Chapter 1: Speaking at Cross Purposes
Chapter One: Speaking at Cross Purposes
Disclaimer: I do not own nor profit from these characters. I just follow them around and jot down what I see and hear—so don't blame me!
They almost never talk about the future.
It wasn't always this way. When she first become Spock's teaching assistant, Nyota Uhura spoke of little else. More than once she told him over tea in the break room about her trip as a first-year cadet to the Riverside Shipyard and her instant, abiding love for the Enterprise, skeletal and incomplete then but scheduled for launch at almost the same time that Nyota will be graduating from the Academy—both ready for assignment.
Karma, she had declared to Spock's upturned, amused brow.
Coincidence, he had replied.
Just as recently as a few months ago she told him that the scuttlebutt on campus had named Christopher Pike the captain of the flagship—and she bemoaned the fact that she had not had an opportunity on that long-ago recruiting trip to speak to him personally—to make herself stand out in the crowd of cadets who had given up their winter break to barnstorm across the Midwest as Academy representatives.
But that was before. Now she cannot bear to talk about the future. Not that her goal has changed—the Enterprise and a position as a communications officer is like an unwavering star…but looking toward that star, and feeling herself moving inexorably towards it, means facing what she will have to lose.
Even now Nyota cannot articulate what she will lose because she cannot say what it is that she and Spock have, what they are becoming. Lovers, certainly, though lovers who have never uttered the word love. Friends, of course, though friends who must present themselves as something less in public—constantly reining in the impulse for playfulness or affection.
For all her gifts with language—for all the languages that she knows so well—she cannot put into words what this relationship means.
For now she lives in limbo, certain that at some point in the future it will have to end—that she will leave or he will—and beyond that she cannot think.
So when he tells her that he is applying for the position of first officer on the Enterprise, Nyota is stunned.
"But your project here--" she says, referring to Spock's most recent program that he is writing in conjunction with both the phonology and computer science departments.
They are sitting in one of their regular eating spots, a small market near the faculty housing on campus. The market keeps a large cooler stocked with assorted fruit and various vegetarian sandwiches—and it stays open all night. The owner, a dark middle-aged man from the Indian sub-continent, has become used to Spock's odd hours and has recently included a Vulcan fruit drink as part of his inventory. Spock has never bought it—it is far too sweet for his taste—and though Nyota does not like it either, she always buys a container, careful to broadcast a smile that she hopes the owner interprets as their corporate gratitude.
On warmer days the owner pulls a couple of the small round tables outside, but the wet San Francisco weather means that most of the time Spock and Nyota take seats at the tables shoved against the wall in the back past the crowded food aisles. They don't mind sitting inside—the privacy is welcomed—but on this particular afternoon they are outside watching the foot traffic as they snack on yogurt and dried mango.
"The project should be finished within two months," Spock says, and Nyota feels her heart beating faster.
"I never thought you might want to leave teaching," she says, and Spock gives her an odd look. "What?" she says, and a shadow passes over his features.
"I am…uncertain…about my future at the Academy," he says, and Nyota swallows hard. Is this is a comment about their relationship—about what might happen if they are discovered? But he continues. "The work has become routine…and I do not wish to stay here if…"
His voice trails off and his gaze drifts to the distance. So. They do not speak of the future, but then they do. They've made no assurances to each other—indeed, she doesn't want that—but Spock's words—the ones spoken and the ones unsaid—are a promise of sorts. Nyota reaches across the table and runs her fingers along Spock's hand.
Her touch pulls him back.
"What do you have to do to apply?" she asks, lowering her hand as a young couple and their toddler walk past on the sidewalk.
Spock places his spoon into his empty bowl and says, "I sent my paperwork to Captain Pike's attaché last week—"
"Oh!" Nyota says, truly surprised. Why hasn't he mentioned this before? She feels strangely slighted, though if she is honest with herself, Spock has no reason to consult her about his plans. They are, after all, his plans—and there again she bumps up against the uneasy recognition that the future may send them in different directions.
If Spock is aware of her momentary unease, he says nothing about it. Instead, he picks up their bowls and leans over to place them on the clean-up table by the door.
"The interview is next—" he says, and Nyota looks up.
"You have an interview? Already? That's a good sign, isn't it?"
"Perhaps," Spock says, standing up. Nyota gathers up her computer tablet and several student folders and joins him as they make their way across the street back towards the faculty apartments.
"When is it?" she says over the noise of the oncoming traffic, and Spock replies, "1800 hours."
"Today? You mean you have the interview today?"
But Spock is busy keying in the building code and doesn't answer. Nyota has to bite her lip to keep from asking again—she waits impatiently while he opens the building and then the door to his apartment.
They are still such new lovers that every private moment is an invitation to intimacy, and as soon as Spock closes the door behind him, they drift to each other, their fingers entwining, their lips brushing.
Nyota is the first to break away, her eyes crinkled in delight.
"Do you know what this means?" she says. She watches Spock closely—she knows him well enough to see that he is considering his answer carefully—indeed, she knows him so well that she can almost hear him mildly scolding her for speaking in apparent non sequiturs…but his expression changes from playful to serious and he says, "Yes. I know what it means."
He pulls her back to him with his left arm and lets his right hand caress the back of her neck. She feels herself flush and she rocks against him.
"No," he says quietly, tightening his grip around her waist so that she cannot move. She feels both his heat and her own enveloping her, and she hears herself moan. At once he places his index finger across her lips, silencing her, and she opens her eyes to see his own, almost black, dilated and hooded, and looking at her with such intensity that she cannot look away.
They stand there unmoving for a long moment, her heartbeat thrumming in her ears, and she slips her hand to Spock's side where his heart is beating so much faster than her own. She smiles in wonder at their two hearts beating so differently—and Spock tilts his head just enough to tell her that he shares the pleasure of the discovery.
Again she starts to move, and again Spock pulls her so closely that she is forced to remain still. She feels his shallow, hot breaths on her cheek and she closes her eyes, waiting, though she isn't sure what they are waiting for.
Spock's fingertips on the back of her neck prickle and buzz but she cannot feel him in her mind. Where are you? she calls in her thoughts, and from a great distance she senses him coming toward her, slowly, hesitantly, drawing her forward instead of rushing to her as he has in the past….
She can still feel his heartbeat under her palm but the rest of her body seems to have disappeared. She knows that Spock is standing beside her but it is his mind that is closer now—the peculiar bright and dark patterns that define how he sees the world, the careful way he holds certain memories near the surface while keeping others at bay—and now Nyota feels herself surrendering her own thoughts—her ambition and desire, and her perfectionism that annoys some of her friends—she shows him these things and feels him taking up each offering with genuine curiosity.
This is what I want, she thinks, and she adds, this is what I do not want to lose, and she knows that the words are not just her own. From far away she senses a wave undulating toward them, like a storm cloud rushing across the plains or a tsunami hurtling toward the shore—and at the moment of final surrender, when she can no longer feel even her feet touching the floor—her sensations rush back so hard and with such sexual force that she cries out and grabs Spock around his waist, juddering with a crescendo that threatens to knock her over.
She has no idea how long they stand and hold each other, but when she opens her eyes at last, she is startled to see sunlight still streaming through the window.
"Fascinating," she says, and Spock answers, "Indeed."
By the afternoon Christopher Pike has had enough. Natalie Jolsen recognizes the twitchy shoulder rolls that are the hallmark of Pike before he explodes. Not that he has an anger problem—far from it. But Natalie has been Pike's attaché long enough to know when his focus is shot, when he needs to walk away and regroup with a glass of bourbon and some uncensored conversation.
Unfortunately, he can have neither for a while longer. One more candidate for first officer is scheduled for an interview today.
Almost as if he can read her mind, Pike says, "Don't tell me how many more. It's better if I don't know."
"You sure?" she says, placing her hands on the remaining folders. "Forewarned is usually better."
"Not to me," Pike says, standing up from behind his desk and stretching his arms over his head. "Whatever happened to surprise as a strategy? Just spring them on me."
Natalie rolls her eyes and opens the top folder.
"You want to take a break?" she says. "I can ask the next candidate to reschedule for later."
Pike rubs his hand through his afternoon beard and says, "No, no, let's get this over with. But afterwards you and I are going out for some serious drinking."
"Not tonight, old man," she quips. "My hubby is making supper. Do you know how rare that is? I wouldn't dare be late."
Pike scrunches his face and snorts.
"What happened to that really good attaché named Natalie I had one time? The one I want to be my XO?"
Pike's comment shouldn't sting—it is, after all, something of a compliment—but Natalie feels miffed in spite of herself.
"Remember our deal," she says, "and stop harassing me."
Pike sits back down and says, "I know, I know—you're ready for babies. So go have them. Why you think that means you have to leave the service is beyond me."
"Are you ready yet?" she says with some asperity. Pike nods, and Natalie hands him the open folder.
"The next candidate—"
"Stop! Don't tell me anything else," Pike says, holding up a hand in Natalie's direction. "After ten candidates I can't tell any apart. All of them are academically gifted. All have stellar recommendations. All say the same goddamn things about why they want to go into space….From now on I'm not reading anyone's dossier until I get a feel for how I like him—if nothing else, that ought to save me some trouble."
"No but's," Pike says, and Natalie can tell that this time he isn't joking. He really is at the end of his patience.
"Fine," she says, getting up from her chair in the corner of the office and opening the door.
"Come in, Commander," she says, motioning to Spock to take a seat in front of the desk.
No one else would have noticed, but Natalie sees Pike react—a miniscule squint to his eye that means he is surprised. Serves him right, she thinks. He should have read the dossier.
Then Pike does look down at the folder and back up again too quickly to have gotten much useful from it.
"Spock," Spock says, tilting his head slightly.
From her place in the corner Natalie can see his face in profile—and she studies him without being observed. His features are sharp and striking—and in the early evening light, his skin has an odd cast to it that seems to highlight his alienness. Natalie shifts her attention to Pike. He looks more discomfited than she has seen him in a long time.
With a sudden gesture, Pike closes Spock's file and says, "So, Commander, tell me about yourself."
Natalie sighs. Surely Chris knows better than to ask such an open-ended question of a Vulcan. Or maybe not.
"Specify," Spock says, and Pike stops shifting in his chair and stares.
"Yourself," Pike says. "Anything you want to tell me."
Spock says nothing. Natalie stifles a snicker and Pike shoots her a warning glance.
"Let's try that again," Pike says. "Why are you here—in Starfleet?"
Spock doesn't move but Natalie senses that he is…annoyed, perhaps…but Vulcans don't get annoyed, do they? She tries to remember what she has heard about them. Not much—she's only met a few in her entire career, and none well enough to say she knows them.
"I am in Starfleet because I am not somewhere else," he says, and now it is Pike's turn to look annoyed.
"But you are teaching at the Academy? I did get that right, didn't I?" Pike asks, a definite prickliness creeping into his tone.
"Affirmative," Spock says, and Pike lifts his hands and says, "And?"
When Spock doesn't respond right away, Pike adds, "What are you teaching?"
For a few minutes Natalie sits back and listens as Spock explains his dual responsibilities to two departments, Pike jotting down a few notes and asking for a couple of points of clarification.
At last the two men seem to have found a rhythm to the interview, and Natalie relaxes and looks at her watch. Unlike Chris, she has looked through Spock's file—and she knows that on paper his qualifications top everyone else's. But Chris Pike runs his ships like family—and he trusts his intuition to help him put compatible crew in place, regardless of what someone's paper credentials might say.
"Let's talk about the summary I sent over," Pike says, and Natalie looks at her watch again. She's hungry, and this part of the interview is so routine that she can recite it in her sleep.
"I did not read it," Spock says, and Natalie sits up. What a stupid omission, she thinks. Pike's face flushes bright red—he's more than annoyed.
"You didn't have time?" Pike says in clipped words.
"I had time," Spock says, "but I did not deem it necessary."
Despite herself, Natalie lets out a snort. Pike looks up at her with wide eyes.
"Mister," he says, "if I tell you that something is necessary, then it is. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," Spock answers immediately, and Natalie holds her breath to see what Pike will do next. Dismiss him? Chasten him?
But before Pike can do either, Spock begins to speak.
"Sir," he says, "I apologize for the breach of protocol, but when I saw that the summary concerned the automatic subroutine program for the library computer archive, I realized that reading it would be an inefficient use of my time."
For a moment Pike sits and simply looks at Spock. Then he seems to gather himself and he says, "And you thought that--why?"
Something in Spock's posture catches Natalie's attention—some slight motion in his shoulders that she knows should mean something—and then he says, "Sir, I wrote that program. The summary would not add to my understanding of it."
Pike takes a deep breath and says, "I see." He waits for another beat and then adds, "Well, Commander, thank you for your interest. I'll be getting in touch with you."
Just like that, and Spock is dismissed. Natalie is surprised—usually Pike likes to have candidates ask questions about the ship, or about their duties—or he invites them to ask questions about his own travels—more, as he says, to get a feel for their personalities than anything else.
As soon as Spock shuts the door behind him, Pike blusters loudly.
"Of all the crazy-ass…what was Jenny Erickson thinking when she recommended this guy?"
Natalie moves to the chair Spock has vacated and sits down.
"Admiral Erickson's sent you lots of good people before," Natalie says, but Pike shushes her.
"Can you imagine having more than two words with this guy? How in the world he teaches in the language department beats me."
"His department chairs say he's brilliant—"
"What good is brilliant if he can't relate to anyone! Or can't follow orders? Or worse, is a liar!"
"You heard him. He said he wrote the computer program we are installing on the ship--"
"So--" Natalie begins, but Pike is too worked up to listen.
"So, I happen to know who wrote that program, and it isn't anyone named Spock. Here, look at that footnote," he says, pulling the summary paper from his desk and handing it to Natalie.
"Chris, you need to look—"
"So much for Vulcan honesty," Pike says, still simmering.
"Chris," Natalie says more loudly, "he wrote the program."
"Give me that," Pike says, pulling the paper out of Natalie's hand.
"At the bottom," she says.
"See," Pike says triumphantly, "this says…S'chn T'gai….Spock…does that mean what I think it means?"
Natalie stands and crosses her arms.
"Yep. Feel stupid?"
Pike lets out a breath and says, "Not yet. He's still not on my short list."
"That's your choice, of course," Natalie says, "but maybe that leaping without looking thing isn't such a good idea for you after all. Why don't you take his folder home and read it before you decide."
"Just to shut you up," Pike says, "but I'm not changing my mind."
A/N: This story stands alone, though in my time line it follows a trilogy of stories about how Spock and Nyota discover each other—"Slips of the Tongue," "The Visitor," and "The Word You Mean."
Thanks for giving this a whirl! Let me know what you think!
Chapter 2: Other Points of View
Chapter Two: Other Points of View
Disclaimer: I neither own nor profit from these characters—but I do have a lot of fun with them!
Before Spock goes to the interview, the rest of the afternoon with Nyota is a series of necessary chores for the upcoming week—setting the schedule, arranging the energy management for the lab, and finishing up some student assessments. By 1730 Spock is ready to head across campus to the administrative building and the interview—Nyota gathers up her things and walks with him until they reach her dorm and she wishes him good luck.
"Luck will have nothing to do with the outcome," he says, but this is an old joke between them, and she smiles. He estimates that he will arrive eight minutes early for the interview so he allows himself time to stand and watch as Nyota walks up the walkway and disappears inside.
The receptionist who normally mans the front desk has left for the evening and Spock wends his way alone down the hall to the office where Captain Pike is conducting interviews. The door is shut but Spock can hear voices inside—even in the outer office he can detect a decibel level high enough to indicate some emotional outburst.
He refrains from sighing.
Two minutes-thirty-seven seconds after his scheduled meeting time, the door finally opens and a short woman with cropped auburn hair motions him in. She doesn't introduce herself but Spock deduces that she is Pike's aide. She seats herself in a chair in the corner of the room--an interesting irregularity.
Captain Pike looks like a typical middle-aged human male—stockier than Spock and with gray flecks in his hair. The angle of Spock's chair keeps him from being able to see Pike's aide, but he can hear her as she shifts suddenly and takes in a quick breath.
Spock is certain that Pike's expression means something, though he cannot fathom what. The captain's glance to the folder and back up again suggests that he is not prepared for the interview—but that is illogical. This interview has been scheduled for several days.
"Commander…." Pike says, and Spock realizes with a start that the captain does not know his name. So he is unprepared for this interview. That is disconcerting—and disappointing.
"Spock," he says. To his surprise, Pike reaches out and closes the folder on his desk. Is the interview over already?
If so, then the captain has obviously made a decision, either selecting him or not. His unfamiliarity with Spock's dossier—indeed, his not knowing his name—seems to indicate a negative outcome. To his dismay, Spock feels a flash of anger.
But then the captain baffles him.
"Tell me about yourself."
Over the years Spock has learned to recognize when humans make jokes—their intonation becomes flatter, their faces relax into smiles, they narrow their eyes—but Captain Pike is doing none of those things. Still, his words indicate a humorous intent. Surely he does not mean for Spock to tell everything. That would be excessive—and time-consuming—and of questionable value. From behind him he hears the attaché breathing loudly.
When Spock asks the captain to clarify his comment, Pike gives him the same direction, almost verbatim.
A starship captain should be able to communicate swiftly, with unimpeachable clarity—again Spock feels a prickle of dismay.
The aide in the corner makes another noise. Is she somehow communicating something to Pike? This "double-teaming" feels vaguely unjust, or at the very least, confusing.
The captain's next question confirms Spock's suspicion that communication between them is likely to be misdirected.
"Why are you in Starfleet?" Pike asks, and Spock has a flashback to the moment that he made his decision while standing before the Vulcan High Council. He is in Starfleet because he is not there—and he tells Pike so.
The captain does seem to know that he is teaching—though not what subjects. What curious gaps in his knowledge. At last Spock understands what he can do—filling in missing information is something he does well. For a few minutes he and the captain are able to communicate without further missteps.
Later Spock will recount for Nyota the moment that the interview really ended—when he sensed that Pike had deemed him unsuitable for the job. Even when he tells her about the summary paper—and about his explanation for why he hadn't read it—he doesn't understand exactly what happened.
But Nyota does.
"He gave you an order that you didn't follow," she says, and Spock twitches with an irritation he rarely shows.
"Reading the summary was not an order," he says, "and it was unnecessary. If the captain wanted to discuss the subroutine program with the candidates, I was quite able to—"
"That's not it," Nyota says, putting her hand on his arm. "Look at it from his point of view. He expected you to do something that you didn't do—"
"It was unnecessary—"
"But you didn't do it! He's the captain—"
"Nyota," he says, pulling his arm away, "he is not my commanding officer, and sending a summary to read is not an order."
"Don't get upset with me," she says. "I'm trying to see why—"
"A captain of a starship should welcome efficiency," Spock says, his eyebrows raised, his back straight. He takes a breath and lowers his shoulders.
"You just got off on the wrong foot," Nyota says, but even Spock can tell that she is upset. "Did he say anything about a follow-up interview?"
He looks at her closely then—and is surprised to see water rimming her eyes.
"Nyota…." he says, and he calls up his past and uses the words his mother has taught him. "I am sorry."
Nyota nods then, and a tear spills down her cheek. They are sitting beside each other on his sofa in his apartment and she presses her face into his chest. Almost hesitantly he circles her gently with his arms, and they sit like that until Nyota's comm chimes—a student rescheduling a tutorial for the next morning—pulling them back to the concerns that consume their days.
"Did you see this?" Chris Pike says to Natalie the next afternoon, holding up his PADD and sliding his finger across the screen to replay the newsfeed.
Natalie shoves her empty salad bowl aside on the table and takes the PADD. As usual, the Academy cafeteria is noisy, and she has to turn up the volume and replay the feed again before catching the drift. When she does, she frowns and hands it back to Pike.
"That's two in a week," he says, and Natalie purses her lips.
"A fluke," she offers.
"A trend," he counters.
Just then the large screen mounted on the wall near their table reports the same story Pike has been following. For the past six months a growing protest movement has been gaining momentum in over-populated, under-resourced cities in Asia and the Pacific rim. Now the protests have turned violent—and have become local. Twice this week police have dispersed unruly crowds in both San Francisco and Monterrey.
"I don't get what these people want," Natalie says, motioning at the screen that shows people milling about with placards and large signs.
"Don't you? Xenophobes, all of them. Kick everyone off the planet who isn't human—that's what they want."
"You really think—" Natalie begins, but Pike interrupts.
"All that shit about the economy—about jobs—they can't really believe that aliens are keeping them from working. How many aliens you know? Lots? Hell, no. Even here I can't count more than a couple dozen I know personally. How many off-world cadets you think are keeping good humans out of the Academy? These guys," he says, waving at the screen, "are just blowing smoke."
Natalie sits back and waits for Pike to simmer down. She learned long ago never to talk politics with him—not that she doesn't mind going head to head with Pike in a heated argument, but political discussions with him rarely go anywhere but in a circle.
"Speaking of aliens," she says, picking up her glass and rattling the ice, "did you read Commander Spock's dossier yet? Like you said you would?"
Pike pushes back from the opposite side of the table and crosses one ankle over his knee. Natalie knows this signals his willingness to talk at length; so, the dossier has given him pause after all.
"And?" she prompts, and Pike takes a breath.
"I admit," he says, "that the guy looks good on paper."
"Okay, he's brilliant. You were right—his superiors think he's something else. Satisfied?"
"You aren't?" Natalie says.
"You were there," Pike says, raising his hands at her. "Having a conversation with him was like pulling teeth. How's that going to work on a ship? I tell you, it ain't!"
"So he's hard to talk to," Natalie says, laughing at Pike's expression. "Get to know him better. Call him back for another interview."
At this Pike shakes his head and Natalie adds, "Or meet him someplace else and have a normal conversation with him. You haven't given him a chance."
"What is it with you and this guy?" Pike says. "Why are you his advocate all of a sudden?"
"I don't know," Natalie says, beginning to feel irritated. "Why shouldn't I be in his corner? He wrote the frickin' computer program you're in love with, he gets high marks for his teaching ability—"
Pike's arms are crossed and she knows she's about to lose him. She points her chin at the news story still on the large screen overhead.
"And because of that. How do you know that you don't dislike him because he's a Vulcan? How do you know you aren't just as xenophobic as those guys—way down deep?"
Now she's gone too far—she can tell immediately. Pike flushes scarlet and sits stock still. His mouth opens and closes—undoubtedly to tell her off—but then he stands and turns and leaves the cafeteria without looking back.
She lets him go. He doesn't hold grudges—he never has—but he might need some time to cool off.
Well, Commander Spock, Natalie thinks, I've either given you another chance or just sunk your ship.
Chapter 3: Xenophobia
Chapter Three: Xenophobia
Disclaimer: I neither own nor profit from these characters—at least not in the literal sense. Metaphorically is another matter.
"You're joking, right?"
Gaila is standing at the foot of her bed, sorting through several scarves piled there. She picks up one and discards it to the floor, then chooses another and wraps it around her shoulders. With a twitch of irritation, she pulls it back off and drops it, too.
"Check your mail," Nyota says, leaning down to pick up the scarves. "It's in the afternoon bulletin."
With a huff, Gaila flops backward onto her bed. Nyota drapes the scarves over a chair near Gaila's desk and then sits on her own bed, turning to face her roommate.
"It's just a precaution—"
"I feel like I'm in prison!" Gaila exclaims. "I can take care of myself!"
Nyota starts to speak but Gaila heads her off with a raised hand.
"And don't tell me that this is for my own good, either! This is crazy. This is an overreaction—"
"I've been walking past them every day this week and no one—no one—has said anything to me!"
Gaila sits up and waves her arms over her head.
"The media has blown this all out of proportion," she says loudly, "and now I'm having to pay the price."
No use arguing with her when she's this torqued up, Nyota decides. Gaila's probably right, too—the anti-alien protesters who have camped outside the Academy gates in the past couple of days have been relatively quiet and few in number, at least until today. Requiring all cadets and active-duty personnel to travel with partners to and from the campus is an inconvenience—and an insulting one at that. If they can't handle some disaffected protesters here—
Well, Gaila is right to feel annoyed—though Nyota points out that off-world cadets are not the only ones who must abide by the travel restrictions.
"We're still going out tonight," she says, and Gaila's face lights up.
"That's true," Gaila says brightly. "You and me and Jerzy Markum-"
"What?" Nyota says, and Gaila looks intently at her own fingernails.
"Didn't I tell you?" she says, honey and innocence in her voice. "Jerzy said he wanted to come dancing with us—"
"Gaila, this was supposed to be a girls night out—"
"Naturally I told him no, but he was so broken-hearted, Nyota, I just couldn't do that do him. You don't mind, do you? Please?"
In spite of herself, Nyota laughs. Gaila bats her eyelashes and rests her chin on her folded hands.
"Well, if you think—"
"He said he had a friend for you, too—" Gaila says, and Nyota's face hardens quickly.
"Nope, nope, nope. Forget it. If you want to go dancing with Jerzy, go. But leave me out. Not interested. Definitely. Not. Interested."
"He's coming by at 1900," Gaila says, hopping up from her bed.
"I won't be here," Nyota replies, gathering up her satchel and putting several PADDs and folders inside. "I have work to do in the lab."
"Oh, yeah," Gaila says mischievously. "Work in the lab. Will the Commander be there? Late?"
Nyota feels a rush of heat creep up her neck as she slips on her shoes and looks around for her purse.
"In fact, he won't," she says. Gaila's "hmmpf!" denotes as much surprise as disbelief.
"His mother," Nyota says, "is in town, and he's going to be with her tonight. Stop snooping. It's unbecoming."
Gaila smirks and gives a little trilling laugh as Nyota opens the door to leave.
"Don't forget," Gaila calls, "1900 hours! Jerzy and I will wait for you!"
Nyota slams the door and Gaila adds, "Or maybe we won't."
"You aren't going to like it," Natalie says, handing Chris Pike a printout of his schedule for the coming week. "This new order is putting the kibosh on everybody."
Pike takes the paper and scans it as he takes a seat behind his desk in the same room where he had conducted Spock's interview three days earlier. Natalie watches him from the corner of her eye and waits for him to look up before she begins talking.
"Two of the candidates on the short list can come by this afternoon," she says, "but Lieutenant Commander Simms drew escort duty for the next two days. And Johnson, too. As long as the brass are worried about that crowd turning violent—well, better safe than sorry, I guess—"
She lets her words drift off and Pike frowns.
"And Commander Spock? He's walking cadets around, too?"
Pike says this with a tone in his voice that catches Natalie by surprise.
"No, sir," she answers. "He said he has another commitment. He made his apologies."
Pike taps a stylus idly against the PADD on his desk.
"Reschedule Simms and Johnson," he says. "I'll talk to Barnett later and see when he's thinking about rescinding this ridiculous thing."
"It might not be so ridiculous," Natalie ventures. "The news last night—"
"I saw it," Pike says. "But that was just a couple of drunks giving some cadets a hard time."
"Maybe," Natalie says. "Or maybe this thing is growing. That crowd by the gates is larger every day—and louder."
Pike sighs and puts his stylus down.
"I know," he says. "It just feels….wrong."
Natalie waits another moment before saying, "Want me to reschedule Commander Spock, too?"
"Did he say what that prior commitment was?"
"No, sir, just that he was unable to meet with you today or tomorrow. I can call and ask."
"Forget it," Pike says. "If he were really interested, he'd get free."
"Did you look at the rest of the schedule?" Natalie asks, and Pike picks up the paper. Again Natalie watches his face carefully, and sure enough he reacts as she expects.
"No, Nat, no!" he says. "You promised you'd get me out of that conference."
"Sorry, old man," she says with a grimace, "but Barnett himself said you were going."
"Wait until I talk to him—" Pike begins, but Natalie sits up and shakes her head.
"Don't even try," she says. "He made it clear that he wants you there."
"No but's," Natalie says firmly. "Consider it the price of being the captain of Starfleet's finest. Part of what you have to do is PR—so just suck it up and go. You might even have a good time."
"At a conference with a bunch of sociologists—and linguists—and ethnobiologists—please! Maybe at a conference on the physics of warp coil configurations—but please, please, don't make me sit and chat up a bunch of specialists on culture—"
"You're going, so get over it!" Natalie says laughing. For all his bluster, Pike is an extrovert who enjoys talking to strangers—and anything that he thinks will help his ship is interesting to him—even technical papers on obscure alien dialects. But he is busy—and the conference means a trip to Amsterdam and the loss of several days of work.
"I really have to go?" he asks, and Natalie nods.
"I'll send you the details," she says. "You want to wait until you get back to finish the interviews? Maybe by then things will quiet down—"
"No, go ahead and call them in. Those two guys—"
"Simms and Johnson?"
"Yeah, see if they can come in before I leave. I want to get this settled as soon as possible. I need someone to start going over the preliminary manifest—"
"And Commander Spock? You sure you don't want me to get in touch with him?"
"Natalie," Pike says, suddenly serious. She puts her hands in her lap and turns to give him her full attention. "I don't think…I mean, I thought about what you said—and I don't think I'm being unreasonable here."
Natalie frowns slightly and Pike adds, "I don't think his being a Vulcan is influencing my decision."
"Okay," Natalie says.
"I'm not a xenophobe—"
"I know that."
"But this guy isn't making it easy. Look, I was going to give him another interview and he turned me down. What can I do?"
"Nothing, I guess," Natalie says. But she doesn't look up at Pike as she speaks, and she knows he can read her disapproval.
For a moment they sit in silence, and then Pike says, "If I still don't feel good about any of these other candidates, I'll call him again when I get back from Amsterdam this weekend. How's that?"
Natalie sighs and looks up.
"Chris, whoever you choose as your first officer is your business."
"But choosing a first officer isn't like making a snap decision in the middle of a battle—you don't have to rush this. I know you like getting things settled—that's how you are—but something this important might need a little more time. That's all I'm saying."
Pike nods and smiles slowly.
"Thank you, mother," he says. "Duly noted. Now, how about a drink somewhere? I know a little bar just off the Embarcadero that I've been wanting to try."
Chapter 4: Unplanned Meetings
Chapter Four: Unplanned Meetings
Disclaimer: I neither own nor profit from these characters. I do, however, get much enjoyment from stalking them...which would be easier if they had Twitter accounts!
The hall lights in the language building are on later than usual, Nyota notes as she rounds the second-floor stairwell and shifts her satchel to her other shoulder. Usually the energy management plan plunges everything into darkness once the last person has left for the day—and she is certain that she was the last person when she left the lab two hours ago.
She hadn't planned to return—but being a third-wheel on an outing with Gaila is not her idea of a good time. Instead, she will do some of her own course work for a difficult xenolingistics class and finish grading student assignments that have taken her longer than she had anticipated.
When she gets to the top of the steps she hears voices in the distance and looks up in time to see Spock and a woman in a heavy coat coming out of his office. His mother, of course—Spock said she was coming into town.
For a moment she considers turning around and heading back down the stairs before they see her—something in Spock's manner when he told her earlier about the visit signaled his unease, and Nyota sensed that he wasn't ready to introduce them to each other.
On reflection she understood his reserve—after all, she and Spock are breaking Academy rules with their intimacy—possibly compromising their futures in Starfleet—and their public life has to remain beyond reproach….but she was disappointed—no, she was hurt—when he had not warmed to her suggestion that she and his mother meet this evening.
Now he may think that she has engineered this meeting on purpose—her heart races with embarrassment, but it is too late. Spock looks up and sees her standing at the top of the stairs.
She can read him well enough to see that he is surprised—but thankfully he is not upset. Instead, he takes his mother's elbow and begins walking toward Nyota.
Nyota pulls her satchel closer and tries to smile. Spock's mother is surprisingly petite—or at least, she looks small next to her son. They share the same dark eyes and high cheekbones, and Nyota laughs inwardly when she realizes that she is trying to get a glimpse of her ears.
"Cadet Uhura," Spock says, "I didn't expect to see you here."
"Yes, I—" Nyota says, flustered, "I have some research I need to do for a paper—and I wanted to get these last assignments graded before tomorrow. Your students have been asking for them."
Nyota can feel Spock's mother's gaze—but it is his gaze that makes her uncomfortable. She hazards a glance at him and is relieved that he is looking at her with a measure of quiet equanimity.
"Please," he says, "let me introduce you to my mother. Mother, this is my teaching assistant, Cadet Uhura."
"Amanda," Spock's mother says quickly, reaching for Nyota's hand.
"Nyota," she says, pressing her fingers into Amanda's palm. For a split second she is surprised—Amanda's hand is papery and cool—and…silent. Nyota darts a glance at Spock but catches herself before she comments.
"We're on our way to dinner," Amanda says, looking up at Spock and then back. "Would you care to join us?"
"Mother," Spock says quietly, "another time, perhaps. Cadet Uhura has said that she has work she must do tonight."
Nyota takes a breath and says, "Thank you, but….that's right. I really have to finish—"
"Another time then," Amanda says, and the sting that Nyota is trying not to feel eases a fraction. She smiles at mother and son and turns to walk towards the lab.
"Let me know when you have a chance to check your messages," Spock says, and Nyota stops and turns back.
"I forwarded a note to you from Admiral Keening," he says, "though you may have already gotten another notification."
"I don't think so," Nyota says, noticing that Amanda is watching their conversation closely.
"The Academy is being recognized for the language tutorial program," he says, "at the Feynman Conference in Amsterdam this weekend. Admiral Keening wants someone to represent the department. Professor Artura is visiting Andoria at the moment—though his aide has expressed an interest in attending."
"That's wonderful," Nyota says, startled. She remembers helping submit papers outlining the unique properties of their rotating tutorial program to the selection committee—but that had been months ago, and in the meantime she had assumed the conference had passed on having them present. "Are you going? Do you have to make a talk?"
"I have no choice," Spock says, "though your participation is optional. The presentation will be minimal—though you are, of course, welcome to come. Some of the other workshops may be of interest to you."
The dreariness and disappointments of the day scatter like birds, and suddenly Nyota is beaming.
"Yes, I want to go!" she says, and Spock tilts his head slightly and nods. He takes his mother's arm again and they head down the hall toward the lift.
"Good night," Amanda calls over her shoulder, but Nyota has already disappeared, practically skipping through the door into the lab.
The shuttle to Amsterdam is crowded with Academy staff and Starfleet personnel, and though none of the seats are particularly cramped, Natalie feels a moment of claustrophobia when she finds her seat in the back and stows her duffel overhead. The young cadet sitting on the aisle smiles and stands to let her squeeze in.
For a few minutes they are occupied with buckling up and negotiating arm rests—and finally the shuttle is cleared and they take off.
Normally on short hops like this, Natalie takes out her computer tablet and works—not just to get caught up, but to keep from having to make small talk with strangers. Even back here she can hear Chris up front deep in conversation with someone—he never meets a stranger.
Which is why, Natalie thinks, she is baffled by his reaction to the Vulcan first officer candidate. Chris is so good at putting people at ease—at inspiring confidence—at all the things that make him an exceptional leader.
The young cadet sitting beside her already has her computer out, and Natalie leans over and looks at the screen.
"I'm being nosey," she says, forcing herself to chat. Amsterdam is less than thirty minutes away—she can be friendly that long. "Hi, I'm Natalie. That the conference schedule?"
"I'm Uhura," Nyota says, tipping the screen so Natalie can see it better. "This is tomorrow's linguistics schedule but I can shift it to something else."
"No," Natalie says quickly, "that's fine. Are you presenting?"
"Not me alone," she says, scrolling to another screen. "I'm on a panel with another aide and a professor to talk about our tutorial program. See, here we are. It's just an hour on Saturday."
Natalie takes the computer tablet from Nyota's hand and looks at it more closely.
"Commander Spock? He's on the panel with you?"
"I'm his teaching assistant this semester," she says. "He and Professor Artura designed the program that we've been tracking—it really seems to help retention in new language learners."
"Here," Natalie says, handing Nyota her tablet. Suddenly a routine shuttle trip has become interesting. She cranes her neck but can't catch a glimpse of Chris. No matter. She's been his attaché long enough to know the kinds of things he would want her to find out.
"So, a language program. You're tracking for communications, then?"
"Um hmm," Nyota says, thumbing the tablet screen. "One more year."
"Good luck with that," Natalie says. "Teaching assistant—that must take a lot of your time."
"It does," she says, "but I like it. Mostly I monitor the lab, so I have time to do my own work. And Commander Spock lets me take time off when I need it, so it hasn't been overwhelming."
"I don't know him," Natalie says, and then, feeling guilty and disingenuous, she adds, "is he on this shuttle?"
She knows he isn't—but she doesn't want this cadet to know her connection to Captain Pike. She's not sure why she is being so secretive—she doesn't think a cadet would care about or try to influence the interview process—and then Natalie reminds herself that Spock has no more interviews scheduled—that this is nothing more than an innocent conversation.
"He's coming tomorrow," Nyota says, switching off her computer and tucking it into a carrying case on her lap. "His mother is ill and he's staying with her through her treatment."
"Oh!" Natalie says, surprised. "Nothing serious, I hope."
"It's serious," Nyota says, "but treatable. I'm not sure I understand all the details, but the way he described it, his mother has to have regular treatment for radiation exposure."
Natalie's eyebrows shoot up into her bangs—but Nyota is concentrating and doesn't notice.
"Apparently the Vulcan sun has some extra wavelengths that are toxic to humans after long exposure," Nyota says, and Natalie has to do a quick mental dance to follow what she is saying. Her frown pulls Nyota back.
"I'm not being very clear," she says to Natalie. "Commander Spock is from Vulcan, but his mother is human. She's okay—as long as she has the treatment regularly. And I think she has family nearby that she visits when she's here."
Natalie thinks about the tall, sallow Commander and tries to reconcile the idea of a human mother. That flash of annoyance she had seen in his posture and heard in his tone—it had surprised her at the time, but perhaps his mixed heritage explains it better. Not such a cold fish after all. What will Chris make of this? Something? Nothing? She can't predict.
"I hope everything goes well," Natalie says, checking her chronometer. The trip is already half over.
"Thanks," Nyota says. "I hope so, too."
Something wistful in Nyota's tone of voice prick's Natalie's attention. She's never been a big believer in what people call intuition—that's Chris' bailiwick, his absolute belief in his own ability to leap to the right conclusion, data be damned—and he is usually justified.
But Natalie trusts facts and figures. She doesn't mind saying that she sees the world in black and white—she's comfortable leaving those shades of gray for Chris to dicker with.
Yet here she is having a moment of intuition. From the first she has been unable to articulate why she thinks Chris should give this young Commander a serious look—something about him just feels right for Chris—a necessary counterpoint.
And now something in this young cadet's cadence—in the warmth of her voice—something not in black and white but tenuous and hard to pinpoint—suggests a story Natalie needs to know.
That she's going to find out.
A/N: Thanks for reading and reviewing!
Chapter 5: Keeping Mum
Chapter Five: Keeping Mum
Disclaimer: I neither own nor profit from these characters. I do enjoy eavesdropping on them—and spying on them—and reporting what I see and hear….
Amanda Grayson doesn't usually complain. Not that she has adopted the stoic mannerisms of the people she has chosen to live among—not at all. Indeed, Sarek often chides her for her emotionalism, and she is well aware that her Vulcan friends and neighbors make certain allowances for her.
No, Amanda doesn't complain because when she does, Sarek and Spock suffer such distress for her that they cannot hide their feelings.
She doesn't want to cause them pain or embarrassment—so a headache or a minor worry often goes unremarked on…and results in a loneliness that from time to time sends her to the subspace communication console for long heart-to-heart conversations with her sister back on Earth.
Since Spock has been in Starfleet—first as a cadet and now as an instructor in the Academy—Amanda has scheduled her periodic radiation treatments at the hospital facilities near the campus. This gives her a chance to visit her son, and her sister who still lives near Seattle. Despite the rigor of the treatment—the nausea and subsequent exhaustion—Amanda has come to look forward to these regular trips home—and to the time to catch up with her sister and her family, talking like school girls late into the night about matters serious or silly.
Originally she had planned to take a shuttle from San Francisco to Seattle this afternoon after the treatment was finished, but a large gathering of protesters had filled the street separating the hospital entrance and the main gates of the campus, and by the time she and Spock had navigated their way around the roadblock, she was gasping for breath and uncharacteristically asking for help.
The protest itself is upsetting enough, she thinks, as Spock takes her elbow and holds her firmly while he keys in the entrance code to the gate. Two cadets are also posted there, though they say nothing as Spock and his mother make their way in.
As the gate swings shut behind them, Amanda looks back at the crowd—most who are simply milling around as though they are waiting for something, though a few are holding up signs that say "Aliens Go Home" and "No Federation." They look like unhappy picnickers—most in short-sleeves and trainers or sandals.
Both she and Spock stand out from the crowd—he with his charcoal gray instructor's uniform, his Vulcan features unmistakable, and she with a heavy textured tunic and overcoat. She reflects later that Spock's obvious solicitousness—his careful grip on her arm, her pallor and halting walk—may have saved them from catching any negative comments from the onlookers as they pressed their way through the crowd.
She's sure she would have said something if anyone had spoken—and Spock would have been mortified.
Instead of making their way to the transport hub, Spock leads his mother to his apartment and stations her on his sofa while he makes them some tea. Amanda closes her eyes and puts her head on the armrest, listening as Spock fills the kettle and pulls cups and spoons from the cabinets.
At last he places two cups of tea on the table at the end of the sofa and pulls up a chair nearby and sits down. Amanda looks up and laughs—not because she is amused, but to try to diffuse some of his anxiety.
"Stop looking so upset," she says, waving her hand in Spock's direction. "I'm just tired. I'll be okay soon."
But Spock's frown deepens and he says, "Mother, I have canceled your shuttle reservation. You cannot travel today."
Amanda sits up immediately—and is instantly sorry. Her head swims and her stomach lurches—and the angry words she was going to say die as she realizes that Spock is right. This treatment has knocked her for a loop.
"They'll be expecting me—" she begins, but Spock interrupts.
"I've already contacted Chris," he says, referring to his cousin who usually picks Amanda up at the Seattle station.
"I sent a message to him as well," Spock says, handing his mother her cup of tea that she takes reluctantly. "You can stay here tonight. If you are well enough in the morning, you can continue your journey then."
Amanda purses her lips and sighs.
"I guess it's all decided then," she says. She isn't surprised—once he has made up his mind that something is a logical course of action, Spock moves forward quickly—and Amanda knows that she needs to rest before trying to travel. She takes a sip of her tea and looks up at her son. Something niggles at the edge of her consciousness and then she remembers.
"Wait a minute!" she says, and Spock's face flashes alarm. "I thought you had to go out of town this weekend—"
Amanda starts to put her teacup back on the table so she can try again to sit up, but Spock says, "My presentation is not until Saturday. I am not needed at the conference before then."
"But your assistant—"
"Is free until Saturday as well. She went early so she could attend other workshops. She does not expect me before our presentation time."
Amanda watches Spock as he tells her this—his voice is even and controlled but he does not meet his mother's eyes….something's up. Amanda recognizes that small telltale sign that Spock is being less than truthful with her. She considers calling him on it—but another wave of exhaustion makes her lean back onto the sofa instead. Spock takes her teacup from her hand and sets it down on the table.
"Perhaps you need something to eat?" he asks, but Amanda shakes her head.
"Just sit here with me for a minute," she says, and Spock pulls his chair closer to the sofa and takes his mother's hand in his.
At once Amanda is flooded with his worry and concern—and something else, too, that she can't identify. She closes her eyes and pictures their garden at home on Vulcan—the rows of cabbage-like plants that she had planted a week ago, and the Terran desert flowers growing nearby that had just started to bloom, smelling of chocolate and honey.
The image calms her down and she is able to sense again Sarek's presence, and Spock's—and for a moment she is content. She opens her eyes and grins.
"That's better," she says. "Now, let's talk."
Even if she weren't touching his hand, Amanda would have felt Spock's alarm. His face blanches slightly and he pulls back, still holding her hand but clearly shielding his thoughts from her. She takes her hand out of his and laughs.
"I'm sure we won't talk about anything you don't want to talk about," she says, "so relax. I just wanted to see how you are."
Spock says nothing—but Amanda doesn't expect him to. She continues, "How are you feeling—doing—since you came home last month?"
"Mother—" Spock says, and Amanda can hear his impatience. She adds, "You know what I mean-don't pretend you don't."
That visit home had been a surprise—though Spock had said he was simply taking advantage of the school break. He had been oddly distracted and agitated—and then in equal measure quiet and…relieved…yes, she decides, that was his prevailing mood after the annulment from T'Pring.
If she is completely honest with herself, Amanda knows that she is as relieved—and Sarek is, too. Both had been shocked when T'Pring had refused at first to see Spock when he was home—but it had made clear her unsuitability as a partner…and had given Sarek reason enough to arrange the annulment.
Spock has not spoken about it since—at least not to her. Amanda reaches within herself again and feels the steady presence of her bond with Sarek—and she feels a pang that Spock has lost the possibility of that sort of connection to someone.
Now Spock seems to be considering how to answer her, and Amanda gives him what she hopes is an encouraging look.
"Mother," he says, "I am doing well. You need not concern yourself on my behalf."
Amanda starts to protest and he continues. "Your immediate concern should be regaining your strength. Perhaps the best use of your time would be in sleeping."
She opens her mouth to refuse his offer but he holds out his hands to help her up and she accepts instead. The bedroom is a short walk down the hall and she pulls back the duvet and sits down gratefully on the bed.
"Don't let me sleep too long," she says, and Spock pulls the duvet up over her as she reclines. "I'm sure I'll be alright soon."
Spock palms the light off as he leaves the room and heads back down the hall. For a minute Amanda is sure that she will sink to sleep right away, but she struggles to get comfortable, turning from her back to her side and then back again. In the distance she can hear Spock cleaning up in the kitchen—the ching of dishes in the sink, the plash of water.
Reflected light from the hallway catches on several objects in the room—the mirror over the dresser, an old-fashioned glass bottle next to a stack of papers and folders on the table beside the bed. She rolls over on her stomach and glances down—and her eye catches on something else, small and shiny, trapped between the bed frame and the mattress. Without thinking she reaches down and touches it—and is surprised that it feels springy.
Amanda leans her head over the side of the bed and plucks at the object—and it comes away the second time she tries. She holds it up—a round elastic band with a small metal rivet sealing the ends together. The band is wrapped in a bright red thread—and suddenly Amanda knows what this is.
A hair ornament. A band for pulling long hair up into a ponytail.
And sure enough, when she looks again, she can see two long strands of dark hair held snugly by the threads.
If she hadn't been looking in exactly the right spot—if the light hadn't reflected off the metal rivet—this band would have been invisible.
She does not move. She feels like someone caught in a whirlpool, the images of the shore swirling around her too swiftly to identify. Spock's visit home—the number of calls back to San Francisco while he was there—the palpable relief when he and Sarek had returned from meeting with the healer who had engineered the annulment—Spock's discomfort when Amanda had suggested they include his teaching assistant at dinner—and the young woman herself—Nyota—watching Spock so carefully for reasons that Amanda now understands.
So. What to do?
Amanda holds the band up to the feeble light in the hallway and considers. If she shows it to Spock, what will he say? Even Spock won't be able to explain away a hair band in his bed.
He'll be embarrassed to be found out—that's certain—but he might also be relieved. More than once when he was a child, Amanda had confronted him with information that he thought he was keeping secret from her—a surreptitious collection of poison ichani insects kept in a jar under his bed, for instance, that she had discovered one day while he was at school—and he had seemed resigned to owning up to his actions.
But he is not a boy anymore—although at 27 he is still quite young by Vulcan standards—and she hesitates to bring him any distress.
She thinks about the protesters mingling outside the Academy gates, and she feels a rush of fury again as she did when she and Spock had to make their way through them earlier. These people have judged her son unfairly—unfit to live here—to be a part of this world, and she feels again the old, old sorrow—that she has brought into the universe a child who is at home nowhere, that she has been unable to protect anywhere, and she closes her fist around the hair band and shuts her eyes.
He may feel at home nowhere, but he feels at home with someone.
For a moment she lies still, her heart beating hard, and then she rolls to her side and looks again over the side of the bed. He'll tell her when he's ready. She puts the hair band back in the spot where it must have fallen recently, where it has been hiding from discovery, and she turns over once more and finally drifts off to sleep.
A/N: I love wordplay—hence the pun in this chapter title! Is anyone out there reading? I appreciate your letting me know!
Chapter 6: From Bad to Worse
Chapter Six: From Bad to Worse
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, and I make no money from blabbing about what they do.
Natalie Jolsen lifts her glass and rattles the ice as the waiter scoots by. He pauses long enough to nod and steps quickly across the conference room to the free-standing bar set up for attendees. At the other end of the room is a buffet spread across several tables, and around it, small tables where a few people are still eating and chatting.
Suddenly the waiter is at her elbow with another bourbon—her third—and a credit pad in his hand. She keys in her number and takes the receipt the waiter gives her; as soon as he moves away, she crumples the paper and tosses it on the floor.
On the opposite side of the table Chris Pike is deep in conversation with a software engineer who claims to be able to enhance any program's interface with the master computer slated for the next generation of starships. It's an incredible claim, and Pike is clearly skeptical. His questions are incisive but polite—but after a few minutes Natalie realizes that the software engineer is using the conversation more for self-promotion than for information sharing.
That's not a surprise. Since Chris' appointment was announced several months ago, he's been inundated with potential crew members jockeying for his attention and a possible slot on the Enterprise.
Normally promotions and positions are handled by seniority and rating scales and roster rotations, but Chris made hand-picking his crew a condition for accepting the captaincy of the Enterprise—not a surprising demand to anyone who knows him well. He's always thought of his crew as surrogate family—indeed, if Starfleet hadn't recalled him mid-mission from his last command, he would have corralled most of that familiar crew instead of what he is doing—these interminable interviews to meet the people who will become his new family.
And if Natalie weren't planning to resign her commission as soon as the Enterprise launches, she would be busy now as his first officer, overseeing the last of the construction and planning the manifest.
But rather she is here, bored and getting slightly drunk, listening with half her attention while she keeps an eye out for Commander Spock.
She knows he is in the building. Earlier her contact at headquarters had answered her discreet inquiry about his landing time at Schiphol terminal—Commander Spock had apparently rescheduled his departure from San Francisco three different times during the day, finally catching the last shuttle and arriving in Amsterdam at 1930.
A quick train ride to Leiden, the university town hosting the conference—and a walk through the city center since no vehicles have been allowed for several centuries, a Dutch effort to maintain some of the traditional character of the towns surrounding the megalopolis of Amsterdam—and Natalie had figured he would arrive before 2000 hours.
When she was coming down to dinner she had actually passed him in the hallway—each giving the other a curt nod. As she was about to press the lift button she felt a jolt—how stupid, she thought, not to have watched him to see where he was heading. Some spy she would make!
She had hurried back to the hallway but he was already gone—possibly to a room of his own—but more probably to the room at the very end of the hall where Natalie knows Nyota is staying.
But she doesn't know for certain, and without hard evidence, Natalie says nothing of her suspicions to Chris.
She's not even certain why she is watching Spock—and keeping an eye on his teaching assistant. What they do in private is none of her business.
Unless, of course, they get caught—and then all her investment in getting Chris to consider Spock for the Enterprise will be wasted energy.
Of course, Chris hasn't agreed to anything yet, though he had listened intently when she had told him what she had learned on the shuttle ride.
She is suddenly very tired and considers taking her bourbon with her up to her room and a hot bath when Spock and Nyota enter the conference room together. That's not smart, Natalie thinks, and then she chides herself. No one else would see anything unusual about the two of them walking into a room at the same time. She takes another sip of her drink and watches them make their way to the buffet table.
Spock picks up a small plate and walks slowly down the table as Nyota keeps up a running patter, pointing to certain items and shaking her head from time to time.
Natalie sits transfixed, her bourbon glass in her right hand. Something about their posture—about Nyota's peremptory motions with her hands—suggests a familiarity and an affection that surprises Natalie. Is she the only one who sees this? She looks around but not even Chris is paying attention. Instead, he is saying farewell to the software engineer who is finally, finally getting up to leave.
Chris glances over at Natalie and grins. She knows what he will say before he speaks, but it makes her laugh anyway.
"I've got some catching up to do," he says, pointing at the drink in her hand.
He looks up to signal the waiter and sees Spock and Nyota walking back from the buffet table. Because she has been watching them so closely, Natalie sees what Chris does not—Nyota's finger brushing the top of Spock's hand as she says something to him. Spock looks over at Natalie and Chris then, and Chris waits only a beat before waving him over.
Nyota says something else to Spock before making her way back across the room and out the door. Only then does Natalie realize that Nyota must have already eaten—must have been coaching Spock on what foods his dietary restrictions would allow.
"Commander Spock," Chris says, motioning for him to take a seat. "My attaché tells me that you are making a presentation tomorrow."
Natalie puts her drink down on the table and sits up. Spock carefully puts his plate on the table and pulls out a chair, but he says nothing. Natalie tries to make eye contact with him—perhaps she can encourage him to make an effort at conversation. Spock, however, seems intent on the plate in front of him.
Chris gives her a quick glance and then says, "So tell us, what's the presentation about?"
For the next two minutes Spock does—in so much detail that Natalie begins to wonder why she ever thought he needed encouragement. Tap into his interests, Natalie thinks, and he doesn't shut up.
The waiter brings Chris a drink at last and Spock falls silent again as Chris signs his credit tab.
"I'm sorry to hear that your mother is ill," Chris says, and Natalie sees a flicker of surprise flash across Spock's face. She wonders if Chris sees it too—and whether or not he will tell Spock how he knows. Revealing her as a source of information makes her feel flushed—and oddly guilty.
But Chris continues. "This radiation treatment—now why doesn't she have that on Vulcan instead of coming all the way back here?"
Spock puts his fork down on his plate before he answers.
"She could have the treatment at home, but she combines her time here with visits to her family."
Chris nods and seems to be about to say something else when Spock adds, "And she says that spending time with certain members of her family helps her remember that there are things worse than radiation treatment."
Perhaps it is the third bourbon, Natalie thinks, but the Commander is being funny.
"I spent some summers with my cousins," Spock goes on, "and I agree."
Both Chris and Natalie meet each other's gaze—and Chris grins. A joke! At least, Natalie hopes it is a joke. Spock picks his fork back up and continues eating.
"Sounds like my kind of people," Chris says, and Spock answers, "They were pleasant company compared to my classmates on Vulcan. They could, however, create a great deal of what my aunt called mischief."
"You? Mischief? I can't picture that, Commander."
"I did not say that I participated," Spock says, finishing his food and pushing his plate to the side, "just that my cousins were the instigators."
He waits a second and then adds, "Although from time to time—"
"I'll bet—" Chris starts to say, but at that moment the building rocks so violently that the table collapses on one side and plaster dust snows from the ceiling. All over the conference room people are crouching behind their overturned chairs, smoke billowing and a faint alarm howling.
Natalie is on her knees, her broken glass under her hand—she can hear Chris yelling for people to get down as another explosion shakes the building.
Immediately she knows what is happening. She and Chris had talked about it earlier—the possibility that the growing anti-alien movement might erupt while the conference was in session. Only a few protesters had greeted them at the air terminal when they landed—but they had been louder than the crowd that gathered all week outside the Academy gates back home.
A larger group had barricaded themselves outside the conference center, almost all of them carrying cards and placards and playing to the media coverage. Uniformed officers were stationed to keep them at bay—the local government resisted the Federation's offer for more staff—and now someone must have breached the entrance.
The smoke hurts Natalie's throat and she feels a wave of anger. What idiot would detonate a sonic grenade in a building unless he had suicidal tendencies? The probability of structural compromise is high, as is a possible fire—
She doesn't have time to think further. Chris is yelling something to her and Spock grabs her by the forearm and pulls her toward the door to the right.
Another loud explosion knocks them both off their feet. The sound of shouting—and then a small group of men in civilian clothes rushes into the room, personal weapons drawn.
"Don't move!" someone shouts.
From the corner of her eye Natalie sees Chris signal to Spock. Spock slowly stands and begins to sidle backwards, slowly and noiselessly.
Chris, on the other hand, steps toward the armed men, his hands raised.
"Are you in charge?" he says, and the protester who had yelled earlier says again, "Don't move!"
Chris stops in his tracks and slowly lowers his hands.
"Listen," he says, "if you want to have your say, you need to let these people go first."
The armed man who had spoken earlier waves his weapon at Chris.
"I've already had my say," he yells. "Now I want action! We're tired of talking. We want—"
While he is talking, Natalie watches as Spock circles around behind him, moving closer until he is able to reach out and grab the nexus between his neck and his shoulder. The man collapses as if he has been pole-axed—and as he does, Chris runs forward and wrestles a small firearm from another protester. The remaining two turn to run but are stopped by the crowd—and to Natalie's eye, give up rather quickly and with some relief.
And then all hell breaks out as the crowd parts suddenly—and Natalie sees Spock leaning over to scoop up a live sonic grenade from the floor, its telltale whine signaling imminent detonation.
Instinctively she crouches and covers her ears—and sees only a glimpse of Spock as he runs out of the conference room. She looks up at Chris at the same time that she hears the explosion.
A/N: Thanks for sticking with this story!
Chapter 7: What Doesn't Get Said
Chapter Seven: What Doesn't Get Said
Disclaimer: I neither own nor profit from these characters—except in the emotional sense….but that's something!
By the time Amanda feels strong enough to continue her journey to Seattle, Spock has been forced to change his own travel plans several times—an annoyance he tries hard to hide from his mother.
He can tell, however, that she is not fooled. Twice she has gotten as far as leaving his apartment and hailing a ground car to take them to the transport hub—and both times she has been forced to turn around and wait a few hours until she can sit up without fear of fainting.
Both times she has apologized profusely—though Spock reminds her that apologizing for something she cannot help is illogical—and apologizing to a Vulcan for anything at all is probably a waste of energy.
At last, however, she seems more herself—regaining her strength and losing the sickly pallor that has been so alarming—leaving Spock just enough time to gather his own things and catch the last shuttle to Amsterdam.
At Schiphol terminal he calls Nyota on his comm and makes his way to the train to Leiden and what he expects to be a short ride to the conference center—but protesters block the train platform and he and a small knot of travelers are forced to wait while local police forcibly remove them.
When he is finally able to board the train, he hears shouting—words clearly directed at him, telling him to go home.
"This isn't your world!" an older man yells as the train doors slide closed.
The familiar hurt rushes through him—sharp and infuriating—and Spock looks straight ahead and refuses to meet the gaze of any of his fellow passengers.
Instead of checking in at the conference registration, Spock heads immediately to Nyota's room when he arrives. He doesn't trust himself to talk to anyone else yet.
By the time he has walked up seven flights of stairs, he has regained a measure of composure—until he passes Captain Pike's attaché in the hall, and he thinks about the interview again and how badly it had gone. Immediately he is angry—and horrified to have to acknowledge his anger.
Nyota opens her door as he is about to press the chime. She has obviously been waiting and watching for him—the kind of attention that she often bestows, not just on him but on his students as well, and on her friends.
He breathes deeply and feels a quiet rush of gratitude for her.
"What's wrong?" she says as he lowers his duffel to the floor and turns to her. He takes a step and puts his hands loosely around her waist, leaning his forehead to hers. They stand like that for a moment, and then she pulls back and says again, "What's wrong? What happened?"
What to tell her?
That human prejudice has evoked an emotional reaction in him? That hearing someone shout "this isn't your world" has made him feel as vulnerable as he did as a child?
That part of him is still with his mother as she settles in with her family in Seattle—and that he has been unable to set aside his worry about her unusual reaction to the radiation treatment this time?
That the interview with Captain Pike feels like a personal and confusing rejection—like a door that has been shut unfairly?
He wants to tell her none of these things—but he does not want to lie, either, the way a human would do, with some misdirection or platitude, and so he tells her another truth, one that is suddenly urgent and real.
"I have…missed you," he says, pulling her closer, and she sighs and puts her arms around his neck.
"You aren't telling me everything," she says.
Her arms around his neck are cool and soothing. Spock closes his eyes and concentrates on her touch—and the rage and worry begin to ebb away.
He is surprised at how quickly he can let go of the turmoil of the day—and he is surprised, pleasantly so, to realize that he is becoming aroused. He unwraps his arms from Nyota's waist and puts one hand on the small of her back, nudging her toward the bed.
Her laugh is quick yet her eyes are narrowed—she is watching him as though she is uncertain about something. He knows he needs to reassure her that he is well, but before he can, she says, "Dinner's almost over. You better get something to eat before they close the buffet."
She may be joking with him—she knows that he can go without food for quite some time with little discomfort—or perhaps she does not share his arousal and needs more time to prepare. He lets go of her and looks at her more closely.
"You need to make an appearance," she says. "You've missed most of the conference, and people have been asking me where you are."
He opens his mouth to respond but she cuts him off.
"And don't say that you don't care," she says. "These people are your colleagues—and they are curious to hear from you."
Above all else, he respects curiosity—and so he shifts his expectations of the evening and stifles his budding disappointment.
"Don't look at me that way," Nyota says playfully. "We'll have dessert—later."
When they arrive at the conference room, Spock realizes that most of the participants have already left—only a few scattered people are still sitting and eating. Nyota motions him toward the steamer table with various unfamiliar foods.
"I tried that one and it was awful," she says, pointing to a sliced purple vegetable sprinkled with chopped herbs. "Which means you will probably like it," she says, and he lifts the serving fork and puts one on his plate.
"Don't take that," she says, indicating an aromatic curry. "It is loaded with cinnamon."
She waggles her eyebrows at him—and he gives her an amused look. He had told her about the time he had eaten an entire tagine of cinnamon-laced vegetables—and had discovered the aphrodisiac effect on Vulcans—similar to the better-known effect of cacao.
"Perhaps the chocolate cake?" he says, teasing her, and Nyota snorts.
"Don't you dare! I said we would have dessert later," she says, "in my room. Not here now in front of everyone!"
They move from the table and he sees Captain Pike at the same moment that Nyota spots him.
"Uh oh," she says. "There's Pike's attaché again. I saw her on the shuttle here, but I didn't remember who she was until later. She was on that trip to Riverside Shipyard—though she wasn't there the whole time. It might be my imagination, but I think she's been watching me."
Spock looks down at her with clear skepticism, and Nyota rushes on.
"I know it sounds crazy—but we need to be careful. They're looking over here. Go on—I'll meet you back upstairs."
Spock hesitates for a fraction of a moment but moves forward when he feels Nyota's hand brush his briefly. Of course she is right. They do need to be cautious—and now that the captain has seen him, he needs to acknowledge it. He takes his plate and sits at the table.
"Commander Spock," the captain says, "my attaché tells me you are making a presentation tomorrow."
Like so many things that humans say, this is an obvious statement of fact and needs no reply. From the corner of his eye Spock can tell that Pike's attaché is swiveling her head and making a motion with her hand—a signal of some sort, he is sure, though whether it is for him or Pike he is uncertain.
On further reflection, he decides it must be a signal for Captain Pike. Pike looks in her direction and then asks a question that is specific enough to answer.
"So tell us, what's the presentation about?"
The tutorial rotation that Spock and Professor Artura have designed is elegant and simple—and Spock is pleased that Captain Pike seems genuinely interested in it. Such a program would have limited usefulness on a starship—so Pike's interest is a surprise—and a welcomed one. Perhaps his knowledge base is deeper than Spock had assumed.
And then Pike does to Spock what he had done in the interview—he baffles him.
"I'm sorry to hear that your mother is ill," the captain says.
That Pike knows this sort of personal information is extraordinary, and Spock's first reaction is to ask how he knows. No matter. That he can ferret out such details suggests a network of contacts that is formidable—and impressive.
In spite of his earlier anger—in spite of his disappointment with the first interview and with Pike in general—Spock feels his assessment of the man changing. This is no uninformed martinet, no lackadaisical pretender.
Spock decides to test his impression further by venturing a small witticism about his human relatives—and sure enough, the captain and his attaché seem to appreciate the effort. Their smiles denote a positive reaction—but before Spock can consider the implications of this, the building shakes and he and most of the people in the room are tossed to the floor.
Later at the debriefing at Starfleet, Spock will recount what happened next—how Pike had quickly taken control, sketching out for Spock a wordless plan with hand motions—circle around while I distract them—and how the violent protesters had been quickly subdued.
He tells Starfleet about his decision to pick up the sonic grenade and run—about how he considered throwing himself on it before the timer ran out—and how he was uncertain that his body mass would be enough to deflect most of the explosive force.
He tells about running down the hallway, ready to break the far window and throw the grenade outside until he saw a group of protesters standing on the lawn.
He tells about the three doors he noticed to his right—two ornate wooden ones and one metal service door, and how he had debated what might be on the other side. The wooden doors were decorative and probably led to other meeting rooms—which would mean conference attendees might be there—but the metal door looked more utilitarian, possibly used only occasionally by the staff. He had chosen that door, surveyed the work room behind it and decided that it was empty, tossing the grenade inside and then shutting the door, pinning his body against it to hold it shut.
He tells about his next memory—a few seconds later—when he found himself on the other side of the hallway, the unhinged door on top of him, glass shards embedded across his brow.
What he does not tell anyone is what else he thought about in those seconds after he picked up the grenade and rushed and considered and made decisions.
He does not tell them that underneath his determination and logic he was consumed by a sudden sadness about his own death—and his certainty that he was about to die.
He does not tell them that part of his mind was reliving his time with Nyota even as he was opening doors and bracing himself for the explosion. Like watching a crazy, out-of-sync holovid, he had seen both of them together, their work and play and sexual exploration—watching like someone other than himself watching their story—knowing the end was coming, and wishing an illogical wish that he did not have to die now, just as he was beginning to really live.
He does not tell them that all of these things were not enough to stay his hand or stop his actions—and discovering that level of commitment has given him much to consider about himself—has given him much to meditate about when he has time again to sit and reflect on what has happened and what it means.
And he does not tell them what happens later—after the medics have cleaned his cuts and checked for breaks—after the emergency shuttle flights have begun evacuating the conference attendees and he and Nyota are assigned different departure schedules hours apart.
How Natalie comes up to Nyota and says, "trade with me," holding out her own departure slip, and Nyota does, gratefully, leaving on the flight with Spock instead of later with the other cadets. How both he and Nyota fall asleep on the flight back to San Francisco, and how no one seems to notice or care that they wake with their hands entwined, their fingers curled together.
A/N: For everyone who has read this far, thanks! I hope that means you are enjoying this story. For everyone who has left a kudo, you are a jewel! I hope you know how much I have enjoyed you! One more chapter in this particular story….coming soon!
Chapter 8: The End and the Beginning
Chapter Eight: The End and the Beginning
Disclaimer: Not mine. No money.
They choose a bar close to Starfleet headquarters, one usually full of personnel coming off duty. Like most bars from time immemorial, it is dark and somewhat dank—with small cluttered tables and well-worn chairs situated around a long counter staffed by a bartender more gifted in listening than in giving advice.
Natalie would have preferred a bar at a restaurant instead—she's already hungry and the bar peanuts and soy chips set out with their drinks are a paltry meal—but both she and Chris are too eager for a drink to walk past their familiar watering hole.
It's a celebration of sorts, though Natalie thinks that anyone watching them would think they are in mourning instead. Both sit hunkered over their drinks, shifting in the uncomfortable chairs and trying to figure out how to say goodbye.
They are on their second drinks—bourbon for her, scotch for him—when Chris sighs and sits up.
"This is damned awkward," he says, and Natalie lifts her head and gives a half nod. "For the record, this isn't how this was supposed to go," Chris says.
Natalie curls her fingers around her glass and smears the condensation with her thumb.
"Yeah, well," she begins. "It's not like I didn't give you fair warning."
Chris takes another sip of his drink and leans back. That's his "let's talk" position, and despite herself, Natalie laughs. He looks so serious.
"So," he says, "when's this baby coming?"
Natalie almost chokes on her drink. She puts down her glass and looks Chris in the eye.
"You might be surprised to hear this," she says, "but it doesn't work like that. You don't resign one day and get pregnant the next. It might be awhile."
"Then why—" he says, and she continues.
"Chris," she says. "Sir," she says with exaggerated emphasis, "how many times do we have to go over this? I'm ready to move on. To start a family. To have time to have dinner with my husband once in awhile."
"To think about something other than ships and the military brass—" she continues. "You laugh, but one day you'll want to settle down—maybe have a kid or two."
Chris lets his chair rock forward so that he can lean closer.
"There's where you're wrong," he says, "and I'm surprised at you. I thought you knew me better than that."
Natalie says nothing but watches him over the rim of her glass held in her hand.
"Go on then," Chris says irritably. "Leave everything that means something to you—just leave your career and go on to whatever….but that's not what I want for me. I'm getting what I want, what I've always wanted."
Natalie nods slowly and raises her glass as if she is toasting him.
"I'm glad," she says. "You and the Enterprise belong together."
"Yeah," Chris says, still sounding annoyed, "and you should be there. I always pictured you as my XO—I need someone I know, I can trust—"
"You have other people you can trust," she says, and Chris tilts his head and looks at her intently.
"I just wish—" he says, but then stops. Natalie flushes slightly—the bourbon or the scrutiny, she thinks—and then Chris speaks softly, as if from a great distance.
"We're losing too many good people the way things are set up now. Those old multi-generation ships we used to send out—it makes more sense to let families stay together on deep-space voyages—"
Suddenly Natalie feels a flash of anger—not at Chris, or even at Starfleet, but at the situation that is forcing her to choose between her career and a family.
"Well, the Kelvin put an end to that, didn't it?" she says. She sees Chris react to her clipped tone, but she can't stop. "Starfleet's never going back," she says. "The political fallout if the Federation ever lost a ship that large—all those people, those kids—forget it. Space is for the young, sir, and I'm not getting any younger."
She drains the last of her drink and Chris raises his arm to get the attention of the waiter.
"Another," he says, though Natalie isn't sure that she wants it. She's tired of this conversation—they've had variations of it many times, and it never fails to upset her.
Chris seems to be thinking that too, and he changes tack.
"You see the news feeds today?"
Natalie shakes her head. She's spent the day organizing her files and making notes for her replacement. Technically she won't be leaving for several months—not until the Enterprise actually launches—but she submitted her official Request for Separation this afternoon…one door shutting as she makes her way forward.
"Police arrested several protest leaders in Mexico City," he says.
"At least things have been quieter here," Natalie says, brightening. The news in the week since they have returned from Amsterdam has focused on the way many of the protesters have disavowed their allegiance to the group, condemning the conference bombing and quietly disbanding. Yesterday, only a handful of placard-carrying protesters stood outside the Academy gates. Today Natalie saw none.
"Quiet doesn't mean they've gone away," Chris says.
"Some of them have," Natalie answers, but Chris shakes his head.
"They're still out there," he says, "People don't change that fast. The xenophobes are still scared. They'll be back."
"All the more reason to feel good about your first officer," Natalie says, sipping that third bourbon after all.
Chris grins and tips his glass at her.
"Thanks to you," he says, and Natalie nods. It's true, she knows. Chris wouldn't have given Commander Spock another look if she hadn't taken him on as a project of sorts. She still can't articulate exactly why she has, except that she senses that Chris will be safer with Spock at his side—that his very different way of seeing the world is what Chris needs.
She takes another sip of her drink and thinks again about Chris walking toward the armed gunman in the conference room, his hands raised as if in surrender, talking to give Spock time to circle around behind them. Her heart had been in her throat—she was sure the gunman would lose control at any moment and begin firing.
She will never tell Chris, of course, but she is glad she won't have to watch him do something as stupid again. As brave again. As necessary again.
Chris puts his empty glass down and places both his hands on the table.
"Well, this is one damn boring party," he says. "How about we go get a bite to eat? Talk about something happy maybe?"
She looks at his rugged face, the slight gray in his hair, and thinks as she always does that he has exactly the right demeanor for a starship captain. His crew will follow him anywhere, she thinks. They won't know how lucky they are.
For a moment she doesn't move—suddenly overcome by sorrow that she won't be with them. To her surprise and horror she feels her eyes tear up and she turns away so Chris won't see.
"You okay?" he says, and she sniffs and turns to look him in the eye.
"I'm good," she says, and she knows he can hear the lie in her voice.
Chris frowns and dips his head forward.
"Would you rather go on home?" he says, and she answers, "No, no. Let's go eat. Home will still be there when we finish."
She tries to sound upbeat—this is, after all, a future she is choosing. She might as well embrace it.
Or pretend to.
Chris leaves several extra credits on the table and they make their way to the door. The sun has almost set and the wind is blowing from the bay. They walk up the quay to a stretch of several restaurants that they visit from time to time, but before they stop, Chris says, "You know, it's not too late to change your mind."
Natalie pulls her jacket around her shoulders more tightly to fend off the chill. Without wanting to she sees again the armed gunman pointing his weapon at Chris and Chris standing there, vulnerable—and she gives a sad smile and says, "Yes, it is. It's too late."
At that he nods and they continue up the street, looking for a meal that will offer them a measure of joy—or at least some comfort.
The cuts on Spock's brow are almost completely healed within a week—though Nyota often pretends to need to inspect them, rubbing her thumb gently across his forehead, watching for the moment when he gives in to sensation and closes his eyes. She is shamelessly pleased when he does—surrendering his logic for an emotion she is able to evoke.
His eyes are closed now, her hand on his face, as they recline on the sofa, their dinner plates shoved aside on the end table, their glasses of tea long forgotten.
They are facing each other—Spock lying against the sofa back, Nyota perched more precariously in his arms. If she rolls backward she will fall off—and she is about to suggest that they move to the bedroom when she feels Spock's arms tighten reflexively around her, causing her to lose her breath for a moment.
She slides her hand from his face down his arm and he frees his hand to slip into hers. For a moment she simply feels his warmth—and then she senses what he is thinking—the conference again, as he often has in the past week. He has kept most of the images from her—though she has gathered enough to know how quickly everything had unfolded, how chaotic it had been.
Now he leads her to another memory—of his belief that he was going to die, and his sadness at the thought of losing her—and her heart aches with him and for him. He pulls her up tightly again, almost uncomfortably so.
"I have to tell you something," he says aloud, and this surprises her. Usually once they touch each other's minds, their spoken words feel like intrusions, like blunt instruments compared to the elegance of thought and feeling.
He opens his eyes then and cranes his neck back until he can see her face. His slight frown alarms her—and she feels her heart beating against his chest.
"At the end of this semester I am leaving the language department," he says, "and Professor Artura's aide is graduating. If you are interested in continuing your work in the phonology lab, the professor has indicated that you would be an acceptable replacement."
Work for Professor Artura? Nyota is stunned. She has always enjoyed the Andorian professor's company, but she isn't sure she wants to work closely with him. She isn't surprised that Spock is leaving the language department—he has functioned as an adjunct there, his real interest in the computer sciences.
"And you?" she says, and Spock confirms her suspicion.
"The instructor for the artificial intelligence course is relocating to a position with the Federation technology office in Paris," he says, "and I have been asked to assume his duties."
"Oh," Nyota says, frantically trying to envision herself working in the lab without Spock. "Well, maybe this is a good thing—"
"Indeed," Spock says. "You would no longer be under my supervision."
She does not say what she is sure he is thinking—that this makes their relationship, if not more legitimate, at least less taboo.
She sighs then at the idea that they will have to spend most of their days apart, and Spock nuzzles the top of her head with more affection than he usually shows.
"I guess I'll get used to it," she says. "At least you will have more free time this way."
And then a thought occurs to her.
"Or will you? What does that computer class involve?"
"It is only one class," he says, reaching up to brush his fingers across her cheek. "But I will be busy helping Captain Pike organize the pre-flight countdown for the Enterprise."
For a moment Nyota does not react. And then what he is saying hits her, and she takes in a breath and leans up to squeeze him around the neck.
"Captain Pike? You got the posting! Did you interview again? Why didn't you tell me?"
Spock looks at her with an upturned brow.
"When we returned from the conference, Captain Pike contacted me and offered me the position. He said the events in Amsterdam constituted a sufficient follow-up interview."
Nyota sits up then, and Spock watches her with amusement. For several minutes she quizzes him further—when will he start, what will his initial duties be—and at last she settles back, grinning.
"So," she says, "the conference actually turned out okay. Who would have guessed?"
"Need I remind you," Spock says with mock seriousness, "that we did not get to present our lab program."
Nyota laughs and says, "I don't care! This calls for a celebration."
Spock pulls her close again and says, "The word you mean is dessert. The presentation wasn't the only thing canceled at the conference."
"Is that so?" she says impishly. "And what dessert did you have in mind?"
But he's tired of words and speaking aloud, and instead, he touches her temple and she is flooded by that familiar longing and excitement that makes her own heart start to race.
Underneath the rush of his arousal she senses something else, too—a ghost of his sorrow when he had thought he was going to die in the explosion—that he was going to lose her, and be lost himself forever.
And even further down, beneath that sorrow, are other feelings—a quietude born from facing his mortality—and most surprising, a sense of wonder that he does not try to categorize.
And deepest of all, beyond the place of feelings and words, in the landscape of soundless metaphor, she sees herself as he sees her, like a star that doesn't waver, that leads him forth and brings him home.
A/N: So ends this little story. Your reviews are the only payment I want or need—so thanks for letting me hear from you!