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Carrot, No Stick

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Starfleet is not exactly what Nyota Uhura thought she was signing up for.

First off, there’s the issue that while the schedule said ‘orientation’ it was apparently a typo that should have spelled out ‘orienteering’, but she’s willing to move beyond that fact as she’s suddenly and pressingly faced with a hundred miles of wilderness, a hundred pounds of equipment to carry across it, and a hundred classmates who all seem to be determined to do it faster and better than she can, and no matter what she thought she’d be doing at the Academy, this is apparently not a time for semantics.

Second, she was mostly expecting being screamed at, perhaps with an accompanying officer scratching out notes onto a padd and a cooly judging gaze, but the Vulcan commander who is probably most qualified to level such a look just stands quietly to the side while the rest of the officers mill about, idly chatting with each other.

Really, instead of any type of anything she was expected, her and her classmates just get a casual wave in the direction they’re apparently supposed to go and an invitation to proceed if they want to.

“Head on out when you’re ready, Cadets,” the tack officer says and Nyota blinks at him. “We’ll see you on the other side.”

“Make me,” she mutters but nobody does. The officers standing around them seem content to let them wash out, pack up, and ship home, going as far as shaking hands with cadets who tap out over the next few days, telling them they did a good job trying and best of luck in future pursuits.

And they seem to be genuine about meaning it. That’s enough to make Nyota grind her teeth, grit it out, and finish the course under nothing more than her own determination.

It feels fine. Good, maybe, when she’s done but it’d have been a hell of a lot easier to get to the end if there was slightly more pressure.

‘You can reach the stars’ was splashed across all those damn recruiting posters. They just left out the part where they give you so many options not to.

“If you take the section of Advanced Morphology that meets on Mondays, you’ll have room in your schedule to fit in Interstellar Nav.”

“I’m aware, sir,” Nyota says since she can read a simple course schedule as well as any officer who is apparently fit for the role of academic advisor.

“It’s up to you,” Lieutenant Calder says and then is nodding towards the door of his office, already beckoning the next student to enter and receive the overwhelmingly helpful guidance that Nyota was just imparted.

“How many courses are you taking?” Nyota asks her new roommate that evening, not quite as used to holding a discussion with that much naked green skin as she pretends that she is.

“Seven,” Gaila says and Nyota tries to decide if that’s more or less shocking than what she walked in on Gaila doing yesterday, what with all the tentacles.

“Seven?”

“I don’t sleep.”

“Ever?”

“Nope,” Gaila says and bounces a little on the edge of her bed in a way that Nyota’s entirely certain is wasted on her.

That night, Nyota pokes at her schedule, moving the little blocks of classes here and there across her padd as she examines all the different shapes her week could take.

“Up to me,” she says, flicks it off and turns out the lamp by her bed, which really does nothing to darken the room with the way it’s lit up like high noon back home in Mombasa, Gaila examining a sequined and sparkling bra under what seems to be every other available light source.

It takes her five minutes to reach for her padd again and slot in that navigation class she doesn’t want to take. She doesn’t bother to answer to herself whether it’s because she doesn’t want to give Calder the satisfaction or if she just needs a reason to spend more time outside of her room.

“The extra credit assignment is optional,” Commander Spock continues, apparently determined to cover the entire syllabus with them. Maybe it’s a test to see who of them can make it through the first class and the absolutely dullness of his droning voice without dozing off or maybe he really thinks that humans need this kind of overly simplistic approach to actually grasp anything. “As is submitting response papers to each week’s readings.”

“If I add up all the work I can choose to do, I need two of me,” Nyota tells Gaila that night. “Maybe three.”

“Have you seen this? Lieutenant Holbach said that we should only sign up if we want to, but they all seem so amazing I can hardly decide,” Gaila asks, waving a filmplast towards Nyota that resolves itself into an information flyer on student activities once she is able to grab it. “I can’t wait, I’m going to join-“

“-No,” Nyota says, sinking onto her bed, except it makes two padds tip onto the floor from where the pile she had just made of her evening’s reading, because her desk was already covered with half-finished flash cards and a quiz she needs to complete. An optional quiz, of course, since her instructor had specified they had all semester to learn the material so they should only push themselves to take an assessment now if they want to. Utterly up to them. Completely so, and it’s no trouble if they choose not to.

“-The Warp Vectors, it’s a group for Engineering students. Apparently all the comm cadets are in the Xenolinguistics Club. You need a better name, you know. That one’s lame. Oh, that rhymes!”

“Please, no,” Nyota says again but Gaila has already suggested three possibilities and Nyota knows that no matter how she squeezes her eyes shut, she’s still going to open them in a moment and find out when the first meeting is.

“You need rest,” her Interstellar Nav professor tells her when Nyota sneezes again. “You barely made it through today, you don’t have to go to the rest of your classes if you’re not feeling up to it. Midterms takes it out of everyone.”

She means to go back to her dorm but instead she stands shivering in the middle of the quad as it swims around her, pinpoints the Xenolinguistics building through the haze, and starts towards it.

She makes it to the front hall when she bends over to cough, except changing the elevation of her head makes it pound, and standing up again is an exercise in watching the room pitch.

“Please,” she hears, “Return to your dormitory.”

She made it this far, so she shakes her head and wipes at her nose. “I have class.”

“You have a viral infection.”

“I’m fine.” She needs a tissue and somehow she can’t pin Commander Spock for the type of guy who would carry around a handkerchief.

“You are quite gravely ill.”

“I have the paper for you finished already,” she says even though she thinks that her words got out of order somehow and she can’t manage to get her bag open to hand it to him.

He takes a step backwards. “Please send it to my inbox.”

“I’m not contagious,” she calls after him, but the effect is rather lost as she starts coughing again.

“Make the most of it,” Calder suggests.

Nyota wants to rub at her temples. Break was too short to be having a new term start already and it’s day one and she needs another vacation. “That position was my last choice. Actually, literally at the bottom of my requisition list.”

“You don’t have to take it.”

She does rub at her temples. “I understand that, sir.”

“Nobody gets their first preference.”

It’s a long trudge to Commander Spock’s office and it’s not until she’s halfway there that her internal grumbling - which has been turned up to maximum volume ever since she got her work assignment for the semester - abates enough that she considers that Calder wasn’t offering simple platitudes.

Think there’s an office somewhere on campus where they come up with mind games to play with us for four years? She texts Gaila from the turbo lift.

I got ectoplasm on your sheets and we’re out of laundry detergent, Gaila texts back and Nyota’s still grimacing when the door to the Commander’s office opens in front of her.

“Is there a problem, Cadet?”

“No, sir,” she answers because she has no intention of telling him of all people that there is, namely that she should have been assigned to the office down the hall and right now she should be gearing up to encode universal translators with the newest languages being sent back from the front lines of the ‘Fleet but instead she’s going to be grading papers all semester long.

“I am aware this is not your preference for an assignment,” he says once she’s settled in the chair in front of his desk and she tries to adopt his stonily blank expression just in case the fuck fuck fuck manages to slip through anywhere on her own.

“Sir, I-“

The slight wave of his hand is so dismissive that the mortification that he might actually know how little she wants to be there is rapidly replaced by a surge of irritation.

“I presume that will not interfere with the performance of your duties.”

“No, sir,” she says because if she can’t work on anything that actually uses more than two of her brain cells at once, she’ll have ample energy left over for the tedium of marking quiz answers.

When Spock pauses by her desk on his way home or to dinner or wherever it is that Vulcans go when they’re not silently sitting at their own desks, ramrod straight and barely blinking - she checked how often it really was because for a while she was unsure whether he blinked at all, ever - she’s ready for his comment that she is welcome to finish her work the next day.

“It’s not a problem, Commander,” she says, hardly bothering to look up since they’ve done this before. He says she can go home for the evening if she wants to, she says it’s fine, he nods and walks out with only about a thirty percent success rate of telling her ‘goodbye’ or ‘goodnight’. She started counting after her first week, since she had bet Gaila a week’s stipend he never said more than twenty words to her a day. One Tuesday, he didn’t get above four.

Apparently continuing to stand next to her is intended to impart something that his skills in verbal communication don’t, except she doesn’t know what it is and staring up at him doesn’t offer any clues. Instead it only makes her wish he realized how awkward it is to have to look up at someone as tall as he is while being seated.

“I’m nearly done,” she tells him since maybe this whole thing is a hint that she doesn’t grade with the type of efficiency needed by the Federation’s best and brightest. Likely, he expected that some time last week, or the week before that, that she would have come up with some algorithm that could read short answer questions and return marks that varied from ‘good job, if you decide to try harder next time, go for it otherwise don’t worry about it’ to ‘nice effort, do better if you want to’. That’s what he writes in the margins anyway when she hands the filmplasts over to him, though measured out in his careful and concise diction and imminently frustrating in the banal, unimaginative lack of motivation he offers his students.

“Your work hours concluded at 1745 and you are not obligated to remain any later.”

“I know, sir,” she says, because really, isn’t this the entire point of all of this. “I wanted to make sure these were done before I left for the day.”

When he doesn’t say anything else she finds herself scraping her teeth over her bottom lip, not entirely sure what to make of him studying her like that.

“As long as you are aware,” he says as he turns to leave and she seriously considers staying even later, just so that she can redo her resume with ‘clock reading’ added under the list of skills she possesses and leave it for him on his desk. He can read it if he wants to. Totally up to him.

All told, it would probably be less embarrassing if the moment Commander Spock walked in, half of her notes hadn’t fallen on the floor. On the other hand, it’s not her fault that the desks in the language lab are tiny and the course materials for Advanced Klingon Literature are so overwhelming, nor that her professor offhand mentioned the option for a completely non-mandatory and entirely discretionary term project that uses nearly every single one of the course readings.

“I got it, sorry, sorry,” she says like she wanted to spend her evening crawling around on the floor picking up filmplasts in front of her very cool and very calm and very collected boss.

“What are you doing?”

“Is that an invitation to leave them here?” she asks before she can stop herself, the desire to be anywhere else at all entirely too strong. This is not her favorite class and it’s not her favorite assignment and the fact that she doesn’t have to be doing it anyway makes it all that much worse. She closes her eyes, takes a breath, and says, “I’m sorry, sir, I apologize for that.”

“Why are you not in the library?”

“Have you seen the library?” His head tips slightly and before he can answer that yes, of course is he familiar with the building, she qualifies, “It’s packed, I couldn’t get a table.”

Maybe, she was expected to work on the floor there. That’d be perfect. Not only a too long assignment that she can complete or not, but the expectation that she not even have a decent place to do it. Or, she could maybe sit outside in the dark and let dew settle on her and her reading and her bag. Or work in her room despite all the trappings of an Orion roommate. Or not do her work at all and simply absorb the material through some type of osmosis that doesn’t yet exist but she is likely supposed to invent before 0930 when her class meets.

“The work stations in this room are insufficient for your needs.”

It would be so easy to just close her eyes and nod. To agree and gather her belongings and go to bed. Or maybe leave them here, scattered over the floor. She could step on them on her way out and remember the crunch of filmplasts under her boots as she pulls the blankets up over her head.

It takes everything in her to calmly state, “I am aware, sir.”

Maybe it’s because she didn’t use a conjunction or maybe trying to cram all of her work on to a too-small surface was the key needed to pass some type of test she didn’t know she was taking, but he says, “If you would like to remain here to work that is your prerogative, however you are also welcome to use my office.”

She squints at him. It’s too easy. “Really?”

“I would not have suggested it if it were not a sincere offer,” he says and then he’s gone and the tap of his boots echo towards the turbo lift, not his office, so she slowly gathers her things and makes her way to his door.

The room is dark. He must be heading home. Or to the gym. Or maybe to complete work somewhere else on campus, because that would figure, if officers volunteered for extra duties in their free evenings after being thoroughly indoctrinated by their time at the Academy. Either way, she gingerly turns the lights back on and takes her seat at her desk. It’s quiet, and she has plenty of room, and as she begins her work once again, she’s sure that this is entirely too good to be truly happening.

She takes refuge at the bar. It’s likely her own fault that this event seemed like a good idea to attend, though she’s also willing to admit to the bottom of her wine glass that she has long since passed the ability to not bite her molars together too hard and take the bait that’s dangled there, this time in the guise of a blasé offer from the department chair that cadets could come tonight they wanted to. She had started her homework early, shifted around her entire schedule, and had even dug a pair of heels out of her closet she never got an excuse to wear, all for the promise of small talk with high ranking officers. She has a blister. And the evening is boring as all hell because why wouldn’t it be, so really she shouldn’t be surprised that such a dull evening has drawn the presence of none other than her equally bland supervisor.

“Can you explain to me the logical link between functions such as this and the path to becoming an officer?” she asks and she could blame the wine for why he of all people seem a reasonable choice to talk to, except she’s only had one glass and would have another, but she still has reading to finish when she gets back to her room.

Spock is holding a glass of what she is willing to put money on is water. “It demonstrates an inclination towards the community minded tenets that Starfleet is founded upon.”

“Right,” she says and nods and stands there with him for a moment at the edge of the crowd, near the edge of the bar, and quite close to the edge of her capacity to remain there any longer.

Of course spurring oneself to action is apparently a skill she still needs to develop more proficiency in, because he’s telling her goodnight before she has a chance to say the same exact thing to him.

“I’m leaving too,” she says before she can realize that maybe she could wait a minute or two and not have to endure the silence that is accompanying him out of the room and down the steps to the ground floor. It’s fine, though, because the rain beating down outside goes a long way towards drowning out how their footsteps echo and the fact that the Commander has apparently hit his quota of words for the day.

“Night,” she offers as she studies the rain sheeting down and tries to gauge how far it is to the bus stop. A part of her wants to wonder if cadets were only invited after the weather forecast was considered, but a bigger part of her is just tired and already anticipating wet shoes for the entire bus ride to her dorm.

“If you would like, I am driving back to campus.”

“What?”

His forehead creases. “Was I not clear? You may accompany me.” She blinks at him, twice. His head tips slightly to the side. “You are welcome to make your own way, of course,” he adds and she shakes her head so quickly her earring hits her cheek.

“Ok,” she says once she’s slammed the door shut behind her, because the quiet is too complete and it’s entirely too strange to know what type of car he drives. She fumbles with her safety belt so that she doesn’t have to look at him and think about how close he suddenly seems with only the arm rests between them or how the rain makes her feel completely alone with him despite the city around them. “The Academy. What is the deal with the casual offers to drive ourselves to the brink of exhaustion by nothing other than our own resolution to do so?”

He turns to look out his window as he backs out of the parking space. “Many students do not recognize the exercise for what it is until much later in their course of study.”

“Great,” she says, crossing her arms and leaning back into her seat. “You mean I could have extended the period of blissful ignorance?”

“Only a small number of cadets graduate at a rank above Ensign,” is all that he says until he pulls up outside her dorm.

She pauses with her hand on the door handle and waits until he’s looking at her. “Thank you,” she tells him before she dashes to the front door.

When Nyota announced her intention for the evening, Gaila warned her that Spock also taught in computer sciences, but that didn’t mean that she really thought she’d run into him there.

“I just sent you the midterm grades,” she says without looking up when she hears his footsteps, measured and too even to be anyone else.

“The transistor coil appears to have malfunctioned.”

She blinks at the scattered components of her padd and this time doesn’t look up not because she’s focused, but she’s afraid she won’t be able to keep her expression even halfway professional. “I’m aware.”

“Then why are you also replacing the magnetic resonance actuator?”

She broke it, is why, when she was pulling out the transistor coil. “Practice.”

“Why would you need to possess such a skill?”

“Hi,” she says and sets down the solder gun hard enough that the negative holographic variance conduit rolls away. She didn’t need to have taken it off, which she found out only after reading further in the manual. She gives it five seconds until Spock informs her of that. Maybe three. “How are you? Having a nice evening? How was your weekend?”

His head tips at an angle she doesn’t think he’s managed before. “Acceptable,” he says and she decides she rather likes how much it sounds like a question.

“Good, good, mine was fine too, thanks for asking.” He opens his mouth as if to respond, but instead just hands the coil back to her, picking it up from where it came to rest in front of him. She takes it and lets out a sigh. “Let me guess, you’re going to tell me that I can bring this to the comp sci lab tomorrow morning and they’ll fix it in no time.”

“While their work is efficient, I believe that at least some amount of time will pass.”

“Good to know,” she mutters to the pile of parts in front of her, half of which she can’t name. She’d rub at her eyes if he weren’t there, maybe pinch the bridge of her nose and try to go back in time to the moment she thought this would be a good idea, right when she opened the response from the Lieutenant working the late shift at the IT help desk she had messaged on Gaila’s padd, asking how to fix her own. It’s possible to repair by yourself if you want to take on the project, the other woman had written and Nyota had long ago identified that sinking in her stomach that led her to sitting here now, her eyes burning with the late hour and her head starting to ache.

Spock’s eyes don’t rise from the mess on the table as he says, “If you would like to continue repair it yourself, I will not interfere.”

“Good,” she says and picks up the solderer again and tries to ignore him except that he takes a step closer and then a second one.

“Though if you are amenable to help, I would be willing to offer guidance.”

She spends long enough thinking that he begins to shift his weight and he either is realizing how awkward this entire conversation is or he’s about to walk away, and which ever it is, she sits back in her chair and sighs again.

“If you want to.”

He does, it seems, or it’s logical or rational or maybe his Monday evenings are just so boring that fitting the actuator back in place is a better substitute for whatever it was that he had planned, because he sits across from her.

Once, he looks up and apparently realizes she’s watching him and not the sequence of repairs he’s explaining, but if he minds he doesn’t stop and doesn’t say anything, just ducks his head down and keeps outlining the process, his voice filling in for the silence that she had been sitting in before he joined her.

“It is not incumbent upon you to accept,” Spock says when he offers to take her to lunch at the end of the semester, for - as he states with such seriousness that she wonders if he truly was impressed at her ability to count up correctly filled in bubbles - his appreciation of her assistance over the previous months.

“I know,” she says and then nearly turns him down because lunch seems so prim and proper and really, really boring, but it’s Spock so she shouldn’t be surprised because he’s all of those things.

Not that Nyota isn’t too, as Gaila has taken to informing her.

She crosses her arms and rocks back on her heels, staring up at him and considering.

“Sure,” she says and then thinks about the fact that there are a hundred more formal and professional ways to accept, but she finished grading the last exam and no longer technically works for him, so she doesn’t spend too long feeling bad about it.

Spock, it turns out, can actually carry on a conversation. She tries not to let her surprise show, though whether it’s over his ability to hold his own in a discussion or the fact she slowly comes to realize that she’s actually having a good time, she’s not exactly sure.

“Which do you think will be worse?” she asks, holding up two filmplasts while also looking around herself to see what in his office has changed over the break between semesters. He rearranged his books and she hopes he did something else over vacation as well, or maybe that qualifies as high entertainment for a Vulcan.

“The position with the Ambassador,” Spock says.

“That was my thought too. Calder says I can do it if I want to, but I don’t know, it doesn’t look quite horrible enough.” She drums her fingers on the filmplast, right over the list of the demands of the position, all of which would be nearly impossible to fulfill, not to mention dragging herself halfway across the city each week to the Vulcan Embassy, and trying to fit that in with the rest of her schedule.

“It is entirely your decision.”

“You’re as helpful as Calder.”

“I will elect to interpret that as a compliment. Thank you.”

“I watched a newsreel about this guy,” she says, waving the filmplast. “Did you know he married a human?”

“It is general knowledge on Vulcan,” he says and that would be that except his eyes slide away from hers and when she follows where he’s looking, there is so totally a picture of the Ambassador’s wife on Spock’s bookshelf.

“That’s-“ she starts because there’s a joke in here somewhere, except that everything she thought she knew about him is shaking itself into a new orientation. For too long, she leaves her mouth open before closing it so fast her teeth click. Spock isn’t looking at her. “Um, lucky, maybe? Any chance for a recommendation?”

“I would suggest you seek one elsewhere,” she says and his tone says everything she needs to know about why he only has a picture of his mother.

“That’s complicated,” she gets out and who the hell knows what she means by that, but it’s not entirely the wrong thing to say because he just nods and for him, that gesture could be a five minute speech on the nature and intricacies of his childhood.

She fishes into her bag and rummages around in the silence that follows her comment, sorting through the texts she just picked up for her new classes, her comm, and the book she didn’t get a chance to finish reading on the shuttle, so she’ll get back to it in six months or six years or maybe when she retires several decades from now.

“I brought you this,” she says, finally closing her fingers over the container that is, of course, wedged underneath everything else. “Thanks for lunch the other week.”

She didn’t, actually, bring it for him. Her mother gave it to her that morning before she got on the transport and it’s her last one, which means she won’t taste another mandazi until whenever it is that Starfleet lets her visit home again.

He breaks off half and hands the rest back to her, and she chooses the job in the long range sensor lab even though the work there is boring and tedious and really not very taxing.

But, it means that she has Thursday evenings free and she’s not entirely sure what to do with spare time in her schedule, so the first week she spends it in the chair in front of Spock’s desk and wonders if she should try to take another course, or seek out some project, worrying at the thought until he puts down his work and asks after her day and after that, she finds she doesn’t care all that much.

“I’m fine,” she tells herself and the other cadets around her and the rest of them too, her classmates and officers standing in the back even though they likely can’t hear.

Spock is the only one close enough to hear and she takes it as a grim confirmation that the compulsion to take on extra duties doesn’t fade with graduation, because she has no other explanation as to why he’s lending a hand supervising training jumps. Into space. Training space jumps and even the thought of it, never mind the suit and the helmet and the Earth spinning below the forcefield she is apparently expected to expel herself through, makes her stomach turn over.

“Are you?” he asks and while he always seems so determined to have no expression, right now he looks rather concerned.

“Yep,” she says and nods to prove it.

“You do not have to do this,” he says and she wants to laugh but she’d probably vomit instead.

“Walk in the park,” she tells him and hates how her voice shakes.

His voice, so quiet and closer to her than she thought he would be, is the last thing she hears before she puts on her helmet. “Do not forget to breathe.”

Then, it’s the click of her comm piece and the orders from the jump tech, an Ensign who looks immeasurably bored, and the push of nothing millimeters from her skin, pounding like the blood does in her ears. She pulls in air as fast and as hard as she can, sure that the rush of it into her lungs is the only thing that feels at all real.

When Gary Fucking Mitchell asks her out on a Friday evening at 1608, she just gapes at him, hitches her bag further up her shoulder and asks aloud - which admittedly wasn’t strictly necessary - why he possibly thought that was a good idea.

“You’re-“ he starts then kind of waves at her and that was really not a good idea but he is one of Kirk’s buddies so she doesn’t know why she’s surprised. “Well, look, you don’t have to.”

“You have time to date?” she asks before she walks away and leaves him standing there, only realizing when she’s halfway across the quad that she didn’t quite turn him down with the vehemence that he might have deserved, but the shock that anyone could do something so enjoyable while enrolled in this godforsaken school seems to have tempered her slightly.

“Did you date when you were a cadet?” she asks Spock the next time she sees him, on a sunny afternoon in the mess hall as he takes her mug from her and fills it with hot water. She hands him two tea packets and he opens them neatly, depositing one in each of their mugs.

“I was engaged at the time.”

“What?”

“Would you like me to repeat myself?”

“Maybe,” she says and numbly accepts the mug from him. Her padd is slipping from under her arm. She should grab it, but she’s too busy staring up at him. “What happened?”

He doesn’t look at her. “I presume with your qualifications in linguistics you are sufficiently able to interpret the use of the past tense to deduce that-“

“I’m sorry,” she says before he can build up a head of steam.

He doesn’t say anything else, but when she thinks he’s about to walk away with his mug instead of sitting with her like she sort of thought was the plan, she continues on, rather blindly. “I’m not seeing anyone, that’s not why I asked,” she says so quickly she can’t quite think the words through before they leave her mouth. He’s still not meeting her eyes, but the tension at the corner of his mouth eases. “That’d be ridiculous, who could possibly do that while being at the Academy too?”

His eyebrow rises, which she ignores, and he stops shifting away from her, which she likes. “I thought that perhaps it would be the next demand you placed upon yourself.”

“It’s not me, it’s this damn place,” she says mostly because she’s not supposed to swear while she’s in uniform and certainly not while in the company of a commissioned officer, and absolutely not in reference to the hollowed institution that is the Academy. Though apparently the use of colorful language is logical, because when she loses herself in her work, he brings her a second cup of tea when she hasn’t noticed she finished her first, too buried in her notes to look up, so that it’s much later that she even wonders what he was working on as they sat there for so long together, afternoon edging into evening.

The beach is rocky and slippery and everything is damp with fog so that she has to brush away the hair that insists on clinging to her face, since she wore it down as she thought that Spock had more sense than to presume that jumping from slick boulder to slick boulder was ever her idea of a good time.

“Wait up,” she instructs, clambering after him and trying to catch her breath so she can remind him that he’s the one who’s from a desert planet.

He doesn’t seem to care as he continues down the rocks, neither about her nearly skinning her knee or the fact that of all the things he could have suggested for the afternoon, this is the most unreasonable way to spend their time that she could have imagined. When he stops at near the water, he watches the waves laps at piles of kelp and she watches how his shirt clings damp to the ridges of his shoulder blades.

She looks away. Everything here is beautiful - not that she’s going to tell him that - grays and greens and and blues, the colors half washed out and backlit with the white mist that clings everywhere so that his car is just a suggestion in the parking lot and even the edges of him are slightly fuzzy until she hurries over to where he’s standing.

“Is this some type of masochistic Vulcan experience? This is what you do for fun? Can we go somewhere warm?” she asks.

“You yourself stated that you wished to be outside of the library.”

“Outside in a more pleasant way.”

“Would you like to return to campus?”

“Are you giving me the option?” she asks and keeps walking past him, the water to one side of her and him at her back and the line of the shore stretching out before her.

When she slips because of course she does since he’s picked the single most treacherous afternoon activity he could have possibly thought up, his hand is suddenly under her arm, catching her before she can fall.

He leaves it there a beat too long after she has her footing back under her.

“Next time we’re going to get a scone.” She swallows and tells herself to step back, because he hasn’t yet. “Maybe a room temperature cup of water to go with it. Something benign.”

“I anticipate this event greatly.”

“Good,” she says and she’s the one who has to turn away first and keep walking because he’s apparently going to just continue watching her, rain silver-wet and slick on his hair and his eyes a too clear brown to look at any longer.

“Please force me to do this,” she requests since that’s slightly better than just begging him.

“You have ample resolve and tenacity with which to-“

“Please, Spock. Tell me it’s logical to quit now. This is your one chance to lecture me on the merits of rationality, don’t waste it by insisting that I have enough perseverance or whatever it is that Starfleet is hoping to instill in us. Stubbornness, maybe. That’s probably how you got so far.”

“You are nearly done,” he says quietly.

She squints up at him. “I’m dying.”

“I find that unlikely.”

“I can’t,” she says in what is probably too near a whine, but he’s put up with her this far. Brought her this far too, though it might have been easier to avoid the entirety of what she’s facing if he hadn’t offered to walk with her to the shuttle port.

“I am certain you are aware that you are not required to put yourself through this.”

“See? This is what I was afraid of, they got to you too,” she says and pokes at his arm. He feels like he’s made out of solid muscle, hard and hot beneath his jacket.

Her finger leaves an indent in his coat. She can’t actually process that she won’t be seeing him for an entire week, but then again she still can’t really grasp that she decided to sign up for flight training, let alone pushed herself so far in the licensing that she’s trying to complete a training that, all things told, she neither needs nor is she even sure she wants.

Still. Here she is and here he is and she groans at herself at the though of what she’s about to leave the relative comfort of the Academy to do.

“All this character building is exhausting,” she mutters and catches his smile before he can entirely hide it.

Anyone else would have kissed her by now, a long time ago probably. They’d be saying goodbye for seven days a hell of a lot closer than a demure arm’s length apart.

She decides to make it worse for both of them and not give into the urge to close that distance, so she spends a hundred and seventy three hours thinking about what it might have been like if she had.

He’s there to pick her up when she’s done. Apparently the end of flight training is being ejected into the middle of the desert and finding their way home. Getting a ride back to campus from the bus station is probably cheating, but she wants to nearly cry when she sees him standing there so she doesn’t bother to care about it too much.

He hates crowds, hates being anywhere near them, and she knows he hates how everyone is watching them, the other newly minted helmsmen that made it back when she did casting them curious looks. Let them. She’s too tired to do much more than shuffle forward and take the thermos of tea he holds out, and then dump herself into the passenger seat of his car when he opens the door.

“Wake me up when we get there.”

“It is a five minute drive,” he says and she really would sleep, but that would mean giving up the opportunity to slump against the door and watch him.

In deference to the fact that it’s his place and his bed she’s intending on passing out in, and probably also the fact that she should be trying to make a good impression though that seems less important with him than it ever has been with anyone else, she goes through the motions of showering, hoping the sonics do a better job than she does in cleaning herself since she mostly just leans against the wall and tries to convince herself to not fall asleep in his bathroom.

She wakes up in his bed when the sun’s setting, light thrown onto the walls of his bedroom. It smells like food that isn’t protein bars or lukewarm reconstituted ration sludge and she thinks she’d very much like to get up and eat until she can’t anymore except that she makes the mistake of blinking and then it’s dark out and he’s next to her, his hand half stretched across the space between them, his mouth slightly parted in his sleep.

She takes his fingers in her own and watches him as he wakes.

“You made me dinner,” she whispers.

The kiss she gives him is sleep warmed and soft and they don’t say anything as their bodies find each other. For a long time, he holds her so close she can’t work their clothes off, not that she doesn’t try, grabbing at the hot skin of his back, rolling onto him to push his shirt up his stomach and then pulling him over her again when she decides she likes his weight, too heavy on her so it’s hard to breathe.

“You’ve never done this,” she whispers to him when she finally gets them skin to skin, stretched out on top of his body and stroking her thumbs over his cheekbones.

“I would like to,” he says so seriously that she has to bite at her lip, smiling at him as she squirms against him. His thumb pulls her lip free and she catches his hands in hers, pushes them back into the pillow.

“Well,” she says slowly and kisses lightly at the corner of his mouth. It’s curled upward very slightly. “You don’t have to you, you know. It’s up to you.”

Later, they stand in his kitchen and eat leftovers straight from the container her put them in, trading a single fork back and forth. When they’re done, it’s the easiest thing to lean into his chest and let him hold her up.

He bends to put his face in her hair and she’s reasonably sure he presses a kiss there. “I have no experience with any facet of this.”

“You,” she says, fingering the dip of his spine. “Will have to be more specific.”

When he doesn’t answer, she taps at the small of his back.

“Dating.”

She covers his toes with the ball of her foot. “Good news,” she whispers and tucks herself closer into him. “I’ve always loved a challenge.”