Disclaimer: I said it before and I'll say it again. Not mine. Not profiting. Don't sue.
FYI: Okay, this is it. The last part. Thank you for reading, and most especially thank you all for the reviews to those of you who left them. I've appreciated all of your encouraging words. This was my summer project, and I am glad to see that people have enjoyed it.
...in which Kirk makes a startling discovery.
Jim groaned. "Two days of bed rest? Seriously?"
"Yes, and I don't want to hear your bitching." Bones gathered up the jumble of medical equipment on Jim's desk and shoved it back its case. "No trips to the bridge, no beaming down to the planet, no crawling around with Scotty in the Jeffries tubes. You need to rest for that concussion to heal. Anything that can't be done laying in your bed or sitting at your computer console is up to Spock."
"Does Spock know this?"
"It's at Spock's insistence."
"This is mutiny, isn't it? The two of you are conspiring against me."
Bones just rolled his eyes and stalked to the door. "I'll be back later on to check on you."
"Tyrant," Jim muttered, glaring as the door hissing closed behind him. He slumped down in his desk chair, head on the back, and pushed himself back and forth with the tip of one toe, staring up at the bright white ceiling. The earthquake, concussion, and looters didn't kill him, but two days confined to his quarters on bed rest just might. He had a feeling Bones was going to bully Spock into sending only the barest minimum of work his way, just enough to make it seem like he was actively captaining the ship, which wasn't going to fool him, by the way. Maybe he'd test that bridge mending he managed with Uhura and see if she could put a bug in Spock's ear, or failing that, at least entertain him for an hour or--
Jim suddenly slapped his foot flat on the floor to stop the swing of the chair and sat up, his nearly healed concussion protesting with a distant throb of easily ignored pain.
"Hoshi Sato," he said to the empty room.
He had forgotten about her in the uproar following their timely rescue. The Elagabalans had been extremely grateful to Jim and his crew for helping to catch the smugglers, and the Enterprise was due to stay in orbit another week to provide humanitarian relief for the areas devastated by the earthquake. There had been a lot of discussion with the Elagabalan government and Starfleet command since his return to the ship, or there had been until Bones had had sharp words with him about his health and how concussions needed rest, damn it, then confined him to his quarters and laid into Pike and whoever else from command had the misfortune of being on the comms that day. But hey, if Bones was going to run interference and prevent him from doing his job, he was going to have to entertain himself somehow, even if it was just this side of prying.
Besides, Hoshi Sato was the reason why the Enterprise had the best communications officer in the fleet. He was curious to know what it was about this woman that had compelled Uhura to work so hard for so long for an assignment on the Enterprise and to set aside her intense personal dislike of its commanding officer after Pike's promotion.
Jim turned towards the console, calling up the ship's library databanks and digging around until he found the official Starfleet dossier on Sato.
It turned out she was exactly as awesome as Uhura thought she'd been. A linguist with over forty languages, one of the contributing developers of the universal translator, but also dishonorably discharged for breaking the arm of a superior officer trying to break up her floating poker game. A smart girl who could break a man's arm – that was hot. She was reinstated for the Enterprise-NX01's first mission under Archer's command – that Archer, as in the first president of the Federation Archer – so, yeah, Sato was one hell of a hero to have.
She was also one of the 4,000 colonists slaughtered during the famine on Tarsus IV, which seemed a damned undeserving end for her. That had been in 2246, and Jim had been about 13 at the time, just beginning to explore his delinquent inclinations, while all those people, including Hoshi Sato, were being dragged out of their homes into the streets of the colony and shot. Uhura must have been devastated when she learned about her death; he wondered if at ten she had fully understood what had happened to her hero, if she had ever been able to make sense of a murder committed at the whim of a clearly insane governor a mere week before relief arrived. He could barely make sense of his own father's death, one which had been a sacrifice to save the lives of 800 other people, but to comprehend that kind of senseless death on such a scale at such a young age…
Jim paused, staring blankly at the screen, something stirring in the back of his mind, some nagging detail that he couldn't quite place. He quickly replayed the conversation with Uhura in his mind - Sato had taught her Romulan, had been the reason for her desire to join Starfleet, had lived next door to Uhura when she was ten…
That nagging detail fell into place.
"No," Jim said, refocusing on Sato's file. "She couldn't have been."
With a sick sort of feeling and the need for one of his intuitive leaps to be wrong for once, he made his way into the Tarsus IV files, entering his security clearance codes over and over again as he dug deeper, reading with slowly growing horror every scrap of information that wasn't impeded by Starfleet or Federation Intelligence blocks – the history of the famine, survivor testimonies, official reports, not so official reports, pictures of a charred, unidentifiable body someone had decided was the megalomaniacal governor – and finally found that piece of information he hadn't wanted to find, but there it was anyway.
Only nine survivors had ever laid eyes on Governor Kodos, all of them children.
Nyota Uhura was one of them.
In some ways it clarified a lot of things about her. The flashback he'd witnessed under the earthquake rubble, the ration bar in her boot, that drive to be the best because hey, you never know when a famine will strike your colony, and a psychotic governor will decide you get to live while your father and the kick ass xenolinguist next door and 3,998 other colonists die because you fit his insane eugenics scheme.
And maybe, just maybe, it made you believe that you were a victim of the whims of fate…
Jim checked her file, not to pry any deeper than he already had, but just to check that she had had therapy for it, and she had, several years, plus a few sessions with Starfleet Psych while at the Academy just to make sure she was fit to serve.
That's good, he thought. That's good.
Because Tarsus IV? It wasn't quite watching your planet sucked into a black hole, but it was up there.
Now, he wished he'd never given her shit for the rations bar.
It took the entirety of his two days of bed rest and then some before Jim decided he couldn't live with himself, not when what he thought was harmless prying had led to the bloody and suddenly personal history of the Tarsus IV massacre. He felt like he had overstepped his boundaries and violated Uhura in a way that casually eyeing her legs in the mess hall or seeing her undress while under Gaila's bed hadn't, and the urge to come clean to her was nearly overwhelming.
It took him two additional days to work up the courage to say something to her, afraid that all of their recent bridge building would be for naught, once she learned how deeply he had pried into her life. But he wanted to be honest with her, compelled by feelings of affection and admiration and respect, returned or not, and so he finally sucked it up and asked her to stay behind after the crew's daily meeting about their aid efforts on the planet below.
Uhura looked uneasy as the others filed out past her, though she did smile encouragingly at Spock as he left, glancing between them both with what passed as an expression of curiosity among Vulcans.
Jim wondered what she had told Spock about their time in the museum, if their discussion on destiny had come up, and what exactly he had thought of it if it had. If Jim got out of this with any kind of amicable rapport with Uhura that might be the next private discussion he had with her. Or maybe not. He hadn't had time to ponder it himself.
"What did you need, Captain?" she asked, drawing him out of his idle thoughts. There was no sarcasm in her voice, but she did sound impatient and not a little bit suspicious.
Jim nervously dropped his eyes to the PADD in front of him, fiddled with his stylus a moment, then irritated by his uncharacteristic squeamishness, took a deep breath, and said, "I looked up Hoshi Sato."
Uhura tried to look cool and calm and utterly professional, but he could see anxiety in the way she tensed and drew herself up, as if preparing to take a blow. "Oh?"
"I didn't go looking, really--" Now, Jim was just being an ass, and he knew it. "Okay, I did. I was curious about Hoshi Sato, so I looked her up and--"
"You found out I was on Tarsus IV." Her voice was flat, cold. Jim could hear those newly built bridges between them crashing down and burning with the white hot intensity of a supernova as they went.
"Yeah. I just wanted you to know I found out. Seemed like the right thing to do with us starting over. But I didn't intend to pry that deeply, I promise. It just happened. I'm sorry and it-"
"Yeah. Okay, Kirk." Uhura's sharp tone cut through his babbling. "Just shut up for a minute."
Jim shut up and waited while she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and when she looked at him again, he was startled to see panic in her eyes. "Have you told anyone? Because you can't tell anyone."
Jim was surprised. Anger at his snooping, some sharp words, his name delivered with a sarcastic edge - he had expected all of those. But not desperation of all things and certainly not fear.
"No, of course not." He paused, considering. "But you do know that Bones probably has access to that information, if he hasn't read it already, right?"
"Yeah, I know." She relaxed a little, but not enough for his liking. "I'm not worried about him, actually. He wouldn't care. I just don't need the whole ship to know. Everybody always gets weird about it. Either things become awkward, or they start asking me questions, as if I want to talk about how my father went out to try to help the other colonists fight off Kodos's men and never came back, or how Hoshi begged me not to look when they pulled me out of her arms to execute her. They can't possibly understand it. They just want the gossip."
She sounded bitter, disgusted; Jim could sympathize. "I know exactly where you're coming from."
She arched an eyebrow at him, indignant; clearly she didn't recall Jim's original claim to fame.
"What, you're the only one who grew up in the shadow of a major catastrophe?" Now, he was the one who was indignant. "Remember, I'm the baby born during the attack on the Kelvin."
Her eyes darted away. "Sorry." Her voice was small, very un-Uhura-like. "I always forget about that."
Damn it. He could be such an ass sometimes. Here he was, snapping at her over his childhood traumas when they seemed so small and petty compared to what Uhura had gone through.
All of his indignation bled right out of him. "No, I'm sorry. I'm not trying to one up you. I just happen know what it's like to want to be left alone. I can't tell you how many people have felt free to walk up to me and ask me about my father, as if being able to look George Kirk up in a databank somewhere gives them a free pass to say anything they want."
Uhura didn't say anything, just sat there with her eyes downcast. Jim wasn't even sure she was listening to him. The silence was hard and uncomfortable, but she was actually the first person in a long time that could possibly understand what it was like growing up as an object of curiosity, so he kept going, trusting her to tell him to shut up like she always did whenever she wanted him to stop talking.
"The entire month of November at the Academy was absolute agony. By the second week, all the first years would have finally gotten to the Kelvin in the History of the Federation class, and for a few weeks after, I would have all these wide-eyed first year cadets whispering about me whenever I walked by. A few of the really stupid ones would ask me what it was like to be George Kirk's son. How the hell should I know?" Jim was getting angry just thinking about it. "I was never his son. He died before I could be, and I got Frank instead."
Uhura finally looked up, nodding, her eyes fixed on some point to Jim's left. "It's the ones who are in it for the titillation that bother me the most. If they catch me on a bad day, I'll snap, and tell them what it was like to be hungry all the time, the relentless, grinding exhaustion of it. Or what it was like that last night hiding with Hoshi and her husband after my dad disappeared, listening to stories about the Enterprise and reciting Romulan conjugations, while in the distance all we could hear were phasers firing and people screaming. Or if I'm feeling really savage, I'll describe to them in detail what it was like seeing Kodos's men push an elderly Japanese woman to her knees and execute her with a phaser to her temple." Her eyes came back to him then, full of anger and bitterness. "And maybe it's petty, but it always feels good to see their embarrassment when they realize what they've asked."
"Oh, yeah." He grinned, recalling how satisfying it could be to remind people that you just don't wander up and ask about personal trauma. "Their eyes get wide and they start stuttering and trying to backpedal. And sometimes women, especially the young ones, will cover their mouths and say 'Oh my God, I am so sorry.' That never gets old."
Uhura smiled, but there was no mirth in it, only bitterness and anger. "I like it when they blush. It tells me they're actually embarrassed, and not just being polite once they realize they've overstepped their bounds."
Jim nodded. "Blushing is good. I made an Admiral Komack blush, once, after he spent about ten minutes gushing over my dad's heroic sacrifice then had the gall to tell me how lucky I was to have George Kirk for a father. I won't repeat what I said, but Pike almost dressed me down for it, until I told him what our conversation had been about. Komac hasn't liked me since."
"I've had officers approach me, too." Uhura shifted as if crossing her legs under the table. "Last year, Commander Fitzpatrick asked me to talk to one of his seminar classes about Tarsus IV. I don't know how he found out I had been there, but as soon as I asked him if he would like me to describe what it was like to starve for three months or explain what it was like to hear to the screams of people watching their families shot dead in the streets execution style, he went bright red and walked away without another word. Spock was with me at the time, and I think that was the only time I've ever seen him look so surprised."
Jim tried to conjure that image, Spock looking surprised, but his brain simply could not do it. "So Spock knows?"
Uhura shrugged halfheartedly. "After that, I had to explain."
And Spock could have a similar experience first hand now that his planet was gone, and that was one thing Jim would never wish on anyone.
They fell silent again, and this time it was easier, less uncomfortable, and Jim was starting to think maybe all of those new bridges hadn't been destroyed after all. But there was one thing he still wanted to know, and he may never have the nerve to ask about it again.
"I do have one question, though." At Uhura's sharp look, Jim threw up his hands. "It's not about Tarsus IV, I swear. Well, it is, sort of, but it's more about something that happened when we were trapped in the museum."
She was not pleased. "If it's about the rations bar, yeah, that's because of the famine. I always take something with me when I'm going to unfamiliar places."
"I figured that, but no. A different question."
She looked suspicious, but she nodded. "Go ahead."
"When we were at that first entrance under the parliament house, and you were telling me about the person screaming in the rubble, you sort of… went somewhere else. Was it Tarsus IV?"
Uhura pursed her lips together and nodded. Jim thought that was all he was going to get on the matter, but then she started talking again. "When they finally came to our building and killed Hoshi and her husband, they took me back to the governor's residence and locked me in a room with four other children. We were in there for days. Every now and then they brought another kid in, all of us orphaned by Kodos's purge, and the entire time, it seemed like all we could hear in the distance was screaming."
She paused, her eyes distant, gone to that place again, that room with the other children on Tarsus IV. But then she was back as quickly as she had gone, and gave Jim a brittle, ironic smile. "You know, I can march up to a Spock and demand my place on the Enterprise, I can watch a planet get sucked into a black hole and not be paralyzed by horror, I can face down a bunch of criminals with only a severely injured Starfleet captain as my ally, but as soon as I heard that screaming, I shut down. It was like I was back there again, stuck in that room with eight other children, and all I could hear were people dying in the streets."
She straightened suddenly, and fixed Jim with a defiant look. "And you can't tell anyone, Kirk. I know it's hard for you to stop anyone from finding out about your father, but I have a little bit of privacy left, and I'd like to keep it that way."
He might have been offended that she thought he would go gossiping about it, but he knew how it was to live in fear that yet one more person might ask you insensitive questions about something that had so horribly scarred you. "I won't. Promise."
That silence again. Uhura's defiance slipped away and she sat unmoving, studying her hands in her lap, her mouth turned down at the corners. Jim watched her, marveling at how they'd started off antagonists in a bar in Iowa and ended up here, swapping war stories and bonding over childhood traumas.
The bridges between them seemed strong and steady, and he thought there might even be a new one in the mix, so on impulse he said, "What do you do on Sunday nights?"
She looked up, blinking in surprise. "What?"
"When Spock has the bridge during beta shift on Sunday nights, what do you do?"
She shrugged. "Read. Work out in the gym. It depends."
"Usually." She narrowed his eyes, suspicious again. "Why?"
"You should come to our poker game."
Her eyebrows went up in surprise. "Poker game?"
"Yeah. I play poker with Bones, Sulu, and Scotty on Sunday nights."
"What, no Chekov?"
"Not since we figured out he counts cards, the little sneak."
That got a laugh out of her, an honest laugh, one that lit up her face and scattered her personal demons to the winds. She was always beautiful, had that whole untouchable ice queen thing going for her, but when she laughed so easily like that, it softened her, made her shine. "Did you really?"
"We did. That's why he's on the beta duty shift with Spock on Sundays now. You should come. Sulu and Bones are terrible players, so you could go home with the winnings if you can outwit me and Scotty."
"Well, that is tempting, but I don't know. Maybe."
"Look, just consider it. Rec room three, Sunday at 1900. Bring a bottle of something to go in the pot."
She hesitated. "I don't know."
Jim shrugged, and let it go. If she came, he wanted her to come because she chose to, not because she felt pressured. "Well, think about it."
"I will," she said, and surprisingly, Jim believed her.
Uhura did show up on Sunday evening, out of uniform and a bottle of Jack in hand. Jim was secretly thrilled to see her, and the others welcomed her with comfortable familiarity, though he suspected that they thought she was an easy target.
They quickly learned their mistake.
At about three hands in, Bones threw down his cards. "Damn it, Jim. She'll clean us out."
Scotty grinned at her in appreciation over his cards. "Aye, the lass is a right little card shark."
Jim already knew this from the poker nights he'd arranged for the Xenolinguistics Club, back when pursuing Uhura had been a casual and ongoing hobby, and she was still gnashing her teeth because he had managed to get himself elected treasurer, but it was amusing as hell to watch the others figure it out.
Bones glared at Jim. "Yeah, he knew that when he invited her."
Jim put on his best innocent face. "I didn't know, honestly, Bones. I just thought she might like the company."
Jim shared a conspiratorial look with Uhura, who just smiled her sinister little smile and raised the ante, while next to her, Sulu folded again with a sigh of defeat.
A couple hours later, Spock appeared in the doorway during his dinner break, claiming curiosity about the human recreational practice of poker night, though Jim suspected he was really there to see what kind of corruptive influence he and the others were having on his girlfriend.
Uhura's face positively lit up when she saw him, and Spock's lips very nearly turned upwards into a smile, and she must think him a soulless bastard if she was worried Jim would ever intentionally destroy that.
"Here, sit down." Uhura patted the empty seat next to her. "I'll explain how to play."
"I am aware of the rules of poker, Nyota," Spock said, but did as she said, pulling the chair closer to her as he sat.
"I know, but those are the rules. How you actually play the game is something else entirely."
She launched into an explanation of bluffing and tells, and Bones immediately started grumbling about how Spock had a natural poker face, and how many card sharks did the Enterprise actually need? Scotty just chuckled and scooped up the cards to shuffle them, while Sulu idly rearranged his dwindling stacks of poker chips, glancing every now and then at Uhura and Spock in amusement.
Jim himself sat back and watched them. Uhura was earnestly explaining tells, using Bones as an example much to his irritation, and Spock was listening intently, his focus solely and completely on her. They weren't touching, but they were close, their bodies mere inches apart and angled towards each other. Jim had figured out a while back that this kind of proximity for Spock and Uhura was what holding hands would be for other couples, and they were so adorable and sweet and committed to each other that he couldn't believe that Uhura thought destiny was going to sweep in and destroy what they had or that Jim would ever willingly he a part of that. He liked Spock and Uhura, they were his crew and seemed to be becoming his friends, and he just wouldn't do it, wouldn't willingly consent to being a home wrecker, no matter how many people popped in from other timelines to tell him differently.
Spock must have felt his eyes on him, because he looked up then, meeting Jim's gaze with one of his intense, hard stares. Jim stared back, unable to interpret that look and not entirely sure that he wanted to. Then Uhura, realizing that she no longer had Spock's complete attention, looked up with a frown, and Jim quickly dropped his eyes to the cards Scotty was dealing to him, his heart pounding.
Spock asked Uhura something about bluffing, and Uhura went back to her explanation, and then everyone was picking up their cards and making bets, and Jim went along with it, only barely noting the cards in his hand, tossing in his chips without really paying attention. His mind was elsewhere, on other things like friendship and basic human decency and his utter and furious refusal to believe that he had no control over his own fate. There was a good chance that Uhura was just being paranoid, that she had misinterpreted everything, but if she was right, he had a lot of thinking to do.
Because hacking destiny? That was going to be a hell of a lot harder than hacking the Kobayashi Maru.
One final author's note: In the TOS episode "The Conscience of the King", we learn that Kirk survived the famine and massacre on Tarsus IV. In the Enterprise episode, "In a Mirror Darkly, Part II", we did not learn that Hoshi Sato died in the massacre, because although that fact was written for the dossier on Sato that appears in that episode, the nature of her death never aired and falls into that hazy, almost but not quite canon category. I, of course, have taken liberties with the timey-wimey nature of the AOS!verse and put Uhura on Tarsus IV instead of Kirk. Hoshi's death there was just begging for it. And, really, what's the fun of having a reboot!verse if everything happens exactly the same way?
And for those are wondering, I am actually going somewhere with the destiny thing. There is a sequel in the works, and two others planned, so I intend to explore their destiny and perceptions thereof quite thoroughly. Now, if only real life would stop mercilessly devouring my time...