I promised this fic last month but life and the Blob got in the way. I'm sorry things are slower than usual but we are powering along slowly.
I promised nmletters and littlemissjinx a more Spock centered piece about the same time as I promised capsla89 something that dealt with The City on the Edge of Forever. By the power of Grayskull, this is the combined result. Unlike Anchored or Hollow Earth, which were my somewhat AU reboot take on TOS eps, tCotEoF played out pretty much as it did in TOS and this story is more covering the fallout. It's pretty (ok, very, it's very) heavy on the h/c and while the Triumvirate friendship is at the centre, it's as much a Spock & Bones, Jim & Uhura friendship fix as anything. It's also a chance to play around with a kind of bad guy I've not yet been able to, which is exciting.
This one is set in the same universe as Transitions et al, and is chronologically after Acceptable Losses and Hollow Earth.
The next part of Free Radicals is with my wonderful beta and there will be more To hell with butterflies in the next day or two, so hopefully the update train is back on track! xx
A space between
Uhura set down the coffee on the small bistro table and placed the large frosted cupcake right in front of Jim's nose. It was late winter, not yet spring, and cold enough for Jim to be wearing the ugly-ass scarf Jo had knitted him two years ago. He peered over the rusty yellow colored wool and pulled his eyebrows together in confusion.
"What's that?" He asked, pulling the lid off his coffee and sipping tentatively at the steaming brew. Uhura had never known a man who could get away with ordering a drink laden with as much foam, syrup and sprinkles as well as Jim could. She'd also never known a man who could wear a yellow and purple stripy scarf and still attract admiring glances.
"What does it look like?" She asked, sliding into the seat opposite and taking a long sip of her white chocolate mocha.
"It looks like a fast track to a diabetic coma." Jim remarked, apparently oblivious as he drank five times the sugar content from his recyclable coffee container.
Uhura couldn't help but grin. "Leonard's rubbing off on you," She teased him. Jim, predictably, shuddered.
"God, don't say that." He shook his head. "Seriously though…what is it?"
"It's for you." Uhura shrugged.
"It's not my birthday." Jim pointed out. "It's not even my Not Birthday." For the past five years they had celebrated Jim's birthday on a separate date, wanting to give him something special on a day that was ladened down with bad memories and obligations.
"A girl's not allowed to buy her Captain a cupcake?" Uhura asked sweetly. Jim didn't buy it. They'd known each other too long.
"I've already signed off on your promotion," Jim said, "and we're on leave."
"Please." She scoffed. "If I was going to bribe a promotion out of you, Kirk, I have far better resources to abuse. Just eat the damn cupcake already."
"Why?" Jim asked, forcing Uhura to question exactly how old they both were again. They were adults, good and proper now. Not even ambitious kid's handed the keys to the kingdom and more. They were two of the most experienced officers in the Fleet. They'd completed five years in the depths of deep space. She'd turned thirty two months ago. Jim was thirty-one, an age he'd genuinely believed he'd never live to see. They were both far, far beyond childish, pouting behavior. And threats.
"Because if you don't I'll shove it down your throat." Uhura said sweetly. She watched the smirk slowly stretch across his mouth and held back a sigh of fondness. "I'm trying to cheer you up if you must know."
"With cupcakes?" Jim frowned, studying the frosted treat curiously.
"It's vanilla with caramel swirls." She promoted. "You know you want it."
"And ruin my girlish figure?" Jim sniggered.
"Don't even start with me, Kirk." Uhura threatened. "One of these days your metabolism is going to settle down like a normal persons and then we can talk." Jim just grinned, peeling back the wrapper.
"Why exactly do I need cheering up again?" He asked, licking a dollop of frosting off his finger.
Uhura considered her words carefully. When it came to dealing with Jim's often tremulous emotions there were only really two ways of going about it. The first required subtlety, time, and a level of sneakiness only really found in battle hardened tacticians. The other was outright and brutal directness. If Jim liked and respected you enough, he might just chose to let you in. Waiting around for his defenses to drop required patience, luck and lifespans longer than either of them hoped to possess.
"Well you look like Mase did when you left her with Joanna." She said bluntly. It wasn't far off. Jim's service dog couldn't have gone into space with them so Jim had left her with Jo. The poor creature had looked so utterly wretched when Jim came to leave that Uhura was sure she wasn't the only one who'd come down with a case of damp eyelashes.
At the mention of his dog, Jim's expression actually morphed into something even more pitiful. "Do not." He protested childishly.
"Have you spoke to either of them?" She asked, pushing on and not letting him change the subject.
Jim's shoulders hunched up, a sigh that he really didn't like their current topic of conversation. Uhura didn't let it trouble her. When Jim's body language reveled his feelings it was actually a positive thing. The subjects that were really off limits were protected by iron control and a firm will. Ask him a question about his childhood and Jim would laugh and expertly change the subject without you realizing what he had done until it was too late. The fact that he was letting her know he was uncomfortable was as good an indication as any that he was ready for a little tlc on the subject.
"Of course I have." He said sullenly.
"In a non-official capacity?" Uhura pushed. He shot her a dirty glare that had none of the heat she knew he was capable of and she knew right then how badly he was hurting, both from the absence of the men he had come to rely on to function, and by the event that had driven them away.
Back when Jim and Gaila had been….well, doing whatever it was they were doing, Uhura hadn't liked Jim one bit. She hadn't really known him, not really. She'd believed the front he presented to the world and blamed hormones, lust and bad judgement for the fact that Gaila so often defended him from the disparaging remarks made by Uhura and their classmates. She'd never once believed their relationship had been serious and in many ways it hadn't been. Now, knowing Jim as well as she did, knowing Gaila as well as she had, there wasn't a doubt in her mind that the two of them had been in love.
She hadn't even realized it until their last mission in deep space. She'd seen the emotions in Gaila's eyes easily enough, but not recognized it in Jim's. Not until she'd seen it again in the way he'd looked at Edith Keeler. He'd fallen for Edith hard and fast. Her death had broken his heart. Worse though, it had done what she had once thought impossible, and torn apart the strongest friendship she'd ever witnessed. McCoy and Spock both held their own self-recriminations for Edith's death, ones that, in their minds at least, were shared by Jim. Jim, likewise, had responded to the hurt the way he so often did when another wound was laid on his battered soul and withdrawn internally, closing out the people whose love he needed the most.
It was frustrating to witness, and it made her hurt so badly for the three of them. The five year mission had, to the outside world, ended on the highest of notes. They were welcomed back to a hero's reception, lauded and praised by everyone from Command to the media, their second mission already undergoing preparations as the crew were granted their leave. It was only those closest to the ship's core command team that knew anything was wrong.
Now McCoy had run off to Savanah to be with his family, and Spock was practically on New Vulcan before the Enterprise's hydraulic tanks were cooled. That had left Uhura with Jim. She knew Spock well enough to give him the space he needed to sort out his own mind, and knew he, like McCoy, would return as soon as they had found more even footing. She'd promised to look after Jim, who had taken on a teaching post at the Academy during their year's leave.
Hence the coffee. Hence the cupcake. Jim would hide forever if given half the chance. He was very, very good at it.
Fortunately for all of them, Uhura was also damn skilled at prying information from him. They were far closer now than she'd once ever imagined they could be.
"Jim," she said gently, reaching over the table and taking his hand in her own, not caring that they were in a public place, "you need to talk to them. They blame themselves for what happened to Edith you know. They think you blame them too."
Jim cast his gaze down and carefully extracted his hand from beneath hers. She knew he'd never do anything to physically hurt her, so his movements were gentle and slow, but they were a clear indication that she needed to tread carefully. "What do you want me to say to them?" Jim asked.
In truth, she didn't know. Just…"Talk to them. Please. You three need each other. You only end up hurting when you lock them out."
"I'm not the one who ran away." Jim said, an echo of hurt flickering in his eyes. "Take it up with them."
Uhura sighed. They really did deserve one another; each as stubborn as the next. "I'm just saying you should try-"
"Captain Kirk." She looked up, squinting in the bright winter sunshine at the four tall figures who had approached their table. "Lieutenant Uhura."
The four men were Vulcan and she and Kirk stood from their seats, traditional greetings at the ready. There were a number of Vulcans currently in the city as they worked closely with Starfleet and Terra based members of the Federation on various aspects of the long and expensive relocation program for their race. Uhura recognized the Vulcan who had spoken as Ayhan, one of the few members of the greatly decimated Vulcan High Command.
"Major Ayhan." Jim greeted, having spent a great deal of time in communication with Ayhan, currently one of the most experienced, if not highest ranking, members of the Vulcan's own military force while they were in deep space. Jim and Ayhan had discussed at great length the security measures that might be taken to protect the new, vulnerable Vulcan colony. "I am surprised to see you here."
Uhura agreed. A civilian cafe in the middle of the city was the last place she expected to find someone as rigid and by the book as Ayhan.
"Please forgive our interruption of your social interaction, but I must ask your assistance in a matter of pressing importance." Ayhan said, inflectionless and expressionless as the most stalwart of Vulcan commanders.
"Of course," Jim said, gathering his comm unit and leaving a credit chip on the table to cover their tip. "How can we be of help?" When it came to the Vulcans, Jim was already ready to go to bat for them and as such was held in a regard practically unheard of for a human in Vulcan society.
"It is a matter of a somewhat sensitive nature." Ayhan said stiffly. "I would ask your patience until we are in a more private location."
Uhura shot Jim a worried look and flipped open her comm, worriedly looking for a message from Spock. When she found none only a little of the tension left her shoulders. She could see similar concern in Jim's posture as well as they followed the Vulcans from the cafe into a quiet side street where a transportation vehicle was waiting.
"Have Command been notified?" Jim asked, climbing into the vehicle beside Uhura.
"This is not a matter for Starfleet's concern." Ayhan said flatly, his companions climbing into the vehicle and taking their seats in the row of benches behind Jim and Uhura. The door to the vehicle closed with the unmistakable click of an automatic lock.
She struggled to keep her expression blank. Jim had no such difficulty. "Forgive me, but what other aid can we provide?"
"Your cooperation, should you chose to give it." Ayhan said.
"And if we don't?" Jim asked, his jaw tight with anger as the reality of their situation closed in on him. Uhura felt her heartbeat rocket.
It seemed silly. You could no more say all Vulcans were honest, trustworthy and good as you could say all humans were bloodthirsty, brutal and cruel, but somehow she'd never believed for a moment that she had anything to fear from any of Spock's people. The betrayal stung. She looked over at Jim who gave her a tiny shake of the head.
They had no tactical advantage at all, locked in a vehicle with four beings that possessed strength greatly beyond their own. The fact that they seemed to have blindly walked into their own abduction terrified her.
"I would advise cooperation," Ayhan said, "for your own sake."
"You don't need both of us." Jim said. "Let my Lieutenant go free and I will do as you ask."
"No!" Uhura said, grabbing Jim's arm tightly and ignoring his angry frown. They weren't on duty, he was her friend not her Captain right now…and even if they had been… "I'm not leaving you!"
"We require the presence of both of you." Ayhan informed them.
"Why?" Jim demanded. She noticed his hand was on the frame of the door he was pressed against, his fingers moving delicately over the computer panel that controlled airflow, windows and most importantly, locks. He would get them out of this. He'd done so before.
Ayhan indicated for the driver to direct the vehicle into motion. "That knowledge is not necessary at this moment in time. Nivol, Nirak."
The two Vulcan's behind them reached over and dragged thick cloth bags over their heads. Instantly the claustrophobic panic crashed into her fear and she tried to struggle against impossibly strong hands that pulled her back against the seat.
"Your resourcefulness is well noted." Ayhan said calmly, "it will not aid you here."
Jim swore viciously, his muscles tense under Uhura's hand. She tried to reach blindly for him, not sure if she was trying to seek out comfort or provide her own. Whatever her effort, it was for nothing. Strong fingers curled around the fragile juncture of her shoulder and pressed down brutally.
The flare of pain was only brief. Unconsciousness followed quickly.