Title: What's In a Name
Characters: Kirk, Uhura, various
Rating: T for occasional movie-level violence and language
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for all AOS movies, various spoilers for TOS universe elements, no knowledge of which is necessary to understand the story. Specifics footnoted or explained at the end of each chapter.
Summary: Five times Nyota Uhura called Jim Kirk something other than Captain, and one time he was glad to return the favor
A/N: This WIP has been meandering around on my hard drive for quite some time, bits and pieces being added to it here and there, and at the encouragement of some very good writing friends in the LJ/Dreamwidth community I finally have enough of it finished to start posting.
Fair warning, if you hate AOS Uhura, then you'll probably want to give this particular story of mine a hard pass. While I still don't love how the AOS universe has divided the platonic TOS triumvirate by adding a romantic plotline element, I've made it work in my own headcanon and oddly enough, I'm strangely fascinated by what I see as a very unique bond developing among this crew, given the chance; and I'm especially fascinated by the relationship between Uhura and Kirk.
Needless to say, nothing here should be taken as anything other than my own personal headcanon; make of that what you will and do feel free to create your own if you disagree. There's plenty of room in the IDIC sandbox for everyone.
He's never really understood the term shipwrecked, until now.
Though technically they are not wholly adrift, they might as well be, given how distant they are from any Federation outpost at sublight speed. Ejecting the entire warp core of a Constitution-class starship might produce enough thrust to break free of the event horizon of a black hole, but it consequently dooms said starship to an eternity of pre-warpspeed travel back to civilization.
It will be nearly three weeks before they even reach a remote, almost automanned outpost, and another two after that before a small warp core can be installed to get them back to the Sol system. It is fortunate for their dead and wounded, that a small but speedy medical frigate can meet them in five days' time to take on the most critically in need of specialized care such as Captain Pike and their telepathically traumatized Vulcan passengers, else they might not have much chance of full recovery. Had that frigate not been in the vicinity, Jim's decision to jettison the core would have saved the ship, but doomed those crewmen to a crippled existence for life.
Are these the types of command decisions he will have to make regularly, as a Starfleet captain?
He is not so sure, after all, that he is either fit for the position or that he wants it. Not now, not ever.
But he has no time at the moment for such ruminations, because the relieved chatter at the news of a definitive rendezvous setup has begun to die down. He's managed to fumble through the token call with the Admiralty, who are none too happy with him but upon Spock's unexpected but very welcome backup just tell him to make sure the Enterprise doesn't lose any more parts or hands before her rendezvous with the Nightingale, and then hang up in his face, ostensibly to care for the chaos still reigning on Terra in the wake of looming war with the Romulan Empire. Could definitely be worse. The last of the damage reports are in, and apparently all departments have finally called in under control, if barely.
Before he knows it, the exhausted Bridge crew have almost as one swiveled their chairs to look at him expectantly.
He really, really hopes no one can see that he's almost shaking in that borrowed chair, adrenaline already leeching out of his very core and making the injuries he's been ignoring very, very much known.
What the hell is he supposed to do now?
Outside of basic command training modules, he has no idea how anything on board a starship works, operationally. He literally couldn't even name where the closest lavatory is on board without pulling up the specs, much less know the protocol for announcing the names of the known dead, for initiating search and rescue operations for those still missing, how to divert and handle the comms from worried crewmen about their comrades on the decimated 'Fleet ships, oh – and how does he prioritize the seventy-six separate reports that are blinking in the queue on his padd right now, and also the crew (all seven hundred-odd of them, minus the dead and missing) need rotated off duty as soon as possible, and he is seriously about to freak the hell out because there's no way he can do this –
A data-padd is pushed none too gently into his hands, breaking off the budding panic that is about to force its way up his throat. Or that could just be bile, he did get kicked in the stomach on the Narada more than once.
Forcing a bland smile to his lips, he looks up and tries to act like he hadn't just been about to lose it in front of the galaxy's most logical species, even if that species has issues of its own a-plenty at the moment.
Spock's eyes look way too knowing, and he flushes uneasily under the look. "What is it, Commander?" he asks, and at least his voice is as calm and sure of himself as it has been all day. Night. Whatever it is now, he literally has no idea and does it even matter at this point?
"Captain." And wow, the word actually doesn't sound like asshole, like it did earlier, so that's a point in his favor. "Given my familiarity with the Enterprise's operational and organizational structure, I have taken the liberty of compiling a duty rotation for the remaining crew complement, focusing upon Sickbay and Engineering as the first areas of relief. Any crewman aboard with experience in either field has been instructed to report to their department head for reassignment to either medical duty or repair work unless needed for Bridge duty, as the majority of the ship has been sealed off due to hull breaches or structural damage."
He blinks; that of course is the smart thing to do, ensuring repairs keep being made and Medical keeps up and firing on all thrusters while they pull themselves back together.
"What about search and rescue? We got hit hard on the lower decks," he says quietly.
"That has been factored into the Medical rotation, Captain; hence the reassignments. Personnel whose files show search and rescue experience have already been contacted via their department heads and should be assembling below decks as we speak, under the direction of Lieutenant Kyle, one of the senior Security heads."
He leans back, feeling tension drain slowly out of his neck and shoulders, easing the pain there just a fraction. "How much of the ship is sealed off?"
"An exact percentage is impossible to calculate, as repairs are already being effected, but approximately forty-six-point-two-five percent."
"How much of that was crew quarters?"
"Decks Thirty-four through Forty-two sustained extensive damage and have been sealed off completely. While Decks Forty-three through Forty-five remain life-sustainable, they are inaccessible for the moment due to the emergency bulkhead deployment in the decks above."
"Contact the quartermaster and have those crewmen reassigned to a new cabin, that's not a priority repair when we're still venting plasma and Sickbay isn't at full power yet."
"Already done, sir."
He stares at his temporary XO in consternation. "Well, I suppose that's why they say you're the best First Officer in the 'Fleet, Mr. Spock," he sighs finally, scrubbing a fist across his eyes in an effort to massage away the gray haze that has started to circle the edges of his vision.
Spock's eyebrow inclines precariously close to his fringe, and Jim tries not to laugh, because it really isn't funny if he's saying things out loud he didn't intend.
"Right, then. Rotate the Bridge crew out for a solid twelve hours at least, and yourself and Lieutenant Uhura for twenty-four, beginning now. Look, Sulu, there's an auto-pilot for a reason," he says in amusement, at the protest that comes from the front console, "and at sublight speed we literally couldn't plow into a star or something if we wanted to, alarms would let us know in time to do something. I'm pretty sure I can handle a call coming in from the Admiralty, which is the only thing that might happen until Delta shift starts."
"Captain, I must protest –"
"You'll protest nothing, or we can do this the hard way through Medical, for the second time in as many days, Commander," he says quietly, but with an edge of steel that reinforces how deadly serious he is.
There's no way in hell he's letting these people stay on the Bridge another hour, especially not Spock – not with the only bits left of his entire world sitting below decks in Sickbay. And he's got no idea what weirdness is going on between Spock and his fireball of a cocky comms officer, but if she can help the poor guy then she needs to take off too.
Jim has his faults, but he hasn't aced his command track classes by cheating; he is a hell of a diplomat, and he knows how to use people to his advantage. Gods know he needs to use every bit of goodwill he can generate right now, especially with these two particular officers. Something tells him they would make much more powerful friends than enemies.
Not that he really has enough of the former to easily tell the difference, but that's beside the point.
Spock looks like he'd just as soon strangle him over the nearest console again, but he finally just walks away and back to the science station, dropping into the chair like his shoulders are made of trilatinum and pointedly ignoring everyone else on the Bridge.
So much for attempted goodwill.
He sighs, and slowly lowers his head into his hands to try and block the light, fingers locked around the back of his neck as he tries to think clearly through a stabbing headache. For some reason, it's becoming increasingly difficult, and not just because he hasn't slept since…he really can't remember, it certainly wasn't the night before the tribunal on Earth, he was up all night over that…
Around him, the junior crew are slowly logging out of their stations, obviously taking the permission granted from the auto-pilot being engaged on each of their consoles as their golden ticket off the Bridge. He manages a smile and nod for each one as they leave, and reminds them to stop by Sickbay for counseling if they need to and the quartermaster if they require a change of uniform or cabin reassignment.
Almost the last to leave, Sulu side-eyes him before punching in the last code to engage the auto-pilot for navigation and then elbows Chekov, who is sleepily blinking at the navigation computer's readout.
"Captain, are you sure you don't want someone to stay up here until Delta starts? It's only two more hours."
"I'm sure, Mr. Sulu. Get out of here, you've earned it. And take the whiz kid with you, he's going to fall asleep in his chair and steer us into a comet or something."
Chekov squints puppy-eyed at him and then gives him an adorable little wave as he's tugged off the Bridge by their grinning helmsman, and Jim has to smile himself as he turns his attention back to the queue of reports waiting for his signature.
Holy crap, it's grown to one hundred and eighteen.
What the hell. Does he really have to read every single one of these?
Behind him, he can hear what sounds like a royal catfight starting up between his Acting First Officer and Acting Comms Chief, and seriously, can they not do this somewhere else.
"Dude, really." They totally ignore him, and he resists the urge to whimper. "Guys. Can you not?"
Uhura's glare could strip tritanium alloy, but at this point he's too exhausted to care.
The argument continues, and he wishes he understood more Vulcan but even the bits and bobs of weirdness still floating around his head from that crash course in mind-melding back on Delta Vega don't really help him understand much more than a phrase here and there. He gets the vague impression that Spock is resisting leaving the Bridge, he seriously doubts out of anything more than blatant stubbornness rather than anything resembling loyalty, and Uhura's pissed that he isn't coming with her to Sickbay.
He flicks his signature across a series of only vaguely-skimmed Engineering reports, praying that Scotty guy knows his stuff and won't blow up the ship on their way back, and rolls his eyes as the discussion escalates behind him. Bad idea; the motion sends a stab of pain shooting through his temples, and he winces, pinching his forehead with the hand not stabbing at the padd.
"Seriously, I have zero problems comm-ing Medical or Security, whichever gets here first, to forcibly remove you both from the Bridge," he finally says in annoyance, only half-listening now as he forwards a half-dozen Medical requisition reports to Sickbay with a begged notation for McCoy to take them off his plate. If Bones even sits still long enough to see his computer screen in the next twenty-four hours.
A pneumatic groan to his left indicates the power drain has hit essential systems like the turbolift, and he flicks through the reports in dismay until he finds the latest one from Engineering, trying to focus long enough to understand its very frightening calculations. It's only when he hears a faint sniff from behind him that he realizes only one of his two temporary XOs left the Bridge, and he cautiously swivels the chair in a half-arc.
"Uh." He clears his throat nervously, and then winces as it reminds him with a cheerful stab of burning fire that basically doing anything but whispering is really freaking painful right now. "I'm not stupid enough to ask if you're okay, but. Do you…"
"Finish that sentence with 'want to talk about it,' and I swear to gods, Kirk –"
"Message received. It's none of my business. But he's not the only one who's lost someone today." He ignores the white-hot flash of pain that stabs through his head from throat to crown, and leans forward, holding up a hand to stop the half-protest about to be vocalized. "I'm not in any way devaluing the enormity of what happened to Vulcan, Lieutenant. But you have a right to grieve too about friends, classmates, anyone you knew on the other starships, and not feel guilty about it. Loss is loss, and it can't be compared. All you can do is share it with someone and hope it won't suck quite as much afterwards."
She looks at him for a few seconds in silence, and then leans back with legs crossed, one elbow leaning on the comms board. "Since when did you become the ship shrink, Kirk?"
"Well, if you're talking experience with them? I'm way over-qualified."
She laugh-snorts, a surprisingly ungainly sound in the stillness of the deserted Bridge, and he has to laugh too at the unexpectedness of it.
"Anyway, if there's anything I can do, you need to tell me, Uhura. I'm so out of my depth here in an official capacity, I have no idea where to start on mending fences personally." He's dead serious, and that must register in his tone, because she sits up, rolls her chair over to the edge of the upper deck so there's only a few meters between them.
"While I doubt we need another factor involved in our personal drama, I'm not surprised you're drowning in the official part of it. Not like they train you for this kind of thing on the command track, I'm assuming."
"You're so not kidding."
"What exactly are you the most swamped with?"
"These reports, for one thing," he sighs, indicating the PADD on his lap. Good grief, the number's risen to one hundred eighty-seven now. "They're multiplying like overfed tribbles and I can't keep up."
She reaches down and takes the instrument from him, starts scanning it quickly with the well-practiced eyes of a Comms officer. After only a few seconds, she sighs, and gives him a pointed look over top of the padd.
"Okay, look, I get that 90% of the people on this ship have never actually served on a starship before, but this is basic protocol. You shouldn't even be looking at the majority of these things. This is why we have a chain of command, why we have officers. Every idiot on board is just sending their reports straight to the top because they're too lazy to find out who's in command of their division right now."
"That might be difficult, since half of the commanding officers are likely dead or missing," he points out gently.
She pinches the bridge of her nose with a shaking hand, and inclines her head in brief acknowledgement, then takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. Some detached portion of his pain-slowed brain notes how she can re-assume composure like it's as much a part of her uniform as the red color – she'll make a hell of an officer when she gets an official posting.
"If that's the case, then protocol dictates it goes to the First Officer or is routed to Communications; we have access to all ship's data firsthand, real-time. The chief comms officer is not just here on the Bridge to push buttons and answer a communicator, their primary duty is to re-reroute all communications, written and verbal, throughout the entire ship. Never is something unnecessary to be sent to the captain's direct inbox for this exact reason." She shakes the padd in emphasis. "Granted, you'd have no real way of knowing that."
He stares at the padd in consternation. "So you're saying I can delegate that mess?"
"I'm saying you'd better, or you're not going to survive the trip back to Terra. Speaking of which, you look like you're about to pass out, so maybe you'd better leave it with me and take your ass down to Sickbay?"
"I'll give that a hard pass, thanks. So what exactly in this mess am I supposed to be looking at?"
"You're going to give it a pass straight to the floor if you don't sit upright. When was the last time you ate something?"
"I dunno, right before the tribunal I think. Speaking of, you think you can put in a good word for me with your boyfriend in the next few weeks so I don't totally get kicked out of the Academy when we get back?"
She snorts, and then does a double take, incredulous. "You're serious, aren't you?"
He squints over top of the padd, halfway through firing off a folder full of messages to the current head of Hydroponics. Poor guy has no idea what to do with them and likely won't even see them for two days, but at least they'll not be cluttering up the channels. And with the ship stuck in space for who knows how long, they have time to figure all that out.
"Uh…yeah? I'd really like to at least graduate, being this close, you know?"
She shakes her head with a look of disbelief.
"I don't even know what to think about you anymore, Kirk." She rolls her chair back to the comms station, still shaking her head.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asks indignantly.
She turns around, arms folded. "You're not an idiot, Kirk – everyone can see that, at least now."
He rolls his eyes. "You'd have seen it sooner if you'd cared enough to look." There's not much bitterness in the tone, but there's enough; she looks a little taken aback, and finally nods.
"Fair enough. But you didn't help yourself any, you know."
"Also fair enough."
"What I can't figure out, though, is who you really are," she says, slowly. "Because one of these facades? Isn't real. I'm a communications expert, Kirk, and you've been good enough to fool me – but which time? Is your reputation the real thing, or the guy we've seen the last few days?"
He sighs, and drops the padd on the deck, because his head hurts too much to continue trying to make sense of both of these at once; and priorities are priorities. Part of being a captain is caring for his people, that much he knows. If he never gets to captain a ship again other than these precious few weeks, he's at least going to do his best to do it right for the short time he has.
Even if he has no idea what he's really doing.
"You're gonna have to give a concussed man more specifics than that, Lieutenant."
"Are you really who I'm talking to now, who we've seen the last forty-eight hours, or are you the arrogant asshole who barely scraped his way through the Academy the last three years?"
He laughs, but there's no amusement in the tone. "And here I thought you were above Academy gossip, Lieutenant."
She looks him in the eye, unflinching. "It's a valuable tool in communication among any species, including human, Kirk. And there's always at least an element of truth in it."
He inclines his head. "Okay, you have a point. I am an asshole. Sometimes."
"And the rest?"
"Lieutenant, before your boyfriend decided to get pissy about his little test getting beaten by a mere human, I was on track to graduate valedictorian, at least of the Command Track. I tested out of an entire year's worth of classes and took more than a full course load every trimester; how else do you think I was on track to graduate with the rest of you after coming in two trimesters later than the rest of the cadets my age?"
She stares at him blankly for a moment.
"As to the arrogance, you more than anyone else know how valuable a tool a reputation can be in communication. I needed every edge I could get, every angle I could find, to make people think of me differently than my father."
"Even if that meant cultivating a reputation for being…"
"Fill in whatever word you want, I probably got called it." He shrugs. "I didn't care, as long as they weren't calling me 'George's son.'"
"That…actually makes a lot of sense." She looks at him with newfound interest. "Granted, I still think you probably could have gone about it a better way."
"Oh, undoubtedly. But I never have been one to take the best way when there's a more interesting one available." He grins, and she rolls her eyes. "So. That answer your question?"
"Not exactly, but it'll do for now. What it doesn't answer, is can you even move out of that chair without medical assistance. Because I'm starting to doubt it."
"My God, I feel really sorry for your kids if you and Spock ever have any." He shivers elaborately in empathetic horror.
"We're not really – why am I even explaining myself to you?" Her annoyance is palpable, and that's a little reassuring, because the fact that they've had a civil conversation more than thirty seconds long on non-official matters has been just a little weird. Normality is something they all need right now.
"No idea. Weren't you leaving, anyway?"
"Not until I know you're not going to die up here before delta turnover because you're too stubborn to go to Sickbay."
"Oh for – "
"Look, if you go down, with Spock off-duty and our official Chief Engineer dead – no way in hell do I trust that Scott person yet – that leaves McCoy next in the chain of command and we need him in Sickbay. If he can't take command I'm next and I most definitely do not want that chair. So get your ass down to Sickbay, we can't afford to lose you right now."
God, his head hurts. He wheels the chair around, slumped in a boneless heap against the backrest. "Uhura. I went, a few hours ago, to get a painkiller and a stimulant." Embarrassingly, he'd had to have a ridiculously awestruck, starry-eyed yeoman show him the way there, that's how little he knows this ship. "There's not even enough room for the wounded, they're treating them in makeshift triage rooms in the corridor, converted briefing rooms on either side of the medical wing."
Comprehension dawns on her face, and she sighs resignedly, scribbling on her Comms data-padd.
"I'm not going down there and getting in the way right now. End of story."
"Acknowledged." She frowns. "But then at least take yourself off-duty and call McCoy or someone to your cabin."
"That's a problem. I'm not technically aboard the ship, remember? I don't have a cabin." He sighs, scrubs painfully at one swelling eye. "I'd planned on crashing on Bones's office couch but he went off-duty before I could ask, I don't want to wake him up."
"I'd tell you to use mine, but I already gave it away to a couple from Communications whose quarters were blown out in the battle."
He smiles, genuinely. "Of course you did." Somehow, even if she didn't have the ability to bunk with the off-duty First Officer, he suspects she would have done the same.
"You could take Captain Pike's, I doubt he'd mind. Frankly, he won't ever know – according to Sickbay's latest update, they're going to transfer him from the Neural ICU as soon as we reach the Nightingale, so he'll never even go back to the cabin."
He fidgets uncomfortably; it just doesn't sit right with him, swiping Pike's quarters without asking, and certainly without deserving. "Have we completed reassignment of all the displaced crew yet?"
She sighs. "Not yet, no. We made the Vulcan refugees priority, and then the stable wounded."
"As it should have been. But the rest of the crew needs quarters as well. Do that first, and then we'll see."
He smiles again. "And you don't have to call me that."
She raises an eyebrow over top of the data-padd, and he tries not to laugh; he wonders if she picked it up from Spock.
"The alternatives I'm currently thinking of would constitute insubordination, but I'm happy to employ them if you'd prefer. Sir."
He does laugh, then, and waves a hand over his shoulder as he turns back around, grinning at the star-drifting viewscreen.
"Seriously, though," he says, almost absently, as he drifts into a half-dazed lull borne of fatigue and pain and exhaustion. "I'd say my friends call me Jim, 'cept that I don't exactly have them, so. Bad example." God, why is he still talking. He has the bad feeling the Bridge isn't really spinning in a lazy circle, either. "Anyway. Dunno where I was going with that…"
"Oh, for the love of –" He hears a snapping of switches behind him, oddly distant and ringing tinny in his ears. "Bridge to Sickbay, get me McCoy. I don't care if he's asleep, wake him up and get him, unless you want two captains on their deathbeds down there and a reprimand in your file, Jamal. Now."
"Y're a badass, y'know that, Lieutenant?"
"Duly noted, sir. If you insist on falling out of that chair, do it far enough from the steps you don't slice your head open, will you?"
"Yeah, sounds good."
"I didn't mean – ugh." A string of fluent, extremely unmusical language that prevents his impending nosedive out of sheer curiosity. He blinks, brain rebooting slightly under the novelty.
"Did you just call me a jackass in Tellarite?"
"Medusan. And – yes, Doctor, it's Uhura, I'm still on the Bridge. Yes, it's Kirk, who else would I make that poor kid wake you up for. Negative, I know he was brought aboard with an allergic reaction and I figured with the upheaval in Sickbay, gambling on his files being accessible by a nurse who's probably half-asleep on their feet was not a good idea."
He half-heartedly smacks the comm-switch on his armrest. "Bones, I'm fine."
"Like hell you are. I haven't seen the latest damage, and what I did see before that would've gotten you knocked out for twelve straight hours if we hadn't been in a crisis. And don't think I don't know about you conning one of the nurses out of a stimulant two hours ago, either. Now get down to my office or I'll have Uhura drag you down here."
"Judging from the look of you, I could physically do it right now, too," she says dryly.
"Don't make me call Spock and put him back on duty, Jim. I don't like him any more than you do but the guy deserves better than that, after the day he's had. But if you go down he's going to insist he's fine to take over, Pike says he's more stubborn even than you are. You really want that?"
"Ugh, no. Don't you dare, Bones."
"I don't want to, but I'm not lettin' either of you kill yourselves when we got nowhere to be for weeks. Now move it. I can't come get you, there's alarms ringing all over the damn place in here and we still don't even know where half the nursing staff are because they were on decks that are still being searched for survivors. Suck it up for me and get yourself down here, okay?"
The worry in the tone is palpable, and it shoves the discomfort to the back of his mind under one more shot of adrenaline. He has to pull it together so Bones can focus on what's important.
"Jim? Come on, Jim, I need you to stay with me here."
"I got it, I got it. Geez." He shifts forward with a groan, spots dancing in front of his eyes. "If you don't see me in an hour send Cupcake or somebody to find me, yeah?"
"I'll make sure he gets there, Doctor."
"Comm me if you need help, Lieutenant, and I'll try to scrounge up somebody to come get you. I'm sorry, I wish –"
"Stop worrying, Doctor, I'll take care of it. Bridge out. Mr. Scott, are you in position in Auxiliary Control?"
"Aye, lassie, that I am. And –"
"Don't lassie me, just get the controls switched over so we can leave the primary Bridge unattended for the last forty minutes of gamma shift. And if you touch my comms circuits –"
"Oi, I'll have y'know I was redesignin' circuit boards like this when –"
One finger mutes the channel on their end as Scotty continues to ramble. "Where the devil did you pick him up again, Kirk?"
"Uh." He stumbles against the comms station, then perches on the edge of it with a pleased sigh, proud to have made it up the steps without falling over. "Ice-ball planet. Delta Vega. Your boyfriend isn't the only one who has sucky taste in marooning people, apparently."
"Obviously." She snorts, trying not to laugh. "You just pick up strays wherever you go?"
"Maybe," he says softly. "Everybody has to find a home somewhere. Wouldn't be the worst way to build a crew."
She pauses, one hand still on her earpiece, and looks up at him.
He shrugs. "What. I have dreams. I have this one, about you letting me call you Nyota someday and Spock not killing me for it, even."
"I prefer to think of it as tactical strategy. I know a power player when I see one."
A snort. "If that's your version of an olive branch, Kirk…"
"Olive branch? Lieutenant, I'm trying to blow past that straight to the final amnesty agreements. You're not someone I want as an enemy."
She hums non-committally as she flips the last switch, the whirr growing more muffled within the console to indicate the switchover of power to Auxiliary Control.
"Okay then, if your new friend knows his engineering conduits, nothing vital will blow up in our faces during the next forty minutes. Next stop, Sickbay for you, Captain."
"C'mon, I won't tell if you won't. I can crash in a Jefferies tube or something somewhere –"
"Jim. Get in the damn turbolift before I show you why a female 'Fleet officer's uniform has steel-toed boots."
Not exactly friends, but not enemies.
He's going to make it work.