Nyota Uhura stepped through the doors of the crew lounge and swept her gaze over the small crowd gathered within. Off-duty crewmembers lounged at tables and on comfortable chairs and sofas scattered throughout the room and the low buzz of dozens of conversations filled the air.
Her gaze landed on Commander Spock who was standing in a corner of the room near the large observation window. His hands were folded neatly behind his back as he shared a quiet conversation with a young female Vulcan scientist who was visiting the Enterprise to gather and bring back to the new Vulcan colony samples of plant-life similar to those which had grown indigenously on Vulcan.
Uhura felt a tightening in her throat as she watched Spock lean almost imperceptibly closer to the young scientist, his whole being intent and focused in the way he used to be with her. She had been in agreement with him when he had proposed to her that their relationship was unlikely to last, so she was surprised to feel a twinge of hurt at the sight of him having seemingly found a new focus for his interest. She supposed Spock would find it very human that, despite the fact that their relationship had been over for a couple of months, she would feel pain and regret in the knowledge that her former lover had moved on with his life and was no longer pining for what once was.
She gave herself a small shake and sternly reminded herself that she had an interesting and challenging life with work and friends who fulfilled her. Casting her gaze around the room again, she squared her shoulders and strode determinedly into the lounge. She made her rounds, stopping to say hello to co-workers and share a smile and a few words with friends, all the while circling towards her targeted corner of the room. She sank gracefully into the cushions of a sofa tucked along with a few matching chairs into a quiet nook at the far end of the room and smiled at the others already gathered there.
"What's up, Doc?" She suppressed a smile at the expression that automatically crossed Leonard McCoy's face. Her greeting and his patented scowl in response had become a daily fixture in their lives in the almost ten months they had served together and though he pretended grouchiness, Uhura knew that he enjoyed their exchanges as much as she.
Jim Kirk rolled his head against the back of the sofa, his enjoyment of their antics evident in the lazy smile that curved his lips.
"Lieutenant," he greeted his grave tone at odds with the merriment in his eyes.
"Captain." She dipped her chin in mock-solemn deference. She flashed him a quick grin then turned to young man who had stopped near their group at her arrival.
"I'll have whatever he's having," she said, inclining her head towards the drink in Kirk's hand.
She sipped her beer and allowed the genial banter between the two men to relax her as she spent a pleasant hour or more talking with them about anything and nothing. That she – a woman who enjoyed order and structure - had come to enjoy the company of the irascible doctor and irrepressible captain continued to surprise her, but their easy-going friendship and the manner in which they opened that friendship to include others was a powerful magnet.
And if her gaze had been drawn on occasion to the third party of their triumvirate and his companion, she congratulated herself on masking it with a pretended interest in the general goings on of various people in the lounge. But when they left together, it was all she could do to feign disinterest.
"Are you alright?"
Uhura turned to her captain. Unnerved by the look of concern and understanding on his face, she turned the full wattage of her smile on him.
"I'm great," she said. She made a show out of looking at the chronometer on the wall. "But it's getting late and as you know, I'm due on the bridge at 0800, so…" She set her empty glass on a table and rose. "I'll see you both tomorrow."
Kirk pushed himself to his feet. "Yeah, I'm heading back too. I'll walk with you." He turned to face their companion. "Bones?"
McCoy shook his head. "I'm stopping by sickbay to check on a patient and then I don't want to be disturbed until 0755."
Kirk laughed and clapped a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I'll consider it an order." He turned back to Uhura.
"Ladies first." He swept out a hand indicating that she should precede him and she glanced over her shoulder in time to see McCoy roll his eyes in response to Kirk's gentlemanly flourish.
"Don't fall for it, Uhura," the older man groused. "He just wants to check out your ass."
Kirk clapped a hand over his heart, his face a study of wounded innocence. "I'm hurt that you would even think that, Bones." He studied the knowing scowl on McCoy's face and the pursed lips and narrowed eyes on Uhura's and seeing the matching glint of mischief in both their eyes decided to play along.
"Fine," he said stepping in front of Uhura. "I'll go first and you can check out my ass." And with a little twitch of his hips, he headed toward the door.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Leonard." Uhura smiled.
"Good luck, Lieutenant," he said, jerking his chin towards the departing figure of their captain.
Kirk waited at the door and ushered her through. They walked in companionable silence towards the officers' quarters, arriving at hers first.
"This is me," she said unnecessarily as she punched in the code to open the door. She stepped inside and turned to face him. "I'll see you tomorrow."
He braced a hand against the door. "Do you… I don't know." He gave an awkward shrug of his shoulders. "Do you want to talk maybe?"
"About what? I'm perfectly fine." She arched her brows and shook her head. "I'm not sure why you keep asking…"
"Uhura," he said chidingly and waited.
She blew out an impatient breath and walked further into her quarters. "I really am okay," she insisted. She strode toward the small desk tucked into one corner of the room and, removing her earrings, dropped them into a crystal dish.
He stood a few feet away and crossed his arms over his chest. "It's just me," he told her kindly. "You don't have to pretend anything."
"I don't know what's wrong with me." She sighed and looked up to meet his gaze. "The thing is… I am over him. I mean… we really weren't going anywhere and ending the relationship was the smart thing to do and it's not like I'm in love with him any more, but I just… it just…" Her voice trailed off as she gave a frustrated sigh.
"It's just that it's difficult to see someone you care about interested in another," he finished.
"Yes." She was struck by the knowing look on his face. She cocked her head to one side and studied him closely. "You look like you've got first hand knowledge on this subject," she observed, surprise evident in her voice.
"Well, my experience is different than yours." Kirk tucked his hands into his front pockets and propped one shoulder against the wall. "Let's just say in my case that it was more a matter of not being enough in the first place," he said cryptically. "But, yeah, I get the general concept of being…" He groped for the right word, "…off-balance when a person you care about is showing interest in someone else."
She nodded in agreement and sat down on the small sofa. "It's not that I don't want him to be happy. I do. It's just…" Again, her words trailed off. Irritated, she rubbed a hand over her forehead. For a woman with a love of words and language, not being able to communicate her thoughts was frustrating.
He flopped onto the sofa beside her and took her hand into his. "It's just that it's another nail in the coffin of that relationship," he murmured, again surprising her with his insight.
"Yes," she sighed. "The utter finality of it." She rested her head on the cushion near his shoulder and stared at the far wall. "Not to mention," she said with a touch of irony in her voice, "I wanted to be the one to move on first. Show him that I'm a desirable woman who can get any man I want." She laughed at the absurdity of her statement even though it contained more than a grain of truth.
"You want me to plant a kiss on you right in front of him in the middle of the bridge tomorrow, just say the word," he offered magnanimously. A tiny grin flirted with the corners of his mouth.
She laughed. "You would do something like that for me?" she asked, wide-eyed and coquettish.
He leaned close. "Well, you know me… I'd do anything for my crew," he murmured flirtatiously.
They grinned at one another but in a split second the atmosphere became charged as they grew conscious of their abrupt proximity to one another.
Uhura's gaze dropped to his wide, generous mouth and suddenly, more than anything, she wanted a taste. She closed her eyes against the unexpected flood of need and taking note of his shallow, quick breathing, was gratified to realize that he was equally affected.
"I should go," he whispered unsteadily.
"Stay." She curled one fist into the fabric of the gray t-shirt covering his torso and felt his heartbeat thud against the wall of his chest in response.
He lowered his head to hers. "He can't see us here," he reminded her, his lips brushing the fragile skin of her temple.
"I don't want you to stay because of him," she breathed. "I just want you." And it was true, she realized with a sudden start. The flirtation they had begun almost four years earlier in a bar in Iowa abruptly roared back to life. In that time she had watched women flock to this man and a long-simmering curiosity of what it was about him that drew so many into his orbit ignited.
She shifted, pressing her body lightly against his. "Kiss me." She curved one hand over his cheek so that their lips were but a hair's breadth apart.
"Be sure," he ordered, his breath feathering over her mouth.
In silent response, she exerted enough pressure until their mouths met. His lips glanced off hers in a tentative caress, but soon enough the explorer in him awoke and he set off to learn every inch of her mouth. He traveled to that spot where her lips formed a tiny bow and lingered there until he had memorized every curve before moving on to worry at the plumpness of her lower lip with tender nibbles of his teeth. His tongue darted out to tease the sensitive corners of her lips until her mouth parted on a breathless gasp and then the kiss went from gentle curiosity to insatiable hunger and she learned what it was to be the object of this man's unbridled desire.