She knows that Kirk needs help in certain places, so she color-codes notes, she stands next to him and smiles; she maneuvers the Federation's press; she gets him out when he's had enough.
She's a press secretary, a PR manager; she's the one who keeps them on-message. She's the one who takes the make-shift bombs from Kirk's fingers; she's the one who finds him when he's having domestic issues.
At some point, he became the younger brother she never had. She loves him; she's proud of him (fiercely, embarrassingly); she wants him happy. When he and Spock have their months of fall-out, she tries to be there for him, mad at Spock when no one else will be- when everyone else is too afraid (except McCoy, who is pissed to high hell but more worried about Kirk than Spock).
She liked Spock even as a student, but she remembers the first time she saw him look at Jim. They'd been in a classroom, Kirk coming in after-hours, and Spock had looked at him in a way that was so unlike Spock; unprofessional and soft around the edges with a small tightening around his mouth that she thinks might have the potential to be a pleasantly surprised (thrilled) smile.
And she hadn't ever wanted to come in the middle of that; watching it unfold and the way that they were together; equal and separate but united.
It's a remarkable relationship. It's a relationship that keeps them all together- Spock and Kirk sit as the sun of their little universe; they all rotate and revolve around them.
So when it faltered all she wanted to do was hit Spock upside the head and demand to know what the fuck he thought he was doing.
The thing about the first time Nyota met Jim Kirk is, she wouldn't actually have remembered him if it hadn't been for the fact that he'd known what xenolinguistics was. There have been a lot of very drunk, very hot men in her past- and after she'd known Gaila for a week that number had shot up exponentially. But Kirk had been smart, and so when Gaila drags her to a bar in the city and she sees him behind the counter, she has to laugh, because this? Is just her luck.
"So. Uhura. Freedom, right?" he asks, handing her a shot of Jack, and it's kind of surprising that he knows her, because he was so trashed that night. "Swahili?"
"Yeah," she agrees, and then blinks at him. He grins, pleased to have surprised her, and she rolls her eyes. He's such a little shit.
"What's your first name mean?"
"Aw, c'mon!" he grins. He's not drunk, but he's still all swagger, and she realizes that he would, sober, have told Hemmerstein to get more guys to make it an even fight. He's such an ass.
He dates- fucks- Gaila a few times, but it breaks off relatively amicably (there is no burning in effigy, which is always a plus).
And the thing is, she likes his bar. The atmosphere is nice; it feels like a slice of… not her home, but a home in a city whose population is always shifting, and if she goes between one and five, it's just the regulars and it's quiet. Sometimes she looks up and sees him reading advanced physics theories or philosophies or histories and frowns to herself, because she's good at reading people, but she's bad at figuring him out. He doesn't… quite fit.
And then there's the fact that he calculates tabs in his head, and when he's bored- really bored, the kind of bored that makes her slip back into Swahili because her brain has turned off- he does millennium problems on napkins.
Some nights she even lets him give her free shots, and over the course of a year she realizes that she thinks the fact that he told Hemmerstein to get more guys? Is hilarious, in a horrifying kind of way.
Being Chief Communications Officer was always her dream. Serving on the Enterprise wasn't just a dream, it was what she wanted with every fiber of her being. She wanted to go out into space, to meet strange cultures and never have to be stuck, or stop learning.
She never considered the fact that she'd also be the only sane person on the ship.
Not true, to be fair. Spock is sane as well. Relatively- when his biology isn't going mental.
But when they're in the deep of space, with all of them still raw over the loss of Vulcan, over the loss of so many of their friends, over family- it aches. They all ache, in their own ways.
And they're not unfit. Each one of them is extremely qualified, and she can't deny that Kirk is- excellent at letting them all be geniuses, not staring over their shoulders even when she can see he wants to. In the beginning he's busy learning his own job, but he gets bored easily. She knows that months into the run he's itching to look at the rest of their jobs, but he doesn't, because most of them haven't even served on a training run, and now here they are, aboard the fleet's flagship, and the last thing they need is their captain breathing down their necks, proving he can do their job and his.
And some days she goes into her room, strips out of her uniform and unzips her boots and inhales to begin to tell Gaila about the latest strange thing she saw, only to remember that she's on the Enterprise and that Gaila is dead.
And then she sits, quiet, on the foot of her bed, waiting for the wave of sadness to pass so she can pull on the dress her grandmother gave her before she left, put on her aunts' jewelry and take her hair down, and sit, surrounded by pieces of home, looking through pictures of it, of school, to remind herself of why they're out here. Why the Federation's core mission is so important. Why they have to keep every planet, and every life, as safe from harm as they can.
They all cope differently. Sulu bets on everything, and Chekov helps him, but Chekov's also so eager; he wants everyone to smile just once. Scott gets lost in the Enterprise's code and in her mechanics for weeks on end. McCoy is brusque and abrasive but also the most human person aboard the ship- he's the first one to snap that they're making judgment calls that they shouldn't; that they're being xenophobic; that they're not anyone's god.
The arguments between he and Spock are epic, and Kirk sits there in the chair, index finger pressed against his lower lip, listening to them both. He's not in the least consistent with who he sides with, but he is consistent in what he decides.
Kirk is married to this ship in the way kings of old were married to their countries. In the way that they would bleed and die gladly for their parcels of land; for the people who worked them, people whom they would never know, so Kirk will bleed and die gladly for the Enterprise and her crew, even if he doesn't know all of their names (but he does, and it floors her every time he calls a cook or an ensign by name).
They all know it- and she knows it's why so many of them from the chain of command go down with him. Spock is there almost every time, and she goes almost every time, and McCoy goes unless expressly forbidden. They leave the ship with Scott because he can save anyone; there's not a technological issue he can't solve, and if he can't, if he has Chekov they're fine.
They love him because he'll die for each and every one of them, and none of them are ready to let him.
Sometimes it feels out of their control. When she looks at Sulu's map of the galaxy and sees how many of them irrationally hate their captain it makes her furious in a helpless, hot way. When they're dragging him back, bleeding out yet again because they weren't fast enough in stopping him from taking a phaser blast or a bullet or an arrow or a spear or a rock meant for one of them or for some random native, they all have murder in their eyes.
She doesn't know what they'll ever do if he's lost to them. If some stupid planet manages to kill him, Spock is the default next. And yet Spock is emotionally compromised by Jim and there's a possibility he would defer command- and yet who would he leave the ship to? She knows herself well enough to know that she would tell Scott within an instant to blow the planet to hell, and she's pretty sure they'd have to get to another Vulcan- maybe T'Pon- before they found a level-headed person to steer them clear of the planet without destroying it.
She would never forgive herself after, if she gave that order, but she knows to her core that all of them would exact bloody vengeance and take the penalty, whatever it might be. Spock is their only hope for salvation in the face of Jim's (sometimes inevitable-seeming) death, but sometimes when she sees him, straight-backed and tight shouldered, stalking towards the infirmary, she thinks that it's less hope than even Pandora got, and despairs.
She misses having a girlfriend. She never really had one before, so caught up in studying to get to Starfleet Academy, that when she finally got to the Academy and met Gaila, she'd been blindsided.
Gaila would come up to her while they were all going to their next classes, walking across the green, and say something like, "So, you know how I was going to screw Henderson?"
"Gaila," Nyota would groan, knowing it was no use.
"Oh my god, it's like a tube of lipgloss. And that's allowing for inflation," Gaila would confide gleefully, slipping her arm through Nyota's. "Like, I didn't know when to start faking it, you know? He was kind of rocking, but it was like, "Is it in yet or what?", you know?"
"Gaila," Nyota would laugh, mortified as Gaila tossed her red curls.
"From now on, I'm grabbing the crotch. It's like a handshake. I mean, if he's getting off, I want to get off, and not by my fingers, because if it's me doing it then why the fuck do I need him, you know?"
Nyota had nightmares about Gaila being introduced to the newest cadets or someone's father and grabbing the crotch of the man in question and evaluating it.
"That is the one thing about Orion men. We breed 'em well-hung."
"So much hate," Nyota would insist, but Gaila never believed her.
"You adore me. I'm the best roommate ever. Let's get drunk."
Nyota misses that.
Then she meets Christine Chapel, who watches McCoy rage at everyone for five minutes solid without taking a discernible breath, looks at Nyota, and says, "He's a decent fuck, but he's moody."
And it's such a shock, because Chapel has always been this quiet girl with platinum blond hair and clear blue eyes and a sweet smile- Nyota never really got to meet her, but-
"Drink?" Chapel inquires.
It's not the same- Chapel's given to bouts of crudity, sure, but she says it with such a sweetness that Nyota never really takes her seriously. It's just nice, though, having someone who she can go to and say, "I need chocolate. I don't care where it comes from." Or talk about the guys on the last planet they went to who hit on her without someone overreacting- understanding that there are times when a complaint is simply that- a complaint; an opportunity to commiserate.
And some days Christine will come to her quarters and they talk about their families, about Earth- about the normal things.
And Nyota's grateful.
"So why is it always 'Uhura'?" Kirk asks her. His eyes are glazed as McCoy plays with hypo dosage.
"I carry the name of my family," she says after considering it. "My family is who I am."
He looks at her, considering it. She knows that his whole family throws the name "Kirk" around, when they have to, but they're known as individuals. That's their culture, not hers.
Her grandmother raised her; her father had abandoned them and her mother had died of a brain hemorrhage when she was three. Uhura is a maternally passed-on name; in her grandmother's home, surrounded by aunts and female cousins, Nyota often heard, "We are all Uhura here." It's interchangeable with any of their given names, and it was always her youngest cousin's favorite trick to shout "Uhura!" and watch everyone in the room turn to respond.
Uhura is the name they are all called until their personalities show enough for them to be given first names- Nyota is secondary, always, to Uhura.
Uhura is the family's woman; she's like a patron goddess of old; she's the woman they all combine to create. Uhura is toasted, celebrated; she is a part of who Nyota is.
She knows that her family isn't completely Terran Human- that they have roots in matriarchal planets far away, and that it influenced their culture, but her allegiance has never truly been to her planet, but to her people. Freedom. Uhura.
It is who she is. She is the Uhura who reaches for the stars.
"My brother," Kirk says, "doesn't have a single name that's his." Then he thinks about it. "You know what? Neither do- OW!- I! Bones, doesn't that seem wrong to you? What'd I ever do to have to be someone else? I don't think my parents were very creative."
"Jim, your parents had about 60 seconds to name you before your father died," McCoy points out, reading the scanner's feedback. "I don't think they had time to be creative. And don't you dare ask me why they didn't prepare ahead of time- obviously it's a genetic trait."
"I don't procrastinate," Kirk protests (which is impressive, given that he's pretty heavily sedated right now), slouching back and looking at her earnestly. She bites her lips against her smile. "Whatever. My mother's getting a very strongly worded letter."
"Jim, you don't write letters. You barely tolerate scrawling that piss-poor excuse for a signature," McCoy points out bluntly, and then administers a sedative, and they share a mutual shake of the head at how absurd Jim can be.
She misses running. You can only go so far on a treadmill before you feel that you're not accomplishing anything at all, and she loved to run. When they're on a safe, friendly planet, she sometimes grabs Sulu and they go for companionable, long runs, the kind that burn out everything but the fire in your lungs and legs, running until you shake and it feels so good.
The thing about her relationships is, she likes the slow build. She likes being friends and warming into something more. She doesn't like going in blind.
So when Hikaru leans over and kisses her, even though she's disgusting and panting after the first long run they've had for months, she returns it. Because she likes him, and he's competent and funny and fatalistic, and she's never met anyone like him.
But being with him is like being on the treadmill, and he sighs when she breaks it off as gently as she can; he says that it was bound to happen, and does she think it merited some of Scotty's special brew.
She thinks it does, and they bully it out of him, and the three of them get roaringly drunk together.
She's protective of Jim, but… Jim is pretty self-contained. She thinks he always has been, especially when they get glimpses into his past because of something he says or on the rare occasions they see his family. He has her for the big problems, and he has playmates in the bridge crew and Scotty, and he has a brother in McCoy, but his whole world is down to Spock.
Spock is the one who doesn't have anyone, though. He has Jim, and he has the other Vulcans, but the Vulcans on board… they treat Spock as a leader. He and McCoy have their moments, and Chekov adores him wholly, and they all like Spock… but sometimes the problem isn't Spock, sometimes its Jim, and she doesn't know how it happens, but she's a go-between.
She can take Spock's stiffly worded phrases and go beat Jim over the head with them until he fixes whatever he's screwed up, and Spock smiles at her slightly and… they're friends.
And sometimes they can just sit, or he'll play an instrument as she sings and it's…nice. She thinks that in a galaxy- a universe- where there's no Jim Kirk, she and Spock could have made a go of it, at least for a while.
Their third year out, they all go to New Vulcan for shore leave.
Spock and Jim head to their home, and most of the bridge crew and Scott follow them. They all have rooms, and it's ridiculously domestic.
"I hate waffles," Jim announces.
"You don't cook," Hikaru points out. "Since I am cooking, I call the shots."
"But I'm captain."
"We're on shore leave."
"But- Uhura! He's making waffles!"
She smiles at Hikaru and sits on the floor, stretching and enjoying the heat, listening to the ocean crash gently at the shore. It reminds her of home, in a way. "Captain. You have two hands."
"This is mutiny," Jim mutters. "Mutiny I tell you."
He goes to the replicator and it obliges him with his usual power bar- she doesn't know why he always complains, he hates breakfast, and always has a power bar, chased by orange juice.
Spock comes down with the look of a man who has spent a profitable amount of time meditating, plucks the power bar from Jim's hand, and the proceeds to make a Vulcan dish. She watches as Jim peers over his shoulder with reluctant curiosity, and eats what he's given.
Between the cheese and vegetable wrap that Spock creates and the waffles Hikaru makes they're all content, and Scotty unrolls the wrap and spreads the insides over the waffles and declares it "fucking brilliant."
She laughs until her sides ache as Jim convinces McCoy to go swimming, and Christine leans against her, weeping through her own laughter. Spock sits a few feet away from them, meditating and monitoring, while Scotty plays with a comm and Hikaru and Pavel start betting on when McCoy will drown the captain.
"I need a new dress for this fancy reception," Christine decides. "Leonard! Come buy me a dress."
He gives her a look. "No."
"Fine. But you don't get to take it off me," she snorts, and he considers this.
"I'll tell Jo on you," he says finally, and Christine stares at him and the sighs.
"Fair enough." She looks at Nyota with a wry grin, "Never have stepchildren. Even when they're billions of lightyears away they always take his side and they're too damn cute not to give into, even if they are 13."
They all get into their formal uniforms reluctantly, Scotty complaining about his sunburn and Jim complaining about the uniform in general ("It's green. It's like… I don't even know. How is this ever attractive?" he demands.
"Look forward to taking it off, then," Hikaru suggests, and Jim grins brightly, as this thought had clearly not occurred to him before.)
The formal reception is Federation-based, and everyone who's anyone is there. It's much more of a party than she'd expected, but she supposes that the celebratory mood is coming from the Human sector of the Federation. The Vulcans seem to be tolerating it, however. McCoy's favorite young surgeon, T'Pon, actually smiles as she crosses the room to a young Vulcan man.
"Her bondmate," Sarek explains, following her gaze. "Many have elected to take new bondmates, but she was one of the fortunate. He is hers since they were young."
"She's very lucky," Nyota agrees. "My congratulations on your accomplishments, Ambassador. Your people must be very proud of what they have created and preserved."
He looks about thoughtfully, almost critically, as though cataloguing every failure of this place to be Vulcan. Then, surprisingly, he nods once. "Yes. My people offer thanks, Lieutenant. We have much to be proud of as a people."
His eyes go tense, almost hunted and she follows his gaze to where Spock and Jim are coming through, Jim giving her a dark look.
"Isn't it part of your job description to keep the harridans away?"
"No," she replies with a grin.
"You're fired," he says flatly, and Spock lifts an eyebrow.
"Fine. For the next five minutes," Jim amends. "You're fired starting now."
"Yes, sir," she agrees dryly. Scotty hands her a drink.
"Cannae be sober for this," he decides, clinking his glass with hers and drinking deeply. "Bureaucrats everywhere. Probably've pissed off 'em all."
"Is Admiral Archer here?" she asks, and he shoots her a wounded look before looking around quickly.
"I do feel bad about that dog," he maintains, but she thinks he's not sorry at all; or at least not as sorry as he is that his theory didn't work out the way he wanted it to. She thinks she can hear Jim "scoping out" potential "hot dates" for Sarek- this is confirmed when she glances over at Sarek, who looks like he's simultaneously developing a twitch and an ulcer as Spock serenely gazes about as though he has no idea what's going on. Jim was right: Spock thinks it's funny when Jim baits his father.
"You really don't," she informs Scotty, who grins at her a little roguishly.
"But I should."
There's a strange moment where Jim and Spock detach to cross the room to meet a man who is walking towards them. All of their faces are heavy with something- sorrow and gravitas so out of place in the middle of what is a Federation-wide celebration of the building of New Vulcan. The older Vulcan abortively leans in towards Jim- not a lot, no more than a couple of inches, but she is very good at reading people, and she can see the way Spock shifts to an almost proprietary stance, the way Jim doesn't notice either Vulcan's actions and yet his shoulders bend, slightly, with guilt. The three of them barely speak, and they all seem to be… stuck inside a moment of sheer quiet sorrow.
"Oh," Scotty says softly, and he looks a little sad too.
"What?" she asks.
"Nothin' it's just- nothing. C'mon, dance with me."
"Oh, no. You are very drunk and you can't dance, Scotty," she says, but it's no use, he's grabbing her and dragging her out to dance- which normally she would kill him for, but she's all dressed up and he's laughing and red-cheeked. He looks a little ridiculous in his formal uniform but it doesn't matter because his joy is infectious, and soon she's laughing along with him and trying to follow him, but mostly just along for the ride, hoping he doesn't dump her on her backside.
They stay up drinking, and instead of being Jim's go-between she's Scotty's, hiding him from everyone he's ever made angry- which seems to be everyone, and laughing helplessly the longer the night goes on, because it's ridiculous. And she's a little drunk.
They all go back to Jim and Spock's, and then they get really, really drunk, and Spock grabs Jim and hauls him away to their bedroom and then they all have to drink a little to screw up the courage to go upstairs, because Spock and Jim aren't exactly quiet.
Which is why the next morning she wakes up to a hairy leg brushing her thigh, and when she blinks blearily she can see Scotty sitting upright in the bed, clearly trying to figure out whether he should bolt or stay. She doesn't think, really, because it's easy to reach up and shove his shoulder back down so he's lying beside her, grab his arm and wrap it around her and go to sleep again.
To ignore the awkwardness until it disappears as she searches for her panties- ripped, it turns out, and she wishes she could remember that in more detail- and slides into one of her grandmother's dresses, going out to the ocean and kissing him until he realizes that this is… for as long as it lasts.
He's a little soft in the middle, and he's the playmate to a ship. The Enterprise loves Jim, but it plays with Scotty, and he loves nothing more than to invent new games.
He's balding, and he's not… he's not where she thought she'd ever end up, or even stop by the wayside for a while, but he makes her laugh and will spontaneously start to dance, and he pulls miracles out of nowhere.
He doesn't fuss when she's hit on; he's not protective the way that Spock is of Jim, or like McCoy is of Christine. She gets a bit annoyed when he gets hit on, but he laughs at her and lets her show him where he belongs.
Scotty doesn't have family, except for a sister whom he never speaks to… which she should have figured, because so many of them either don't have families or aren't close to them.
She is, though- has one and is close to it- so she takes him home to meet her grandmother and aunts because they've been together two years now, and their first stint on the Enterprise (because it is just the first of many five year tours; none of them are leaving that ship) is coming to a close and there's so much paperwork to be done and a year's enforced sabbatical.
So she takes him to Kenya to relax for a month or so.
"I burn!" he protests.
"I have lotion," she replies.
"I am very, very bad with people."
She ignores him, and he is actually really terrible with people who aren't used to him, but Aunt Ua laughs and Aunt Mvua shows him her brewery, and when Nyota finds him again he's elbow deep in it, babbling about how he can make it have twice the output, be more easily shifted to give darker and lighter brews, and she leans against the cool stone wall of the brewery and then turns to Bibi, who laughs and hugs her and says that a useful man is hard to find.
Over the course of the next three months he fixes the piping in everyone's houses, he fixes everyone's replicators, and she has to explain to the authorities that no, he's not building weapons on the roof of Bibi's house, he's just… optimizing the solar power. Which is half-true.
"I like it here," he decides. "Got to learn football, though."
"Scotty, no," she says.
The next morning she's reading the news and her messages from Jim and Spock and Christine when a football comes flying through the door. It's green and black, and Mkimbiaji comes in with a bright smile on her face and asks for "Spockball back please."
"Scotty!" Nyota shouts, and he just grins at her before turning back to the game.
She takes a picture and sends it to Jim, and then sends an apology to Spock, but really. Spockball.
And she knows she's found the life she loves because even here, in the place she calls home, everything she says and every thought she has manages to come back to the Enterprise.
"Going to marry him?" Jim asks as she guides him through a press conference.
"Shut up and smile," she says through her own. He does- he has an amazing smile. The whole galaxy forgives the Enterprise everything when Jim Kirk smiles and says the words she tells him to say.
"Well, are you?" he asks after it's over and they're in a back room, which is close to the back door. She throws a shirt at him as he strips out of his uniform shirt- he hates it, and the only way she is going to save it from fiery death is to always have one of his old shirts ready at the end of a press conference. She rolls her eyes- he's such a piece of work. He shoots her an expectant look as he ruffles his hair, sticking his hands in his pockets and grinning.
"I don't know. Maybe, after…"
She looks at him, and then smiles slightly. "It means a lot to you, being married."
"Yeah. Plus, Scotty keeps talking about how cute your babies will be, so, you know."
She stops dead, and he keeps walking, and then she hears him laughing, but that doesn't mean he's lying.
"Wait, what?" she demands, running after him. "Jim! Jim- what?!"