For a man with the ability to sublimate logic above emotion, he has a very sensuous and expressive mouth.
This is Uhura's third thought on meeting Commander Spock. First came pure reaction, awe at being here in his lecture hall, at the fact of his presence. He is a legend around the academy and not only for being statistically unusual as an alien in a still firmly humanocentric fleet.
Second came admiration. She has been reading his proofs and theories for so long that she thinks of them as fixed, as stone tablets which he carved over many weeks of painstaking labour. Now, in flesh and blood she sees how it is cleverer than that, sees how light and quick his mind is, how it can assess a scenario with a single touch -the image in her mind is of a hand, making the lotus gesture - and draw from it the salient points, like finding and pulling a single stray headhair from fairground candyfloss, obvious and crass once it is in your hand, but first you have to know that it is there, and how to get hold of it without coating your fingers in the sugary mess.
Only then, as she sat transfixed, her notes abandoned and her eyes wide taking him in, did she see that Spock's face, supposedly incapable of emotion, is as bright with passion and humour as anyone's she has ever seen.
She liked him at once, and hoped that as her studies progressed, she would have a chance to get to know him, even to become friends with him. For it is obvious that even though his lectures crackle with wry observations and gripping first-hand experiences, the Vulcan finds giving these talks a one-sided, draining process. The audience expect him to feel nothing, and so it gives little back.
Uhura smiles at the funny parts and breathes in the blow-by-blow analyses of complex battle scenarios and lets the direct quotations of passages from key alien texts flow over her as naturally as possible so that the words lose their strange taste and are only words feeding meaning and wisdom to her mind, unencumbered by notions about the race that originally spoke them. Spock's accent is impeccable in almost every language and he makes it easy to believe that the author of those exemplary stories stands in the room, handing knowledge directly to her brain across huge distance and layered centuries.
"You do know you close your eyes when he is quoting," whispers her friend to her after a particularly long piece on war and the strategies of a siege.
"It helps me concentrate," she replies without a pause.
Spock's eyes turn towards them and they bend over their notes.
She is sitting, eyes closed, one day as he reads aloud - from memory - the difficult sacred text of a race so obscure that their language alone survived in a book of calfskin fragments, their homeworld long empty and their people absorbed into the diaspora of life in general across the galaxy - when she hears him make a mistake.
Her hand rises without her having to think about it.
Spock completes the piece without hesitation and then says, "Yes, Uhura?"
Her name in his mouth is precise and melodic, a hard thing for any tongue to manage. "The word 'person' is wrong in that passage," she says baldly, and quotes it back to him. "'A person's destiny is in his belly, and every morsel he eats affects the outcome. A person knows this, is taught this, ought not to have to learn.'"
She pauses. The whole class is looking at her and Spock is waiting with one eyebrow raised.
"It should be, 'man', and 'woman'," she says. "A man's destiny is in his belly, and every morsel he eats affects the outcome. A woman knows this, is taught this, ought not to have to learn."
There is a ripple of suppressed alarm through the room. She is questioning the standard translation, insulting it, even, for such a blatant error, and the translator is standing at the front listening and calculating how he could best respond to such temerity.
"It changes the meaning," she adds unnecessarily. "It moves the piece from being bland and generic, a passage about understanding the consequences of your actions, to being very personal and direct, about how to protect future generations."
"Justify your change of word," says Spock calmly. He does not appear threatened by her assertion, or angry at its implication of his poor work. Of course. He does not display such things.
"The words as written are very similar," Uhura admits. "In this piece, context alone could not provide a justification for selecting one over the others."
"Then what," Spock asks, his dark eyes steady on her face.
"It is the rhythm," she says. "The very slight inflection of 'person' throws the rhythm out. When you replace it with 'man', then 'woman', it becomes perfect."
"Perfection is necessarily a subjective concept," Spock says. He glances up and to his left, and she knows that he is hearing the passage in his mind, with her translation instead of his.
She is trembling. When he informs her of her error she will be humiliated. But she cannot see any error, her translation is right... She simply knows it, feels it, with her inclination for language, and her ability to absorb more than words, to absorb the habitual patterns of a race's speech and writing.
Which will make her mistake even worse when he expounds on it to the class.
"You have made a valid argument,' says Spock.
His gaze travels back to her face. "Please come and see me after class."
Oh no, he is going to have words with her about questioning his authority. She nods, blushing, and manages to say "Yes, Commander," before he moves on to the next topic.
She feels, every moment through the rest of the lecture, that his eye is on her, quelling any impulse she might have to make additional unwelcome contributions.
She stands outside his office at the end of the day, missing drinks with her friends, missing the best chance of a truly hot shower while everyone is at those drinks, and hearing the alien words again.
Spock's door opens and a chastened student scurries out clutching his notebook. The guy gives Uhura a look as if to say he doesn't envy her, being next on Spock's list.
"Come in," Spock says in his gentle way and Uhura enters his neat little office. It is light and bare: a desk, chairs, a window, a reading bench and a small closed cabinet. There are shelves, but nothing is displayed on them.
Spock gestures to two chairs placed on the near side of his desk, and they sit.
A large notebook lies on the desk, the ancient text already glowing on its screen. "I have been considering this all day," he says, and glances at her.
He is smiling, just slightly. She has a sense of great excitement about him as he highlights the passage she has questioned. Has he really been thinking about it ever since the lecture?
"I feel sure I'm right," says Uhura, "but if I have missed something, please explain what it is so that I can understand."
Spock lays his fingers on the words and speaks softly. In the ancient language his voice is light and lyrical, a fleeting touch on each syllable and then away to the next. She watches his face as his hand traces the meanings across the page.
"Something has always puzzled me about this piece," he says at the end. "It is not well matched. This work is balanced, in the way of everything we have discovered about them, each word with an answering one, each sentence weighed against its partner. Yet this passage is off kilter. I have always dismissed this, attributing it to the centuries which have passed since its writing, but now when I read it the passage jars again."
He turns to her. That smile. "But when you translate the gendered words rather than the generic, the rhythm is altered, and a natural pause, as the comparison is made between male and female perspectives, sets the balance right again."
He is pleased. "Thank you, Uhura, for alerting me to this point."
Her heart is beating rapidly. She was sure he was going to be sarcastic about assumptions of superiority when youth and inexperience make superiority unlikely.
Instead he is ... delighted. She has solved a puzzle, an academic niggle and he is not annoyed at all.
She is aware of his chair, his knee, next to hers. She has never been this close to him before; usually ten rows of people separate them. She smells standard issue laundry fluid, and a peppery scent which makes her think of tiny dishes laid on a carpet, each holding a teaspoon of a fragrant spice, carried across the void to be shown in a secret auction where only merchant and buyer know the price. It is like that, a blend of things too rare to name.
She notices his mouth then, plump and soft, a contrast to his sharp brows. His lips curve at the ends, drawing the eye up across his cheekbones to his ears, the unmistakable evidence of his otherness.
"Thank you," she replies, lifting her eyes to meet his even gaze. Has she been staring? She feels a blush at the very idea, it is nothing to do with him being alien, oh please, let him not have thought she is staring. "I was afraid that you would be offended, that I had hurt your pride. Academic pride," she adds, digging the hole deeper, what is wrong with her, who cares what she thinks?
Spock regards her gravely. "Pride is an illogical response to an academic point," he says. "I believe pride has set us back many times when enthusiasm might have led us sooner to the truth."
"You have great aptitude for language," he says. "I have often observed it."
"I love language," she says. "It holds the key to understanding other cultures." She is babbling again, irrelevancies in which he can have no interest.
He twitches an eyebrow. Is he laughing at her own... enthusiasm? "You have something else which even the most naturally able student often lacks," he goes on. "You have a true passion for your subject, and for that I commend you."
He nods at her, which she takes for dismissal.
They stand, and again he is close to her. "I would like you to review this entire work with me," he says. "Your eye is fresh and your ideas unburdened by convention. It might form part of your thesis."
It is a question, an offer to work with Spock himself- on such a project! She is breathless.
"The original manuscript is in my library," he adds casually, as if two thousand year old hand-inked hide is the kind of thing every tutor has ready access to.
She is grinning at this opportunity. "Thank you," she says. "Yes, I would love that, thank you, thank you so much." She could hug him.
He is amused. His eyes are bright and his smile is not as well suppressed as in lecture hall. He is not as old as she thought, she realises, though of course he and she are worlds apart in knowledge and experience.
"Thank you," she says again, and now it sounds foolish, the last thing she wants to present to him.
"You are the logical choice," he says, and she carries those words back to her room and they remain in her mind all night, like the highest praise.