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It's the Grammar of Skin (peel it back, let me in)

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Warnings: Aliens made them do it (they really kind of wanted to anyway). Minor character death.
Summary: In the tense aftermath of the Narada, Spock and Uhura break things off. Kirk may possibly object to this a little (or a lot). Then there's the standard away mission of doom that changes everything.

 

Spock breaks things off with Uhura while she's in the middle of packing Gaila's toy collection into a plain brown packing box with no label and no destination. Gaila didn't-- hadn't claimed a family at all in her personnel file and that meant no one was there to argue with Uhura picking up her things de facto and... whatever.

If it were any other time but this one-- any time at all then this moment when Uhura has just finished tucking a ratty Terran teddy bear and a genuine article mold of an erect Andorian male together into one last pathetically small box, things might have been different.

Now, though, when Spock walks into the room and looks at her with a studied non-expression that she hasn't had directed at her since she was just another first year cadet in his introductory xeno-linguistics class, and says, "I believe it is my duty to my species to resign my commission and accompany them to the colony," she just looks at him right back and can't think of anything to say.

She doesn't know what's in her face, but his non-expression shakes like it's taken a hit, even if it doesn't crack open. "Nyota," he says, in a softer voice. "It is not that I have ever been in any way dissatisfied. On the contrary, in all ways our association has been--"

"Don't," she interrupts. "I understand and accept your logic. Don't." Abstractly, she does and she tries to let that show. He's lost a world. He's lost a mother. She wouldn't know about mothers herself, her own parents were caught in a shuttle malfunction over the Cape of Good Hope when she was six months old, too young to know better. She can't imagine what losing her grandmother would be like, though.

In the abstract, she understands.

Abstractions aren't really doing it for her now, though, so she adds, "Go, if you're going. Just go," while he's watching her from under a cloud of impassive silence.

He nods once, just a tilt of head and a bend of neck, like a robot. Like he's never tipped his head back all the way and let her lick the line of his throat. Never looked at her with that careful, relentless attention that made her feel like there was nothing but them. Never traded books on warp mechanics for books on theoretical grammar or read out loud over breakfast.

"I hope our acquaintance will not falter even if distance parts us," he murmurs.

She makes a sound that could be a laugh but comes out more like a sob. "Yeah," she says. "Sure. Don't be a stranger." It's pure, blatant impulse that makes her reach out and take one of his hands. He shivers visibly at the touch and tightens his grip in return for just a second, but it seems like a long time. His eyes are so dark and so dry. Vulcans, she knows, don't cry, but he's only half a Vulcan.

"Be well," he says. When he pulls away she lets him go.

Any other day, she would have fought. It's just that today she's so damned tired, she barely remembers how. She goes back to packing, stiff and mechanical, like she'd never been interrupted.

When Jim Kirk walks in it might be minutes later, or hours. She's still got both hands on the sealed box of Gaila's things. He coughs once to get her attention and when she turns to look at him his eyes are red rimmed and pink around the blue iris.

"I saw her name on the list," he says. He sounds hoarse, like his throat hasn't gotten over however many people tried to choke the life out of him over these last nightmare days. Either that or he's been crying too. "I thought... wow, this is stupid, but I thought it had to be some kind of screw up, right? Like. I'd come here and here she'd be. And she'd make fun of me for believing the fucking dead list. I mean, the lists they put out are always so full of these insane typos and--"

"Jim," Uhura says, sharp enough that his mouth slams shut and his spine straightens to visible attention. "Stop it."

He nods. Lingers in the doorway for a second and then swallows hard and steps in. She can't take her eyes off his face the whole time. He looks like he might cry at any second. "Sorry. I'm sorry. Those are her things, right?" he whispers. "It's... she's... yeah."

"Yeah, she is," Uhura agrees. She holds out one hand and waits for him to come close enough to take it. She puts his on the last box, the one with the toys. "I'm sorry too. I'm just getting these ready to... actually, never mind, here," she says and thrusts the box at him. "She'd want you to have this."

He sways on his feet and then just about collapses on his knees next to her. "Oh, yeah, wow. Thanks," he mumbles. He doesn't say anything else, just stays there with her for a long time letting her listen to him breathe. Neither of them really move at all until his communicator chimes at him and he says something barely coherent about having to go. Debriefing, maybe.

He walks out the door with the small, too full box of Gaila's things tucked under one shoulder. He sways like he's drunk or wishes he were.

Somehow, Uhura isn't surprised at all when about two hours after they give him Enterprise she's offered the berth as head of Communications. There was a time she wouldn't have taken it, not if it meant serving under him, but that time's been over a while.

\

She's been on Enterprise for a month before she talks to Spock again outside of the bridge. It feels petty and stupid, not talking.

She'd been so ridiculously happy to see him when he'd first walked onto the bridge, know he was here after all, on this ship after all. She still feels lighter when her eyes rest on him and he looks back. It's only, every time when she goes to talk to him she remembers Gaila and that stupid, pathetic box and that's all she can see. She can't come to him, not thinking like that, not yet. Maybe never. He doesn't come to her either, though, so there's no point blaming herself. It is what it is.

It is what it is until they reach Dergonda, a small, dusty moon orbiting a gas giant that's the home of a people whose language defies machine translation.

"It's a hell of an opportunity," Jim tells her, hands tapping against his desk in his ready room, blue eyes narrow with excitement. The pull is magnetic, she couldn't have looked away no matter what he was saying. "If our universal translators are stumped by it, there's no reason the Klingons or the Romulans will have any better luck-- the base software is the same on all of them. An unlearnable language-- it's got the potential to be an unbreakable code."

Uhura grins at him, feeling the challenge of his gaze. "An unlearnable language, right? Let me guess. You want me to learn it."

"Well enough to see if we can get these people to help us, yeah." His return grin is beatific, gorgeous. "Think you can do it?"

She snorts and tosses her hair. "I'd say so, Captain."

He stands up, pleased expression firmly on his face. "Great. I'll expect you in the transporter room at 1800 hours. You, Spock and I are going down there." He doesn't give her a chance to ask why the hell Spock is along for this one too-- three senior bridge officers on one away team. He interrupts before she gets a word out. "Whatever the thing is between you two, I'm expecting you to deal with it. It's really starting to grate on the bridge. Also my nerves. Got it, Lieutenant?"

She glares at his back. "I hear you, sir," she snaps, but it's to his departing back. It's no surprise he noticed-- living on a starship is too much like living at a boarding school. Groups are small and everyone is in everyone else's business. Avoiding a fellow member of the bridge crew, that had taken some doing, and a lot of help from Spock.

Knowing that doesn't make her feel a damn bit better. When she sees him, it's still Gaila and those empty Academy halls she remembers. God alone knows what Spock sees when he looks at her.

\

Dergonda is a small world with only one of its three continents currently sustaining higher life forms. These are mostly concentrated in a broad, river fed open plain that leads to what looks like significantly more cultural uniformity than would normally be expected in a pre-space civilization. They're an attractive people by Terran standards and she can only assume the reverse is true. Tall, bipedal, with wide, glistening eyes and smooth skin several shades darker than her own.

Even so, with all the ways they should be uniform, the Dergondian language groups are the strangest puzzle Uhura has ever seen. Enough to distract her from everything else, even Spock ignoring her and Kirk glaring at her when he catches her ignoring him back. She's half tempted to scream at him, if you want to make him happy so much, you fuck him, but she's got better things to worry about. Anyway, this is Jim Kirk. He might actually do it,

The thing she quickly realizes from a basic structural run down and a series of face to face meetings-- mostly mediated by gestures-- with what have to be the local leaders, is that there isn't one Dergondian language group. Doesn't matter how small the population range and how free travel is. There are four, at least, and of those, the one that they seem to think of as 'children's' tongue' is the only one she thinks might follow the 'rules' of languages she'd dealt with enough to be subject to machine translation.

Even that takes the better part of two weeks of tweaking with the enthusiastic cooperation of the locals. As far as she can tell, they want to speak to her almost as much as she does to them. It's not like she minds the work anyway, or the company, full of visible enthusiasm for the project for all their mutual incomprehension.

While Uhura works, Jim makes friends with all the available children like he's playing at overenthusiastic puppy for all he's worth, and Spock just watches. Uhura's not even sure if he's watching her or watching Jim, just that every time she turns around he seems to be in the background somewhere, steady and still in his perfectly pressed uniform. Eyes dark and quiet and fixed on either her or the Captain.

The worst is when Jim, a pack of giggling little Dergondian kids (funny, giggling seems to translate just fine) at his heels, turns up with a chain of something that really looks like Terran daisies, all wound up together. "A crown for a princess among communications officers," he says and she laughs at him despite everything. He grins back and his eyes are so blue against the dusty red sky. Maybe he reminds her a little of Gaila too, but of Gaila alive and vivid, laughing. Gaila had always said that this was the one boy who made her laugh no matter what.

Uhura ducks down and lets Jim Kirk crown her with daisies and smiles right back at him until he runs away grinning like a maniac, all vivid blue and suntanned skin. She doesn't even think to look for Spock until Jim's gone, out of sight if not out of earshot. When she does, Spock is looking right at her, something in his face that she thinks she should recognize, but she can't.

Whenever their eyes meet, she's the one who looks away first. When she looks up again she sees his back, disappearing over the hill, in the same direction as Jim. She almost stands up to follow them, is so close to it.

It's a full standard week before the translator can take the children's tongue and spit out something even semi-coherent. When they can finally speak to her, she learns that the woman she's been dealing with the most is clan elder Anata, who is most honored to be acquainted with a scholar from another world.

"You're a fortunate woman, lucky in love," the clan elder tells her and smiles beatifically, showing off bare, gleaming gums. "A man like the noon sun and a man like the pale stars and both belong to you."

Uhura's smile pulls thin and she starts to shake her head. "Neither of them are mine," she says, "But I thank you."

The elder pats her arm lightly and makes a clicking sound Uhura's begun to recognize as the adult's version of amusement. "So you say, but they follow you and each other, with eyes and with... other parts," she croons. "It seems like stubbornness to me to think elsewise. Don't worry, I will assist you."

One of the first things you learn in the Academy is that just because other cultures have analogous elements to yours doesn't mean they're at all the same. Forgetting that is Uhura's first and biggest mistake. The other one isn't really her fault -- alien aphrodisiacs are about one hundred times less common than holonovels would have people back on Terra believe. Rare enough that no one really believes in them, not until they're happening to you.

Uhura has no idea anything is wrong until she's smack dab in the middle of the festival their hosts throw in honor of breaking that first translation barrier. She and Jim and Spock are all seated at the same table and Anata presents them with a bowl of sweet liquid that the tricorders confirm is more than palatable to Human and Vulcan digestive systems. It never occurs to her not to drink, she's sure it would be rude to refuse.

She starts to feel warm a little while later, but this planet is often warm and she doesn't think anything of it. Kirk looks flushed, like he feels it too, pale skin gone pink under his collar and sweat visible on his forehead. Spock is impassive at first, but even he seems to wilt after a while, like he's too warm, which is more than surprising. Vulcan is... was a desert planet. The heat would have to be appalling to make Spock twitch and loosen his collar and it's not really that bad.

By then she's getting so foggy that she's not really sure it's a problem and in the meantime Anata brings her more of that sweet stuff and somehow she keeps drinking it even after Jim and Spock slow down. It's just so good, nice and cool while her skin is warmer and warmer and she starts to think it would be really better if she could strip her dress off and... something.

Jim's eyes are really very blue and Spock's are... he's Spock. She's sure they can help her with her something. Especially when her skin starts to tingle, warm and tight and hungry. God, all the sudden she's so hungry, and she's at this table with a full meal in front of her and she forgets why it was she wasn't just... just taking it.

"Come away with me," she tells them.

She doesn't remember leaving the festival other than a faded impression of laughter and heat, Spock pressed in close on one side and Jim on the other, all of them falling into each other, unsteady but somehow staying on their feet. Balancing each other.

Somewhere there's a house with clean white walls and a big, soft bed. She doesn't recognize it, but Jim seems to, so it's probably wherever they've had him quartered. He gets them all onto the bed without too much staggering and Uhura collapses, giggling, face first into the comforter.

A second later there's a soft plop to either side of her. She can feel the difference between them easily-- Spock is so warm, like a furnace on a hazy San Fransisco afternoon. He smells familiar too, the heady, coopery scent, not quite human. He's so stiff even now, but she can smell the heat of him, what would be sweat if he were human, and feel the faint beginning of the shakes when she's as close to him as she is now. He doesn't close the distance, but he stares at her like he could never stop, never look away.

Jim is all too human, elbows and laughter and he touches her easily, a hand on her arm, sliding up her shoulder. "Hey," he whispers. "Do you feel weird? Cause I feel really weird." His eyes are wide, confused, and he's pink all the way down to his neck, like he's drunk as hell and flush with it. Uhura wants to touch his face more than she's ever wanted anything in her life, she's sure of that in this second.

Doesn't even want to, she needs it. She's starved for it, core deep and growling. She does it-- reaches out with a shaky hand, fingers splayed on his cheek. It's as warm to the touch as it looks. He moans, low and deep.

It's Spock who growls, low and unsteady. A new sound from him, one she's never heard and makes her turn away from what she's doing just to stare. Fascinated. Jim's breathing is heavy in her ear.

"I believe we are feeling the effect of some foreign substance," Spock says, slow and formal, tone at odds from his expression.

"Yeah," she says. She can't help a laugh, because the look— the look on his face. "State the obvious--" She doesn't finish her sentence. His hands are unfathomably solid and totally relentless and when he takes her by the shoulders and reels her in.

His mouth tastes cool and strange, like that drink they'd all had, but he's still Spock and he remembers too well exactly how she likes to be kissed. Wet and steady, hands on her skin, palm to cheek. "Nyota," he whispers into her mouth and she just laughs, crazy, emotional, in the way that makes him watch her so hard, like he's not sure whether he wants to look embarrassed or fall down on his knees. "I have felt your absence."

"Spock," she says back and claims a kiss of her own. She doesn't say anything else, doesn't say, you fucker, never do this to me again. Definitely doesn't say, I forgive you. She's too hungry, all she knows is hungry, all she wants is his hands-- on her face, up her skirt, touching and pressing like it's critically important that no inch of skin feel neglected. Like she has his complete, undying attention, heavy and sweet and she's missed it, she didn't even know how much.

She loses track of things, a haze of the cool drug and his hot skin. Half way comes to some point later with her dress bunched around her waist and the rough sound of someone breathing in her ear. Turns her head and there's Jim, those wide blue eyes, pretty as a china doll. Flushed pink skin over smooth muscle. Pink mouth, lips a little bit parted, panting. He's got a hand on his cock, wrapped tight, but his eyes are all for them, like he couldn't look away if you killed him.

Spock's hands tighten around her ass, pushing in hard enough to make her whimper, but she can't take her eyes off of Jim, not even when she wraps her legs around Spock's legs and moves against him, angling for more and harder and right the fuck there.

"You're over there," she says, voice coming out rough and low and caught. She doesn't know why she also sounds surprised. "Come over here."

Jim makes a sound that isn't words and shakes his head like he has no idea what he's doing. Long pretty fingers slide up and down over that long pretty cock, flushed as the rest of him. She thinks she'll have to do something, have to keep it together long enough to grab him, but Spock does it first. Just reaches out past her and peels that hand loose with slow, unrelenting deliberation.

The noise Jim makes for that is even better, low and anguished, but he comes closer like he can't help it when Spock reels him. Jim's skin is sweaty slick but still cooler than Spock's when he's pulled up taut against her back. She moans at the press of his dick, sticky-hard against her ass.

He doesn't push it in, though she can't remember why he wouldn't, not right then. Just shivers against her, thrusting against skin like a teenage boy. His rhythm is jerky, rough, compared to the smooth, steady push of Spock inside her. She wants to kiss him, to see what those sounds he's making taste like, but Spock beats her to it again, chin pressed against her shoulder so she can't even see, goddamnit, can just hear the sound of it, wet and sloppy-slick. More of those lost little sounds.

She pushes back until Spock finally, finally moves aside, and then it's just a matter of craning her neck so she can get at it too, at Jim's mouth, so red and shiny, lips still parted. He looks like candy, tastes of liquor and spit and human blood, like something's bitten him. Spock, of course. She whimpers. Barely feels the sudden sharp motion of Spock's hips, until the wave of his pleasure hits her, the best part of fucking a telepath, the way you just know how much they like it when it's like this, skin to skin.

They've always wanted the same things, her and Spock, or so close the difference hardly matters. Always, so it's no surprise that he pulls out of her after and takes Jim by the hips to move him closer, those long, weirdly delicate looking fingers leaving bright red marks that will bruise fair skin.

Takes him by the dick, hand wrapped around the base and Uhura couldn't have taken her eyes off that if she were dying. Keeps them wide open, even when she's biting back a moan. Can't help it, because Spock's guiding Jim inside her with his steady hands, one on Jim's cock, the other splayed on Jim's hip. And she's got those huge blue eyes staring right back at her, like Jim can't see anything else either.

"Does that please you?" Spock whispers, sly and too damn cool, like he's speaking to both of them at once. It makes Uhura want to glare but she loses her grip on the thought when Spock pushes Jim's body again and makes him go deeper into her with one steady stroke. All the way until she can feel the brush of his balls. She moans.

"Fuck you, you smug fucker, I can do my own fucking without Vulcan hand directions or whatever," Jim mumbles, like he isn't shaking so hard Uhura can feel it. Feel it like she feels Spock's thoughts, thick lust and low amusement. Pleasure. Beautiful.

"So do it, show us what you've got," she says and she arches forward to kiss Jim again, hard and rough, and then Spock afterward, softer, slower. Jim makes a sound that could be laugh or sob and he follows orders like a good boy.

She wants, she wants, all she is burns up in wanting, and then Spock slides down, down, until he's eye level with their hips, mouth pressed where their bodies are joined. She must scream, because someone does, and fuck if that isn't Spock's tongue brushing over and against her, right there where she's already so crazy sensitive it's all overload. Then he moves and she can feel Jim shiver inside her and against her, knows that tongue's on him.

She comes hard, in waves, and like a warp cycle gone crazy. She doesn't think she's ever been as grateful to anyone as she is to the Dergondians, but at the same time she's pretty sure she'll hate them all in the morning.

\

When she wakes up there's a combination of bright yellow light from the sun and the hazy red of the gas giant this world orbits. Her head feels like a photon cut clean through it and her mouth tastes of stuffy sickness.

Spock's still in the bed with her, not touching now, just curled up on one side, close enough to the edge that a little push would send him over. She rubs her eyes and looks blearily around just in time to catch Jim closing the fastening on his boots.

He still looks disheveled, mouth swollen and bitten, like someone fucked hard and put away wet. His eyes are red veined and he gives her a faint, careless smile when he catches her looking. "So awkward, right?" he mouths at her. "I mean... you guys should just forget I was here." Like it's this big inconvenience to have to stick around long enough to figure out what's going on.

"Yeah, that's likely," she says out loud, her voice coming out in a croak.

He shrugs. Scrubs a hand over his bruised, swollen face, the gesture too much like a worn out little kid's to let her stay as angry as she wants to be. "You have a good thing, you know that?" he says softly. "I'm not... I know you think I-- I'm not going to be the one to mess with that."

She makes a sound that isn't a laugh. "You're kind of an arrogant asshole, you know that?" She still doesn't feel angry.

He shrugs and stares at the floor. "I gotta be me," he mumbles. And then, when she starts to detangle herself from her sheets to stop him he holds out his hand with a sharp gesture and says, "Don't. Please."

She doesn't. It's probably the please that stops her.

Spock starts to move a little while later, hands fisting in the sheets. His eyes are wide when he stares at her, dark and still. It's an expression that passes as uncertainty for him, one she recognizes. "The Captain," he begins.

She shakes her head. "He thinks we have a good thing and he'd be in the way." She doesn't smile. He breathes in, once, sharply.

"Ah," he says. "Fascinating." He waits for a moment, but Uhura can't bring herself to fill the pause with words. "Is it your wish to resume our relationship? I do... I must admit it has been mine for some time, if you are willing."

She closes her eyes. "Let's get checked out for lingering effects of whatever-- I don't know, whatever that drink we had last night was first, okay?"

When she looks at him again, he's raised an eyebrow. "You hypothesize that the chemical we imbibed is responsible for my affection? I do not believe this to be accurate, in fact--"

"No," she cuts him off. "I'm just saying, I don't want to talk about it now. Ask me again later." She stops, just to breathe and then forces herself to smile at him, finally. He relaxes, so minutely she doesn't think anyone alive but a fellow Vulcan or herself would have noticed. Maybe Jim. Jim's not here. "I do mean that, I do want to talk about this. Just... later."

In the logs, the mission is recorded as successful. They have a way to communicate with the Dergondians and the beginnings of a treaty hammered out. The higher order languages defy translation still, she can't even begin to organize the syntax-- it would be a lifetime's study. But that just makes them perfect, the beginnings of a new, possibly unbreakable command code.

On the ship, nothing very much changes. Dr. McCoy grumbles and calls them a bunch of numskulls without the sense to get out of the rain, but he gives them the physical all clear.

She pretends to misunderstand when Spock offers to share quarters. She doesn't say not yet, but she hopes he can hear her thinking it. In the back of her mind she damn well knows Gaila would laugh at her for this, laugh so hard she'd collapse onto her bed and hold her belly.

"You humans, you're just ridiculous," Gaila would have said. "I've never seen anyone so scared of a little pleasure. What do you think's going to happen that's so bad if you just relax?"

What do you know? Uhura tells the Gaila in her head. You're dead and I have to figure this out by myself now.

Gaila doesn't have an answer for that, she just shakes her head.

Jim is the only one who carries on exactly like before, smiles just the same and gives the same slightly hurt, headshaking glances whenever he sees her and Spock acting cool toward each other, like it doesn't make a lick of sense to him.

Uhura doesn't understand him. Gaila, the real one, might have been able to explain it, but the phantom of her in Uhura's thoughts isn't enough to make sense of things, not really.

\

She doesn't plan anything, the rest just falls into place. On the ship, nothing changes. Off the ship-- oh, well, that's off the ship.

The first time they take shore leave after Dergonda, it's on Deep Space 4. They get drunk in a small cantina run by a grinning Ferengi who at least keeps his mouth shut when there are customers to serve. Well, she gets drunk, Jim acts drunk and Spock sits back and watches them like he's just biding his time.

Jim dances with a smiling Betazed girl with long black hair and a gentle expression. She turns that gentleness on Uhura when she gets tired of watching and steps onto the floor herself, coming a little too close, close enough to bump Jim's warm shoulder. She tells herself it's just clumsiness, she's just looking for a goddamned dance partner, that's all. Jim blinks at her, completely startled, like he had no idea she was watching him. She's always wondered if that startled innocence is a fake-- it can't be real, can it?

"Ah," the girl says when she sees Uhura. She looks so kind, so damned nice, that Uhura really just wants to smash a knuckle in her face. "Forgive me, dear. This one, I think, is yours?" She takes Jim by the shoulders and turns him, easily enough that it's obvious Jim is letting her manhandle him, if only because he's too surprised to protest.

Uhura should correct her, but she doesn't. She takes Jim's hands instead and he grips back, solid and tight. It's only a bare few moments later when Spock's hand, slim and too warm, falls heavily on her shoulder, the other resting on Jim's.

"I believe we should take advantage of this station's accommodations for the evening," he says.

She finds herself smiling at him.

That time sets the pattern, whose company they'll be looking for next shore leave. The whole crew must know, at least the bridge crew-- it's not that big of a ship-- but no one says anything much.

Other than Dr. McCoy, of course, who corners her in the turbo lift one ship's day after she and Spock had tied Jim's hands to the posts of a bed in the guest room of a colony governor's house. Tied him down and taken turns.

She can see something hard and tight in McCoy's expression and he doesn't twitch when he says, "I treated Jim for ligature marks a lot in the Academy. He had some really dangerous, fucked up habits."

She blinks, keeping her face impassive as she can. "Interesting tidbit," she hears herself say, like it's from a long distance away. "I'm not sure the Captain would want that shared."

McCoy glares at her. "If I wanted that attitude I'd be talking to the fucking hobgoblin. You're a human being, Nyota, act like it."

"What do you want me to say?" she demands, a edge coming into her voice. "Spit out a question if you're asking one."

He shakes his head. She can see his fists are clenched at his sides. "Don't play coy with me. I haven't seen anything like that type of injury from him since they gave him this ship. Combat injuries, hell yes. Imprisonment, unfriendly natives and what have you. Not--"

She blinks. "Wait," she interrupts quickly. "Are you saying he came to sickbay, that he was hurt?" It hadn't been rough, she'd have noticed if it had been rough. There was no way he'd have fooled her, fooled Spock, not both of them. Couldn't happen.

"No," McCoy snaps and she can breathe again. "He didn't come to sickbay. I saw the marks on his wrists anyway. I wanna know what the hell you're playing at, you and your green blooded boyfriend."

She laughs, hoarse and crooked sounding. She can see the second when McCoy flinches, startled. "Fuck you, Len," she says. "I don't have a boyfriend, not anymore, and I'm not the one who's playing a game." She's not sure if it's true or not, either fact, but she thinks it is.

McCoy's jaw tightens. "Just cause he's pretty and he smiles like it all bounces off," he begins, a growl in his voice. "That don't mean you can fuck around any way you want without it leaving a mark." She suddenly feels slow when she realizes what this conversation really is.

She shakes her head and finds herself smiling in a way she knows is geared to irritate. "You're an odd one, aren't you? I'm not out to hurt Jim, if that's what you want to hear."

McCoy makes a short, scoffing sound. He might have said more, but the lift door opens and she escapes into the corridor.
\

Two months later, on Risa, she almost puts that to the test. It Jim's idea, to be fair, the set up and the terms. It happens in the backroom of a seedy bar, something sticky on the bottom of Uhura's shoes she doesn't even want to think about.

She forgets that, forgets everything, even the faint, twisted stench of alien vomit and stale alcohol that's trapped in her nostrils. She forgets when Jim's naked and on his hands and knees on a rickety table, face buried between her legs. He moves like he's done this a thousand times before, sweet and clever tongue twisting just so.

She's got her hands in Jim's hair, soft and sweaty under her palms and when she pushes, he moves like it was his idea all along. Spock just watches at first, like he's waiting for something, heaven alone knows what. When he moves, he doesn't hesitate. Undoes his trousers just enough to pull out his cock. Not fully hard, but already flush and it fills when he strokes his own hand over it, once, twice, easy and mechanical, before stepping forward behind Jim.

Jim must have done something, though, god, she doesn't remember him opening himself up and fuck, she would have liked to see it. He must have though, because Spock pushes inside him easily, effortlessly and Jim's tongue barely skips a motion, gliding down her labia and sliding inside her. He moans when Spock takes him by the hips, the vibrations of the sound making her shiver.

She loses time like that, caught up in the sweetness of Jim's mouth on her and the shifting motions of his body when Spock thrusts in and out. The muffled sounds he makes. It's even better when Spock takes on hand off Jim's hip and reaches out to grab hers and she can feel him, like closing a circuit. The weight of Spock's mind, his hunger, how good it feels. How good Jim feels, tight and sweet around him. How beautiful she looks, sweat on her skin, free hand tangled in Jim's sticky honey brown hair. She doesn't last long after that, Spock's fingers clenched in hers, and she feels Spock's climax, from the brightness in his mind and from the stuttering motions vibrating through Jim's body.

After Jim's still shaking visibly, still agonizingly hard, cock pressed up against his belly, but his voice when he speaks comes out command firm, "Right. You can go now," he says. She's so used to listening when he takes that tone, to it being something vital, that she actually takes a step back and starts to straighten her dress before her mind catches up to what her body is doing.

Spock just raises an eyebrow that Jim can't see facing her but that makes her bite her lip and shake her head. "I do not think that would fulfill Nyota's desires at this time. I know it would not fulfill mine," he says.

"Pretend I care," Jim mumbles, but his eyes are closed and he looks tired-- his face is lax and painfully young, like a teenage boy. His body is anything but, visibly tense and hard, tight muscle, hips shifting and hands twitching.

"Fine," she says. "Let's pretend we care about you too." The heels of her boots make a sharp clicking sound when she steps forward, just a little and takes Jim's face between her palms. She kisses him, can't remember if she ever kissed him quite like this before, when he tasted so much of her. It feels good, better when he sighs and kisses back. His eyes are open for that, electric blue even in the dim room and so wide.

He goes tense when Spock steps up beside him and slips an arm around his waist before lifting him bodily. For a second Uhura thinks he's going to fight it physically or even just protest out loud and she holds her breath because wherever that goes, she doesn't think she wants to follow. He doesn't though, just sighs and goes limp and loose, like Spock's made the right call.

They move over to a ratty, overstuffed couch in the corner. It's stained with god knows what but it doesn't smell particularly strongly and Uhura sits down with barely a pause. Spock follows, spreading a terrifyingly pliant Jim over their legs.

She hesitates before touching him and in the end it's Jim who reaches out for someone's hand and ends up with both of theirs. Her fingers and Spock's tangled up with his. That's how they bring him off, tangled fingers around the length of his cock and it's awkward and messy and she can't imagine why the rhythm works, but from the look on Jim's face it's enough.

\

On the third continent of New Vulcan it's winter and this is not a real shore leave so she's not sure what to expect. She and Jim are in Spock's assigned quarters, pretending not to be drunk on smuggled in bourbon (he won't say who he got it from) and he's showing her how to improve on her paper airplane folding techniques. Spock is somewhere, discussing something scared and Vulcan to which no human can be privy without grave offense. What doesn't matter, they are here and not talking about it.

"And if you fold it here and bend the flap back, it will go at least another ten yards," Jim says, all broad enthusiasm that makes her grin. She nods along and tried to replicate what he's doing while he corrects her with his hands until they've got a plane that will sail all the way into either wall without twitching.

It must be hours before they both jump like their ears have been straining for it the whole time. The outer doors slide open and Spock strides in.

His movements are tight, efficient, perfectly controlled. There's no expression at all on his face. "Captain," he says. "Lieutenant." He doesn't look either of them in the eye. "I was not expecting your presence in my quarters at this time." Despite everything, he doesn't sound sorry to see them either.

Uhura's on her feet before she even has to think about it, arms wrapped around his shoulders. "Spock," she whispers, and she can feel the terrible, terrible tension in him, every muscle tight and frozen. "Where else would we be?"

She kisses his cheeks, his eye lids, his mouth, until he slowly, oh so slowly, starts to relax. Enough that she can guide him by the hand to where Jim is sitting, arms wrapped around his stomach and waiting, watching.

"I can--" Jim starts to say, but she cuts him off before he can finish.

"If you say that you can leave us alone, I won't be responsible for the damage," she hisses. Anyway, the point is moot. Spock grabs him by the wrist, hard enough she can see the flinch even though Jim tries to hide it.

"You should stay," Spock says and his voice is still cold, toneless, even when the rest of him is anything but. Jim waits just a beat, a fraction of a second, before he nods. Just once, tightly, and then he wraps his free arm around Spock's shoulder and holds on hard.

"I'd like that," he says. When Spock releases his wrist he wraps the other arm around her, pulling her close, flush and warm against their bodies.

They curl up under the cover on Spock's narrow bed, bodies still fully clothed and pressed into each other because that's the only way that there's enough space. One of them could move, but Uhura thinks she'd rather kill than let that happen, not now.

Right now, they're in this together.

\

On a small, obscure planet called Kuaratoa by its inhabitants, it all almost ends. It's the infamous Jim Kirk luck, hitting them from both directions.

Later, command will pick things apart. Spock and Jim will spread out maps, tactics, talk about chain of command and mission leaks and figure out what went wrong. At the time it all happens so damn fast all she can do is hold on for the ride.

She's got the comm when it starts and it's like the beginning of a nightmare. The away team-- Spock and Jim with it-- disappeared from their sensor readings. Later, they'll tell her it was the Klingons, that they'd been in contact with Kuaratoa for years, a secret treaty long in place. That it's a clusterfuck failure of intelligence that has the Enterprise there at all.

At the time, she only knows that they're gone and she can't find them. That and that she has a ship under her hands with the bridge crew looking at her like she's supposed to have the answers. She's never envied Jim his command and if he was here now she'd shove it back at him so fast--

He's not. She sits down in the damned chair, stiff, knees bent, eyes forward. "If you can't find the away team, tell me what you can find," she tells Chekov, who just looks at her with those big cartoon eyes of his. "Something is anomalous on that planet," she says. "Tell me what it is and that will be our place to start." He nods.

The sensor sweep is how they find the lifeforms that don't match up with the readings from the planetary natives. They are a pretty direct match for Klingon life signs, though. Once they know what they're looking for, finding the powered down Warbirds hidden behind gas giant fifth planet in this system isn't hard.

They move to full alert and just in time. The lifeform readings on the planet disappear-- beamed out, if she had to guess, and the enemy ships power up. "Shields at maximum," she orders and doesn't take a second to close her eyes. "Emergency distress call on encrypted channels to all Star Fleet vessels." It will be at least an hour, maybe two, before another ship gets here, but she's trained for this. Every damn cadet in the Academy is trained for this and she's less than two years away from that training.

This is no Kobayashi Maru, Uhura cannot allow herself doubts or the possibility of failure. She's got her hands resting on the sides of Jim's chair and she looks straight ahead when the Klingon's hail them.

The Klingon commander is a tall man with bad teeth and a wide smile that shows them all off. She returns that smile, stretched thin. Doesn't twitch when he gestures to the side and there's Jim hanging by the wrists and looking barely alive. His body is shaking and his eyes are wide open but they don't focus on her or anything else. When the Klingon behind him pushes him he screams and she gets a glimpse of his bare, flayed open back. She doesn't move. It hurts not to move, just to look, but she does it.

On the other side is Spock, cuffed, tied down, limbs bleeding from fighting the bonds, nothing but pure rage in his expression. Their eyes meet and she manages to keep it to just the smallest, barest nod.

The Klingon keeps smiling. "There's no point fighting us, Star Fleet. We have obtained the command codes from your Captain and can shut down your shields and weapon systems at any time. Surrender now."

Uhura's smile widens, just a bit. "Really?" she says. "Interesting. I don't believe you."

The Klingon is unphased, pleased with himself. She plans the ways she's going to make him pay for this, whatever parts of him Spock leaves for her. Then he inputs something into his computer system, probably whatever code he thinks he got from Jim.

"Activate this," he orders Spock. "And I'll spare as many lives as I can." Spock meets her eyes. His glitter, rage and purposefulness, like he knows exactly what he's doing. She nods, just once, and then he speaks, a low voice, throaty from screaming.

It's a Dergondian set phrase, their new override codes, like this is a test run. It works perfectly in conjunction with the inputs in the Warbird's computers. Uhura just has a glimpse of the look on the Klingon commander's face before the communication goes fuzzy and shuts off.

"Lieutenant!" Chekov reports, eyes still Bambi wide and confused. "Sensors show the lead Warbird has powered down to minimal. All shields and weapons systems are down."

Uhura allows herself a real smile. "Shouldn't have played with those codes Jim gave them," she says. "Stupid fuckers." Then she stiffens. There are two more ships to deal with.

She turns in her chair to a quiet, red haired Ensign, not part of the essential bridge crew. The hair, if not the skin or the silence, that could be Gaila's. "Ensign Ryan," she says. "You're highly rated with transporter technology. Why don't you see if you can get us back our Captain and Commander Spock?" The woman nods once and then runs.

After that, there's no more time. Uhura grips the sides of her-- of Jim's chair and runs through every tactical maneuver she's got. She doesn't know how long it is before the bridge doors open and there's a hand on her shoulder, solid and tight. "Commander Spock on the bridge," one of the Ensigns announces, a minute too late. Uhura takes just a second to look at him, drink him in. There are green bruises and cuts on his face, but he moves freely, like he's not badly hurt at all.

His expression is another story. There's nothing there. Even she can't read anything there, just stillness. A machine or the walking dead. Her heart seizes, just for a moment, before she feels the brush of his mind against hers when they touch.

At first she can't even navigate through the layers of rage and fear, so barely suppressed it's a wonder he isn't screaming. Finally, though, there are words. Relief. He lives and will live. He is in sickbay. Spock doesn't say how badly hurt Jim is and Uhura doesn't ask. Jim isn't on the bridge, that's answer enough.

By the time the Farragut, rebuilt with state of the art weapons systems on line, and the Hadrian, the heaviest cruiser in the Fleet, arrive, they have two dead Warbirds and one crippled one. They're alive. Fuck, they've taken damage, but they'll be able to come away under their own power.

She and Spock don't consult each other, they both already know where they need to go when the ship stands down from full alert.

In sickbay it's the usual post-engagement pandemonium. McCoy is in the center of it, shouting orders at the scrambling doctors and nurses as they triage the casualties. He spares them a glance and says, "His condition isn't critical, but he's not going anywhere. There's neural damage." He points them toward a curtained off area with his chin.

"Neural damage?" she hears herself ask, soft, so softly.

Spock looks away. "They used a nerve flayer to induce maximum pain. When the Captain was uncooperative they continued to... the settings were far beyond safe specifications for Terran humans," he answers, just as softly.

Uhura doesn't shake. Her fists are bunched up at her sides. "Why the hell would he let it go that far? He gave them a booby trapped code anyway."

"He thought that it would increase the veracity of his confession if he... his words were 'made them work for it'. It was a logical plan." Spock's face is still and she doesn't ask how hard he fought Jim on his 'logical plan' or how Jim maneuvered him into accepting it anyway. Motherfucker.

They don't talk about it more, because behind the curtain is Jim, huddled in a biobed. He's conscious-- at least his eyes are open, but they don't seem focused. Drugged to the gills on painkillers, of course. This is Jim, so Uhura recognizes that expression all too well.

He blinks and tries to sit up, eyes narrowing as if that's going to focus his vision better when he sees them. "Hey," he whispers, voice bleary, decimated sounding. "You guys saved my ship, huh? Cool."

She smiles, she can't help it, and settles in one side of the biobed, Spock looming behind her with his perfectly pressed facade just starting to show cracks. "I think you had something to do with it, Captain," she says. She can't even yell it him for being an idiot. His face is a sickly white under the bruises and tan, like the painkillers aren't really completely effective. A nerve flayer would do that... turn his pain receptors to overdrive. Make it so he couldn't feel anything but pain.

She's afraid to touch him, if his body will read even that as more hurt. He gives her a smile despite whatever he's feeling and then turns it up on Spock. "You guys look like you're... at a funeral," he murmurs. "Don't gotta, Bones promised I was gonna live, 'kay?"

She reaches out and stops, one hand hovering just over the skin of his face. "You'd better," she says and just lets her palm rest there, in the air. "We actually like having you around, it keeps things exciting."

He smirks half heartedly presses his filthy, sweaty blood stained forehead against her hand like he's taking comfort instead of giving it. "It's okay, Lieutenant. Commander," he whispers. "We're all gonna be good." They just sit like that in silence until one of the nurses boils in and raises the dose of the painmeds high enough to send him spiraling into an unconsciousness that has to be a relief.

It's only then that she and Spock look at each other. Spock's face is a grayish-green. Exhaustion, an adrenaline well run dry. She knows the feeling. What he says is, "You have... great affection for the Captain."

She smiles helplessly. "You don't?" she asks.

He shrugs, like it doesn't matter. "At one time, we spoke of resuming our association, you and I. At that time you did not wish... I wonder if perhaps that was because you would prefer a different association?"

She can't help the laugh the spills out. Too loud and too sharp. Lucky Jim's too drugged up to wake and hear it. "Are you asking if I love him more than you? Because that's not true."

He looks away, down at the bed, at Jim's lax, empty face. He's the one that reaches out to touch this time, just a graze of knuckles over a clean, unbruised spot on Jim's cheek. "But you do... you do wish..."

"I want him to be in this thing we have, yeah," she says, because she's too damned tired to pussy foot around with this kind of... whatever it is Spock's playing at... one second longer. "Don't you?"

Spock's shoulders slump, almost imperceptibly. "Ah," he says. "Then we are in accord." He hesitates for just a second and then he's there. Stiff and awkward, smelling of blood and pain-- his and Jim's both-- but he's got his arms wrapped around her and she shudders once, hard, and then relaxes against him.

She's pretty sure Gaila would approve, now it's just going to be about convincing Jim.

\

They limp into the Deep Space Five shipyard with a crippled ship and a crippled Captain. The only good news is that both are fixable. The bad news is that it will take time and pain, and they never have enough of the first and are mired so deep in the second it makes Uhura want to kill something too much of the time.

"We're all ordered to take a mandatory leave of three months while the Enterprise is being repaired and refitted," Jim tells the bridge crew. The briefing is held in sickbay, complete with a grumbling Dr. McCoy complaining about the masses of healthy people in his space.

No one wants to discuss the reason they haven't got no choice but to hold it here-- McCoy would have Jim cuffed to his biobed to keep him from leaving if he were capable of standing up long enough to get out of it. He's really not-- Uhura has had the agonizing experience of watching him try, shaking and white with pain until he satisfied himself that it was physically impossible for him to carry his own weight. Even sitting straight has him shaking-- fine tremors she wouldn't have seen if she weren't watching so closely. It doesn't show in his face, just everywhere else.

"You all have been astonishing, amazing and the pace has been relentless," he says and smiles at them like it doesn't hurt at all. She wonders who it's fooling. She can cross herself, Spock and McCoy off the list, but the others are doing an excellent job of faking it if they feel it. Jim finishes by saying, "And you deserve the rest. Take advantage of it. Don't do anything I wouldn't." His smile is white-toothed and sweet and he gives two thumbs up.

When sickbay mostly empties out, just her and Spock because there's no way McCoy can glare them away, Jim almost collapses down onto the bed. Curled up tight around himself, like he's trying to breath through pain. She doesn't wince, doesn't yell at him for the pathetic act of bravado working through his hurt must have been. McCoy's there for that.

"Fuck, it hurts. I don't know what's wrong with me," Jim mutters to McCoy when the man slides in next to him with a hypospray.

"Want the short list or the long?" McCoy says, without batting an eye.

Jim doesn't even crack a smile, but he does reach out with one hand, like he's grabbing at someone. She's not exactly sure it's her, but she steps forward and takes his hand anyway. He tilts his head back and sighs. "Hey, Nyota," he whispers, and whatever McCoy just dosed him with is hitting him fast. "Why'n't you stay?" In the time it takes her to brush back a messy lock of hair from his forehead, he's out. It's a relief.

"Don't even worry about it, Jimmy," she murmurs, even though he probably can't hear her anymore. Spock can, she knows that, could with his Vulcan ears, even if he weren't just about on top of her, right out of range of Jim's hand.

McCoy's not even pretending not to. "I hope you mean that," he says. "Because I won't release him from medical supervision for leave unless it's into someone custody." McCoy sounds as tired as she feels, worn threadbare. "Neural tissue regeneration is no joke and it's slow fucking business. You've seen that."

"Custody? The Captain is fully adult and of the age of responsibility," Spock says smoothly. Uhura almost snorts, but manages to hold it back.

"Of course we won't let him hurt himself, McCoy," she says. Her hand is still on Jim's forehead, but she can't seem to summon the energy to slide it off.

McCoy makes a scoffing noise and turns away, tucking the hypo into a drawer with more care than it should require. "Yeah, good luck with that," he mutters. "Our Commander here did a great job bringing him back in this kind of shape." Then he turns back around and his eyes are steady-serious, skin tight around them. He looks like he's tired of the whole thing, but not as tired as Jim. Jim's eyelids are blue and fragile looking, tight with pain even when he's drugged to the knockout point.

Suddenly she's just... she can't even put it into words. She decides it's just that she's really sick of the doctor. It comes on so fast she doesn't even think about it, the emotion just spills right out. "Well, you did a really good job with him yourself," she snaps out. "You damn well know if you keep him in sickbay long enough for the neural regeneration to be completed he'll be-- well, I don't know if what's left of the ship will survive the escape attempt. Pardon me if I think we can do better." Fuck the ship. She doesn't think Jim could survive an escape attempt, no more than he could avoid trying to make one if he's stuck here for long.

"Nyota," Spock says, cutting in for the first time-- fuck him it's about time. She can taste his unease, but at least that's something. "The Doctor is not suggesting that your affections for the Captain are in any way--"

McCoy doesn't let him finish, just bursts out into low, rough guffaws of laughter. Claps when Uhura glares at him, a lazy, irritating gesture that makes her palms itch to slap him, especially when he slides in on the other side of Jim's biobed. "Not suggesting it anymore, no. What do you know, you just might give a damn, Miss Uhura," he drawls. Then he narrows his eyes at Spock. "The hobgoblin I'm not so sure of."

Uhura doesn't spare him another glance, the temper passed as quickly as it had come on. "No one thinks you're funny, Lenny, you xenophobic fuckwad," she murmurs. No one but Jim, anyway, and his bad taste is legendary. She rests her fingers back down against Jim's cheek, feeling the motions as he breaths. If he were conscious he'd probably be throwing paper airplanes made out of requisition forms at someone's head about now.

"I don't have to think, I know I am," McCoy tells her, and she can feel him watching her even if she doesn't care to watch back. "I'll say this, if he were a Jenny instead of a Jimmy, you would never have had the chance--"

Spock's voice is louder this time, cutting right through everything. "Doctor," he says. "Lieutenant. He will not recover more quickly merely because you increase the decibel count and emotional fervor of your conversation. It is illogical to behave in this manner."

"Fucking hobgoblin," McCoy mutters and raises his hairy eyebrows when Uhura glares at him from out of the corner of her eye.

It's not funny at all. No one but Jim would think so. She manages to stifle the laugh by not meeting McCoy's eyes but when he reaches out across Jim's unconscious body to take her hand, she grabs right on back while Spock stands behind her, warm and solid, like the ground under her feet.

"He's going to be fine, McCoy," she says. "We'll take care of him."

His mouth quirks, but his grip on her hand tightens. "You and your non-existent medical degree would know, I guess," he says.

Then she does laugh, helplessly. Spock takes the last step forward and rests both hands on her shoulders while Jim breathes on, drugged and oblivious, missing the fuss he'd probably despise
.
\

They take shore leave on the water moon that Deep Space five orbits, designation Io Theta. The landmasses are scattered, really just sandy stretches of island afloat on blue, blue oceans, endless and warm. No higher life ever developed here and even most of the plant life is Terran in origin. Leafy palms and soft ferns. Pine trees digging their roots into the salty, sandy earth.

Spock requisitions them a house on the shore of one of the equatorial islands. It's not much to look at from the outside, standard gunmetal gray, but inside it's modern and sharp edged, with the latest medical replicator tech and a communications array powerful enough to cross the galaxy. Only the furniture is soft, a worn looking couch with fat cushions and equally fat chairs. A bed, just one, but large enough to host the entire bridge crew if they're friendly enough, in a room with wide, screened windows that over look the ocean on all sides.

By the time they get there Jim's mostly moving on his own power, though the strict medical instructions are not to let him do that for more than fifteen minutes at a time and hypo the dumbass if he tried. He doesn't make them hypo him this time, just plops down on the couch, curls his knees to his stomach and stretches his arms out in front of himself.

"It's on a beach. Awesome," Jim says and gives it and them a bleary, drug blown smile. "I love beaches, thank you." Then he leans back, closes his eyes and falls asleep right away like a cat stretched in a pool of sunlight.

"Fascinating," Spock says and he's got his little near smile on. Then he wanders over to a closet stuffed with linen – Uhura doesn't ask how he knows it was there, he probably has the floor plan filed in his head for reference. He pulls out a thin looking white blanket and tucks it around Jim.

Jim smiles in his sleep and his face relaxes. For the first time in a while there isn't tension in his skin, or barely suppressed pain, like whatever's had him in its grip has healed enough to let the painkillers do their work.

"Just looking at him makes me tired," Uhura says and shakes her head.

Spock nods and takes her by the hand, leads her to the bedroom and slips away again, ghost quiet while she strips out of her uniform and folds it away in the back of the cupboard. She's got a fleet issued duffel full of civvies instead but she doesn't unpack those either, just crawls in between the sheets in nothing but her underwear.

Spock slips back in less than a minute after she gets her blankets tucked up around her chin. He's carrying Jim, blanket still tucked around him, which makes her blink. It should look weird and awkward, carrying a grown man who's more or less the same size as him, but Spock's all compact strength and he manages it effortlessly.

Jim's eyes open, just a crack of bright blue and he makes a muffled noise that sounds a lot like, "Good, I always wanted to be a virgin bride." Then he sighs and closes them again when Spock lays him down on the bed next to Uhura.

It's a barely a minute before he's breathing so slowly and evenly he's got to be asleep again. She lays back against the pillow and listens to him until she drifts off herself. Spock just sits on the edge of the bed, like he's waiting for something.

He's still there when she wakes up, with Jim's body warm and curled up against her back. Spock's ramrod straight even seated, watching like he doesn't know what else to do. She doesn't even think about it, just reaches up, cups one hand against his cheek and kisses him, slow as honey.

\

For the first week, they fall into a rhythm that's easy. Jim's asleep more than he's awake and in a drug soaked twilight even when he's more or less conscious. The neural damage is beyond slow to heal, but she can trace the progress from the first day, how much easier he sleeps, that he starts to ask her to taper off the dose of his medication. That she finally goes ahead and does it.

The rest of the time she and Spock spend their time sitting together, watching the water whenever they're not pouring over the mission reports from Kuaratoa. Spock probably has them memorized, had them from the first go, but that doesn't stop him from looking through things line by line, like if he stares long enough he'll find out what went so drastically wrong.

Uhura doesn't tell him that there's probably an entire room at Headquarters devoting all their resources to the same problem, since it's hardly that he doesn't know. Those people, however good they are, aren't sharing space with Jim. Jim who doesn't have a single, visible mark, but might still be in pain for the rest of his life if the neural regeneration doesn't go exactly right. She doesn't have to tell Spock a thing, just sit down next to him and give him whatever help she can.

By the end of the second week, though, Jim is awake enough to join them and the communications array is put into full use, with charts and maps and system downloads flowing in from Fleet Headquarters. "Someone set us up," Jim says about fifteen minutes into his examination of the facts. "This wasn't a garden variety fucked up intelligence report. Someone wanted to give the Klingons the Enterprise as a chewtoy."

"It is highly likely. I would calculate the odds as being close to 95%," Spock says in reply and Uhura just looks away. They'd been dancing around it for too long, she and Spock, but if Jim sees it too there can't be any more questions. They have a traitor. It's just a question of finding out who.

The first night Jim's working with them they end up sitting too long and late, until her eyes ache and all the words and sounds seem to blend together. She doesn't even think to stop until she finds herself rubbing the bridge of her nose like it might soothe away the ache in her head and catches Jim's expression.

He's gray again, almost the same color he was in sickbay when they'd just gotten him back from a round of torture on a Klingon ship. He's shaking, slightly, but visibly, and his eyes are rimmed with red. It makes her fists clench.

"Enough," she says. "You need to rest."

He turns and stares at her, like she's lost her mind. "Uhura," he says. "I've spent weeks resting and someone is out there... probably on my ship selling us out. Someone who got ten members of my crew dead and hurt too damn many."

"Too many, including you. Finding them will be easier when your nervous system isn't misfiring and telling you you're in pain all of the time," she says, with all the weight she can put behind it.

Spock weighs in behind her, "Lieutenant Uhura is more than correct," he says. "Your insights are invaluable, but your condition is clearly deteriorating. You must rest, Captain."

Jim makes a face, screwed up tight like a kid that's never been told no. "You both suck, and that's your Captain speaking," he says. Then he points one finger dead center at one of the blizzard of print-outs. "Listen-- it had to be someone seconded to Intelligence, otherwise--"

Uhura sighs and covers her face with her hands. When she looks again, Spock is staring at her like he expects her to do something. She wants to yell, hey, it's your turn to deal with this, take a little responsibility! but she doesn't. She tries to imply it with the right type of pointed glare.

Spock lets out a small but useless, breath and looks back at Jim, who's going on about intership communication and whether or not any of them wouldn't have been logged. Jim's face is pale and frantic and his gestures are too broad, like he's compensating for something. He's also making a lot of sense, actually, is the thing. If they let him drive himself into the ground he'd probably solve it even if it left him in a shaky, exhausted heap.

McCoy would also probably eat them after that, but not being Spock, she can't figure the exact odds of survival. But Jim's impossible to argue with on his own terms, like beating the Kobayashi Maru or cutting the Gordian Knot. Which... okay... she can do that.

Uhura nods her head, pushes herself off from her chair and kisses Jim on the mouth, interrupting him in the middle of a very critical point about backtracking and how nothing can be permanently erased from the ship's core computer. Jim responds with a muffled, heartfelt little groan.

"Listen," she says, when he's left panting and staring at her. "Whoever this is-- if they're going somewhere they're already gone. If they're not, they can't exactly cause more damage when the entire crew is on stand-down. We'll figure it out, but right now you need rest."

Jim blinks at her, looking stunned and young and ridiculously fragile, even if the last one is mostly down to his physical condition. Uhura kisses him again, licking his lower lip and this time he kisses her back like her own personal Gordian Knot, severed and hanging fraying open in her hands.

Spock finally catches the hint, even though she can actually hear his inner grumblings about the illogic of humanity. He still moves up beside her and steps between Jim's legs, kneeing them open before sliding down to his knees.

"Relax," Uhura says, when Jim actually jumps a little as Spock undoes his pants. "You'd think you've never done this before."

"Not in the middle of-- we were working," Jim protests. "We don't do this while we're working!" His voice cuts out when Spock pulls out his cock and licks it around the head. His eyelids flutter and he digs his teeth into his lip. She kisses him again, right there, tasting blood and exhaustion right along with everything else.

"You're not saying no to sex, are you, Jimmy?" she croons into his mouth. He whimpers and his eyes roll back. After that getting him into bed is easy.

They find the traitor on the third day, by backtracking through what feels like a thousand personnel files and crosschecking everything against who might have had access to off ship communications and how. It's not a close friend, that's the only good thing about learning the name of the man.

None of them ask why, why him not even Jim, at least out loud. They just pass their data on to Fleet Intelligence by way of Pike-- because as Jim says, if anything's corrupted there, they're already so fucked that nothing matters.

Once the data burst is sent, Jim crawls into bed and doesn't get up for another two days, waking up just enough to get some food down when they bring it to them.

It should be a relief, but it isn't, not to Jim or Spock. "He was on my ship," is all Jim will say, and there's a blank tightness in him that's almost Vulcan. "I let him-- I didn't know that he was on my ship."

She nods, it's all she can do. Jim doesn't say anything else, but he doesn't have to.

\

In the second week Scotty drops by with a care package full of a few casks of his homebrew. They don't get drunk until he's gone though-- well, Jim gets cut off because it fucks with his meds, and Spock doesn't feel human intoxicants much at all, but Uhura-- she gets really smashed enough to see stars. Smashed enough to wind up on a blanket by the water with her head in Jim's lap and her feet laying on Spock's knees.

She feels stretched out and warm, listening to them talk around her. Soft voices and the echo of Jim's laughter-- it's such a familiar sound but she hasn't heard it much lately. It makes her smile and stretch out to grab one of hands. That just makes him laugh again and tilt down, "You're like a little kid," he says and runs one of his hands over her hair. Sighs and cards his fingers through it, tangling them up. "I can't believe I get to do this."

She smirks and sticks her tongue out. "Yeah, well if I'm a kid, you're like a twelve year old on hormones," she says, like she isn't arching into his touch just a little.

She knows she must be getting really drunk by that point, because otherwise she could swear that Spock's on the other end of the blanket, and he's actually laughing at them. Out loud. She peers at him out of narrowed eyes and then turns a suspicious gaze on Jim. "Is he laughing?" she demands. "Do you have a camera?"

Spock's expression immediately straightens and he raises an eyebrow as if to say, what, me? No one but us Vulcans here!

Jim rolls his eyes and leans over to whisper in her ear, "He was and we are both witnesses to that fact. And you're even a trustworthy one!"

"I believe Nyota's intoxication precludes the reliability of her account--" Spock begins and Jim just laughs.

"No one cares, because I can tickle you and you can't fight back because I'm an injured man," he says, cutting right in. "So there."

Uhura giggles. The air is warm and salty-wet and feels so good on her skin when she raises one arm. "Point! He has a point!"

Both of Spock's brows rise even further, like he's gunning for his own forehead. "Indeed," he says. "I will need to distract you in some other fashion." And that's when the cheating bastard grabs Jim by the shoulders-- very carefully-- and kisses him-- very thoroughly.

Uhura sits up on her elbows and watches with some interest-- she might need to cheat at anytime, always good to watch a master do it. Especially when he ends up pushing Jim down onto the blanket, sliding one knee in between his and taking his time with each and every button of Jim's shirt.

Now she really wishes she had a camera with her.

\
After the third week they stop talking about spies or battles at all. The closest they come to work is sitting at the breakfast table, absentmindedly sending files to each other's PADDs. Some of Jim's are about tactics and too many of them are about math, but he's more likely to forward her an article from The Journal of the Xenolinguistic Society or a collection of poems by Taban Lo Liyong or Milton. Spock sends her scans of historic Vulcan lithographs-- the ones that were lost and only exist as data chips and the ones that are being restored by craftsmen on New Vulcan. She forwards them excerpts from her older sister doctoral thesis on irrational numbers and they both nod along.

It's all very highbrow and respectful, almost like grown-ups in a relationship, until Jim starts to think he's funny. The first one comes from his personal account:

From: Cpt_Awesome@Starfleet.fed
To: Nuhura@Starfleet.fed
Subject: Ahahaha!

One morning a woman was walking out of her front door, when she notices a strange little man at the bottom of her garden.

"You're a goblin," she says, "I caught you and you owe me three wishes!". So the goblin replies "OK, you caught me fair and square, what's your first wish?". The woman stops and thinks for a second, "I want a huge mansion to live in.", goblins replies "OK, you've got it.". Woman again thinks it over, "My second wish is a Mercedes." "OK, you've got that too." "My last wish is a million dollars!". The goblin then says "OK, you've got it. But to make your wishes come true you have to have sex all night with me." "OK then, if that's what it takes..."

Next morning the little man wakes the woman up.

"Tell me," says the man, "how old are you?" "I'm 27", she replies

"Fuck me", says the man, "27 and you still believe in goblins"
So.... dumbass thinks he's funny. She peers over at him from the edge of her PADD and he smirks and waves like the unfunny dumbass he clearly is. She leans back over the PADD and types back into it furiously.
From: Nuhura@Starfleet.fed
To: Cpt_Awesome@Starfleet.fed
Subject: re:Ahahaha! (Yr. Awesome is all in yr. mind)

The newlyweds are in their honeymoon room and the groom decides to let the bride know where she stands right from the start of the marriage.
He proceeds to take off his trousers and throw them at her. He says, "Put those on."
The bride replies, "I can't wear your trousers."
He replies, "And don't forget that! I will always wear the pants in the family!"
The bride takes off her knickers and throws them at him with the same request, "Try those on!"
He replies,"I can't get into your knickers!"
"And you never bloody will if you don't change your attitude."

Jim leaned over the PADD, mouthed the words and then giggled like it was actually hilarious. "I love you," he said expansively. "You are my favorite person in the whole world. Now we need one to send to Spock, what do you say?"

"Who's this we you're talking about?" she says, but okay, she maybe, possibly, is smiling back. Jim claps her on the shoulder like they're comrades in arms.

They shrug, look at each other and then settle back down at their respective PADDs. Spock wanders in from the porch a few minutes later with a quizzical look on his face. He looks from one to the other, like he's not really sure where to start. Uhura makes very sure to avoid Jim's eyes-- one glance and she knows she's going down into giggles, but when Spock speaks, eyebrows gone up to doom levels, she's already gone.

"Your human colloquialisms are certainly fascinating. Would either of you care to explain the meaning or humor value of the phrase 'jack off'?" Then he stares at them.

Jim just smirks, rests his hand between his legs and says, "How about a practical demonstration? If your eyebrows can take it, I mean."

And that's when Uhura loses her mind and laughs until her face is hot and she can't breathe anymore. The best is when Jim catches her eyes and goes off the edge too and then they can't even look at each other or Spock's eyebrows without bursting into more insane, endless laughter while Spock just watches them like they're a somewhat adorable science experiment, pats them on the head, simultaneously, and goes back outside.

"How about I just give you the practical demonstration since Spock's abandoned us?" Jim says and gives a leer so obvious she throws a napkin at his face. Then she pulls it off and kisses him on the mouth, still breathless and laughing. He's pink with it and his skin is so warm and alive under her hands. She wouldn't mind if she could always remember him exactly like this.

\

It's four weeks into neural regeneration when Jim's medications are tapered down enough that he can drink more than a glass or two of ethanol again. They break open the last of Scotty's casks to celebrate the occasion while Spock's meditating on the beach.

Jim's flushed and happy looking a little while in, the drugs still fucking his tolerance. He rests his head on her shoulder and Uhura strokes his hair fondly, like he's her favorite cat from back home. "I knew we were going to be friend for real when you gave me Gaila's things that time," he tells her, and his expression is so soft she can't even be angry for him for bringing it up. "I mean... I wanted to be your friend before, you know? But it was not meant to be."

She forces a laugh and tightens her fingers in his hair. "You were concentrating too hard on being kind of a dick, but that's okay. I forgive you." Then she presses a kiss to his forehead that makes him light up with a smile.

"Excellent," he says. "Forgiveness is mine!" There's a long pause before he looks back at her, up from under thick, golden lashes. "How did you meet her anyway? Gaila?"

Uhura smiles, a real one this time. "She was my roommate first year at the Academy. A lot of the girls went on about how they were so sorry for me, with an Orion roommate." She rolls her eyes. "Bunch of hags." Jim nods along fervently.

"Total hags, are you kidding? The first time I met Gaila, she just... stopped me in the hall between classes," Jim says and smiles. "She just... she said, I've been watching you and I wanted to know you better. Look, I've drawn you a picture of what I've been thinking about." He laughs out loud.

"Did she?" Uhura asks, leaning forward, like his smile has gravity. "Was it a dirty picture?"

He chuckles and nods eagerly. "Hell yeah. I've never seen a come shot drawn with that many sparkles before." Uhura stares at him like she's waiting for the punchline, but he's still grinning and shaking his head. "She was the best." He sighs a moment later and pours another inch of bright amber liquid into their empty shot glasses.

Uhura takes hers and knocks it back without prompting. "She never drew me a dirty picture," she mumbles when the burn eases.

Jim shrugs. "She totally did, she just never gave them to you. Thought you might get offended."

That does offend Uhura a little and she sniffs. "I would not have! That's not fair."

"Yeah," he says, and sighs and lets his head sink down until he's resting his cheek on her thigh. "I know that now. I wish I could have... that we could have... the three of us, you know?" He flushes and looks away. "I mean, not as a thing I know that you and Spock are you and Spock, but just. You know, something extra. Like you and me."

That makes Uhura frown. She tilts her head back, but he's not looking at her at the moment. Finally, she settles for words. "Don't... I mean, you have to know that if it weren't for you there'd be no me and Spock right now. Right?"

Jim shrugs. "Me and the Dergondian aphrodisiacs, you mean. I doubt that. You guys would have figured it out sooner or later. You're good together."

She rests one hand on his cheek, curling it toward her. "We're all good together, you're here too," she says, but he just smiles at her, bland and pretty and as opaque in his own way as Spock's most logical walls.

When he climbs up and presses her down the thick couch cushions and she lets him. Lets him hike up her dress and tease her with his fingers before he teases her with his cock, erratic, playful rhythm of thrusts before he pulls out to rub the head against her clit in slow, steady circles and then dips back in again.

Again and again until her nails are imprinted into the smooth, warm skin of his back and all she can smell is him. Gaila had loved him, she thought, and it hurt like dying herself that it had taken Gaila's death for her to really, truly understand why. To feel it too.

She wants to tell him, but she can feel him, the beat of his pulse too fast under her hands. He might run away.

She waits until Spock comes in after them. Waits til he strips his trousers, easy as if it's the most logical thing he can think of, and slicks his fingers one by one to press into Jim's body. She can feel him, like he's fucking her through Jim, steady and hard and relentless. His eyes are so dark, so fixed on her, on Jim, she knows she can say it then and he'll keep them all together. If Jim's the storm, he's the anchor, or maybe it's the other way around.

"I love you," she whispers. "So much. I'm so glad you're here."

\
McCoy comes by with a tricorder and a bag full of hypo vials at the end of the first month. Jim tries to laugh him off with a casual, "I'm fine! I am the best Captain regeneration technology can rebuild!"

"You're a three year old with an attitude problem is what you are," McCoy mutters and runs the tricorder over him like it's a magic wand. Uhura just hangs back and watches their antics, grinning behind her hand while Spock blocks the exits so that Jim can't run for it.

Finally, McCoy seems satisfied, grunts and puts his toy away. Jim just rolls his eyes. "So, you prove to your satisfaction I'm not dead yet?" he says.

McCoy just grimaces at him. "I'm clearing you for light physical activity. Light, you hear me?" He looks at Uhura and Spock for that one. "The nerves are knitting pretty well, but any re-injury could stress the process."

"Ha, sure, Mom," Jim mutters.

McCoy stays for a drink and leaves grumbling about the first time Jim decides to get cute and sit in Spock's lap with his feet on Uhura's knees. He laughs like a hyena when the doctor disappears and Uhura just shakes her head.

"His face! Did either of you see his face, oh my god!"

"If you two ever decide to get into a prank war, count me out," she mutters.

That just delights Jim more. "Are you kidding? After the orgasms I've given you, you're not just in, you're the communications officer for my side!"

\

In the sixth week she watches Jim run in from the beach, sand in his hair and all over his skin. Burned gold by the sun.

She's known Jim when he's being the Captain of a starship, straight backed and certain. When he was a grinning Cadet, winking at her like she was the coolest thing he'd ever seen and he might never recover from knowing she existed. She hadn't believed he was for real then.

She's known him drunk and hurt, everything sinking in, nothing reflected out again. She's known him in the dark, the sweetness of his hands and mouth, how much he likes to surrender-- but only if you can make him, if you can earn it.

This Jim will always be her favorite, though. He's hurt, yes, but getting better. He laughs and tips his face up to soak in sun, but there's no maniac edge, not yet.

"You'll like the water, it's awesome," he says, as he hangs around by the doorway, just outside, just rucking up his shorts like he's trying to keep them from dripping as he walks. He stops, looks over his shoulder and holds out one hand, free and easy. "You're coming, right?"

She's already on her feet. "I guess, if I'll like the water that much," she says, and grabs his hand.

She wonders if Spock knew he was there all along, this Jim. She doubts it.

Outside, Jim turns his face up into the warm light. His skin must also be warm to the touch, softened by salt and water. It makes Uhura's palms itch but she doesn't reach out, not yet, just keeps her grip on his hand.

"You look like a man with a plan beyond swimming," she says and Jim just outright grins, a little wild, but mostly happy.

"I," he says, and rubs his hands together. "Am going to teach Spock how to surf." Uhura must have stared for a second but before she knew it she had her face in her hands, not even trying to suppress the waves of howling, tear inducing laughter. "Aw, come on, it will be awesome," Jim protests, but it's not long before he's infected with the laugh himself and he collapses into the sand next to her, pink faced and breathless, grinning like the maniac he is.

"If by awesome you mean terrifying," she mutters, still grinning into her palms. She pulls them away to admire the long, lean length of him in nothing but a pair of swim trunks that she's sort of surprised he even bothered with.

She will never admit in a million years who starts the tickling.

Spock finds them like that, laughing like idiots, all tangled up limbs, covered in sand in ridiculous places and not much else on their skin. He actually cracks a smile at the sight, still looking as amused as he had the first time he found them giggling like children. She doesn't think Spock has ever smiled this much before this leave, she doesn't even think she has. Not since she was a little girl.

Jim manages to catch his breath, finally, at least long enough to explain his genius idea and just what exactly surfing means.

"This surfing form of recreation does not seem logical," Spock murmurs quizzically. "It may also stretch the boundaries of the physical activity Dr. McCoy has deemed acceptable." Which just sets Jim right back off laughing, and of course the motherfucker meets Uhura's eyes and that gets her going too.

"It is awesome and fun is what it is. If you loved me, you would totally try it," Jim says and then stops, covering his mouth with his hand like he just shocked himself. "I mean... well, joke, obviously." He forces a smile. Spock just looks at him, long and hard until Uhura wants to knee him.

At least until he says, "Indeed, Jim. I will try it." Jim just blinks at him and then nods.

She still has the vid chip with the surf lessons recorded in crystal clear imagery to pass on to any kid Spock ever has. Just... well, because, she's learned it always pays to have a camera on hand. Whoever said you couldn't learn anything useful from James T. Kirk?

\

In the last month, the golden days are less common and she can't figure out why at first. She just knows that some days, and this is luck of the draw, Jim does his best impression of angry cat in bed. Furious and close, scratching and biting just short of breaking skin or just past it. Ankles locked around one of their backs and a stream of absolute filth spilling out of his pretty mouth like he can't help himself and isn't bothering to try.

"Come on, come on, do it," he hisses, "Fuck, do you think I'm gonna break? You think you're better than anyone else who tried?"

She'd have called it out of control, half mad and all wild, but she knows that's wrong, can feel it in the difference when he's with her and with Spock. The pressure and the roughness is gaged, like he can't help but remember the difference between her strength and Spock's. Like he's controlling everything down to a hair.

Then there's the time he bites down on her shoulder-- hard enough to mark, but not to make her bleed. She gasps and twists, watching the dark bruise blossom under her skin. She'll never hold marks like his skin does, but it's just enough to be visible and that seems to make him smile.

"So you'll think of me for a while," he says, like it's critically important. The closest he's coming to using his 'captain' voice since they've been here. "When we're back on the ship."

She shakes her head, when really she just wants to pound it against the wall. Instead she traces her fingers over the line of his cheek and says, "I won't need to. The game we're playing is over, Jimmy."

His mouth falls open and he starts to make a sound that might be a protest, right up until she silences him with her tongue. She kisses him quiet everytime he tries to talk, until he's panting and looking up at her with those blue, blue eyes.

"That means that I'm ready to make this official if you are," she says, when he's clearly not going to try to interrupt again. "That also means I don't need your teeth to remind me of you. I'll have you for that."

Jim's eyebrows go way up, like he's trying out to play Spock in the movie version of their lives. Then he smirks, causal as if he isn't trying to cover up a damn thing. "I don't think you and Spock can handle my awesome," he says.

She rolls her eyes and flicks her thumb and forefinger against his nose so that it wrinkles right up. "Do your worst, pretty boy," she says. Hey, he will anyway. Gaila would have said that was the fun part, but Gaila's gone, so Uhura has to say it for her.

"Shut up, you," he mutters, "I want my ship back, at least she doesn't make fun of me all the time." And she laughs at him.

Bonus Epilogue

The first day back aboard the Enterprise, Uhura finds a note on her PADD, origin unknown.

**
A couple decided to Alaska for a romantic weekend. When they got to the cabin it was cold so the wife asked her husband to go chop some wood for that fire place. He came in after 5 minutes and told his wife that his hands were cold, so she said her put your hands between my thighs to warm them. So he did and went back outside to finish chopping wood. He came in after another 5 minutes and said " honey my hands are cold again". So she tells him here put your hands between my thighs to warm them. So he did and then he went back out to chop some more wood. 5 minutes has passed and he went in again and said, "honey my hands are cold again". She then said, " Damn don't your ears ever get cold?"

PS: MINE totally get cold!! Find out after shift!
**

Jim winks at her and slouches a little more into his command chair. She doesn't laugh, molest him or throw anything at his head, so she figures she wins.