If there was one immutable truth, it was this: wherever James T Kirk, Captain of the Federation Starship Enterprise went, trouble followed.
Of course, no one expected that trouble to include the Captain, his Communications Officer... and marriage.
"It is an auspicious sign that you have chosen to formalize your relationship as we negotiate the treaty, Captain," Prelate Lan said as he beamed up at them. "I will see to your nrgmph myself."
The Prelate hustled away, leaving Jim, Lieutenant Uhura and Mr Spock gaping at him. Well, mostly Jim, because he couldn't have heard what he just heard.
"What the hell is a nrgmph anyway?" Jim asked.
"That's what you're worried about?" Uhura asked, rounding on him. "He expects us to get married, and you're worried about what the Universal Translator missed?"
"We can't get married!" he called after the Prelate, but was cut off by his First Officer.
"It would be wise to simply go along with them, Captain. We do not know what effect refusing their offer would have on the negotiations."
"Are you suggesting—"
"Wait, you want me to marry him?" Uhura asked—or maybe shrieked was a better description, because that had been loud enough to penetrate his eardrums.
Jim could completely understand her outrage. Not that he wasn't a catch, because he totally was, but he had no intention of getting married anytime soon (if ever), and if he ever did, it probably wouldn't be to Nyota Uhura. Spock may not have any idea what the bro code was, but Jim wasn't about to marry the guy's ex just the same.
The Vlix didn't appear to have the same reservations.
The Vlix were a race of beings that could generously be called small. They resembled moles in an oddly disturbing way, but they had a way with technology and worked a metal with some truly astounding properties, which was the whole reason the Federation was interested in a treaty at a minimum, and in all likelihood full membership in record time, if it could be arranged.
"It's made of mithril," Jim observed, somewhat absently, as he examined the cuff that Prelate Lan handed him when he returned.
Which wasn't exactly what the metal was called, but that's what the officer who'd written the First Contact briefing had called it. Of course, he'd just finished reading The Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time, so he could be forgiven for equating the fictional metal with the fantastical properties of the Vlix metal.
The name had stuck.
"When you are ready, Captain," Prelate Lan said, breaking Jim out of his musings, "we will fix these on your wrist, and that of your intended. Then all will know that you belong to each other."
"Can we take it off when we're done?"
Lan looked at Jim with what he had to assume was confusion. With the Vlix it was hard to tell. "Why would you wish to take it off?"
"Starfleet really doesn't—"
This time, when Spock cut off Uhura, her eyes narrowed. Jim was incredibly grateful he wasn't on the receiving end of that glare. This time.
"Engineer Scott will wish to examine the metal," he said, giving Jim a meaningful eyebrow, saying more with one look than most people could manage with whole paragraphs.
Jim got it. He just didn't have to like it.
"I can't believe you got me into this," Uhura grumbled at him some minutes later, as the Vlix gathered in the main square to prepare the Celebration Feast.
"Me?" Jim whispered, outraged. "You were the one who stopped next to me under the arch. I thought you were supposed to be the Enterprise's cultural authority. And you didn't know that standing there with me meant we had to get married?"
The glare she leveled at him could have melted Delta Vega 5.
"Perhaps it would be wise to refrain from conversation until after the ceremony, Captain," Spock said. "We would not want to unintentionally insult the Vlix. They are going to no small effort to provide you and the Lieutenant with this opportunity."
The glare Uhura leveled at Spock could have frozen a volcano.
It wasn't until after the ceremony—and who knew mole-people could be so eloquent—that he began to understand the value of the cuff. As part of the welcome/wedding celebration, the Vlix gave demonstrations of their greatest cultural assets.
Jim's ears were still bleeding from—well, calling it music would have been an insult to composers the galaxy over, but he supposed to the Vlix, it was appealing. He promised himself he would never make fun of Spock's taste in music again.
But it was the demonstration of the Vlix fighting disciplines that captured his attention. For all that they were small and round, the Vlix were nimble and agile fighters. They used a bladed weapon that resembled a long daggar, which looked more like a sword in the hands of a Vlix fighter. Most of the Vlix were bonded—their term for marriage, or so Jim had learned in the course of his own bonding—and they used their bonding cuff like an old-school buckler, blocking and redirecting the slashes and stabs of their opponents.
The mithril was also capable of absorbing and dissipating energy blasts, so while Jim didn't think he'd be involved in any swordfights anytime soon, he was fairly certain that a phaser fight or three was on his horizon. The cuff would come in handy; he might have to rethink Scotty trying to remove it.
Of course, the true cost of bonding (or marriage, or whatever) became clear to him as the sun set and the Vlix escorted them to their temporary quarters.
Instead of three separate rooms—one for each of the members of the Enterprise delegation, as had been agreed to when the treaty negotiations had first been proposed—they led Spock to one room, and he and Lieutenant Uhura to another across the hall.
Jim objected, of course. He was fond of his anatomy and preferred to keep it intact, and he couldn't promise he wouldn't 'make free' with his new wife while he was asleep.
That wasn't what he explained to the Vlix. He very politely told them that it would be improper for he and the Lieutenant to share quarters on a mission. Proper protocol ought to be observed, and this was where Jim would make his stand.
The Vlix didn't much care about Jim's stand.
Prelate Lan couldn't understand why he wouldn't want to sleep with his new wife on what amounted to their wedding night. Even Spock was giving him an odd look. He'd only just opened his mouth—and who knew what he was going to say, but Jim had a feeling he wasn't going to like it—when he was interrupted.
By Uhura and her death glare.
"Captain, I think we can waive protocol just this once," she said, laying a hand on his arm. "After all, the Vlix have gone to so much trouble for us, we ought to enjoy their hospitality. Don't you think?"
She leaned on that last part pretty hard, and Jim didn't have the heart—or the balls, if he were honest—to disagree, so he pasted on a smile and followed her into their room.
He might have known life would never be that easy.
The room was large, as far as Vlix accommodations went. They were small people and didn't really take up much space, so the size of the room was surprising.
The size of the bed, on the other hand, was not.
They stood together, side by side just inside the door, staring at the bed. It must have seemed huge to the Vlix, but Jim thought it might be no bigger than a double bed in human terms. He had a queen in his quarters, and had contemplated switching to a king, just so he could really sprawl.
Being single did have its perks.
There would be no way to avoid even touching Uhura in the bed they were currently staring at, though. Which meant he'd be sleeping on the floor. Great.
"Just throw me a pillow and blanket and I'll be fine on the floor," he told her as he headed to his bag to pull out sleep clothes and his toiletries.
He didn't even look back as he headed for the bathroom, and when he emerged, Uhura had turned down both sides of the bed.
She raised her eyebrow at him, which was patently unfair. Of all the habits she could have acquired from her ex-boyfriend, she had to pick that one. "Don't be an ass. Sir. We're both adults—" and god, he could swear she almost choked on those words "—we can share."
She didn't even give him a chance to object, and he knew better than to take the floor anyway. Besides, two long days of negotiations stretched out before them. If he slept on the floor, there would be very little actual sleeping happening and he was honestly afraid of what he might give away in exchange for access to the mithril if he tried to negotiate on little to no sleep.
So, he manned up and slid under the covers, expecting to be up half the night keeping himself from even thinking about touching his Lieutenant.
He was asleep before Uhura even came out of the bathroom.
Jim woke the next morning spooned up behind Lieutenant Uhura, railing against the unfairness of the universe.
Uhura was soft and warm against him, her hair smelling faintly of flowers and her breathing even and strong in his arms. For just a moment, he contemplated staying there, wrapped around her, and to hell with the Vlix and the treaty.
Reality reasserted itself when Uhura stirred from sleep.
"Don't get mad," he whispered against the back of her head as he pressed a kiss to her hair. "The bed isn't nearly big enough, and I didn't do anything."
And then, he leaped out of bed and ran for the bathroom, never looking back.
A little over half a day of negotiating had illuminated one very important fact: not all the Vlix were thrilled to be hosting the delegation from the Federation.
Jim thought that was fair; up until a few months ago, the Vlix were living a peaceful life, content in the knowledge that they were alone on their planet. They were not pre-warp, having been warp-capable for nearly a century before Starfleet made contact. But they didn't often venture out beyond their own star system, which was why it had taken so long for the Federation to encounter them.
Staring at Minister Dor across the negotiating table, Jim was acutely aware of how little some Vlix valued contact with outsiders.
Uhura had been trying to explain the benefits of Federation membership. Most of her audience had been rapt—insofar as you could recognize avid interest on the face of a being more closely resembling a rodent than a humanoid. But Dor had been disdainful and dismissive.
Their exchanges had become increasingly vitriolic, and Jim honestly began to fear for their safety. He'd contemplated stepping in, but he knew Uhura would turn all of that vitriol on him, and he kind of liked his anatomy the way it was. He'd probably mentioned that already, but it bore repeating.
Dor, it seemed, didn't have near the same fear of his own safety when facing an enraged Uhura.
Finally, the exchange came to a head, and Dor leaped up onto the table, brandishing his blade and snarling at Uhura. For her part, Uhura stood up and produced a daggar of her own from somewhere under her uniform, her eyes warily watching the Minister.
"You let your woman speak for you, Captain?" Dor spat at him. "Are you truly so weak?"
Jim raised his hands as if in surrender. "I find it's best not to get in her way. As you can see, she's perfectly capable of taking care of herself."
Uhura glanced at him, but Jim couldn't tell if her look was grateful or furious. He shrugged, giving her one of his patented devil-may-care smiles. She could—and probably would—deball him later, but she seemed to be holding her own so he wasn't going to get involved.
Turned out, that was the right decision. Dor threw back his head and laughed, a deep belly laugh that shook the entire table. "I like you, Captain Kirk. And your woman as well." He turned to Uhura and bowed over his sword. "You are a worthy opponent, and I would battle at your side if there were a need."
Uhura nodded at Dor and took her seat. Dor climbed down off the table and sat as well, and the conversation flowed again as if there had never been an interruption.
Jim had no idea what had happened, but if it got him a treaty at the end of the day, he was fine with it.
They were exhausted when they finally stumbled into their quarters that night. Jim barely thought about their sleeping arrangements as he washed up and changed into his sleep pants and a t-shirt. He climbed under the covers and found himself quickly drifting off. The bed shifted as Uhura joined him, and he didn't even think about it when he rolled into her, spooning up behind her and settling in.
"Good job today, Nyota," he mumbled as he pressed a kiss into her hair.
If she noticed at all, she didn't say anything and Jim considered that another win for the day.
Three long days of negotiation had finally taken their toll on Jim and Nyota. They'd lost almost an entire day to Dor and his skepticism, so they'd agreed to stay an extra day to finalize the treaty, which meant that when they'd finally finished and sealed the agreement late the night before, all Jim had wanted to do was fall into bed and sleep for a week.
Of course, their Vlix hosts wanted to send them off with a farewell meal, but had been kind enough to make it brunch instead of breakfast at dawn, which had been their custom during the negotiations.
Jim lay in the still-too-small bed, sunlight pouring in from the large window behind him, spooned up behind his Communications Officer once again. After the second night, waking up curled around her he'd been forced to admit—even if only to himself—that he liked sleeping with Uhura, liked falling asleep next to her and waking up with her scent in his nose. He liked feeling her warmth along the length of his body. He liked the intimacy of sleeping together—just sleeping, without it having to turn into a prelude to sex.
That had been a revelation.
He was going to miss this once they returned to the ship, but with the treaty signed and already transmitted to Starfleet Headquarters, they had no reason to stay even one more hour on Vlix, especially just to indulge Jim's whimsy.
Jim liked being single—some might say too much—but he thought life was easier that way. He could play the field, enjoy a woman's company for a few hours and then walk away, never having to take responsibility for anyone else but himself. It had been working for him for years, and while his extracurricular activities had been more limited on board a starship—he had a rule about never dating a crew member, just to keep it professional—they'd had plenty of opportunities at various ports of call so he hadn't felt deprived.
Now, though, he knew those conquests would pale in comparison to the memory of sleeping next to Nyota Uhura. Not to mention the memory of Uhura facing down Dor, standing strong and fierce and so beautiful it nearly took his breath away.
That was the point when he knew he was in trouble.
Spirits had been high at the farewell brunch. The Vlix were pleased to have new trading partners, and Jim and Nyota were relieved to have the neogtiations completed, even if Jim was still bummed to be leaving, for reasons he would share with no one.
When they finally materialized on the transporter pad on board Enterprise, Spock was there waiting for them. He'd transported back to the ship the second morning, and Jim had been only slightly jealous that his First Officer had been able to forgo the absolute bore of negotiating with the Vlix in favor of… whatever it was Spock did for fun when he wasn't around.
The three of them—Jim, Spock and Uhura—headed for the bridge, Jim self-consciously tugging at his uniform sleeve, trying to make sure the fabric covered the mithril cuff as much as possible. The plan was to check in with Starfleet, set course for their next mission and then retreat to his quarters—alone—and sleep for as long as he could get away with.
Maybe have Scotty look at the mithril cuff and figure out a way to take it off.
And try to forget that he'd ever learned how nice it was to sleep next to Uhura.
What actually happened was this: Jim, Spock and Uhura emerged onto the bridge to be greated by Admiral Pike's smiling face.
"Ah, the man of the hour," Pike said. "Nice job on the treaty. Starfleet brass and the Federation lawyers are going apoplecitic as we speak."
Jim gave a tired smile. "I'm glad they're pleased, Admiral. Although, Lieutenant Uhura deserves most of the credit. She talked the Vlix around after some initial resistance."
"Yes, the Vlix mentioned something about her prowess in their communique," Pike said, chuckling. "Whatever you said to them made an impression, Lieutenant. Good work."
"Thank you, sir," Uhura said.
Jim glanced behind him and caught her smile—just as tired as his looked, he'd bet—and nodded at her before turning his attention back to Pike. "Orders, sir?"
"Make for Starbase 12 for resupply," Pike said. "You'll have a couple of days of downtime before your next mission. Take advantage."
"Yes, sir," Jim said, his smile turning more enthusiastic.
Pike chuckled again. "And Captain? Prelate Lan tells me congratulations are in order. You and Lieutenant Uhura getting married was certainly a surprise, but I'm happy for you both."
The screen winked out, the Vlix homeworld replacing the Admiral's sly grin. Silence reigned for all of two seconds before the entire bridge burst into noisy action, crewmen crowding around the two of them to offer their congratulations, slapping his back enthusiastically even as they wondered how the two of them could have kept their relationship secret from even their closest friends. Spock raised an eyebrow at Jim, whose gaze slid from his First Officer to his Communications Officer.
He met Uhura's wide-eyed stare with his own, just one thought running through his mind: