He got the communication a week before the Enterprise was cleared to leave Earth.
The language was stiff, formal. Just written text, no voice or image additions. That was fine, Jim didn't need them. He could see it himself without any trouble at all, what the man had looked like when he typed it in, the pursed lips and calm face. Always calm. Unflappable, even when he was introducing a willow branch to your ass.
Dear James: --Fuck, why was it always James with him?--
I understand we are in a position to do each other some amount of good. Certainly the new reputation you've acquired will do more for you than the things they used to say in town. I'm sure the Fleet wouldn't think too highly of some of those old stories leaking to the media.
Of course, I could make sure that never happened.
I think it would be best for you to call me.
Jim stared down at the text until the letters started to blur, but it stayed the same no matter how much he willed it to say something else, be from someone else. He tried to rub the beginnings of a headache, but that was as stupidly futile as the rest of this day has been.
“Stupid fuck,” he muttered down at the PADD and shut it off. No idea if he meant Frank or his own dumb ass. He should have known that old mess would come back to bite him sooner or later.
When Bones came looking for him, he was still just sitting there like an asshole. Rubbing the space between his eyes and trying to come up with the best way out of this without the part of his brain that was still a freaked out kid shouting down the rest of him.
Bones just raised an eyebrow when he saw him, like he'd been taking lessons in sarcastic facial twitches from Spock. Not that he needed to learn any new ones. “You look like a bundle of joy this morning, Jim,” he said without elaborating. Which was good-- if he'd asked why a guy with a shiny new starship parked in space dock would be down, Jim would have to have socked him one.
“Family trouble,” Jim said and forced a smile for the guy. Hell, he deserved it after the last couple of weeks. “My stepfather wanted to say hello.”
Bones frowned and if it was possible the brow went up even higher. Jim focused on that, on how ridiculous it looked, and managed to make his smile that much more real. “Thought you hated the guy. Thought he didn't think much of you either,” Bones said. He let the words stretch out, like he was offering Jim the chance to talk about it.
Jim made a face, mouth twisting. “Yeah, well. Family, right? You don't get to pick 'em.” Bones would get that and Jim knew it. Between the ex-wife, the vanished daughter and the prize of a dad, Bones understood as well as anyone, at least about the parts that Jim had told him. There were parts that Jim hoped to all that was holy he never had to understand, though. Didn't think he could take that.
Bones just let out a long, whistling sigh. “Yeah? What's he really want? To make nice with you?”
Jim's expression soured and he gave a one shouldered shrug. “I could call him and find out,” he muttered.
Jim laughed and shook his head, but what he said was, “I don't know. Maybe.” The threat in that note was more than implicit, but... fuck, he didn't know. Could Frank carry it out without bringing himself down too? Seemed doubtful. Jim was a hero of the Federation these days after all. What was that worth if not some credibility? Ha. He laughed harder.
“Jim,” Bones said softly. His voice had gotten worse than soft-- it was careful now, like he thought he might be walking on spikes without knowing it.
“He wants money or a favor,” Jim said, because Bones would figure it was something like that anyway. It was always the smart thing to start with a good bite of truth. Made any lies he decided to tell that much easier to swallow. “He's not going to get it from me.”
“Are you going to see him at all?” Bones pressed. He just looked curious, head cocked. Not too nice, like maybe he knew if he put on a sympathetic face Jim would bolt. Jim could actually see the gears turning behind his eyes.
He shrugged before answering and met Bone's eyes head on, like a guy with not a damn thing to hide. “No,” he said. “I won't.” I don't know.
“If you do,” Bones continued, like Jim hadn't said a word. “I could come with. I've been itching to see some of the country before we head out into the wild black beyond and I lose my chance.”
“Go on your own,” Jim said sharply. “Because I've got plenty to do here and no time to waste.” Bones glared at him, but Jim stared him down, unblinking. Like he didn't give a fuck.
Bones was the first to look away.
When Jim took off the next morning, Lieutenant Uhura was the one he left a message for, because he figured if there was one person he could trust to do what needed doing and to leave be what needed left the fuck alone, it was her.
The message was terse. Just, Have a personal thing to wrap up before we hit space. You have the conn until I'm back but there shouldn't be much left but routine check lists. Call if you need me-- that goes for you. Don't if you don't-- that goes for the rest of the crew too.
Not his finest message, but he figured if anyone could read between the lines, it would be Uhura, and she could keep the vultures off. He wasn't her favorite person, but fuck if she didn't owe him one anyway.
Then he packed a bag and booked passage on the next Riverside shipyard bound shuttle.
One thing Jim Kirk had drilled in his head during command training-- nothing was dumber than leaving a live, angry enemy at your back. This was one thing he had to see through.
The last person he expected to be there to meet him in the Riverside Shipyard was Uhura. For a long moment, all he could do was stare at her. He didn't even know if he'd ever seen her outside of some kind of Fleet uniform, but she was dressed in civvies now. Low slung jeans and a gray t-shirt that hung loose in all the right places, a black duffel bag swung over her shoulder like she expected to be here a few days.
She looked frankly awesome and if it had been any day but this one... yeah.
She leaned back against the wall and met his eyes straight on. He swallowed and forced himself to saunter over like nothing was wrong. “Lieutenant,” he said, putting on his best smile. “When I say, you've got the conn, I don't mean drop everything and follow me.”
She nodded at him. “Captain,” she said, cool as anything. “Right now command duties consist of checking boxes on manifest lists. That's what the department heads are for. I've made the decision that the item on the manifest I need to personally see makes it on board in good condition happens to be our captain.”
He laughed despite himself, short and sharp, and shook his head. “Funny,” he said. “But irritating. What do you think is going to happen to me in fucking Iowa taking care of some family business, Uhura?”
She shrugs and smiles at him. “Search me if I know,” she says, holding one hand up, palms spread. “But you have Dr. McCoy in a fit and if I didn't take the first shuttle out he'd have been in my face demanding to know where the hell you'd gotten to. I know damn well you didn't want that.”
“Ah,” Jim said and clicked his tongue against his cheek. “So, it's you or him getting in my face? Awesome. Look, if all you want is to get away from--”
“All I want is to help you resolve your 'family business' so we can get back to our ship,” Uhura interrupted. Jim blinked. It was almost like he could see the air quotes around the words.
“It actually is family business,” he protested. “Which means not yours.”
She rolled her eyes visibly. “Tell you what. Let's play a game. It's called, my captain, the mediagenic hero of the Federation, disappears a week before launch of starfleet's flagship. He's pleading family business. His best friend is freaked out. He tries to leave me in the lurch with this most cryptic useless message I have ever seen-- and seeing messages is what I do. Are you following me here?”
Jim bit his lower lip and shook his head. “Not really. Do you have a point?” he snapped.
“Oh yeah. My point is that a couple of weeks ago I'd have assumed this was a stunt or a booty call. But if it is, I had you wrong twice in a row and I highly doubt that would happen.” She didn't reach out to touch him, but something softened in her expression. Not much, not enough to freak him out, but enough to make him step closer. “Tell me what's going on, Jim.”
He closed his eyes. Thought about it, one breath, two. And fuck, why not? It wasn't like she was someone whose good opinion of him was staggering. She knew how to keep her mouth shut, too, or Bones would be right next to her.
He opened his eyes and put on his laziest, shark toothed grin. Why not? “Okay, Nyota. I've done some interesting things with my life and right now my dear old stepfather is trying some creative blackmail,” he said and watched the words hit her. It was hard not to take a little bit of vicious pleasure in her tiny flinch. “Normally I'd tell him to fuck himself sideways but the right now the whole mediagenic thing has me a little worried.”
He could see her spine stiffen-- man, he didn't know she could stand any straighter than normal, but apparently that was wrong. God, no thinking about touching. Bad touch. Not the time for it at all. Finally, she breathed out. “Right,” she said, and swung her duffel up higher. “Let's walk and talk.”
Jim barked a laugh, but he shouldered his own bag and followed after her. Her strides were long, quick, almost as long as his. “What, you think this is something you can help me with?” he asked, in a softer voice once they were out of earshot of anyone.
She rolled her eyes. “Tell me the plan and I'll let you know,” she said. There was a long pause when they both said nothing. Just breathed and listened to the street traffic whiz by. “You don't have a plan yet, do you?” she finally said.
“Depends what he wants,” Jim admitted.
“Right,” she said and nodded. “Well, let's find out, shall we?” She gave him a pointed look. “You're the local boy, you lead the way.”
And that was when he realized there was no way he was getting rid of her. He gave a rueful smile and stalked off without looking to see if she was following him.
"What did you do?" she asked, about a block later, right before they got to the vehicle rental depot. "To be worth blackmailing? There's nothing in your Starfleet record."
He made a face. "It's need to know," he muttered. "If you need to know, I'll tell you. Anyway, what the hell were you doing with a superior officer's record?"
She shrugged. It made her hair bounce. "You weren't a superior officer a few weeks ago," she said, which was true enough. "And if we're doing this I need to know something. Otherwise it will just get sprung on me."
"Yeah, whatever," he said and kept walking. She followed along, a few inches from his elbow. Closer than usual. "Why are you really here, anyway?"
She raised an eyebrow. "To avoid having to deal with the blow back of your bullshit. Haven't we already covered that?"
"Yeah, right, that makes complete sense," he mumbled under his breath, but didn't force it. "Ever ridden a motorcycle?" he asked louder.
She smirked at him. "Where I grew up we didn't knock down buildings in our city to make room for cars. Hell yes."
"Good," he said. "Because that's what I reserved as transport. Just the one, I wasn't counting on company." He glared at her. Her smile didn't even twitch.
"Good," she said, and shouldered him aside. "I'll drive."
And that was how he ended up on the highway with arms slung over Uhura's waist, the low sound of her laughter a thrum under the roar of the bike. It was good, though. It almost made the sick feeling in his stomach forgettable.
Fuck, he wished this was over. He closed his eyes and let Uhura drive, tasting the harsh tear of the wind across the prairie until it was time to stop.
"He took the family house in the divorce," Jim found himself explaining when Uhura parked the bike where he'd indicated-- just out of sight of the white washed old clapboard. "My mom didn't care. She hasn't been Earthside in-- fuck-- I don't even remember. Definitely not since I was eighteen."
Uhura just nodded along like he wasn't babbling. She put one hand over her face to block out the sun and stared at the house. It looked nice, even he could see that. Better kept than it had been when he was growing up for sure, like someone had invested in some serious renovations.
"Captain," she said after a pause. "Last chance. Anything I need to know going into this?"
Jim shrugged. He should if she was along for this ride and it was obvious she was-- hell, they both knew he should, but he couldn't. It was like he literally couldn't shape the words. "No one's asking you to come in," he said.
She stiffened by his side. "Fine," she said. "If that's how you need to play this."
Frank was waiting for them on the porch, wearing a nice pair of slacks, a pressed shirt and a white toothed smile. "Hello, James. Nice of you to accept my invitation. I made lemonade."
Jim tried not to shudder. He could feel Uhura's eyes on him. "Hello, Frank. More like request and require than invite, wasn't it?"
Frank's smile widened. "As usual, no one's forcing you to do anything. You make the decisions about what's important to you and events flow accordingly. Now. Why don't you introduce me to your lovely friend?"
Jim didn't have a chance to say anything. Uhura was the one who stepped forward, just far enough that her body was angled between Frank and Jim. It was a subtle motion-- if the command track didn't grind them about body language, Jim would have missed it.
He'd never have missed the velvet tipped teeth of his smile, though. “Uhura,” she said. “I'm a friend of your stepson's.”
Frank looked from him to Uhura and made a sour face. It was bad enough when he gave Jim the up and down-- watching him do it to her made Jim want to rip his face out. He shoved his hands in his pockets to resist the urge. "A friend? Interesting," Frank said. "Still trying to give the impression you prefer women, James? There are plenty of men who frequented certain establishments of ill repute that could swear differently."
Jim could feel the heat rush up his face, quick and sickening. "I'm not interested in having that conversation," he forced out. "You wanted to talk to me. I'm here. Talk."
"I'd hoped we could speak privately," Frank said and his smile was for Uhura. "No need to bother such a pretty lady with petty details." Jim didn't shiver, but it was a physical effort. “Unless you want to discuss your proclivities in front of her?”
He almost jumped when a warm, slender hand slid into his left side pocket and Uhura's fingers threaded through his. "Consider everything you say in front of me as private as Jim wants it to be," she said. Her voice was as cold as her hand was warm. It made the urge to shake settle and fade.
"Ah. This one reminds me of little Carol Marcus," Frank said and his gaze rested back on Jim. Jim tightened his grip on Uhura's hands in response and then forced himself to let go before he squeezed. "Does she know about what happened to poor Carol? I wonder how the publicity of what you did would effect her work?"
"Huh," Jim said out loud. So that was where this was going. Figured. He rubbed the hand Uhura wasn't holding over his face. Should have known it would be this, not just something about him. Of course. "Lieutenant, can you give us a minute?" He didn't look over at Uhura. She didn't pull her hand away and he didn't pull away either. They both waited a beat. "Please," he added in a softer tone, almost inaudible.
He could hear her sigh. "I'll be right outside the door," she said, with a pointed look that was mostly for Frank. She gave his fingers a last squeeze and then pulled herself free.
"Lieutenant?" Frank murmured, both eyebrows raised. "Interesting, James. Very interesting. Doesn't Starfleet have regulations against that sort of thing?"
"Oh come off it," Jim said. He took a quick step forward. "And cut to the chase. You want something. What do I have to do to get you to leave Carol the fuck alone?"
"You always had a nasty mouth," Frank said and smiled at him. "One of your more endearing traits. And is Dr. Marcus the only one you want left alone? She's been doing some incredible work, James, if you've been following that. Nothing as flashy as you, but still, really... interesting. I'm sure she'd hate for gossip to surface now."
Jim rolled his eyes. He could picture Carol's reaction and he doubted it would be anything like Frank was suggesting. Didn't mean she deserved this kind of shit. "Spit it out. What do you want from me?"
Frank's smile widened. "Nothing as sinister as you're making out. I have Fleet supply contracts up for renewal. Your mother used to push me to the right people to keep things moving smoothly, but since the divorce, well... she's lost interest. You, on the other hand..."
Jim laughed like stomach hurt. "Seriously? You drudged this shit up and dragged my ass out here the week before my ship goes into the black so I could put in a good word for your fucking contracting firm? Unbe-fucking-lievable."
Frank shrugged. "Whatever's necessary. I'll let you know my specifications."
"Oh, fuck you," Jim said. Then he did one of his favorite things when it came to Frank-- turned around and walked out the door.
Frank didn't stop him, just called after him. "I'm not the one that liked to get fucked, James. There's a hard copy file on the umbrella stand. Take that with you."
Jim didn't pause, just kept walking. He did grab the file, but he already knew where it was going and it wasn't where Frank thought it was.
Uhura was waiting for him, literally right by the door. He offered her his arm and she put her hand through it, for all the world like he was the one holding her up. She didn't say anything until they were outside and by the bike and even then, it was just a quiet, “Well?”
“He wants me to pull him some strings on contracting jobs,” Jim muttered, shaking his head slowly, like he still couldn't believe it. “Dumb fucking asshole. God, I can't believe I used to think he was so smooth and so fucking smart. Can't believe Mom fell for it.” Of course, she'd never been around much, had she? Easy to stay fooled that way.
“Will you? Pull strings for him?” Uhura's mouth twisted when she looked up at him. Disgust. Interesting to see it not aimed at him for once. He shrugged.
“What the hell for? I'm a hero of the fucking Federation and Carol is Carol. I'm throwing this one to Command. It's in no one's interest to let our names get dragged through the dirt. Frank is either stupid as fuck or thinks I am if he really believes anyone's going to let him spread this story.” Jim smiled a faint, vicious smile.
“Carol? He mentioned a Carol,” Uhura said. There was something unreadable in her expression under the layers of disgust and irritation and what was probably pity.
“Carol Marcus. She was my girlfriend when we were kids.” Jim scratched the back of his neck and looked away. “She needed-- she needed help. I tried to get it for her. Things went really... I don't know, sideways. It was a long time ago.”
“Carol Marcus,” Uhura repeated slowly, and he could hear her tasting the name. “Like the physicist? The youngest human doing serious extended warp mechanics work?”
Jim smiled, bright and sudden, never mind everything. What Carol had become never failed to make him happy. “Yeah. She's just-- you'd like her. She's amazing. She was just-- when we were kids, she could walk into a room and light everything up. I'd have done anything for her, you know? Ever met someone like that-- who just made things seem possible when you were with them?”
“I have now.” Uhura's eyes were soft, but she didn't explain what she meant, just kept talking. “What did you do for her?”
Jim looked away and shook his head, the sudden joy fading as quickly as it had come. “That part's only kind of my story to tell,” he said. Then he straightened up and looked Uhura in the eye. “Can I show you something?”
“Of course,” Uhura said.
This time she let him drive the motorcycle, her thin, competent hands pressed against his sides and holding on tight like she was keeping everything together. He liked it, liked the idea so much. It was better to focus on that until they got fifty miles past the middle of nowhere to the burned out hulk of a building with a faded neon sign still nailed in front.
“Bethany's,” Uhura read out loud, looking up at the sign and then back down at Jim. “What was this? Unlicensed club?”
Jim's mouth twisted into a sideways smile. “Yeah, definitely. Once upon a time you could buy anything here, legal, gray market or even pitch black if you knew how to ask for it. Anything from Romulan ale to underage hookers.”
“What happened?” Uhura asked, quiet, just waiting. She looked good like that, leaning against the motorcycle, hands resting at her sides, thumbs jammed into her pockets. Like something almost too crazy elegant to be human. It was nice just having her here to enjoy like that.
Jim closed his eyes. “One of the underaged hookers burned it down with a pipe bomb one very nasty bitter cold January the second and called the civil authorities. Lots of people got handed down some very long prison sentences.”
“None of that's even hinted at in your personnel file,” Uhura said. Jim could picture her face so well he didn't even have to open his eyes.
He shrugged. “It was judicially sealed due to some extenuating circumstances. As far as I know, no one knows about it except the people who were there and now you.” He didn't ask what she was going to do with knowing it. Sometimes you just had to throw yourself off a cliff and see what happened and Uhura was going to be today's cliff.
“Those circumstances have anything to do with Carol Marcus? Or your stepfather?” Uhura asked. He didn't know when she'd gotten closer, but she was right there, near enough for him to feel her breath on his skin and the warmth of her.
“Yeah,” he said and opened his eyes. Hers were dark and wet and and so, so close. Her skin was dark too with just the faintest hint of red, like she was flushed a long way underneath.
She wrapped her arms around his neck kissed him full on the mouth until he went loose against her and kissed her back. Pushed him down into the soft grass so fast that he didn't even think to try to stay on his feet, just let her do it.
She crawled after him, warm press of breasts through the thin layers of both their t-shirts. Soft wet of her tongue when she claimed another kiss and he gave it to her.
“What about Spock?” he demanded, finally and breathlessly. He thought about trying to force himself to pull back, but holy fuck, she was warm. Warm and there and just about straddling him.
“A week ago Spock let me know he's planning to go with others to New Vulcan and work on repopulating the species,” she hissed back into his ear. Her fingernails dug into his skin and he bit his lip to force the moan down. "He says it's his cultural fucking duty. He says I can join him if it's my wish."
“Revenge fuck?” he whispered. “Petty, man. That's not like you.”
“No,” was all she said. “That's not what this is. That's not what you are.” And then she slipped forward, still straddling his thighs until her hips pressed against his and he forgot why this could have been a bad idea. He helped her fumble with their zippers, fingers tangled together, caught and clumsy between kisses.
It was barely sex at all, too wet and sloppy, his dick rocking against the curve of her body without pressing all the way inside. She rode him anyway and it felt good, crazy good, the open air and the burned out building and her mouth just pressing kisses everywhere like all she wanted to do was taste.
“God, you're beautiful,” he whispered and she smiled and pressed her palm against his face.
“You are,” she said. She looked bright like that. Incandescent.
After, she lay in the crook of his arm, her long hair all sweaty sticky and spread across his face and her shoulders. He wondered what he looked like to her, what she thought of him now, like this. He wondered what she was going to think in a few minutes, when he opened his mouth.
“Carol was pregnant,” he said, finally. So she would know how sordid it had really been, how crazy and ugly. “She was fifteen and scared out of her mind, she needed it gone.”
Uhura turned in his arms, just looking at him. For a second, she didn't touch him at all, except in the places their bodies were pressed together. “There are doctors for that. Good ones.”
“Yeah,” he whispered. “I know. But there was-- maybe even still is-- a law on the books for underaged kids in this state, you know? To do that-- to terminate. You needed to get an authorization from a judge and make it official or your parents get notified.”
Uhura went still. “I didn't know that, no,” she said, soft, careful. “In Africa we don't have a law like that.”
“It's a holdover from the twenty-first century,” he said, quiet, like he was talking to himself. He stopped, shook his head. “Carol's mom died on the Kelvin, did you know that? That's why we met. There was a memorial service for the survivors and their families. We both booby trapped the speaker. Fuck, we got in trouble.” He smiled and looked at Uhura. There was water on her cheeks, slow moving trails of it. He looked away again.
“Her dad, he--” he began, and then stopped. “She wasn't sure. The baby. She said if it was mine, maybe we could figure something out, you know? But, if it... she was really scared. I'd never seen her scared before, not ever. I didn't know what to do. We couldn't just get a test from her regular doctor, you know? I asked... a guy I knew, he knew a guy who'd heard of a doctor, but he wanted money. A lot.”
“Oh,” Uhura said. Her voice was lower, almost hoarse. She pressed her cheek against his and he let himself rest there, close. “I see.”
“She couldn't tell a judge,” he went on, like she hadn't spoken. “She could barely tell me and she knew I knew about... that. I couldn't ask her to do that.”
Uhura's mouth worked, but nothing came out for a long time. Finally, finally, she said, “Okay, Jim. It's okay.” They shifted up and around and somehow he ended up with his head in her lap like a really little kid, but that was okay.
After a while, a long while, he slid up to his feet and offered her both hands, pulling her to hers. They stumbled back to the bike, slow and clumsy and too careful of each other, not quite touching.
“You won't talk about this?” he asked softly when he climbed back behind her on the bike. He felt tired, scoured open. Like maybe he should have kept his dumb mouth shut.
She looked at him like he was talking crazy shit. “No,” she said. “You know me better than that.” He breathed out and nodded. It was going to be okay.
On the shuttle ride back to San Fransisco, they didn't touch at all. Barely spoke until Jim leaned over to her about half way through the flight. “I'm going to ask Spock to be my XO on Enterprise,” Jim said, like they'd been talking about it all along.
“It won't do much good if he's set on going to New Vulcan,” Uhura said. She looked out the window, not at Jim.
Jim shrugged, even if she wasn't watching him to see it. “I think he'll change his mind. There's too much waiting for him on that ship, you know?” He smiled. “He'd be an idiot not to.”
Uhura turned and looked at him, strange, soft expression on her face that made him want to back about fifty miles off. He didn't, though. “What about you?” she said. “You waiting for someone?”
He sucked in his lower lip and thought about it for a long, slow second before he shook his head. “You love him,” he finally said. “He loves you.” He could feel it in her breath, see it whenever they were in a room together.
She frowned, slow, but deep. “Yeah, I do,” she finally said. “Maybe he does. And?”
“And that's all.” What else could there be to that?
There was something in the curve of her lips, mysterious and beautiful. “We'll see about that,” she said, like he was supposed to know what that meant. His breath caught, like maybe he did. She kissed him, just on the cheek, and he wasn't sure if it was supposed to be goodbye or not.
On the Enterprise Bones was waiting for him with a strange, worn down looking expression, but Jim managed to smile for him and he thought maybe that helped.
“Don't look so gloomy, old man,” he said and clapped his best friend on the shoulder. “We've got stars to see. Diseases to catch. Strange new creatures to—”
“If you say screw,” Bones growled. “You won't live to Captain anything.”
Jim laughed at him.