Commander Penda Nyota Uhura looked around the bridge of the new Enterprise-A and thought for the umpteenth time how good it was to be home. For this was home, even if it wasnt the same starship on which she had served off and on for twenty years. There were some differences, of course. After all, this was a brand-new ship, and the old Enterprise had beenwell, old. But this was still the Enterprise.
Her eyes found the captain, seated as usual in the center seat. Jim Kirk and his entire crew had been riding high on the elation of their recent mission and the outcome of the infamous court-martial in which the only punishment was the demotion of Admiral Kirk to his old rank of captain. For the first few days after their assignment to the new vessel, they hadnt seen him without a smile on his face. He had wandered happily all over the new ship, actually patting the equipment, fixtures, the very walls themselves; he was so pleased to be back where he belongedamong the stars he loved.
Currently on a shakedown cruise around the Federation perimeter, they had departed the planet Tellus and were slowly making their way back to Earth. Their emergency mission to that planet had been successful, and yet something had changed in the last forty-eight hours. Perhaps it was the young Ted Garrovick whod come aboard the Enterprise that had caused the captains melancholy.
Uhura had noticed that gradually his delight in the ship had seemed to erode, and she was beginning to worry. Perhaps it had been the fact that the new ship was beset with malfunctioning equipment, but she feared that the recent tragedies, especially the death of his son David, were finally catching up with him. At first, things had been happening too fast, and they had been too busy and too worried about the impending court-martial and how successful Spocks recovery might be for him to give much thought to what had happened. Then there had been the elation of having Spook back, really back, along with a new Enterprise to commandnot to forget a dalliance with Gillian Taylorbut if she knew this man, he hadnt yet come to terms with the other losses.
She watched him, noticing that he was constantly squirming in his seat, tapping a staccato rhythm on the arm of the chair with his fingers, and asking everyone on the bridge for status updatesjust minutes after the last routine reports.
But most telling of all was the fact that he wasnt sleeping. That showed in his eyes, reddened, with new bags beneath them, and in his whole face and body. He was so tired, moving as though his every step were an effort. For the first time since she had known him, Jim Kirk looked oldmuch older than his fifty years, much older than he had looked just a few days ago. Something had to be done.
"Leonard?" Uhura called out when she entered the sickbay at the end of her shift. Doctor McCoy could usually be found here, even during off-duty hours.
"Uhura, come in." The physician seemed to be really glad to see her.
"Can I talk with you?" She wasnt sure where to begin.
"Sure. Is this official? Or would you like to come into my office and sit where its comfortable?"
"Your office will be fine. I just need to talk with you about something."
He noticed the worried look on her face and began to be a little concerned himself. "Okay, whats up?" he asked after they were settled.
"Its the captain."
"Jim?" He frowned. McCoy had attempted to dismiss his own concerns about his friend as unwarranted. But if Uhura has noticed something...
"Yes. He looks so..." She couldnt voice the thought she had earlier.
"Old." McCoy had no such reservations. "Yes, I know. I tried to talk to himseveral timesbut I cant seem to get anywhere." He paused a moment, thoughtful. "You know what it is, dont you?"
"Yes, mainly. Everything else, too, I think. But David most of all. He may not have spent much time with the boy, but he loved him, and to lose him like that so soon after finally getting to know him..." McCoys voice trailed off, and he cleared his throat, surreptitiously wiping a bit of moisture from the corner of his eye.
"I know." Uhura was more open about wiping away her own tears. "Hes taking it so hard, and I get the feeling that he wont get over it until he really faces up to it. He feels so guilty."
"You just hit the nail on the head." Uhura couldnt help a small smile at the physicians use of the ancient cliche. "Its the guilt," McCoy continued. "He blames himself for what happened. Damn it." He slammed his open hand on the top of the desk. "If he would just talk about it, maybe it would help. But for some reason he wont talk to me, and he cant talk to Spock...not about this...not yet, anyways..." His voice trailed off again, and he thought a moment, then looked back at the woman seated on the other side of his desk. "How about you? Do you think you could talk to him? Maybe he would open up to you."
"I dont know." She was skeptical. "Its usually you or Spock he talks with."
"Yeah, but he wont talk to us now. Maybe you can get through to him." He sighed. "I just dont know what else to do. If he doesnt get back on track soon, Im going to have to make an official notice in my medical log, and thats the last thing he needs. But I cant let things go on like this much longer. Im responsible for the health and well-being of a whole ship full of people, not just one man, not even if I owe my life and sanity to that man. I just dont know what might happen in an emergency. If we got into trouble, he might snap out of it...and he might not. Its the not that worries me."
"All right, Ill try. Just dont expect miracles." She still wasnt completely sure this was a good idea, but he was right about one thing. Something had to be done, and soon, and there really wasnt anyone else to do it.
"I wont," he promised. "Just try, Nyota. Please. Maybe a good healthy dose of your brand of common sense is what he needs."
Kirk sat in his quarters staring at the nearly full glass in his hand, wondering why he had even bothered to pour it when it just reminded him of another drink he never drank. That one had been forgotten in the moment he first held his son in his arms, a moment that had come twenty years later than it should have. Still staring at the glass, he balled his other hand into a fist, then drew back and threw the tumbler at the wall. It didnt break, of course; very little on a starship is actually breakable. But it hit the wall with a satisfying thunk, and the Saurian brandy left an equally satisfying stain on the cabin wall.
The satisfaction lasted all of thirty seconds, then he slumped back on the sofa, allowing the bone-deep despair to wash over him again. He jumped when he heard the door chime, then glared at it, ready to chew out whoever it was who dared to interrupt him.
"Come!" His voice was unusually harsh, but the door slid open anyway, and he forced himself to stop glaring when he saw who was standing there.
"Commander Uhura? What can I do for you?" He asked the question in the soft cadences she knew so well, but there was an unaccustomed edge there.
"Can I talk with you a minute, Captain?"
He stared at her for so long she thought he might not answer.
He waved her into a nearby chair without bothering to stand up, offer her a drink, or make any of the other social gestures that normally seemed to be second nature to him. Wondering if this werent going to be even harder than she had expected, she took the chair he had indicated and searched her suddenly blank mind frantically for a means to open the conversation. Then she noticed the glass on the floor and the wet stain on the wall.
"What happened here?" she asked, her eyebrow raised in a pseudo-Vulcan manner.
"I...nothing." He wasnt going to cooperate.
She slid forward on her chair and reached a hand out tentatively to touch the back of his. He jerked it away and glared at her a few seconds, then looked away, unable to meet her eyes for long.
"What was it you wanted, Commander?" He was taking refuge in formality.
Taking a deep breath, she plunged in. "Im worried about you, Captain."
It was the tone of her voice that drew his attention. "Did Bones send you?"
"And if he did?"
"Hes a meddling busybody."
"He cares about you. And hes worried. We all are."
"Theres no reason to worry about me." He tried to dismiss her concern. "Im perfectly fine. Why wouldnt I be? Ive got Spock back, along with the rest of my crew, and my command, and this beautiful brand-new Enterprise. What more could I ask for?" Sarcasm didnt suit him.
"Your son." There. She had said the forbidden words, and the galaxy hadnt come to an end after all. She thought for a minute it might, though, when she caught the look on his face. There was so much pain there, she thought he might shatter into a billion little pieces. Then he seemed to pull himself back together a bit.
"He wasnt allowed to be my son to start with. Carol saw to that. Why should I care if hes gone now?" The voice was absolutely flat.
"Dont try to bullshit me, Jim Kirk." She almost laughed at the surprise on his facealmost, but not quite. "He may not have been raised by you, but he was your son, and you spent time with each other, if only for a little while, and it hurts just that much more to have lost him so soon when you were only getting to know him."
He started to interrupt her, but she beat him to it. "No. Dont lie to me. I know you too well for that. The all-knowing, all-powerful, always strong, never weak starship captain. Bullshit!" She spat the word out at him again. "Stop pretending you dont care. You always caretoo much sometimes. Thats why you went back for Spock, and why you answered Carols call for help in the first place, and why youre sitting here alone in your cabin feeling sorry for yourself when a shipload of people are willing to share your grief and pain with you."
"Theres no grief and pain to share." He was still denying it.
"Jim..." She slid from the chair and knelt at his feet, taking both of his hands in hers, looking up at him with all the compassion and caring that came from twenty years of loyalty, respect, and friendship. "Let me help."
That did it. Those three wordsan anonymous Zeta Orionis author had declared more important than "I love you"seemed to resonate within him. His eyes finally connected with hers, and slowly his face seemed to crumble before her eyes.
"Nyota," he whispered. "Oh, God, Nyota, hes dead. Davids dead." And the tears filled his eyes and overflowed down his cheeks. He held onto her hands tightly as though afraid to let go, and she held his just as tightly, letting some of her own strength flow back to the man who had given so much of his to all of them over the years. Then, tears streaming down her own face, she rose from the floor and sat at his side, drawing his head down onto her shoulder and holding him there, rocking him gently, wondering how many years it had been since someone had held him like that.
Slowly, he began to talk, haltingly at first, remembering back more than twenty years to when he had first known and loved Carol Marcus. He had wanted to marry her, but the Enterprise had beckoned, and he hadnt argued too strongly when she told him to go to the stars where he belonged. He had returned after the tragedy aboard the Shenandoah to try to make a life with her and his son. After a good start, she had forced him to leave after a rather dangerous father-son camping trip had jeopardized Davids life. She insisted he not disrupt the boys life, and reluctantly he had agreed to stay away. He had kept that promise, too, until just nine months ago when they had received her distress call from Regula One.
"She was right, too." He was sitting up straight now, the tears drying on his face, clinging to her hand as though to a lifeline. His grip was so tight it hurt, but she wasnt about to complain, not now that he was finally talking. "I should have continued to stay away. If it werent for me, Khan wouldnt have detonated the Genesis torpedo, and Kruge wouldnt have come looking for its secret, and David wouldnt have been killed." His eyes dared her to contradict him. "It was all my fault. All of it. Terrell, Chekov, the Genesis team, Peter, Spock, David... Oh, God, David"
"Stop it!" she interrupted him, surprising both him and herself with the vehemence in her voice. "It wasnt all your fault."
"Yes, it was!" He threw her hand away from him and stood, walking stiffly over to the table against the opposite wall. His back to her, he stood still a minute, then reached out and swept the pile of papers, disks, and books off the table and onto the floor. Swinging back around, he faced her with an angry tension permeating his entire body. "It was my fault. I shouldnt have left Khan on that planet all those years ago, or I should have gone back to make sure everything was all right, or asked Starfleet Command to send someone else, or something..."
He seemed to run out of steam for a brief second or two before he continued, his voice low and harsh. "I dont know what I should have done, but I should have done something. Then he wouldnt have spent all those years trapped there, letting his hatred for me fester until he was willing to kill anyone and everyone that got in the way of his efforts to punish me. Thats what started it all. And then I just kept making mistakes. I wouldnt listen to Saavik or David or Spock or Scotty or anyone. No, I knew best. I always know best." He twisted violently around again and slammed his fist hard against the wall.
Alarmed, she rose quickly and approached him, reaching for his hand to see if he had hurt himself. But he pulled away again, refusing to let her get close enough to help.
"I tried to tell Bones I was too old to go galloping around the cosmos, that it was a job for the young, but he kept insisting I should get my command back. I did, and look what happened. Im not fit to command anymore." He ended the tirade on a whisper, all the fight seeming to have gone out of him.
"Are you through?" Her voice was hard, unsympathetic, and he looked up in surprise. "If you are, Ive got a few things to say to you now, Captain." She paused a minute to give him a chance to object. Glad that he didnt, she continued, "The planet you left Khan on was a good one; you couldnt have known what would happen to it. And Genesis was Carols project, and Davids, too. You didnt develop an idea that the Klingons thought it could be used as an ultimate weapon, and you didnt do whatever it was they did that caused it to fail, either. Maybe it was blind hatred for you that caused Khan to do what he did, but that doesnt make you responsible for all the rest of it." She sighed. "Youve simply got to stop taking responsibility for all the wrongs in the universe. Thats a little bit pretentious even for you, dont you think?"
"Pretentious?" She wasnt making sense.
"Yes, pretentious. What do you think you are? Some kind of a god, maneuvering people like puppets or the pieces on that damned chess game you and Spock are always playing? Come on, Jim. You always did have a big ego, but thats a bit ridiculous, even for you."
He stared at her for at least five minutes, angry at first, then softening, until... "Youre right," he finally whispered, wonderingly, as he faced her from across the room. "Why couldnt I see it for myself?"
"Cause Im smarter," she teased, relaxing a little when she caught a ghost of his usual smile hovering around his mouth. "Women usually are about things like this."
"I dont know about that." The smile gained a little strength in response to her teasing, and he walked over to her, intent on an apology. He wasnt sure exactly what for, but he knew that he had behaved badly, and that he owed her an apology, probably several, if truth were told. Somewhere on the way across the room, however, his intentions changed, and when he stopped in front of her, he reached a hand out tentatively to stroke a single finger down her smooth cheek. "Not all women, anyway. But you...now, thats another matter."
Her own smile wavered, and she shivered a little as his finger traced the line of her jaw to her chin and then up to caress her full lips, his hand then sliding back over her cheek to cup the back of her head, threading the fingers through her dark, curly hair. Both smiles faded completely; then slowly, giving her plenty of time to stop him if she chose, he drew her head closer until his lips touched hers lightly, almost experimentally. He pulled back a second to look deeply into her eyes. Then he bent his head again, closing his open mouth over hers in a kiss that sent shocks of delight coursing through both their bodies, his arms gathering her close. Long minutes later he lifted his head again, and they stared at each other, both breathing rapidly, hearts pounding.
"Nyota." It wasnt really a question, but she answered anyway.
He drew her close again and just stood there a minute, holding her with her head against his chest and wondering where his exhaustion had gone. She stood perfectly still, savoring the feel of his arms around her and the steady beat of his heart beneath her ear. She felt so at home. Then she lifted her head and looked up into his hazel eyes, fascinated by the flecks of gold evident at this close distance. He smiled somewhat tentatively, and she reached her own arms around him to hug him to her as she felt the relief and joy well up inside her.
Without saying a word, he turned and led her into the next room, stopping at the side of the bed. Facing her once again, he ran his hands lingeringly over her body, as though to memorize its contours. Finally, he found the fastening on her jacket and began to release it, sliding the garment from her arms, then pulling the shirt beneath up and over her head, baring her upper body to his gentle caresses before bending his head to kiss her yet again.
Shivering in his arms, she raised her own to encircle his neck and returned the kiss with a passion she had never admitted, even to herself. Then her hands slid back from his neck to help him remove his uniform, suddenly eager to feel his bare skin against her own. Finally, they separated for a minute and hurriedly finished undressing before returning to the interrupted embrace. His hands resumed their explorations, unencumbered now, and again she shivered, feeling him tremble under her equally curious hands.
He lowered her to the bed, following her down to stretch out next to her, dimming the lights with a soft command.
Their joining was slow, gentle, loving, and healing, as they reached for the heights, found them, and then slowly drifted back to earth and awareness.
Long moments later, he turned on his side, gathering her close with her head against his shoulder, smiling down at her with a peace and contentment she hadnt seen in ages.
"Nyota," he whispered, "why did we wait so long?"
"The time was never right before," she whispered back, knowing it for the truth.
Smoothing the damp tendrils of hair back from her face, he grinned ruefully."Youre right." Then he placed a quick kiss on the tip of her nose before turning her on her side away from him and fitting his body against hers spoon fashion. Then, slowly, peacefully, they drifted off into sleep.
The sensations were mixed and confusing as she awoke: a wide bed cradling her in its softness, warm breeze caressing her naked body, salty scent teasing her nostrils, the sound of crashing waves filling her ears, and the glitter of stars overhead. And over, under, around, and through it all was the feel of a strong, yet gentle hand, stroking her with a strangely urgent tenderness. Gradually, the dream melted into reality, and she knew once again the joy and pleasure than came from loving the man she had admired and liked for so many years. She couldnt yet believe this new dimension to their long-time friendship.
As the waves of pleasure receded, she opened her eyes and smiled at him. He returned the smile and spoke softly, "Good morning."
"Mmm. That a nice way to begin the day. I could get used to this."
He grinned in response. "I hope so."
"Jim?" She seemed to sober somewhat, a question in the dark eyes that watched him warily. "Should I?"
"Should you what?" He bent to nuzzle her behind her ear.
"Get used to this." She was having trouble concentrating. After long, mindless seconds, she asked, "Is it a good idea?"
He paused to consider, then grinned again. "I dont know, Nyota." He resumed his nuzzling. "As long as this isnt a regular...maneuver, I think it would be mutually... beneficial...to both of us."
She giggled and pushed him away a bit. "Stop it, Jim!" she feigned a protest.
"Whats the matter?" he teased. "Cant you handle it?"
She called his bluff. "Ill show you exactly what I can handle, Captain, sir."
Jim Kirk stepped onto the bridge exactly fifty-six minutes late for duty, and only three minutes after his almost equally tardy chief communications officer. He glanced at her briefly and winked conspiratorially before approaching the command chair. Spock raised one eyebrow at him in question, then quickly vacated the seat and moved toward his own science station when Kirk returned the look blandly.
The Vulcan noticed with relief the relaxed ease with which his friend moved. He had heard the shouting coming from Kirks cabin the previous night and had almost barged in on him. But he had stopped himself when he recognized the voice raised in argument with the captain. He had heard only bits and pieces of the heated conversation, but enough to know what the arguing was about, and he had decided this was one time he wasnt needed.
He had been sure he was right in his assessment of the situation when the shouting had finally ended, and the voices continued in softer tones. He was even more sure when he heard those muffled voices move to a different location in the captains quarters, and he was absolutely certain when he realized no one had left the cabin during the night.
Heads all over the bridge turned surreptitiously in the direction of the captain, the officers attempting to gauge his mood before returning to their varied duties with lighter hearts. They had been watching him with concern the past few days and were really becoming worried when he failed to show up at the beginning of his regular shift this morning. In fact, their concern had been so deep that Uhuras absence had been noticed by no one but Lieutenant Hakim, the late watch officer she was scheduled to replace. Even when she reported for duty almost an hour late, all she drew was a relieved look from Hakim and a briefly reprimanding one from Spock, who raised an mock-outraged eyebrow when she met his knowing eyes with a wink.
At that moment, the turbolift doors slid open, and McCoy stepped onto the bridge, approaching his usual position on Kirks left hand. The captain turned his head and greeted his friend with a broad grin. The startled chief medical officer glanced to one side in search of Uhura. Apparently her talk had been even more successful than he had dared to expect. He had hoped to find Kirk less depressed and a little more rested this morning. He hadnt counted on finding him so relaxed and actually happy. He was even more startled when he saw the wide smile that lit up Uhuras entire face.
"Well, Jim, how are you feelin today?" He couldnt resist asking.
The captain met his quizzical gaze with laughter in his own clear eyes.
"Like a six-year-old on Christmas morning, Bones." With decorum in mind, he let the statement speak for itself, choosing for the moment to review some reports of missing ships and personnel in the areas surrounding Gorn space. Then, a few minutes later, when work had taken over the attention of a smiling C.O., Kirk timed things just right to catch Uhuras eye, and flashed a smile her way.
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