Frankly, Kirk's a little insulted that the Enterprise's first mission turns out to be an glorified escort job. He understands that the Federation's had to make some drastic changes to its diplomatic policies since Nero and the Narada, but this doesn't stop him from complaining to his senior officers about their newly repaired flagship being wasted on some stuck-up ambassadors who could just as easily have hopped a commercial transport to Rigel IV. Spock raises an eyebrow and asks if the ambassadors' presence has somehow resulted in his becoming emotionally compromised and thus unable to perform his duties (it's kind of a threat and kind of a joke, which is so weird that Kirk actually lets up for awhile). Bones mostly rolls his eyes and threatens to hypospray him with something nasty if he doesn't get the hell out of sick bay.
He rolls his eyes extra hard when Kirk gets a look at the head Q'nah representative and stops complaining, even in private.
Her people have spent the majority of their time on land for the past twenty thousand years, but they evolved from ocean-dwelling mammals and still require daily hydration of the skin. While Enterprise boasts respectable suites for visiting officials, they're equipped with the same sonic showers as the crew quarters. Kirk immediately puts in a request to have suitable bathing facilities installed on their next retrofit; in the meantime, he offers the Q'nah delegation use of the only water shower onboard.
The chief Q'nah ambassador spends over an hour in his bathroom while he goes over engineering reports, trying to distract himself from thoughts of her lush mouth catching droplets of water. These are the first Q'nah he has encountered, and what little he's read was inadequate in conveying their beauty. Mareet in particular is captivating, with her purple skin and gentle curves hidden beneath the white robes of office. He knows from watching her in the gym that her slender limbs are incredibly flexible and strong. Despite her delicate appearance she could easily wipe the floor with him in combat, and he finds that...intriguing.
He's read the same paragraph three times over when Mareet emerges, a towel wrapped demurely around her torso. Her skin still holds the moisture from her bath, deepening its hue until she seems to shimmer under the low lighting. He knows that her hands are creased and callused much like those of a human, but he wonders how the perfectly smooth skin of her arms and thighs would feel beneath his palms…
"I thank you for the use of your bathing chamber, Captain," she says in her deep musical voice.
"It was my pleasure, Ambassador," Kirk replies with a nod. As host he ought to stand, but he figures it would be less than polite considering he's gone from half-mast to hard as a rock since she emerged from a cloud of steam.
Mareet cocks her head, rich purples and violets appearing to swirl over her sleek, bare head. The gesture reminds him of a dolphin, graceful and inquisitive.
"And now I ask for yet another...courtesy." As she lifts one long arm toward him, her gaze drops below his waist. "Might I take my ease in your sleeping chamber?" There's an almost predatory gleam in her pale eyes.
A grin stretches across Kirk's face as he rises and takes her hand. He's going to love being captain.
One of the reasons the Vulcan Science Academy had helped develop sonics for the purpose of cleansing a humanoid body was eminently practical: water is precious in the desert. While there were some water-based facilities to be found in the cities - an effort to accommodate species with grooming habits different from their own - most Vulcans had never taken a water shower, nor desired to do so.
Being the son of the ambassador to Earth and his human wife, Spock's experiences were hardly analogous to those of his Vulcan peers. Unlike the Vulcan mothers of his classmates, Amanda‘s favorite way to end her day was with a long, hot soak in a tub. As a child Spock had questioned this as frivolous when sonic showers were more effective and efficient; however, he eventually came to understand that for his mother, bathing in water had more to do with emotional fulfillment than with the actual act of cleansing, particular as she had so little opportunity to indulge. Sarek had considered installing a water bath in their private residence, but he admitted his concern over the political backlash - his wife was already subjected to scrutiny and censure because of her heritage - and Amanda agreed that she would rather not tempt the gossips. Therefore she resigned herself to sonic showers except for visits to Earth, which diminished significantly after the birth of her son.
Though Spock has often spoken of his mother to Nyota, he has never mentioned her fondness for water. His instructor’s quarters at the Academy were fitted with the standard sonic shower, as was the bathroom Nyota shared with her roommate and two other female cadets. And yet she has told him enough about her grandmother’s house, with its old-fashioned plumbing and creaky steps, that he can assume she would enjoy the luxury of a bath from time to time. Nyota is a woman who appreciates small pleasures and the act of expressing herself even under Federation codes; her varied collection of earrings, bottles of nail polish, and the hothouse flowers with which she decorates her cabin are evidence enough. Spock admires the fact that she is the same person in uniform and out, that she has never allowed her ambitions to alter the qualities and traits that make up one Nyota Uhura. He thinks his mother would have liked her for this.
So he is unsurprised when Kirk bets a month’s use of his singular bathroom in poker and Nyota wins the hand easily. It’s only later, when she asks him to share her winnings, that he is caught off-guard.
The water temperature is warmer than he likes, but he’d rather not have Nyota shivering through the prize she has earned. Humming softly under her breath, she works a handful of shampoo into a lather (she brought her own toiletries, and made certain that Kirk was occupied on another deck before comming Spock to the captain’s quarters).
He bows his head, she reaches up, and slowly she works the shampoo into his hair.
“Just like I said,” she murmurs as she rubs her thumbs over the tips of his ears. “It’s only logical to conserve water by bathing together.”
Her face is solemn with concentration but her eyes are warm, slightly mischievous; and when he kisses her she tastes of orange blossoms in the rain.
Papa always used to say he would never understand the mysterious creature that is woman, but it’s boys Chekov can’t work out. After months of tentative flirting and, he’s certain, much internal hand-wringing over Chekov’s age, Sulu finally asked him out on a date (or The Date, as far too many of the crew had taken to calling it in the interim between invitation and event). Chekov accepted with enthusiasm, Sulu seemed to be looking forward to it - and yet here they sit in Sulu’s quarters, staring at each other over a perfectly cooked rack of lamb.
Finally the silence has encroached so far that he can’t take it anymore. Sulu looks up sharply as his fork clatters on his plate.
“Hikaru, what is wrong? Are you sorry you asked me for dinner?”
“No,” Sulu replies, blinking.
Chekov takes a large gulp of wine. He thinks he would feel less like a nagging girlfriend if they were in their uniforms instead of civilian clothes - if Sulu didn’t look so handsome in his crisp blue shirt and khaki pants. Chekov feels skinny and childish in his slightly oversized sweater.
“Then why won’t you talk to me?”
Sulu stabs at a piece of meat, looking mulish. “Look, Pavel, you didn’t have to agree to this just because you don’t want to hurt my feelings. I‘m a big boy, I can take a little rejection.”
“But I have not rejected you.” Chekov stares at him, flabbergasted. He’s been trying, of course he has, but it’s unnerving; he’s never found it difficult to talk to Sulu before. But now he won’t join Chekov in conversation, can barely meet his eyes. Sulu is the one acting like a sullen teenager, for fuck’s sake, not Chekov who at least has the excuse of actually being a teenager.
Sulu wets his lips, momentarily drawing Chekov’s attention to his darting pink tongue. He can see that Sulu is jiggling his left leg under the table like he tends to do when he gets stressed on the bridge.
“I saw you coming out of Kirk’s room this afternoon, okay?” he bursts out suddenly, folding his arms over his chest. “You could‘ve just told me.”
It takes Chekov a second to make the connection. Then he bursts out laughing.
Sulu sinks further down in his chair, looking hurt and trying to cover it with a scowl. Realizing his mistake, Chekov shuts up immediately.
“It’s not like I’m trying to - to tell you who to date or anything,” Sulu mutters to his plate. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt, is all. Kirk is a great captain, but he has a reputation for -”
“Hikaru,” Chekov says, reaching across the table. “I am not sleeping with the captain.” Sulu looks skeptical, but uncrosses his arms. “I would never sleep with the captain.” Nor would anyone who values his or her sanity, he thinks with a twinge of guilt at the disloyalty.
Now his hand is resting by his glass, almost in range. “Really?”
“Da, really.” Chekov gives a vigorous shake of his head, aware that Sulu likes to watch his curls bounce. “I want only you. Idiot,” he adds, stretching those last few centimeters to snag Sulu’s fingers.
Sulu smiles at him, his cheeks tinged with color. Chekov wants to kiss him so badly he feels the ache in his bones. “Oh, good. I didn’t really think you would, but I - what the hell were you doing, then?”
Sighing, Chekov pokes at a carrot. “I - I was nervous about tonight. Kirk offered to let me use his shower, to get ready.” It’s nearly as humiliating now as it was at the time - the captain clapping him on the shoulder and saying, too loud in the mess hall, “Ready for The Date, Checkers?” Still, Chekov had appreciated the opportunity to run his nerves under hot water. He’d soaked in the tub for awhile, then stood and dialed the pressure all the way up to beat some relaxation into his muscles. Although it didn’t do much good in the end, since Sulu’s reticence had set his stomach to turning within five minutes of sitting down.
“I was nervous, too,” Sulu confesses after a moment, squeezing his hand. From then on the date goes much more smoothly.
At least until Chekov’s propped up on his elbows in Sulu‘s bed, flushed from head to toe with Sulu crouching before him.
“Oh God, yes,” he moans as Sulu licks his cock from base to tip. “Please, Captain…”
Sulu’s head pops up over his thighs, dark eyes narrowed. Chekov snorts with laughter as Sulu tackles him to the mattress.
She isn’t entirely sure how to wash in water. Every few weeks they would all get a brief sonic cleansing, but the pulses were weak and never sufficient to truly get them clean. What was the point, when they were to return to the mines immediately?
Poking at the half-dozen bottles whose labels she cannot read, she finally selects one and squirts fragrant foam into her hands. She knows where dirt and bad smells collect so she rubs the soapy cloth over those areas, watching in fascination as the water runs brown and white down the drain. The sonic shower never inspired any particular feeling in her, but this is good: the warmth of the steady spray, the way it patters gently on her sore shoulders, the slippery-cool bubbles racing over her skin. And of course she’s alone, no other miners to look at her naked body as if they would touch it without the guards to beat them back.
Eventually the water rinses clean and she steps out, wraps herself in a soft white towel. She stares into the mirror for a moment, taken aback by the sight of her own clean skin; never would she have guessed it to be so pale. Her hair, too, is much lighter without soot worked into it from roots to ends. She dresses in the plain dark clothing that was left out, surprised that they have anything small enough to fit her; she hasn’t seen any children here.
Captain James T. Kirk is in the outer room when she steps through the hissing door, frowning at something on a padd. He looks up at her and smiles, kindness etched upon his face. If she is to stay here, she will consider it the sole stroke of luck in her brief life.
The Captain asks if she is comfortable, if the clothes are satisfactory, and she answers him in her best Standard. She keeps her back straight as she’s noticed his people do, not like the stoop they must adopt in the narrow mines. A good slave would wait for his word, but she cannot contain her need to know her fate for long.
“Sir,” she says, clasping her hands behind her back, “are you my new master?” She tries to imitate his smile, although it’s not a shape her mouth takes naturally.
The Captain closes his eyes. For a moment he looks very angry and she cringes, taking a step back. He isn’t wearing his phaser and she hasn’t seen any floggers or shockers here, but he must have one in his desk. A man can’t hold eight hundred slaves by force of will alone, no matter how powerful he is.
When he opens his eyes again they are even brighter, their color more striking. He stands and crosses the room. Then, to her shock, he lowers himself to the ground. She is looking down at him now.
“No, I am not,” he says fiercely. “I’m the captain of this ship, but my people live and work here by their own free will.” He sits back on his heels, holding her within his blue, blue gaze. Her world has no such color in it. “You’re free now, too - a free citizen of the United Federation of Planets.” He hesitates a moment before he puts his large hand over hers. “No one will ever own you again. I promise.”
She doesn’t know why - every master she’s ever known has lied to her, and most of the adults of her kind too - but she believes him. Perhaps it’s because she can feel that his hands have known work.
At the refugee center three weeks later, a round-faced woman smiles blandly and asks her name.
She says, "Jim."
“I love your job,” Christine sighs, lazily dragging her hand through a haze of pink bubbles.
Janice chuckles and leans back into her. “I love my job, too.”
Working with Kirk hasn’t always been a picnic - he’ll never know how close he got to being popped in the mouth practically every day of those first few weeks. But they’ve grown accustomed to each other over the past year. Janice has come to respect him as a leader, in part because she knows her appreciates her work. That’s a lot more than she’d expected when she decided to pursue this position. And as Christine pointed out, the perks of being captain’s yeoman can’t be beat.
Christine rolls her head on her neck and kisses Janice’s shoulder. “I really needed this. It’s been a hell of a week. McCoy hates doing routine physicals and the crew doesn‘t like them much, either.”
“Mmhmm,” Janice replies absently, stroking as much long leg as she can reach without levering herself out of Chistine’s arms. The water’s cooling and their toes are getting pruney, but she can’t quite bring herself to get out of the bath just yet. It’s been a hell of a couple months, really, and they haven’t gotten much alone time recently. Janice is sure Kirk would collaborate with Medical to line their schedules up if she told him they were dating, as he does for most couples who request it. It‘s just that…well, she really, really doesn’t want to. She likes keeping what she and Chris have to themselves. Besides, Jim’s insufferable enough without giving him that kind of ammunition.
The bubbles make a faint shh-shhing noise as Christine disturbs them, skipping her fingers between Janice’s breasts and down her belly to tangle in silky-slick curls. Yeah, they’ve definitely got enough time for round - actually Janice has lost count. She grins, turning her head to capture Christine’s mouth.
That’s when the chime for the outer door sounds.
“Shit!” Janice hisses, hopping out of the tub and nearly skidding on the wet tile. Christine is right behind her, flailing at the clinging bubbles. They both lunge for the neatly folded uniforms on top of the toilet.
“Rand? You in here?”
“Just a second, sir,” Janice calls, dragging her dress over her head. She can hear Kirk puttering around his tiny kitchenette - sounds like he’s making tea. Of fucking course he would have to suffer an attack of domesticity right this very moment.
Christine pulls on her black trousers and shrugs. Her lips are twitching with amusement, no doubt at the thought of what Kirk’s face will do if they step out that door. As well she might, Janice thinks resentfully, she doesn’t have to work with the man every day. Although given the frequency with which Kirk visits sick bay…
“Think you can handle this one, Yeoman?”
Janice huffs. “Please, I could handle Jim Kirk in my sleep.”
“Oh, I bet he’d love that,” Chris whispers with a giggle. Janice resolves to bite her somewhere she will not like next time they’re alone.
In the end they step through the bathroom door together. Kirk has a mouthful of cereal; milk dribbles back into the bowl when he catches sight of Christine, who’s still toweling her hair.
“Captain,” she says coolly, nodding to him.
Kirk wipes at his mouth, eyes wide. “Uh, Nurse Chapel.”
Christine tugs her tunic straight and kisses Janice’s cheek. Janice can just barely hear a sharp intake of breath at the table. “We still on for lunch?”
“Of course,” Janice says, batting her eyes and making Christine’s jaw clench with a suppressed laugh.
When she turns back Kirk is grinning from ear to ear, looking like Christmas has come early and Santa left him some really creative porn. Janice raises a finger.
“One word,” she intones gravely, “and the whole ship will find out how Dr. McCoy really threw his back out last month.” Kirk raises his eyebrows, starts to speak and she adds, “I know how to hack a private vid feed too, you know.”
And oh, how she had. Christine might balk at the thought of watching her boss in flagrante delicto with another man, but Janice has no such qualms. Just because she’s perfectly happy in her relationship doesn’t mean her imagination has atrophied. Though she’d never have guessed McCoy was so flexible.
He leans his chair back on two legs, lacing his hands together behind his head and smirking at her. “You’re assuming that I have a sense of shame? I’m hurt, Janice. It’s like you don’t even know me.”
“Not at all, sir. I’m assuming McCoy does,” she replies, planting one hand on her hip. “And that you wouldn’t want to sleep alone for the foreseeable future.”
The chair comes crashing down on all fours.
Janice smiles and tosses the wet towel at him on her way out the door.
The captain’s quarters are empty when he lets himself in. He’s not surprised; Jim prefers to work on letters home in his ready room. All McCoy has to do is wait for Spock to find him and persuade him to leave the rest until morning.
Though he’s disinfected and changed into fresh clothes, it seems like he can still smell the sulfur on his shirt, feel the blood on his hands. So he strips off his uniform and steps into the shower, turning it up as much as he can tolerate. Sonics may leave him clean but they’ll never be able to replicate the way hot water can wash a horrific day down the drain.
It can’t be more than a few minutes before the shower door opens. Jim looks at him for a beat, his eyes dulled to a chilly pale blue. McCoy holds out a hand to him - holds it steady while Jim peels his clothes off, holds it until Jim’s fingers close over his own. Then he pulls his captain under the spray.
McCoy knows it’ll take him a awhile to thaw no matter how hot the water. He pours out a dollop of the ridiculous berry-smelling stuff Jim insists on buying despite McCoy’s complaints about how the stink follows him around all damn day even though he doesn‘t use it himself. Jim tips his head back as McCoy’s fingers massage his scalp, purging the final traces of blood that wasn’t (thank god, I know it’s selfish but thank all the gods in the galaxy) his own.
The body wash is scented too, of course - ‘chocolate-coconut mousse’ this time, and where he finds this shit McCoy doesn’t want to know. He works his way down Jim’s body, gently kneading tired muscles, absorbing a flinch whenever he hits a particularly sore spot. Otherwise Jim stands perfectly still as McCoy manipulates his heavy limbs. His cock is hardening by the time McCoy’s hands reach between his legs, a state McCoy ignores along with the stirrings of his own arousal. That isn’t what this is about, not yet.
He bends down on a knee, lifting one foot to his thigh and then the other. Jim’s palm falls onto his shoulder. His hand is trembling but it’s the first time he’s initiated touch since he got into the shower. And now - now McCoy kisses him, arms sliding around his waist as he shudders.
“It was all - for nothing,” Jim gasps against his neck. His blunt nails dig into the flesh above McCoy’s hips. “The peace treaty failed anyway. They died for nothing.”
McCoy stays quiet, knowing that It wasn’t your fault and You did everything you could makes it hurt worse. He simply holds on until the shaking stops, anchoring his lips under Jim‘s ear and stroking his back. It takes longer than the last time, but eventually he quiets.
Jim’s voice is clear as he orders the water off, his hands steady as he rubs a towel over McCoy's shoulders. McCoy returns the favor until they're mostly dry, and then they head to bed.
McCoy flicks the switch on the old-fashioned bedside lamp. They make love under its warm yellow glow, voices catching on words of need and comfort. All the while he watches Jim’s face to reassure himself that Jim is with him still, in their bed, not down on that damned planet with the people he had to leave there. Jim’s gaze stays locked on his eyes for the very same reason.
They stretch out to the corners after, before returning to the center of the mattress to curl up together.
“’M here,” he murmurs into the crown of Jim’s head, damp hair prickling his lips. “Always.”
“I know,” Jim says, tucking McCoy‘s hand up by his chin and kissing his knuckles. He drifts off with a deep sigh. McCoy stays awake a bit longer, counting out even breaths on the back of Jim’s neck before he too surrenders to sleep.