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Strangers in a Strange Land

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Kirk hadn’t really been sure what the captaincy would be like, but he hadn’t ever expected a diplomatic mission to end up with him and Spock pressed up against each other in a dark closet.

“So what do we – ow, you stepped on my foot!” Kirk hisses.

“My apologies, Captain,” Spock whispers, “but please keep your voice quiet, if you must speak at all. We cannot risk the Banauro from hearing us.”

“We can’t just stay here, though. We need to make a plan as to how we’re gonna win!” Kirk whispers back intensely.

What had begun as a pleasant diplomatic exchange with Banaurian leaders had quickly turned into something else when Kirk decided they were done skirting the topic of Banauro joining the Federation and directly asked if they were joining or not. Apparently Banaurians only yield in such circumstances if the party that instigates the challenge wins what is essentially a high-stakes game of hide-and-seek.

“Given that we are in a concealed space, it would be wise to take this moment to think about our strategy. However, I require you to remain quiet in order for me to do so,” Spock whispers tersely.

“We’re sitting ducks in here! We should be on the move, not in here with someone’s moth-eaten coats.”

“Moth-eaten – ” Spock starts to say, sounding slightly puzzled, when they both hear a door opening and footsteps approaching. Kirk suddenly feels one of Spock’s warm hands clap over his mouth.

The footsteps pause momentarily, but resume just a few seconds later. They eventually fade away as the Banaurian leaves the room. Kirk starts to let out his held breath underneath Spock’s hand when he feels the tips of Spock’s fingers from his other hand conforming to the side of his face.

I apologize profusely, Captain, for invading your mind like this, but this will provide us a means to communicate without producing noise, Spock says to Kirk across a mindmeld.

While unexpected, Kirk barely flinches. Unlike the only other mindmeld he’d had with the older Spock, this one feels like nothing more than a slight nudge against his mind.

Kirk tries to reply, but he knows the message isn’t getting across when he feels a slight brush of suppressed frustration.

Keep trying, Captain. Just focus your words very carefully, one at a time. It will get easier as our minds become more accustomed to each other.

Okay. You – hear? Can you hear? Do I make sense?

Yes, Captain, I can “hear” you, although I do not know if you make any more sense than usual via this new means of communication, Spock replies. His tone is clipped, yet it curiously also has an undercurrent of what Kirk knows has to be amusement, palpable in a way that is impossible through verbal communication.

Ha, ha, at least this is working. Get your hand off of my mouth already or else I’ll lick it. I’m not that heavy of a breather.

Spock jerks his hand away as if it’s on fire and rubs it on his pants. I left my hand in place as a cautionary measure in the case that the mindmeld surprised you into producing sound.

This isn’t bad, actually, Kirk muses. You’re a resourceful man, Spock. We should use this more often.

This does not feel invasive to you, Captain, because I have many shields up. Likewise, while I cannot expect you to have the same level of shielding proficiency as myself, I ask that you at least try however you can to protect your thoughts and feelings from transferring through the meld.

Uh, okay, I’ll try my best. Smell good.

Captain, Spock chastises.

Sorry! I didn’t mean to even say that! It slipped?

Kirk catches a fleeting touch of what must be the mindmeld equivalent of an eyeroll. Let us focus on the task at hand, Captain. What do you propose we do next?

Kirk thinks back to the layout of the castle, although it is challenging when he is also aware of how warm Spock is, so close to him. Were there air vents? Chutes? Dumbwaiters?

I think I understand the logic of your idea well enough, even if I am unfamiliar with that last term.

A dumbwaiter is an old Earth design. It was originally a pulley system that delivered items up and down floors of a building through a chute, although modern designs are mechanized. It’s like a little food elevator!

I understand. I believe I saw something like that in one of the visiting rooms we were in earlier.

Oh?

Kirk then sees an image of the door of the dumbwaiter-like system that Spock happened to notice before.

I cannot guarantee it can manage our size and weight. But your earlier assessment of our situation is correct; investigating this so-called “dumbwaiter” is a risk we must consider taking, as we cannot remain here without chancing more dire consequences.

I don’t know, I’m feeling less excited about these guys joining the Federation if we have to cram ourselves in a dumbwaiter for them. Kirk then shifts self-consciously away from Spock as much as he is able to in the cramped space.

Captain, we cannot surrender now when we are this close to securing a valuable alliance for the Federation.

Don’t worry, Mr. Spock, I’m still all in. Go ahead, lead the way out of here then. Hot, naked, want to touch –

Captain, Spock snaps.

Sorry, I can’t help it!

--

Miracle of all miracles, the dumbwaiter hypothesis worked. Kirk may have gotten to half-mast being shoved up against Spock inside the dumbwaiter, but what matters is that it actually worked.

After they snuck out of the dumbwaiter, the head Banaurian leader eventually found them out on the castle courtyard (designated as the “base” of their hide-and-seek game). Kirk almost felt bad when he saw how crushed the Banaurian leader had looked when ze saw them.

As the leader dutifully signed the contract they had drawn up for their alliance with the Federation, ze had wheezed out what must have been the Banaurian equivalent of a defeated sigh. And apparently, that was that; the Banaurians really did settle their most staggering trials and tribulations with hide-and-seek.

The next day, still riding high on the success of their first diplomatic mission, Kirk strolls into the mess hall and scans the room for who he wants to eat with today. When he sees Gaila, he can’t help but grin wolfishly. It’s been awhile since he’s spent time with her.

The last time they had seen each other was during the formal launch ceremony for the Enterprise (held primarily to recognize Kirk as its new captain, given that the Enterprise had already launched and then some.) He’d known that she would be on his ship, as Scotty himself had demanded that she join the crew in the flurry of recruiting that took place shortly after Kirk was commissioned as captain. But he had still been pleased as hell to see her in the lines of crew members boarding the ship, looking perky as ever. He had winked at her and she had winked back, but that had been the extent of their interaction.

Now that Kirk sees her presently, he has an overwhelming urge to talk to her. The same day that Scotty had demanded that she be part of the Enterprise’s crew, he had also filled Kirk in on how she had survived Nero’s attack. The only part of her survival that had depended on dumb luck was where she had been on the Farragut at the time of the attack (more specifically, not in a section of the ship that had been instantly shredded.) On top of being lucky enough to have been in a mostly intact chunk of the ship, she had also been near a set of escape pods.

And that’s when Kirk had started really understanding why Scotty wanted her on the Enterprise so badly. Because she knew the difference between models and generations of Starfleet ships, she knew that she happened to be on a ship that had yet to be refitted to the newer design of escape pods that allowed an escapee to board an escape pod without donning an emergency spacesuit. Gaila used what had been once considered an idiotic flaw in ship design to her advantage by immediately putting on an emergency suit and searching the ship for any other survivors.

Once she had rounded up the handful she was able to find by searching the chunk of ship she had been stranded in, she instructed the other survivors to similarly suit up and board additional escape pods. Then she guided them on a search-and-rescue mission of the Farragut as well as nearby remains of other ships until Starfleet arrived with rescue crews several hours later. Her actions ended up saving over one hundred people that would have otherwise died.

As Kirk approaches the table Gaila was sitting at, watching her type away on a PADD as she hastily scoops parfait into her mouth, all he can think is how fucking cool she is.

“Gaila!” he announces as he sets his tray down on the table. She startles a little and looks up. It takes only a moment for her to register who he is and then jump out of her seat and tackle him.

“Jimmy!” she shrieks, then laughs right in his ear. “I’m so glad we ran into each other!”

He laughs back as she releases her hold on him and lets him sit down. “Yeah, well, you can call me up anytime you want to see me, babe. There’s no need to wait until we run into each other on this big ship.”

Gaila shakes her head slowly, looking at him like he’s dense. “Oh, Jim, no, I really can’t. I simply just don’t have time anymore. Scotty keeps me so busy!”

Kirk furrows his brow. “Busy, how?”

Gaila reaches across the table to push one of his shoulders, smiling. “Not like that, dummy. You’re so easy to make jealous.”

“Oh, please,” he answers smoothly, “you know that’s not my style at all.”

Her PADD chirps, and Gaila looks down at it to type a reply at hyper-speed.

“Um,” Kirk starts. “So what does Scotty have you do?”

“Oh, you know, a little of this, a little of that,” Gaila answers distractedly, still typing. “Right now we’re working on a booster to the warp drive. I know he wants to get all the kinks worked out before we arrive at the next supply station, but seriously, when he’s on a roll, there’s next to nothing that will stop him, and I’m just along for the ride!”

“What do you mean, a ‘booster’ to the warp drive?” he asks, slightly worried.

“Don’t worry about it, Jimmy,” she says, waving a dismissive hand at him. Then she flicks up away from the PADD to make a holographic screen projection appear above the PADD.

“You know I hate it when I’m called that,” Kirk complains good-naturedly as he tries to manipulate the corner of the holograph to have it face him. Gaila bats his hand away and then sets the screen to turn opaque on the side facing him.

“Jimmy,” she coos sweetly, but the expression on her face says otherwise. “You’re not laying eyes on me and Scotty’s baby that easily.”

Kirk gives her a sultry smile. “I could change your mind.”

“I’m not having sex right now, Jimmy,” Gaila answers casually, already absorbed in her PADD again.

“What about tomorrow?” Kirk teases.

“Jim, stop,” Gaila says on a laugh. “I mean it.”

“Wait, you mean to tell me that you’re celibate?” Jim says incredulously. “Why?”

“Many of my peers died in Nero’s attack. I mean, I had sex with most of them. That’s why this is important. Anyhow, to honor their losses, I’m choosing not to have sex for awhile.”

“Oh.” Jim had not expected that. “So, is that an Orion thing?”

Gaila rolls her eyes. “No, it’s a Gaila thing.”

“Okay.” Kirk nods to himself. “But Gaila, I know you. How is that possible for you?”

“Oh, I just masturbate like crazy,” Gaila answers nonchalantly. Then she strikes a key on her PADD exaggeratedly. “Done! Ugh, Scotty can be the worst.

Kirk bursts out laughing. “So is that where all your free time goes?”

“Goes where?” Uhura asks, suddenly standing at the edge of the table with a tray in her hands.

Kirk flinches. “My favorite Chief Communications Officer!” he announces, perhaps a little too loudly.

Uhura just scowls down at him.

“Nyota, you made it!” Gaila greets cheerily, but she restrains herself from pouncing on her until Uhura has put down her tray.

“Hi there,” Uhura answers on an exasperated laugh, hugging her back.

Gaila bounces back down to her seat and motions for Uhura to take one as well. “Sit, sit, sit! Join us!”

Uhura gives Jim a wary look, then sits down. “Thanks.”

“I forgot to tell you, Jim, but I was waiting here to eat lunch with Nyota. Isn’t this great! It’s been awhile since we’ve all been together!” Gaila grabs one of each of their hands and laughs delightedly. Uhura just glares at Kirk.

“Yeah, when was the last time?” Kirk asks. Uhura looks like she’s suppressing the urge to murder him.

“When I caught you in our dorm room back at the Academy, trying to persuade Gaila into giving you access to the Kobayashi Maru codes,” Uhura supplies icily.

Gaila’s PADD chirps, and she abruptly lets go of their hands to check the message on her screen. “Ugh, are you kidding! Sorry, guys, but Scotty apparently needs me to look at something right now. I doubt it’s really an emergency, but he has zero patience. You should catch up!” she says as she packs up her PADD and picks up her tray. “Nyota, we need to do this regularly, and Kirk, let’s not wait so long to run into each other again! Bye, you two!”

Then she bounces off to return her tray, and Kirk and Uhura are very alone with each other.

Uhura, sitting at the edge of the table adjacent to the edge Kirk is at, abruptly moves to the opposite edge of the table where Gaila had been sitting, putting more space between them.

“Wow, why are you so mad at me?” Kirk asks candidly. “Are you still mad about the Gaila thing? I didn’t even know you were that upset about it.”

Uhura rolls her eyes and sighs, then takes a bit of her quiche before answering. “It’s not that.”

Kirk leans in slightly when she doesn’t elaborate. “Then what is it?”

Uhura glances off to the side, looking uncomfortable, before looking at Kirk directly again. “What did you do to Spock?”

Kirk gives her an incredulous look. “What do you mean, what did I do to Spock? I didn’t do anything.”

Uhura narrows her eyes at him. “You sure about that? Yesterday, on the Banauro mission?”

“I mean, I, um, what did he say?” Kirk asks, and realizes that he’s fucking blushing. Way to get a boner for your First Officer and then get his hot and somewhat scary girlfriend pissed at you about it.

“Why don’t you just tell me what happened? I’d rather hear it from you anyways.” Uhura sets her jaw.

Kirk sighs and runs a hand roughly up the back of his head. “We had to play hide-and-seek with the Banaurians in order to win their alliance with the Federation, and that required us getting into…close quarters,” Kirk finishes lamely.

“How close?” Uhura demands.

“Like, really close?”

Uhura just tilts her head at him, lips pursed.

“Okay, we, like, had to touch! And we had to keep quiet, so he mindmelded with me. I got excited! He’s really hot, but it was still really weird!” Kirk exclaims.

What?” Uhura hisses. “You mindmelded with him?

“Yeah?” Kirk asks, slightly bewildered. “I mean, is that a big deal? I’ve seen him do it before, when he had to get information out of an unconscious Romulan. And old Spock did it to me too, to show me stuff. It wasn’t a big deal.”

Now Uhura looks like she could cry if she wasn’t so mad. “Yeah, it’s a big deal! I didn’t think he did that with anyone – ” she starts, then cuts herself off abruptly.

Kirk scrambles for a moment, processing what she must be implying. “Oh.”

She averts her gaze, then picks at her quiche. “Sorry. That was inappropriate. Forget it.”

“Was he not honest with you about what happened on the mission?” Kirk asks, plowing on anyways.

Uhura answers him with more silence.

“Okay,” Kirk says quietly. “We’ll forget it.”

“You should eat,” Uhura says, pointing with her fork at his tray and giving him a furtive look up through her eyelashes before looking back down at her tray again.

Kirk looks down at his meal, which is a mystery mix of grains and maybe lentils. He groans.

“Right. I need to talk to Bones again about my nutrition plan. He keeps thinking I need to eat like a rabbit.”

Uhura furrows her brow. “Who’s Bones?”

“Um, Dr. McCoy?” Kirk replies with a laugh. “Didn’t you know that’s his nickname? He hates it, you should use it.”

“Oh, no, I didn’t realize that,” Uhura replies. “Sorry, I don’t really know him that well.”

“Oh, yeah,” Kirk says. “Well, that’s okay. You have some time to get to know him, you know.” He chuckles, trying to lighten things up.

“Yeah. Four years and three months,” Uhura says, somewhat wearily.

They make pleasant if superficial conversation after that, Kirk carrying most of it. Uhura looks relieved when her communicator beeps at her, and she excuses herself politely.

Kirk pinches the bridge of his nose once he’s sure she’s gone. “Fuck.”

Bones slides into the seat Uhura vacated. “What’s eating you?”

Kirk looks up and smirks tiredly. “Not this, that’s for sure.” He pushes his tray towards Bones, his bowl of food only half-eaten.

“That doesn’t even make sense,” Bones grumbles, digging into a bowl of stew.

“Yeah, well, change my meal plan. A captain cannot remain virile and fit for duty on this,” Kirk jokes.

Bones rolls his eyes. “You don’t need to be any more virile, that’s for sure.”

Kirk pulls his tray back to himself and chews on a bite of his food thoughtfully. “Bones, do Vulcans mindmeld during sex?”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” Bones mutters, then swears under his breath. “I am not answering that.”

--

Unsurprisingly to Kirk, whatever is going on with Uhura and Spock only gets worse.

Kirk notices it most prominently on the bridge. Spock and Uhura, ever the consummate professionals, had always kept any evidence of their personal relationship very discreet while working. Uhura would sometimes touch Spock’s shoulder, and Spock would sometimes nearly brush against her when peering over her shoulder to look down at her screen. It had been nothing compared to the sensational display they gave the day of Nero’s attack, but Kirk notices it.

Except that he is fairly sure that whatever it was they had before no longer exists, by the way they seem to be barely tolerating each other. Uhura is more obvious than Spock about it, but Kirk isn’t sure if that’s just Spock being Vulcan and repressive about things, or if it’s because he’s the one that fucked up. Kirk is leaning towards the latter, if the way Uhura glares daggers at Spock has anything to say about it.

The Spock-being-the-fuck-up scenario only seems more plausible in light of the fact that Uhura also seems to continue to barely tolerate him as well. But since that’s kind of always been her way with him, it’s not that much of a change. Whereas before there were times when she would begrudgingly laugh at his jokes along with the rest of the bridge crew, now she seems to only manage not to openly glower at him while patiently explaining something to him like he’s an idiot.

After a week of increasingly moody atmosphere on the bridge during their shared shifts, Kirk is sitting in his bed reviewing requests on a PADD before turning in. After a few innocent supply requests, he opens first a request from Uhura, and then one from Spock.

Kirk reads and rereads their requests. Then he lets his head fall back against the wall. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

--

“Admiral Rodriguez, we thank you for convening with us on this matter,” Kirk says crisply, clenching his hands clasped together on top of the conference table a little harder. It’s better than clenching his teeth. “I trust that you have had time to review the summary of our request?”

Most of his senior ship officers are around the conference table with him, including Scotty, McCoy, Sulu, and, of course, Spock and Uhura. Those who are there are the ones that were able to switch their shifts at the last minute to make the meeting; Kirk made it clear to them that while they should try, it would not have been the end of their careers if making the meeting would have been more than mildly inconvenient.

On a vidscreen hanging above one end of the conference table is Admiral Rodriguez, looking less than thrilled to be present.

“I have indeed had time to review your request, Captain Kirk,” the Admiral replies curtly. “You are requesting to divert from your path towards the ship’s next checkpoint to make a diplomatic stop at a nearby planet. While I understand the argument of your request and must admit that what you propose is strategically sound, what I do not understand is why this has come up now, when every step of your voyage has already been very intentionally planned and is already underway.”

Before Kirk can reply, Uhura is already speaking. “If I may, Admiral, I can provide more context to this request.”

The Admiral raises an acquiescing hand to her. “By all means.”

“Admiral Rodriguez,” Uhura starts, doing her best to sound authoritative but her voice still wavering slightly from nerves, “the Federation has a neutral relationship with the Jaxniaclthu planet. The Jaxniaclthusians consider it highly inconsiderate when anyone who they have met before has an opportunity to greet them, even if only superficially, and does not act upon that opportunity.”

Spock jumps in. “Admiral, if I may provide a counterargument.”

The Admiral gives Spock a bored look. “You may do so.”

Spock looks at Uhura, seated across from him at the table, and then back to the vidscreen. “Admiral Rodriguez, while Lieutenant Uhura is correct, it is not necessarily the logical choice to divert to the Jaxniaclthu planet for a diplomatic meeting. According to my calculations, there is only a roughly 3.4% chance that the Jaxniaclthusians would detect our ship and correctly identify it as a Federation vessel if we continue on our intended course. We are also en route to our next supply station, which has been greatly anticipated by many of the departments of the Enterprise for the vital work that they perform. This is correct, Lieutenant Scott?”

Spock then looks at Scotty, sitting between him and the vidscreen. Scotty goes slightly red in the face.

“Ah, yes? That, that is right,” Scotty says nervously. Looking uncomfortable, he glances at Uhura as he shifts slightly in his seat.

Spock looks back to the vidscreen again. “Moreover, the Jaxniaclthu planet is not part of the Federation. Given that the Federation’s last contact with them involved a lengthy two-week diplomatic affair that ultimately did not result in their joining the Federation, it does not seem like it would be of any advantage to the Federation to continue a relationship with them.”

“Maybe they had shitty diplomats,” Kirk says cuttingly.

Admiral Rodriguez sighs. “Lieutenant Uhura, while I understand your concern, Commander Spock has some valid points. The Federation simply does not have time to say hi to all of its acquaintances throughout the universe whenever they’re in the neighborhood, especially when they are not part of us and there are supplies to gather. And Captain, watch your mouth.”

“If you’re looking for valid points, Admiral, I was simply suggesting another one,” Kirk replies, straight-faced.

The Admiral stares at Kirk disdainfully. “Captain, may I remind you that your ship currently has no diplomats onboard. While your Chief of Communications appears to be aspiring to such a role, Lieutenant Uhura is not, in fact, a diplomat. Therefore, I fail to see how your crew could even begin to overcome what you perceive to have been the faults of the diplomats who previously made contact with the…” the Admiral pauses, concentrating, “the planet in question.”

“With all due respect, Admiral,” McCoy says sternly, “A communications officer may be a better bet than a diplomat. Communications may very well be the most important department on a ship, because without them, we would have no idea what the devil anyone was saying to each other. And given that you are sending us out on a five-year exploratory mission without any permanent diplomats aboard, I would say that implies a certain level of trust in our current crew to handle first encounters with new lifeforms. Sir.”

Uhura looks at McCoy, visibly taken aback. McCoy gives her a subtle wink.

The Admiral rubs his brow tiredly. “I think we’re starting to get off topic. Anyone else have a relevant opinion they want to share?”

Uhura clears her throat. “Admiral, I didn’t get to finish my point earlier.”

“Then finish, Lieutenant,” the Admiral says curtly.

Uhura purses her lips. “The Jaxniaclthusians find disregard from even acquaintances so offensive that it could pose a danger to us or any other Federation vessels that pass near them. In fact, given that our relationship with the Jaxniaclthusians is very undeveloped, we are even more at risk of retaliation from them than we would be if our relationship with them was stronger. This was made clear in the notes of the diplomats who engaged with the Jaxniaclthusians previously, which appear to have either been overlooked or ignored by whoever plotted the course of our exploratory mission. I myself was not aware of the situation we may put ourselves in until I happened to be studying the planets we would soon be passing, as I have been doing since our mission began.”

Uhura looks to Kirk. He gives her an encouraging nod.

She looks back to the vidscreen and continues. “Sir, I must impress upon you that diverting for a diplomatic meeting would not be a waste of our time; in fact, it may benefit the Federation and even prevent the Federation from coming under fire.” Uhura then sits up even straighter, right at the edge of the table, and stares at the Admiral.

Admiral Rodriguez considers Uhura’s words for several moments. “Lieutenant Uhura, do you estimate that this diplomatic meeting would take two weeks?”

“On the contrary,” Uhura responds. “The first meeting took so long because it was fraught with tension over the Federation’s insistence that the Jaxniaclthusians join us. Reading the diplomat’s notes, I am curious to see if the they would be more receptive to joining at this point, now that they have had more time to consider the possibility. I hypothesize that they find pressure to make what feels to them a hasty decision very offensive as well. If these assumptions are correct and we behave appropriately, we could potentially gain a new member of the Federation within a few days.”

“You’re awfully confident in your assessment, Lieutenant,” the Admiral says begrudgingly. “Captain, are you as confident in her assessment?”

Kirk suppresses a smirk. “Yes, completely.”

“So you reject Commander Spock’s argument?”

Kirk nods once. “Yes, I do.”

The Admiral gives a considering nod. “Commander Spock, do you have any further commentary?”

“Only that I support whatever decision the Captain makes,” Spock answers coolly.

The Admiral nearly rolls his eyes. “Very well. Knowing my idealistic counterparts, I would be hamstrung for rejecting this request after such a moving speech about why you need to go do this. I would send a diplomat to rendezvous with your ship, but I can imagine how well that would go over. Captain, don’t ever say that I never do anything for you, but you better not screw this up.”

Kirk clenches his hands together harder. “Noted.”

“Alright, I’ll sign off the request. Come back to me if it goes to hell. I’m terminating the call now.” Then Rodriguez’ hand reaches towards the camera, and the screen turns to black.

Kirk rubs his face. “What a fucking blowhard.”

McCoy sighs. “I’m thinking an Admiralty reassignment is in your future, Jim.”

Kirk looks at everyone around the table, assessing them. Uhura is, predictably, glaring at Spock.

“Lieutenant Uhura, see me in my office at 17:00,” Kirk orders.

She furrows her brow slightly, but says only, “Yes, Captain.”

“And Spock,” Kirk says, turning towards Spock seated next to him, “see me at 17:00 as well.”

Spock, face unreadable, also only says, “Yes, Captain.”

--

Kirk looks up from his desk when the door chimes. “Computer, open door.”

The door slides open, and Spock walks up to Kirk’s desk, hands clasped behind his back. “Captain.”

The door chimes again. Kirk says again, “computer, open door.”

When the door slides open again, Uhura glances first at Spock’s back, then at Kirk, face blank. She walks up to stand beside Spock. “Captain,” she says solemnly.

“Have a seat, both of you,” Kirk says wearily, gesturing to the chairs across from his desk. They sit stiffly, completely silent.

“Okay,” Kirk begins, “so I hate to ask, but what has gotten into the two of you?”

“Pardon?” Uhura asks, looking offended.

“Captain, I am not sure how to answer that,” Spock replies, sounding genuinely puzzled.

“Look, I know how smart the two of you are, so don’t play stupid with me.” Kirk leans forward on his desk. “If you don’t cut it out, we’re going to have a serious problem. I can’t afford to have two of my lead officers barely being able to be in the same room as each other, and I definitely can’t afford to lose either of you to a transfer. So, I’m setting down some new ground rules for how we’re going to behave with each other from now on.”

Kirk pauses a beat. When Spock and Uhura just give him slightly uncomfortable looks, he continues.

“So, those ground rules. One, do not pull shit like those requests again. Come talk to me first. Individually, together, on the bridge, in the sauna, I don’t fucking care, just talk to me first. You do realize that the kinds of requests you submitted ping our advising Admiral, correct? You directly circumvented me.” Kirk shuts his eyes and takes a breath. “Not only was that a bunch of wasted time, because believe me, that could have probably been a bit more cut and dry if, I don’t know, we had been a unified front. But that was also just fucking embarrassing for everyone involved.”

Uhura and Spock look somewhat stunned.

“Captain, my intention was not to embarrass anyone,” Uhura finally says.

Kirk raises his eyebrows. “You sure?”

Uhura gives him a petulant look. “I would not have made such a major request unless I thought it was truly warranted. I was only looking out for the crew.”

“But the type of request you made is only intended for emergencies in which you think your ship is at serious risk of harm and that your Captain will not listen to you. What made you believe that I wouldn’t listen to you?”

Uhura gives Spock a sideways glance. “Perhaps it was foolish of me to have made such an assumption, but I figured you would agree with Commander Spock over me.”

“Is that so?” Kirk turns towards Spock. “Spock, you’ve been quiet. Explain to me again why you think diverting to Jaxniaclthu is not worth the trouble. And give me the short version.”

Spock sits up a little straighter. “Captain, I will decline to give you my original reasoning for countering Lieutenant Uhura’s request, because I must profess that I now agree with Lieutenant Uhura’s logic regarding this situation. I also agree with the Lieutenant’s word choice of ‘foolish’ to describe the means we chose to bring our assessments of the situation to your attention. In this case, I do believe that your preferred casual style for collective problem solving would have been far more advantageous.”

“You got that right,” Kirk replies candidly, tone sharp with sarcasm. Then he feels himself softening at the slightly guilty looks the both of them are giving him.

“Spock, as much as I appreciate your style, we’ve got to recognize that the top priority throughout our exploratory mission is the ship’s safety," he summarizes to Spock. "On that note, Lieutenant Uhura, even though I recommend different means in the future, I still commend your brilliance for catching a potential danger that everyone else missed, and for making it a big deal about it. That’s the kind of leadership I’m looking for,” Kirk says to Uhura with a hint of pride in his voice.

“Thank you, Captain,” Uhura replies, trying to play it cool but looking a little proud herself.

“And between Spock’s logic, Uhura’s diplomatic chops, and my charisma,” Kirk pauses to smile slowly at the two of them, “I’m sure we’ll charm the pants off of them and make another ally.”

Uhura rolls her eyes, looking slightly humored despite herself.

“We’re still figuring this whole starship crew thing out. Forgive and forget, to the both of you,” Kirk says, looking at both of them with a tight smile. “But let’s not do that ever again,” he warns.

“Noted,” Uhura says.

“Affirmative,” Spock follows.

Kirk leans back in his chair. “And you see,” he gestures to both of them, “that’s all it takes. You managed to be in the same room together for a conversation about work, and no one was maimed or killed. Congratulations. This is how we are going to do this from now on.”

Uhura and Spock spare a furtive glance at each other at the same time; both look away quickly when they notice the other looking. Uhura lets out a little huff of a sigh and crosses her arms. “Yes, Captain.”

Kirk studies Spock, who is giving Uhura a look that is anything but emotionally neutral; he looks, Kirk thinks, remorseful.

“Spock, you’re dismissed,” Kirk announces. Spock schools his expression and gets up stiffly, pulling the bottom hem of his shirt down primly.

“And hey,” Kirk adds, and Spock looks up at him. “Thank you. I’m glad this ended up working out.”

“We have your adept leadership to thank, Captain,” Spock says, then turns and leaves the room.

“Why am I still here?” Uhura asks, tone flat with irritation.

“Because we’re going to have a talk as just friends now,” Kirk replies.

“Who says that we’re friends?” Uhura asks standoffishly, tightening her crossed arms a little harder.

Kirk flinches. He knows that they’re not best buddies, but even that surprised him. She had seemed to warm to him just minutes ago.

“Okay, what happened?” Kirk leans towards her. “Did you and Spock break up?”

She glares at him. “That’s none of your business.”

“Well, it is when you can’t stand me any more than Spock, and I wasn’t even your apparently shitty boyfriend. Seriously, what is it? How can I make this right? I believe that I did something stupid, so just come out with it already.”

Kirk goes for a playful smirk, but it falls when Uhura continues to stonewall him.

“Okay,” Kirk says, leaning back and clapping his hands together tensely. “Today’s a day full of new things, so here’s something else we’re going to do. Let’s play a game of something, anything, and if you win, you have to be polite to me but never have to endure being called my friend again. If I win, you have to start hanging out with me.”

Uhura stares at him neutrally for several moments.

Kirk smiles, waggling his eyebrows. She rolls her eyes.

“Fine. But I get to pick the game,” she answers coolly.

“Sure, I’m not afraid.” Kirk’s smile turns to a wicked grin. “What you got in mind?”

Uhura gives him a mean smirk. “Tennis. I played varsity in high school and college. Almost considered trying for pro at one point.”

Kirk tries to recall ever playing tennis. He can’t. He typically ditched his high school gym class to make out with girls and boys under the bleachers.

Kirk returns her smug expression. “Great. Ping me a time and I’ll be there.”

--

The next day, Kirk finds himself facing off Uhura on the fitness complex’s multipurpose sport court. She’s in full tennis gear, shoes bright white and the pleats of her tennis skirt perfectly pressed. She’s bouncing lightly from foot to foot, swinging her racket lightly.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” she yells at him from the other side of the court, goading him.

Kirk, recognizing his clear disadvantage in the situation, decided beforehand he would play to his strengths – he’s going topless for their game. He bounces around to match her energy, and winces when he whacks the wires of his racket into his palm a little too hard.

“You bet, Lieutenant. I’m gonna – ”

“Serve!” Uhura yells as she throws up a tennis ball and expertly thwacks it to him.

Kirk lets out an undignified yelp as he dodges the ball.

Uhura just gives him a wicked grin.

--

After a shaky couple of games, Kirk starts getting the hang of it – he’s no slump in terms of physicality, after all. He just prefers fighting, these days recreationally rather than literally.

They both decide on a five set match over a three set match, pretty much because Uhura suggests it and Kirk is not willing to look weak. Uhura wins the first two sets, but then Kirk wins the third, and then somehow the fourth.

They’re both pouring sweat, and the only sound in the otherwise empty court (being Captain has its advantages) is their labored breathing and increasingly louder grunts as they volley back and forth.

Kirk hits the ball, and Uhura lunges for it and misses.

“Deuce!” she yells.

“What?” Kirk yells back.

“I’ve already told you what that means!” she yells again, more at the ground than at him as she bends over and puts her hands on her knees, breathing hard.

“Tell me again!” Kirk shouts, grinning.

“That means…” she says, then pauses to catch her breath as she stands up and walks over to the ball. “We’re tied at three points apiece,” she finishes, then throws the ball at him tiredly. “Serve.”

Kirk catches the ball and then does just that. Uhura gets another point on him.

“Advantage!” she yells triumphantly.

“Let’s see about that!” Kirk answers. After the next serve, Kirk scores again. And then again.

“Advantage!” Kirk yells cheekily.

Uhura just scowls at him, seemingly too tired to muster up a biting reply.

After the next serve, it only takes five volleys before Uhura reaches for the ball and misses. It’s a little more anti-climatic than Kirk would have expected.

“Set,” Kirk says at a regular volume, tired. Uhura just stares at the ball on the ground for a few moments, panting, then looks up at Kirk across the court.

“Set,” she agrees.

“So…” Kirk says nonchalantly as he starts walking over to her side of the court. “How does it feel to lose a tennis match to a total rookie, almost-tennis-pro?”

She just adjusts the sweatband over her forehead and gives him a tired grin.

--

Riding high on both his more overt win over Uhura as well as his subtler win of Uhura, Kirk asks Spock to come see him in his office the next day. Kirk found something that worked, and he was going to exploit it.

“Spock, so glad to see you!” Kirk announces jovially when Spock enters the room. Spock walks up to his desk, his hands neatly clasped behind his back and his face carefully neutral.

“Good afternoon, Captain. You seem to be in…high spirits. May I request why you called me into your office?” Spock asks.

“You’re not in trouble, Mr. Spock.” Kirk gives him a flirty smile. “Not yet, anyways.”

Spock’s face flinches ever so slightly. Kirk is going to have to catalogue that for analysis later.

“No, no, Mr. Spock, it’s nothing bad, I promise. Actually, I just wanted to let you know that we should start hanging out. A Captain needs to know his First Officer pretty well, after all. And hell, Spock, after what we’ve been through, being all business together seems like such a waste.” Kirk grins at him. “So? What do you think?”

Spock hesitates for a moment, gaze flickering away momentarily and then back to Kirk. “I appreciate your gesture, Captain, but I protest on the grounds of professionalism. I disagree that a Captain and First Officer should be more than professional comrades; a more personal relationship could potentially jeopardize either party’s objective reasoning in dire situations.”

Kirk leans forward and looks up at Spock through his eyelashes, eyebrows raised in a way that communicates how unimpressed he is. “You think an argument about professional boundaries is going to work on me? I make it my mission to make this the most inappropriate ship in all of the ‘Fleet. Not only am I not afraid of you jeopardizing my objective reasoning, I welcome it,” Kirk says suggestively, waggling his eyebrows.

For all that he’s pushing back at Spock for his argument about professionalism, he really isn’t sure why he’s trying to win Spock over with cheesy flirting. But it seems to be working, because Spock almost looks like he’s blushing.

“This seems to be important to you, Captain. And I wish to maintain a positive relationship, especially in light of my grievous errors yesterday and the day before. I am beginning to realize the utmost importance of maintaining positive relationships with my crew members, especially for as long of a mission as we are currently engaged in.”

“That’s great, Mr. Spock,” Kirk replies, giving him a lazy grin. “I’m glad you’ll indulge me.”

Spock pauses again, then says, “On one condition, however. I would like to select our activity.”

“Activity? Just one?” Kirk asks teasingly. He also notes that he apparently tries to make friends with some bossy people.

“I am amenable to engaging in as many activities as pleases you, but I request that we begin with a game I am quite fond of.”

“A game? Vulcans play games?” Kirk asks in mock-surprise. “Tell me more.”

“Yes, Captain, Vulcans enjoy a variety of intellectual games,” Spock answers neutrally, seemingly trying his best to be unflustered no matter how hard Jim tries. “I am curious, are you familiar with the Terran game of chess?”

Kirk beams up at him.

--

Kirk was expecting a chess match with Spock to be intense, but he had expected it wouldn’t get intense until they actually started playing.

“Oh, so…” Kirk says, eyeing the three-dimensional chess set warily. “You might have mistaken whatever this is for Terran chess.”

“Captain, I am afraid that I have to inform you that you are the mistaken party in this instance,” Spock says as he sets up the chess pieces on the top chess board. They’re seated at one of the recreational room’s several tables.

“Well, okay then,” Kirk mutters, scratching his chin as he studies the vertical sequence of chess boards connected to a thin, tall arc. “But seriously, I have never seen anything like this before.”

“It’s a rather recent permutation of the original game. It’s simply chess played in three dimensions rather than in two dimensions. I will teach you the method of playing it, if you will allow me,” Spock explains carefully, looking like he’s trying to be patient for his slow human friend.

“Well, we weren’t quite this fancy in Iowa,” Kirk answers derisively. “Alright, show me how this bad boy works.”

Spock gives him a quizzical look. “I would ask why you have assigned this game a gender, but I can only assume that that is another Human colloquialism of yours.”

Kirk just chuckles and shakes his head. Spock gives him a little smirk.

After giving him a short explanation on how to play, Kirk picks up on the game quickly. Soon they are engrossed in the game, equally matched and equally clever.

Bones walks up, arms folded across his chest. “I didn’t know about this,” he mutters, studying their positions on the board.

“What, that I actually know how to play chess? I’m not a dumbass, Bones,” Kirk says distractedly at the board, brows furrowed in deep concentration. He spares Bones a glance when he’s answered with silence.

When they make eye contact, Bones darts his gaze to Spock meaningfully, then looks back to Kirk and just raises a questioning eyebrow at him.

Kirk gives Bones a slow, calculating smile. “Bones, why don’t you take a seat? You can get to know Mr. Spock a little better too.”

Bones just grunts and pulls up a chair. Soon Sulu and Chekov walk up to say hi and end up watching as well. More crew members gather, the crowd gaining momentum as more join. Soon they have an audience, their low chatter punctuated by groans and whistles as Spock and Kirk each take their long-meditated turns.

When Spock wins the game, the crowd claps and whoops. Kirk just grins like crazy and shakes his head. Spock’s got that little smirk again, focused at Kirk.

Kirk looks for Bones to his right. Through a gap in the crowd, he sees Uhura standing near the entry to the rec room, arms crossed over her chest. When they make eye contact, she drops her arms and turns to leave.

--

“Hey, you ready?” Kirk asks when he sees Uhura in the hallway outside the sport court. She’s already dressed in her tennis outfit, racket in hand.

“Yeah, just,” she says distractedly, then pauses to look down the hallway.

Kirk looks up to see Spock coming down the hallway. He’s flushed and wearing exercise shorts and a thermal-regulating exercise shirt.

“Spock, hey,” Kirk says cheerfully with a wave.

“Captain,” Spock says curtly to him with a nod, slowing his walk down to a stop. He gives Uhura a furtive glance. “Lieutenant Uhura.”

Uhura just looks at him, then looks at Kirk, then looks at Spock again, subtle triumph on her face.

Kirk was going to just let whatever this was slide, but to hell with just letting things slide.

“Okay, well,” Kirk says abruptly. “We were just about to play some tennis. See you around, Spock.”

Kirk rushes into the sport court, then once inside whips around to face Uhura.

“Okay, what the hell was that?” Kirk demands.

Uhura looks caught. “It’s nothing.”

“Don’t lie to me, Uhura,” Kirk replies testily. “I saw whatever that look was you gave to Spock. Tell me already what’s going on.”

Looking away, Uhura bites her lips and then lets out a frustrated sigh. She snaps her gaze back to him.

“Okay, you want the truth? Fine. Spock broke up with me because he’s attracted to you.”

What?” Kirk asks incredulously. “Are you joking?

“No, I’m not. I would never joke about something like this,” Uhura replies, more softly than before.

“Huh,” Kirk says, still flabbergasted. He crosses his arms and rubs his chin. “So, what, he can’t be with you because he’s attracted to someone else? Doesn’t he realize that that’s, y’know, normal?” Kirk says sarcastically.

Uhura sighs. “It’s more complicated than that.”

“Uncomplicate it for me, then.”

Uhura lets out a breath. “Well, in general Vulcan culture, same-gender and same-sex attraction is still taboo. And after the destruction of Vulcan, the stigma has only been amplified due to the emphasis on rebuilding the Vulcan race.”

“So, they mean literally rebuilding the Vulcan race, I take it,” Kirk guesses.

“Yes. In addition to rebuilding Vulcan culture and space, reproduction has also definitely become a major priority now. It’s not something really talked about openly because it’s taboo to talk about sex, but Spock told me about it when he broke up with me.”

“Ah,” Kirk says. “So, I take it that relationships that can’t produce baby Vulcans are now considered not just reprehensible, but also a moral crime against the Vulcan race? Great, I love it when people rationalize their homophobia.”

“Captain, you have to admit that while harmful, their rationalization is pretty logical. This is also an extremely stressful and traumatic time for Vulcans as an entire species, so it’s not surprising that they would default to what gives them a sense of control, which in a Vulcan’s case is logic,” Uhura says, a bit exasperatedly.

“Yeah, but it’s also stupid. I mean, he’s half Human, not to mention he has a pulse. Is he really shocked that he happened to find someone who isn’t a chick hot?” Kirk says derisively.

“Captain, you should know that only a couple hundred years ago, Humans were not much better,” Uhura reprimands. “Unconditional acceptance of same-sex and same-gender relationships is only a recent occurrence in general Human culture. You can’t just assume that all other species will be like you.”

“Okay, but that doesn’t mean that I have to accept it,” Kirk says, a little petulantly.

“Fine, so be it,” Uhura snaps.

“So you’re pissed that he broke up with you over me, but you’ll defend his reasoning?” Kirk questions.

“I know,” Uhura says resentfully, crossing her arms over her chest tightly. “It doesn’t make sense. Just, whatever, I’m confused, and I’ve dealt with it poorly. I’m sorry,” she says shortly.

Kirk feels himself soften at her. He gives her a rueful smile and places a hand on her shoulder. “It’s alright.”

She tenses when he touches her. She looks up at him and asks hesitantly, “So, are we still friends?”

Kirk is shocked to see the uncertainty on her face. He smiles, slowly. “Yeah, we’re still friends. Is it going to be okay if I’m friends with Spock too?”

“Yes, it’s fine. It’s wrong to expect you not to be, when you’ve had nothing to do with this,” Uhura says remorsefully. “And it was wrong to use you like that to get back at him. Please know that I didn’t plan it that way originally.”

“Oh, yeah? Are you saying you had other motivations for being nice to me other than making Spock jealous?” Kirk takes his hand off and gives her a cheeky grin.

Uhura clears her throat, avoiding his gaze. “…Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

Uhura rolls her eyes. “Yes, I had other motivations. I wasn’t just being nice to you in order to make Spock jealous.”

Kirk grins even harder. “I knew it! You like me!”

Uhura lets out a long-suffering sigh.

“Hey, really, don’t worry, I’ve been used way worse,” Kirk says, gesturing at her reassuringly. “I had a boyfriend in high school who had me help him with a B&E.”

Uhura balks. “What?”

“Yeah, I got arrested and he didn’t, but my mom bailed me out and I broke up with him right after,” Kirk says flippantly, then looks at the tennis racket in his hand as he twirls it. “So, we gonna play tennis anytime soon?”

Uhura just gives him a horrified look.