They’re cycling well into gamma shift before the door to the captain’s quarters slides open. Jim shuffles in predictably exhausted with a half murmured apology for his promise he’d be back hours ago. Nyota and the others have settled in for the night, assuming correctly that waiting on their fourth for dinner was a hopeless cause. Nyota has since spent the time lounging on the cabin’s couch with her feet in Len’s lap and flagrantly breaking the cardinal rule. Engaging in Enterprise business while off the clock, her eyes glued to her PADD decoding transmissions. Spock, who has made a modest effort in not upbraiding her, is reading from an old-fashioned printed volume on pre-space faring astronomy at Jim’s desk.
“Why is it no matter how society advances—” Jim yawns, muffled by the gold regulation shirt he pulls over his head, “that there is always some idiot aboard the ship who thinks they’re two steps from forming an Orion harem on shore leave?”
“I trust the incident has been dealt with,” Spock says, not looking up from the heavy tome he had picked from Nyota’s library.
“I pulled a number of strings and launched into a major dressing down of the yeoman responsible. Him and of course his enabling cohorts. I get down there and guess what they were drinking?”
“Risan Rum?” Len grumbles as he rises to dial the replicator for Jim’s dinner.
“Risan Rum, every time. If the first shot fired in the next interstellar war isn’t fueled by the stuff, I’ll eat my command badge.”
Spock hums at the illogical pledge as he delicately folds the whirlwind of stripped clothes Jim left over the floor. Len guides Jim into his chair and forces a spoon into his hand. Turning off her PADD, Nyota stretches out and reclines to better take in the view of them.
“This indiscretion is deserving of more than a verbal reprimand,” Spock warns. “I know the Doctor himself has also spoken about his unease with your usual ‘slap-on-the-wrist’ approach—”
“Et tu, Bones?” Jim moans in betrayal, shoulders sagging between bites.
“What? Some of us can hold our rum, and the Fleet won’t be invited back to the next pleasure planet if we keep harassing the locals.”
“The problem has been addressed, and I for one think I have performed my captain-ly duties admirably. In full form and authority, to say nothing of the tongue-lashing I gave all parties involved…” With his silverware scraping the last helping on his plate Jim quirks an eyebrow. “Now speaking of tongue-lashing—”
“That may be your worst segway into sex, yet, Jim,” Len accuses.
“Bones, work with me here. I’m dead on my feet. And as the only person on this entire ship with an actual harem—”
Nyota’s laugh fills the cabin. “If this is anyone’s harem, it’s mine.”
Jim doesn’t even pretend not to be taken aback. He had not been serious, but can clearly tell Nyota is. He looks at Bones and at Spock; neither of whom are objecting. Perhaps what startles him most from where he sits, half twisted in his chair to see Nyota’s amused smile, is that he himself has yet to form an objection.
“Wait a second…”
“I wouldn’t argue with her Jim,” Bones cautions. “She’s right more often than not and could probably make the tongue lashing line work, too.”
Nyota hops off the couch, striding across their living space. Leaning over Jim’s shoulders she speaks rapidly in the Risan language, fit with its famed clicking vibrato and harmonious rolling consonants. Her voice is always deeper in this dialect, sliding down a range of melodic and amatory notes.
“I do not know this dialect,” Spock confesses, but I find its heavy tongue dexterity quite arousing.”
“Yeah, I’m sold,” Len agrees.
“You don’t even know what she said,” Jim objects halfheartedly.
“I asked you all to join me in the shower.” Nyota leads the way and Spock and Len are quick to take her up on the offer. Jim, knowing what’s good for him, dabs a napkin at his mouth and follows suit.
* * *
The thing about Jim is he never knew when to drop something. Nyota usually knows the signs. The first stages usually involved pestering Len with some newfound interest or question until the good doctor refused to entertain him any longer. They're in the middle of one such conversation when Nyota turns over in her sleep, waking to the sounds of their voices from another compartment over.
“I’m not objecting to it being her harem” Jim insists in hushed tones, “but I am trying to figure out just how we got here, unintentionally albeit willingly.”
“Well Jim, if you need the birds and the bees speech, it all starts when a captain who can’t keep it in his pants loves his crew very, very much—”
Nyota chuckles into a pillow that still smells like Spock while Jim himself sighs. “At some point, you have to stop holding that against me.”
“What is there to actually consider here, Jim?” Len asks seriously. “Are you unhappy with the way things are? Between us? Between all of us?”
Nyota turns over in bed. Her ribs flicker tighter for the briefest moment.
“No, of course not,” Jim scoffs. “Not at all.”
Nyota breathes easier. The pair of them continue to bicker from the other room. “Then what is the real concern here? That you’re not the center of attention in every aspect possible?”
“Rude, Bones. Very rude.”
There comes a comm on the cabin’s overhead communications. Chekov’s voice alerts them to a need for Jim in the conference lounge. With captain mode firmly engaged, he pages back he will arrive shortly. Nyota can hear the soft held breath of Jim kissing Len goodbye.
“Make sure she actually rests on her day off,” Jim says on his way out, “that means absolutely no decoding before shift change. I hid her PADD, don’t tell her where. Oh, and we’ll talk more about this harem business when I get back.”
“I’m on pins and needles in anticipation for it,” Len says before the door slides shut. Nyota tries to stifle a laugh at that but Len is onto her. “You gonna keep pretending to sleep in there or are you coming out to have some breakfast?”
“What’s on the menu,” Nyota asks wrapped in a robe that is not hers, slinking into a dining chair.
“Toast, ktarian eggs, and a side of fruit, and of course that honey you like.”
“You know what I like even more than honey,” Nyota leads with an outstretched hand, “is my PADD being exactly where I left it.”
“He’ll know I was the one who gave it to you. I won’t hear the end of it.” Len smirks and rummages around the cupboards and hands her the PADD. “That is, if his ego isn’t still too bruised from the harem comment.”
“That would be a shame considering how often we depend on that ego. The unshakeable identity of one James Tiberius Kirk—”
“The golden boy of Starfleet, rah-rah, let’s march out the parade.” Leonard settles into the chair next to Nyota and picks a piece of dragonfruit off her plate. She casts him a faux-accusation glance as she spices her eggs and pulls up the latest ship-wide transmissions on her PADD. “I honestly don’t get why the harem bit bothers him. I mean other than his obvious need to be center stage and adored by all.”
“It’s a little early in the morning for character assassination,” Nyota reminds him. “Or for such flagrant fruit thievery.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Len chews on yet another bite of lychee taken from her plate. “But on the matter of petty theft, I do believe that the robe you’re wearing belongs to me.”
“Oh, this old thing?” Under Len’s dark eyes Nyota strips off the oversized garment. Breakfast is an afterthought and the transmissions would be there long after they were done. “You can have it back.”
Len chucks the robe over his shoulder and pulls Nyota up against his chest. Drawing her into a fruit flavored kiss, he growls with a different kind of hunger. Walking backwards they land on the couch where Nyota wraps her legs around his waist. She enjoyed her lovers together and in different combinations, but she favors the moments entangled with only one. Len’s favorite sex was morning sex, still sleepy but well fed. His hands and mouth searching skin for familiar pleasure. The slow satisfaction of making his partners scream while the neighboring cabins were assuredly empty.
Nyota whips her hair over her shoulder and spreads her knees as an invitation. Len’s lip has a playful upturned quirk as he kisses the inside of her thighs.
“I couldn’t help but notice,” Nyota gasps with her head rolling back, “you had no complaints about winding up in my harem.”
Len shakes his head. She can feel his unshaven cheeks at her center as he does so. He groans while Nyota runs her nails over the back of his neck.
“Do I look like a fool?”
* * *
Nyota prefers the observation decks over the holo-lounge on her personal time. It is quieter and more spacious and usually vacant. More often than not, it allows her some actual privacy outside her quarters or at least the illusion of it. Even with other crewmen milling around behind her the great curved windows between Nyota and the field of stars, it is easy to forget anyone else exists.
She hardly notices the footsteps that come up from behind her. He places a heavy hand at her hip in greeting.
“Commander, you’re so forward.” The Vulcan behind her tightens his grip. Illogical or no, he enjoys her playing coy. “Aren’t you needed on the bridge?”
“At the moment Mister Sulu has the conn. The captain is still conferring with Admiral Pike via transmission. The connection is sub-stanard and the delay tries Jim’s patience. However, he requested thrice of me not to inform you.”
“Because he doesn’t want me to come on duty to fix it?”
Spock chooses his next words with care. “All of us merely want you to allow the rest of the comms officers to perform their duties.”
Nyota rolls her eyes. “Out of all the people on this ship to tell me I work too hard, you have the least ground to stand on.”
“I am momentarily breaking from my duties,” Spock all but boasts. With his proffered hand extended Nyota places her palms against his. Spock shivers imperceptibly.
Gestures of intimacy aside, Nyota sees through him.
“Jim kicked you out of the conference call so he could swear at lag, didn’t he?”
Spock nods with a small smile. “It was perhaps for the best. In the transmission delay he would complain audibly to me about the harem he did not possess. I feared the admiral would have questions should he overhear too much once the feed was restored.”
“He’s still sulking?”
“Yes. What about, I cannot say. I am under the impression that even he is unsure of where his true grievance lies.”
Still hand in hand, Uhura feels the familiar ordered network of Vulcan nerves and synapses whirling above her mind like fireworks. Stray thoughts oscillate from his mind to hers. His joyous relief watching Nyota sleep restfully for the first time in days. His warmth when chastising Jim during the conference. His flare of appreciation and envy when noticing McCoy jauntily heading to medbay with a familiar post-coital glow. Suddenly Spock seeking her out mid-shift makes sense. Not logical sense, pe se, but three human lovers have taken its toll on his better judgement. Even the most steadfast Vulcan could learn to indulge.
“I did inform the Captain of my belief that the dynamism of our interlacing relationships does not belong to any one of us.” The depth of affinity that wells up in Spock is overwhelming. It spins past Nyota’s mind’s eye too quickly to catch. Jim’s smile. Leonard’s cooking. Nyota’s perfume.
Spock whispers an apology that Nyota does not need and he releases her hand. She traces her fingertips under the frame of Spock’s jaw, as if she was trying to initiate a meld herself, and gently guides his gaze out into the star soaked space before them.
He plants a kiss to her shoulder. “While I myself do not find this sector and it’s stellar nurseries of any particular interest, I cannot deny I enjoy the sense of peace it grants you. Nor can I deny myself the desire to share in that peace.”
“New stars are being formed in those nebulae,” Nyota points to the green tinted clouds in the distance. There was something alluring about them. “They will still be in their infancy long after we’re gone. I think it’s romantic.”
“You are correct in the assertion concerning their longevity. Though I cannot speak to their romance. As always, in such matters I defer to your judgement.”
In the face of such sweet talk, Nyota cannot help but take his hand in hers. Spock did come here for a taste of what Leonard had enjoyed this morning. Who is she to deny him? With her fingertips she outlines calligraphy into Spock’s open hand. She knew he could read the poetry she inscribed there. Captivation and vinous and yearning and Ashau. His eyebrow slowly rose to his hairline.
“Perhaps we should consider Jim might be onto something. The idea of belonging, ownership, it can be attractive.” She imparts the words epicurean , caress , and ardor to his palm. Spock’s skin grows warmer beneath her touch. The veins of his wrist turn a vivid green. “If coming with a sense of control.”
“Control is… a logical aspiration,” Spock murmurs with unsteady hands, reading out the words sumptuous , ecstasies , and carnal she teases him with.
“And a primal one, even,” she counters and the resolve of both the Human and the Vulcan within him snaps in an instant. Nyota finds herself against the broad windowed wall with her skirt hiked up and Spock tracing patterns of his own against her sex. His breath is hot on her shoulder and it reminds her of the first time they had given in together. He had been assisting her in lab work, hovering close, taking in her scent. She had fucked Spock on that desk without so much as locking the door to the hallway.
But they were not in the academy anymore.
“All entrances are sealed.” Ah, of course. The joys of an XO with overriding security privileges.
Nyota allows Spock to move her precisely where he wants her, letting him to set his own methodical pace, optimal in its pressure and friction. He murmurs Vulcan words in her ear comparing her to the predictable gravity of celestial bodies and perfectly balanced equations.
* * *
Nyota waits until Jim is off-duty to find him still in the conference lounge where Spock left him hours ago. All other commissioned officers have left by now, having long since given up on the faulty transmission uplink. But Jim is still there at the head of the table, eyeing her wistfully as she sets down the bottle she’s carrying and two old-fashioned glasses out of Leonard’s collection.
“What are we drinking?”
Nyota spins the bottle around so the label is visible. “Risan Rum, of course.”
“Fitting.” Jim accepts the three finger pour of dark amber liquor with solemn regard. He downs it in one swallow before he says, “so our relationship is probably doomed and it’s most going to be my fault.”
For a moment Nyota’s grasp over spoken tongues evades her. “Oh,” is all she says.
“Yep.” Jim slouches miserably in his chair. Nyota runs her hand over the back of his neck, momentarily unsure. All her expectations had pointed to Jim’s appetite for a challenge, all his gusto and hardheadedness. A fight for dominance and bickering that led them to bed.
“Why don’t you let me fix the up-link to the communication array before we… unpack all of that.” Deftly, she moves to the wall paneling and slides open the console within.
“You’re not supposed to be working at all,” Jim complains, face in his hands. “Because that means Bones gave you your PADD back and Spock told you the damn thing was broken in the first place. Meaning both of them ignored my clear instructions to the contrary. Not that I shouldn’t have seen it coming. It is your harem after all.”
Nyota pinpoints the problem in the wiring. A small error, easy enough to fix without ever having to fetch her tools.
“Tell me, Captain, do you know the word harama?”
Jim shakes his head and knocks back a swallow of rum. “Nope. But if I had to guess, its etymological origins are fascinating .”
Nyota casts him a knowing smile. “It's old Arabic. It means to prohibit or to forbid . It’s where we get the word harem. Now a real harem, back in the early centuries before the Great Wars, was any room in a household that was reserved for women. Wives, daughters, unmarried sisters and aging mothers. Outsiders were forbidden from entering. This was a very old practice by the time Western men discovered them, but still they didn’t appreciate being denied entrance. You can guess the rest.”
Jim runs a finger around the rim of his glass. “If I’ve learned anything from first contacts, they probably jumped to the wrong conclusions.”
Nyota nods. “The white men assumed something scandalous and unspeakable was happening behind those doors. So they dreamed up rooms full of half naked women eating grapes, living at the beck and call of a man they called master.” With a whirl, all the lights and trappings of the communication array realign and the system hums happily beneath Nyota’s hands. She closes the paneling and rejoins Jim at the table. This time he pours her a glass.
“So the myth of the harem lives on, a millennia later and light years away.” Jim looks almost too chagrined to take another sip. Almost.
“Assumptions are dangerous like that. That gravity of consequences when language is not enough. ” The rum is good. It goes down smooth, like fermented honey. But it burns to, deep in the pit of her stomach. “People have to do more than talk at each other, they have to understand each other.”
Jim spins in his chair, sulkily. “You’re not exactly being subtle, Nyota.”
“Neither is your brooding.”
“It just… I swear it didn’t really bother me. Not at first. Bones thinks I need to get over myself and Spock thinks I have some unaddressed human fear I need to meditate on. Either way you look at it, I’m too self-centered to just let myself have a good thing while I still have it. The good thing being regular hot foursome sex with the three most intelligent officers on my ship. Honestly, what is the matter with me?”
“I could give you an itemized list, but I don’t think it would help matters.”
“Thank you for your retatrint.” Jim mock-salutes her with the glass he holds. Nyota clinks hers against it.
Jim lifts his head to drink with self-deprecation. Nyota sits cross legged in her formal command chair. They’re two more drinks in before she nudges him.
“There’s nobody else in the room, Jim. Whatever this is, you can say it.”
Jim smiles, faint and fond.
“Bones was already my longest relationship, before you and Spock.” Nyota nods. The two of them had been inseparable in the back half of their academy days. A fully-formed unit to match her and Spock. “Now, all of us, we’ve been together longer than that. And the five year mission… It’s almost over.”
“I thought you were happy about seeing home again?”
“I thought I was too.” Jim mulls about with his class. “I’ve been thinking about what’s mine to keep and what isn’t, y’know? I knew we weren’t going to spend the rest of our lives on this ship.” Jim trails off.
Nyota leans forward. She can wait as long as it takes.
“What happens after? When the Enterprise docks and the crew is home, when Spock is promoted and Bones get a kushy research job and you…”
“Nyota, I don’t know if you realize this, but you’ve decrypted an ancient dead language, refined a technique to retrieve subspace transmissions older than either of us and revived federation peace talks with the Romulan empire in an act of diplomacy that still makes my head spin… My point is, You’re going to have your pick of postings. Meanwhile I’m gonna be the one shuffled behind a desk and played for a posterboy by the Fleet. A washed-up has-been with no ship, no crew, and no harem— ahem, wow, this stuff is strong… I— I didn’t mean to say all that at once.”
Nyota breaks out laughing. Jim does, too.
“We maybe should have had this conversation sober?”
“Yeah, drunkenly spilling my guts never ends well. Ask Bones about the time we got drunk on old fashioneds—”
“After I tell him you think the five year mission ending is your get out of jail free card.” Nyota can’t stop laughing. Everything feels so ticklish around her ribs. “He’s never going to let you live it down.”
“Wait, what?” Jim double-takes.
“Do you know what my plan was for Starfleet?”
“An ambassadorship to Vulcan,” Jim says without missing a beat, because of course he knows. Right off the top of his head, the top of his heart.
“I was going to be the head of an off-world Terran consul by age thirty-five. I was going to prove my mettle, sit on the committee that expands the neutral zone, and help bring entire empires into the federation fold. I had my entire career track perfectly plotted out to get there. What contacts to make. What languages to specialize in. What ship to make my mark with.” Nyota raises her glass in a moment of tipsy reverence to the Enterprise surrounding them. “Jim, in all my planning to climb the ranks, to obtain the prestigious career I wanted, how many superior officers do you think I planned to sleep with along the way?”
He looks at Nyota, confused. “I’m really hoping the answer is just three.”
“Zero, Jim. The answer is zero.” Nyota sighs. “Because the likelihood of me becoming an ambassador drops to exponentially if anyone, anywhere knows I’ve entered into a polyamorous affair with not one, not two, but three superior officers. And yet for the better part of five years, the four of us have been piled into your captains quarters anyway. What does that tell you, Jim?”
“That you have all the more reason to end it when we dock? Save your career?”
“No. It means I knew the risks and I still chose this. I knew what could happen. I knew letting myself fall for my professor, my captain, and one very ornery doctor could mean I had to change my plans. But I still did it.”
Jim’s moping evaporates. It’s replaced by a wide-eyed stare and an utter lack of comprehension. Nyota cannot fathom how he is so surprised. She remembers distantly, under the dark cover of night on an off-world mission, Leonard had leaned in close to her and muttered something to her; that for all Jim’s intuition and brilliance he was still denser than a black hole.
“Jim, really, you didn’t think we could keep this a secret forever did you? Eventually to tell Pike, or Spock files the proper paperwork with the brass. The admiralty will pretend not to hold it against us but…” Nyota shakes her head. “In the end it doesn’t matter. We’ll find another way or a different one. Maybe I end up working out of a diplomat’s office, some undersecretary position. But what I mean is, I’m in this Jim. For better or worse. I thought you knew that.”
Jim rubs his temples and uncorks the bottle one last time. Unprompted, he cracks that golden smile of his. A notorious expression known throughout the crew and furthest reaches of the universe as the foremost indication that the captain smelled a challenge.
“Okay, so before we unpack all of that—” Jim chides, topping off their drinks,
“In what universe would I, James Tiberius Kirk, ever let the brass deny you an ambassador’s office? We didn’t save all of Earth just for the Federation to hold it against us. They’re gonna have to promote you to fleet admiral by the time I’m done with them.”
“That kind of favoritism might be exactly the problem—”
“Sounds like Fleet Command’s problem, not ours.” Jim bounds out of his chair determinedly. Nyota traipses after him, depositing the bottle in the recycler before Jim leads them to the turbolift.
“That’s definitely the rum going to your head.”
* * *
They tumble into their quarters, mercifully a straight shot from the turbo-lift. In a tangle of clothes and boots they land on the mattress, “I’m starting to understand why that rum is banned on half the planets in the Federation.”
“Hn-hmm.” Nyota nods, shimmying Jim out of his pants. “Downing the whole bottle was probably a mistake. Threw off my game plan.”
“Wait, there was a plan? All to seduce me?”
“I don’t have to get you drunk to do that.”
Jim kisses his way up her belly and the roundness of her breasts. It tickles more than anything and she twists with supple laughter. With his hands in her hair, Jim catches her lips and chuckles in return. They trade kisses breathless and languid, caressing and giggling. Nyota lets Jim fall into the lulling rhythm between them, his body lax and loose against her before she gives him a playful nip. His hips snap in surprise and he rolls them over until she is tucked beneath him. Turnabout and fair-play, and all that.
If there was one thing Nyota loves best about Jim, it is his competitive nature. Insatiable to a fault with a hunger that matched her own. Reciprocal desires flow through them until their worn-out and panting, still tipsy in the afterglow. She settles against his gentle gravity, letting its safety envelop her.
“You never said what your plan was exactly,” Jim murmurs, collapsed against a pillow. “Unless it was your plan for a three-and-oh scorecard with your own personal not-harem?”
“Planned and executed. Though not nearly challenging enough. Maybe I could add a few conquests?”
“Absolutely not. Spock and Bones are jealous enough as it is.”
As if on cue, the commander and the doctor slip in through the sliding door. They’re speaking softly amongst themselves. The merits of xenobiological studies applied through the lens of Terran theory and methodologies, from what she can gather.
Leonard would come and rouse her and Jim from the bed later, insisting they eat dinner. He’d realize his stashed bottle of Risan Rum was long gone and would take his revenge with a detoxifying hypo before forgiving them. Spock would pick the music for the night and Jim would insist on Terran classical. They would bicker and nag, until Nyota reminds them she did not need to be forced into off-duty shifts. Not by her captain, not by her lovers, and the three men would stop arguing, steadfast and united in their fretting over her.
“I would stay on this ship forever, if I could.” She says it to the open air in a voice so small she’s not sure Jim hears her. But he does, turning over to catch her eye. He can tell she means it. She could stay in this too small compartment lined with medals and certificates, the glowing screens from three different command branches, the glass encased artifacts Spock had found peculiar, Leonard’s antique glasses, the potted greenery that they could never keep Jim from over-watering, and Nyota’s library nook. She could stay here and never want for anything.
“Wish we could,” Jim mumbles back. He pulls the covers tighter over their bodies. “The four of us, sailing through the black like we were meant to.”
“We’ll have to settle for staying together, no matter where we are.”
Jim kisses her again, eager and wholehearted, his eyes full of promise. “We’d never settled for anything. We’re not about to start.”