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For I Know the Songs Sung and Tales Told by the Gossiping Birds

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“Get us out of here,” Kirk shouts at Scotty through the open link. Without pausing he stuns another Roxan; their attacker drops and three more rush forward take his place. The away team is running out of places to retreat to among the sharp conifers of Roxa VI.

Scotty’s manning the transporter controls himself. “A right nasty little solar storm, this one, Captain,” he says over the comm link. Static breaks up his words. “But nothing my lass can’t handle. Isn’t that so, my darling.” An image of him stroking the silver flank of the transporter console flashes through Nyota’s head and she huffs with grim humor, snapping off another shot.

“Only a few adjustments. Hang on, Captain.”

The sounds of phaser fire and the Roxan projectile weapons batters at Nyota’s ears. Beside her, Singh goes down, gripping his side. Nyota crouches over him. “Fine,” he gasps. “I’m fine, they just winged me.” She can’t see any visible wounds and doesn’t have time to do anything but take his word for it. Folding his hands over his side out of the way of her boots, she stands over him and keeps shooting.

The next instant, she spits in Klingon, “Dor-sho-gah!” and yells, “Captain, duck.” Without waiting she fires right where his head had been a second before. He's on the ground facing her, flat on his stomach, panting. His eyes are bright blue, his pupils wide.

She knows that look, has seen it before.

“Honestly, Kirk, I can't believe you sometimes.”

He grins up at her, quick. “Cover me,” he orders, and rolls to his feet in one seamless swirl of motion, spraying phaser fire as he does. Nyota catches a movement below her knee and lashes out. The first Roxan they’d stunned, before the team realized that the lowest setting only dazed them, had been coming around, but a kick to the head is as good as a stunner blast. Nyota gave up any other form of communication as a loss about the time they ambushed the away team, sent here on a diplomatic mission.

Kirk ends up with his back pressed to hers. She feels his muscles bunch; then he puts his hand on her hip and uses the leverage to twist himself around so they’re facing their attackers head on, together.

“Really?” she says, her breath coming hard. Where do all these damn Roxans keep coming from? For every two they take out, six more appear. She suspects they're massing for some sort of charge. “Was that really necessary?”

Before Kirk can answer, Scotty’s shouting through the comm, “Think I’ve got you all, nice and steady. Had enough?” and the Roxans are crowding around them, surging, threatening to overwhelm them with sheer numbers, as Kirk yells, “Five to beam up, go, go, go!” and the tingle of the transporter beam suffuses Nyota’s body.

Within minutes of their arrival, the transporter room empties out. A paramedical unit has taken Singh back to sickbay; the rest of the team stumble out to hit the showers after Kirk orders a debriefing at 16:00 and dismisses them. That leaves Nyota.

Kirk looks down at her. She knows she’s a mess – strands of hair coming loose, dirt swiped across her face, sweat tracking down the left side of her face, the skirt of her uniform torn up the side. He’s standing too close. His chest rises and falls as he gets his breathing back under control. His eyelids, ridiculous with too many eyelashes, fall shut, and he takes a deep breath, his face inclined toward her neck, the sharp line of her jaw. Then his eyes pop back open. “Always. Necessary, I mean.” He grins into her face. “Nyota.”

She refuses to blink, to give him the satisfaction, as she clicks her tongue at him, Andorian style. She wants desperately to sag back against the wall, to figure out where her communications went wrong, to piece together if it was her, if she’d mistranslated some crucial sentence. She wants to sink into relief that they got out of that one, got out of another one, again – always again – but first she waits for him to leave.

At the door he pauses. His smile fades; the cheekiness smoothes away. “Lieutenant,” the captain says. “Nice work out there.”

She straightens her shoulders without intending to. “Sir.”

+++

After they’d limped back to Earth, sayonara Nero, after she and everyone else on the Enterprise had been released from Starfleet Medical, she’d tried to wander off campus. The place is too empty, too bare. No matter where she looks, all she sees are holes – holes between the red academic uniforms of the cadets, too few of them left to fill up the gaps.

Starfleet isn’t allowing reporters and the media on campus, and so they gather at the edges, waiting to leap on any piece of news, ready to grab any interview from even the most inconsequential of cadets. Because no one is inconsequential now; everyone has some story of loss to tell.

But those who’d lived – those who lived are the heroes. And somewhere along the line, Nyota’s name becomes known. She’d helped save the Enterprise by providing key intel to Captain Pike. She’d helped reestablish communications among the fleet, it’s said. She’s even heard that she’d broken the Romulan code used by Nero to disguise his movements for the last twenty years. This all comes as news to her. Her face is on every media port behind Spock’s, behind Kirk’s. Someone had managed to grab a shot of the fledgling bridge crew just before they’d transported to Earth – Starfleet’s already promising an investigation of that breach – and there she is, with Spock and Kirk and Sulu and Chekov and McCoy and Scotty.

“Oh no, darling, you don’t want to go that way.” Kirk appears from nowhere and hangs a heavy arm around her shoulders. His arm is warm, something solid against the cutting wind. He steers her around, back toward the center of campus.

She stiffens. “What are you playing at, Kirk? Don’t you have somewhere important to be? Now that you’re a hero and all.”

He holds his hands up with an expression of wounded innocence. “Hey, I’m just trying to help. But be my guest. If you want to face the wolves hanging around campus just waiting to get another shot of you. You’re a hero too now, don'tcha know?”

She has to roll her eyes. But, well, “Thanks.”

One side his mouth slides up. “Or,” he says, looking up at her sideways, looking her up and down, “we could just wander out there together. I wouldn’t say no if you wanted to throw your arm around me. Maybe your hand on my chest.” He mimes the action, caressing his own chest over his nipple through the black of his shirt, and smirks down at her. “Really give them something to look at.”

“I cannot even believe you,” she snaps. “Only you could even – now, of all times.”

He winks at her. “All part of my charm.” He glances up and then bows mockingly with a great flourish. “Madam, your dorm, I believe.”

And when Nyota looks behind her, she sees that somehow he’s gotten her to walk all the way to the one place she’s been trying to avoid, even though she desperately needs sleep and a shower and to curl up with her blanket that somehow always manages to smell like her grandmother.

She doesn’t want to go up there. Doesn’t want to see all of Gaila’s stuff, still waiting for her as though she might walk back in at any moment.

“Unless you’ve reconsidered my offer.” Kirk runs his tongue over his lips and winks at her, and Nyota glares back at him and marches inside.

+++

She likes to listen. Just listen. Listen to the sound of space, to its hum, to its little hiccups, to its surges greater than any ocean, any savannah of her childhood. She sits at her station, half an ear on the quiet chatter of the bridge, the rest of her attention floating out there on the tides and eddies swirling around the Enterprise. She hears the crackle of Pisani-86, a tight tiny red dwarf, as they pass by. She hears the static left in the wake of a Denobulan freighter, which crossed this way about four standard hours ago, to judge from the frequency she picks up. Very faintly, she picks up old-fashioned style radio waves from the surface of Aruloba, only 1.2 light years away. She listens to an Aruloban soap opera until the signal decays too much, and then there’s only the swell of space around her, an ongoing infinity. It ripples over itself like a thousand grasses on the plain.

+++

Nyota never leaves her hair completely down outside her quarters. The feel of it brushing the back of her neck is a relaxation she allows herself only just before bed. When it’s not in its customary ponytail, she braids it or wears part of it down, but some always pinned back.

Spock had touched it once, curiously. “The texture is very unlike mine.”

“I always wanted that baby-fine hair you have.” She laughed. “Oh, god, Bibi used to get so mad at me when I would yank at my hair in the morning, trying to straighten it.”

“Bibi?”

“My grandmother.”

“Take it down,” Kirk says to her. “Come on, show me.”

She tosses her head and bends over him. The weightless ends of her ponytail brush over his bare skin. Her lips part, so close to his, and she rolls her hips slowly, deliberately. He strains up to meet her. She clenches muscles buried deep in her body. He chokes out, “Fuck.” Her laughter is breathless.

Once, months ago, she’d made the mistake of telling Kirk no, no I won’t take my hair down. Ever since – “I could make it an order.”

“But you won’t,” she says as she pulls her tunic down over her breasts. Kirk lounges on his bed, naked, uncaring of it. She takes a moment to trace her finger over the ungainly red blotches, the size of her mouth, indented by her teeth, on the swell of his shoulder, on the subtle bulge of his arm that she will never admit she loves to touch. She has traced her mouth over it, run her tongue over the pulse of the veins that stand out on his forearms. He turns his head and catches her finger between his lips.

She pulls away. “Goodnight, Kirk.” The door opens smoothly before her.

+++

After they get back to Earth, Spock shows up at her dorm. “Nyota.” He stands with his hands behind his back.

“Come on in. Can I get you some tea?” It’s the first time Spock has ever come to her quarters. He’s no longer wearing the science blue of his uniform, but has changed back into grey Academy gear. He looks more serious than ever, as though he wants to be even more blank and unreadable, but there’s a fierceness in his eyes that wasn’t there before. Before his mother didn’t come back on that transporter pad. For all that she’s had her eye on him for months, anything that’s happened between them is so recent that, other than her spontaneous contact with him in the turbolift, she doesn’t know how to give him comfort. He does not appear to want it, or to be willing to accept it.

“Tea is not necessary. I will not stay long.”

“Okay.” She looks at him expectantly.

He stares ahead. “I have come to inform you that I have decided to assist my race in finding a new home. I must do my duty to my people. There are too few of us left.” He looks at her. “I am resigning from Starfleet.”

She opens her mouth and then shuts it. There’s a long silence. Spock watches her. “I see,” she finally says. “Are you breaking up with me?”

“As we have not formally and openly acknowledged a relationship, there can be no logic in doing so now when we will be separated.”

“Wow.” This has got to be the most civil breakup she’s ever had, and yet so cutting at the same time. “I’m probably going to be really mad at you when you leave, you know that, right?” Because she likes Spock, dammit. There could have been something there.

“Hope is illogical.” Spock reaches out and touches the side of her face with his fingertip. “Yet I will hope that you will not be upset for long.”

Oh, Jesus. What’s she going to do with that? She reaches up and kisses his cheek. “Live long and prosper, Spock.”

She sits down heavily after he leaves. She sits and feels guilty. She sits and feels guilty because she’s relieved and she didn’t tell him. She doesn’t mind feeling relieved. It’s that she didn’t let him off the hook the way she should have, because she’s relieved.

With Spock, she’s not ready. There is no not-serious with him.

+++

Kirk never touches her sexually, seriously, without her permission. Permission by word, permission by her touch given to him first.

As with all his crew, he touches her all the time, casually, flirtatiously. A hand on her arm, a nudge of his shoulder. It’s not the same.

Nyota has small bones. Fragile bones. She isn’t a large person, and even with her combat training she stays lean. Her head comes up to Kirk’s nose. He has large hands. His hand wraps itself around her shoulder, splayed wide.

It’s not a constant thing, this. There may be months in between times, or maybe merely days.

+++

Her first month at the Academy, she meets Sebastian Morris.

He’s tall, dark, and handsome, everything he should be. He’s on the command track, two years ahead of her. She loves that about him, that he’s decisive. For the first time, she doesn’t have to plan everything – she’s always been so much better at it than everyone else that it’s always just been easier to do it herself. That way at least it’s done right.

But Sebastian comes up with an idea for a date, and then takes her out and shows her a good time. He introduces her to San Francisco. He walks her across the Golden Gate Bridge, and they get pizza on the other side. He kisses a bit of tomato sauce off the corner of her mouth. He takes her to a little old-fashioned coffee shop where they swirl dulce de leche into the coffee, a sticky sweet treat that’s almost too much to drink, but only almost. He walks her around the botanical gardens in the spring and tells her about his crazy family, and how he loves them but doesn’t want to be anything like them. He takes her to a family-owned restaurant that he’s been going to for years because they help rescue animals, and every other Saturday the local pet adoption agencies come to the restaurant with the animals seeking a home.

They’re so busy, both of them, each striving to excel, but they study together in the evenings, on weekends. They fall into bed together, too tired during finals to do more than make out and fall apart, fall asleep.

Sebastian pushes Nyota to be her best. She helps him in the areas where she’s stronger, and he does the same for her. And then he whispers to her that he is so lucky to have her, to have been given a second chance at his life. A chance to be better than his family has taught him to be. But Nyota knows the truth. She’s the lucky one; lucky to have had this man fall in love with her when it was the last thing she was looking for. Love will always find you when you’re not expecting it, it’s said.

+++

Listening began with the birdcall of the morning at Bibi’s country home. She learned early to distinguish the chirrup of the mannikin from the tche-uuu of the cape thicknee. Bibi explains that she must learn the language of birds before she can master those of men, because the birds carry the world’s secrets with the wind under their wings. But they are so chatty that they’ll spill everything to you, if only you listen.

+++

Inevitably they lose people. Crew are killed planetside, crew are killed onboard the ship – by enemy fire, by novel injuries and illnesses that even McCoy can’t always win against. They’re killed in accidents.

The first time it happened, Kirk stood up and passed the bridge to Spock. “I’ll be in my ready room, Commander.” An hour later, he came back to the bridge and sat in the captain’s chair without saying a word, carefully not using his right hand.

The next time it was his left hand.

After the incident on Stefav’s Planet, Kirk waits until shift is over and the beta crew are on. He touches no one on his way out, no casual reassuring brushes. Nyota goes to her quarters and changes into her gym clothes. It’s another of those times when she thinks that if she’d just listened harder this might not have happened.

She probably did know that Kirk was there, though that’s not what she’s thinking about when she goes to the gym. But he is there and he’s got gloves on and is punching a bag, over and over. “Captain,” she says, and stretches. He doesn’t say anything, just keeps going. Sweat is dripping down his face, soaking his shirt, even his hair. But he doesn’t stop as she dances through the kicks and swings of capoeira.

Finally, done, she says, “Captain,” again. He doesn’t respond. She’s about to leave – he’s a grown man, he knows when to stop, and she’s not his minder – but she stays. Because – because maybe if she’d just listened harder, Saunders and Hyppolite might not be cooling corpses in stasis fluids right now. And when she first started on this ship, she might not have thought that Kirk really cared, but she’s learned since then.

“Kirk.” Her voice is hard. Look at me, it demands.

“Go away, Uhura.” He keeps battering the bag.

“No. Stop it.” She stands just far enough behind the bag not to get whacked in the face by its swing.

“Get out of my way, Lieutenant.”

“I will not.”

He opens his mouth again, and she cuts him off. “And don’t you dare make that an order, Jim Kirk.”

He glares at her, but it’s something – a break in his rhythm. She reaches out to his shoulder, pushes. She doesn’t know what she’s doing and mostly thinks she’s going to regret this – soon – when he lashes out at her, but she keeps pushing until he’s fully turned from the punching bag, until he’s pressed against the wall, and his eyes are blue, blue, and bewildered, and so she ignores all the sweat, she ignores the way she can’t be sure if all of that wet is sweat or tears, she ignores the blood on his forehead from the cut he’s reopened, and she kisses him, fierce and with all the anger of this day. He tastes of salt, and it’s not pleasant but she ignores that too.

“Lock the doors, Kirk.”

“It was my fault,” he mutters.

She tells him to get over himself.

“Fuck off,” he snaps.

“Fuck off yourself,” and she drops to her knees in front of him.

+++

Later, she decides she’s never having sex on the mats again. They stink.

Kirk learns to tighten his hands on the arms of the captain’s chair when the bad news comes in. Although mostly he’s in the middle of the bad news and it’s the rest of them waiting, tightening their hands on their consoles, on the undersides of their chairs.

+++

As a teenager, she likes to lie in bed in the morning, early, when the sun rises, and listen to the grasses. To do this, she has to sink below the high warble of the birds, down to the earth between the tall grasses of the savannah. At first, the sound all blends together, their sibilance as the grains sway in the cool wind that swirls up with the red sun. “Take them apart,” Bibi instructs her, and she does. She learns to distinguish the scrape of the blue-green Themeda, flushed pink and red in the sunrise, from the soft whisper of the guinea grass. She listens to the young yellow thatching grass rub against its parents, tough and hard and unyielding. One bends to the wind, the other see-saws with a cricket’s rasp.

“Now let them carry you,” Bibi says. “The grasses will always lift you while you hear the birds tell the secrets of the world.”

+++

Kirk never comes to her quarters. Even when he seeks her out on ship’s business, he doesn’t step inside.

She never invites him in. Her space is her own, and she has not shared it since she lost Gaila.

+++

He’s been in her dorm. He wasn’t the first person she’d walked in on with Gaila, but he was the last.

Gaila had told her that she ought to just go have some sex and be done with it. “That way you can concentrate on that delicious commander.”

“Gaila!”

“What? He is, and you know it. You need a good, long fuck, you could use it after all the crap you put up with. And then you’ll be able to move on. Maybe to that delicious” – her lips curve up – “delectable” – she licks them – “super-sexy” – Nyota groans and throws a pillow at her – “Commander Spock.”

They’re in their dorm, sitting on Gaila’s bed. Gaila’s solution to most problems is to shag them out. “Still, I’m not sure that the commander is really what you need, klu’xn.” Gaila often calls Nyota her sister. She misses her own, Nyota thinks. She scoots up the bed to sit next to Nyota.

“You like him because he’s calm and collected and doesn’t act suddenly or rashly. That’s what appeals to you – his logic. He’s safe. Although, you know,” she says, getting distracted, “I’ve heard things about Vulcans. I don’t think it’s that they don’t feel things. One of my nest sisters said it’s the opposite.” She sighs, a rich, heady sound.

“Which doesn’t matter right now.” She turns back to Nyota. “This isn’t a time to be rational. Get out there and live a bit. Pull some ass.”

Nyota clicks her tongue and protests. “I went out on those dates last semester. Three different guys, remember?”

Gaila scoffs. “Please. That just means that you’re ready for some good, clean sex. Not rebound sap.”

Nyota twirls her hair around her finger, an absent-minded gesture that she thought she’d grown out of years ago. It’s come back recently. “I want to concentrate on my classes. There are only five of us in Advanced Andorian, and you know how Trilla Denp thinks she’s the best at it.”

Gaila’s not paying any attention. “It has to be the right person.”

“And then there’s the Vulcan Communications Schematics class. Professor Sajik has stated that those of us who miss no more than one question on no more than three of our exams will be invited to go to Vulcan to see the prototype for their new communications array.”

“Maybe Tom Wachstock? He’s got a lot of energy.” Gaila’s muttering.

“I got one wrong on the last test. And I knew that answer, too. I was so mad at myself. See, I can’t be distracted anymore.”

“No, he gets a little clingy after. Pla’sun Vi Nixee? Oh, well, he gets a bit … gooey during. Can’t help it, really.”

“And next week” –

“I’ve got it!” Gaila jumps up and pulls Nyota with her. “Jim Kirk! Have you met him? Sweet L’wriw. He’s in my engineering class, and he is the slinkiest thing ever.”

That gets Nyota’s attention. “I’ve met Kirk,” she tells her flatly.

“He’s perfect. I’ve heard that he never sleeps with anyone twice. And he’s gorgeous.”

“He’s an asshole. Have you actually tried to talk to him?”

“Nyota,” Gaila says in exasperation. “This isn’t about talking.”

“No.”

“Yes!”

“No!”

“Look.” Gaila puts her hands on Nyota’s shoulders. Her eyes are wide. “I haven’t even slept with him yet. I’ve been stringing him along. Or maybe he’s stringing me along, I don’t know, whatever. But I’ll give him to you first.”

Nyota has to smile. “You’re a good sister.” It’s a very generous offer Gaila’s making, from her point of view.

“I know, right? Come on, sweetie.”

Laughing, Nyota shakes her head.

When Kirk shows up at her dorm door a few days after he’s been handed the Enterprise, his eyes look over her shoulder to the partition hiding the beds, Gaila’s bed, from the entrance. “Lieutenant.”

“Captain.” The grin that spreads across his face as she calls him by his new title is irrepressible. His eyes crinkle at the corners with the force of it. She has to consciously not respond to it, the way he engages everyone around him with the pull of his personality, because even if he did save the planet, he’s still an ass.

And to think she’s already put her name at the top of the list asking for placement on the Enterprise, asking to serve with him. “What do you want?” she says.

He leers at her and leans in. “What do I want?” He makes his voice low and inviting, the ever-present mocking edge to it. She’s never quite sure if he’s mocking her or himself.

She rolls her eyes. “I set myself up for that one, didn’t I.”

He laughs and drops his leer. “Yep.”

Somehow, there’s something comforting in his constancy, the way even now with the world they knew lying shattered around their feet, with all of them about to fly into the black with nothing but guts and the burn of their dreams – even now, Jim Kirk is still Jim Kirk.

“Look,” he says. “I want you on my ship. That’s what I want. I want you as my chief communications officer.”

She’s never noticed before just how much taller he is. She can see the tiny beat of his pulse beside the hollow of his neck. “Chief communications officer?” she repeats, emphasizing “chief.” Inside, her heart is pounding, but she shrugs. “I’ll consider it.”

He shoots her a look. “Yeah, okay.” He doesn’t say, I’m so onto you, but she can see it in his eyes. As if she’d think of doing anything other than signing up for that job faster than the antelope runs on the savannahs of her childhood.

“Who do you want for your first officer?” She can’t believe she’s actually standing here talking to him like this. In the back of her head, she hears Gaila. As though she’s leaning over her shoulder. Nyota, this isn’t about talking. She smiles a bit at the memory.

“Spock,” he says, as though there’s no one else.

Nyota frowns. “He told me he was going to help start the Vulcan colony.”

Kirk leans against her door. “Yeah, he’s got this idea about that. But he belongs with us. Right? You know it. I know it. I don’t want anyone but the best. I want him. I’m going to get him to come with us.”

“Kirk, you can’t just decide for him.” Annoyance makes her fist her hands on her hips.

“I’m not deciding anything for him.” The corner of his mouth flips up. “I’m just going to make him see that I’m right, clearly. And I will wait for him. I’m a patient man. The admiralty is already trying to shove people down my throat. Hell, no.”

She shakes her head. This man is unbelievable. So fucking unbelievable. He has enough arrogance to power the Enterprise’s warp core. Who else would taunt a Vulcan, grieving for his mother, into losing his self-control just to take over his command, and then get the same Vulcan to help him save the world, and after that demand that he serve under Kirk’s command on the same ship he once controlled? It’s as though by never taking no for an answer, Kirk redefines the way his world works, and he pulls with him anyone standing nearby.

“Spock’s coming with me. And he’s going to like it.”

And just when she’s almost ready to let him, to let him redefine the world, he goes and says something so utterly shitty like that, and the world restabilizes under her feet. “He’s an asshole,” she’d said to Gaila.

“Sweetie, it’s not about talking,” Gaila had said, and, “I haven’t even slept with him yet. I’ll give him to you first.” But Nyota had walked in on that one, put an end to it, and then Gaila was gone, is gone, isn’t coming back, and Kirk says, almost quietly, “Hey. Your roommate, Gaila. She – ” and Nyota says with a pain in her heart, “Yes, she,” and, “I miss her,” and she fists her hands in his black shirt, the fabric textured under her hands, and she’s pulling him in and saying, “Shh,” over his stuttering, and backing them through the partition, into the space that still smells like her, the headiness of night flowers, and onto her bed. “For Gaila,” she whispers just before she closes her mouth over his.

+++

When he puts his hand on her inner thigh, just leaves it, heavy, an eternity – every nerve in her body centers on that patch of skin, a narrowing rush.

+++

Sometimes Kirk has looked at her. Just looked, watched, waiting, and then when the space between them has pulled taut, he’ll smear his thumb across his own lips. At the ship’s holiday party, in the empty mess late at night, as he leaves the turbo. Her lips will part and her chin come up, tilted, and if she’s sitting where he can see her, across two tables in the mess, she’ll uncross her legs and let them fall apart, the smallest amount.

+++

There are nights when she needs to fly. She needs to let herself go, let herself fall into the great savannah of space around them and know that the sound of the deep will carry her. She picks an unused channel to listen to the frequencies that don’t usually carry communications between sentient beings, or at least ones that the Federation is aware of. It’s the white noise of the galaxy, the sound of the tall grasses singing together their discordant melody, and she doesn’t listen too hard because if she does, she can always pick out meaning. She layers the frequencies one over the next until they sing a deep song to her and pick her up and carry her up onto their swells, down into their troughs.

She drifts and soars by turn.

Until she can do this with another person, have this feeling created in her by another, she will not be bound. Before, once before, she doesn’t know why, she’d thought that she could. That there could be enough with something lesser. She’ll never know if it ever would have been enough because she only ever intended to settle for something good enough, not for something bad.

Bibi had told her to always be strong. Never to compromise. “A man can make your life burn with all the fires of hell, mtoto wangu. My child. So pick your man well. He must make you soar above even the great savannah, because you will be bound to him.”

+++

The first eight months with Sebastian are amazing. Everyone thinks that the first semester is the hardest, that once the Academy breaks you down and remolds you into what they want you to be, it gets easier. But for Nyota, the first semester is the easiest. It passes in a breeze of laughter and late night study sessions that usually end up with them making out in the library, way back in the stacks where no one goes because who actually looks at print material anyway. If Sebastian, somewhere around the third month of their relationship, starts asking her why she likes him as they walk down the street holding hands, she understands that for some reason he thinks he’s the lucky one. That he's lucky to have her.

“I know why you love me,” he tells her. “Sometimes I just don’t get why you like me. We’re not really all that alike.”

Nyota makes a list in her PADD of all the things she likes about him. She means to send him little messages of each, some in Standard, some in Vulcan, some in Klingon, just to make him practice, because languages aren’t his strong suit. She never finds the time, though.

He’s told her for so long – because when you’re young and in love and training for the job you’ve always dreamed about, six months is a lifetime – that he’s lucky to have her, that she ends up believing she’s the lucky one.

“You don’t get how much it sucks,” he says to her once. He presses a kiss to her collarbone. It tickles her and she laughs, pulls away. He follows, to her delight. “I always tell you that I love you. And I don’t want you to say it back, not until you mean it. But you could leave me if you found someone better, and I could never do that to you. Can you imagine me ever leaving you?”

No, she can’t. A few weeks later, she says, “I love you,” to him, to anyone, for the first time. She’s always withheld it – no, just not felt it – with the boyfriends before him. They’re in a hovercraft, skimming over rusty desert, going to see his sister, whom he doesn’t get along with at all. He says, “I want to do better. It’s important to me that I do everything I can to fix this between me and my sister, even if she doesn’t try to do the same.” Nyota doesn’t have these issues with her family so she doesn’t really understand, but that doesn’t matter. She loves that he’s willing to try, that he tries so hard he bleeds with it.

When she goes home during spring break to see her family, she tells them about Sebastian.

+++

She’s already out of her clothes and letting Kirk skim his hands, those blunt working hands, in long strokes up her legs, up her sides, up the undersides of her arms when she thinks to ask. He’s pinning her wrists above her head with one hand, bracing himself on the bed with the other. He licks the underside of her breast. There’s a delicious tingle growing inside her.

“You did get tested after we got back from Philoxius, right?”

He freezes. “Uhm. No.”

“Jesus. Get off me, Kirk.” She twists up and throws him off.

He catches himself, protesting. “I didn’t have sex with anyone.”

She glares at him over her shoulder. “The magistrate’s daughter?”

“No.”

“The museum curator’s aide?”

“No.” He’s starting to sound a bit peeved. Too bad, let him. She’d come here tonight impatient and wanting, tense for reasons she’s not even sure of, and now this.

“The museum curator?”

“Oh my god, no.”

“Uh-huh. What about the harvest festival we went to on our last night there?” She has to make herself not watch his chest, the subtle curve of muscles there. The flex of his thighs. The way the light catches the golden hair scattered on them.

“I didn’t do anyone there. either.” He’s going from peeved to pissed. “I know you don’t have a very good opinion of me, Uhura, but I’ve never gotten anyone sick and I don’t intend to start with you. Mostly because you’d find a way to kill me in full view of everyone on the bridge and make it look like an accident.”

She almost feels bad. He almost sounds … hurt. What on earth is she supposed to do with that? Their relations do not encompass vulnerability.

But – “You told me that you didn’t remember the last three hours of the harvest festival after drinking the wine. Who knows what you did? Who you did. I told you to stay away from that stuff.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Why do you have to argue with everything?” She jumps to her feet and ignores the fact that she’s stark naked.

“Why do you?” he throws back.

“It was in the pre-mission report. Which you might have known if you’d actually bothered to read it.”

He grins at her, lazy, yet there’s fire in his eyes. “That’s what you and Spock are here for. To tell me these things so that I don’t have to read boring shit.”

She wants to pull her hair out, she really does. Or maybe scream a bit. “Kirk.” She gentles her voice and sits down on the bed next to him. She even lays her hand on his arm. She loves how small it looks there. “Why do you act stupid? Why do you act like you don’t care? I know for a fact that you stay up half the night every night going over everything, just to make sure we don’t all screw up out here.”

For a split-second he looks uncomfortable. Then his eyes narrow. “I’m just living up to the expectations set for me,” he says snidely. “Didn’t you just tell me that I didn’t bother to read it? Anyway, what about you? Did you get tested when we got back?”

“Oh for god’s sake.” The thing is that there’s a grain of truth somewhere in his words, but she can’t tease it out of them before she has to respond to his attack. He always does this, attack, go on the offensive.

“Of course I did.” She smiles at him coolly. “The curator’s aide was so flexible.”

Kirk relaxes as the conversation moves away from him. He reaches up and plays idly with the ends of her ponytail. “I wish you’d take this down.”

She tosses her head. Her hair snaps out of his light touch. “Go make sure you’re clean. And then let me know.” She reaches for her underwear, only to have Kirk hand it to her, but not before bringing it to his face with an expression that she knows she should just laugh off, that somehow makes her breath catch instead.

“Oh gimme that.”

+++

Bibi tells her to be slow. Not to take it slow or move slowly, but to be slow. It takes Nyota a long time to understand what this means.

+++

A few months after they embark on the five year mission, she asks Spock why he decided to join the crew instead of helping out with the Vulcan colony. They share a meal several times a week. She’s discovered that he plays the Vulcan lyre; she wants to see if he'll let her sing with his music sometime.

“I was not upset,” she’d told him shortly after he comes aboard as the first officer. She’s happy to see him. “Hope is not illogical, Spock. What is necessary is never illogical.”

His mild expression conveys interest. “Fascinating. You posit that hope is necessary. To human happiness?”

“To survive.” She smiles at him and asks why he stayed in Starfleet and came on board the Enterprise.

He tilts his head in a gesture that, on him, is a faint smile. “I found I could be in two places at once.”

“How illogical, Spock,” she says.

“Indeed. Yet it is completely logical that one of those places should be here.”

If Nyota were to look through a viewing port, she's sure she would be able to see the sounds waves of the galaxy ebb and swell around the ship. They would carry the tremulous light of the farthest stars with them and pitch the brightness closer until they were all blinded by it. In that brilliance, the swell carries to her Kirk’s voice, saying to her, “He belongs with us. I’m just going to make him see that I’m clearly right.”

+++

The thing about being the communications officer is that Nyota hears everything. She hears everything but sees little. She has to make the images for herself, has to create bodies and spaces and worlds for all the things she hears.

Before Kirk leads the away team to Meridian V, he meets with the senior officers. This term amuses Nyota every time she hears it, because she doesn’t feel senior. None of them, even almost a year into the mission, really knows what they’re doing. Sometimes she feels like they – she – never will. Mostly she refuses to believe it matters: what’s important is that she does whatever it is she does with conviction. “Hell, no,” the captain had said once, to McCoy. “If I’m goin’ down, I’m goin’ down with my head held high and my flag flying.”

Spock folds his hands on the table in front of him, its surface gleaming black. “Captain, regulation 26.4(a) states that the away team shall not deliberately engage in reckless acts where such may be avoided. Further, subsection 8 of regulation 45.2 offers particular guidance in dealing with ritual games to the death of unknown cultures.”

“Commander. Two questions. First, is there a regulation that covers ritual games to the death with known cultures?” Nyota hears the edge of laughter in Kirk’s voice as he asks this, and, not for the first time, wishes he wasn’t the captain and she could hit him upside the head for being an idiot.

“Affirmative. Regulation 45.1.” Spock’s voice is without inflection.

“I see. Second, do you think I don’t have a plan?” And if Spock’s voice was without inflection, Kirk’s is … not.

“I believe you have a plan, sir.”

Nyota maintains her straight face. She can hear everything that Spock doesn’t say – “I believe you have a plan, sir, and I believe it is poorly conceived and likely entirely without merit, and yet it is possible that beyond all logic it may work.”

McCoy is scowling. “Oh yeah? Let’s hear it.”

“Lt. Uhura, please remind our fellow officers why we’re here.”

Nyota’s quite sure that no one has managed to forget but summarizes the orders sent by Command anyway. “We are to ensure that the Fleet has a steady supply of dilithium. In order to do so, we must convince the government on Meridian V to sign our proposed contract on terms favorable to us.”

“That’s right, people.” Kirk runs a hand through his hair. “We need this. We need their dilithium – the fleet’s running dry. We’re building too many ships at once. They need power. So I will get it signed. If it means I accept their challenge and play their little game, fine. If this is what it takes to show we’re a worthy bunch, fine. Sulu?”

“The captain and I have been making a study of Kitsianu, which in Standard just means ‘The Game.’ We have quite a few video logs of it, and it’s pretty similar to certain sword-fighting techniques once used on Earth. So we’ve been training up. It also appears to require knowledge of strategy kind of like chess.” He shrugs.

“The thing is, if you watch enough of it, there’s a pattern. It’s not about skill with weapons at all – that’s just how it looks at first. Really, whoever outwits the pattern can beat the game and his opponents. Don’t fall for the Fifth Riatsu, make sure you always take the Itsuzi if you get the chance unless you’re standing in the white quadrant when it’s offered, never commit Maitei. And most importantly, it pretty much looks like you have to take some risks, or they’ll get you from behind.”

Kirk looks around the table at each of them. His eyes are focused and intense. “I can beat this game.”

“Oh, good god, Jim, don’t be insane,” McCoy says, just as Spock insists that, “Since this has to do with patterns, I am logically in the best position to assume the challenge,” and Scotty starts figuring out, aloud, how he can maintain a transporter lock on the captain at all times.

“Hey,” Kirk says sharply. “I’m telling you this, not asking. Bones, not insane yet. Spock, like hell. Scotty, no beaming me up until I say so or you’ll ruin anything I may have managed to accomplish.”

Nyota listens to the unhappy sounds coming from her fellow officers.

“They play to first death. So I won’t be first. Whatever it takes.” Kirk pauses, and then, despite his insistence that he’s telling not asking, he puts the question out, just as he always does. “Are you with me?”

He waits until he sees all of them but Spock nod, however reluctantly. Then, as always, he turns to Spock. “Commander?” Nyota watches the way their eyes meet, measuring, weighing, and balancing. The perfect assurance in Spock’s human brown eyes when he says, “I am. I will beam down with you.”

+++

The summer after her first year, Sebastian stays in San Francisco. “I’ve got so much to do here,” he tells her one night as they lie in bed together, lazy and comfortable. “Going to take some summer classes they’re offering. I’ve got Professor Abramova’s special project to work on.” Nyota nods. Her face brushes his skin. He’s told her all about the special project, how he was chosen for it over all his peers. The project comes up frequently in conversation with friends, how it’s going to make him even busier than he is now. He’s so excited.

“My mom’s coming to visit,” he says. “And my sister says she’s coming. I guess she wants to see California. Funny how you travel all over the world and never see your own backyard.”

“Wait, what? Your family’s coming?” Nyota lifts her head and stares at him. “Are you okay with that?”

“Sure,” he says. “A little nervous.” He laughs lightly. “I’m going to get things organized so that it all goes smoothly.”

She kisses the tip of his nose. “Tell me what I can do to help.”

+++

She likes the weight of Kirk pressed down on her, skin to bare skin. She always snatches a few seconds to enjoy it during sex, or maybe just after, because she never stays too long when they’re through.

+++

The thing about being the communications officer is that Nyota hears everything. She hears everything but sees little. She has to make the images for herself, has to create bodies and spaces and worlds for all the things she hears.

Sitting safe on the Enterprise with an open channel, she hears the cheers of the crowd on Meridian V, their gasps and shouts as Kitsianu gets underway. They hiss at first blood, at second blood, and then they’re screaming, screaming, and she can hear the sound of thousands of pieces of cloth rubbing each other as the spectators jump to their feet, and her belly is jumping with them, and she feels like she’s going to throw up as the game goes on and on. She can picture everything but the details – who’s hurt, who’s been tossed to the sidelines, bleeding, until the end of the game.

“I won’t be first,” she hears the captain saying in their pre-mission meeting.

It seems like an eternity before she hears Spock say, quietly, to Ensign Natts, “Be still. The captain is alive.”

Sometimes it’s the hardest thing, listening. She always hears too much, and not enough.

But once Kirk’s back on the ship, Spock with him, and they’re all safe, she can’t help but hear the jubilation in Kirk’s voice. It spreads through the ship, exclamations in the corridors – “Did you hear? Enough dilithium to power the entire fleet for ten years!” – and hangs on the shit-eating grins Chekov and Scotty are both wearing. It echoes in Sulu’s rehashing of the game as they wait for the captain to come back on deck. McCoy dragged him to medical to patch up his leg and “give you a few damn hypos for good measure.”

“Did you see the way he lunged into the green quadrant two moves ahead of everyone else? Or how he outsmarted the Pegaasu Attack – classic move. I didn’t even see it coming. I think he might even have invented a few new moves. Saw their scribes going wild on the side copying it down.”

It’s going to be one of those nights where the party begins in the mess hall and spreads outward on the ship’s air currents.

Sulu talks the whole time until Kirk comes onto the bridge, filling everyone else in on the details, details that Nyota heard but didn't see. When the captain appears, everyone snaps to a bit straighter. There’s a moment of silence, of expectation, and then Sulu swings around in his chair and says, “Excuse me, Captain. If you don’t mind me saying so, that was fucking awesome.”

Nyota turns in her chair, too, and looks at everyone else on the bridge. Their eyes are a bit brighter, full of pride, and this Nyota can see for herself, no imagining needed.

Maybe hers are too.

+++

Sebastian gets into a screaming match in the middle of the street with his sister. She tells him – yells – that he just wants them all to kiss his ass and thank him for arranging this oh-so-wonderful trip where they can’t even step outside without checking with him first. “You’re such a prick,” she yells.

“You think I want you to kiss my ass?” he shouts back. “Well, here it is,” and he bends over and points to his ass, and his mother sits on the park bench and screams at them both to stop it and cries.

Nyota sits, frozen.

+++

With Kirk’s weight holding her, she can allow herself to be soft, even if she’s the only one who knows it. She has to be soft so that she’s not crushed into brittle shards but rather bends with him.

+++

After that, Sebastian acts a little differently. He becomes so busy, and Nyota’s busy too, but somehow he seems busier than she is and so she tries to take on a little more to help him out. She travels to see him more instead of the way he always used to come see her. She helps him with his research because he’s got more of it with this special project and all. When the fall semester starts again, it’s easy for her to just keep helping him. He’s tired all the time, and she can’t help a lot of the other things in his life, but she can do this. She brings over food for him or sometimes even makes it; she helps him keep his apartment straight because he lives off campus now as an upperclassman. It’s nearly an hour commute by public hovercraft from her dorm to his apartment, but she makes the time.

When she gets frustrated, she reminds herself that this is just stress and he comforted her when she got stressed last year. He’s just stressed and tired, and underneath that there’s this wonderful person who can’t get enough of her, who kisses her neck and makes her laugh with pleasure and tickles. This will all pass, it will end.

But in the meantime, everything else is going so well for her – classes, grades, her social environment, even all the opportunities to learn new languages and practice them with native speakers – that she learns to take up a little less room with Sebastian. To be a little smaller around him. Because when she takes up a little less room, he expands and fills her space: she sees that amazing man she fell in love with. And it’s such a small thing to give.

+++

Sometimes Nyota will draw Kirk down on top of her just to feel his weight, just to remind herself how to bend.

+++

After that first time, she refuses to let Kirk back into her three-quarters-empty dorm room. Gaila always did take up more space than seemed reasonable. Part of Nyota resents her for it even more now than she did when she was here and they spent every Sunday morning arguing over whether the floor was actually an appropriate place for wet bath towels. If she hadn’t taken up so much room before, Nyota might not miss her so much now.

She won’t let Kirk back into her dorm, but she does end up in his, one hand yanking down the front of his grey shirt, the other wrapped around the back of his neck, pulling his face down. The palm of his hand is flat on her back as it slides down and grips the curve of her ass. The material of his shirt is soft and warm from his skin; she can’t help but lean further in, rise on to her tiptoes, and breathe in his clean, sharp scent. She flicks her tongue over the flesh of his ear. Kirk makes a small noise; his hand clenches on her skin under her skirt.

“Do that again,” he says, grit in his voice.

Nyota hums her laughter and traces the shape of his ear with the tip of her tongue. “Do what?” she says. “This?” She presses her hips into him, circles them slowly, wantonly, against his hard body. “This?” She draws her fingers over his cock, still in his pants, not especially gently. He thrusts forward into her hand.

He bends and bites the softness of her arm, then smoothes the heat away with his mouth. She pulls back enough to jerk her shirt over her head, and Kirk’s hands help, get all tangled up in hers, and then he’s everywhere around her, on her, in her. The veins on his forearms stand out as he braces himself over her; she circles her legs about him.

“This can’t happen again,” she gasps.

“Uh-huh.” Kirk pulls out slowly and presses back in just as slowly. And then again, and again, and again, until Nyota’s burning with it, this incessant ache he’s creating inside her.

“Ship’s about to leave in three days.” She feels stretched and hot and needy, and it’s not enough and the smug bastard knows it.

“Yeah, it would be so wrong.” His voice is nearly a groan. His lips are parted and flushed; there’s stubble on his face; his hair flagrantly violates regulations. She narrows her eyes at him and touches herself, palms her own breasts, lets her eyes fall shut while her back arches up.

“That the best you can do?” and if her voice is a bit breathy, Kirk’s is no better.

He stretches forward and rolls her nipple between his lips. They brush over her fingers, and he pulls out of her almost entirely and then slams back in. Nyota can’t stifle her sharp cry, and she tenses her muscles to meet him, and all the sounds blur together – their harsh breathing, the smack of their bodies straining together, the sliding of the sheets, “oh god” and “more” and “fuck.”

“I had no idea white cotton underwear was so hot,” he says afterwards. “Jesus.” Nyota turns her head and looks at him. He’s lying on his back with his hands folded behind his head. She doesn’t let herself roll into him and breathe him in, the smell of him all hot and satisfied. He’d notice – he notices everything – and not let her forget about it.

Kirk props himself on his elbow and stares down unabashedly at her naked body. “Better without, though.” He smirks at her and traces a circle around her bellybutton.

She rolls her eyes and bats his hand away.

He combs his fingers through the ends of her ponytail. “Ever leave it down?” He doesn’t really seem to be paying attention, a sated question.

She shrugs her shoulder against the pillow she’s stolen from him. “Sometimes.”

“Take it down. I want to see it.”

“No.”

“Why not?” He’s looking more alert now.

“I don’t want to.”

He sends her a sharp glance and then relaxes again. “Maybe later.”

She makes a sound that’s not quite a laugh. “I meant it.” She pulls the sheet around herself. “We can’t do this again.”

“Cuz I’m gonna be the captain, captain,” he singsongs and does a little body shake to go with it.

“Oh my god.” She buries her face in her hands. “That’s exactly it. On so many levels, Kirk, you have no idea.”

“Right,” he says. “You’re right, this can’t happen again.”

“Exactly. This is it.”

“Good.”

“Good.” There’s a moment of silence.

“Well, I’m glad we got that straightened out,” Kirk tells her. He raises his eyebrows. “So … one more time before we don’t do it again?”

+++

Of course, Kirk being Kirk takes her refusal to let her hair down as the ultimate challenge.

She really should have known better. But she’s not about to give in now.

+++

The sex isn’t always great. Sometimes it’s just good or okay. Several times, it’s not even that. Surprisingly, Kirk doesn’t get upset about this. She’d have thought it would be some sort of insult to his manhood or some such nonsense. They fumbled around like stupid kids after the crazy sex pollen on Latham III. She’s not sure he even made it inside her, though she remembers him trying.

Exhausted after the incident with the Brysonites, Nyota yawns right into Kirk’s face while he’s got his hands all over her chest. Her eyes tear up with the force of it. “Oh my god,” she says. “I don’t think I can get it up tonight.”

He blinks at her, and then laughs and collapses onto the couch. “I thought you wanted—” he says.

“No, I thought you wanted.” Nyota laughs too. “Thank goodness. Right, well, then I’m off. Going to bed. See you in the morning.”

+++

Nyota’s second year at the Academy is Sebastian’s fourth. Everyone knows fourth year is the worst, final projects and theses and cumulative exams and the survival test and final combat and flight certification and the Kobayashi Maru. Everyone thinks first year is the hardest, but everyone knows that fourth year is.

Sebastian is frustrated. “I have no time. I have no time, Nyota!” he says when she asks him to come grab dinner with her, take a walk with her on the shore and hold her hand. When she tells him that he needs to wash the pile of grimy dishes in his sink at least once a week. When she tells him it’s disgusting that the short, brusque pieces of hair from when he depilates litter the bathroom. He slams his hands down on his desk; his PADD rattles on the tabletop.

“Why do you flinch when I do that?” he says to her.

He doesn’t kiss the side of her neck much anymore, doesn’t make her shriek with delighted tickles. But he does still step behind her, slide his hands up to cover her breasts. Sometimes he twists her nipples, pinches. She pulls away, saying, “Stop it, that hurts.” He laughs and tells her there’s a fine line between pleasure and pain.

If she comes over and tries to help him out, tries to wash the dishes and pick up his clothes, he tells her that she’s folding them wrong, that she’s leaving the dishes to dry with water spots on them. When she helps him with his papers, he snaps at her for failing to correct for him a few typos that he lost points on. He says to her, “You don’t even want to help me, why do you bother?”

In response to her pointing out that he’s always so tense, so angry, always on the attack, he explains that she’s making things really difficult for him because she’s not supporting him enough. “I have to ask you for everything,” he says, in such a calm voice that she can’t help but concede his point. “Can’t you see that I don’t want to have to ask for everything? I want you to give it to me without me having to ask. I want you to do it willingly, not after you’ve told me how you don’t want to but you’re going to do it anyway because you love me. You ruin everything that way. I always know you don’t want to help out, even if you end up doing it.”

And it’s true, so she can’t really say it’s not – she doesn’t want to do so many of the things she does for him. Not anymore.

“That’s why I’m angry. I wasn’t always angry at you. Remember? I used to ask you to do better, used to try to help you do it. But you never did. So yeah, I got frustrated, and I’m really sorry about that. But if you would just do things right, then I wouldn’t have to be mad.”

She tells him that when he says “do things right,” he means “do things to some standard he’s set,” and that’s not fair.

“No,” he says. “It’s not my standard. There’s a right way to do things, period. Something’s clean or it’s not. There’s a typo or there’s not. You enjoy spending time with my friends or not. That’s not me, that’s you.”

The thing is that he doesn’t say this to her all in one day. It’s months of it, creeping up so gradually that there’s nothing she can put her finger on. There’s no one incident that she can say was anything worse than a squabble, and all couples have those. When she tries to articulate it, even to herself, she feels silly, as though she’s just being over-emotional and making things up. Sebastian drags her back to his chest at night and asks why she always seems upset. “Because of the way things are between us,” she says. “What are you talking about?” he responds. “We had a discussion about things, not a big deal.”

+++

Sebastian has a lot of pride in being totally forthright and up front, regardless of how brutal his honesty may be. This was attractive, in the beginning – Nyota knew she could trust everything he told her.

He didn't say, “I’d never cheat on you.”

He does say, “Trust me, if I wanted to fuck another woman, I’d just tell you flat out.”

Sometimes Gaila looks at her strangely.

“We’re fighting a lot,” Nyota tells her. “He can be so cruel.”

“Like how?”

Nyota twirls her hair around her finger. She’s been doing this recently. “I can’t really give you any examples. It’s more the way he makes me feel. But I’m” – her face twists – “nervous a lot. Around him. When I think of him. But then he’ll go and be so nice, and I remember why I love him. When it’s good, Gaila, it’s so good.”

“Nyota!” Gaila exclaims. “Do you know what you sound like? You sound like one of the ono’om, the indentured women.”

Nyota laughs. “I know. Isn’t it ridiculous?”

+++

Gaila had said it to her, but she hadn't paid attention. Kirk never sleeps with anyone twice. A night, a weekend, whatever it is.

She forgets about this for a long time. And when she remembers, when she finds out that Gaila was right, what’s she to say? So she doesn’t.

+++

When she tells her mother, Mama cries. “But why? You’re the most independent, stubborn woman I know. What happened?” Nyota loves her mama, but there is no response she wants to give to that.

Bibi looks at her and tells her to be slow.

Gaila, who becomes her roommate that second year, says, “Let me teach you the language of the Orion slave girls.”

There are rumors of this language, but no one believes it exists. Linguists scoff at the idea; merchants who deal with the Orion Syndicate laugh just thinking about anyone, much less uneducated slaves, hiding anything from the Syndicate. Nyota knows her mouth is hanging open. A burn of excitement pushes its way through her numb misery.

Gaila says, “It will tell your story. It was made for women, for this, to become master of these things.”

+++

Bibi told her to pick her man well. “He does not need to come to you knowing the secrets of the gossipy birds. He does not need to listen to the bird song, for that is what you will do for him. But he must listen to you with the ears of his heart. He must make you soar above even the great savannah, because you will be bound to him.”

She has no interest in being bound, not now. The galaxy ripples before her. Maybe this is why the – whatever it is – between her and Kirk works. It’s about expectations – she expects no promises from him and he makes none. What she gives is her choice to give.

Kirk never comes to her quarters. Even when he seeks her out on ship’s business, he doesn’t step inside. But he never turns her away when she comes to him, to his quarters, to some empty corner of the ship. Mostly she thinks this is because James Kirk isn’t a man who’s ever going to refuse no-strings-attached sex.

He is always available to her. He is always available to any of his crew, but he is also always available to her.

+++

Sebastian hates having to ask things of her, so Nyota tries to learn to anticipate what he wants. She never quite gets it right, though, and Sebastian isn’t shy about letting her know that. “Tell me what you want,” she says quietly when this happens, most times they are together, but he refuses and insists that she figure it out herself.

“You don’t even get it,” he snaps. “I’m about to graduate. I’ll be sent out into space. And here you are, going on about how you want to serve on the Enterprise. No one gets on that ship. I won’t be on that ship. Is that what you want? Do you want to have maybe three days together in any year, when our leaves happen to overlap at the same place?” He slaps his hand on the wall near where she stands.

“I plan on being on the Farragut.” He sends her a dirty look. “If you supported me at all, you’d be trying to get on that ship too.”

Nyota looks down. “Sebastian, they already have a full communications team. They don’t need me.”

“Well, then, learn to do something else. Why do I always have to be the one to tell you what to do, god.”

When she kisses him good night, if she goes to bed before he does – “You never stay up with me. I would stay up with you, if you needed it,” – he turns his face away. Some nights it’s “you don’t kiss me the right way.” Other nights it’s “you kiss me like my mother, always demanding something from me. I’m not going to give it if you keep asking for it.” A few times it’s “I hate it when you kiss me like that. Like you’re afraid of me.”

Eventually she realizes what she needs to do, and she starts investigating the Farragut to see what positions Starfleet anticipates needing to fulfill in two years’ time.

Beyond her window, a lone bird cries a solitary cry. She has no choice but to ignore it, as she has been doing for months.

+++

Nyota is the communications officer. She tends to know what’s going on around the ship. Not that most other people don’t as well – for all that it’s a constitution class starship, it’s a remarkably close world out here in the black.

She sees all messages that arrive for anyone from a source outside the ship, their subject lines and who they’re from. She always knows every person’s birthday because of the standard file size of the cards being sent to him or her. She passes these messages on right away. She knows when someone at home has given birth because the subject line of this message never tries to hide its contents. She passes these on right away, too. She learns which headers, designed to be discreet, mean someone dear has died. Sometimes she chews her lip uncertainly and waits on these, lets them cycle to the bottom of the pile, depending on the crewmember’s shift schedule. She knows that anything from Admiral Pike will make Kirk’s eyes brighten, no matter the contents. Admiral Komack has the opposite effect, and if a message comes from Admiral Nogura then she can expect the Enterprise to be summarily dispatched somewhere other than where it was five minutes before.

She knows that many on the Enterprise consider her to be something of an ice queen. Not those who know her and have regular contact with her, but the rest. The senior bridge crew, as much as any of them are senior, tend to have mythologies of some sort built around them by everyone else. They call Spock a cypher and feel a certain wariness toward him, the way humans do when they don’t fully understand something. This probably has to do with the now-legendary time he almost killed the captain right on the bridge. He’s their cypher, though.

The captain – the captain they just love. The collective mind of the ship makes him larger than the rest of them, and yet his personality allows him to appear accessible.

She knows that half the crew thinks she’s sleeping with Spock and half the crew thinks it’s Kirk and the other half says it’s Scotty. And since there are three halves, she must be having sex with multiple people. She also knows that half the ship thinks Kirk and Spock have something going on, and the same half thinks that it’s Kirk and McCoy. A full three quarters think that Sulu and Chekov are in bed together. And just about everyone thinks that Kirk is getting it on with the person next door to him or her, and is either wondering why it isn’t him or her or wondering if the person next door is cheating on him or her. This may have something to do with the slim cant of his hips in Starfleet’s too-tight black pants, or the way command gold can’t hide the smooth line of muscle on his chest or arms, or the way he flashes his grin like a weapon.

Or maybe this is just pretty much what happens when you pile a bunch of twenty-somethings (and one teenager) onto a ship of the line with lots of pretty blinking buttons to press and way too many weapons for anyone in command to have been sane when they let them loose on this thing, and no one but themselves for company half of the time.

She doesn’t advertise anything, but she doesn’t hide it, either.

+++

Despite, or perhaps because of, her refusal to let her hair loose when she’s with Kirk, it gets mussed. Of course it does, she’s having some of the best sex of her life with her captain, who’s one crazy, inventive, batshit-insane man.

She doesn’t hide that she spends time in his quarters, but she doesn’t advertise it, either. So she goes to the bathroom and straightens up when they’re done. Kirk will usually be sprawled out all over his bed – or couch or floor, or once, uncomfortably on his desk. She used to lock the door when she went in, but she doesn’t do that anymore.

+++

When she sleeps beside Sebastian at night, she doesn’t sleep. She turns her head and looks out the window at the lights beyond and imagines them to be stars, enveloping in their silence, a cold comfort. Because in the mornings when the birds call to each other and the wakening sun, it is a cacophony; it is sheer noise the unintelligibility of which makes her head hurt. She can no longer understand them, but she imagines what they are saying – they are tossing around like morning gossip all the pieces of herself she has so willingly given over to Sebastian, that he has discarded without paying them any heed.

There’s a small part of her, somewhere buried far down, that whispers he stole them from her, but she silences this piece too. She chose to give him those pieces, the largest parts of herself, leaving herself small. So it’s not fair to blame him now because she is lost and scared without them.

+++

The Enterprise launches on its five-year mission shortly before the winter holidays. Kirk and Scotty decide they’re throwing a party.

“My lass’s first holiday bash,” Scotty says. He pats her affectionately. “I’ll bring the booze.”

Kirk holds up a finger. “Ah – that would be the lass’s first annual holiday bash.”

McCoy grumbles about needing to stock up on hangover hypos and STD boosters. Sulu cheers. Chekov grins, young and open. Spock does not point out that this is an inappropriate discussion for an official meeting of the senior staff. Nyota thinks about what she’s going to wear.

+++

At the second annual holiday party, Nyota wears a thigh-length sheath with long sleeves and an open back and loose folds in the front that leave a provocative V down her chest but don't reveal anything. It is gold, or it is pale green. It is the color of the grasses of the African plains the second week of the dry season, when they turn golden but still shimmer with the growth of the wet season. This is the time the birds chat the loudest as they gather to peck up the fat grubs from the last rains and the popping seeds from the drying grains.

Scotty greets her as she walks into the observation deck where the party planning staff has spent a week setting up. He presses something alcoholic into her hand; she kisses his cheek and makes him blush. The room is already loud, people talking over each other and laughing. There are silver and gold garlands on the ship’s walls, and the deck sparkles with light scattered from the giant mirror ball now hanging from the ceiling.

Spock is across the room, engaged in what is probably some argument with McCoy. Kirk is leaning against the table with the punch bowl on it. He’s holding a glass with some tawny drink in it. His legs are crossed. He’s less formally dressed than many of them, in jeans with a belt and a soft black button down, open at the top to show a plain white t-shirt. He’s got a crowd around him as he tells some story.

He looks good.

Nyota finds Christine and heads for her. She is aware of the appreciative looks thrown her way, along with a few envious ones, and she smiles a small, secret smile. She knew this was a good dress.

She ends up sitting with Christine on one of the couches, talking. Spock joins them, which Nyota thinks is hilarious because Christine, normally the most put-together person on this ship other than Spock, since she has to deal with McCoy on a daily basis, totally falls apart in front of him, and Spock doesn’t get it at all. Kirk wanders past, his arm slung about the doctor. Christine’s eyes follow him, distracting her from Spock. She sighs and playfully fans herself. “That ought to be outlawed.”

“I think he is on several planets,” Nyota says. She laughs under her breath and takes a moment to watch his ass as he walks. He looks back over his shoulder and, catching the women staring at him, winks. “Cocky bastard.” She narrows her eyes at his back.

The rest of the evening she’s aware of him. Everywhere she turns, it seems like he’s there. Watching her. She takes a drink; he takes a drink. McCoy fills his glass back up with whiskey – “The real thing, Jim” – and a drop hangs on his lip. His tongue flicks out.

She watches back. Someone turns up the music, adds a beat. Chekov, who's probably had a few more shots than even a kid who claims to have been raised on vodka should have, starts breakdancing in the center of the floor. Someone whistles; the floor gets crowded.

Nyota closes her eyes and lets her body sway against the wall of the ship, a small movement, with the beat of the music. She presses her hand to her front and feels her abs clench and release. She opens her eyes again, suddenly, and looks straight at Kirk. The corner of his mouth shifts up. He’s sitting on the same couch that she had been on earlier with Christine, and he slouches down into it. Instead of the way he usually sits, legs crossed on the command chair, calm but alert, this is a boneless sprawl. His legs fall apart. Nyota lets her eyes wander down.

There are hands on him, touching lightly, resting longer – various people hanging around him – and he nods and talks, just as she does to those around her, but every time their eyes meet, the room feels a bit smaller.

He looks away, sideways at the floor, at nothing, and rubs his thumb over his bottom lip, smears it across, slow and heavy. It could be a casual gesture, an absent-minded thought, a nothing motion.

It’s not.

She nudges Christine. “Let’s go dance.” She waits until he looks at her again, and tilts her chin up, lets her lips part. She puts her glass down on the table nearby and, as casually as his earlier gesture, lets her hand catch on the hem of her dress, slides it up her thigh two extra inches before letting it fall.

Kirk’s eyes glitter. His mouth is red. He slides his hand on his leg, slow, until it touches the inside of his thigh and just waits there.

She tears herself away, pushes herself off the wall she’s been leaning against, grabs Christine’s hand, and turns her back on him to head into dancing bodies. Her hips pick up the rhythm of the music and she lets herself hear it, lets the current of the song carry her.

But there is a heat on her bare back and her skin flushes with it, prickles with awareness. The crowd swells and a new excitement ripples through it. If before it had been alive and vibrant, now it pulses. Nyota throws her head back and sees Kirk in the middle of the dancers. Like a gravity well, he draws people to him. The more daring ones dance against him. He gives anyone who wants it a few seconds before, with a half-smile and hot eyes, shifting him or her away and letting someone else move closer to him. Someone orders the computer to lower the lights; the mirror ball throws shards of brightness out at random. The music shifts lower, a dark, deep pounding. It writhes against Nyota’s skin.

Every time she looks, Kirk is closer to her. Maybe she is moving closer to him, too. The crush of bodies pushes her forward; she feels a drop of sweat roll between her breasts. He’s watching her. He’s dancing with everyone else, their hands on him, but he’s watching her and he’s barely touching them. She leans into the bass and runs her hands down the length of her body, and doesn’t break eye contact with him. There’s an ache between her thighs. It’s so close in here, hard to breathe. She smells perfume and hot bodies. Kirk’s chest rises and falls, quick with exertion, maybe something else – this breathless want, tense between them – and when he exhales, she does too. When she gasps in air, her body never pausing in its pulsing dance, his catches too.

The nearer he gets to her, the faster the music seems. It’s a spinning, swirling rhythm that she hears. She listens with her whole body and falls into it. When his hands finally touch her, burning through her thin dress on her hips, something releases in her and her body, loose and fluid, arches into his. He pulls her closer. Their faces are inches apart. She looks up at him; he looks down at her, brilliant and suspended. His hand, so much larger than hers, wraps around the back of her neck; the other splays against her lower back, bare skin, and she leans back because he will hold her while she dances. Her motion thrusts her hips forward, into his, where he’s half-hard against her and she grinds against him as she lets her body listen to the dance.

When he pulls her up, his eyes are on her lips. She slides her hands around his neck so that she can murmur into his ear. “Captain,” she says, amusement in her voice, low and full. She’s sure he can hear it. “If I invite myself back to your room, will you still respect me in the morning?”

He groans. “Oh, Jesus, Nyota.”

She flicks her tongue over his ear. It never fails to make him shudder.

“Then I suggest you get us out of here, Kirk.”

+++

She has enough one night at dinner. She’s not sure how it happens, how she manages to do it. She just knows she can’t live like this anymore, a stranger in her own body, a body that goes through the motions of each day waiting only for the next one to come so it can be followed by another. And maybe another during which Sebastian will spare her a kind moment.

Sebastian’s mom is back in town. His sister invites them all out to dinner. For some reason she brings along her ex, the same one she’d been dating during that horrible time when they’d all had a screaming match on the street that had ended with Sebastian bending over and pointing to his own ass, telling his sister to kiss it.

By the time they get there, Sebastian is already pissed off and not speaking to Nyota because he doesn’t like her preferred style of shirt outside of her uniform. He tells her that either she keeps wearing it because she can’t be bothered to care enough about her appearance or because she deliberately doesn’t want to make him happy by looking good for him.

She doesn’t actually think she looks bad. She’s a fairly fastidious dresser, and she knows what she likes to wear. But she tries to wear what he likes – she’d thought he’d like this outfit, picked it out just for him, and something inside her pulls tight and small, even smaller, when he berates her for it.

They wait at the bar for everyone else to show up. She tries to talk to him, about something, anything, nothing. He is monosyllabic. His sister and her ex finally show, his mom not far behind. And they sit down at the table.

Sebastian doesn’t say one word to her the rest of the dinner. He doesn’t bother to look at her, either. He’s that mad, about what she’s not sure. She never is anymore. His mom at one point says, “Why don’t we sit a little more comfortably?” and she makes Nyota switch places with her so that she’s directly across from Sebastian instead of at opposite ends of the table. It makes it even more obvious that he won’t so much as look at her. Instead he taps into his PADD the whole time, sending messages to someone. Nyota’s not sure who, but she has a few guesses and they don’t involve any male friends of his.

At some point, she excuses herself to go to the bathroom where she splashes water on her face and tries not to vomit.

She goes home with him that night because it’s the beginning of June and the main dorms have just been cleared out and she was supposed to live with him in his apartment this summer. Mostly she’s too tired and dazed to know what else to do.

But the next morning she packs her bag, takes some clothes from her drawer, grabs her toothbrush, and picks up the broken pieces of her heart, trying not to leave any behind. She’s sure she does. There are so many shards lying about, and even if she manages to put her heart back together, she’s not sure how to find all the bigger pieces she’s give him – her hopes and dreams and the future she’d planned and the spring in her step and the surety that no one will ever treat her badly and that if someone did, she’d never stand for it.

She says, “I’ll send someone for my things. I’m done here.”

“What?” he says. “What are you doing?”

She looks at him, her mouth drawn. “Sebastian. You’ve humiliated me in every way you could. I can’t live like this any longer.” It’s worse than the alternative, worse than admitting to her own degradation.

“Nyota,” he says, and she says, “No. Enough.”

She leaves and walks. When she’s finally far enough way, she comms Gaila. “Where are you?”

Gaila has rented a tiny place in Los Angeles for her internship. Nyota figures she’ll crash with her for the weekend while she figures out what to do. She has to be near the Academy because she’s working with Professor Carbajal this summer.

“Oh, honey, you’ll stay with me here. It’s close enough to school on the express,” Gaila says when she gets there. She pulls her into the tight circle of her arms. “I’ve been waiting for this. You’re finally ready for me to teach you the language of the Orion slave girls. It was made for this, to become master of these things.”

+++

This thing with Kirk won’t last forever. It was never meant to. She’s surprised it’s still going on now, well into the second year of their mission. He wants from her only what she gives, and someday that won’t be enough. Someday she isn’t going to want someone who makes no promises and demands none from her. Someday, someday she’s going to want someone to demand more from her, and she’ll expect that person to make – and keep – his promises to her.

Bibi told her to be slow. “You must be able to share with him the secrets of the world told to you by the never-ending call of the loose-mouthed birds.”

Nyota is slow, and someday’s not here yet. But Kirk is.

+++

Kirk’s a pest.

On Erid Gamma, he stands behind her and says, sotto voce, “Style here seems to be loose hair. It’s nice, everyone wearing their hair down.” It’s also purple, and Nyota hasn’t had purple hair since she was fifteen, but she simply elbows him discreetly and then, eyes wide, exclaims, “Oh my goodness, Captain, I’m so sorry. My arm must have slipped.”

Kirk scowls at her and rubs his side with exaggerated motions. “Damn tricky things, arms. Lucky you have such an understanding captain. Some might call that assault of a superior officer.”

Nyota smiles sweetly at him. “Lucky,” she agrees.

In his cabin on the ship, she lies on his bed in her bra and underwear and slides her bare foot up his leg. It rasps over his golden hair. He has a thing about feet. “Your feet,” he’d said once, just before licking a stripe up the underarch of her foot, making her toes curl, literally, and her nipples draw tight. He’d chuckled and pulled himself up over her. “Guess I’m not the only one.”

He lowers himself on his arms and kisses the side of her mouth. The strength of his body turns her on. She angles her face toward his; although he is not smiling, his face is mobile and crinkled at the edge of his eyes. “Ah-ah. Take your hair down.”

She spreads her fingers through the coarse hair on his chest. “Kiss me,” she says.

Inch by inch, centimeter by centimeter, his mouth comes back to hers, and then stops a breath away. “I want to see it spread out on my pillow. Take it down.”

Nyota pulls her lip between her teeth so that it flushes. She places the back of her hand on his cheek, whisper soft. Her finger teases his mouth. “Kiss me, Kirk.”

A mix of exasperation and amusement and desire blend on his face, and then he laughs, low. “Who am I to deny a lady.” He kisses the side of her mouth again and then other side, and then brushes his lips over hers, back and forth.

She can feel his grin against her lips. “Like this?” he murmurs.

An impatient sound rises in her throat, responsive want. “More.”

He sucks her bottom lip between his own. “Enough?” His voice sounds cool and casual, but she sees his arms tremble as they hold him above her. She feels him solid and hard pressing against her through their underwear. His hips move in tiny jerks and send icy-hot thrills through her.

She looks up him through her eyelashes. Above her, he is bold and teasing and bright. “More,” she demands.

Kirk’s a pest.

+++

They’re ordered to rendezvous with the USS Excalibur at Starbase 7 to receive a transfer of personnel, some from the Excalibur herself, others merely passengers travelling on her to reach the Enterprise. A handful of Enterprise crew have requested transfer off. More will come on – the ship had left Earth with a 95% crew complement. The new members will bring them to 100% before they head out into unexplored space.

Nyota hears the chime of a message incoming for the captain, subject line “Personnel Manifest.” She looks at the blinking message indicator, hates herself for freezing even for a split second, and forwards it to the captain’s chair.

Sebastian serves on the Excalibur.

Nyota sits very straight for the rest of her shift. Inside, she is a gurgle of tension. She’s disgusted with herself that this matters, that she can’t stop wondering if he’s on that list to transfer aboard, that years later this – he – can touch her at all.

That night, she stands in front of the mirror in her bathroom and forcibly relaxes into the sinuous motions of the language of the Orion slave girls. With her mouth she says one thing in Orion Free Standard, but her hands and body tell a whole other story. It’s the gestures that change the meanings of the most common words, a way to dance communication right underneath the noses of the masters.

Hard as she tried not to, she did leave pieces of her heart behind when she left Sebastian that day. She knows it’s ridiculous, but it’s also true. She’ll never go back to get them. Let them lie.

She misses Gaila. This language carries with it the endless secrets told by the birds on the grasslands of her home.

The next day Kirk hands out a list of new personnel to the senior staff and department heads. “Let’s make them feel welcome,” he says.

She scans the list and then breathes out very quietly.

+++

“Dammit, Jim, there’s nothing you can do here,” McCoy snaps as he yells out orders to Doctor M’Benga and his nurses. “I’ll call you when something happens.”

He doesn’t specify something good or bad. It could go either way. Nyota glances at Kirk. He blinks and doesn’t move. His jaw is tight.

She doesn't have the luxury of being captain, free to spend her shift wherever she wants, even if that means leaning against a wall doing nothing, watching, in medical. She’d had to wait almost five hours to get off the bridge and down to Spock. But at least she can do that. Karen Bacchi, Ensign Robleski’s best friend, can’t come and wait here to watch her friend’s chest unevenly rise and fall, to see her red blood slowly dry to rust, to wait here and know if she lives or dies. McCoy doesn’t have the time or energy it would take to get the captain out, as long as he stays out of the way, which he does. And Kirk doesn’t make her leave.

Ensign Qawwali’s body lies covered with a sheet. He’d only transferred onto the ship three months ago with the rest of them. They’d brought him in screaming, locked inside his mind, seeing horrors the rest of them could not see. Nyota, on the bridge manning her station, hadn’t seen this. A channel had been open to the transporter room; she'd heard too much.

She imagines that Kirk’s eyes burned icy blue. Standing next to him now, she smells the acrid odor of explosives on his clothes and flesh. His hand has been bound by Christine until they have an osteo-regenerator free to use on him. “It’s just a few fingers,” he’d protested. “Doesn’t even hurt.”

“Good,” she’d answered. “Let’s keep it that way.”

Lieutenant Jaya rests in the morgue.

Kirk had gone down to the surface of Zeta Gamma with his entire senior staff protesting. “We cannae have both our captain and first officer held hostage,” Scotty had said.

“This is exactly what they want,” Sulu says. “We can’t play into their hands. They’re sending you those transmissions of what they’re doing to the commander and the away team so they can get you down there.”

Chekov worries his hands. “Dah. They’re addressed to you, sir.”

Kirk stands up, furious and implacable. “They’ve already cut off all of Ensign Robleski’s fingers. Toes next? Her hands? I don’t think so. I will not stand by and watch this. I’m going down there. They want me, they’ll get me.”

“Captain,” Nyota says. She’s been listening to every noise she can hear coming off that planet for the last three hours. “I think I’ve identified them. I believe they’re members of the terrorist cell X’uan.” She pauses. “They appear to be well acquainted with you personally. I’ve intercepted a few messages between cells, and they planned this. They’ve heard that you won’t leave anyone behind. They believe that you’ll always try to save your crew.”

She swallows. “Especially, they think, Commander Spock. And – and they are familiar with Vulcan physiology.” As if they didn’t all know that already. The X’uan cell had sent them a feed of Spock being tortured. His arms were wrenched out of their sockets as he hung in braces. His skin was scoured with lasers until it turned wet and green. They cut his tendons and set a fire under his feet. Spock never made a sound.

But they had a telepath, and when Spock refused to break, they set the telepath on him. Spock’s eyes had flashed open, unseeing. Nyota hears Ensign Qawwali’s screams echo in her head.

McCoy curses, and then curses again. “Got a plan, Captain?”

Kirk clenches his jaw. His voice is a fury. “I’m going to blow them all to kingdom come.”

Now in medical bay, it’s in McCoy’s hands.

Nyota stands with Kirk and waits.

+++

Nyota is the communications officer. She sees all messages that arrive for anyone from a source outside the ship, their subject lines and who they’re from. She always knows every person’s birthday and every time someone has had a baby and every time someone dear has died.

She’s on alpha shift, three and a half hours in, when the message comes. It’s a small file, audio only. It’s marked “personal” and hums with quiet urgency. It’s from her mother.

She stares straight ahead and doesn’t open it. She knows what it says already, although Bibi’s name is nowhere in the subject line. She blinks fast, like a hummingbird drawing nectar from one of her grandmother’s hibiscus.

She must make some kind of noise, although the hyper beating of the hummingbird’s wings drowns out all other sound. Kirk must have been listening, because, “Uhura?”

“The latest batch of dispatches, sir. I’ll distribute them.”

“Very good.”

The bridge resumes its calm flow, the steady beeping of instruments. Sulu and Chekov carry on a quiet debate at the front. Some space of time passes, maybe ten minutes, maybe an hour. The message sits on her PADD, blinking.

The captain’s standing at her shoulder. “Lieutenant.”

She looks up at him from her chair. “Yes, Captain?”

“I just received a directive from Command for an upcoming mission. The background material contains a great deal of information in the original language. You speak Telosian, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Ensign Micka will relieve you. I need it translated right away. I’m sending it to your PADD. You can use my ready room.”

“Yes, sir,” she says, and stands. Alone in the captain’s ready room, she thinks two things. First, that Kirk is as fluent in Telosian as she is, and second, that Bibi isn’t, wasn’t, actually her grandmother. She was her great-grandmother. “But you will call me Bibi,” she’d told Nyota as a small child. “It is the same sound the red bishop weaver makes. I will show you how to find him feeding on the tall grasses. You will hear his call and listen to the tales he has to tell. Oh, the things he has to say, child.”

Nyota looks at the blinking message on her PADD. She opens it, and listens.

+++

“Gaila,” she says. “Who is it this time? Who’s the mouthbreather under the bed?”

Gaila widens her eyes innocently as Kirk crawls out. “This time?” he exclaims.

“You!” Nyota isn’t sure if she wants to whack her roommate or Kirk. “Get out.” She backs him over to the door in his underwear and closes the door in his face. “Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable.”

+++

They stand in medical as McCoy and his staff fight to pull Ensign Robleski back. They watch the nurses clean up the welts and cuts etched into Spock’s skin, regenerate the soles of his feet, pop his arms back into their sockets. He doesn’t open his eyes.

“Come on, dammit.” Kirk hits his leg with his uninjured hand. “Come on, Spock.”

Nyota rests her hand against her mouth, a tight fist.

“My fault,” he whispers and turns, places his forehead on the wall. “They wanted me.” His body sighs.

If he weren’t keeping vigil here, he’d be in the gym taking it out on some hapless piece of gear. Nyota has sometimes waited outside the gym and gently steered away crew members seeking exercise.

He will not hear her if she tells him it wasn’t his fault, that he got them back, that this is part of being captain. So she doesn’t say it. Nor does she touch him. She simply waits until, hours later, McCoy says, “She’ll make it.” He fusses over Kirk’s hand and knits his finger bones together.

“Spock’s stabilized enough to put himself into a healing trance. He’ll be out for a day or two. Go to bed, Jim. Nyota, you too. We’ll call you if anything changes. Promise.”

Kirk just looks at him. His eyes are no longer icy blue, but weary and too bright.

Nyota nods at McCoy. “Come on, Captain.” He looks at her, too, and she stares back. She hardens her voice. “Kirk. You heard him. Let’s go.”

He drops his eyes. “Fine.”

She walks out of medical with him slowly. He glances back over his shoulder at its closed doors. He is almost stumbling on his feet, as well he should be after pulling off a rescue that no man should have been able to. She keeps six inches between them but when they come to his door, she shakes her head and says, “No, not tonight.”

He looks at her, tired.

She smiles a little, nearly as tired, and takes his arm and says, “Come with me.” A few doors down, she palms the entry to her own quarters. Inside, a gazelle carved from baobab wood leaps on her wall; in the corner, birds soar.

She pulls Kirk’s gold command shirt over his head and seats him on her bed. She goes into the bathroom to get a washcloth and a basin of water. When she comes back out, he’s lying on his side. Wringing out the cloth, she wipes the grime and sweat from his face. “You don’t have to,” he says.

“Of course not,” she agrees. She takes off his shirt and unlaces his boots and pulls down his pants, and runs the cloth, warm, over his body. He’s asleep before she’s through but she doesn’t stop.

Done, she places the bowl back in the bathroom and changes into her sleep t-shirt and shorts. She looks at herself in the mirror. She makes a gesture to herself, one Gaila had taught her, and nods at her reflection.

She normally has the computer wake her at oh six hundred for alpha shift. She and Kirk are both on alpha tomorrow. “Computer, set alarm to oh five hundred.” She’ll wake up before him and get ready. In his sleep, Kirk mutters something and rolls over when she gets into bed.

She pulls down her ponytail. Her hair falls loose on her shoulders, over her pillow, and she tells the computer to pick an unused frequency, volume three percent. She lies there, drowsy with the heat of Kirk’s body beside her and the ebb and tide of the great black vastness surrounding them and the raspy whisper of the tall grasses swaying together, and the slow, even in-and-out of his breath.

Maybe later in the night, she’ll wake up to the feel of his hands on her body. His lips warm on her skin. The sleepy press of him against her back. A slow rocking into her, a slow swell building in her body. “Be slow,” Bibi had told her.

There are no birds on the Enterprise. There will be no sunrise; no early morning chatter will greet the day. But Nyota is slow, and Nyota will listen anyway to hear what others do not so that someday she may tell another what it is she hears, what it is she knows. She shuts her eyes and she soars, unbound.