Nyota walks through the aisles of the perfume shop, glancing at the various bottles and testing a few before setting them back down, either because of the scent or because of the price. She’s determined not to go over her budget this month, and while she’s not averse to getting high-end perfume for herself, she’s also not interested in dropping a chunk of her credits to get it.
As she moves to another aisle, she blinks as she sees a human male standing less than a meter away from her, frowning in concentration as he stares at the bottles in front of him. Nyota blinks as she tries to place his familiar features. As he glances over and sees her staring at him, Nyota finally figures out where she’s seen him before, recognizing him as the guy who’s always hanging around Jim Kirk.
“McCoy, right?” she says, and he nods in confirmation.
“And you’re Uhura,” he says. “I think I saw you at the bar last weekend.” He discreetly doesn’t mention the fact that when he’d seen her, she’d been turning down his friend for what has to be the fifth time this semester.
“Yeah, that was me,” Nyota replies.
She’s about to ask if he’s here buying a present for someone, when he says, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye, “I’d ask you for your first name, but from what I’ve heard, you don’t give that information out too easily.”
After a second, Nyota has to smile, recognizing the sly note in his voice, the invitation to share in the joke. “That’s just reserved for people with the last name of Kirk,” she responds. “And it’s not classified information; anybody can look it up in the student directory. Including your friend.”
McCoy shrugs. “He likes the challenge of getting you to tell him.”
Nyota blinks, wrinkling her nose as she says flatly, “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I didn’t say it made sense, I said that’s Jim’s way of thinking about it,” McCoy tells her, and there’s something in the matter-of-fact tone that makes Uhura chuckle quietly, even though she mostly thinks of Kirk as just an aggravating annoyance—albeit a charming one.
“So,” Nyota says, feeling more relaxed, “what are you doing here? Looking for a present?”
McCoy huffs quietly under his breath, turning back to the aisles and saying, “Yeah, something like that.”
Nyota raises an eyebrow. “Somehow I don’t see Jim Kirk deciding to smell like Moonlight Primrose,” and to her surprise, McCoy actually cracks something of a smile at that.
“Definitely not his style,” McCoy agrees. “But no, the perfume’s supposed to be for my mother. It’s her birthday in about three weeks.”
Nyota looks over at him, wondering if he’s dropping that line about his mother to impress her or something—but McCoy’s looking at the aisles, not glancing at her to see how well she’s responding to the line, and there’s something in his manner and tone that put her at ease.
“Do you usually get perfume for your mother?” Nyota asks after a moment, and McCoy shakes his head.
“No, normally I get her a music recording I think she might like, but after this year—” He cuts himself off abruptly, and in that small pause, Nyota senses the outlines of a story she’s probably not going to hear. “I just thought I’d get her something different this year,” he says finally.
“Well, that’s nice of you,” Nyota says gently, papering over the potential awkwardness. “Found anything you like?”
McCoy snorts. “I wouldn’t even begin to know how to start looking for something I might like.” He pauses and looks over at her, and somehow Nyota knows what he’s going to say even before he says it. “Hey, you’re a woman—“
She raises an eyebrow at him. “Yes, I’ve noticed that myself from time to time.” McCoy smiles, and something about the way he’s smiling—the lack of condescension in it, the fact that he hasn’t tried to sweet talk her into dating his friend—pushes her to add, “And yes, if you’re looking for help in picking something out, I’d be more than happy to.”
His smile gets a little broader, and he looks both relieved and grateful. “Thank you, Uhura.”
It’s easy to smile back, and say, “No problem.” And it isn’t—within ten minutes, McCoy’s up at the register with a purchase, Nyota standing behind him with her own bottle of perfume, waiting to buy it herself. McCoy had offered to buy it for her, as a thank-you, but Nyota had turned him down. She’s perfectly capable of buying her own perfume, and besides, she hadn’t really gone to that much trouble—all she’d done was steer him in the right direction.
By the time Nyota heads back to her dorm room, she’s got a bottle of perfume in her bag, and McCoy’s number programmed into her comm. She uses it from time to time—occasionally to get help on her homework for the first-aid class she’s taking, and the next time she sees McCoy at a bar with Jim Kirk, she doesn’t hesitate before sliding onto the stool next to his and engaging him in a conversation.
The look of complete and utter surprise on Kirk’s face is just a bonus.
The universal translator has a great deal of difficulty with the Revashni language, and given the situation—a plague that’s hitting the Revashni, particularly affecting their old and young—mistranslation really isn’t acceptable.
Almost all of the communication staff is working double shifts on this mission, running interference between the Enterprise’s medical staff and their Revashni patients.
Most of the doctors and nurses are more than happy to have that continue, but McCoy isn’t.
“If you’re worried about not being able to get your point across—”
“That’s not it,” McCoy says impatiently. “Look, in a situation like this—” he abruptly changes tack and says, “Do you have any idea how many terrified parents I’m dealing with on a daily basis here? How many scared children I have as patients? You and the rest of Communications are doing a great job, nobody’s denying that, but I need—I need them to trust me. I need them to believe me when I tell them I can help. And—I think this could help me get that across.”
Nyota sighs. She’s working just as hard as everyone else, beaming down to the planet at the very start of alpha shift, and sometimes not getting back to the Enterprise until the beginning of gamma shift—but McCoy’s eyes are bruised, the dark circles evidence that he’s working just as hard as she is. “Okay,” she says. “I’ll give you a few lessons.”
The tension leeches out of McCoy’s shoulders. “Thank you,” he says gratefully.
McCoy’s already got a fairly good vocabulary going on—he’s nowhere close to being fluent, but he can manage if he has to. He’s a little shakier on grammar, but the real tricky part is the accent. In Revash, the inflection and twist on certain words is everything, and McCoy’s speech is hopelessly thick with his Standard accent.
After about an hour, McCoy’s frustration is evident. “Swear to God,” he mutters finally, “—getting rid of my own accent was easier than this, and that’s something I never thought I’d say.”
Nyota’s ears prick up at this. “But you still have—”
McCoy makes a face. “Now, yeah, I don’t rein it in too much. Back when I was at school—well, I learned to keep it under wraps. With me being the youngest one there, I was already sticking out enough without my accent making things worse. It was hell trying to get it under control though.”
“Huh,” Nyota says. McCoy’s one of the oldest of the senior staff, next to Scotty, and even though Nyota knows how accomplished he is, she’d somehow never connected that to his age, and realized how little time, relatively speaking, he’d had to accomplish all those things.
She shakes it off. “Okay, so repeat after me, and watch how I move my mouth…”
By the end of their session, McCoy sounds fairly respectable—well, understandable at least. “Not bad,” Nyota tells him, approvingly, getting one of McCoy’s rare smiles in response.
The next day, Nyota’s standing next to McCoy while he talks quietly to one of his young patients. She’s ready to interject if she needs to, but she ends up not needing to—McCoy communicates just fine, and she can see that the Revashni patient, Lutra, is comforted by his words, the movement of her tentacles already becoming less agitated, more gentle and fluid.
“Thank you,” McCoy says later that day, looking exhausted but satisfied.
“You’re welcome,” Nyota replies. “And good work there.”
He smiles at her again, his grin broad and bright, and says, “Same to you.”
Both of them end up getting commendations for their work on this mission, and McCoy gives her a bottle of Kentucky bourbon as a thank-you. To her surprise, Nyota likes the taste, and when McCoy offers later to teach her how to make something he calls a mint julep, Nyota doesn’t turn him down.
“Okay,” Nyota says slowly at their table in the mess hall. “Explain to me again how Chekov managed to…‘hoodwink’ you into teaching him how to dance.”
McCoy swallows a mouthful of Denobulan soup and explains, “I was in Sickbay with Chekov so I could see how those burns on his hand were healing up. We started talking about the gala over on Melvir that the Enterprise is scheduled to attend in a few weeks, and Chekov was saying how nervous he was because he’s never learned to dance.”
“And that’s when you offered to teach him how to dance?” Nyota asks.
“No,” McCoy retorts. “That’s when I told him that if I could pick up dancing, then there’s no reason a genius like him can’t.”
“And then?” Nyota prods, idly spearing her pasta with her fork.
“And then—” McCoy abruptly deflates, “—he started looking at me all shiny-eyed and hopeful, and before I even knew what I was doing, I was offering to give him a few pointers.”
Nyota bites back a smile at his hangdog expression. “Very sweet of you.”
McCoy gives her a withering look. “I’m a lot of things, Nyota, but sweet isn’t one of them. Just ask the nurses.”
One of these days, Nyota’s going to tell McCoy that no one really buys into his crotchety doctor act, especially not the nurses. Instead, she chooses to respond with, “You do know that Chekov’s got that wide-eyed, innocent look down cold, right?”
McCoy gestures emphatically with his free hand. “That’s why I’m saying I’ve been hoodwinked!”
Nyota laughs, and says, “Okay, so you’ve been hoodwinked. Now what?”
“Now I’ve gotta walk Chekov through dance steps I only half-remember myself, and never taught to anyone else before. And—” McCoy stops himself, giving her an odd glance.
“What?” Nyota prods.
“I need a partner,” McCoy mutters after a moment. “Some generous female who knows how to dance and doesn’t mind the possibility of getting her toes stepped on.”
“Really?” Nyota asks. “Good luck finding someone, then. It’s a big ship, McCoy, I’m sure it won’t be too hard.”
McCoy rolls his eyes. “Don’t be daft, Nyota, you know good and well I’m trying to ask you.”
“Oh, is that what you were doing?” she asks, wide-eyed, and McCoy scowls at her; after a moment, she can’t help but break out into a grin, settling back in her seat. “Well, go ahead.”
“Go ahead and what?” McCoy responds, and Nyota’s grin gets wider.
“Go ahead and ask me,” Nyota says. “But make sure to do it sweetly.”
McCoy’s eyes narrow, and Nyota’s sure she’s in for one of his frequent—and hilarious—rants. But, like he often manages to do, McCoy surprises her.
He looks her dead in the eye, and says, with his best Southern manners on display, “Lieutenant Uhura, would you do me the honor of partnering with me for the waltz lesson I’m giving Chekov at 2100 tomorrow?”
“I’d love to,” Nyota assures him.
“Good,” McCoy says, and goes back to eating his meal, only muttering a little bit about not enlisting to give lessons on the waltz and how he’s “a doctor, dammit, not a dance instructor.”
Nyota can’t resist the opening. “Well, tomorrow night you’ll be both,” she tells him, getting a scowl in response, complete with eyebrow contortions.
There’s something ironic, Nyota decides, about how until she began serving on the Enterprise, she’d never seen the inside of a jail cell, and now that she does serve on Starfleet’s flagship, she’s either been in jail or visited her superior officers in jail four times.
Given that this night might very well end in her being executed by beheading, Nyota’s not too interested in focusing on the irony right now.
Kirk and Spock are talking quietly in one corner of the room, and McCoy comes over and sits down next to her on the dirt floor. “They want to make an example of us,” he says quietly, speaking of their jailers.
“Probably,” Nyota says, watching Spock, looking at his split lip and bruised eye.
“And the ion storm means that the Enterprise can’t beam us out,” McCoy continues.
Nyota looks at him and says flatly, “Why are you telling me things I already know?”
McCoy sighs heavily and tells her, his voice still so quiet she has to strain to hear him, “Because I need your help.” He’s silent for a moment, and then says quietly, “You’re the only one who can communicate with them at all. When they come in and ask you which one of us is the leader, I want you to say it’s me.”
Nyota stares at him. “Why?”
“Because otherwise it’s going to be Jim. Or Spock, but most likely Jim, and Nyota—they’re not going to pull him away so they can question him, or even torture him, they’re going to take him out there and chop his head off, and I can’t let that happen. Please.”
Nyota’s heart is pounding loud enough that she can hear it in her ears. “They’ll kill you instead.”
McCoy swallows and says, “I’ve watched him walk off towards certain death more times than I can count. Figure now’s my turn.”
She can’t do it, she’ll never do it—she’ll never forgive herself if she does, it’s completely unacceptable, but McCoy’s staring into her face, and he’s right—the Threnians aren’t interested in information, or in torturing them for information. They’re religious fanatics who have been grossly offended, and they won’t be satisfied until they’ve gotten blood in exchange.
If it isn’t McCoy, it’ll be Kirk. Or Spock. Or—
Nyota takes a breath. “Okay, I will.”
“I’ve got your word,” McCoy presses, and Nyota nods, her stomach twisting unpleasantly. She feels a further pang as McCoy’s shoulders slump, as she realizes that he’s actually relieved to hear this, and her chest is so tight that she wonders if it’s possible for her to ever take a free breath again.
The Threnian guard comes in roughly three hours later, bristling with anger, and demands harshly, “Which one of you heretics speaks for the rest?”
They all stand up, Kirk stepping forward as if he can protect them, even without a weapon. From the back, Nyota stands up, her shoulders straight and says, “I do.”
The Threnian looks even angrier, and demands, “Are you their leader?”
Nyota doesn’t hesitate. “Yes.”
The Threnian guard looks at all of them, his eyestalks swiveling back and forth, and then snaps out, “Then you and one of your companions shall die, so that justice shall be done. Choose, and then you shall perish.”
All the air leaves her body in a rush. “No,” she gasps out, “No, it’s supposed to be me—”
“Choose,” the Threnian thunders.
She can’t. She absolutely cannot, but, Nyota realizes as she turns and looks into McCoy’s pale face, she will. She’ll do it.
“Leonard,” she breathes out, and McCoy nods.
“Do it,” he says, and Kirk snaps out, the alarm clear in his voice, “Lieutenant, what the hell’s going on?”
But McCoy’s moving to stand next to her, even as Spock makes an abortive gesture to do the same, his dark eyes widening as he starts to realize what she’s about to do.
“Us,” she says, gripping McCoy’s wrist with her hand. “It’ll be us, we’re the ones you want.”
It takes a while for McCoy’s door to open. When McCoy finally answers, he’s out of uniform, wearing a pair of sweatpants and a worn t-shirt that reads "Ole Miss" in capital lettering.
His hair is wet, his eyes and mouth still showing the strain of the day. “Nyota,” he says, his voice tired. “You all right?”
When they’d finally been beamed up, she’d already been on her knees with her head bowed, the blade hovering over her exposed neck. By the time she’d fully materialized on the transporter pad, Nyota had kneeled there for a second longer, frozen with shock, before beginning to hyperventilate.
“Yeah,” she says quietly. “I’m fine.”
McCoy looks at her for a second longer, and then says softly, “You wanna come in?”
She’s only been in his quarters for a handful of times—usually when they spend time together, it’s in the rec room or the mess hall or his office.
She settles down in a chair, and so does he. He offers her a drink and she declines, just watching quietly as he pours a tumblerfull for himself and downs half of it in one gulp.
Given the way the day had turned out, Nyota wouldn’t blame him if he went and drank straight from the bottle.
They sit there in silence before McCoy asks abruptly, “How’s Spock handling it?”
Nyota pauses before answering. “Not well, to be honest.” She doesn’t think she’ll forget the look on Spock’s face in the transporter room, the way he’d gone to reach for her with shaking hands and lift her up off the floor. “He keeps trying to come up with arguments for why it was completely illogical and unnecessary for me to do what I did.”
McCoy’s mouth quirks up in the ghost of a smile. “Not that you’re listening to him.”
“Of course not,” Nyota promptly replies. She hesitates for a second, and then asks, “What about Kirk? How’s he—”
McCoy shrugs and lifts the glass to his mouth again. “I’ll let you know when he starts talking to me again.”
“Right,” Nyota says faintly, remembering Kirk whisking McCoy off to his office for a “discussion,” and how he’d left less than five minutes later, his mouth pinched, his face set.
She remembers that McCoy didn’t go after him, that he’d just walked to the biobed where Nyota was, Spock hovering over her, and quietly checked her readings, making sure she was fine before he discharged her.
McCoy breaks the silence, asking, “When that guard was talking to you—you said you were the leader of our group, didn’t you?”
Nyota looks him in the eye. “Did you really think I was going to do anything else?” she asks.
“I honestly don’t know why I did,” McCoy admits. “If I’d been in the same position, I’d have tried the same thing.” He’s quiet for a moment, then says, the raw honesty in his voice an echo of what happened in that cell, “Thank you. For picking me instead of him.”
She looks at him and says tiredly, “This isn’t the sort of thing I accept thanks for, you know.” No matter what spin they put on it now, no matter what they end up writing in their reports for Starfleet—she’d led McCoy to his death, not to mention her own, and even if she done it because there was no other alternative to live with—she’d still done it.
“I know,” McCoy says gently. “But you’ve got my thanks, all the same.”