She was a loner by nature and a fighter by choice. And she was proud of it. The one lesson that Ro Laren had learned well in her life was that she had to fight on her own. Seeing her parents die by Cardassian hands, fleeing from the camps on Bajor, making her way from one foster family to the other had only strengthened her beliefs. Whatever the hardship, she would survive it, coming back stronger from the battle.
And so it somehow came as a surprise to everyone that she entered the academy, a place where the individual was trained to be a part of the whole. In fact, she only barely made it through the psychological tests, but since all other results were most promising, the commission decided to give another Bajoran a chance. Someday the planet might be freed from Cardassian occupation, and then Starfleet and the Federation would need people like her as connection to the native population.
Nobody dared to ask why Ro Laren had wanted to join the academy, as friends were rare and family was non-existent. Her latest foster parents were glad to see her leave, the fiercely independent and thus often terribly annoying troublemaker in their circle. They bragged about her nevertheless - it did sound good to have a foster kid in the Starfleet Academy. And so she arrived at the Academy without ever having needed to defend her decision, to deal with the reasons behind; an unsorted pile of hopes and dreams, paired with the smoldering anger of the past. She would not let herself be defeated by an enemy; she would not bow to suppressors as so many fellow Bajorans had done. Starfleet would be her way to fight for freedom until she could return to Bajor and fight an even juster cause there.
Even now, after the first third months that had been filled with strenuous basic training, she had not stopped playing her favorite dream in her mind when she lay on her bed in the night. Her aching arms lying loosely on her chest, she stared at the dark ceiling and saw herself on a hill with a big phaser rifle in her hand and fallen Cardassians at her feet, lying dead in the dirty, muddy soil of a camp's paths. No matter what they taught in the Xeno courses, she didn't want to understand her enemies. She did not want to learn about their culture and society and even less about their dreams and hopes. It was enough to know that they had killed the dreams of so many Bajorans - only their death would bring some peace, not negotiations.
And so she understood very well the disgust of Ron Coulman when the lessons on the Romulan Empire in XenoVR began. His grandfather, his grandmother and three out of four children had been killed in the Tomed incident, his mother the sole survivor. There was that smoldering anger in him too, learned from the generation before, kindled through the decades.
"It is unwise to let oneself be ruled by emotions," their Vulcan teacher said calmly. "Especially if they are not your own, Cadet Coulman. The reasons for the Tomed assault are even today not fully understood, which means that if it happens again, it will be just as surprising to the Federation. Only knowledge brings security."
"They simply want to defeat us," Coulman replied with clenched teeth.
"No society is that simple, Cadet," the teacher said, and swiftly moved into the government structure of Romulus, giving him no further chance to delve into the subject.
"She's so stupid," Coulman mumbled when Ro Laren and some others took lunch break together.
"I thought she handled it quite well," Wicki said, a blond-haired, long and slim low-gravity humanoid. "Hate bears hate, my people say. It's wrong to let your own opinion shade like this."
"She's a coward," he replied. "I've looked up her career, and she's done nothing but chair-warming the last twenty years, firmly grounded as Fleet contact on Vulcan."
"At least she's an admiral," Alicia said with a shrug.
"But nobody knows what for," Ron said. "She has never come further than Commander, and had never taken a captain's seat on a vessel. I guess they gave her the stripes because it looks neater when she bows before some Vulcan officials."
"Vulcans don't bow," Beryl, Laren's room-mate, stated.
"Or whatever else they do," he said angrily, throwing his cutlery away on the plate. "I'm done for today," he said and stood up, grabbing his tray in the wake.
His peers looked after him for a moment, and then Wicki shrugged. "He'll learn it, or he'll find out he's wrong here."
Laren ate her synthetic steak in silence, not at all sharing Wicki's opinion, but knowing that a discussion wouldn't change anyone's anyway.
She couldn't remember how the discussion in the third lesson evolved, but they had drifted to the Romulan idea of honor, which included preferring suicide to captivity.
"That's why we only know the Romulan's Vulcanoid descent since Kirk's encounter in 2267," Errrr, an Tellarite, threw in.
"Kirk has always said that he felt connected with the Romulan somehow. He had regretted the self-destruction, he said later in interviews," Ron added. At Laren's side, Wicki sighed audibly, fearing to get another lecture on Kirk's terrific adventures, a theme Ron was never tired to talk about.
And something was coming up, Laren realized when Ron looked at their teacher with that glowing in his eyes. "Admiral Saavik, didn't you ship with Kirk once? In your first training mission?"
For a moment, silence fell over the room. "I did," she replied. "But this is not relevant now." She turned around and signaled the computer to display the next data sheet.
"Must have been quite an adventure to fly with him," Ron pursued. "The whole mission is still under security lock, but can't you tell us something about him? I mean - he was the best Captain ever in the Fleet."
Saavik looked at him, and something in her gaze told everyone in the room that Ron wouldn't get the answer he wanted to hear.
"He was an impressive personality," she said finally. "To fly with him was an unique experience." She pointed at the display. "Now, the Romulan Codex of Honor -"
"Must have been quite a difference to the paperwork you're doing now," Ron added pointedly.
Saavik looked down at the terminal, then up again. "A friend of mine died on that training tour," she stated, and her voice was just a tick colder than normal. "He was about your age, cadet. So I agree, there is a difference to paperwork."
She leaned forward, just a fraction. "What you call paper work may save your life out there one day, because my intelligence information in your databanks might be exactly the information you need. So you can either participate now or leave through this door. I am not willing to spend time on you uselessly."
Deep silence fell over the room. At Laren's side, Wicki caught her gaze and made a thumbs-up signal.
From that day on, Ron stopped harassing the teacher.
It was already a week later when Laren finally had time to go to the gym for some sports. She needed it badly - the stress of the long days full of learning was building up a painful tension in her body, with headache only an inch away.
But the workout worked as intended, and soon she relaxed with every rhythmic punch into the fat ball that hung in the corner. There were more sophisticated sports she knew, but on certain days, karate or Klingon mokíbara were just too soft and smooth to drain the overflow of physical energy from her. In the end she sank down on a bunk, burying her wet face into a towel. It soaked the sweat instantly, and she looked up again...just in time to see her.
Probably Saavik was practicing some ancient Vulcan arts; there was a whole bunch of them that Ro would have to learn for the final test, but she had a problem remembering their names. Enough to know that many of them had some deadly variations, and she looked at the Vulcan's controlled movement, wondering if that played hit would break a Bajoran's bone in combat. On the other hand, the way Saavik moved had a dance-like quality, and that didn't quite fit to the picture Ro had in her mind about stiff Vulcans. They were a race she didn't know what to make of - too closed, too unreadable for her taste, too much stuck in traditions in her rating.
Suddenly Saavik seemed to feel her gaze, and so she looked at her. Dark eyes met Ro's, and she wondered why Vulcan eyes always looked more piercing than human ones. She felt dismantled by their scrutiny, though she had learned now that this was caused by the Vulcan principle of being completely focused in each moment - when Saavik looked at her, she really did for a moment do nothing but look at her.
And what a gaze it was, Laren thought, and blushed.
Saavik broke her routine and took her towel, then walked over to her.
"Interested in ke-tarya?" she asked when she sat down next to her.
"It looks interesting," Ro admitted. "Would you mind giving me some lessons in it?" She saw the Vulcan's brief hesitation, and added hastily, "I am not an absolute beginner; I know some martial arts."
Saavik met her gaze and pondered for a moment. "Sharing knowledge is knowledge twice," she recited. "Yes, I am willing to teach you ke-tarya." She stood up.
"Now?" Laren asked in astonishment.
"Now," Saavik replied. And somehow Ro saw a smile in her features, although the Vulcan's face stood unmoved.
Ro was unnerved. For the last half hour Beryl and Alicia had been making plans for tonight - not that she did mind that, but she minded that they sat on Beryl's bed and talked in overly loud voices that pulled her out of her learning. When they finally stood up and showed all sign of imminent departure, she began to relax.
Suddenly Alicia leaned over her shoulder, bracing one arm around Ro's chest playfully. "Wanna join us tonight, Laren?" she asked. "You've made yourself rare the last weeks."
Ro looked up from her terminal. "No thanks, I have a date in the gym tonight," she said.
Beryl reached for her monitor and pulled it around. "Oh, more on Vulcan society," she said mockingly. "Seems to be your center of interest right now. What do you wanna do, seduce Admiral PointyEars?"
Despite her efforts Ro felt herself blush, heat rising in her cheeks.
"Bullshit," she said roughly and grabbed the monitor to turn it back to her. But Beryl held it tightly.
"You're spending half your time on XenoVR, although it's only a B class. You should better do something for your engineering grades, Laren."
"Not to talk about tactics and basic communication," Alicia added.
"I'll do when you stop bothering me," Ro hissed angrily and yanked the monitor back. "Didn't you two want to go to town?"
Alicia let her free and patted her head before she turned to leave. "We leave you to your date, Laren. If you want to join us later, we're in the 'Dome'."
"Happy lay." Beryl waved and closed the door right before the folder that Ro threw after her could hit her. It met the door instead and fell open, releasing its content onto the floor.
"Shit," Ro said heartfelt and knelt down to catch the sheets of paper and the optodisks, hastily pushing them back into the folder. It was time to leave, or she would be late - a disgusting thing for a punctual Vulcan.
Minutes later she jogged down the concrete path to the gym. Her friends were terrible of late. She liked her Vulcan teacher, yes, and it was interesting to talk to her and learn this martial art, but there wasn't more to it...was there?
She stopped on her track, swallowing hard. Well - she couldn't but admit that she was attracted to her. But it was just a little dreaming. Nothing that would hurt anyone. Would it?
She heavily sat down on a nearby bench. They had come closer over the last weeks...not that Saavik had ever done anything that could be interpreted as...coming closer. Every single of the few touches of her warm, long finger on Ro's body had been for the purpose of correcting a wrong position or making her feel a certain muscle. Of course, there had been the talks afterwards, lemonade and saya at the gym bar, completely innocent. And after five lessons Saavik had offered her to drop the ranks in their spare time, telling her that she found the feeling of constantly being on duty slightly irritating. An unusually open remark for the Vulcan. It felt good to be on first name terms with her.
Yes. It felt good.
She looked at the flowerbed in thoughts, barely taking in the various colors. There had been those moments where she regretted that ke-tarya was without body contact, and where she had wondered what Saavik would feel like. Her body was well-trained and what she had seen of her skin looked smooth and without crinkles. You couldn't tell a Vulcan's age by sight, but she had looked it up. 93. Not old for a Vulcan. About 40 when compared with the Bajoran life span. And there had been that one moment where she had smiled in an unguarded moment, just a small smile in that usually so controlled face, but it had captured Ro's heart.
Yes. There was something special between them.
But what? And how should she manage it...an admiral and her, the young cadet? She needed time to think about it. And she needed to get away from it all for a moment. Making a decision Ro took a deep breath and pushed her communicator. "Cadet Ro to Admiral Saavik."
Seconds later the reply came in. "Saavik here."
"Hello Saavik," Ro said. "I've been delayed. I can't come tonight, I am sorry."
"How unfortunate," Saavik replied. "But I will find some other occupation, Laren. Thank you for informing me. Saavik off."
Ro let her hand fall down from the communicator. She'd better get back and dressed for the club - tonight she would take a break.
The evening had been better than Ro had expected, the music okay, the noise level acceptable, and her friends, for once, didn't mock her. Instead, the three of them had sat on the upper level's balcony, clutching their drinks while looking down at the boys and rating their cuteness level and their asses. It had been utterly weird and utterly refreshing to leave the Academy behind for one evening, the workload and the upcoming tests. And so the group was on their happy way back from the club when they saw the two figures in the distance. They were standing in the shades, and maybe they would have ignored them if Alicia hadn't realized that one of them was their Vulcan teacher.
"That's Admiral Saavik. Let's go and have a look," she whispered, agitated.
"It's not decent to spy on her," Laren said with a frown. "Come on." But her friends didn't want to give up that easily.
"Nighttime dates on the grounds are forbidden," Wicki stated in a mocking parody of the Academy rules and moved to the hill. "Up there we get the best view." They swiftly climbed the hill and looked down at the pair.
"Uh, it's a man," Wicki said when her eyes had adapted to the weak light. "Who would've thought that?"
"It's not just a man," Alicia said suddenly. "Gosh, it's Ambassador Spock."
"You're sure?" Wicki and Laren gasped in unison. There are some people who were larger than life in Fleet history, and he was one of them.
"Well," Alicia murmured and hesitated, "just let's say I've seen enough photos of him."
"You've a crush on him?" Wicki chuckled. "Hey, he's twice the age of your grandfather!"
"Doesn't matter for a crush," Alicia mumbled.
Laren lay at their side in silence, Wicki's words and the visitor giving her a funny feeling.
"They're doing it, they're doing it!" Wicki grabbed her sleeve and yanked. "Look, Laren!"
A small movement, and then the fingers of the Vulcans crossed and touched.
At her side, her friends broke into brief excitement before they began to draw back down the hill, half running, half falling.
"What the hell was that?" Ro asked in confusion when they were at the ground path again. Her friends fell into the grass, exhausted from the bumpy ride.
"Cool, now I know what Vulcan love life looks like," Wicki laughed.
"Laren, darling, you're sitting in the same classes as we do," Alicia said. "Touching fingers - the Vulcan kiss. Don't you remember?"
Laren stared at her through the dim light. "Kiss...? But why should she kiss him...?"
Wicki shook her head in open desperation. "Because they are married, stupid."
"Married?" The word made it painfully slow into Ro's brain. "But I looked up her file. There's nothing in it about marriage."
Alicia and Wicki exchanged a glance.
"The official file's probably under Vulcan privacy lock and all this," Alicia replied. "But when you'd surfed some Earth information databanks about Vulcans, you'd know that. They're married for decades, I think. Though it is weird," she added after a moment. "She was his pupil, almost like an adopted daughter. Gives a funny feeling of incest...but then, she'd been over 70 when they got engaged. Not really a kid anymore." She laughed, and Wicki fell in.
"Vulcans are weird," the blond agreed. She stood up and cleaned her pants from soil and grass.
"I can't believe it," Ro whispered.
"Uh?" Wicki gave Alicia another glance. "There's nothing to believe about, Laren. It's just like that."
Ro tumbled backwards. "I can't believe it. I won't. You're lying!" She turned and run away the path toward the sleeping block. Her heart raced when she arrived there, but she didn't know if from the running or from the realization...Saavik was married. And she hadn't known it. And Saavik hadn't found it necessary to tell her. Not a single word.
Laren raced up to her room and yanked open the door so hard that her room companion rose in shock.
"Laren, what's up?" Beryl asked.
"Nothing," Ro said, fighting back the tears. "Nothing." She fell down on her bed and buried her head into the cushion, determined to not let a single sound escape.
In the lesson the next morning Ro was determined to sit through the hour in grace. But it didn't take long before her mood got the better of her, and her answers became first impertinent and then insulting. Her teacher seemed to ignore it, but when the chime rang, she called her back.
"Please follow me to my office, Cadet Ro," Saavik ordered.
Ro walked in her wake down the corridors, hands clutched in her back in anger. If Saavik wanted to know what this was about, she'd tell her right away.
"Now," Saavik said when she had walked behind her office desk and the door had closed behind the cadet, "please tell me why you behaved like this today."
"Do you really have to ask?" Ro asked back icily.
The Admiral frowned, an almost invisible line above her nose tensing for a second.
"Obviously I have to. Enlighten me, Cadet Ro."
"We saw you last night on the grounds near the plantation."
"Together with him."
Saavik looked at her, obviously unable to follow her line of thoughts. "And?"
"You stood there and touched."
Saavik raised a brow. "Is it the habit of Starfleet cadets to spy on the private lives of their superiors?"
Ro's stance faltered, and she leaned on the desk, her palms fixing at the warm wood.
"Why didn't you tell me, Saavik?" she said, her overwhelming emotions tightening her throat and shifting her voice to a pressed whisper.
For a moment there was silence between them, then Saavik replied calmly, "It was of no consequence."
"Of no consequence?" Laren rasped. "You are married. And not just to anyone, but to Spock, hero of the Federation."
Saavik sat down in her chair, unmoved, her hands neatly folded on the edge of the table. "Does it matter, Laren?"
Ro gazed at the ceiling in open despair. "Lord, I knew Vulcans could play stupid, but I thought you were different."
A leveled brow was lifted. "Enlighten me, Laren - what should I know?"
"Saavik..." Ro stepped to the table, sitting down on the other side. "Saavik...didn't you see how much you mean to me?"
"We shared a certain amount of time. I teach you ke-tarya," Saavik said.
"Funny, how different views can be," Ro laughed unhappily. "I thought we were friends."
Saavik tilted her head. "If it pleases you, I will call you my friend."
Ro buried her face in her hands. "If it pleases me...oh Prophets..." She felt a hand on her lower left arm and shook it off harshly. "Don't touch me if you don't mean it," she gasped, and for the first time she saw the realization dawn on Saavik.
"Oh yes," Laren said angrily. "A young, stupid, lonely Bajoran falls in love with a Vulcan. Well, at least you don't laugh about me." She stood up and turned toward the door.
"Laren," Saavik said behind her. "You are correct...I should have realized it. Especially since the same had happened to me in the past."
"But you got him," Ro said, clenching her hands in the doorframe.
Silence hung between them for a moment, and then Ro couldn't stand it anymore. She turned around again. Saavik sat in the chair with her gaze on the cupboard, unfocused. The movement awakened her and made her look at the Bajoran again. But the Vulcan's features were frozen now.
"This is none of your business, Cadet Ro," Saavik stated emotionlessly, opening the gap between them fully. "I have other duties to attend to - you are dismissed."
"Is it that easy?" Laren gasped. But there was no reaction, not a single muscle changing in the Vulcan's face as she held her gaze now, brown against brown.
"Very well." Ro took a deep breath. "I will leave you, Admiral Saavik." She turned on her heels and slammed the door shut.
Ro sat through the next lessons in icy grace, looking at everything but her teacher. The final test she took with little interest, sure that she would have to repeat the course anyway. But at least it wouldn't be with Saavik again. The first term was closing, and she felt like she had aged a decade. Academy does that to you, people had told her in advance. But she hadn't believed them.
"Have you seen the XenoVR results?" Beryl asked her in the dining hall the next day.
Ro looked up from the little appealing food in astonishment. "They are already out?"
"Sure - Vulcans are like that," Beryl grinned. "You got 96 out of 100 points."
Ro's jaw dropped...and then anger took over. "That must be wrong!" She stood up in a rush, her chair leaning halfway and then falling to the ground. She lifted it up. "I have to go," she said and took the tray.
"But you haven't eaten yet," her friend called behind her, but she was already on her way.
It was only 500 meters to Saavik's office, and she walked right into it, ignoring the secretary in front.
Saavik stood at the window with her back to the door when Ro entered.
"What the fuck is that?" Ro snarled.
The Vulcan turned. "Fuck?"
Ro clenched her fists. "You know what I mean! Why do you give me 96 points?"
"Because you wrote an almost perfect test," Saavik replied emotionlessly.
"I didn't prepare myself. I just wrote it down. It can't be good."
Saavik looked at her. "Why do you think I gave you the points?"
"To buy me," Ro blurred. "To make amends for your actions."
Saavik sat down. "If this is what you want to believe, you may do so."
"You...Vulcans! It's all so nice with you. All so easy," Ro cried. "Nothing moves you. You sound all like...priests. You're all so holy! I hate it!"
All Saavik did was to look at her.
"I know, you don't even feel insulted!" Ro said in despair. "I give up. I don't know how I ever came to think you'd feel something for me. I was so stupid, wasn't I? But it's okay, I'll go." She raised her hands in the air as the building security entered the room. "I'll stop yelling. All's fine. All's fine."
"We were called by your secretary, Admiral Saavik." The leader of the security team gazed at the young Bajoran. "Can we be of any assistance?"
"No, thank you," Saavik replied, her gaze still resting at Ro. "She wanted to leave anyway."
"Yes," Ro choked and fled.
She didn't join the official end-of-term-party that evening, but instead left the academy ground and walked around in San Francisco. Later it began to rain, but that was fine, because then nobody could see the tears that flew down her face steadily. Rarely in her life had she felt so terrible, the pain of her soul searing through her body and taking hold of her, throwing her into a dark abyss.
It was long after midnight when she returned to the grounds, but the party was still going on. She walked in the grass, away from the lights where she would meet people, all those people who were much too happy to endure right now. But when she drew near her building, Beryl joined her.
"Hi Laren, we've looked for you the whole afternoon," she said. "Have you met her?"
"Who?" Ro asked.
"Admiral Saavik," Beryl answered. "She had wanted to talk to you. She has gone to our room for a while, but I don't know if she's still there. Her flight leaves tonight."
Ro gasped. "Prophets..." Then she began to run to her building. She didn't take the slow lift but run up the stairs, taking two with every step. When she arrived at the fifth floor she could barely breath anymore, but she threw herself through the fire door and run to her room - where she stopped dead in front of the door. What would Saavik say? What should she say?
Didn't matter. As long as Saavik was here.
She braced herself and opened the door. But only silence greeted her; she had come too late.
"It can't be," she sobbed and sat down on her bed, burying her face into her hands. "It's not fair. It's not fair!"
She hadn't known there were still tears left, but like a broken dam they flew down her cheeks again.
Someone cradled her, taking her into soft arms.
"Everything will be alright," Beryl whispered into her ear and held her close. "It's gonna be alright, Laren."
But she knew it never would be again.