Cadet Uhura had been called ambitious. She'd wondered why it was worth commenting on: every cadet in her class had his or her own goals, after all.
In the third week, she conceded that not every other cadet had his or her own goals mapped out, nor considered every decision in that context. Logically, Cadet Uhura ought to have been pleased by this: after all, laxity on the part of her classmates should increase her chances of success.
Instead, she felt let down.
Cadet Uhura had been called cold. The exact words, as she recalled it, were "frigid bitch". As the cadet speaking at the time was in no position to comment on her sexual function at the time - and indeed, would never be in such a position - the insult would seem to be directed at her lack of joviality in social settings.
The insult had not been appreciated, but Cadet Uhura took note of the principle, and accepted the next invitation to drink with her fellows. It wasn't as if there was anything else to do while on a recruitment tour of Iowa. As it happened, the same fellow cadet who thought reserve a fatal personality flaw also thought it was fun to pick fights with country boys. And the country boy in question thought it was fun to pick fights back.
They weren't the only ones with something to prove. It's just that Uhura's proof was going to last: service records outlive bloody lips and black eyes, and hers would begin with the best communications posting the Academy could offer on the day of her graduation.
She would have been livid when Jim Kirk graduated straight into captaincy on the best ship yet to leave the Academy docks, if it weren't for the fact that she had the communications desk behind him.
Nyota Uhura had not been called over-emotional. That diagnosis was left for her to make herself. She pieced it together out of fragments. The glint of triumph in the older boys' eyes when she cried in the playground, even though she was only a small girl and that's what children do. The condescension of friends: "Don't get so hung up, Nyota, it's only an exam." The retired colonel who'd coached her for her Starfleet enlistment interviews and mental heath exams: "Don't be so timid, girl. Don't show your nerves. Don't be too friendly. Don't smile so wide. Don't hold your head so high."
When she was in school, she'd had boyfriends - not a constant whirl of them, just two or three boys whom she'd liked and who'd liked her. She hadn't loved them - she was of the considered opinion that Love was something which happened to older people, and that her friends, who flitted about being dreadfully in love with one person or the other, were making fools of themselves. She thought the same thing of her boyfriends, who had all declared themselves terribly in love with her. Their professions hung in the air unanswered, always present. Nyota had read, somewhere, that power always lies with the one who loves least, but she didn't feel powerful. She felt guilty.
Four years of college before the Academy, and she learnt something new: actions betray as easily as words. An ambitious young woman, bound for Starfleet, has no time for protracted romance, so she seeks out ambitious young men. It seemed logical. She was attracted to ambition, to personal drive, to someone who loved his work as much as she did hers. She was going to enlist in Starfleet, she had no interest in falling in love - she'd thought she could have companionship without compromising.
As it turned out, she could have a few quick fucks instead. She could have "sorry, babe, I gotta run" and "no strings attached, right?" She could have sex, or she could have friends, but she couldn't manage to keep the two of them together. She could have her ambitions, if she renounced affection.
For a while, she thought it must be her fault: for being needy, for not being needy enough. As explanations go, it didn't stand up to logic. When she arrived at the Academy, Nyota Uhura was of the age that she had once thought Old Enough to recognise love. She settled instead on the idea that it would come with her other ambitions: that when she had the rest of her life in order, this too would fall into line and stand to attention.
Nyota Uhura had not intended to seduce her teacher. She knew other cadets - both women and men - who thought there were benefits to such a thing, if you succeeded. Pleasure, she supposed, and perhaps pride. Power over someone who held formal power over you. It was commonly assumed that preferential treatment was the natural consequence of student-teacher liaisons, but insofar as Nyota had observed, for every measurable increase in intimacy between them - beginning with the day he showed her the half-finished script he was building, a modification for Starfleet's basic Klingon decrypter; and by no means ending on the day she decided reserve could take a flying fuck through an asteroid belt, and walked him backwards into his own bed - for every measurable increase in intimacy, Commander Spock only raised the standard he expected from her work.
At some point, she had begun keeping a list of reasons she loved him; reasons she loved being with him. She tried not to think too much about why she was keeping such a list. She planned to graduate as early in her fourth year as she could, to take the best posting she could, to see as much of the universe as she could. She made lists because lists helped her in the face of fear: lists of things she would not forget, for fear that instead she might remember everything.
They had stopped exchanging basic questions months ago. No more of the 'Good morning, Commander' and 'How are you, Cadet Uhura?' They'd never got so far as 'Hello, Nyota' or 'How are you, Spock?' That was perfectly fine with her: she saluted him in public, and they both knew very well that he would already know by observation if she was happy, sad, stressed, or at any other previously attested point on her emotional range. If she wanted to know how he was feeling, what she could not learn by observation could not be gained by polite conversation, either. So they had left routine greetings behind.
Spock considered his words carefully. As they worked together, and he became more sure of her, that care only increased. She thought English must frustrate him: not the language itself, but the necessity which locked him into the one language from day to day. Outside of class, he chose not just his words but whole languages, selecting carefully that which best expressed that which he was about to say. They had both been born to two languages, and though each had begun adding to that number almost as soon as they could string whole sentences together, she knew he held Vulcan particularly dear. The language she had spoken with her family he did not know - the regional languages of Earth were not widely taught, even on earth. He once asked her about it: a commonplace conversation about the syntax and morphology of Swahili in comparison to other Earth languages, and she'd thought that had been the end of it.
Three months later, she woke up in his quarters (a rare occurrence, occasioned in this instance by her birthday), and Spock, who was almost always awake first, wandered into the room and said, in flawless Swahili, 'so, I've been thinking about that encryption you devised,' and proceeded to point out its several significant flaws.
There were times when she thought wistfully that it might be nice to be with someone who did not himself need decrypting. It almost hurt, that she often had to say "I'd like you to hug me now", that they were caught up in this dance of statement and permission. It almost hurt, and it was almost perfect. He would put his arms around her and say that he was grateful she had asked.
Once, he'd found her on the edge of tears. He had stared at her for too long, long enough that anger with herself made her hiccup and her eyes swim. And then he'd asked "what would you like me to do, Nyota?"