And so, yes. Spock/Uhura, pre-film. With surprisingly little actual Spock/Uhura. More Uhura. With a side of Gaila being awesome, because she is.
Dear god, fic productivity!
ETA: Cross-posted to the wonderful where_no_woman community, which deserves a plug. A place for thoughts, discussion, fic & art about the women of Star Trek. More of their stories, please!
from the greek “xenos” which means “stranger", but also “guest”
Nyota Uhura is seventeen years old and her hero is Amanda Grayson, perhaps the only living celebrity xenolinguist in the Federation. There are others with some illusory fame, immersing themselves in strange and dangerous cultures and communities, but they are-- to use a crude term-- “holovid scientists” who are airbrushed and telegenic, interested in science only when it intersects with marketability. While Amanda Grayson’s fame might be due to her personal life, her work is intuitive, deft, even elegant. Grayson’s most famous work is her groundbreaking exploration of Vulcan informal terms of address, but Nyota’s favourite is a short paper written when Grayson was quite young. It is about the language of taboo and exclusion. Things unsaid, and things unsayable. Though the taboos themselves may differ, linguistic methods for dealing with them do not. Grayson postulates, rather cheekily, that euphemism and elision are universal phenomena. This is why Nyota Uhura picks xenolinguistics: the ways in which different cultures communicate might differ, but the ways in which they fail to communicate do not. She finds it strangely comforting that language makes them all alien to each other.
By the end of Nyota’s first year at the Academy, she has gained something of a reputation. Not for promiscuity, exactly. She’s well within the bounds of the Starfleet Academy norm, though of course that’s even slacker than in civilian society. Put together several year groups of bright, healthy, fit, young high-achievers with a taste for adventure and it is only to be expected. But no, Nyota’s reputation isn’t about how many but who, or more specifically, what species they are. Nyota’s track record is almost entirely non-human. It isn’t exactly a fixation or a conscious choice; the thing is, Nyota is at Starfleet for one thing, and one thing only. People only really catch her interest when they intersect with hers; Betazoid aspirants, Bajoran geometric poetry, Orion phonology. She doesn’t fall in love. It’s not that she’s cold to the idea, she just has more important things on her mind. Nyota is the first woman from her family to make Starfleet (whose uptake from the United States of Africa is still well below desirable ratios), and the first to make the San Francisco branch. She’s got a lot to prove, and a lot to learn, and nothing is going to get in her way.
Nobody-- apart from, much later, Cadet James T. Kirk, who is surprisingly terrible at gossip despite causing quite a large volume of it-- is particularly surprised when they find out about Nyota’s relationship with Commander Spock. There are no formal regulations regarding extra-professional relationships between instructors and cadets, especially in the latter years of study; though there are some mutters and whispers they die down remarkably quickly, the product of jealousy or prurience. Her other instructors do not bring it up with her, partly because they know Uhura to be competent and able, and partly because Spock is so ruthlessly even-handed (“he’s too much of a cold bastard to play favourites,” is how Christopher Pike would have put it, not without some fondness).
“Only you, Nyota,” Gaila had sighed, when she had told her. “I suppose it makes perfect sense.” Nyota had given her a look. “Well,” Gaila elaborated. “At least you won’t break his heart.”
The thing is: Commander Spock and Lieutenant Uhura’s relationship is eminently logical. She is a communicator, a xenolinguist, and he is the embodiment of all that she is fascinated with: two cultures combine in the elongation of his vowels. She could learn more about Vulcan glottal stops from five minutes of conversation with him than five years of academic study, and more than that by tracing the shape of his tongue with her own as he makes entirely human sounds with a jaw-structure that isn’t quite built for them. They are both seeking to understand alien cultures, and they both know this: observation is inadequate, a more practical method is desirable. He is seeking to understand what it is to be human, she is seeking to understand everything that is not. Their goals dovetail neatly; their partnership is an extension of this.
People are rather surprised when Nyota and Spock are still together when her final year begins. Nobody is more surprised than Nyota. Spock had accepted her advances with equanimity. This is altogether unsurprising. Nyota wasn’t the only Cadet at the Academy who enjoyed the company of Non-Terrans, who perhaps had something to prove. The urge to somehow unsettle, to ruffle, to bother the unassailable Commander Spock is something she can understand. By the time Nyota was in her first year, making a good-faith attempt to get a rise out of Commander Spock was already a long-running tradition. (Nobody manages until James Kirk, but the Cadets running the pool are wary of approaching the newly-minted Captain with his winnings, so the bet is never collected on. Nyota suspects Spock takes some pride in this, though he will never admit to knowing about said pool.)
Nyota assumes that Spock accepted her invitation for the same reason he accepted the ones before her: a certain curiosity, a desire to assimilate, a logical decision to experience one of the facets of human culture. This never bothered her; her own reasons were similar enough.
But this does not entirely satisfactorily explain why they are still together after the better part of a year. Or why Nyota’s heart beats faster when she knocks on the door to Spock’s office, fast enough to embarrass her because she knows his hearing can pick it up. The idea that Spock is just-- indulging his curiosity becomes, all at once, completely unpalatable to her. Which is stupid, because that is exactly what she has been doing all this time. Nyota knows better than to try and change the rules mid-game.
Gaila comes home three nights before their first run at the Kobayashi-Maru to find Nyota lying on her bed in the dark instead of studying. “Are you running through protocols in your head?”
“No,” replies Nyota. “I’m planning to run away to Virgis 12 to become a famous space-pirate.”
“That’s nice, Nyota. Your mother will be very proud.” Gaila wraps an arm around Nyota’s leg, perching on the edge of the bed. “Hey, the test won’t be so bad, ok? Anyway,” her voice goes teasing. “I’m sure you could always get some tips from Commander Spo-ock-- argh, what the--?” Gaila shrieks as Nyota smacks her in the arm with a pillow. “Nyota!”
“It’s not the test.”
She seizes the pillow before any further damage can be inflicted. “Right. Then what?”
Nyota looks sheepish. “I’m, uh-,” she sucks in a breath and then sort of mumbles, “I’m in love with a Vulcan, okay?”
Gaila’s response is to start laughing and laughing. “That sounds like the title to a terrible romance holonovel. ‘In Love With a Vulcan: will Sandra be able to fill his cold heart with the fire of her human passion?’” She swoons theatrically to punctuate her point. “Oh, don’t look me like that. This is kind of a funny situation.”
“Yes,” Nyota says dryly. “Hilarious.”
Gaila sobers up when she catches Nyota‘s expression. “Wait. Did you just figure this out?” She boggles.
“Yes,” she hisses, crossing her arms.
“Wow,” says Gaila, wonderingly. “Humans really are slow.”
The thing about logic that Spock could have explained to Nyota, as it was explained to him, is this: when you have a sharp mind, logic can be used to rationalise almost any course of action. The years of study and discipline are not about logic but rather how best to deploy it. Nyota thinks maybe she has been rationalising her behaviour for a long time. It proves to be almost impossible to separate out the various strands of her emotions. The thing is: Nyota is a signals-analyst. She searches for meaning in the dark, the muffled, the occluded. She deals in subtlety and shade, the barest noise in a sea of silence, and there is no-one more subtle and shaded than Commander Spock. She is in love with him because she is a xenolinguist, yes, but that is as much a part of her as his mixed heritage is a part of him. She cannot separate out the parts, but they are more than the sum of them.
Their relationship is an experiment.
“But then again, whose isn’t, really?” Gaila shrugs, with an encouraging smile. Nyota cannot help but agree.
Nyota does not ask Spock if he loves her, and Spock does not tell her that he does. But the thing is: Nyota speaks seventeen Federation languages, and several dead ones, but she has always known that the commonality between them is in how they fail to communicate. It’s in the things unsaid, the things unsayable. Nyota knows there are things that they do not say to each other. In this they are no different.