peripheral vision. Nyota stopped rather abruptly.

"You found me dancing," she said as she clicked off the music. Her words were breathy and rushed. "You must wonder if I'm blowing off study group for this."

"On the contrary. Your reasons are undoubtedly quite logical."

"Maybe we shouldn't go into that." Nyota set down the crescent and straightened her tunic. "Did you need me for something?"

His first mental reaction to this was very instructive as to the human propensity for the double-entendre. Spock determinedly focused his thoughts elsewhere. "I had no particular concern. May I inquire as to your reasons for moving the study group? It is entirely at your prerogative to do so, but I am curious."

"Oh. Okay." She was in the state of mind his mother had described as "flustered." Her usual focus was absent, and Spock could detect that her heartbeat was elevated. "Well, some friends and I started a band. Our first performance is tomorrow night, and I'm trying really hard to get ready and stay on top of everything else, so I pushed study group later in the week. None of the students seemed to object, but in retrospect, I can see I shouldn't have done it. I'm sorry; it won't happen again."

"You have no need to apologize. No reason is necessary for moving the study group, and it therefore follows that no reason can be inadequate." Spock reviewed her statement. "You have – started a band?"

Nyota seemed relieved that the conversation had taken another turn. "A music group. We're calling it 'Saint Mungo' – long story, goes back to spring break freshman year. Anyway, Saint Mungo has been asked to play at the South American Terrans' Student Association party tomorrow night. Who knows how many gigs we can possibly get before graduation, so, we're playing."

"That sounds most productive of you. You have displayed extraordinary time-management skills this semester."

"You just have to make the time. Besides, when I'm not suffering total stage fright about it, I think our gig is going to be fun." She gave him a sidelong glance as she began gathering her things. "The party is open to everyone. You should stop by."

She did not actually believe he would do so, but a response was required nonetheless. "I rarely frequent student gatherings, but I shall consider it."

"Oh, did I mention that I received that recording? The one with the Romulan religious ceremony? At least, the broker said it was religious. Now that I hear it, though, I'm not as sure."

"Send me a copy, and I will review before our meeting this weekend. Can you summarize its contents as you understand them thus far?"

They continued in this vein as they left the Musicology Lab and walked almost all the way to Nyota's dormitory. Their goodbyes were simple enough, but Nyota hesitated at the doorway. Spock held himself very still as she glanced over her shoulder. "Earlier – when you caught me dancing –"

He raised an eyebrow, to cover the fact that he had no easy response.

"I was embarrassed. Silly of me. I'm sorry if I was – weird, or abrupt, or whatever."

"Your behavior was entirely normal, Nyota. If there is any fault, it was mine, in failing to appropriately inform you of my arrival."

For staring at her while she danced.

"Okay, nobody's at fault." Nyota flipped him a little wave, a gesture unlike her; it was as though she were trying too hard to appear at ease. Perhaps her embarrassment lingered. "See you in class tomorrow." She vanished through the doorway.

That night, as Spock prepared the next day's lessons and made his dinner, he attempted not to think of Nyota. This quickly proved impossible. She would be in the advanced subspace class, sitting in the front row, where he would be able to see her even when the lights were dimmed for the holovid presentation on subspace communications theory. And it was she who had taught him how to stir-fry vegetables in this manner.

When denial had become absurd, Spock set aside his work, lit his meditation candle and knelt on a mat on the floor. He breathed deeply, stilling his body and his thoughts until he could process the day's experience.

He felt desire for Nyota. This was not wholly new – Spock had been anything but oblivious to her physical beauty. But never had his attraction struck him as powerfully as it had today. Before, it had been an almost aesthetic appreciation. Now it was kinetic, vital, real. He found himself envisioning her in unnecessary detail, from the angle of her chin to the slimness of her fingers, from the set of her eyes to the fullness of her lips. Merely looking around his quarters reminded him of every place she had sat, every item she had touched, as though she lingered there with him.

Their increasing intimacy over the past few months no doubt played the largest part in this. Nyota had become the closest friend Spock had on Earth, save perhaps for Christopher Pike. He did not and could not regret this; his life had been greatly enriched by her companionship and understanding.

There could be no question of pursuing a relationship. Spock understood this logically: Starfleet regulations forbade such contact between cadets and instructors. His betrothal to T'Pring meant that he could not in conscience commit himself to another. Also, there was no certainty that Nyota felt a similar attraction – he had sensed a certain response on the few occasions they had touched, but humans felt sexual interest so frequently and fleetingly that Spock gave it no weight in his calculations.

Yet these perfectly good reasons for abstaining did not explain why the mere thought of pursuing Nyota Uhura filled him with guilt, and even anger – at himself.

Spock continued his meditation well into the night, seeking clarity that did not come.

**

The next class passed without incident. Students crowded around each of them after class, eager to discuss finer points of the day's lesson. Spock glimpsed Nyota only briefly as she made her way out the door with most of her study group following. Probably she would be teaching until time for her band's performance.

At first it seemed to him that this separation was for the best. With a few days' perspective, he would perhaps be able to consider matters in a more rational light. By the time of their weekend meeting, Spock intended to be once again fully objective.

Yet, as night fell, he kept remembering her invitation. Banner notices for the South American Terran Students' Association party floated through his data screens – along with various other announcements, but none stood out so much as that one.

Given that she would be performing, their personal interaction was likely to be minimal, if in fact they had any. And if he were truly in control of his emotions, then there was no risk.

So, shortly after dusk, Spock changed from his instructor's tunic into a simple dark brown jacket and walked to the party.

The festivities were already in full swing. As he walked toward the door of the nondescript bar chosen for the event, Spock saw students spilling out onto the sidewalk, laughing, talking and smoking a substance he judiciously chose not to identify. A couple of them recognized him and straightened up, but most remained oblivious.

And, as he drew closer, he heard the music. The sound was unusual – both earthy and otherworldly, a mixture of sounds and rhythms rather than any one tradition. Low, thumping drums vibrated through the door as Spock pushed his way inside.

There, on a small raised dais at the far end of the room, were Nyota and her band. Lin Wei Su, an engineering student, played the French horn, while Francois Bine and Nruo'bek from astrophysics wielded drums – one of African origin, and one that appeared to be from Nruo'bek's homeworld. In the center sat Nyota, playing a hammered dulcimer. The combination of instruments was wholly unique, so far as Spock knew, and unexpectedly pleasing.

Nyota wore white – a simple dress that left her shoulders bare and a headwrap that accentuated her elegant profile and the long line of her neck. Her earrings glinted in the bar's dim light, and she smiled more brilliantly than Spock had ever seen before. She took such joy in the performance, glancing up occasionally at her friends in the band as if unable to believe their good fortune. Around her, slightly drunken cadets clapped or pounded their tables in tune to the music, shouting out encouragement and praise. She was in her element here, as much as she was in the linguistics lab, or in the emergency simulators, or walking through the streets of Nairobi.

As the delicate melody of the dulcimer chimed over the drumbeats, Spock realized the truest reason he could never pursue her.

Here, Nyota was surrounded by humans, or by aliens who had accepted life among humanity. Here she was happy. Spock knew from hard experience that a human woman asked to live with a Vulcan man could not find this kind of easy acceptance. Vulcan control easily became coldness; humans needed more. They required – this.

His realization did not change Spock's intentions, but it cemented them. Steadied, he stood calmly in the far corner of the room until Saint Mungo had finished its set. He applauded along with the rest. Nyota descended from the dais with the others, wandering among her enthusiastic friends – until her head lifted, and she saw him. Her smile faded slightly into something gentler.

She stifles her natural emotions to better suit Vulcan propriety, Spock thought. This, though we are surrounded by humanity.

"You came," she said as she walked to his side. A faint sheen of sweat illuminated her skin. The bar's lighting tinted her white clothing slightly pink. "I never actually thought you'd show."

"Then I am gratified to have surprised you."

"Did you like it?"

"The synthesis of traditions is unexpected, but harmonious."

"That's nice to hear. Do you like music? I should've asked before I guilt-tripped you into coming out tonight."

This was hardly an accurate assessment of her behavior, but Spock thought it best to stick to the subject at hand. "I am fond of music. I play the Vulcan ka'athyra, when I have time to do so."

"That's a lyre, right? I've seen those in holos. If I'd known you played, I would have asked for lessons a long time ago. I already play the harp, and that looks similar."

"The two instruments operate on very different principles, actually. But I would be honored to teach you."

Nyota beamed. "Fantastic. Or, hey, maybe we can add a member to Saint Mungo."

Spock raised a skeptical eyebrow, and was rewarded with her laughter. Somehow he had already fallen into the trap of spending more time with her, but no matter. His control would simply have to be sufficient.

A waiter slipped by, carrying a tray of full water glasses; Spock deftly appropriated one and handed it to Nyota. She took a deep drink, then held the frosted glass to the side of her face to cool herself. "It might not look like it, but playing the dulcimer is hard work."

"Then you should relax with your friends. I do not wish to take you from the celebration."

"Why not join us? I think you would enjoy their company."

"Perhaps some other time." The lie came too easily: "I have other projects that demand attention. I've remained too long already."

"Thanks for being here. It means a lot."

Spock simply nodded, then inclined his head before turning to go. He glanced back once, at the door, to see that Nyota was already surrounded by her friends again and laughing. This was how he wanted to leave her.

 

March

 

The "thesis beast" was on the prowl.

That was what Gaila called it, and Nyota had originally thought that was a joke. But as they entered their final two months at Starfleet Academy, she began to believe in the thesis beast very strongly. She imagined it having sharp claws, the better to scratch at your doorway when you tried to work on anything else, and large glassy eyes, which always stared directly at your back. The restive energy of unfinished projects charged the atmosphere of the dorms and academic buildings; it was as if senior-year anxiety had fallen over the entire school like a shroud.

First it poisoned the library, so Nyota didn't work there any more. Studying in her room was a lost cause, because Gaila always had to talk her ideas out when she was working and often had a boyfriend over there when she didn't. She was too low on transporter credits to go home to her Bibi's in Mombasa to work. Increasingly, it seemed to her that there was only one place where she felt calm: Spock's quarters.

Not that there weren't certain risks involved in going there too much, and not only to her overburdened spirit. She could bear what she had to bear, but she didn't want Spock to know how she felt; it would only embarrass him, and perhaps risk their friendship if she revealed too much, or took advantage of his generosity. But he always insisted that she was welcome, and invited her often – almost as if he had something to prove, she occasionally thought.

That part was just the last-term crazies talking. Being stalked by the thesis beast was enough to make anyone paranoid.

"Thanks," she said absently, as another warm cup of plomeek soup appeared by her side a few moments before she would've thought to ask for it. Her foot jittered beneath the table, thumping out a rhythm against the leg of her chair. "So, the links are primarily in Vulcan classical texts pre-Surak, still not yet translated. I really wish I could get my hands on some of those."

"They reside in Shi'Kahr, on Vulcan, and copies are seldom made due to their highly – illogical – content." Spock considered this for a moment. He wore simple trousers and a long-sleeved knit shirt, informality she would never have expected to see from him even a couple of months previously. "But this is inadequate reason. I will ask Mother if she can use her influence with the elders to introduce more volumes into research circulation."

"That's a project for my doctorate, if I ever do one." Nyota scowled at the PADD before her on the table, which would illustrate the connections between Vulcan and ch'Vian Romulan so much better with a little more ancient Vulcan to back it up. At least she could point out what research was still needed and make suggestions for other researchers – the graduation committees loved stuff like that. She would have rather done the work herself, though. Why wasn't there time for her to do enough? Why wasn't there time to do more?

She sipped her soup, closed her eyes for one long moment and willed herself to get back to work.

"You have been working for seven point two hours," Spock pointed out. "Human levels of endurance do not support long periods of such activity. Rest is called for."

"Don't knock human endurance, Spock." Nyota balled her hands into fists, then flexed her fingers outward. They actually hurt from typing. "We can rise to the occasion."

"Noted. But this is not an extreme survival situation. Here, I would suggest, pacing yourself will lead to optimum efficiency."

She considered everything he had said. "It's kind of you to look after me."

Spock did not deny it, though he seemed taken aback somehow. Perhaps he hadn't meant to broadcast his intentions so clearly. No doubt he didn't want to lead her on.

He shouldn't have worried, she told herself; as good as it felt to let Spock care for her, she was already in as deep as she could get. Operative word: She. Not they. Nyota was in no danger of forgetting that.

Even the school administrators knew better than to suspect a Vulcan of fooling around with a human. At least five other faculty members had seen her coming in and out of Spock's quarters at various hours of the evening. If she'd been going into any other instructor's quarters that much, Nyota was sure she would at least be the subject of insane amounts of gossip, at worst already on disciplinary leave. But it was Spock, so everybody knew that nothing was going on.

"Nyota." Spock sat in the chair opposite hers. "The last two months at the Academy will be more grueling, not less. You will want to begin your first post shortly thereafter, in top condition. And your band has scheduled many performances before graduation." He spoke about the band's gigs so solemnly that laughter nearly bubbled up despite her tiredness. "All these factors indicate that you must take better care of yourself."

"Okay, you win." She sighed. "I'll break for tonight, and I promise to sleep a whole eight hours, but you don't get to say one word about my work schedule tomorrow."

"If bargaining is necessary to see that you receive adequate rest, then I will accept that bargain." Nyota started to gather her things, but Spock interjected, "If you plan to return here tomorrow, it is only logical to leave your work behind."

"And it gives you a really sneaky way to make sure I don't sit up all night studying."

"It is not 'sneaky' if you understand my purpose."

Wearily, she set her PADD down. "Someday I'm going to out-rationalize you. You'll never see it coming."

"I await this development with great interest."

She pulled on her jacket and saw with surprise that Spock, also, was dressing to go out. "Is it logical for you to walk me home?"

"Given your state of exhaustion, I consider it prudent."

Nyota was going to argue this point, but she realized she was weaving on her feet slightly. "I wouldn't mind the company."

Rain had been pouring down for hours, so that deep puddles had welled up on the green spaces and slicked the sidewalks. Autoshields above the sidewalks kept their heads and clothes dry, but Nyota could feel water starting to seep through her shoes.

"This must be unpleasant for you," she said. "The cold and the damp. Sometimes it drives me crazy, but for someone from a desert planet, it has to be awful."

Spock considered this for a few moments. The campus lighting silvered the falling rain around them, which silhouetted his profile as they walked. It was so late at night that nobody else remained awake – or at least nobody else was foolish enough to brave the storm.

At last he said, "At times the cold is problematic. But I am fascinated by rain."

"Really? Oh, of course you are. We're always drawn to what's rarest for us. Had you ever seen rain, before you came to Earth?"

"It rains on Vulcan," Spock said. "But in the city where I grew up, rain fell at most three or four times a year, and then only as a fine mist. In no way would it compare to this."

"The deluge."

"Succinctly put." Spock seemed to be studying the ripples in the puddles beneath their feet. "My mother often spoke to me about the rainy weather in Seattle, where she spent her childhood. To a small boy on Vulcan, these details sounded not entirely plausible, and I suspected it to be merely the sort of fanciful story she often told me. My improved information since that time has not entirely changed my reaction."

Nyota tried to imagine Spock as a small boy, asking his mother about rain. The thought of wee pointed ears made her want to giggle, and she realized she was tired enough to be punch-drunk.

What she next saw wiped the smile from her face and made her groan. "Oh, not again." The autoshield between the main walkway and her dorm was non-operational for the third time this semester, and the last leg of her walk was solid pouring rain. "What's wrong with a good old-fashioned roof?"

"I can return to my quarters for a rain jacket," Spock said.

"That's not necessary," Nyota began to protest, but then her PADD chirped, alerting her to a new message. She meant to give it only a cursory glance, but then she saw the glaring yellow code that meant high-priority. "Hang on, let me check this."

There on her schedule were not one, not two, but three moved appointments – all auto-loaded onto tomorrow. Shuttle landing practice, Reptilian Syntactical Structures study group, and her designated time in the linguistics lab's holo-simulation suite: they were slammed right there in her already overloaded schedule, ensuring that she would have not even one half-hour of downtime between 6 a.m. and midnight. She could try to move them again, but where else could they possibly go?

It was just one thing, but it was one thing too many. The weight of all her unfinished tasks seemed to come crashing down on her at once, and it felt as though she couldn't breathe. She flushed hot and then cold, her hands going numb and her thoughts fuzzy.

"Nyota?" Spock looked at her closely. "Are you well?"

"I—" I am on the verge of a panic attack. I can't take this. I can't go any farther. I don't want you to see me break down. "I have to go. It's fine."

"You do not seem fine."

She couldn't even reassure him. "Good night."

Bracing herself against the chill, Nyota began running as quickly as she could for the dormitory door. Water spattered onto her face, against her clothes and into her hair. Every step splashed all over her, but she couldn't stop, couldn't think. She felt like she could run past her dorm and all the way off campus, and it still wouldn't be far enough. Like she needed to run until she dropped.

As soon as she reached the overhang in front of the dormitory door, Nyota stopped, breathing hard, wiping raindrops from her face – and realized Spock was just behind her. He reached the overhang a moment later, dripping wet. "What did you do that for?" she demanded. The anger in her voice was not for him, but she couldn't find her control. "I'm okay."

"Forgive me, Nyota, but you are not."

She broke. The tears came spilling out, racking her body with sobs, as she slumped against the metal pillar that flanked the door. It horrified Nyota to have totally lost control in front of Spock, of all people; that made this even worse than it already was. She wanted to tell him to leave her alone so she could cry this out by herself, but she was beyond the point of words.

It was too much. Just – too much.

As Nyota covered her face with her hands, trying to disguise at least part of her emotional reaction, she heard Spock's voice, quieter than before. "I do not know how to assist you."

She shook her head, not knowing what she was saying no to, but wanting him far from her, where he couldn't be disgusted by her display.

Yet he continued, "If whatever troubles you is a private matter, we need not speak further of it. But if there is any way in which I could help, I would be grateful to know how."

He probably thought she'd just found out somebody died. "It's not private," she managed to say. "It's just – my schedule changed." When she wiped the tears from her eyes, she could Spock frowning, no doubt confused. "I'm overreacting. I know that."

"You feel overburdened."

"Maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to brag about human endurance." Her throat ached from the struggle to suppress her tears. "I can't handle this. I've been trying so hard to pretend I could, but I can't."

"Your work this semester has been exemplary in every field of endeavor," Spock insisted. "Many students experience similar crises during their final months at the Academy."

"Oh, yeah? Did you?"

She thought it was a rhetorical question, until Spock began to look – there was no other word for it – sheepish. "In my case, it was less a matter of over-scheduling and more a failure to specialize."

Curiosity got the better of her upset, and after a deep breath, she could ask, "How did you get through it?"

"Meditation. Conferences with my professors to determine where I could best focus my talents. Ultimately, I was forced to abandon my theses in Starship Mechanics and Klingon Culture."

"How many theses did you write?"

"Ultimately, a total of five."

Nyota started to laugh. The absurdity of measuring herself against Vulcan levels of endurance finally hit home for her, and for almost a whole minute, she could not catch her breath. Seesawing from tears to hilarity within a few minutes was surely a sign a woman on the edge, but despite her fears, Spock did not seem to be offended by such rampant emotionalism. He simply watched her, infinitely patient.

When she could speak again, she said, "Okay. It's all right if everything gets to you sometimes. Message received."

"I will take this week's meeting of the Advanced Subspace study group."

"You don't have to do that."

"No, but I may assume leadership of any study group at any time; it is the instructor's prerogative." Spock brushed dripping strands of hair back from his face – even if he enjoyed watching rain, he seemed to have an almost feline dislike of being wet. "Is there any other way in which I might assist you?"

It hit Nyota that she'd never seen Spock's hair even slightly mussed before; now, it was damp and rumpled from when he'd pushed it from his face. Also, the knit shirt that had seemed unremarkable before did very different things once wet, like revealing that he had a nice physique, in a wiry sort of way.

She could kiss him, right here, right now. Back him up against the pillar and open his mouth with her own, with no witness but the rain. Touching him would make the rest of the world go away, and she wanted it all to go away, just for a night.

--and that was a sure sign that she needed to go to bed and tell him goodbye, immediately. "I'll be okay now," Nyota said. "Thanks for walking me back."

Spock simply inclined his head, then hastened back toward the autoshielded walkways.

Nyota went upstairs to her room, where Gaila was still wide awake and reviewing her Warp Core Technology notes. She only half-glanced up. "Oh, hey. Wow, you got soaked."

"The autoshield was malfunctioning. Again. Sometimes I think Starfleet relies on technology a little too heavily, you know? We got drenched."

"We?" Gaila didn't look away from her PADD.

"Spock walked me back."

"Wait. He did what?" This got Gaila to put down the notes. "You're telling me he walked you home in the rain?"

"He walked me home, and it's raining. Incredible deduction. Have you ever considered joining the criminal investigations unit?" Something about peeling off wet socks made Nyota feel snarky.

"Oh, no, you're not getting out of this one that easily."

"I just said –"

"No guy has ever, ever, ever walked a woman home in the rain unless he wants to have sex with her. Not on this planet or any other. That is the only reason they do that."

"Spock is Vulcan, remember?" Nyota needed to remind herself as much as Gaila. "He doesn't have ulterior motives."

"But – the rain –" It was as if Gaila had been told that two and two didn't make four, and all basic formulae of the known worlds had been thrown into chaos accordingly.

"Let it go," Nyota said quietly.

Gaila studied her roommate's face. "Okay," she said, and her voice was gentler than it had ever been before. Then she started an argument about Nyota setting the alarm early, which was so obviously an attempt to provide a distraction that Nyota had difficulty keeping up her end of the fight and not hugging Gaila as hard as she could.

**

A way of helping Nyota with her difficulties occurred to Spock rather unexpectedly the next morning, as he checked the Academy newslinks before breakfast. The headlines shimmered by at the top of the screen, of less immediate interest to Spock than the Starfleet Academy announcements of the first wave of Kobayashi Maru tests, at least until one name stood out starker than the rest: Sarek.

He tapped the headline, and the story unfolded: AMBASSADOR SAREK JOINS EARTH REPRESENTATIVES ON ALPHA CENTAURI TO DISCUSS 'JOINT STATEMENT' AGAINST OUTER-RIM TARIFFS.

The print and holo-clips beneath would have illustrated the subject in more detail, had Spock not already been well-informed on the matter – and distracted by the more immediate importance of this news for him. His father would not be on Vulcan for the next several days, and the short duration and familiar setting of this trip made it unlikely that his mother had traveled with him.

"Computer, bring up schedule of high-warp transports between Earth and Vulcan in the next 96 hours." The schematic floated in front of him in an instant: Transports were scheduled both to and from Vulcan within a three-day time span, the first within just a few hours.

Spock immediately sent communiqués to senior instructors, advising them that he would be unavailable until Monday. He then looked down at Nyota's jumble of PADDs and notes, her comfortable human clutter. His first thought was that he should inform her of his departure and attempt to convince her to maintain more sensible work hours during his absence.

Then he remembered their conversation of the night before, specifically, Nyota's wish to study the pre-Surak Vulcan documents. If she came with him to Shi'Kahr, she would be able to do at least some of the necessary work.

Last night she had reacted adversely to minor changes in her schedule; such a journey would call for even more radical shifts. However, Spock thought it likely that a drastic change of pace and setting would ultimately prove re-energizing, and provide a better sense of perspective, a factor often elusive during final thesis work.

When he realized that he was anticipating her presence on the journey, he understood that inviting her along presented certain hazards to his objectivity regarding Nyota Uhura, at least that which he still possessed. The previous evening, there had been a moment – just as she calmed herself, right before he left her – when he had thought of touching her and his will to resist the impulse had come very close to breaking. Once again, Spock reminded himself that if his control were sufficient, he would avoid creating any misunderstandings between them. Even his hesitation was a sign of his weakness.

Even as he sent the invitation to her quarters, however, Spock remembered what she had said last night about his ability to rationalize.

Any chance to reflect on this vanished as soon as Nyota answered. Her eyes seemed to widen with every word he spoke. "You want me to go to Vulcan," she repeated slowly. "Today."

"I do not mean to create undue complications in your schedule. The opportunity appeared great enough to justify any disruption, though of course if you disagree –"

"I'm not crazy; of course I want to go. It's just – these are ancient documents, and not everybody has access, so I don't know if I can simply show up later this afternoon and say, hey, hand them over."

Inwardly, Spock felt some amusement when he imagined the expression of the librarian confronted with such a human request. "My mother is among the archivists of the Hall of Ancient Thought. Her permission will be more than adequate to ensure your access."

Nyota's face lit up as astonishment turned to anticipation. "How long have we got before the transport leaves?"

"One point eight hours."

"Oh, damn. I have to reschedule everything and pack. I'll meet you there!" Her screen snapped off, reminding Spock that he had his own packing to do, and in a similar hurry.

**

Nyota was entitled to a certain amount of transporter use as an Academy cadet, but due in part to their wanderings throughout the past few months, she was just shy of her limit. Spock put both trips to Spacedock on his allowance as an instructor, which was more generous. She had arrived slightly late, which was unlike her, and rubbing her neck in evident discomfort.

"The cadet doctor at the med center – McCale, McCobb, something – said I needed some tri-ox if I wanted to deal with the quote, hellacious gravity and heat, unquote, on Vulcan. He also said if I had any sense, I'd stay home instead of flying off to some God-awful lump of sand where nobody could get a decent drink."

"He sounds highly judgmental."

"I think he was trying to be helpful," she said. "In a very grumpy way."

High-warp transports were largely reserved for time-sensitive medical and scientific samples, but people could book passage if they were willing to accept a certain lack of comfort. Spock did not mind sitting in a cargo bay and strapping himself into a jump seat, but Nyota's dark look around made him think he should have explained this part to her in more detail.

As she belted herself in beside him, however, her face brightened. "I should enjoy the last hour or so of cold I'm going to experience for a while, huh?"

"Unlikely though it now appears, you may eventually miss this transport," he affirmed.

"How much is a hotel room on Vulcan, anyway?"

"There are no hotels on Vulcan."

"Wait. On the whole planet? Not one?"

"Vulcan culture places strong emphasis on family bonds. Any citizen traveling anywhere on the planet would have a relation there, no matter how distant – genealogical records stretch back nearly 2,000 years. And anyone would in turn expect to host a family member as their guest for any length of time required, regardless of whether or not they had ever met that family member before."

Nyota folded her arms. "Not to overstate the obvious, but I don't have any family members on Vulcan, distant or otherwise."

"I had assumed you would stay in our family home. You may rest assured that you will be welcome."

Her expression became unreadable. "Thank you," she said. "I accept."

For the first time, Spock looked at the matter as a human would see it, not as a Vulcan would. To a human, being invited to meet someone's family was often significant – a sign of great closeness. Nyota might have misunderstood his invitation; in point of fact, his mother was very likely to misunderstand as well.

Then he wondered whether the misunderstanding was not his own. The subconscious worked in powerful ways.

The warp engines began to whine, and space subtly began to stretch around them. Nyota whispered, "I love this part."

Spock said nothing; he was too close to agreeing with her. With a snap and a start, the world shifted forward, and they were moving faster than light.

**

Home. The sunlight was the correct shade; he was surrounded not by weeds or water but by glittering sand. Heat reached through his flesh to the permanent chill he endured in San Francisco, searing it away until once again he was wholly comfortable. Spock breathed in deeply, relishing the subtle differences in the very scent of the air.

Next to him, Nyota slipped on a pair of sunshades; although sweat already shone upon her skin, she was smiling. "You never told me it was so beautiful."

"I am gratified that you can witness for yourself." He clasped his hands behind his back. "Previously I had planned to suggest that we take a transport to my family home, but perhaps you would be willing to walk."

"Show me around," she said, which was clearly a yes.

They made their way through the streets of Shi'Kahr. The vast sandstone buildings towered overhead, both as simple as the desert landscape and as intricate as scrollwork etching. She said that the overhanging arches reminded her of European Gothic cathedrals on Earth, "turned inside-out, with flying buttresses in reverse," and they agreed to visit Chartres to compare, although neither of them could guess when they would have the time. Spock pointed out various significant structures and historical places, all the dutifully memorized official Points Of Interest – though Nyota was more interested in his childhood memories. He found himself delving into these in more detail in order to please her. There he had gone to school, and here was the niche where his pet sehlat had hidden when he followed Spock to class one day.

As they walked, Spock noted several Vulcans taking their measure. No one was obvious or crass; such was not necessary on Vulcan. Here, any glance was significant, as there was no logical reason to pay attention at all. He tried not to let the disapproval affect him, but before long, Nyota noticed as well.

"Why are we being given the cold shoulder?" she whispered.

"Welcome-home parades are hardly the custom."

"Don't talk around the question." Nyota glanced down at herself. "I thought this robe would blend in. And I wore my hair down so it would cover my ears."

"Do not blame yourself. Your appearance is entirely correct, and your behavior is acceptable by any Vulcan norm."

"Then what is it? The sunshades? Nobody else is wearing them." Her expression became even more dismayed. "Oh, no. Do I, um, smell human or something? Don't be polite. Tell me the truth."

"You smell of a commercially sold fragrance compound that is aesthetically pleasing," Spock said. "Nyota, they do not disapprove of you. They disapprove of me."

Nyota stepped closer to him, all the unfamiliar wonders of Shi'Kahr forgotten. They stood in the shadow of the Science Academy, shading the light enough that she could remove her sunshades. "Do you mean – the way they're looking at us – it's because you're half-human?"

"In part, although to most residents of Shi'Kahr, that is what humans would call 'old news.' However, this is the first time I have returned home wearing my Starfleet uniform. They see it as defiance. As a reminder that I have rejected their traditions and refused to repudiate my human half, as was expected of me."

She studied his face before saying carefully, "It is defiance, isn't it?"

"Yes."

It felt uncommonly pleasant to be understood.

"Okay, then." Nyota slid her sunshades back on and grinned in a way that had nothing to do with Vulcan norms. "Let's walk through the busiest streets in town on our way home."

"A splendid idea."

**

They went in through the front door, which – like virtually every other door on Vulcan – was unlocked. "Mother?" Spock called. Nyota lingered a couple of steps behind, less sure now than she had been while brazenly laughing in front of the Hall of Noble Traditions.

"Spock? Come here, let me see you," his mother called, as she so often had during his youth; it was a way of obeying the Vulcan tradition of summoning the child to the parent, while still making her eagerness for his presence clear.

He walked into the main hall. Mother stood there, seemingly unchanged from his earliest memories. She wore simple dark robes shot through with deep blue, and her cowl was thrown back from her head so that he could see her salt-and-pepper hair. When she held both hands out to him, he gave his to her, submitting to the embrace.

"Look at you, in your uniform." Mother smoothed his hair. "It is good to have you home, my son."

"It is good to be with you again, Mother." Spock turned toward Nyota; by Vulcan standards, he was already in a serious breach of protocol by not having introduced her first. "This is the student I spoke to you of – Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. Nyota, this is my mother, Amanda Grayson."

"Thank you for welcoming me to your home, Lady Amanda." Nyota dropped a swift bow, in accord with Vulcan manners.

His mother would have none of it. She thrust her hand out for shaking, in the manner of one who was slightly out of practice. "It's good to have another human here. I can tell you, it doesn't happen very often! But you'll find plenty of Terran food in the kitchen, and maybe we can even get Spock to try some now that we have him outnumbered."

"Actually, he likes waffles." Nyota's eyes danced as she shook Amanda's hand.

"Oh, does he? Well, then, I know what we're having for breakfast tomorrow." Mother glanced at him, as if to say that he had not told her everything he should have. "If you'd like to rest for a while, you're welcome to, but I'm guessing you want to get to your research as soon as possible."

"Yes, please, Lady Amanda. Thanks for understanding. My time here is too short."

"Come, I've prepared your letter of reference. We can talk a little bit about the Andoria conference, perhaps." The two of them went into Amanda's study, leaving Spock quite alone, which bothered him not at all. It was helpful to have a minute to adjust to the strangeness of being home again.

Spock glanced at the hallway that led back to the sleeping chambers, half expecting to see his father emerge. He did not, of course. Even when offworld, his father projected a dominant presence. This was his house, more than Spock's, more even than Mother's.

Or so it seemed, until female laughter echoed through the halls.

Nyota and his mother re-emerged, and both of them seemed energized by the encounter. "Thanks again, Lady Amanda. You're sure there's no closing time?"

"There are no locks on Vulcan doors," Mother replied, "and it's considered a given that anyone granted access to the books will take good care of them. Just be back here in time for breakfast, all right? We need to keep you fed."

Spock said, "And in time to get adequate rest."

Nyota shook her head as she slung a tricorder over one shoulder. "I'll rest when I get back to the Academy. This is my only chance to work on these documents, and like the saying goes, Carpe diem." She smiled at him, her face displaying no trace of her concerns the night before. He was relieved to know that he had helped her break a problematic pattern of behavior. "Enjoy your visit."

With that, she was gone, already more sure of her place on Vulcan than he had ever been. He admired that in her.

Mother turned to him, a very odd expression on her face. "My," she said, with obvious pleasure. "All that talk about Cadet Uhura, and you never once mentioned how pretty she is."

His concerns about a misunderstanding had been fulfilled. "Mother, she is my teaching assistant."

"Mmm-hmm."

"Nyota is also – a good friend. To insinuate more is unnecessary." She was still looking at him skeptically. Spock tried another tack. "Academy regulations strictly forbid any sort of improper fraternization between cadets and instructors."

"Oh, I understand now." His mother seemed altogether too satisfied with that state of affairs. "I suppose you're both looking forward to graduation."

"Mother –"

"We'll speak no more of it. Come in here and have some water. Tell me how you are."

They sat in her hydroponic rose garden and spoke throughout the afternoon. Spock, who often had to measure his words with others, could talk effortlessly to her about the Enterprise, about his students, about his latest innovations to the Kobayashi Maru test, about anything that came to him. He was surprised at how often his conversation turned to matters concerning Nyota — he even tried to describe the music made by her band – but his mother did not pry further. She told him about her life as well, including her work with the Elders; given how many Vulcans looked upon her as a suspicious offworld influence, her acceptance into that august circle was a testament both to her skill and to her persistence.

As night fell, Mother finally said the words he had been dreading since he first made the decision to arrive. "Spock, as glad as I am to see you, I wish you had not come at a time when your father was absent."

"He would not have acknowledged me were I here."

"That was true a few years ago. Now – now I think there's a chance we could talk some sense to him. But he needs you to make the first move."

"I have made such attempts in the past, Mother," Spock said quietly. "They were rebuffed."

"Holding grudges isn't terribly Vulcan of either of you. And yet you're both so good at it."

"I am not 'holding a grudge.' I am aware that my father rejects me and my plan for my career. And I am aware of what he has done to you."

"To me?" Mother raised her eyebrows in bewilderment. "What is it you think your father has done to me?"

Spock found it difficult to speak of this so openly, but for her sake, he could. "You have spent most of your adult life on a world where you are judged harshly for no greater crime than your race. You are surrounded by people who cannot share your humor or your interests. You must stifle your natural humanity to gain acceptance. You – you are denied the happiness that humans desire."

"Oh, Spock." She clasped his hand in both of hers. "My sweet boy. Have you been worrying about me all this time?"

"You are my mother. My concern for your welfare is only natural."

"Still defending yourself," Mother sighed. She gazed sidelong at some pale pink roses that were just unfolding into flower, obviously choosing her words with care. "Your father built me this garden, you know. The idea of piping so much extra water into one home – well. There were objections. He didn't listen. He wanted this for me."

"One garden is hardly a replacement for your homeworld."

"No. But you are. You and your father. Spock, don't you understand? I love your father dearly, and I love Vulcan because it is part of him, and part of you. There is nowhere else I would have wished to spend my life. There is no other husband I would ever have wanted, and no other son I could possibly have loved so much."

Mother was the only person who had ever spoken to him so, and Spock would have given much to respond in kind – but he did not have the words. He simply tightened his hand around hers and trusted that she would understand.

She smiled gently. "You need never worry about my happiness. The only thing your father has ever done to make me unhappy was to turn away from you. Even that, I have to believe will be amended, given time."

What she did not say was that the rift was, at this point, as much Spock's doing as his father's. She did not have to. He felt the shame of it, and yet the breach could not be mended by mere will.

"Honestly." Some of her feistiness returned. "Do you think I'd spend my whole life moping on a planet I hated? I chose this life, Spock. It makes me very happy – except when your father is being obstinate."

"He should have defended us," Spock said, startled to hear himself saying it aloud. "When the others mocked you, and shunned me. When the Elders described you as a liability for me to overcome. Father should have defended us."

"Don't you see, Spock? He thought he was defending us. He thought if – if you led an irreproachable Vulcan life, if you achieved every goal he had set for you – that it would prove his point. That no one would ever again dare to speak against us."

"It was illogical to look toward a solution so far in the future," Spock insisted. "And to place that burden wholly upon me, instead of committing himself."

"I know. I don't ask you to agree, my son. I only ask that you understand." She petted his shoulder, a form of affection he had only ever known from her. "It is a hard thing to defy the ways of one's people. To defy an entire planet. You know this, Spock, because you have done it too."

That day at the Vulcan Science Academy returned to him, in all its anxiety, pride and anger. "I did what needed to be done."

"And for all that you've gained, it has cost you dearly. When your father married me, he took on the burden you felt that day – and has borne that burden every hour of his life since. He's done so much, come so far. You must come to understand why it is difficult for him to go farther." Mother sighed. "It takes a great deal of courage to defy a world, even for the sake of love."

Spock remembered what his father had said, about marrying his mother only as a matter of logic. He could never tell her how wrong she was; to do so would be cruelty.

She smiled at him, relaxing slightly even as she exercised a mother's prerogative to pick a strand of lint from his shirt. "You're very brave, my son."

"You have shown the greatest defiance of us all, Mother."

His mother laughed out loud in satisfaction, the way she sometimes did when they were alone together, and Spock knew she would bring up no more unpleasant subjects during his stay.

**

Spock awakened just at dawn – warp lag. In most Vulcan homes, chimes would be sounding to awaken the household, and guests would be hastening downstairs to prepare breakfast for everyone. Not here, where his mother had banished that custom before Spock was born in her lone defiance of Vulcan tradition; here, everything would remain quiet for a few hours yet. There was very little point in attempting to adjust his circadian rhythms to his home planet for such a brief visit, so he quickly dressed himself. He could do some of his Academy work before his mother awoke.

As he left his room, however, he heard sound coming from the nearest guest bedroom: the rustling of sheets and the settling of a mattress. Nyota had only now returned. He realized that he wished to knock on her door and ask her about the progress of her studies, though in her state of exhaustion such an interruption was unlikely to be welcome. Spock wished to know her condition -- and he simply desired to be in her presence.

And then he became aware of something else as well. Unabashedly human though Nyota was, he had felt more at home here with her, because of her, than he ever had before. As a man accustomed to thinking himself alien within his own skin, this was a startling realization, and a compelling one.

Logic alone was no reason to defy a world. His mother had suggested a better reason. Spock wondered if ultimately he would defy Vulcan again.

**

April

 

"The ship says they have multiple wounded!" Nyota cried out over the klaxons. Red-alert lights flashed through the bridge, and she was absolutely sure she could smell smoke. "What do I advise them, Captain?"

Jim Kirk never took his eyes away from the Klingon vessels on the viewscreen. "We haven't made a dent in their shields?"

"Negative, Captain."

"Fire again. Give them everything we've got." Kirk's mouth set in a firm line, and for the first time, he looked like a man to Nyota, instead of an overgrown farmboy. "Lieutenant Uhura, advise the Kobayashi Maru –"

Something within the panels exploded. Lights began to flicker across the bridge, and the ship rumbled around them. It was so easy to believe this was real. Her adrenalin glands sure as hell believed it: her heart was going a mile a minute. Nyota tried to work her controls, but nothing was responding. "We've lost all communications, Captain."

"Engineering reports warp core breach imminent, sir!"

Kirk rose from the chair, staring death in the face. Then he smiled – an expression simultaneously so absurd and so brave that the only thing Nyota could think was that this guy just did not get it. "Eject the warp core. Keep firing phasers. If we're going to be stranded here in space, we can make sure those Klingon bastards are stuck here with us."

"Shields at 20 percent! Shields failing, Captain!"

"No!" Kirk shouted, but then the viewscreen blazed into brilliant light, and the bridge shuddered again in its death throes. "Dammit!"

Nyota pulled the communications device from her ear and slumped back in her chair as darkness fell around them. Despite the fact that Kirk was the fourth command cadet she'd gone through this test with, so far the Kobayashi Maru felt real every single time. Maybe Spock had a hidden sadistic streak.

A panel in the side of the simulator swung wide. Silhouetted against the blaze of light from the hallway was a man's form: Captain Christopher Pike, recently returned from deep-space duty to lead the Enterprise and see the command cadets through their final exercises. "Not bad, Jim. You kept fighting until the end."

"I lost. How can you say it wasn't bad when I lost?" Kirk sat down in the captain's chair again, his arms gripping the sides as if he were reclaiming it. "I want to take it again."

"Nobody takes the Kobayashi Maru twice," Captain Pike said. "Come on. Let me explain a few things about this simulation to you."

Unwillingly, Kirk rose from his chair and followed the captain. Nyota almost felt sorry for him. For a snarky, know-it-all, over-hormonal farmboy, he wasn't half bad.

She left the testing simulator, changed into dark gray leggings and tunic, left the building and walked out into the early twilight. Spring had finally begun to gain purchase; though the San Francisco air was still chilly, the wind didn't have the same bite. The breeze tugged at her ponytail, and she reached up to free her hair. When it tumbled loose around her shoulders, she exhaled deeply.

Nyota wanted to make it a early night, crash in her bunk and put the rest of the world aside. Now that classes and projects were finally wrapping up, she was rediscovering the joys of sleep. Yet she remained unwilling to return to the dorm room – she remained restless. After so many years of constant pressure, freedom felt unfamiliar and almost threatening.

Her footsteps began to turn toward Spock's quarters – but, for the first time in months, it felt odd to go there.

Ever since her trip to Vulcan, things had been subtly altered toward them, and Nyota was unsure how, or why. Spock was not shunning her, by any means; when they were together, he was as considerate and attentive as ever. And yet they were not together nearly as often as they had been before. Only now did Nyota realize how often he had sought out her company – now that he had stopped.

Had she offended him on Vulcan? Her memory of the trip was mostly a warp-lagged blur of shimmering heat, frantic document scanning and one drowsy, pleasant breakfast in Lady Amanda's rose garden. They'd hardly spent enough time together there for her to cause offense in the first place. And Nyota thought she and Lady Amanda had hit it off, so there couldn't be a problem there. Then she reconsidered. Even if Lady Amanda liked Nyota, a doting mother might take a moment to remind her son about his fiancée, and how easily human women could be misled about his intentions. She would probably have seen that as a kindness to all involved.

Oh, no – what if T'Pring had heard about Spock bringing a woman home with him? They'd walked together through the main streets of Shi'Kahr while many people watched and disapproved. Lady Amanda might not be the only one with doubts, or the only one he had to reassure.

Well, Nyota was clear on Spock's intentions, or lack thereof. Their friendship had to survive her crush, until she could find a different way of loving him, one that wouldn't make her feel sick inside every time she thought about his eventual Vulcan marriage. If he thought she wasn't capable of that – if she sometimes doubted it herself – that was all the more reason to face the issue head-on.

Her idle thought of visiting Spock hardened into resolve. She was always most driven when she knew she had something to prove.

Nyota sent a message ahead, so he would expect her, but when she knocked on the door, it took him a few moments to answer. When the door slid open at last, she saw that she had disturbed him in meditation. "I'm sorry. I should have given you more notice."

"It is of little consequence," he said, rising from his mat. He left the candle burning. "Please, sit down. What brings you here?"

He always asked that – it was more or less the same as "hello" for Vulcans, purpose-driven as they were – but this time it made Nyota even more nervous than she already was. She seized upon the first topic that came to mind. "I wanted to talk about the Kobayashi Maru."

Spock shed his meditation robe, beneath which he wore the knit shirt she liked so much. The candlelight was doing what candlelight did, making everyone look about ten times sexier than usual. Keeping her cool wasn't going to be easy.

"You must have divined the test's purpose by now," he said.

"The purpose is to show us what it means to deal with death. To put us through all of that, so Starfleet Command can see what we do under pressure."

"I trust the simulation is sufficiently realistic?"

"You're proud of the damned thing," she said, smiling ruefully. He cocked one eyebrow, but didn't deny it. "Don't get me wrong. I always remember it's just a simulation. And I've understood since about the second time I went through it that there was no way to win. But it still gets to me."

"Given time, you will become accustomed to the test. Before each year's command cadets are done, the others often have to be admonished to take the simulation seriously."

"Can we jump ahead to that part?"

Spock sat next to her on the small couch. Normally he would have taken the chair; this way, their knees were almost close enough to touch. "Nyota, I have observed most of the tests in which you took part. Your courage and skill are invariably on display."

"I'm not a command cadet. I don't get graded on this."

"I am not speaking about your grades. I am speaking about you. If this test has caused you any fears for your greater Starfleet career, it should not. You should take pride in your calm under fire."

"Are you trying to turn me into a Vulcan?"

She meant it as a joke, but his expression darkened. "I would never wish for that."

"Okay, okay. I just meant –" Nyota shook her head, trying hard to find the right words. "You have a level of detachment that's difficult to understand, sometimes."

"I am not always detached," Spock said. He seemed to be studying her face very carefully.

They were so close now. Nyota found her imagination traveling in all the directions she'd tried so hard to avoid – leaning nearer to him, running her hand through his hair, just flat-out jumping him and seeing what he'd do. If this was a test of her ability to put her attraction behind her, she was failing it worse than any cadet had ever failed the Kobayashi Maru.

Deep breaths, she told herself. Spock had wanted to talk about her career. That seemed like a good idea. An appropriate idea. Straightening her tunic, she said, "I haven't brought this up before, because I wasn't sure whether or not I'd be breaking regs to talk about it."

"What subject do you wish to discuss?"

"You don't have anything to do with our assignments post-graduation, right?"

"Affirmative." He seemed weirdly thrown by the choice of topic, as if he'd been expecting her to say something else, but he continued, "I could have input on temporary or emergency postings, but your ultimate assignment will be determined by the senior faculty committee."

"So we should be okay talking about this." She took a deep breath, which was supposed to be calming but instead caught the scent of his skin. With determination, she focused. "I want the Enterprise. I know it's the flagship; I know half the class is putting in for her. But I mean to be there. Got any Vulcan-precise probability to back that up?"

"You have demonstrated exceptional aural sensitivity and an unparalleled ability to identify sonic anomalies in subspace transmission tests. Your marks put you in the highest two percent of the class, and your thesis is top-level work. I would surmise that you will get the placement of your choice."

"Even the Enterprise." Satisfaction felt sweet.

"Yes. I had long ago calculated your chances of being assigned to the flagship to be greater than 90 percent, even if you had not specifically requested the posting." Nyota flushed with happiness, but Spock still seemed somewhat hesitant. After a brief pause, he added, "I look forward to serving together with you there."

"You're leaving the Academy?" Why did it shock her so much? As fine a teacher as Spock was, he was expert in countless subjects; any ship of the line would welcome him. But no, that wasn't what had caught her off-guard; it was the news that he would be on the Enterprise with her.

"I only agreed to teach in order to postpone another long-term assignment until the Enterprise was ready for her mission. Captain Pike has offered me the position of science officer."

"Congratulations," she said, and she meant it, but she felt slightly as though he had shoved the couch out from under her.

She'd accepted what she felt for Spock because it was worth it to have the chance to know him, to be his friend and learn everything that he had to teach her. Nyota had seen herself bidding him a fond goodbye after graduation, going to her dorm room to spend her last night on campus having a good cry, and then waking up in the morning, tears forgotten, a lifelong friend made and a tour of duty on the Enterprise beckoning her onward.

Instead, she was going to be serving with him for the next five years – and what she felt for him wouldn't be set aside as easily when they were together every day.

"You seem uneasy. Is the test still troubling your thoughts?"

Nyota couldn't find the words right away. This was something private, and for all that she sometimes felt like an open book compared to Spock, she didn't bare her soul very often. Possibly it would be hard on their friendship, too, and no matter what else might happen, she already knew she wanted to remain Spock's friend for the rest of their lives. "Not the test. There's something we need to discuss – that I should have brought up a long time ago, probably."

Spock straightened. As little as he understood of human emotion, he obviously realized that she was leading up to something big, and probably he guessed what it was. "I had also meant to speak with you on a subject of importance, though I had not thought to raise the subject before graduation."

The dreaded "friends" speech: Despite some curiosity to know what it sounded like coming from a Vulcan, Nyota preferred not to hear it. At least she could preserve something of her dignity by speaking first, and well. "This semester, I've been facing my own version of the no-win scenario. I've come to care about you very much." Dammit, she thought, say it. You have to be clear, with Spock. "Romantically, I mean. I've fallen in love with you."

Spock's expression changed, but too subtly to read. She suspected that she'd finally found a way to shock a Vulcan into silence. Nyota felt her throat tightening, but she pushed back the reaction. She was going to keep it together; she wasn't going to lose Spock as a friend. The only way out was through.

"If we're going to spend the next five years together, I just need to hear you say that it's not going to happen. And also, I hope, that we can still be friends. I might need some space for a while, but please don't think that my – human weakness has made me unable to see you as a fellow officer and a friend."

Spock's voice was low when he answered, "I cannot say that."

Oh, no. She had messed things up even worse than she'd dreamed. "You don't think we can be friends after this?"

"That was not the assertion to which I was referring."

"But then—"

Her voice faltered as Spock's hand brushed against hers.

At first, she felt nothing but pure astonishment – but then the warmth of his touch brought her into the here and now, into her own body and this moment when she realized that he wanted her too.

Two of his fingers stroked the length of two of hers, and then he brought their fingertips together. She sensed that this was important – that it was ritual – but she couldn't analyze any further. The feel of his skin on hers, just at their fingertips, was enough to blot out everything else.

Nyota slowly intertwined her fingers with his, and he responded by taking her hand. His thumb brushed the inner curve of her wrist, the base of her thumb, the hollow of her palm. She tightened her grasp, holding him closer.

At this moment, he could feel what she felt – all of that was flowing into him through her skin.

Their eyes met, and the jolt of that connection nearly made her gasp. He looked so uncertain, despite the warmth of their touch, and she kept her voice even as she said, "What does that mean? The two fingers, together."

"It is an expression of affection," Spock said softly. "Most often shared between bonded spouses in public. The equivalent of a kiss."

Nyota brought her other hand to his shoulder, then up to caress the curve of his neck. "Vulcans don't kiss?"

"We do." Their voices were almost whispers. "But only in private."

"We're alone now."

She took his face in her hands and kissed him. For the first moment, she wondered if somehow she had misjudged him, because he did not immediately respond – but he warmed to her touch, kissing her back.

Their lips broke apart, then came together, more forcefully this time. Spock's fingers traced along the line of her jaw, down the length of her throat, as if to feel the pounding of her pulse.

This is really happening, she thought. I'm not dreaming. This is real. It surged through her like electricity, so that every inch of her body was aware of nothing else.

His mouth tasted like copper, and his kisses were warmer than she'd ever imagined. As their bodies came together, his hands gripped her shoulders to pull her closer, then tangled in her hair.

Their kisses intensified quickly – one moment their lips weren't open, and the next they were kissing passionately. His hands slid down her back and found the curve of her hips. Nyota leaned backward, pulling him with her, until she realized that they were seconds from lying down together on the couch or maybe the floor.

She turned her face from his, then almost instantly lost her resolve when his lips found her throat. "Wait," she gasped. "Wait a second."

He stopped immediately. "Nyota?"

"I just need a second to -- catch up."

That probably made no sense to Spock, but he simply embraced her. She hugged him back, her mind racing. Both of them were breathing hard, she realized, and it was something of a thrill to realize she'd gotten a Vulcan hot and bothered.

"Had I realized you were troubled," Spock said, "I would have spoken before. I would not intentionally have caused you difficulty."

"I know that. It's all right."

Nyota had never seriously considered what it would mean for him to want her as much as she wanted him. It had seemed impossible. Why make plans for the impossible? She'd guarded herself so carefully that she'd never even let herself fantasize beyond the vague thought of a kiss. With the reality here, next to her, she had to look at certain facts for the first time.

"I considered it more appropriate to broach the subject after we were both officers on the Enterprise." Only Spock could speak so formally while their mouths were only inches apart. "But your human honesty is preferable."

"We have to be breaking the Academy fraternization rules," Nyota said as she wrapped her arms more tightly around him. "They never really spell out what fraternization is, but – this has definitely got to qualify."

"There is a 94.2 percent chance that we will serve together on the Enterprise. No rules forbid shipboard relationships."

For a moment, her longtime dream blazed brighter than ever before in her mind – brighter than she had known it could burn. But it did not blind her to harder realities. "I hate to mention this now, but we had better talk about, well, your fiancée."

Spock seemed remarkably unfazed. "I intend to make inquiries as to whether the bonds that tie me to T'Pring can be severed."

"Oh." She didn't seem able to find any words beyond that.

"This does not obligate you to a commitment in any sense," he added quickly. "It is only that I once believed I could accept a Vulcan union, devoid of emotion. Now I know that I cannot."

Nyota gazed up at him, her disbelief finally giving way. An awestruck smile illuminated her face. "So we really get to figure this out. We get a chance."

"Yes." Spock brushed his fingertips beneath her chin, tilting her face back from his. "I realize that in some contexts I am – not an intuitive choice. But I will endeavor to make you happy, Nyota."

"Stop apologizing for yourself. Forever. Right now. That's an order." Nyota kissed him fiercely.

When their lips parted, he whispered, "Aye." He cradled her face in his hands, and she closed her eyes as his lips brushed against her cheekbone. Just the heat of that kiss was enough to melt most of Nyota's resolve. But not all. She took a deep breath, trying to regain her senses.

"This is why you've been spending less time with me lately," she murmured, as her hands settled on his thighs. "You didn't want us to break the fraternization rules six ways from Sunday."

His fingertips slid down her throat, along the neckline of her tunic, dipping barely beneath her collarbone – enough to make her whole body taut with anticipation. "I admit to certain – temptations."

"So we have to be strong." Her breath seemed to catch in her throat. "To obey the rules."

"I believe that we are already in violation of the spirit of the rules," Spock said. His thumb brushed along the lower curve of her lips. "The letter of the law would therefore seem less important."

"That may be your greatest rationalization yet." Nyota forced herself to pull away from him – not far, but enough, and she took his hands so that they wouldn't fall back into a deeper embrace. "You have more to lose from a fraternization inquiry than I do. Student penalties are bad enough, but instructors can be drummed out or Starfleet."

"Such severe measures are unlikely in the case of a consensual relationship."

"That's beside the point. If anybody in authority ever does wake up to the fact that Vulcans have libidos too, I want us to be able to get through questioning with our honesty mostly intact."

He relaxed slightly, accepting the wisdom of what she said. "Under no circumstances would I wish to compromise your integrity."

The Victorian sense of the verb "compromise" flickered in her mind. Smiling, she added, "Besides, I was dead-set on the Enterprise before, and now I have even more reason not to let anybody take it away from me."

"Your discipline in this matter is closer to the Vulcan ideal than my own."

"Don't get me wrong," she teased. Had she really been in despair about her feelings for him just half an hour before? And now she was laughing, joyful, wanted, in love. "I'm on the verge of dragging you back to your bunk by the hair, but we have to be careful."

"An interesting mental image."

"Me dragging you by your hair?" Nyota laughed.

"And after." He said that with an arched eyebrow that came very, very close to convincing her to forget the damn bunk and make love to him where they were.

Nyota took a deep breath. "Just one month until graduation. We can make it one month, right?"

"If you wish it."

"And we have so much to talk about now."

"Rest assured that I have no intention of neglecting the final proofread of your thesis."

"We've got to work on your pillow talk. I mean, I want to know more about – about what you need from a relationship. With humans, it's usually pretty obvious."

"That has not been my observation." He shifted his right hand, bringing two fingers to hers in the same way he had first touched her. "But I am confident we will understand one another."

Just those words told her how far they had come.

**

The next three weeks were some of the best she spent at the Academy. Her thesis came back with an A+ and was sent off to the Andoria linguistics conference. The Kobayashi Maru test became routine, or in the case of the obstinate James T. Kirk, obnoxious. Gaila seemed to have five boyfriends at once, which was funny until Nyota walked in on her with the guy who had all the tentacles, which was way too much visual information and called for a new house rule forbidding in-room sex before graduation. She hoped she wasn't insisting on that just to make sure that if she was stuck with chastity, Gaila was too.

Spock and Nyota met in public, stayed longer after class and were, in all respects, as calm and proper as they had been when they first began working together, if not more. It was almost a game, being as formal as possible while looking at each other and knowing how close they were to graduation night. The anticipation alone was better than most of the sex Nyota had ever had. It seemed like her life was coming together more beautifully than ever before.

And then Vulcan sent out a distress call, and everything shattered and fell apart.

 

May

 

The assembly hall of the Enterprise was intended as a place for diplomatic receptions or the occasional crew celebration. Now it hosted a poor shadow of the Vulcan ceremony of mourning.

Spock had attended such mourning ceremonies in the past for various family members. He had knelt in the Hall of Ancient Thought, stood among the Elders and listened to the long genealogies recited in their turn. In the case of those whose deaths had allowed it, the bearer of that Vulcan's katra released the spirit to join the others in the depths of the Hall, the deepest soul of his homeworld.

That soul – all those countless spirits – had been destroyed along with six billion lives. The enormity of the loss was beyond imagining; the genealogies that of the entire planet. And a few hundred of the few thousand survivors huddled here together, beneath Sol-tinted lighting, breathing sterile air, attempting to somehow do honor to the fallen. Someone had at least provided lit candles, which did little to create the correct mood but was a considerate gesture.

T'Pau, first mother of the House of Surak, held her arms open wide at the center of them all, summoning what remained of her people – though aliens had joined in this ceremony as well. Next to Spock stood Nyota, her hands clasped before her and her eyes shut. Beyond that was Jim Kirk, who had bowed his head in respect.

"For all Vulcan, we mourn," T'Pau said. "For all Vulcan, we must endure."

As real and as terrible as the deaths of six billion Vulcans were, one loss beyond any other shrouded Spock's heart.

For all Vulcan, he thought. For all Vulcan, and one human.

By the time the ceremony had ended, Spock's emotional control was at its very limit. Nyota did not touch him – mindful of the customs of the Vulcans who surrounded them – but she remained by his side. Jim said, in surprisingly good Vulcan, "I grieve with thee."

Spock could do no more than nod. He glanced at Nyota as Jim walked away, wondering if she had taught their captain the correct way to respond, but she shrugged. Once again Spock wondered precisely what had passed between Jim and the mysterious "Ambassador Spock" from the alternate reality.

His father came to his side; however, it was to Nyota that he spoke. "You are my son's student. My wife spoke favorably of you."

"I grieve with thee," Nyota repeated. Despite her flawless accent, the words were almost unrecognizable as Vulcan, because of the emotion that trembled beneath the surface. "It was my honor to know the Lady Amanda, though too briefly."

"We are fortunate that you came to Vulcan," Sarek said. His voice was dull. "You were the last person to work with many of our most ancient documents. Had you not recorded them at the time, they would be forever lost now."

Nyota's eyes filled with tears, and Spock understood that she was weeping because his father could not. Her reply remained thoroughly logical, however: "I am grateful for the chance to share my documentation with the Elders, and to offer whatever other help I can."

Sarek simply nodded. His eyes met his son's, and between them there was nothing to be said – no animosity any longer, but no closeness yet either. After a moment, his father turned to go.

Nyota whispered, "Do you need me with you now? Do you need to be alone?"

Sarek's eyes were open, but he did not seem to see. Grief shadowed every step. He had loved Mother all this time, and now he had lost her. More than anything else, she had wanted the breach between them to be healed.

"I love Vulcan because it is part of him, and part of you. There is nowhere else I would have wished to spend my life. There is no other husband I would ever have wanted, and no other son I could possibly have loved so much."

"I must remain with my father," Spock said, willing her to understand. But he need not have worried – Nyota immediately stepped aside, allowing him to leave. That might have moved Spock less, had he not already known there was a good chance he would not return to her side soon, if ever.

**

It was another two days before Spock saw Nyota again. By then they were on Earth once more. Spock had been much concerned with helping his father coordinate the various needs of what interstellar diplomacy called a "displaced population." As ambassador to Earth, Sarek held much responsibility, and no pause could be taken for grief. Finally, however, late in the second evening, even Sarek had to sleep, and Spock beamed back to Starfleet Academy.

Exhausted as he was, Spock intended to go to Nyota immediately. He realized to his chagrin that he had returned to campus without a communications device of any sort, and he did not wish to extend his parting from her long enough to go to his quarters and obtain one. Instead, he went to her dormitory, hesitated briefly at the door and went inside.

Days ago, visiting Nyota's room would have resulted in immediate gossip and eventual disciplinary hearings. If only that were still true. Now, the dormitory was nearly empty. This had been a fourth-year dorm; most of the residents had been killed by Nero. Spock's footsteps echoed in the hallways.

He pressed the panel beside her door and said his name. Within a second, the door slid open, and Spock stepped inside. On the other side of the plexiglass panel, Nyota sat in her robe at the foot of her bed, wiping her eyes. "Nyota?"

"You're back." She took one of his hands and kissed it, pressing it to the side of her face. He could feel her tears against his palm, but when she looked up, she tried to smile for him. "How are you?"

"Tell me first what troubles you."

"I don't want to burden you further."

"You are not a burden." Spock sat next to her on the bed.

"It's just –" Nyota held up her PADD; listed on it were the casualty lists from the Battle of Vulcan. "So many friends of mine. So many people I knew. I can't find out anything about Gaila – everything's so confused, the Potemkin lists aren't in yet – but Francois and Nruo'bek and Wei Su, all of them. All of them. They're gone."

Spock took her into his arms; she returned the embrace fiercely, and he closed his eyes. His grief, too, knew some surcease now that they were reunited. It made his duty that much harder to face.

Given her distress, he considered not speaking of such matters immediately. But he knew Nyota well enough to know that she would want honesty above all else.

When her weeping stilled, Nyota continued to rest against him. Her voice was hoarse when she spoke. "How did you leave things with your father?"

"He finds purpose in searching for a home for our people. There is much yet to be done." Spock could delay no longer. "I must speak with you."

She pulled back from him, her face already resigned. "I think I know what you're going to say." Nyota could not meet his eyes. "I've been trying to prepare myself, but – this is hard. Even though I understand. Even though, in your place, I'd probably do the same."

"My civilization is at risk. Every person is needed to rebuild our culture. I feel as though duty requires me to remain at my father's side."

"And to leave Starfleet."

Spock nodded. Neither of them said that this meant also leaving her; they did not have to. "I would not ask you to abandon your vocation to join me on the colony world, however much I might wish for your presence."

"No," she said. "There's nothing for me to do there – nothing for me on that world except you. I can't give up my whole life for love. Even if, right this second, I wish I could." Her hand grasped his so tightly that the sensations bordered on pain.

He took her back into his embrace, meaning only to comfort her. But Nyota's arms circled his neck, and her mouth found his. They kissed so long and so deeply that his exhaustion and grief were cast out, replaced only by his need for her.

"Stay here with me tonight," Nyota said, her warm breath against his cheek. "Don't tell me all the good reasons why we shouldn't. Just stay."

His only answer was another kiss.

She tugged away his tunic, helped him slip off his boots. He untied the knot of her robe; there was no reason why the sight of her naked body should be more intensely arousing than the knowledge of their intimacy, and yet he found he could not look away. Better yet was the moment when they lay naked together in her bed, skin against skin, and he could feel not only her body but also her spirit and her thoughts. Her desire for him. Her response to his touch. Her love.

Between kisses, she whispered, "What do you need?" The question was different now than before, the huskiness in her voice an unspoken promise.

"I hardly know. I trust you to guide me. Tell me what would please you."

"You mean, this is – you haven't – oh." Nyota wrapped her arms more tightly around him and kissed his shoulder. "Let me show you."

She urged him to explore her body, with hands and with mouth, and this he did gladly, surprised at how quickly instinct informed every movement. Surprising also was the amount of pleasure he could give and take through kissing her in unexpected places – earlobes, behind her knees or the back of her neck.

He indulged his old fantasy of placing his hands on the small of her back, then brushed his fingertips along her spine and relished her answering shiver. Nyota twisted on her side, taking one of his hands in hers and bringing it between her legs. He followed her movements, caught the rhythm quickly and listened as her breaths came faster and shallower. Her heart pounded hard enough that he could feel it through her back, against his chest. Quickly he kissed her between her shoulder blades, close to that heartbeat. When she arched her back and cried out, the pleasure that echoed through her and into him was almost dizzying.

Their mouths met again. Her hands caressed him as intimately as he had touched her, and Spock could feel his self-control beginning to slip. "I would join with thee," he whispered.

"Is that what you say?" Nyota's voice was breathy and light. "Is that how we begin?" Her thighs slid up his sides, her whole body welcoming him.

"I meant – I would have you feel what I feel." Spock brought two fingertips to her forehead, where he could create the lighter mental bond desirable at such moments. Her eyes widened as she realized his purpose. "It is only a touch, but if you do not wish it –"

She kissed him deeply, then murmured against his lips, "I want all of you."

Spock closed his eyes and reached within her mind – only upon the surface, where the most immediate emotions and sensations dwelled, and opened himself to her. Nyota's astonishment and momentary disorientation echoed within him for a moment, and then her slow, dawning wonder as the psychic joining took hold.

"We're one," she gasped, her arms tightening around his back.

He pushed inside her, feeling her cool and tight around him, and knew both the pleasure of his own body and the response of hers, deeper and more intense than before. Nyota cried out; he came close to doing the same. His hand slipped from her forehead, but it did not matter. The bond was complete, fused through their joined bodies.

Mind and body began entangled, inseparable. The memory of their first kiss was as one with the tilt of her hips and the new angle of their joining. The rising sensation arcing between them was no different than their desperate wish not to be parted. The beginning was the end.

He reached a moment of inevitability, surrendered his control to her and was overcome. As he groaned his pleasure against her throat, she climaxed again, answering like for like.

For a few long minutes after that, they remained wrapped around one another, even their breaths in sync, enjoying the enveloping, wordless satisfaction they shared. When Spock felt himself tempted to deepen the psychic joining between them, he forced himself to shunt his body to one side and to again touch her forehead to gently break the link.

Nyota's hand curved against his cheek. "If I had known how little time we were going to have, I wouldn't have waited. Not because of any damn Academy regulations." She smiled unevenly. "I'd have made love to you every chance we got."

He kissed her softly, but already his attention turned to what he needed to do next. "Vulcan custom and temperament make the expression of emotion difficult. Sometimes even the acknowledgment of emotion is nearly impossible."

"We seem to have found a way."

"Given all that has happened, what we have shared, my control is weak."

"Are you okay?"

"Very much so," Spock said. "What I feel for you – what we have shared –" Once again, the words failed him. Even here and now, his Vulcan half held sway. He managed at least to say, "I care for you deeply, and I will continue to do so after we are parted. I know what I will lose, and what I will not."

Nyota smile was both joyful and sad; she understood what he had not been able to say. "I love you too," she murmured. Then she hugged him tightly, burying her face in the curve of his neck. He breathed in the soft scent of her skin and willed himself to remember what it had been like, to be understood, to be loved.

**

The next morning felt – like nothing at all. Not nightmarish, not tragic, not even real.

Nyota did not cry; she had done her weeping at dawn, when by mutual agreement Spock had left her room. She did not want to shower away the scent of his skin, or remake the bed by tossing aside the rumpled sheets where they had made love, but she did both with quiet efficiency. Although all classes and meetings were canceled, she dressed herself in her cadet reds, straightening her jacket, adjusting her insignia.

Today of all days, she needed to remember who she was, and the future that lay ahead for her.

Nyota wanted something to do. Anything. But for the first time in four years, no tasks awaited her. Never would she have imagined that empty hours could feel so much like a jail. Finally she made up her mind to send communiqués to the families of Wei Su, Francois and Nruo'bek. It wouldn't be much comfort, but it was all she could do. She'd attach some of the band's recordings, too.

Although she could have recorded the messages from her dormitory, Nyota knew she needed to spend as much of her day elsewhere as possible. She started across campus to the xenolinguistics lab, which had its own computer centers she could use. This took her farther away from the faculty quarters, which struck her as a good idea as well.

The campus was so empty. Only a handful of lowerclassmen hung around, all of them huddled together and quiet like tiny mice. Nyota wondered if everyone else had been sent home. And the shuttlepad was all but empty: Normally a constant buzz of traffic came in and out, but only one shuttle was landing. She glanced over, more out of habit than from genuine curiosity, but then she froze.

The people stumbling out were clearly injured and dazed; some wore duty uniforms, others coveralls that looked like Spacedock extras. These were survivors of the Battle of Vulcan.

Everyone stood at attention to honor the survivors, including Nyota. She remembered the horror of emerging from warp to see the burning wrecks tumbling through space around them. Within that chaos had been a handful of evacuation pods, and what the cadets and officers must have endured was unimaginable.

And then -- amid the survivors emerging was one who limped on her left foot, and whose skin was bright green.

Nyota sucked in a breath and started running toward Gaila as fast as she could. Gaila began running too, her arms open wide, halting on her injured foot but not stopping until the moment they slammed into each other's arms. The impact took them down to the ground, but it didn't matter. Nyota wrapped her arms around her roommate, crying so hard that she couldn't see.

"We made it," Gaila said between sobs. Disbelief quivered in her voice. "I don't know how, but we made it."

Tightening her arms around her roommate, Nyota said, "You're home now. You're safe. Everything's going to be all right." For the first time that day, joy pierced her sorrow, and Nyota could remember that not everything was lost.

**

"Lieutenant Uhura – there you are." Jim Kirk fell into step beside her as they walked through the corridors of the Enterprise – which had become, for both of them, home. He looked almost indecently happy; she might have thought it unbecoming to an officer if she hadn't been smiling nearly as broadly herself. "I'd just like to take this occasion to say that I'm glad you're on board. There's no other communications officer in the fleet that I'd rather have in charge."

"And I'd just like to take this occasion to thank you for not using my first name, even though you've found out what it is."

"Like I always say, I can wait until you give it to me," Kirk said, utterly without the flirtatious undercurrent she would have expected. Either he'd finally given up or he understood the concept of a "decent interval." On reflection, though, Nyota thought he had already found the great love of his life; it shone from him as he looked over his new ship. Maybe that would be enough for him, for now. "I'm double-checking my personal supply transport logs before we ship out – you know how Spacedock loves to lose people's luggage. See you later."

Nyota took the turbolift to the bridge, which shone white and silver. Every evidence of damage from the final battle against Nero had been repaired. Hikaru Sulu sat at the helm, an almost reverent look on his face as he passed his hand over his control panel; next to him, Pavel Chekov was not actually bouncing with excitement, but it was obvious he was fighting a hard battle to keep from doing so.

You should be here, Spock, she thought, not for her sake but for his. He had wanted this as badly as she had, and for even longer. When Nero destroyed Vulcan, he had destroyed both Spock's past and his future. Nyota could only hope that, on the colony world, Spock would finally be accepted as an equal member of Vulcan society and perhaps find the peace he had so long sought.

She relieved the young man at her duty station and began handling the barrage of communications traffic that preceded any launch: Last-minute personnel changes, loving farewells to family members, safety and engineering checklists in excruciating detail, etc. None of this called upon her advanced skills – in fact, it was fairly mind-numbing – but it was part of the job, and Nyota meant to do it well.

A message from Winona Kirk to her son Jim: Sent to his personal datastream. A recording from Dr. McCoy to a Joanna McCoy – hmm, he was supposed to be divorced, but maybe it was a sister: Routed to the AmSouth Regional Net for further distribution. Dock control confirmed readiness to launch: She would report that in person. Warp drive checklist confirmation from Montgomery Scott to Starfleet Command: Slotted. A notice from Starfleet Command about the assignment of a Chief Science Officer to the Starship Enterprise: This was in writing, so Nyota glanced at it before patching it through to Command-All –

--and she froze.

Her heart leapt even as her brain denied it. You read it wrong. You must have. It's just – wishful thinking. This can't be real.

But she kept staring at the words, which remained constant. Her fingers stayed on the job, dutifully routing the message where it needed to go, but her mind seemed to have gone blank with joy.

The turbolift doors swooshed open, and Jim Kirk stepped out. Pride shone from him so strongly that it was like someone had added extra bridge lighting all of a sudden. Sulu glanced over his shoulder and said, "Maneuvering thrusters and impulse engines at your command, sir."

Chekov chimed in, "Weapons systems on standby."

Somehow, Nyota managed to say, "Dock Control reports ready, Captain." She gave the rank the extra emphasis it deserved, now that he had actually earned it.

Kirk walked across his bridge, sparing a quick glance over at McCoy. "Bones! Buckle up. Scotty … how're we doing?

Over the intership communications, Scott's voice replied, "Dilithium chambers at maximum!"

The ship was ready to go. Raring to go. Nyota imagined it like a thoroughbred stamping at the ground, eager to run.

At that moment, the lift doors slid open again, and Spock stepped out.

It hadn't been a dream. It hadn't been wishful thinking. Nyota gripped her panel so tightly that her fingers hurt.

Spock first stepped to Jim's side. "Permission to come aboard, Captain."

"Permission granted." Kirk looked both as surprised and as happy as Nyota felt herself.

"As you have yet to select a first officer, respectfully, I would like to submit my candidacy." Spock's voice became even drier, in the way that usually meant he was joking. "Should you desire, I can provide character references."

Kirk said, with sincerity Nyota had rarely heard from him before, "It would be my honor, Commander." He took a deep breath, obviously settling into a place of near-total satisfaction. "Maneuvering thrusters, Mr. Sulu."

As Spock walked to his station, he glanced at Nyota. Their eyes met for only a moment, but that was more than enough to tell her that he had returned not only to Starfleet, but also to her.

Grinning, she turned back to her station, trying hard to retain professional decorum and not actually laugh out loud on the bridge.

Sulu called, "Thrusters on standby."

From his chair – finally at home – Kirk said, "Take us out."

"Aye-aye, Captain," Sulu said as he shifted the helm controls.

The Enterprise slipped into warp, stretching their world into infinity.

**

After alpha shift ended, Spock joined Jim and Scotty for a briefing regarding their first mission. Nyota, at liberty, returned to her quarters to wait for what felt like the longest half-hour of her life. The nervous energy could be burned off by finishing her unpacking, she decided, and she whisked through it – slowing down only once, when she took out Nruo'bek's drum. His people believed in giving away the possessions of the dead, and they had asked her to keep this. She tucked it into a corner near her bed and resolved to learn to play it soon.

Just as she gave the skin an experimental tap, her door chime sounded.

"Come in," Nyota called. Her pulse quickened.

Spock stepped through the doors, which closed behind him with a swoosh. His hands were folded behind his back in a formality she hadn't seen in him for months. "I had wanted to see you." She noticed that he used neither her name nor her title. Apparently he was unsure of his welcome. "I trust you are settling in well."

"Spock – you're here. You came back to Starfleet. Why?" She took a deep breath. "Was it because of me?"

"In large part."

"So, not only me."

Spock had the look of a cornered man, but he held his ground. "It is important to be completely forthright in this matter. You were one of many important factors that changed my decision."

"But only one."

He squared his shoulders. "Yes."

"Thank goodness." Nyota leaned heavily against the wall, so relieved she felt nearly limp. At his evident surprise, she added, "I don't want you here because you're coming after me, Spock. I want you here because we're headed in the same direction."

Subtly, his body language softened as he realized that she was not angry. "I regret not informing you of my changed plans in advance. My ultimate decision was made after I had already sent a letter of resignation to Starfleet. There was some concern that my re-enlistment could not be processed in time for me to ship out with the Enterprise, but Admiral Pike intervened. Though I regretted having to rely on preferential treatment, in this case a deviation from protocol seemed to be called for."

"I would say it was definitely called for." Nyota sat at her cabin's small table, hoping Spock would join her, but he remained standing and apparently uncertain. Some prying seemed to be called for. "What changed your mind?"

"Do you recall my speculation about the presence of my future self from an alternate timeline?"

"Yes." At the time, Nyota had heard Spock out mostly to humor him, thinking this bizarre bit of speculation to be a form of Vulcan denial. Her eyes widened as she realized it had been true. "He really came through? Is this about the alternate timeline?"

"Not directly. But I spoke with him: a curious experience. He indicated that he would help establish the Vulcan colony world, quite literally in my place. He urged me to continue my career in Starfleet and upon the Enterprise. He seemed quite certain that Jim Kirk and I would someday be good friends. And he told me to – to ignore logic and do what felt right."

She tried to imagine a Spock who would say such a thing, a man who could be so completely free of Vulcan expectations and sure of himself. Someday, maybe, if they were both lucky, this Spock would grow into the same kind of man. Softly, she said, "Then I'm glad this is what felt right."

Spock straightened again, still mysteriously uncertain in her presence. "I realize that my original decision to leave Starfleet wounded you deeply," he said. "If you presently consider our relationship to be terminated, I accept your judgment and ask only that I be permitted to demonstrate my willingness to compensate for the hurt I have caused you. In time, perhaps you will reconsider."

Nyota rose from her chair, took Spock's face in her hands and kissed him as hard as she could. At first he didn't seem to believe she was really taking him back – but then his arms slid around her shoulders. It was like being wrapped in a warm blanket. She laid her head on his shoulder and murmured, "This relationship is not terminated. Not by a long shot."

"I am glad to know it." His hands smoothed their way down her back, long lazy strokes that made her tingle. "I have missed you."

"I missed you too." She caressed the line of his jaw and even ran a fingertip along one of his ears. "Do you need to review the sciences duty roster? Or unpack? I can help you settle in, if you want."

"I need to do both of those tasks, and others besides, but for the time, such matters can wait."

"Yeah?"

Spock reached out to the cabin's control panel and lowered the lights. "Affirmative."

 

THE END