A/N: Lots of fluff and not much plot, but that seems to be my specialty these days. Comes after "Patchwork Memories" with one specific reference to that story, so you may want to read that one first, although it's not necessary. The next installment in this series-of-sorts is much more serious and angsty, I promise!
And listen...if y'all have any prompts for K/U one-shots that are either based on actual episodes or just original ideas, let me know! I'm open to prompts as long as they're not smutty.
Merry Christmas, one and all!
Insomnia was the last thing Jim Kirk would've expected after the day he'd just had. Klingons—specifically, a certain smug commander by the name of Koloth and his unsavory crew—paired with an insufferable Federation bureaucrat had made for a volatile combination. Add an infestation of small, furry, admittedly adorable creatures to the diplomatic two-stepping and a full-blown investigation involving poisoned grain…and it was no wonder he'd gone to Bones with a killer headache.
The headache was gone, thank goodness. So were the Klingons, the bureaucrats, and the tribbles. It was nearly midnight, ship's time. Jim lay on his back in his sleeper…then turned over onto his side…punched the pillow…flopped over onto his other side…ended up on his stomach …and returned to his back. He scowled at the ceiling and drummed his fingers on his abdomen.
Too much mental stimulation, he could practically hear Bones saying. Go wear yourself out in the gym. God knows your muscle tone could use it. How many chicken sandwiches you eatin' these days?
A wry grin softened the irritated scowl on the young captain's face. He'd meant to have one of those chicken sandwiches for lunch today, and it had ended up in a tribble's stomach.
Well…in the stomachs of several tribbles.
Come to think of it, he hadn't had anything to eat since.
Jim sighed, let his arm flop over his forehead for a moment…then sat up, rubbed his eyes. When he emerged from his cabin in nothing but pajama pants, a t-shirt, and socks, he half-hoped he'd run into Spock. The look on the Vulcan's face would be priceless.
At this hour, though, Spock was probably deep in meditation, and Bones would be dead to the world. Only a few crewmen roamed the halls; a skeleton Gamma Shift was just big enough to keep his ship running smoothly through the night. Jim pretended not to notice the stares and giggles of several young ensigns who'd never seen their captain in pajamas before, and just grinned good-naturedly at them as he passed.
After the day we've had, I certainly don't mind if they get one more laugh at my expense.
A quick ride in the turbolift and a subsequent stroll on Deck 20 brought him to one of the re-creation rooms. It was empty, just as he'd hoped and expected. Jim approached one of the synthesizers and punched in his food number before rifling through the selection cards.
Hamburger sounds too heavy this late at night. And I am not wasting this opportunity to eat without Bones knowing about it on a salad…
Jim whirled, his hands full of food cards. Lieutenant Uhura stood just inside the doorway, her dark hair slightly disheveled, her hands clasped behind her back. She was dressed in her own purple, loose-fitting pajamas, and she, at least, wore slippers.
He still found himself staring at her like she was the prettiest thing he'd seen all day—and she was, especially after a slew of Klingons and pinch-faced politicians—but he cleared his throat and blinked and hoped she hadn't noticed.
"Lieutenant," he said, turning away from the synthesizer. "What are you doing up this late?"
Uhura raised one eyebrow. "I might ask the same of yourself, sir, but Dr. McCoy tells me you hate to be mothered."
Jim smirked. "Well, his mothering is the only one I tend to object to, and only because he has a…habit of abusing the privilege." He set the food cards back in their bin with (he hoped) a subdued clatter. "Don't tell him I'm eating up here late at night, all right?"
She smiled a little shyly. "Don't worry. I'm good at keeping secrets."
He raised his eyebrows, recognizing the old promise he'd made to her a few months ago when she was still recovering from Nomad's vicious memory-purge. She'd staggered into his cabin one night after a nightmare, frightened and despairing that she'd ever be back to her old self. He'd comforted her until she calmed down, assuring her that her recollections of past incidents were, in fact, memories and not dreams (and that he wouldn't tell anybody about her barging into his cabin in the middle of the night).
Ever since then—and their accidental adventure in a parallel universe with Bones and Scotty—a tender familiarity had sparked between them. He liked it, and had a feeling she did too. Friends among the female crew had been few and far between, especially after what had happened with Janice Rand.
And that memory, in and of itself, kept him from letting his feelings run away from him.
"Well," he said, allowing himself to smile back, "with our record of secret-keeping, perhaps Starfleet should give the two of us a few…clandestine assignments. We'd be quite good at it."
Rather than laugh, she cleared her throat and dropped her gaze. Jim frowned. That wasn't like his bold, extroverted communications officer, not since she'd recovered from the Nomad attack.
"Everything all right, Uhura?" he asked softly.
"I…I've got a problem, sir."
"What kind of a problem?"
She raised one hand to the back of her neck and rubbed; her other hand, he noticed, stayed behind her back. "I—well. I've met this lonely crewman."
"All right." Jim took up the card bin and leaned against one of the nearby tables, running his fingers through the selections until he found one for pancakes. "What seems to be the trouble with this…'lonely crewman,' Lieutenant?"
"She's the only one of her kind on the ship, sir."
"Ah." Unsurprising; there were five different species among the Enterprise crew right now. "And she's having trouble adjusting to a mostly-human crew?"
"You might say that, sir."
Jim nodded, stood up, slipped the card into the synthesizer. "She's not on the receiving end of any bigotry, is she?"
Jim looked sharply at her over his shoulder. Uhura had her eyes back on her feet, winding her hair around one finger in outright nervousness. An angry warmth—not against her, but against the very idea of cruelty aboard his ship—filled his chest. He swiveled on his heel and closed the distance between them until he stood right in front of her.
"Lieutenant, if someone is bullying a valued member of my crew then I need to know about it …no matter who's doing the bullying."
"It isn't 'bullying' exactly, sir—"
"And enough with all this 'sir' nonsense, Nyota. We're off-duty. Please…call me 'Jim.' "
She glanced up through long eyelashes, her dark skin taking on a sudden glow. She released a shaky breath and smiled weakly.
"Yes, s—I mean—okay."
"And I'm sorry for snapping at you on the bridge this afternoon. It was…unprofessional of me. Regardless of the fact that I had four or five tribbles in my arms at the time."
Uhura swallowed so hard, he could see her throat contract. He smiled kindly at her and put his hands on her shoulders.
"Tell me what's going on," he urged. "I can't set it to rights if you don't."
Uhura pressed her lips together and studied him with a quizzical, searching expression. When the synthesizer chimed and opened, he ignored it—but the sound seemed to rouse her from her indecision. She inhaled and drew herself up to her full and unimpressive height.
"Nobody's bullying her, Jim," she said, her soft voice a little rushed, especially over his name. "She's just afraid she'll be thrown out the airlock when people find out what she's capable of."
Jim scoffed. "As if anyone on the Enterprise would do that."
"Well, she's worried, and so am I. She's perfectly harmless, but she does have abilities that are…unusual…"
Uhura winced. "Well…her kind, they…they reproduce. A lot. Sir—Jim—I found a tribble under my bed."
Jim's mouth dropped open but no sound came out. Uhura pulled her hand out from behind her back. Inside her curled fingers lay the tiniest tribble he'd seen in the past twenty-four hours, fluffy-white and barely trilling. Uhura brought her free hand up and cupped the little thing close to her chest.
"I found the mama—or the papa, I couldn't tell," she whispered. "It was dead."
"What about the other kits?"
Uhura looked up, puzzled. Jim shrugged.
"You have a better name for tribble babies?"
"Well, n-no…not really," she stammered. "There were five kits, but they were dead, too. I'm guessing the parent was one of the tribbles from the station that came aboard when you and Mr. Spock transported back…and it must've eaten some of that poisoned grain. This is the only survivor."
Uhura's pleading eyes widened. "Can I keep her, please?"
Jim rubbed his face. "Nyota…"
"Surely Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock can come up with some way to sterilize her! This is the twenty-third century! You're telling me we can put men in space but we can't spay and neuter tribbles?! I'll keep her in a box, I promise. Christine has some extra hypo crates in Sickbay. I can ask her for one and—"
Uhura shut up. Jim lowered his hands with a heavy sigh. When he blinked his vision back into focus he saw her still holding the tribble close, running her fingers gently over its wispy fur. She looked all kinds of embarrassed, indignant, worried, desperate.
The tribble chose that moment to let out a weak trill. Uhura's gaze flew to her tiny charge.
"Shh, it's okay," she whispered. "It's okay…"
In spite of himself, Jim smiled. Here they were, the captain and the communications officer of Starfleet's flagship, arguing over a baby tribble in their pajamas. It was so ludicrous—and yet so fitting, considering all the bizarre things that had taken place on the Enterprise over the past two years—that he couldn't help but laugh to himself.
Aloud, he only said, "If you feed it, I suppose it'll multiply."
Uhura looked up. "I have a theory about that, actually. Maybe…maybe if I just fed it a tiny amount on a tight schedule, rather than letting it overeat—"
Jim raised an index finger in abrupt recognition. "You're right! Bones asked, when I went in to get something for a headache…'Do you know what you get if you feed a tribble too much?' "
"And what did you say?"
" 'A fat tribble,' I believe, was my intelligent response."
She giggled. As if in response, the tribble's feeble trilling increased in volume. Uhura let out a soft "Awww" and brought it up to her cheek.
Jim felt a bit like a stick of butter set out in the Vulcan sun: melting, and melting fast.
"We'll take it up with the good doctor in the morning," he said. "In the meantime…"
He reached behind him and pulled the plate of half-warm pancakes from the synthesizer. Uhura laughed incredulously.
"Oh gosh, Captain…"
"She—are we calling it a 'she?'—she can have a piece. Here, put her on the table…"
He sat down, and to his relief Uhura sat right next to him without encouragement. She placed the tribble on the table's surface; Jim pinched off a piece of pancake and set it a few cenimeters from the creature. It ("she," he reminded himself) wiggled, then inched towards the bit of food.
"I can't figure out if they have eyes somewhere in all that fur, or just a nose," Uhura muttered, leaning her head to the side and down so she could get a better view.
"Well, that's all she's getting from me," Jim said, cutting several large pieces of pancake with his fork. "I don't intend to have another meal stolen from me today by a starving tribble."
Uhura sat up straight and beamed at him. "You're a good man, Jim Kirk."
He made a scoffing noise in the back of his throat and slammed the fork-full into his mouth before cocking his own head to watch the tribble. She had positioned herself over the bit of pancake, so it was no longer visible. When she waddled back towards Uhura, only a sticky spot of residual syrup remained.
"What are you going to call her?" Jim asked.
" 'Maxine?' "
"Maxine," Uhura repeated firmly. "Don't you think she looks like one?"
Jim smirked and bit back a pseudo-Vulcan comment about how faceless furry creatures didn't really "look" one way or the other. Besides, even though he'd been exasperated with her earlier, he still found Uhura's childlike love for the tribbles endearing. For a woman who could look death in the face more than once without ever flinching, she could be surprisingly sentimental.
It was yet another attractive layer of his communication officer's intelligent, compelling personality.
"Ohhh yes," Uhura cooed. "Come here, baby. Look, she's already moving faster! Poor little darling, she was just hungry."
She rippled her fingers in a welcoming way; the tribble either saw or sensed it and trilled happily as it hurried towards her. Jim found himself grinning as he took in another oversized mouthful. Against his better judgment, he pinched off one more tiny piece of pancake and deposited it between Uhura's fingers and the tribble.
Maxine paused. Uhura looked sharply at him. Jim shrugged.
"That's it," he said. "Anymore and we'll be approaching the equivalent nutrition of a handful of quadrotriticale…and I'll have another infestation on my hands."
Uhura frowned, but Maxine had already nibbled away at the food. When she started following her "nose" towards the plate, Jim snatched it up above the surface of the table. Uhura burst into peals of laughter.
"Ohhhh look what you started!" she cried.
Jim laughed nervously. Uhura quickly turned the tribble back towards her. The puzzled little creature trembled and went back on her original path, away from Jim.
"If someone decides to be fruitful and multiply in the night, I'm blaming you," Uhura said.
"Don't worry, I'll plead 'guilty as charged.' "
She giggled, cast a sidelong glance at his plate. "Are you going to finish that?"
Jim stared at her, horrified. "If you give anymore food to that trib—"
But before he could finish, Uhura reached out, folded one of the less syrupy pancakes over itself, and removed it between her thumb and forefinger with such quick grace that he didn't realize what she'd done until she took a bite. Jim stared at her, torn between token protests and a far more genuine, impressed laugh.
"Friends don't let friends eat alone, you know," Uhura teased.
Jim grinned broadly. "I wasn't aware that was a…requirement for friendship."
She raised her dark eyebrows in mock incredulity. "You weren't? Sharing your pancakes with Maxine like that? You could've fooled me, Captain."