The first time Nyota met Jim, he knocked her over, sending her PADD sliding across the shining marble floor of Starfleet Academy. She awarded mental points in his favour when he picked up her PADD and extended a hand to help her up, but quickly rescinded them when he asked if he could buy her a cup of coffee as an apology. Big blue eyes, insouciant hair, and a charming, confident grin on his lips, he loudly introduced himself as You-wouldn’t-be-able-to-pronounce-my-last-name Jim, and gestured to her as if she were somehow obliged to give up her name in return.
“Uhura,” she said curtly, once it became clear that, no matter how much of a hurry he had been earlier, Jim wouldn’t leave her alone till he had flirted his fill.
“Is your last name hard to pronounce too?” he asked, flashing a smile full of flawlessly white teeth and handing her PADD over.
“Uhura is my last name,” she said, tempted to roll her eyes. If he so much as suggested if she would like to share his last name, she would leave, courtesy be damned.
“No first name?”
Nyota raised an eyebrow, slotting her PADD back into her bag. “Are you offering me yours?”
He crossed his hands behind his back in a way that pulled his cadet uniform tautly over his shoulders and hinted at a physique that was certainly not lacking in definition. Nyota scoffed inwardly at his amateurish show of masculinity. “I don’t think that you would want it,” Jim chuckled, and Nyota found it grating. “I am sorry to have knocked into you. I will compensate you at a later time with that coffee I promised. See you around?”
She watched coolly as he tripped over his feet while running in the direction of the faculty rooms, waving back at her enthusiastically. Taking a moment to gather her composure, Nyota, in an uncharacteristically hostile mood, hoped that You-wouldn’t-be-able-to-pronounce-my-last-name Jim would be late for whatever appointment he had been heading to, and that his tardiness would incur heavy penalties.
The first time Nyota met Spock, she was sitting in the front row of a lecture hall during the first lecture of her second semester. He introduced himself as Commander “You-will-have-some-difficulty-pronouncing-my-family-name-even-if-you-have-completed-Level-7-Golic-Vulcan” Spock—Nyota had an unwelcomed flashback of when You-wouldn’t-be-able-to-pronounce-my-last-name Jim had run into her in the previous semester—and promptly launched into his lecture on xenolinguistics in relation to Golic Vulcan.
She admired the easy way he commanded the attention of every cadet in the room, and it was easily the quietest lecture that Nyota had ever had the pleasure of attending. His diction was utilitarian, and his explanations extremely precise, but he had what appeared to be a preternatural feel for relating to human culture and languages. Any hesitation that she may have had with regards to studying a subject as emotionally charged as linguistics under a Vulcan instructor was banished within the first five absorbing minutes of his lecture.
He demonstrated both a superb understanding of the nuances of Standard and a keen awareness of the linguistic differences between Standard and Golic Vulcan, raising appropriate examples of common misconceptions and mistakes made by Standard-speakers when learning Golic Vulcan. To say that Nyota was impressed would have been a gross understatement.
It was as Nyota was becoming fully engrossed in the lecture when No-last-name Jim burst through the doors of the lecture hall, face slightly flushed, and proceeded to take the only available seat left—the one to Nyota’s right. Commander Spock paused to give the latecomer a perfunctory glace before continuing his lecture as if he was never interrupted.
To Jim’s credit, he had the decency to look apologetic as he spread out his materials methodically, making sure not to make too much noise, and hunkered down to take notes immediately. The room lapsed into silence once more, save for Commander Spock’s instructive baritone.
A five-minute break was called an hour into the lecture. Jim leapt up from his seat and jogged the few steps toward Commander Spock. From where Nyota was seated, she could not hear a word of their rapid-fire exchange, but Jim’s wild gesticulations, his furrowed brows, and Commander Spock’s calm but firm expression indicated that he was in a spot of trouble.
Jim returned to his seat all too soon. His eyes fell over Nyota, and she gave in to the urge to roll her eyes when his expression instantly morphed from vexed to pleasantly surprised in a split second—No-last-name Jim, actor extraordinaire. “Hello, Lerato! It’s a pleasure to see you here. How about we go for that coffee I promised you after this?”
“Nala?” he guessed again as he shuffled his notes. Nyota noticed that there was absolutely nothing on languages on the papers—who even used paper these days?—but there were plenty of notes on how Commander Spock carried himself and delivered his lecture. She was beginning to dislike Jim even more. “You seem like a successful woman.”
“Thanks, but wrong again.”
“Points for research, but you’re still not getting any.”
“I’m not trying to.”
“I believe you,” Nyota said dryly, and noted with some satisfaction that Jim looked slightly perplexed.
Commander Spock called for attention just as Jim was about to speak again, and Nyota was grateful for his timing.
Jim was late again the next week, and the next, and the next, and the next. It had become something of a routine for Jim to arrive anywhere between five and thirty minutes late, such that Commander Spock now ignored him completely when he entered the room. To Nyota’s displeasure, it seemed as if the entire class was conspiring to have Jim sit next to her for the rest of the semester by deliberately avoiding the seat to her right.
Nyota was, however, reluctantly pleased to note that Jim was an excellent desk mate. His stationery was always confined to the tiny desk area marked out for each seat, and he refrained from shaking his legs or using his PADD during the lecture. He, like Nyota, seemed to have burning questions for Commander Spock after every lecture (although Nyota guessed that the nature of his questions was in no way related to linguistics, given the type of notes he took), but always allowed other cadets to approach Commander Spock for clarifications before himself. She wondered if it took every ounce of self-control to be on his best behaviour in front of her even though, since this was the last lecture of the day, he was probably late for a meeting with his friends at a pub or wherever boys went to pick up girls.
Regardless of his chivalry, Nyota’s estimation of him always fell when he never failed to ask about coffee. She had seen him around campus a couple of times, and he was always with a different girl. She would be a fool to fall for that sort of cheap country charm. All those rumours about Jim working his way through the alien rainbow as efficiently as Klingons put away alcohol had to come from somewhere.
If pressed Nyota would admit that her opinions on romance were vastly different from her opinions on academics and career. Romance was not something to pursue and aspire toward. It was an unpredictable venture that hinged upon the feelings of two (or more—she did not judge) individuals, and even if she were to be romantically successful it would be hard to feel the same degree of pride than if she had mastered Golic Vulcan and Klingon simultaneously. Romance was something to participate in if the conditions were right—Nyota had no shortage of opportunities—but her career and her academic thirst would wither if she did not have the ambition to back up her knowledge.
She supposed that some would consider her ideal romantic entanglement utilitarian and completely unromantic—Gaila already did, but she was Orion and subjected Nyota to the sight of a different naked individual whenever she returned to their dorm too early, so that was slightly hypocritical of her. Nyota readily admitted to herself that she looked for contentment and stability, not excitement, in a relationship, so someone with a personality as explosive as Jim’s was definitely out of the question.
Even if the coffee sounded more tempting as finals approached.
Nyota participated in a summer trip to Riverside Shipyard in Iowa, where she indulged in an alphabet soup of cocktails on their final night of the visit. Her headache had barely abated when the shuttle to the Academy lifted off, but she was definitely sober enough to see Kirk, dressed against regulations in civilian attire, winking at her even as he took a seat beside a man with the heaviest scowl and darkest eyebags that Nyota had ever seen.
She tended to deliberately ignore the last few hours of the trip, starting from the first Cardassian Sunrise.
Nyota opted to take Level 2 Vulcan in her second year. Her decision was in no way affected by the prospect of being taught by Commander Spock again.
She saw Jim a few more times on campus. He showed up for one or two Level 2 Vulcan lectures, but the bulk of her Jim-sightings were in the cafeteria. That in itself was of no interest to her, except that he always had his meals with Commander Spock—and occasionally the man she’d seen on the shuttle from Iowa who appeared perpetually foul-tempered—whenever he showed up. It ruffled her feathers that he managed to find ways to speak with the instructor outside of consultation windows when Nyota had to book consultation slots at least one week in advance to secure a miserable 15-minute conversation, and, going by his civilian attire, he wasn’t even a cadet anymore.
A part of her wondered if he had been expelled, or if he had dropped out due to poor grades.
“What’s wrong?” Gaila asked as Nyota set her tray down on the table with perhaps just a little too much force.
“No-last-name Jim, that’s what,” Nyota answered through her teeth.
“Oh, you know Jimmy?”
“Jimmy?” Nyota asked incredulously, eyebrows shooting up. “No, wait, don’t say a word. I don’t need to know if you’ve brought him to our room.”
Gaila laughed deeply in the way that only someone who had been to hell and back could. The corners of her eyes crinkled as her mouth split into a wide grin, and while she was rather affronted at being laughed at, Nyota was wont to allow Gaila the pleasures of being a free from the shackles of sexual slavery that many of her species were still bound by.
“What’s so funny?”
“Trust me,” Gaila smiled, placing a firm hand on Nyota’s shoulder, “I am not sleeping with Jimmy.”
“Comforting,” Nyota muttered between mouthfuls of a badly baked potato.
“But he has been to our room.”
“We didn’t do anything, cross my heart,” Gaila assured her, but the smile on her face was all too reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire cat.
“I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“It’s true. We did some programming but nothing happened.”
“I suppose he didn’t reprogram you to put in a good word for him,” Nyota threw back sarcastically.
“He never mentioned you,” Gaila shrugged. “I don’t think he’s desperate for you to like him if he didn’t even tell me that he knew my roommate.”
“Oh you haven’t seen how persistent he was last semester with his offers of coffee.”
Gaila burst into peals of laughter again. “Nyota, you’re reading too much into things. He’s not looking for a relationship.”
“No, he’s looking to add another notch to his bedpost,” Nyota said dismissively. She waited for a beat or two for their banter to resume, but, when it did not, she glanced up to find that Gaila’s expression had lost its playfulness.
“Nyota, Jimmy isn't like that. I know that he rubs some people the wrong way, but he’s a good guy. I’ve never pegged you as the type that listens to rumours.”
Nyota bit her lip. Gaila had raised a good point. It was extremely unlike her to base her opinion of anybody on hearsay, and it made her uncomfortable to know that she did not realise this herself but had to have someone point it out for her. It was unsettling. “Let’s not talk about Jim,” she finally said, throat stuck and appetite suddenly lost. “I heard that you’re assisting with the reprogramming of the Kobayashi Maru?”
Gaila perked up at the olive branch, and, as she listened to her friend ramble about codes, Nyota tried to forget that she was becoming the sort of person she disliked.
She also tried not to think about the reason why she so readily believed the unsavoury rumours about Jim.
Gaila invited Jim to their room frequently after their conversation in the cafeteria, pinning Nyota with her eyes whenever she was also present as if to make a point.
Under Nyota’s discreet scrutiny from the corner of her eyes, they sat cross-legged on Gaila’s bed with their heads bent over a frankly ridiculous number of PADDs. To Nyota, their conversation sounded like an exotic language, a blend of Standard and numbers and abbreviations spoken far too quickly to be without familiarity. More often than not, Jim made what sounded like a suggestion, which was then quickly broken down and analysed by Gaila, and then the two of them continued to prattle on in their odd Standard-coding language hybrid until somebody exclaimed loudly and triumphantly while proudly showing off one of their many PADDs to the other.
Nyota had to admit that she was impressed by how well Jim was keeping up with Gaila, who was attending the Academy on a coding scholarship. Once or twice, Jim made reference to an unnamed “he” with an expression on his face that Nyota would describe as sappy. She brushed it off as a professional crush, since “he” was always accompanied with a quote that demonstrated some sort of apparently brilliant insight, if Gaila’s reactions were anything to go by.
The first time Jim stayed for dinner, Nyota learnt that he was on a strictly vegetarian diet. Nyota rationalised that he must be consuming protein powder to replace meat, given that his musculature could hardly be achieved by feeding on starch and cellulose (the latter of which the human body couldn’t even digest, let alone utilise). Or maybe he just ate a lot of tofu.
Whatever the case was, Nyota also learnt that Jim was an excellent cook, and could put together an absurdly appetising three-course meal with only leftovers and a head of cabbage. After her first bite, Gaila tried to bribe Jim into stay for dinner more often, but he turned her down, citing a need to have frequent and regular meals with his family. Nyota must have imagined the slight reddening of his cheeks, because Jim had said it with such pride that it was hard to believe that he was embarrassed by his family. Gaila only cooed, pinched Jim’s cheeks, and babbled something that sounded like, “Aw, do you miss him? Better yet, does he miss you? I bet he does, and I bet his pointy ears perk up when you’re around. You two are so adorable!”
“I didn’t know that you own a pet,” Nyota said suddenly, trying to break into their conversation so as not to feel like too much of an unwanted guest in her own dorm.
Jim gave her a bright smile, his cheeks bright red from Gaila’s pinching. “I don’t. You should never listen to what Gaila has to say; she likes to tease.”
Gaila rolled her eyes. “Jimmy, there is nothing more adorable than the fact that the two of you have such a strong bond even though you’re from completely different species. Stop denying it.”
“I’m not,” Jim grinned. “I just…must you describe it like that?”
“If he’s not a pet, then what is he?” Nyota asked.
“He’s family,” Jim said, and the happiness in his voice was so palpable, his smile so genuinely blissful, that Nyota feared for a second that he might actually start glowing.
Before Jim’s smile could stretch any wider until it wrapped around his head, Gaila slapped his shoulder, proclaiming loudly, “Okay, that’s enough diabetes for today. Food’s growing cold!”
After Jim left, Gaila shot Nyota the smuggest smile she had ever seen. “See? He’s not so bad once you get to know him.”
Nyota prided herself in being a rational person and therefore had no compunctions admitting that she may have been hasty in her judgement of No-last-name Jim. However, it did not mean that she was willing to give in to Gaila so easily, so she sniffed, “Human nature is capricious.”
In the second semester of Nyota’s second year, she elected to study Level 3 Vulcan. If Commander Spock happened to be the lecturer for that class, it was a complete coincidence.
Jim showed up a few times in the semester—late as usual—and their conversations during breaks were now considerably less stilted than they had been in the previous two semesters. When Nyota failed to take him up on the coffee offer for what must be the hundredth, he got her usual order from Gaila and bought a cup from the Academy coffee shop. As he set it down in front of her during the lecture, he declared with more pomp and circumstance than was warranted by the situation, “My debts are cleared.”
Nyota huffed, lips quirking upwards, “Don’t think that this makes up for interrupting Commander Spock’s lectures all the time. Some of us are actually here to learn, you know.”
“What can I say? I already know all this stuff.”
She shot him a smile that was just on the side of patronising. “Then why are you here?”
“Observation,” Jim whispered, as if it were some sort of secret.
Before Nyota could ask him to elaborate, it was precisely 1600 hours and the lecture had started. She glanced at Jim, who had settled in beside her, and he murmured, “You’ll see next week.”
There was a row of instructors in their charcoal uniforms sitting at the back of the lecture hall when Nyota arrived for her Level 3 Vulcan lecture the next week. She took her usual seat in the front and laid out her materials neatly, leaving her bag on the seat next to hers to save Jim a seat (he had strongly implied that he would be attending this week’s lecture, after all). The instructors were talking quietly among themselves in a way that did not seem to indicate that Commander Spock was in trouble, so Nyota pinned their presence down to a routine evaluation.
It was only when 1600 hours came and went with Commander Spock remaining seated to the side of the room that Nyota guessed that nothing about this lecture would be routine. Cadets erupted into hushed whispers as five minutes passed without a single word from any of the instructors, some of whom were checking their watches and PADDs as if they too had expected something to happen.
All of a sudden, the doors were flung open and No-last-name Jim rushed into the room. Nyota picked her bag off the seat next to her, giving Jim her best deadpan expression, but he seemed to be preoccupied with speaking to the instructors in the back row. After some flustered talking—Jim’s face cycled through a range of emotions that drained the blood from his face and sent it rushing back up—one of the instructors gestured to the front of the lecture hall.
Jim snapped a salute that was cleaner than Nyota would have expected, and very nearly tumbled down the stairs in his haste to get down. Nyota waited patiently for Jim to take the seat beside her, but was startled to realise that he was heading for the podium instead. She watched as he set up the A/V equipment without difficulty, swiftly bringing up a set of slides that Nyota recognised, having downloaded them for this lecture.
The murmuring in the room had risen to a loud buzz by the time Jim finally looked up, boyish smile fixed on his face, and addressed his audience, “I am Lieutenant James T., but you can call me Jim. As you’ve probably already guessed, I’m standing in for Commander Spock today for Level 3 Vulcan. Long story short, this is an evaluation of my suitability as an instructor, so I hope you will cooperate with me, even if it’s just for a couple of hours today.” Jim’s eyes were bright and hopeful as he looked across the room, and Nyota found herself wondering if Jim even knew enough Vulcan to be teaching such an advanced course.
He seemed to be satisfied with a mixed response of muttered agreements and tiny head nods, for, characteristic of Commander Spock, he dived straight into the syllabus immediately following.
She hadn’t known that he had actually finished the Academy, let alone graduated with enough honours to be promoted to the rank of lieutenant. They needed to have a serious talk about keeping information from friends after the lecture was over.
For all that Nyota had assumed that Jim had attended Commander Spock’s lectures to ogle at the Vulcan, it turned out that he’d been observing Commander Spock’s mannerisms instead of his posterior. His tone, like Commander Spock’s, was brisk but coupled with a little human emotiveness, and while his words were chosen with apparent care so as to be academically neutral, he interjected with anecdotes often enough to remind the class that it was Jim, not Commander Spock, that was speaking.
Jim breezed through the lecture seemingly effortlessly. He paced a bit as he talked, but kept his hands locked behind him when he wasn’t using them to effusively illustrate his point instead of swinging them with his strides. Nyota suspected that he was itching to make his lecture livelier, but she also knew that he was capable of sitting in the same position for hours on end—Gaila once pulled a very quiet all-nighter with Jim—so she could not say for certain.
And then there was his pronunciation—it sounded completely native.
He must have spent at least some of his formative years among Vulcans to have achieved that level of fluency and control. Her eyes slid over to Commander Spock, who was watching Jim impassively, and if it took some effort on her part to look away, it certainly was not because of how his eyes were smouldering with intensity in a way that sent shivers down Nyota’s spine.
Their usual 5-minute break was reduced to three minutes due to Jim’s tardiness.
Nyota took the opportunity to stride up to the podium to give Jim an expression that read ‘Explanation, NOW’. Jim held up his hands as if in surrender, lips pulling into a chastened smile.
“I didn’t think it was important, Amara.”
“You didn’t think it was important to tell me that I should’ve been showing you the appropriate respect for someone of your rank when I kept shitting on you last semester,” Nyota said dryly.
Jim scratched the back of his head, looking distinctly uncomfortable. “I don’t like to brag.”
“Yeah, no kidding,” Nyota snorted. “Course of study?”
“Command and Science.”
God, what an overachiever. Nyota eyed Jim, who was shifting nervously from foot to foot. “Yet you’re teaching a class on Golic Vulcan.”
“Well, it was either this or Tactics 101—no other courses were available for relief teaching, and since Spock is ahead of the syllabus, you guys will be fine even if I screw up. Besides, Level 3 Vulcan is more fun.”
“Did you learn Vulcan to get into someone’s pants?”
Jim looked scandalised. “I’m offended! Why, Mbali, if I didn’t know better I’d think you were implying that I sleep around!”
“Fine, fine, Lakeisha. I grew up on Vulcan, so my education was conducted primarily in the Golic language. It was a pain to learn at first, but it helps to be surrounded by Vulcans. Did you know that, for all their logic and purported adherence to IDIC, Vulcans are actually very elitist? They wouldn’t deign to speak to me in Standard unless I demonstrated that my Golic was a complete mess.”
“You’re telling me that you actually grew up and survived childhood in a society of Vulcans, of all species.” Nyota shook her head disbelievingly. “You must have been a nightmare for the school.”
“Heh,” Jim chuckled. “Tell me about it. You should’ve seen the disciplinary board they set up for the sole purpose of deciding what to do with me after I punched Stonn. I still can’t believe that half of the High Council was on it. You’d think that no Vulcan child has ever acted out in the entire history of the planet with the way they overreacted.”
“You did not punch a Vulcan.” Nyota chose to focus on the only part of Jim’s impassioned rant that wouldn’t force her to take Jim’s side of the argument.
“Don’t worry, Spock stopped me before I could get myself pummelled.”
“I wasn’t worried about you.”
“Ouch, Lesedi, ouch,” Jim said, clutching his chest dramatically.
It was then that Nyota’s brain fully registered what Jim had said. “Hang on a moment. You knew Commander Spock on Vulcan?”
“We met as children,” Jim responded offhandedly. He opened his mouth to speak again, but an alarm from Jim’s PADD interrupted them, so Jim shooed Nyota back to her seat to continue serenading the room with his roguish charm and perfect Golic. Somehow, Nyota had a feeling that Gaila had been deliberately withholding this little titbit from her.
Jim’s lecture ended uneventfully. The instructors filed out neatly in a stream of grey the moment the class was dismissed. Nyota had intended to speak with Jim, but stopped in her tracks when Commander Spock quickly rose from his seat. As the commander walked closer, Nyota could hear them conversing in low murmurs, and she observed that Jim paused from gathering his materials to give the commander a tired-looking but otherwise happy smile, to which Commander Spock responded with a curt nod. She was startled to realise that the little glimpse of humanity in Commander Spock’s wordless response to Jim did not diminish the appeal of the Vulcan to her—she had always thought that part of it stemmed from his alien-ness—but increased it.
Commander Spock navigated around Jim’s movements with ease. He passed Jim a PADD that was out of his reach and powered down the projector when it became apparent that Jim was too busy balancing his materials and trying to stuff them into his bag to be of any use in that respect. The look that Jim gave Commander Spock was full of affection. They left the room holding a quiet conversation under their breaths, and Jim gave Nyota a jaunty wave of his hand before they disappeared around the doorway.
Nyota shook her head to clear her mind. When she looked up, she realised that she was the last person in the room. Today had been an eye-opener in more ways than one. She was envious of both Jim’s academic achievements and his closeness with Commander Spock, and wondered if Jim would assist her in her quest to garner the Vulcan’s favour if she asked.
After all, it couldn’t be that hard to 'accidentally' arrange a meet-up between friends, could it? Nyota was certain that she had enough in common with Commander Spock, emotionally repressed Vulcan or not, to be capable of sustaining a gripping conversation about Golic syntax, if nothing else.