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Like Shooting Stars

 

0.

The pain isn't so much now, he thinks. In fact it's hard to concentrate on pain when the stars have all come out. And oh...they are beautiful. How he can hear them call to him! How they sing! Somehow he always knew they did, but this is his first time hearing it.

“Oh my...” He says, and is enveloped in wonder. There is no pain at all anymore, in fact he's not sure there ever was any. He doesn't know how anything like pain has ever existed as he hurtles through the stars, each light welcoming him, even guiding him across the blackness.

He barely feels the curtain as he passes through it (such thin fabric the universe is made of!), the stars from the other side beckon so. They are trying to tell him something. But before he can make sense of it, he is through and among them, and suddenly pulled straight down. Pulled to a single star directly, then a planet, through atmosphere and clouds, to the waiting mass below.

All remaining thoughts and memories burn away during the descent. He feels no fear as he settles back into physical form; his eyes open to a broad blue sky, as the star―now a sun―continues to sing to him in a language without words; and when he looks down, now conscious of the beings around him, all he can feel is joy. All he knows is joy.

He sees their smiling faces, and smiles in return.

 

1.

Jim is angry. On the outside nothing seems amiss―the Captain of the USS Enterprise, James T. Kirk, keeps his expression schooled to a professional neutrality―but inside Jim is seething.

“Sir,” he says, the hard edge on his voice just barely giving the slightest glimpse to the maelstrom inside. “With all due respect, you have got to be shitting me.”

“Captain Kirk, I assure you I am completely serious, and so is the rest of the admiralty.” There might be something sympathetic in Pike's eyes as he looks at Jim through the vid screen, like a stern and disappointed parent; but Jim doesn't want sympathy, he wants to be right. He is right.

“I saved lives.”

“You violated the Prime Directive.”

Jim's breath hitches slightly, his body instinctively gearing for a fight, and his hands curl ever so slightly under the table. “You know I did the right thing, sir. Those people would have been entirely destroyed, if I hadn't―”

“The emotion behind what you did for the Chenari was noble, Captain. But you nearly started a war. Something we don't have the resources to fight right now. One that could've demanded the lives of your own people. Are you really prepared to for that?”

Kirk takes a deep swallow and the edges of his nails dig into the flesh of his palms. “I'm prepared to do what needs to be done, and I would never be careless with the lives of my crew,” he says with all the control he can muster. “If you know one thing about me, it should be that.”

“Just careless with your own? I saw the medical reports. Have you not been beaten up by Romulans enough yet? Those were critical and unnecessary injuries.”

Jim's ribs twinge in recollection. “It was a typical risk in the line of duty.”

“Maybe for a member of security detail, but as captain you are not expendable,” Pike says firmly.

“I had to be down there.” Jim has no doubt in what he is saying. “I had to get their trust to save them.”

“You couldn't have sent anyone else?” Pike is not so easily swayed.

“No, sir.” Jim says, tightly clipped and resolute.

“And if you'd died?” Pike is frowning now, creases forming around the sides of his mouth.

“Spock would have taken over. There is a chain of command in place, sir.”

“I see. But Spock wasn't made captain, you were. Spock could have been captain. Spock could be made captain again. Your position isn't there to put you first in line to fight. You're supposed to be leading.” There is no warmth at all now in Pike's steel grey gaze.

“I am leading,” Jim insists.

“Your crew to their deaths?” Pike's non-question rankles Jim, his pride so raked over coals that it begins to burn. He explodes.

“No one's died yet!”

“They will soon enough, son. It's something you can only avoid for so long, even without this reckless―”

“Reckless! Didn't you say, you said to me that it was in my nature to 'leap without looking'. You said it was an asset!”

“I meant that I knew you'd never be the type to hide behind regs in lieu of taking action. But it's your job as captain to get things done while following the rules. If you can't do that, you can't be in charge of this ship, and in charge of the lives of those who are following you. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir.” Jim looks to the ceiling, suddenly very cold, and feels his stomach fall away. Oh, God he is going to lose her, he is going to lose his ship, his whole world is here now...

“Oh for God's sake, don't make that face.” Pike's words jar through Jim's disparaging thoughts. “It's just a probation, Kirk. Lay low for a while. Follow the rules. Don't break any more ribs, and this too will blow over soon enough.”

Probation sounds damn close to being fired to Jim, but he bites his tongue. He has some time at least. He hasn't lost the commission yet, he can maybe figure this captain thing out before they all come to their senses and realize they've put a twenty-five year old delinquent, with only three years of training―most of it theoretical―in charge of a starship.

“Nogura and Komack were ready to can you, but they never wanted to give you the Enterprise to begin with, so that's no surprise. But Archer and Barnett were in favor of giving you a second chance to catch your stride,” Pike continues, perfectly professional.

“And you, sir?” Jim nearly chokes in the asking, not sure if he wants to know, but needing to.

“I'm on your side, Jim.” Pike says softly, the corners of his mouth crinkling up just so, a tiny touch of fondness peeking out around the man's irises.

Jim could have nearly smiled at that, if it hadn't been immediately followed by Pike saying, “So let's talk about your reassignment.”

It feels like a kick to the stomach. His ribs twinge again. “Reassignment?” Jim asks breathlessly.

“The Enterprise is going to be taken off duty from patrolling the neutral zone.”

“We're off patrol?” Jim asks, utterly dumbstruck.

Pike continues, matter-of-fact, “The Constellation will be taking your place.”

Jim jumps in, “But we have three months left on patrol before we're supposed to start the exploratory mission.”

“I am aware.” Pike takes a breath before going on. “A distress signal was received from an unknown ship in a system that just had its star dwarf out. You are being sent to receive these people and then deposit them on a starbase, or possibly Earth, if necessary. They are thirty light years from the top of the neutral zone, which makes the Enterprise the closest to the emergency,” Pike says emotionlessly.

“Okay, so after this little rescue we're going to start the exploratory mission?” Jim still holds some hope of his life and career getting back on track.

However, it is not to be.

“No, Jim.” Pike shakes his head. “That is, I'm not sure what the Enterprise's next mission will be after this. When this mission is completed you'll be re-evaluated as per your probation, but it's doubtful that you'll be sent into uncharted space at that time.” He seems sort of sorry, or at least sorry to be the messenger.

“Well what time then? What will I be doing?” Jim is flustered and tense, nails firmly wedged into the skin of his hands.

“It's possible the Enterprise won't be sent on any exploratory missions while you're her captain.” Pike looks down at his notes while he says it.

It takes all of Jim's will to keep his voice low and steady. “Excuse me? So they're just going to turn her into a glorified taxi service? Exploring uncharted space was part of her commission!” His anger is back, it burns up his belly and dances across the sides of his face.

“You have to see that no one in the brass is entirely comfortable with you leading a first contact scenario at this time,” Pike says placatingly, the way one talks to a cornered animal.

“Even you?” Jim demands.

Pike ignores him, and continues speaking with a soft low tone. “You will be taking care of inter-planetary distress calls and the shuttling of important dignitaries, and maybe even some minor diplomatic interventions.”

Jim is not deterred. “What about you, Admiral? Do you think I can't handle it?” A slight hurt rings in the voice, Jim knows that, but is not so prideful to not let it show a small amount. Not around Pike anyway.

“I think that it's wise to have you cut your teeth on something closer to home, a few years of smaller missions―”

“Years? We're supposed to float around like a party cruise ship for years, years while wasting our state-of-the-art labs and some of the best scientific minds in the fleet who are dying to get out there―”

“Some transfer options may be offered to your crew in a few months, or as new ships are completed.”

“You're going to break up my crew?” The idea is absolutely intolerable.

“It would be entirely up to them. But you're right, they might feel wasted on the Enterprise due to the change in her commission.”

“I've seen the specs on the new ships, they're nothing like the Enterprise,” Jim hisses.

“Well, they're being built in a quarter of the time,” Pike explains.

“Which is why we're the ones best suited to be out there facing the unknown dangers!” Jim says with vehemence, his professionalism long spent.

“The Enterprise may be, Captain Kirk, but try to understand where we're coming from. You are green. And after the Chenari incident you're lucky to be retaining your position at all. Prove you can handle this, and you'll get out there one day.” Even though Pike's promise seems genuinely given, the whole idea is simply preposterous and unacceptable―he's even sure Spock would call it 'illogical'.

Especially because under all of it, deep down, to the core of his being he knows he can handle this. He can handle this now―it might not be entirely smooth sailing, but trial by fire is kind of Jim's thing; and he hasn't been burnt alive yet, or a least he doesn't think so. He can't help wondering why Pike, who had first seen him bruised and bloodied, sprawled over a bar table, and believed in him then, would doubt him now, after everything.

I can do this, he thinks. I've got this. Why don't you see that?

Pike sighs. “I've got to go, Jim. The mission details should be at your terminal by now. I'll be in touch, take care, Captain.”

“Yeah sure, Admiral.” Jim mumbles as the screen switches off leaving him alone. He stretches his cramped fingers out and looks down at his hands, seeing the small red crescents that rest inside them, cut there by his nails.

He stands swiftly, and before he can stop himself, throws his fist into the wall.

There is something satisfying in the feeling of his knuckles breaking.

*

“It went that well, huh?” Leonard McCoy, his best friend and CMO, tuts as he works over the broken hand.

“You should have seen the other guy?” Jim submits weakly.

McCoy just rolls his eyes at Jim's attempt at levity. “What did that poor wall ever do to you?”

“It was there?”

“And Pike was all the way at Starfleet HQ. So what's the damage?” He asks like a parent expecting a bad report card.

“Besides this?” Jim jiggles his hand a little which makes McCoy's frown deepen. “Nothing. No damage, the brass is just a bit pissed about me...breaking the Prime Directive. No big.”

McCoy raises an eyebrow. “Really, that's it.”

Jim could say 'I'm on probation, they think I'm too green,' or something else that more closely resembles the truth; instead he puts on a fake smile, and gives the answer he thinks McCoy would rather hear. Or at least the answer he wants to hear himself say.

“A slap on the wrist and now we're going to answer a distress signal. Business as usual.”

McCoy is not so convinced. “Uh huh, so why'd your fist make enemies with the wall?”

Jim shrugs. “Pike was being a dick about it is all. Made me mad. I punched the wall. It's really very simple, Bones.”

“Pike was being a dick? He practically acts like you're his own son...”

“And sometimes dads are dicks, so I'm told. Anyway, look, good as new!” He flexes the newly fixed hand, curls and uncurls it for a bit.

McCoy can only roll his eyes before he gives Jim a typical stern warning. “That regrown bone tissue isn't going to be at full hardness for a couple of days, Jim. Go easy on it, okay?”

“Will do.” Jim says it as he surges to his feet, eager to leave the presence of the person most likely to see through him.

“And when those refugees arrive I want them sent directly here,” McCoy adds.

“You got it,” Jim says on his way to the door. Before finally escaping he turns and says, “Thanks Bones, now stop frowning, everything's perfectly fine,” and forces a grin.

“Whatever, you say, Captain,” McCoy returns, but his brow does not unfurl, and his annoyed face stays firmly in place as Jim makes his exit.

He hasn't fully fooled Bones, the man knows him well enough to read him like a book, and Jim can tell that the doctor knows he's hiding something. But fortunately, and the only good part of this whole debacle, is that his probation is being kept strictly classified. If he manages to be a good boy and keep his nose clean, it won't even show up on his permanent record and the only people that have to know anything about it are the admiralty, himself, and whomever he chooses to tell―which is no one.

Not even his first officer, the enigmatic half-Vulcan, Spock.

However, Spock is waiting for him by the lift, hands behind his back, his face as blank as new paper. “Captain,” he greets, his tone perfectly even. “I trust Dr. McCoy has repaired the injury you acquired during your confabulation with Admiral Pike?”

“The injury was after the confab with Pike, but...”

“Because of the result of your speaking with him?” Spock's deep brown eyes are piercing.

Jim blanches. Spock is simply too perceptive; it was foolish of him to think that only Bones could read him well enough to decipher the truth of the matter.

“No! Of course not,” Jim tries to counter, even though he knows his lie is half-baked at best. “I just tripped a little and the wall...”

“Indeed captain?” Spock doesn't even let him finish spinning his yarn. “You are not commonly in the habit of tripping when un-inebriated.”

“Oh it happens to the best of us,” Jim says with a big fake grin.

“Humans, you mean?” Because, you know, a Vulcan would never.

“Yeah, well, that's how we are...”

“I see.” Spock raises an eyebrow; it seems to mean something more like 'you are not fooling me' than anything else; but as they are both headed to the bridge Jim can hardly escape him and simply hopes Spock will drop the subject of his injury.

“I have received new mission details to my console, Captain.”

Jim silently praises whatever deities he can think of for the new topic.

“Right,” he confirms. “Rescue mission.”

“Indeed. A stranded ship is a top priority distress situation, and since the vessel is only 33.74 light years from our current location, we are therefore the most logical choice to give assistance.”

“You seem sufficiently briefed already, Mr. Spock.” His first officer's efficiency, while usually a balm to the burdens of running a starship, chafes at him oddly and unexpectedly. He furrows his brow against it.

“I have read the data given,” Spock returns unperturbed.

“Well then,” Jim takes a breath, “shall we enlighten the rest of the ship?”

“Certainly sir,” Spock answers with a slight nod of the head, and Jim leads them out of the lift and onto the bridge.

“Well,” he addresses the bridge crew, his fingers digging into the material of the captain's chair, “who wants to save some civilian ass today?”

Hikaru Sulu, the ship's helmsman, raises his hand immediately. He is the only one to do so. The rest of the crew stares at Jim warily, and Sulu slowly lowers the hand.

“All right then,” Jim continues his face slightly flushed. “The mission information has been directed to your stations, please brief yourselves during our transit. Mister Chekov, please set our coordinates.”

Sitting next to Sulu, the young navigator Pavel Chekov punches a series of buttons and says, “Course is set, Keptin. Ready to save ciwillian ass.”

Jim smiles at that and sits. “Warp factor 6, take her out Mister Sulu.”

“Aye sir,” Sulu says with a grin, and they are off, the stars streaking around them.

Jim relaxes into his chair, takes a deep breath and simply watches as space goes by. If anyone notices him gripping the armrest of the chair like a lifeline, as if daring someone to try and pull him out of it, no one says a thing.

*

Jim sleeps fitfully that night, when he sleeps at all. There is a point where he manages to reach a bit of a REM cycle and dreams of flying through space. Not on a ship, but just himself soaring among the stars.

This does not last long however, as the door to his quarters sharply slides open and the lights suddenly come on full.

“The hell?” Jim yells in a groggy stupor, disconcerted at being so rapidly sucked back to reality and then blinded. He rubs his eyes and looks fuzzily at the shapely blonde woman now standing in his quarters, tray in hand and a no-nonsense expression on her face.

“Who are you? What time is it?” He demands in succession.

“I am Yeoman Rand,” she says seriously, “And it is oh five hundred and time for you to get up.”

“Oh five...you have got to be kidding me! That's three hours until Alpha shift! What is...”

“Three hours that will hopefully be enough time for you to get through these overdue status reports that require your signature, sir,” she says with a hard edge to her voice.

“What happened to Young? Yeoman Young, worked for me.” Kirk asks, puzzled.

“Yeoman Young has been reassigned due to insufficiently completing his duties.”

“Really? I thought he was pretty good...”

“For the three months we have been out here you have only signed four weekly status reports, and only twenty of the dailies. There are multiple personnel reports that need your attention, and several work orders that you have yet to approve.”

“Right, well, with that Chenari incident I might have gotten a little behind...” Her cold glare cuts off his words.

“Being a Captain is more than sitting in chair and giving orders, sir. You have to do your paperwork too.” Jim winces as she sets the tray down on a table with a clang and watches as she pours liquid out of a tall carafe into a mug. The strong smell of coffee hits his nostrils and is enough to pull him out of bed. He sits down clad in only his underwear and blearily looks at the contents of the tray.

“What is this?” Jim says as he sniffs at a small pitcher.

“It's skim milk. Skim and no sugar for your coffee, doctor's orders,” she informs him.

“It's the doctor's orders to make my coffee taste terrible?” Jim makes a face.

“It's what's on your nutritional intake allotment form, as prescribed by the CMO.”

“Oh come on,” he whines, “Bones is just messing around...”

“Are you implying that Doctor McCoy is not doing his job?” Her eyes narrow, lips pinching in.

“Well, no but...” Jim backpedals swiftly.

“You will eat what the doctor says you will eat, Captain.” There's something in her tone that makes Jim think she wouldn't hesitate to grab him by the neck and shove whatever assigned nutritional intake she has down his throat. He's suddenly, inexplicably, and irrevocably afraid of her.

He drinks the coffee down black, then pours the milk over some granola and fruit mixture that is sitting on the tray and begins to eat as she firmly stacks PADDs she pulls from a satchel slung over her shoulder onto the table. She slaps a stylus down next to the stack of PADDs, and Jim slowly reaches out for it.

As he begins reviewing and signing the documents, Rand pours him another cup of coffee. Jim mumbles a thanks and she nods sharply. “I'll be back for these before Alpha, sir,” she says, and then turns to go.

“Wait,” Jim says, momentarily re-finding his dignity and suddenly needing to know why her professionalism cuts on the wrong side of his nerves. “Why do you hate me?”

She stiffens, caught. “I don't hate you sir.”

“Well you certainly don't like me.” Jim's onto something here, he knows it.

He sees the moment she opts for honesty with the way her posture shifts ever-so slightly. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Sure Yeoman.” Jim's cocks his head, absently licking his top lip. “Tell me how you really feel.”

“I find you brash, undertrained, unprofessional, conceited...”

“Wow, okay.” He swiftly stops her tirade. “You don't think I should be captain,” either, he almost adds.

“Sir, did you know that even though the Academy courses are scheduled to be done over four years that it takes most cadets six years to complete their training?” She asks rhetorically, going for a different tact.

“I think I've heard something like...”

“You did it in three. Some people may look at that as an accomplishment, but it means that you slid through classes like Management and Materials Processing, which is why you don't do your paperwork properly, sir.”

“I see. Good thing I have you to teach it to me, then.” He smiles, she glares. Which is when he analyzes her posture further, the way she stands, body ready to spring away, hands clasped over her genitals.

“So what's your real problem with me?”

“Sir?” She's back to hiding.

“What did I do to you, personally?” He's not in the mood for anyone's bullshit today.

He hears her jaw click. “Nothing that will get in the way of performing my duties, sir.”

“So I did do something.” He peers at her, searching, as if the answer could be written on her skin.

“You don't remember,” she says, almost relieved. “Well, you were a real dick back at the Academy sometimes, sir.”

“Yeah,” Jim says almost sadly. “I've heard something like that too.”

She eyes him carefully for a moment and then spins on her heel, red skirt swishing as she goes, the door automatically opening, closing, and leaving Jim alone with a terrible breakfast and seemingly endless stacks of paperwork.

Fifteen minutes to the start of his shift she returns and collects the finished PADDs, then stacks several more in their place. They don't speak at all, there is nothing to say. Jim has no idea how to apologize for a crime he can't remember committing and there is no forgiveness in her icy gaze.

Jim's 'free time' becomes consumed with the never ending piles of PADDs, and then, finally, they reach the newly dwarfed star system, and there is something else for Captain Kirk to do.

 

2.

As they approach the small ship it looks something like an intoxicated meteor; its left thruster's balance is obviously off, causing it to fly in erratic patterns instead of a more fuel efficient line. It doesn't seem like whomever is piloting has even attempted to get to warp drive, which is probably for the best. It seems a miracle the ship is space-worthy at all.

But there was a moment, when Jim first saw the light of the ship, just a tiny zig-zagging dot, that he'd had the irrational desire to wish on that light like a gullible child; as if it was a shooting star and could possibly hold the power to turn his life around and make him into that brilliant and decorated captain that he is supposed to become, that legend he doesn't know that he'll ever live up to.

He pushes those things from his mind as he waits in the shuttle bay for the tractor beam to finish bringing the ship in. Audio contact with the ship has been impossible, the craft apparently only capable of emitting an SOS signal in the ancient Morse Code. It makes him anxious to not know anything about these passengers; he can only keep his 'confidence' face, that cocky smirk that doesn't quite reach his eyes, glued even tighter to his visage as he waits, with Bones, Spock, and Uhura standing with perfect patience behind him.

Well, Bones excepted, the doctor is fiddling with his tricorder and muttering under his breath; but they make Jim feel like a respectable captain, like he is actually doing this job, and make him want to actually perform it respectably as well. Jim's musings don't have long to linger however, as the ship―a model so ancient its origins would be impossible to say―flies in and lands into the open part of the bay. As the four of them approach and the ship's hatch begins to open, Jim gets a sudden rush; the thrill of the unknown is upon him and for a brief moment a real smile is on his lips, his cornflower blue eyes alight with wonder.

Then the beings emerge. They are all women of different years, some nearly decrepit with age and some as young and beautiful as Jim has ever known a woman to be. All have dark hair, intricately woven with beads and tied with scarves, in white gauzy dresses of a finely woven linen-like fiber. Their exposed skin is a gleaming bronze, set off by carved marble beads tied around their wrists, ankles, and necks. After they descend, a dozen pairs of soulful brown eyes have glued themselves to Jim, sizing him up like a would-be savior, and Jim supposes he is.

He smiles at the ladies and starts to speak to them in Standard. There is no response, and he turns to Uhura. She takes up the work, but none of the languages that tumble from her mouth get a reaction either. Jim is about to order a plan B, which would mean ushering all the ladies to medical with the best sufficing hand gestures, when the ship's power cuts completely.

The engine is no longer humming faintly, and the lights go off. A thirteenth figure emerges from it. This one is male; an older man, perhaps seventy if one is to go by Earth standards. He has a kind face and a round figure, dressed in the same white fabric as the women, his clothing is fashioned into a kind of tunic and pants.

“Hello,” Jim says in surprise.

“Hello,” the man returns with a smile.

Suddenly everything changes; the women part for him respectfully and he approaches, still smiling. A dozen explanations for this scenario flash through Jim's mind, and he's not sure he likes them. Not sure he likes the open face grinning at him, like the universe's chubbiest and most clever Cheshire cat.

“I am Captain James Kirk, and this is the USS Enterprise. We're here in answer to your distress signal.”

“Hello, James Kirk,” the man returns. Uhura looks puzzled, Spock intrigued, and Bones annoyed.

Jim is slightly baffled himself. “Do you speak Standard?”

“Standard...I'm not sure...” the man stares off as he says it, looking wistful. “Keep talking, I seem to...”

Suddenly Uhura is a flurry of speech, quoting famous passages from poems, books, plays, even several bits of Starfleet protocol at the man, who eventually stops her by placing a hand to her shoulder and says, “Thank you my dear.” Uhura nods as if almost embarrassed, and smiles at the man. Which doesn't help to make Jim feel any less apprehensive about the proceedings.

“The star, it died.” The man starts explaining.

“Yes, we know,” Jim returns.

“They knew it would. So I fixed the ship, for them. And when it started to get cold, I flew them away, and made the call, to Starfleet.”

“You know about Starfleet?” Jim raises his eyebrows as he speaks.

The man furrows his own brows to reply, “Perhaps...you'll have to forgive an old man, there's a lot I can't seem to remember...”

Jim notices McCoy intensely peering at his tricorder and pushing buttons, and that Spock is oh-so-subtley looking over his shoulder at the readings.

“How about you come with me, and tell me what you can remember, and Doctor McCoy over there will take your friends to sickbay, just to make sure that they're all okay, okay?”

“Ah...logical...” The man says, trailing off again. Spock turns to Jim and they share a look before the man turns around and speaks to the oldest of the women.

Uhura listens avidly as he talks in something none of them has ever heard before, and the woman nods and pats his cheek like a good son before the herd of them walk up to the doctor, who leaves with them trailing like a mother hen with chicks. Jim has to stifle a bit of laughter into a cough at that thought, earning him a glare from Bones.

Jim straightens, back to captain mode. “Mr. Spock, why don't you give Dr. McCoy a hand down to medbay, and then come find us in conference room A. Lieutenant, with me,” Jim orders. Spock and Uhura nod, sharing the briefest of looks.

The old man starts to ramble pleasantly at Uhura as they go. Jim can't shake the feeling of apprehension that's still prickling at him all over. A ship to wish on indeed; he shakes his head at his own passing foolishness, and steels his mind to unravel the mystery.

*

“Alright,” Jim says, sitting down at the table, Uhura on his left and the mysterious man in front of him. “So what happened to everybody else?”

The man looks confused. “Who?”

“The rest of the planet?” Jim prompts.

“Well, I suppose the plants have died now...”

“And the people?”

“We got on the ship.”

“Are you trying to tell me that an entire planet contained thirteen people total, and only one of them male?” That can't be right, Jim thinks, annoyed.

“Well, that's how it is. We wouldn't have left anyone behind, oh no, wouldn't have done that.” The man's sincerity seems truthful enough, but something is still off about the situation.

“What caused the decline in the population? Famine, flood, disease?” He tries.

“Oh, no decline...I think it's always been that way. Some of the elders died, and the babies grew up, and since they were trying to leave, they decided to not have any more once I got there.”

“But then...wait, you're the only male, but you didn't father any of those women?”

“Oh no, that's not how they do it.” Uhura looks just as confused as Jim.

“How do they do it then,” Jim presses on.

“No idea,” the man says with a sincere grin.

This leaves Jim entirely frustrated.

“Okay, so, the population has always been small, with no males of the species. And then you came...”

“Yes,” he nods, “they brought me.”

“From where?”

“I don't know...somewhere else.” He shrugs, smiles, totally unconcerned.

“You don't remember where you came from?”

“No.”

“That doesn't bother you?”

“No.”

“How did they get you there?”

“I'm not sure.”

“But you didn't come on that ship?”

“Oh no, I told you, they needed me to fix the ship. It took a while, trial and error you see―but I figured it out, in time.”

“In time. How long were you there?”

“Well, the babies are all grown up now, so, eighteen years, maybe twenty?”

“That's a long time to not know how you've gotten someplace.”

The man shrugs.

“You never wondered how you got there?”

“It didn't seem that important to know, just to do what I was brought there for. Besides, I never felt like I was going back, never felt like there was any reason to go back. So, why not move forward?” The man explains.

“What will you do, now that you've saved them?” Jim asks.

“I have no idea.” The same bright smile; he seems totally at peace with an unknown future, and that is more disconcerting than anything else to Jim.

“Do you have any family we can contact for you?” Uhura speaks up, concerned.

The man shakes his head, “I wouldn't know.”

“Of course,” she says sympathetically, Jim wants to roll his eyes, she goes on, “Well, we can put your name through the system at least, maybe someone is looking for you?”

“My name?” The man says, “Oh I haven't had one of those in a very long time.”

“You don't even remember your own name?” Jim jumps back in.

“No, sir.” He's completely unruffled.

“Well, what do the women call you?” Uhura questions.

“Ah, hm I suppose it translates to something like...the one from the stars.”

“I see. What would you like us to call you?” Jim asks.

“Oh well, I suppose whatever you make up will be just fine.” He smiles again, flashing healthy white teeth.

“You want me to make up a name for you?” Jim is mystified, he hears Uhura cough softly beside him.

The man just continues to smile. “I think I'd like to check on the ladies now,” he says.

“Alright, if I have any more questions, I'll come find you.” Jim has gotten nowhere with this unhelpful cretin, and he doesn't see any reason to waste more time.

“Of course, Captain.” The man offers his hand, and Jim takes it, a strange unidentifiable feeling passing through him as they shake.

Jim quickly whispers to Uhura, “What do you make of all this?”

She whispers back, “I don't know, but I'm sure he's telling what he thinks is the truth, whatever is going on.”

“Hm, well Lieutenant,” he says loudly, “if you'll take our Mister Doe there to medical and send Mister Spock on his way here?”

“Yes Captain,” she says, and then, “this way, sir,” to the old man.

Jim can't help but cover his face with his hand when the man offers his arm, and Uhura just smiles at him as she takes it.

*

“Well,” Jim says when Spock finally arrives.

“I apologize for keeping you waiting, Captain, but it is the most fascinating thing...”

“The women?”

“Yes, their biology seems completely human and yet...”

“Yet?”

“There is only three sets of DNA among them.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that every four share the exact same genetic sequence. They are effectively clones.”

“Clones?”

“It appears they have some method of asexual reproduction. But neither the doctor nor I have managed to ascertain how this is accomplished.”

“That is pretty fascinating, Spock.” He has no idea what it means though.

“There is one other difference.”

“Go on.”

“They seems to be neurologically repressed.”

“Break that one down for me too.”

“Their nervous system behaves as if they are under constant use of opiates, however no trace of a chemical or pathogen has been found in their systems.”

“They act like they're on drugs?” Another seemingly useless clue.

“They are more docile than one would expect, especially upon consideration that they are among strangers with whom they cannot converse with. One would expect some elevation in heart rate or some sign of stress upon the body. But they seem perfectly content to be ordered about by Doctor McCoy.” There's something amusing in the way Spock says it, as if it were obvious one must have damaged mental faculties in order to bear McCoy without complaint.

“Is that so? Well, we'll have to assign them some quarters soon enough.”

“I will see to it, Captain.”

“Great, I'll send you along the report of what I managed to get off of Doe.”

“Doe?” Spock's brow raises itself in an elegant arch.

“Yeah, our Mister Doe. No memories of who he is or where he comes from.”

“Fascinating,” Spock says softly.

Jim just shakes his head. “Somehow I knew you'd say that.”

*

All they really manage to discover about these people is that they they call themselves the Nurina, but despite all their mystery they begin to settle in nicely, almost too nicely, submitting to the doctor's continuing examinations and Uhura's attempts to converse. The only fuss they make at all is over a strange marble sculpture that had been left in the ship. It looks like an obelisk with a chair attached to the front. It's a tall heavy thing, and as Spock tries to appease the women as it's being taken to the laboratories for further examination, Jim has to give Bones an elbow to the side to keep him from laughing, though Jim himself has to cover his own smile.

There's something almost endearing about how Spock is dealing with the pack of highly emotional women, all the while trying to control what must be a growing frustration. Jim is about to step in and do something when the old man speaks soothingly to the women and they immediately calm down. Something about it rubs Jim the wrong way, but he can't put words to the feeling, and besides the situation has passed.

Everything goes smoothly after that, until Jim is finishing his initial reports in his quarters that evening. His door chimes.

“Come,” He says not looking up from his PADD.

He hears the soft swish of fabric, and then a curtain of black hair falls over his vision as his visitor peers at what he's doing.

Jim jumps back, immediately dropping the PADD. “The fuck?” he yells.

It's one of the women, she just blinks at him and tilts her head. Once he's assured there's no actually danger, he gets a good look at her. She's gorgeous.

He knew that of course, from before, from afar. But it's a different thing for her to be here, in his room, by herself. Her dress is tied intricately, but it doesn't leave all that much to the imagination, he can even see the nipples of her full breasts firmly pressing against the thin fabric.

Jim swallows thickly. “What are you doing in here?”

“Captain?” she asks.

“Yes. I am.” He clears his throat.

“Nebitta,” she says, hand to her sternum. “Me, Nebitta.” She has a bit of an accent. But it's not too terrible; Jim is sure however that her Standard must still be pretty limited, she's only been under Uhura's tutelage for a day after all.

“Um, it's nice to meet you Nebitta. Let's get you back with the others,” he smiles politely, hoping to usher her out quickly and get back to his report.

“No!” She says forcefully, and sits in one of his chairs, she gestures to the other. “Talk.”

“Ok,” Jim knows enough about women to know that when they really want something, they can make your life damn difficult about it if you aren't careful, so he sits down to hear her out. “What can I do for you?”

“Sex?” She asks.

“Excuse me?” Jim feels a bit out of himself, because really, what the fuck?

“We have sex. I go to Earth.” She says simply.

Jim wonders what the hell Uhura has been teaching these women. “I don't understand...look let's go get the Lieutenant.”

“No!” She says again. Her eyes are pleading.

“Look I don't know what you're talking about, you guys don't even have sex. You reproduce asexually.”

“Obelisk,” she says.

“You reproduce with the obelisk?” Jim squints at her, damn, that just can't be right.

“Souls, enter body. Sad souls, bad souls. Baby comes. I don't want. I want to go to Earth. Away from obelisk.”

Jim looks at her closely and sees that unlike the other women, she doesn't wear jewelry. Jewelry he realizes that is made from the same stone as the obelisk.

“You don't worship the obelisk?”

“Not me.” She replies. “I don't like.”

Jim seizes on this. “Why don't you like it?”

She holds up her hands around her head and spreads her fingers, “Makes...” she thinks, he can tell she's searching for a word, “calm. Not Nebitta. Calm.”

“The obelisk makes you calm? That's why you guys act drugged?”

“Drugged?” She's confused.

“How does it make you calm?” He goes back, trying to use the words she knows.

“Kaniwo,” she says softly, with a sort of reverence.

“The obelisk?”

“In,” she says, then thinks hard. “Inside.”

“There's something inside it?”

“Small,” she says, “can't see. Inside the stones too. We wear and then always with us. Kaniwo.”

“It's in the obelisk and the jewelry...they're microscopic organisms?”

The scientific words are too much for her, she just blinks at him.

“What else do they do besides make you calm?” He tries.

“Babies...and Dalsebo, the one from the stars.”

“The old guy.”

“They brought him, save us.” She stops for a second and peers into Jim's eyes. “I don't hate Kaniwo! Kaniwo good! But I do not want...”

She's very troubled and Jim gently puts a hand on her shoulder. She grabs the hand in both of hers. “They say...we get new planet.”

“Maybe, I don't know where I'm taking you yet but...”

“On new planet will be just the same. Captain, I do not want same. Want...excite, exciting. Go places, see things.”

Jim smiles at her, he kind of knows the feeling.

“They say no, on new planet Kaniwo take the souls, put in us, make babies. Only babies, rest of my life.”

“I see,” he replies, he's pretty sure he understands her meaning, “I don't see what I can do for you though...”

“Sex, with you. Then have your baby, no Kaniwo baby. Go where I want.”

“Woah wait, you expect me to knock you up and piss off your elders?” That was the absolutely last thing Jim needed, as if that wouldn't be the perfect excuse for the admiralty to take his ship away. “I'm sorry Nebitta, I can't.”

“Can't?” she asks skeptically, and before he could stop her she swings herself into his lap. “I dream of man like you...” she says softly into his ear.

While parts of Jim are very very interested in finding out exactly what is in this woman's dreams, he very carefully stands up and sets her on the floor.

“You don't want?” She's concerned, her pretty eyes get sad.

“I do, but look, you have your own ways okay? I can't mess with that. Your elders know best...”

“No!” she screams. “I know best! I know!” She stamps her feet like a spoiled child, and then sits on his floor, curls herself around her knees, and cries.

“I'm sorry, I'm sorry.” Jim kneels by her and strokes her back softly. “Maybe once things settle down, they'll let you go?”

“No,” she snuffles, “duty.”

“I see.” He feels badly for her, but if her freedom is going to cost his ship, he can't pay it. “Maybe I can figure something out...” he tries to appease her, racking his brain for a way, going through protocol.

“No,” she says while standing, wipes her cheeks, and then tosses her head, “no help from captain.”

“I want to help...”

She peers at him closely and says, “not enough.”

And damn, that stings. She walks right out of his quarters with the same confident stride Rand uses, and the comparison makes him groan. He is apparently really good at making women disappointed in him, hell, at making everyone disappointed in him really.

He sighs but comms Spock and Bones and tells them to meet in his quarters. At least these two he won't disappoint tonight. The new information he's just been handed should help unravel the mystery at least a little bit more.

Spock finds the news 'fascinating' and leaves for the labs immediately.

Jim is glad to have a minute to talk to Bones about the girl.

“I wish I could do something for her.”

“Meddling in their affairs is only gonna get you in trouble, but cheer up, not every day a holy virgin goes and throws herself at ya?”

Jim just shakes his head and laughs, “Or one that good looking too.”

Bones slaps him on the shoulder, and for a moment, things just aren't that bad.

But only for a moment.

*

It's a couple days after the reports go through that the order to bring their newly acquired passengers to Earth is received. The reasoning is that there is too much unknown about these people to simply drop them at a starbase, but Jim knows the coda to that is 'and since you can't be trusted to do anything else, you get to ferry them back here.' He wants to be righteously insulted, but instead is becoming wearily apathetic, to the point that he's seriously considering simply resigning his commission and returning to life as an Iowan barfly the moment he hits dirtside. At least then he won't be working so hard to be a fuckup.

Then suddenly Jim can't take it anymore. Who is this pathetic self-loathing loser who hangs around his cabin while there are poker games and drinking going on elsewhere? Not to mention the pretty girls―not that he would be so unprofessional as to try anything―but just to talk to them, maybe win a smile or two. Even wasting away in Iowa he'd never been this morose.

Resolved, Jim throws down the PADD he's been working on and strides out of his quarters towards the ship's common areas, determined to do something other than feel sorry for himself.

“Hey Kirk!” He hears someone call his name as he enters the rec room.

“Sulu!” he replies to the man waving him down from the card table.

“You wanna play next round? Pavel is leaving us.”

“I have date,” Chekov says smugly.

Sulu shakes his head at that. “You hanging out with that cradle robber again?”

“Twenty-two is not age of cradle robbing Hikaru,” Chekov says seriously. “What is four year difference?”

“At your age? A lot. Do you even know what to do with a woman?” Sulu asks skeptically.

“I am genius, I figure it out.”

“Is that so? Guess it's time for me to sic Dr. McCoy's STD lecture on you.”

Kirk winces, he's gotten that before, many times. “Oh that's cold, Sulu.”

Chekov looks up to Jim with fear in his eyes. “Is it wery bad Keptin?”

Jim nods with honesty.

“Oh,” Chekov moans, “why do you punish me so, Hikaru?”

“Hey man, rite of passage. You gonna run around? You get the talk, same as the rest of us.”

“Bones gave you the talk too?” Jim laughs.

“Absolutely. So one day I was just talking with Gaila, and he comes out of nowhere and tells me the whole lecture right there on the lawn. I couldn't look at girls without fear for like a week after. It threw off my game for a month!”

Jim bends over with laugher at that, and wipes a tear from his eyelashes. Man, did he need this. Why hadn't he spent more time with his crew? They are his new family after all, aren't they? Then the sobering thought hits him that he still could lose them, have them all transfer away when they realize that there are no deep space missions in their futures.

Chekov is sulking away when Jim snaps out of that depressing thought and slides into the vacated seat. He nods to Scotty who is now next to him, and the ensign that is sitting across. “Captain,” they both murmur as Sulu deals.

“So you managed to escape Rand's paperwork for the evening, eh Captain?” Sulu says, restarting the conversation.

“Ugh, I couldn't stand to hold that stylus for another second,” Jim says, not really lying, as he stretches his hand.

Sulu laughs. “She's been driving you that hard, huh? Man, she really hates you.”

Kirk looks up from his cards. “She does hate me. I knew it!”

“Yeah, which is amazing because, she doesn't hate, well, anyone. She's probably the nicest person I know.”

“Really,” says Jim with trepidation, “uh, you two are close?”

“Are we close? She's like...she's like the Tinkerbell to my Peter Pan, ya know?”

“Peter Pan?” Jim asks in awe, and wow, that's an image that's not going away any time soon.

“Yeah, we've been friends for a long time. Would never say why she hates you so much though. What did you do to her anyway?”

“I don't know!” Jim groans, and the table laughs at him.

Scotty gives him a slap to the shoulder. “Cheer up man, ye never know, the lady might come 'round and change her mind 'bout ye at some point. Ladies are wont to do that, 'tis a mystery they are.”

“Hear, hear,” says Sulu.

“Amen,” the ensign chimes in.

“Speaking of...” Scotty says and stands, smiling broadly. Jim turns his head and sees that Uhura has just entered, and that Scotty walks over to her, kisses the back of her hand, and when she looks completely thrilled at it, he grabs her into a dip and kisses her thoroughly on the mouth. Uhura only slaps him lightly on the arm when he lets her up, his arm still around her waist, both of them smiling enough to light the moon.

Jim wonders when the universe flipped completely upside down, and why no one but him has noticed.

“What the hell is that!” He exclaims, pointing.

“Oh yeah, them.” Sulu says nonchalantly, then throws a poker chip at Scotty's retreating back while yelling, “get a room!”

“No, wait, back up,” Jim pleads, needing to understand what he's just witnessed. “Scott and Uhura? But she's...”

“So it's fast,” Sulu shrugs, “so what if she only broke up with Spock two days ago, and then hooked up with Scotty the day after. We live on a starship, we're not the kind of people who take things slow.”

“Yeah...” Jim says, setting down his cards. How had he not known? “You know, I think I'll get back to that paperwork after all...”

Sulu shrugs again. “Don't be a stranger,” he calls after Jim, who can only walk out as if in a daze. Why hadn't anyone told him? Why hadn't Spock told him? Before he can stop himself his feet are leading him that way, needing the answer.

*

A knot forms in his stomach as Jim stands outside Spock's door, made up of feelings of both betrayal and failure. The door opens and Spock is standing there as immaculate as ever, his fire pot for meditation burning softly in the background. Maybe Spock is unbothered by Uhura leaving him? Maybe he has no need for the condolences of a friend?

“Hi, Spock,” Jim says, slightly sheepish.

“Good evening, Captain.”

“Call me Jim, we're off duty.”

“As you wish. I take it there is something on your mind?”

Jim looks up and down the corridor. “Ah, could we talk inside?”

Spock acquiesces easily with a nod and says, “Certainly...Jim.”

Jim follows him inside and is struck by the realization that he has never been in Spock's quarters before. It is slightly odd that for all the feelings of admiration and camaraderie that Jim feels for his first officer, they haven't spent much time off-duty in each other's presence―but then Spock had been otherwise occupied with a girlfriend...

Jim muses that perhaps as two bachelors they might find more time together, whatever it was that Vulcans liked to do for fun―but there is an impressive array of weapons and musical instruments adorning the walls, and most of them do not appear to be merely decorative. There is also quite a collection of tapestries; all of this surprises Jim somewhat, as he had expected Spock to live more spartan somehow. Still, there is something comforting in the visual confirmation that Spock is not merely an efficient machine but rather a being with tastes and hobbies, and one who finds some measure of comfort in the artifacts of his culture. It is remarkably human.

They sit down after Spock prepares tea, something to which Jim feels too awkward to refuse, even though he has no idea if he'll even find the tea palatable or if it could possibly send him into anaphalactic shock, his allergies being as rampant as they are. He risks it, finding the tea bland but somewhat soothing, and after a moment passes and his throat has not closed in on itself, he begins to speak.

“I heard, I mean I saw, I mean...you and Uhura aren't together anymore?”

Jim is sure he meant to phrase it delicately; Spock raises an eyebrow but otherwise his expression gives away nothing.

“That is correct. Lieutenant Uhura terminated our relationship two days, one hour and fifty-four minutes ago. Now I believe she is pursuing an attachment with Commander Scott.”

“That's what I hear...but Spock, why didn't you tell me?”

“I can assure you that it will not affect our functionality in the line of duty; as such I did not think it necessary to inform you of the change in the status of our relations.”

“Dammit Spock, I don't care if it does affect how you are at work, these things happen. I'm not here as your Captain any way, I'm here as your friend.”

“Indeed?” Spock fields, “I was not aware that we shared such a familiar association.”

That stung, deeply. “Wait, are you saying we aren't friends?”

“Though it is true that we shared such a bond in an alternate version of our reality, I do not see any evidence of that union having yet been cultivated in this one.”

Jim drinks more tea to cover his pout, and a long silence lingers between them.

“But we could cultivate that uh, union, starting now. I mean, you know how much I respect and admire you, right? I'd like...to be your friend.”

“I too hold you in high esteem, Jim. But if I may so query, why do you desire to share this bond of friendship with me?”

“Why wouldn't I?”

“There are several reasons I can imagine, our differing tastes and temperaments, lack of common ground...”

“What are you talking about? We saved a God-damned planet together! We run this ship together!”

“Those are events related to our duties to Starfleet. Why do you propose that we should spend time off duty in each other's presence?”

“I don't know...you're cool?

“On the contrary, I am in fact of a higher body temperature than humans, Jim; yet another reason why you may not prefer to be in my company. I keep this room at a temperature that many humans find uncomfortable. This was in fact a point of contention between Lieutenant Uhura and myself.”

“It's not so bad in here,” Jim protests.

“You are sweating, Jim.”

“So, what's some sweat between friends?”

Spock makes an exhalation that could perhaps be called a sigh; he inhales deeply following it and delivers a tirade in a single breath.

“Jim, despite the closeness I shared with my human mother while she still lived, I do not find myself suitable for association among other humans on a more intimate level. You and I share no interests or hobbies that would distract from my inability to form anything resembling a human attachment. Therefore I believe it is best that we keep our regards for each other strictly professional. I do not require friendship, nor yours in particular. If you are seeking my friendship from a mistaken idea that having such a relation in an alternate reality requires that we pursue the same in this one, I ask that you relieve yourself of the idea, for our mutual benefit.”

Jim takes a second before slamming his cup down forcefully.

“That is such a load of bullshit! Everybody needs somebody, Vulcan or human or Andorian or whatever the hell you are or what you're made of. I want to be your friend because I want to be your friend! And no matter what you say, you could use a friend right now. You've just been dumped, that sucks no matter who you are. I know, I've been there.”

“Indeed?”

“Yeah sure.” Jim swallows thickly before spilling his own past heartache. “Love of my life goes fucking nuts, over one failed test―your test by the way―and leaves Starfleet and me and becomes some kind of archaeologist. Who even does that?” Jim wonders out loud.

Spock's features soften somewhat.

“That sounds very trying, Jim. I grieve with thee.”

“Thanks.” Jim looks into Spock's eyes, he's pretty sure he sees some sadness there. “You gonna tell me about Uhura now, so I can 'grieve with thee' as well?”

“It seems that the lieutenant simply realized our differences were insurmountable, and left me for one to which she was more compatible.”

“Oh come on, you guys were totally compatible, right, I mean you loved each other, so...”

“Love does not equate compatibility, Jim. Besides, I do not believe Nyota felt that deeply of an affection for me.”

“What are you talking about? That girl was totally crazy about you, everyone knew that!”

“Your use of past tense is correct. It appears her sanity has returned to her.” Spock glances away; yep, definitely sad.

“But wait, you love her, right?”

He takes Spock's complete silence as an affirmative declaration.

“Why would she stop loving you when you love her so much? Didn't you tell her?”

“In hindsight, my lack of vocalization on the matter might have been an error.” Spock's hand tightens around his teacup, before gently releasing it to the table.

“Might have? So wait, she didn't know?” Damn, it seems there are a lot of messed up things going on in his ship that he knows nothing about.

“Jim, I am not....I do not find it easy to express emotion, whether verbally or by action. But I felt for her, and I knew her affection for me without the need for constant expression, so I assumed she would know mine. And then...”

“Then?”

“Perhaps I should start further in the past, if you are to understand.” Spock briefly closes his eyes, as if calling up the memories to the forefront of his mind.

“Okay,” Jim agrees, solemnly.

“During my time as a cadet at Starfleet Academy I took up a mutually beneficial relationship of a physically intimate nature with another scientist in my year.”

“Yeah?” Wow, good for him. Jim had always held some sort of idea that Spock had spent his life before Uhura as an asexual virgin married to the science labs.

“Indeed.” Spock counters against Jim's awed unbelief.

“What was their name?”

“Her name was...Leila.” Spock says it almost reverently.

“That's a very beautiful name, Spock.”

“She was a very beautiful girl, Jim.”

“And you loved her?”

“No Jim.” Spock shakes his perfectly coifed head. “I did not allow myself to feel anything for her. I was gratified by her presence in my life, we shared many interests and classes. Studying together led us both to perfect marks.”

“Decimated the grading curve, huh?” Jim grins, he easily imagines them now, Spock and his beautiful girl driving the rest of the school nuts by their brilliance.

“Yes, for a time. However Leila soon became unsatisfied with my lack of affection. She asked me if I cared for her at all, and I had to reply honestly that while I found her presence in my life beneficial, I felt nothing for her.”

Wow, dumb move. “Bet she loved that,” Jim mutters.

“On the contrary Jim, my revelation left her extremely unhappy and she barred any future association between us. While I maintain the belief that I held no affection for her, as she left me that last day of our acquaintance, there was a pain―” Spock puts his hand to his side, over where Jim knows that a Vulcan's heart sits in their bodies―“a pain I could not control that lasted several days, and would flare up again whenever I happened to see her in passing or in class. I tell you this story, Jim, because I believed that Leila left me since I could not feel an affection to return to her, but that in contrast since I did feel deeply for Nyota...”

“You thought she'd stay.”

“I believed it would be enough to simply feel, Jim.”

“Oh.” It was a simplistic, yet somehow beautiful view of how love might work.

“Nyota, however, was unhappy.”

“She was?” Jim asks, but already knows what the answer must be.

“She hid her unhappiness from me, until the end. By the time I was made aware of her feelings it was too late to adjust my behavior. Nyota had located another individual that she was confident would bring her the happiness she desired, and wished to be released to pursue him.”

“Scotty?”

“Yes, I believe she and Commander Scott have come to an understanding, and are in fact quite content.” Spock says it without a trace of bitterness.

“And you?” Jim pushes.

“That pain I spoke of...”

“Yes, Spock?”

“It has returned, multiplied by a factor I had not imagined possible.”

The silence that falls over them after that statement weighs heavily on Jim, until he can manage to say, “Oh God, Spock, I'm so sorry. I...I grieve with thee.”

“Thank you, Jim.” Spock looks at him, reading his sincerity, and accepting it. “It is perhaps a comfort after all, to have a friend.”

“I've got your back Spock. Always.” Jim means it absolutely, and Spock looks into his teacup, a softness forming around his eyes.

They sit in a comfortable though contemplative silence until Jim has drained the last of his tea and realizes how truly weary Spock seems. While Jim takes some satisfaction from knowing that Spock must actually be viewing Jim as a friend if he is relaxed enough to bare some emotion, he is concerned for Spock's metaphorically broken heart and knows he ought to be letting Spock return to his abandoned meditation.

“I guess it's getting late...huh?” Jim starts, trying to smile.

“The hour is approaching your time for needed bed rest,” Spock agrees.

“Better be going then.” Jim gets up, placing the cup down a final time.

“If you are to have optimal performance on the bridge tomorrow it is imperative.”

“And your optimal performance, Spock?”

“I shall return to meditation for a time, this should sufficiently restore my functioning.”

“Glad to hear it.” He clasps Spock's shoulder as he goes.

“Goodnight Spock.”

“To you as well, Jim,” Spock speaks nearly reverently. As Jim goes his feet the slightest bit lighter; but as he approaches his own door, he has a sudden stirring of anger that throws his step into the opposite direction. He knows he will not get any peace this night without further answers.

How could Uhura just leave Spock without trying to make it work first? And what was she doing finding guys to be better compatible with when she was still with Spock? And what exactly was so incompatible about him? How could she be so damn unhappy with a guy as good as that anyway?

These black thoughts carry him to her door, single-minded, not caring about the hour or the fact that Scotty might even be with her at this moment. Fortunately Uhura seems alone when she answers the call at her door, clad in a short shift of a nightgown her hair down around her shoulders, brush in hand. Her face reveals her surprise at seeing Jim there.

“Captain?” she asks softly.

The sight of her, out of uniform, hair softly down, makes her seem somewhat vulnerable and it almost causes Jim lose his nerve.

“Uhura, I need to talk to you.”

She raises an eyebrow, it seems eerily Spock-like, but she says, “All right,” and lets him inside.

“I...just talked with Spock,” Jim begins.

“Oh,” she says as if it didn't mean anything one way or the other to her.

“Why,” Jim asks, getting right to it.

Unfortunately his right to it contains no context for her to follow.

“Why what?” She seems annoyed.

“Why'd you break up with Spock?” He demands.

“Why does anyone break up?” she returns forcefully. “It wasn't working out.”

“It was for him! He loved you, he still loves you, don't you know that?”

Uhura frowns and looks away. “No, I didn't know.”

“Well he does! He's...completely heartbroken over you!”

“I really doubt that, sir.”

“What, you think he's that unfeeling?”

“No, not at all.” She glares at him, “I'm sure I understand Spock's feelings more than you do. I know him better, and I know I was there when he needed someone. Spock and I had just started seeing each other, very casually, before the battle for Vulcan. He'd lost a lot, so he found me in the midst of it all.”

“Don't be ridiculous, he loves you as you!” Jim insists.

“I'm sure he's lonely, and I'm sorry for that. But I couldn't stay with him, just so he wouldn't be alone. I have needs too, and Spock....”

“What needs could you have that Spock didn't fill?”

Her brow creases. “Spock's just not the one for me...”

“And Scotty is? I mean he's a great guy and all, but better than Spock? Come on.”

“I don't know what criteria you're judging under Captain, but Monty and I...” she speaks wistfully now, “I think I started to fall for him one night of shore leave, when he was walking me back from a bar, and compared the night to those of Scotland, 'misty with moonlight'.”

Jim isn't sure what mist and moonlight have to do with anything, but he lets her keep talking.

“Then he just kissed my hand and said, 'Goodnight Miss Uhura'.”

“And that's why you left Spock?” Jim feels like he could give his chief engineer a pretty good punch for that, what was he doing kissing the hands of girls that already had boyfriends?

“No that's not why. I wasn't going to leave him after that, I just knew I liked Monty, that I felt something there that I didn't with Spock.” She cuts Jim a sharp glare, “I'm not saying I didn't love Spock, but it was different. I'd admired Spock and wanted him for so long, that I couldn't help but love him. But I...I wasn't happy.”

Jim is starting to develop an annoyance to the word happy; what does happiness have to do with anything? Who in the universe is really truly happy anyway?

“I need something that he can't give me, someone he'll never be. I love him enough to not want to change him. He's perfect the way he is, he's just not perfect for me.”

Jim thinks that is the biggest load of bullshit he's ever heard. “Oh come on!” he yells.

“Come on what!” She yells back, “I'm sorry if I hurt Spock! But I'm with Monty now, who tells me I'm beautiful, and steals me flowers from the botany lab, and de-bugs my console without being asked to...”

“What was wrong with your console?”

“Nothing! And it took me a whole day to get it running right again, but that's not the point! The point is that Monty makes me happy.” Her eyes are actually gathering some tears, and it would make Jim feel like a bit of a dick, if he wasn't already brimming with self-righteousness. “I deserve to be happy, Jim Kirk, I'd forgotten that for a while but then I talked to John and...”

“Woah wait, John who?”

“John Doe, remember?” She shifts her weight to one hip, looking at Jim like he's an idiot, “You named him.”

“What the hell did that old guy have to say about your relationship with Spock?” Jim is all sorts of confused now.

“He just noticed I was unhappy. We talked about it, it was nice to have someone to talk to who wasn't going to jump down my throat like a gigantic ass!”

“He had no right to meddle in your life.” Jim is getting to a whole new level of pissed off, but so is Uhura for that matter.

“He wasn't meddling, he was being nice. He was being a friend. I really needed one, and I didn't know it until he was there...”

She goes on, but Jim's mind is stuck on Doe. There is something about that man that rubs Jim the wrong way. It might be the way he keeps crossing Jim's path, oddly popping up on the bridge and requiring him to make Spock ferry him away, or appearing outside of Jim's quarters for no reason, once even being in Jim's quarters, which was still a mystery as to how that happened―Doe simply claimed he'd mistaken them for his own quarters, which Jim can't quite buy, the door had a code lock (and had since been reprogrammed to only open by finger print). Or it might be something deeper, something in the soul of the man that turned Jim off so, he couldn't quite name it. But this, this he could name; this absolute fury over him causing Spock to be hurt so.

“So he's why you broke up with Spock.”

“Why do you need someone to blame?” Uhura asks, her question laced with her own fury; but Jim is already out the door. “Where are you...” he hears behind him, and then the sound of her hairbrush as it hits the closing door.

Even having to stop and look up the location of John Doe's quarters doesn't stop the rage inside of him or how he wants to pummel the man, unleash a world of hurt and anger upon him. And if the anger is not just for Spock―but rather for all the pain and disappointment that has already been weighing on him looking for some target to attack―Jim does not admit to it, only seethes and tells himself the recrimination would be just.

Doe answers politely, but the Cheshire grin he still carries only makes Jim want to punch him more. He wastes no time pushing his way into the room and laying it down.

“I heard about your little heart to heart with Lieutenant Uhura, and I want you to know that I don't appreciate you interfering with the lives of my crew. This ship runs with perfect efficiency, it's a delicate balance to maintain, something you wouldn't know anything about, and I can't have someone like you making a muck of the emotions of everyone on board.”

Doe simply blinks at him, then pats him on the shoulder and smiles again, the way one might to a dumb child and says, “Ah Captain James Kirk, may I call you James?”

“No,” says Jim automatically.

“Jim?” the old man tries.

“No! Captain, or Captain Kirk, or sir and nothing else.” Jim is pretty ready to wring the man's neck at this point.

“Oh, well, sir...I'm sorry you feel that way, but surely you know, I meant no harm.”

“Well stop not...”

“And I'm sure you can see, it's really for the best, after all.”

“I do not see...”

Doe barrels right over him, “The important thing here is that those two kids in love are...together now, it might not always be easy, but when is it easy, really? Not that I can give you any first hand knowledge on the subject, considering I have no memories to share, but I have been reading a lot of books―when I haven't been reading your protocols and manuals―in these few days I've been aboard, wanting to see if I could spark any recollection as it were...and you know Captain, it is simply exceptional how many of what is termed the classics center around a love story...”

What was this guy on, Jim wonders as he continues to babble.

“You know what, cut the crap,” he says forcefully, laying it down.

Doe looks slightly hurt, the folds around his mouth lowering into a frown.

“You think you did a nice thing, or whatever, playing matchmaker on my ship. But did you think about the wreckage you'd leave behind? Did you think about how you would make Spock feel? And don't you tell me he hasn't got...”

“I would say no such thing. I am certain he feels deeply and a great deal, he hides it well...but then who wouldn't try to hide such sadness?”

“Sadness that you put there!”

“Oh no...he was already carrying a great burden when I got on this ship.”

“And what would you know about it?”

“It was written all over his face. If you know how to read it, I suppose.”

“And you do?”

“I think I have something of a...knack for it, yes,” the man nods, “it seems to just come...naturally.”

Jim finds that entirely intolerable, the man suggesting that he could walk onto the Enterprise, and know how to read his first officer better than Jim, the Captain.

“The fuck you do!” Jim roars, “I'm going to say this once, and you're going to follow it because I'm the Captain of this ship and what I say goes, or you can get back on to your rickety little shuttle and continue to fly like a...drunk firefly until you run out of fuel. You got me?”

The man nods, his brows drawn.

“Don't. Mess. With my crew.” Jim turns on his heel ready to storm back out, except there is somebody in his path.

Spock stands in the open doorway, a chess board under his arm, apparently dumbstruck as to what he has walked in on.

“Captain...” he says softly, “I believed that you had retired for the night.”

“There was, uh, something I wanted to take care of first...”

“Berating our guests?”

“Well...not exactly...”

Spock ignores the protest and enters the room, placing the set upon a table and putting the pieces in order. “Good evening, John.”

“Hello, Mister Spock.”

“I believe it is your turn to play white.”

“You two play chess together?” Jim asks incredulously.

“As I require less sleep, I find I have some free time after the completion of my paperwork and daily meditation in which Mister Doe is so gracious to indulge me in a game.”

“He's only been on the ship three days!”

“And has only re-learned how to play in the last two, and yet he is a formidable opponent. Which is why I must logically conclude that he knew how to play before losing his memories. It is as natural to him as breathing. Do you play chess, Jim?” Spock turns back towards him, disdain creeping into his gaze.

“Well, no...” Jim briefly thinks about the old chess set that lived behind glass in the farmhouse in Iowa. It had always seemed something of a relic, not something to actually play with; and though they had never asked their mother, he and his brother had always believed it was something that had once been their father's.

“That is unfortunate as it is a great tool for cultivating skill in strategy.”

There might be something of a slight in there, but Jim pushes it aside in favor of continuing to attack Doe. “Are you really going to sit down and play a game with the man who is responsible for Uhura breaking up with you?”

“That was my intention, yes.” At that Spock sits, and Doe, with a smile, sits down across and moves his first piece.

“But...”

“Jim, I do not blame John for what has transpired between Nyota and I. From the information I have received, it is my belief that his counsel to her on the matter was sound. Any blame for what has happened I must give to myself alone. While your intention on my behalf is appreciated, your actions are not. John is my friend, please treat him kindly.”

“Your friend? After three days he's your friend?

“Yes, Jim. You are now overdue for your respite.”

Well, that was a huge fuck-off if he'd ever heard one. He slinks away without a goodbye. He tries to sleep, but when he lies down his mind is still a whirlwind and no sleep will come. With nothing else to do, he throws himself back into the damnable paperwork, but after some hours of signing documents with far more force than necessary, an idea of something that will soothe him springs to mind.

He feels a bit ridiculous for not going there sooner anyway. The one place he can truly complain, unwind, and relax. The one person he can really be himself around; and the quality of the booze he keeps, well that's just a bonus. He quickly makes his way to medical, certain that Bones will still be awake, sipping on whiskey and going over charts, the damn workaholic.

But when he reaches his best friend's office he hears laughter coming from inside, which seems odd, who would Bones be drinking and laughing with besides himself? He manages to peek in without being seen, and what he does see doesn't make him feel any better; Doe, that bastard, is with Bones, acting as if they've known each other their whole lives.

“Et tu, Brute?” Jim mutters as he plods back to his room, this time to stay. He falls onto his bunk face first, too tired and heartsick to do anything but lay there and wish for some kind of sweet oblivion to overtake him.

*

The next day he awakens, once again to Rand and the smell of coffee.

“Captain,” she says stiffly. “Commander Spock and Doctor McCoy have requested your presence in medbay before your bridge shift.”

“Huh,” Jim says, stumbling into a chair, once again in just his regulation briefs. He might be still mostly asleep, but he swears he sees Rand give him a slight once over. Still got it Kirk, he thinks to himself, holy virgins and jaded yeoman alike. He smiles into his coffee.

Rand collects his finished PADDs as he eats his gruel. “You sure you don't hate me? 'Cause Sulu...”

“I know what Hikaru said to you last night, Captain,” she says coldly. “He's entitled to his own opinions.”

“You ever going to tell me what I did?” It's a button he can't help pushing.

She just shakes her head, and holds the PADDs closer against her body. “Is that all, Sir?”

“Yeah, ok. I'm gonna get it out of you someday,” he says.

She rolls her eyes and goes.

If he watches, well, it's a nice view to start the day to.

*

Medbay is bustling when Jim arrives, Bones, Spock, Uhura, and several other doctors and scientists are discussing multiple PADDs of of data. It must be something good with the way Bones is waving his hands as he talks, Jim thinks.

“Well, gentlemen, what's the news?” Jim announces himself as he strides toward the group with his best cocky grin in place, carefully not-looking at Spock.

“Jim,” says Bones. Jim tries hard to not think of him as a complete traitor.

“Captain,” says Spock; he is a cool and impersonal as ever. It's irritating.

Jim worries that it's a bad start to the day. He isn't wrong.

Spock proceeds speaking about their discoveries, “Given the information you collected on the night of the refugee's arrival, we have been able to locate the microscopic organism referred to by the Nurina women as Kaniwo. Its structure, and the structure of the rock it lives in are extraordinarily unique. It survives through photosynthesis alone. It can can live only for a matter of hours outside of its home mineral, but through epidermal contact it can influence the human mind. We believe its psychic abilities to be phenomenal.”

“Is that right?” Jim asks rhetorically. Spock continues.

“Communication with the Kaniwo is impossible due to their physical form, but it is my hypothesis that this organism is indeed sentient.”

“Any proof to that hypotheses, Mister Spock?”

“We have learned some more things from questioning the women, that leads to the conclusion that this is a form of being trying to exercise a will.”

“All right, let's have it.”

Uhura speaks up then. “I was able to figure out that their language was developed out of old Terran languages.”

“Terran?”

“Also based on the fact that their biology is entirely human,” McCoy adds.

“We looked into it and were able to track their shuttle to an old colonist manifesto. The ship originally belonged to a group that left out of Rome in 2100.” She continues, “But five years after their successful beginning on a new planet, they stopped transmissions.”

Spock picks up the narrative. “It is our belief that during those first years the colonists made unwitting contact with the Kaniwo, at which time the organism learned it could have limited control over the minds of the colonists, and prolonged control if they would wear pieces of its home mineral next to their skin. Later, it must have surmised that it could effectively impregnate the women with souls it could psychically see across the cosmos if the a female had a prolonged contact with a larger piece of stone, and consequently a larger number of the organism.”

“You're trying to tell me this organism found souls just lying around...”

“Ghosts, as they are known in Terran mythology,” Spock augments.

“Ghosts? They got pregnant with ghosts? Are you guys messing with me?” Jim looks around at the group, their faces are very blank.

“I assure you we are entirely serious, Captain.” Spock's eyes bore into his; Jim could punch the guy right now, he really could.

“Hear him out Jim.” McCoy interrupts their staring contest and Jim steps back, holding his palms up in supplication.

“Please continue, Mister Spock.”

“I do not know if you are familiar with the Vulcan tradition of storing Katra.”

“I can't say I am...” Vulcans are typically protective of their lore to outsiders.

“It is an ancient ritual in which the Katra―the combination of spirit and memories of the departed―are kept to give guidance to future generations. Many Katra were lost and scattered to the winds with the destruction of Vulcan, but a few, including my greatest ancestor Surak, did escape the genocide.”

“So you're saying you believe in ghosts,” Jim summarizes.

“I believe that souls can exist without the body, it would be illogical otherwise as I have conversed with Katras myself.”

“Well, can't argue with that. But immaculate conception?” Jim still retains some skepticism.

“We have come to believe that the Kaniwo have advanced scientific knowledge due to their psychic abilities and are in fact able to fertilize ovum by inserting the souls of 'restless spirits' into them.”

Uhura takes over again. “The women have basically confirmed this, they believe it to be their sacred duty to help wandering souls find peace in new lives, as they have.”

“What happened to the other colonists? The males?” Jim asks, still not totally convinced.

“As the original generation has died out over time, we can only surmise that while the women were impregnated, and gave birth to their own genetic twin, the men were under the influence of the Kaniwo enough to not care that no new males were joining the population. Eventually all the males aged and died, leaving only impregnation by the Kaniwo as a method for procreation among the Nurina,” Spock states.

“By that point the whole thing had probably become a religion for them,” McCoy adds.

“I believe you are correct, Doctor,” Spock assents.

“The cult of Kaniwo,” McCoy shakes his head.

“So how do you explain Mr. Doe?” Kirk is still not completely satisfied.

“That is still somewhat of a mystery to us...” Spock begins, before Uhura jumps in.

“The women say that their elders would sit in the chair of the obelisk and receive images of other places from the Kaniwo, it could use its psychic abilities to project into their minds. Well, one day it began showing that the sun was going to shrink and die. They realized they didn't have much time left but they had no knowledge to make the ship their ancestors arrived on capable of flight.”

Uhura pauses. “And?” Kirk prompts.

She continues. “This is where it gets sketchy sir. They make it sound like they summoned him somehow, like they found a soul, but instead of making a baby they pulled energy from the women and somehow replicated this person's genetic structure, but they couldn't bring him with any memories, just his body's muscle memories.”

“Muscle memories?” Kirk frowns.

McCoy steps in. “Whatever they did to make this guy, one thing is for sure they made every cell exact to whomever it was they were recreating.”

“Yeah, how can you tell?”

“There are specific age markers in this guy's biology. The Nurina all say he's been there only twenty years, but his body is definitely that of a much older man. His markers all say that he's in his seventies. But with age markers also come the neurological pathways that get built by repeated motions over time―muscle memory. He has these pathways, but you don't need to take my word for it, you can see it in the way he holds a PADD and stylus, the way he sits at a computer terminal...”

“Or the way he plays chess,” Spock interjects.

“That too.”

“So you're saying they expected this guy to be able to fix their ship based entirely off of his body knowing what to do? That seems crazy.”

“If it was the best they could come up with, why not? Maybe they knew something about this guy we don't, like that he's got a way with dumb luck or somethin',” McCoy finishes.

“Dumb luck? That's the best you got out of the ladies?” Jim surveys the team again. “Well go write your reports,” he dismisses them with a wave. Spock does not move as the others scatter however.

“Something I can do for you Commander?” Jim asks him tightly.

“If I could have a word privately, Captain.”

“Look,” Jim lowers his voice. “If this is about last night...”

“This query is not of a personal nature.”

“Then what's wrong with right here?”

Spock's eyes flit to McCoy's back before he speaks again. “The doctor and I are not in agreement on this matter.”

“And what matter is that?”

Spock's voice is very low when he speaks and Jim has to lean in to hear him. “I believe we could learn even more about the Kaniwo if I were to initiate a meld with them.”

“Are you crazy? Jim hisses. “We have no idea how dangerous that could be!”

“That was also the doctor's reaction. Jim, please be more reasonable. We cannot make a complete understanding of what has happened to the colonists or where Mr. Doe has been brought from unless I am allowed to have mental contact with them.”

“I can't let you do that Spock, they could fry your mind.” There's duty, and then there's suicide. Jim isn't sure if Spock really understands the difference, as logical as the half-Vulcan claims to be.

“I am aware of the risks. But imagine what scientific knowledge could be gained by such a creature? Please, Jim,” Spock pleads.

“Spock...” Jim tries to continue protesting, but the plaintiveness of Spock's insistence rings in his ears, and as Spock's determined eyes stare into Jim's own, he knows he cannot deny him this, especially not if Jim is to regain his friendship. “Fine, do it. But get a medical team on standby, okay?”

“Of course, Captain,” Spock says with a nod of his immaculate head, and rushes off to make the preparations.

Jim watches him go with a growing sense of dread. His trepidation does not diminish as he makes his way to the bridge. In fact, it grows so large that by the time all hell actually breaks loose on the ship, it's almost a relief.

It's Uhura that receives the notice. “Captain!” she calls when the message comes to her from the laboratory. “Something is wrong with Commander Spock.” She stands as she speaks, and when she is done her eyes are worriedly boring into Jim, her bottom lip trembling slightly; and Jim knows now, without a doubt, that even if Uhura is not with Spock, that she did love him and loves him still. But there's no time for wallowing in feelings of being the universe's biggest dickhead, because Jim's blood is already going cold.

He's by her side at the communications console in a second. “Is he hurt?” Jim asks.

Uhura shakes her head. “No, he's on a rampage...”

“A rampage? Spock?”

“They think he's headed here.”

“Call security to the bridge, right away, phasers on stun.”

“Yes sir.”

“And get me a line to medical...Bones,” he says when the link pops up. “What's happened?”

“Your idiot hobgoblin has gone and gotten himself possessed, that's what.”

“Possessed? By the micro-organism? Well, can't you...un-possess him?”

“Un-po...dammit Jim,” McCoy explodes, “I'm a doctor, not an exorcist! You gave him permission to pull this fool stunt, now you get to worry about wrangling his ass down until those things are out of his system! Just don't do anything stupid, I mean it,” he threatens before adding, “McCoy out.”

The screen goes blank and now the only thing Jim can do is stand in front of the turbolift doors and wait. There's no telling if security will get here in time, and no telling if they'll be any good against a rampaging Vulcan even if they do. It's moments like this that really make Jim wonder about the policy for carrying phasers only on away missions that he has to follow. He knows he'd feel a lot better if he had at least a fighting chance right now. He'll be lucky to not get his head, literally, ripped off.

The doors do open, eventually, Jim's nervous sweat already cool on the back of his neck. At least the being that looks like Spock, even if it's not acting like him, seems to recognize Jim. Maybe he won't die today after all.

“Jim, we must...to the Vulcans! The colony!” Spock's body shakes, as whatever is controlling him speaks.

“Why must you go to the Vulcan colony?” Jim asks, trying to seem as non-threatening as possible.

“So many like this...so much we could do,” it tells him, enraptured with the idea.

“You want to posses other Vulcans like your'e possessing my first officer?” Jim's back teeth grind together at the thought.

“The things we could accomplish, would you stand in the way of so much advancement?” The hands shake nearly violently now and the shell of Spock steps closer, but Jim keeps his ground.

“Not at the expense of a peaceful people that have already lost so much you won't! I have orders to take you back to Earth. I intend to follow them.”

“We must! We must!” it insists, and pushes Kirk aside; he falls over the rail, ripping his shirts as he goes. Even braced for it, the best he can do is roll his landing, making it a little easier to get back to his feet after the forceful shove. The thing is in full control of Spock's extra strength, and damn does his arm hurt like a bitch now. Jim rubs at the sore spot carefully as security finally arrives.

“Take Mister Spock to medical,” Jim orders.

“No!” The being rages and dashes for the navigation console. It is then Jim notices the bracelet of small crudely cut stones around Spock's wrist. He grabs for it, ripping the cord as he pulls and sending the pieces of rock flying around the bridge.

Spock-who-is-not-Spock hisses but continues to the console, “We must to the Vulcans,” it says again, rubbing at it's now bare wrist after it pushes Chekov aside and plots a new course rapidly.

Jim frowns, remembering that the microscopic aliens who are surely possessing his first can live up to four hours outside of the stone. He doesn't want to deal with four hours of this not-Spock and signals to security to take it out. But with the superior Vulcan hearing and reflexes, it hears the high whine of the phasers as they fire and manages to dodge and then retaliate by taking down the officers one by one with a few quick hand-to-hand moves and a nerve pinch.

Jim eyes a fallen phaser a few feet from him as the possessed-Spock goes toward Sulu, desiring to begin its plotted flight to new Vulcan. Sulu however is having none of this, and out of his boot pulls a small knife that suddenly flips itself into a short sword.

Jim is pretty sure carrying any kind of weapon in your boot is against regulation, but he finds it hard to care as Sulu is doing a really good job keeping the not-Spock creature occupied enough for Jim to lunge for the phaser and stun it still. He barely manages to slide forward enough to catch the falling body before it can make a terrible crash on the bridge flooring.

“Call...for...medical...” Jim calls out, under the tremendous weight of the unconscious Vulcan.

*

It takes a bit of time for the phaser stun to wear off, and when Spock begins to come around he's securely strapped to a bio bed, Kirk sitting by his side and McCoy looking over his readouts with a frown.

Jim notices his eyes fluttering, and softly calls out to him. “Spock? How are you feeling, Commander?”

“Jim,” he groans out.

“Hey, I'm here,” Jim shushes. “You don't have to speak if you don't feel up to it.”

“The things I saw Jim...they were incredible,” Spock presses on, his voice rough. “They are still trying to show me, but it is harder to communicate now, as they die.”

“They also tried to use you take over the ship, did they show you that?” McCoy interjects.

“They did not mean to be hostile, doctor. They are simply so new to being corporeal, having a real form and force, they were carried away by it. Please forgive them, they are...remorseful, I can feel their...sadness.”

“Spock, it's not something to just forgive,” Jim says softly. “Taking over your body like that is a psychic crime, you know that, and they expressed a desire to go to the colony and possess your whole race! Can you forgive that so lightly?”

“Jim...you misunderstand, to even properly commune with another as they have with me, this has never been done before. They wish...for more of this. To share their wisdom, the things they know...Jim...I have seen the structure of time itself, how beautifully complex yet how simple it is. It is...like a double helix, bending backwards on itself!”

“Don't get too excited now,” McCoy chides, “even for you, your blood pressure is through the roof!”

“Yeah,” Jim agrees, “Calm down a bit and explain further? How come they can 'commune' with you, and not the colonists?”

“It is a matter of biology Jim...my natural telepathic pathways can act as conduits for their psychic abilities in a way your psi-null species simply cannot permit.”

“I see,” says Jim.

“No, Captain...” and Spock sighs tiredly, “you do not, I believe that their species and mine could come to live symbiotically! Jim...they showed me the Katra of so many Vulcans scattered on the winds! They could recollect them, give them new life!”

“Shh, shh...when you're more yourself we'll talk again, write reports, contact New Vulcan. All of that.”

“You've got at least another hour before those buggers are fully out of your system...” McCoy adds.

“Then I will take that hour to learn all I can.”

“Okay...okay,” Jim says, and pats Spock's shoulder awkwardly.

He and McCoy walk out of what Jim assumes to be Spock's hearing range before Jim asks, “Do you really think he'll be okay, Bones?”

“No way to know right now, but I'll run a full mental workup when he's free of those things.” The doctor slaps Jim's back in passing, but Jim's gaze stays guiltily on his own boots. He should have never agreed to let Spock attempt something so dangerous, he only has himself to blame if Spock turns out to be permanently damaged.

He takes one last look at Spock lying on the bio-bed, chest rising and falling at a speed faster than Spock has ever required. He has a lot to think about, and a lot of new paperwork to file as he does so. He lets himself wander the ship a bit first, just thinking, taking a some time to just stare at the stars from the observation deck before returning to his quarters.

But one thing that hasn't crossed his mind yet is standing by his doorway, waiting. Then it strikes him, and he can't help but lick his lips as he looks at her, the guilt-monster in his stomach slowly fading as his thoughts turn to other things.

Since they have proof that Nebitta is the product of a failed Earth colony instead of a new alien civilization, her life is completely her own now. As she is seen as adult in all Terran laws, she can can go where she likes, and do what she wants, heedless to the wishes of her elders.

Jim's breath catches a little at the possibilities, but he tries to put them out of his mind as he greets her.

“Nebitta.”

“Captain,” she says with a smile.

Parts of his brain that control rational behavior shuts down at its sight. “Call me Jim,” he says.

“Jim,” she repeats. “They say we are human. Just like you.”

“That's right,” he tells her, then opens his door and gestures for her to enter. When they're inside he continues. “That means you can go to Earth now. Not a problem.”

“Thank you, Jim.” Her eyes twinkle a bit.

“Well, I didn't...”

She cuts him off by stepping really close and putting a hand on his chest. “That means this no trouble now.”

He swallows thickly. “Yeah, but, you don't need to...”

“I want to,” she says as she presses herself into him, eyes closing as she raises her lips to his.

Jim just groans into her mouth as he kisses her, his hands feeling her firm flesh under the fine fabric of her dress. Before he's even conscious of moving her, he's got her down on his bed, his ruined shirts tossed away and pants down to his knees.

“I wanted this since I walked off of ship, onto yours and saw you. Saw you, and wanted, so much.” She whispers into his ear, and suddenly he needs to have her out of her clothes. However, the clothes aren't very co-operative.

“What the...” he says as he tries to get her out of them, only to find he's somehow tied his hand into her dress. The whole thing is becoming a massively tangled mess, and she's not much help, trying to suck Jim's tongue out of his mouth, which would be nice if he believed he was getting her naked anytime soon.

He's vainly trying to tug his hand free when he hears the door slide open. He whips his head around to see who it is and then falls off the bed, taking her with him, the dress making a terrible ripping sound as they tumble to the floor.

“It seems to me it would have been a good idea to get her out of her dress before getting her into bed...”

He hears the old man's voice, and something just breaks loose, like the proverbial camel's back under one straw too damn many. He somehow manages to extract himself from Nebitta, untangle his hand, and only stumble over his pants a little, before yanking them up, striding over to Doe, and pushing the man against the bulkhead.

“How the hell did you get in here? That door is programmed to my fucking fingerprint!”

The other man just looks a little sad as he says, “I don't know how, I just got a little lost. I thought this was my room...”

“Well it's not. It's my room, because it's the captain's room, and I am the God-damn captain of this god-damn ship. Do you understand?”

“I didn't mean any harm...” the man starts.

“Yeah, well you can take your no-harm and keep it out of my quarters and off my bridge and everywhere away from me. I don't want to see you, I don't want to hear you, I don't want to hear of you...”

“Jim!”

He looks up to see McCoy's stricken face in his doorway, and Spock, still a little too green, standing next to him.

Jim frowns, embarrassed but still angry, the warring of emotions gives him a stomach ache. He suddenly wants everyone to just disappear―for it to just be him and the stars, for ever and ever.

“Look,” he says in his most authoritative tone, “Somebody has got to keep a watch over this guy, keep him out of my way. I can't deal with constantly worrying about tripping over this...”

He sees McCoy and Spock exchange looks.

“What do you know that I don't?” Jim questions suspiciously.

“Well, the critters in Spock's mind showed him some interesting images right at the end of their time in his head...” McCoy takes a long pause.

“And?” Jim prods.

“And...based on the images they gave Spock about this guy, and why they chose him...well it gave us a clearer idea of who he is. I ran his DNA and...found a match.”

Jim takes a deep breath of relief. “Great, now we know where to send him, Mr. Amnesia can be someone else's problem.”

McCoy and Spock glance at each other agin, while Doe looks slightly dejected, something Jim refuses to feel guilty about. That is until Nebitta goes over to the old man and wraps an arm around his shoulder.

Maybe he is just a giant dick after all, but knowing that doesn't stop him from growling out at his officers.

“Just spit it out already! What's the big deal? Who is he?”

“You!” McCoy blurts. “His DNA is an exact match to yours, Jim.”

“That's...impossible...” Jim can't even mentally process that idea.

“No, Captain,” butts in Spock. “The Kaniwo showed it to me. The black hole created by my counterpart twenty-six years ago, rent the universe into two realities. Ours and what could have been, this change allowed them to create a new destiny for themselves, one in which they could save themselves and the colonists who had become a part of them. They were now able to pull the spirit of one who was had reached the end of his destiny in the other reality, and bring him into this one. Transforming the cellular structure of one of the Nurina to match another's was incredibly taxing on both the Kaniwo and the women. But they achieved it, they have the knowledge to do so, Jim. They have so much knowledge that they would share, now that they have been saved by their brilliant human hero. By James Tiberius Kirk.”

“Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!” Jim yells. It just can't be true.

“I would not lie to you,” Spock says solemnly.

“Neither would I,” McCoy adds.

So Jim just stares at them, barely able to reconcile that this old man―this man he can't stand, is himself.

Then suddenly it's only fitting.

“Oh God, oh God,” Jim groans, and crumples into his mattress.

“Jim! What's wrong?” McCoy is suddenly at his side, doctor and friend, there for him.

“Bones...” Jim whispers, “what does it mean that I hate myself?”

“It means that you're a Goddamn fool, is what it means,” McCoy grumbles fondly back at him.

Jim wants to protest, or pity himself, or hide under his blankets until reality fixes itself in such a way that the truth he has just been told is only a fantasy.

So of course, he gets summoned to the bridge.

He doesn't hesitate, just goes, only takes a moment to pull on some new shirts and doesn't even glance at Doe―well, old-him, but he's not thinking about that, can't think about that, not right now―while Spock and McCoy fall into step behind him into the turbolift.

“Jim,” Spock says softly. “Captain, the truth of this matter is not something you can hope to hide from, no matter how unpleasant you personally find it.”

“Then Commander,” Jim says, his jaw set tight, “let me run from it for just a damn bit longer.”

Nothing else is said until they reach the bridge, and Uhura calls to him quickly. “Captain! There's an emergency transmission coming through, sir.”

He's already feeling overwhelmed and disgruntled. “Then deliver it Lieutenant!”

“Yes, sir.” She swallows before continuing. “We're receiving a distress signal from the USS Constellation. The ship has lost power and is stranded. Starfleet command has ordered us to rescue them...Captain.”

The bridge has gone deathly silent. Every eye turns to her as if this is some terrible prank, that they haven't just been assigned a real-life Kobiyashi-maru.

Jim just laughs. Well, it's better than crying.

 

3.

It turns out that the USS Constellation had gotten caught in a ion storm, and is now stuck on the wrong side of the Romulan neutral zone with too much damage to the ship to leave with their own power. It's not funny; if the Romulans find them before the Enterprise does...well, it won't be anything good, so it's a little unnerving that Jim can't stop smiling. But he's starting to feel, for the first time in what seems like ages, the blood really pumping through his body.

It feels great.

It feels less great when they come up alongside the stranded ship, only to see three Romulan warbirds uncloak, effectively surrounding them, and demand their surrender.

It doesn't take long however, as Jim is standing on the bridge looking at the blackness around them, the enemy ships hanging like giant bugs, that in his mind a plan begins to weave itself together.

He notices the sub-commander's intrigue in his Vulcan first-officer, and arranges to send Spock (who swears he is fit for service) over for negotiations, which mostly look like being hauled back to Romulus as some kind of war spoils. “Commander with me,” he says, striding to the turbolift as soon as the video transmission has ended.

“Captain, are you sure that you do not wish to be a part of these negotiations?”

“Quite sure, Mister Spock. I have other things to be doing during that time. Now, how close exactly are Vulcan and Romulan biology?”

Spock quirks an eyebrow at the question. “Remarkably,” he replies.

“Great,” says Jim with a smirk and begins to fill Spock in on his scheme.

*

When Jim returns to the bridge Spock is already there, ready to beam over for negotiations, one of the Nurina's bracelets hanging discreetly around his wrist. He's just come back from medbay where Bones had called him a damn fool again, but agreed to perform the surgery that Jim had requested.

Spock is talking with Scotty and Uhura over the communications console. “Captain,” Uhura says, “Monty an...Lieutenant-Commander Scott and I believe we've found a way to mask the energy waves from the transporter with communication arrays, to retrieve the crew of the Constellation.”

“Can you send encoded instructions to them?”

“Of course sir,” she responds.

“Brilliant,” says Jim, beaming at them. He's got the best damn crew in the universe. He sees their hands brush minutely as they beam right back. “Start retrieval immediately.”

“We'll get 'er done, Captain,” Scott says with a wink.

“Captain,” Spock interjects, “I must point out a flaw in your plan.”

“A flaw, Commander?” Jim's thought this thing pretty thoroughly through, but all their necks are on the line with this one.

“If Mister Scott is dealing with the transportation of the crew of the Constellation, and both you and I are upon the Romulan vessel, who do you intend to leave in charge of the Enterprise?”

“What you don't think...” Jim nods his head to Sulu.

“In a situation where we are surrounded by enemy ships, he does not have the rank...”

“I get it. What are you proposing?”

“That you stay on the bridge, and leave the matter to me. I believe that I can...”

“No way you'll have the time.” Spock's part is to plant the Kaniwo on the Romulan commander, possessing them while Jim steals their cloaking device. With the chance the possession doesn't work, it should at least serve as a distraction to buy the necessary time, but Jim sees no way Spock could do it alone. “It's a two person job. That's final.”

“Must that other person must be you, Captain?”

Jim doesn't even bother to answer that.

“Then you intend to leave the bridge unattended?”

“Well no, but...”

“But you cannot be in two places at the same...”

The idea hits them both simultaneously.

“Yeah. I can. Thanks Spock!” Jim rushes to the turbolift.

Spock follows on his heels. “You cannot be serious, he is a civilian.”

“No way that man counts as a civilian,” Jim insists.

The argument is interrupted by Uhura. “Captain there's an incoming message from Starfleet command. Admiral Pike, sir.”

Jim groans, “I'll take it in my ready room. Scotty, when they beam over one of theirs in exchange for Spock, I'm going to need his clothes okay?”

“Aye sir,” Scott laughs, “that'll be some sight.”

Jim winks in response and scurries off to deal with Pike, something he does not have the Goddamn time for.

He means to tell him just that. “Admiral,” he says, “great to see you again, but I don't...”

“Captain Kirk, we're ordering you to evacuate the area post-haste.”

“You want me to...just abandon the crew of the Constellation?”

“Losing one ship is better than losing two. Based on our intel, the possibility of the Enterprise outrunning...”

“No.” Jim says firmly, “we're not running from anything, I can rescue that crew and then get us all out safely. I know I can do this.”

“Kirk, I gave you a direct order.”

“And I'm telling you Pike, I'm not following it. You can court martial me when we safely arrive back to Earth, sir. But right now, I'm the captain of this ship in an emergency situation, and I'm not leaving those men and women to the mercy of Romulus. I'm the best you've got, right here right now, and I'm going to do what needs to be done, your orders be damned. Kirk out.”

He's nearly out of breath when he flips the screen off, and it strikes him as odd that Pike seemed to be smiling right at the end there, but he can't think too long on it.

He has a captain to track down.

“Hello sir,” he says, entering the observation deck, seeing his older self looking out to the stars. “I'm sorry about the way I reacted earlier.”

The old man waves it off. “I'd have done the same thing, I think...”

“Maybe,” says Jim. “Look, the thing is, I need a favor.”

“You are in quite the situation,” he says as he gestures to the Romulan ships.

“Looks that way,” Jim replies.

“So what do you want me to do?” He asks.

“Just, be...yourself,” is Jim's answer. “Follow me,” he says with a tilt of the head and they go.

*

After Jim has gotten the other Jim situated in the command chair, and checks in with Scotty and Uhura that the beaming is going successfully, he hurries down to medical.

It's very strange to see himself in the mirror once the procedure is done. The angled eyebrows and long pointed ears don't look bad just...different. They're actually kind of dashing. Even the Centurion's uniform is sort of good-looking on him.

The chirping of his communicator interrupts his inspection.

“Jim....” Spock sounds a little breathless as he gives over the instructions on navigating the corridors to where the cloaking device is kept. Jim doesn't have time to ponder what Spock is up to, he's got his own job now.

Scotty lets out a low whistle when Jim gets to the transport, skirting around shocked looking members of the crew of the USS Constellation.

“Captain, you look like the devil himself,” his chief engineer says in wonder. “Off ye get, good luck sir.”

Kirk nods and is whisked away. Almost immediately he gets questioned by a Romulan soldier and has to knock the guy out, but Spock's directions are good, and he finds the cloaking device without too much trouble, though he didn't count on having to fight off the guards surrounding it.

There's three of them, they're not quite as terrifying looking as some of the Romulans he's had to fight in the past, but damn, are these ones quick fighters. One of them gets a hold on Jim right away, and it takes all of his strength to flip the guy back over his shoulder and into another guard, both landing in a heap on the ground. The last is not as simple to deal with, Jim has to grapple with him for a while, not an easy feat, before he finally manages to get a good barrel kick in, sending the guy sprawling over the two that are still down.

When they're all finally groaning on the ground, Jim turns to the cloaking device and begins to dismantle it. The thing is big and complicated and Jim tries to commit to memory how it all goes together, there isn't going to be much time to get it installed on the Enterprise. When it's finally all separated and in his arms he calls back over.

“Got it Scotty...beam me back,” he says as the door opens and he is looking directly into the face of an angry but beautiful woman surrounded by guards. The transporter grabs him just before they do.

“Damn that was close,” Jim mutters, but can't dwell on it as Scotty and him run down to the engine room.

“What about the Constellation?” He asks.

“Crew's all aboard, and she herself is set to self destruct, in fifteen minutes,” is the answer.

“Now I just need my first officer,” Jim mutters. He turns on the comm to the bridge. “We're installing the cloaking device now.”

“Nice work, sir,” he hears old-him say.

“Thanks,” he says back and goes to help Scotty. “No, the polarization on the power coupling was opposite.”

“Are ye sure, laddy?”

“Sure I'm sure, and this went like...” They both work on the machine, trying as fast as they can to make it compatible with their lady's system.

At one point Scotty mumbles, “That makes no damn sense, it's got to be...” and re-works some of the wiring.

Ten minutes to go Jim just leaves him to it and calls back to the bridge. “Any word from Spock?”

“We're tracking his bio-signature now.”

“Okay, okay,” Jim pants, “tell us when you've got him.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I've got to install a electrode conversion box to this thing or we risk bursting our circuits, Captain.” Scott tells him regretfully.

“Well, how long is that going to take?”

Scott shrugs. “However long it takes.”

They've only got eight minutes left until the Constellation destructs, and Jim would really like to be out of this part of space when it does.

“Alright,” he huffs, “tell me what I can do.”

Scott taps the side of the contraption. “Unhook this section, I'll get the box.”

Jim's fingers fly as he works, though part of his mind is worrying over Spock. What's taking so long?

Eventually Uhura calls over, three minutes until explosion. “Commander Spock is back on board, with the Romulan Commander as well.”

“What?” Jim yells, and he worries about what the hell is going on up there, that something has gone very wrong―but none of it matters as long as they get this damn thing installed soon enough.

He and Scotty continue working side by side, and he can still hear the audio from the bridge, and damn does he itch to get back there. He hears them hail the Romulans, old-him doing the talking, and the voice of the confused sub-commander on screen, then a woman's voice that he doesn't recognize screaming, “Destroy them!”

“Scotty,” Jim whines. “We have to go!”

“Almost there!”

“Scotty...” says Old-him from over the speaker.

“I know!” The engineer takes a deep breath, plugs one more thing in and says, “All right.”

“Ready?” Jim asks.

“God willin', I've done all I can. It will work or it won't.”

“Ready!” Jim yells.

“Throw the switch!” Comes the command from the bridge.

Scotty closes his eyes and flips it.

He hears the acting captain say, “Mister Sulu change position, 1 A mark 7. Warp factor 9.”

Jim doesn't realize that he's been holding his breath until the old man says, “Steady as she goes, Mister Sulu,” and Sulu returns, “Yes, sir.”

He takes it as a signal to just collapse against the floor of the engine room and breathe deeply.

When his respiratory track has calmed down enough to allow him to actually walk, he clasps the stunned looking Scotsman on the back and they both head up to the bridge.

“Bloody thing actually works...” Scotty mumbles to himself as they go.

Old-Jim is still in the captain's chair when they get there, and Spock is holding upright the Romulan woman who is convulsing slightly and moaning softly. Now that Jim can really see her, he can tell that she's a looker. If she's what delayed Spock, well, Jim can't really blame him. A woman that hot, running her own Bird of Prey? It makes Jim a little warm under the collar thinking about it.

“How is she?” He asks Spock as Scotty heads over to Uhura.

“Captain,” says Spock, “it appears the Kaniwo do not affect Romulans the same as they do Vulcans. She is not experiencing a full possession, only mental distress.”

“I see,” returns Jim, frowning slightly. “Medbay?” He poses.

“I believe that would be wise...and you, Captain?” Spock says, giving a sharp look to Jim's newly pointed ears and angled eyebrows.

Jim touches the tip of one. “Why should I go to medical?”

“Yes, why should he Spock?” He hears from behind him. “Those ears are...quite dashing, Jim.”

“They are aren't they?” Jim beams at old-him.

Spock just adjusts the woman against his side and looks disgruntled, disgruntled for Spock anyway.

“It is in my personal opinion that Romulan features do not suit human faces.”

Both Kirks look a little wounded at that. “Fine,” says Jim eventually and heads back to the turbolift, as Spock gently picks up the Romulan commander, bridal style, and joins him. “Mr. Kirk, you have the conn!” Jim yells out before the doors close.

“So...” Jim says, gesturing his head to the woman in Spock's arms.

Spock only ignores him, and they travel in stony silence.

After coming out of surgery Jim is slightly stunned to stumble across the sight of Spock sitting by the bio-bedside of the Romulan commander, the two of them talking softly, fingers just barely touching. Jim makes himself scarce as quick as he can.

Which is a good thing really, as Starfleet command is demanding reports on the situation, and he has a personal message from Admiral Pike waiting for him as well.

He plays the message from Pike first, wanting to get the damn thing out of the way, he's surprised to see that Pike is practically beaming at him in the vid screen, there's a bright twinkle in the admiral's eyes.

“Well, Captain, it seems we were both right after all. Maybe not right about the same things at the same time, but I don't think that you'll find anyone arguing that Starfleet needs you exactly where you are right now. Congratulations, son, we'll talk more later.” A happy smirk sits on the man's lips, and Jim finds his own face can't help but return it.

After that getting through the reports is a breeze, and he's feeling pretty giddy about the whole thing, but then Spock's report pops up on his terminal. It's filled with gaping holes―or rather it's written to perfect regulation standards, but from the way Spock looked at the Romulan woman something happened between them, something Spock doesn't want Starfleet to know about, and Jim respects that, he does, really. He would just like to be in on the loop about it and doesn't expect Spock to put him there.

He doesn't even expect Spock to want to consider him as a friend anymore...why would he, really? Jim isn't that other Jim―oh they're similar, sure. But where it matters to Spock, Jim can't see them as more different. He remembers Spock's face as he was yelling at Doe―well Kirk. There's a very real possibility that he's lost the chance for Spock's friendship permanently now, and that thought sits heavy in his chest.

As he thinks it over, he knows his biggest fear about being on probation and not being able to take the Enterprise out into deep space was that Spock might choose to transfer to another ship, somewhere he'd be more useful, somewhere away from Jim. Even now being assured that the Enterprise will get her exploratory mission, he still fears Spock putting in a transfer request.

He really had hoped that they would be friends one day.

He fills out the rest of his paperwork quickly after that, trying to keep his mind off of depressing thoughts. He's barely put the last swish on his signature when the chime for his door goes off.

“Come,” he calls.

It's Spock, and that makes his stomach clench.

“Commander,” he greets, fervently hoping Spock is not about to inform him of an intention to transfer.

“Jim.” The use of his given name makes Jim relax somewhat.

“Have a seat, Spock.”

Spock does, taking the chair across from him, folding his long legs under the table, and seriously looking Jim straight in the eye.

It's a bit unnerving, but Jim is not a timid man. He returns the look.

“Something on your mind?”

“I would like to elaborate on my mission report.”

“Are you saying you filed an incomplete report?”

“Intimately personal details are not required in official reports.”

“That probably depends on what the details are...”

“I trust that these particular details will remain in your confidence, Jim. As my friend?”

Jim's heart swells a little at the word and he relaxes further. “Yeah, ok. Want something to drink?”

Spock acquiesces with a nod of his head. “That would be agreeable.”

Jim manages to figure out how to get Vulcan tea out of the replicator, and Spock accepts it gratefully.

“So what happened back there, Spock?” Jim says gently after they've both had a sip.

Spock's hands tighten slightly around his cup.

“You know most of the events from my report...but what you do not know it this: that there was an immediate attraction between the Romulan Commander and myself.”

“Oh?” says Jim, but he's not really surprised.

“Apparently I am already known among the Romulan peoples, and she has been quite impressed by my history. She wished...she offered that I take a place at her side.”

Jim feels a chill go right through him. “She did what?”

“It was not an offer without logic, the attraction non-withstanding. She wanted me to mutiny against you, take command of the Enterprise and lead the ship back to Romulus. At which time I would have been awarded citizenship and been sworn as her mate.”

“Wow,” says Jim, unable to say anything else.

“There is also the matter that at that time I would have been in the position to seek unification between the Romulan and Vulcan people. As you know Vulcans are now an endangered species, which would do well do have the added diversity of a gene pool from such a closely related race to us as the Romulans are.

“Though I might have been seen as a traitor to the Federation, I would not have been a traitor to Vulcan. I would have brought honor to my house by such an action.”

“So why didn't you?” Jim asks a little breathless. Why the hell is Spock sitting across from him right now and not back on Romulus forging better diplomatic relations to Vulcan and making babies with the gorgeous commander?

“I will admit that there was a part of me that viewed the idea as agreeable, and perhaps a temptation. However, I found...I recalled something that my counterpart had said to me when I was making my decision to stay in Starfleet or follow the remnants of Vulcan to the new colony. At that time he informed me that if I chose Starfleet, and your command, that therein I would find a friendship that would define me.

“At first I was skeptical of his firm assertion that such a relation between such an individual as yourself and I could be a possibility; but the idea itself was not disagreeable, and so I took my place as your first officer. As we have continued our service together, I have found that you bring out many emotions in me, none that I would claim to be defining, however.”

“So...” Jim pushes; none of this means anything to him yet, it feels like Spock is stalling the real point.

“When I recalled my counterpart's words I realized that I could not put my future in the hands of this woman, no matter how promising such a future seemed. I found that my deepest wish was in fact, to be defined by you, Jim. To see what you and I could still accomplish together.”

“Really?” Says Jim. His voice kind of catches and it's terribly embarrassing.

“Yes Jim.” He would swear that Spock is looking at him fondly and Jim's own face lights up. “I am, and always shall be, your friend.”

Then Jim like the final piece of his life has just clicked into place. His ship isn't going anywhere without him, and neither is Spock.

But before he gets too caught up in the thought, Spock continues, “In order to facilitate this friendship, I propose that we forge some areas of common interest. I believe that chess might be a suitable activity for us to pursue together.”

“Chess? But I don't play chess...”

“As your counterpart is extremely skilled at this pursuit, I see no reason why you cannot become similarly competent given some instruction, which I am prepared to provide.”

“You have a board already set up, don't you?”

“I may have taken the liberty.”

Jim just laughs and stands up. “Lead on then, Mister. Spock.”

“Do not assume that I will diminish my intensity simply because this is your first attempt at the endeavor.”

“Wouldn't dream of it,” Jim answers with a grin, and they go.

*

Jim doesn't officially meet the Romulan commander until the night before they are scheduled to arrive at Starbase 10. There really hasn't been any reason to bother her as he's left all Starfleet business concerning her to Spock's discretion, and as far as he knows, she hasn't even left her quarters since she's been stationed there.

Spock has invited Jim to dinner in his room; he hadn't known that the Romulan Commander would be there as well, but he isn't surprised to see her. Her dress is surprising however, where had that come from? He remembers that she'd come aboard in a dress, but this tiny red thing nearly makes his mouth water at the sight of her. As it is, he can barely choke out his hello. He can't help but wonder if Spock has been hitting that...and if not, Jim's pretty sure Spock's looking lucky tonight.

The meal is vegetarian but delicious, and it turns out that Jim and the commander have a stunning amount in common as they talk about what it's like captaining a ship. It would have been a pretty awesome evening if not for the subtle sad looks that pass between her and Spock. It's kind of heartbreaking to watch, knowing as they must know, that they will most likely never see each other again, ever.

Star-crossed lovers―that's really got to suck, he thinks―and jumps on a possibility to keep them somewhat together.

“What will you do when you get back to Romulus?” He asks her.

Spock shoots him a warning look.

“Whatever they will let me do,” she answers without offense. “I am expecting demotion, and possible public humiliation for my failure upon return.”

Jim swallows thickly; she says it so matter-of-factly, that the idea turns Jim's stomach even more. “Why don't you seek asylum with the federation?”

“My life is not in danger. Just my rank, which I can work to regain. I do not fear the punishment that awaits me, I will face it and maintain my honor at least. My place is among my people, Captain. You and yours do not understand this. You see your ways as all ways, or as all ways should be. But our ways are my ways. I am a Romulan. I do not wish to be anything else. Not even a citizen of Vulcan.” She looks at Spock then and Jim realizes that she has already been offered an option to stay.

“Maybe one day there will be peace between our peoples,” Jim hedges.

“Maybe,” she says, but from her voice he can tell that she doesn't believe it at all.

Spock gives nothing away, only clears the table and Jim leaves shortly after that. It's not that it would be uncomfortable to stay longer and chat more, but Jim wants to let them make the most of their remaining time together―whatever it is they choose to do with that time.

If Jim was in Spock's position he would have that scrap of red fabric on his cabin floor only moments after being left alone, but who can say with Vulcanoids? Maybe they'll just hold hands all night, maybe they'll break Spock's bed...and if Jim thinks about these various possibilities longer than is healthy, well, it's been a long time since he's actually gotten with anybody.

He thinks longingly about Nebitta's tempting form, but he can't make himself go to her. As much as he would like to find her and teach her all the terrible wonderful things she's never known about being human, he knows he'll only ever wait for her to come to him.

It's a thought that doesn't help warm his bed any.

After dropping off their Romulan passengers at the starbase they stop by the Vulcan colony before returning to Earth, allowing those Nurina who are choosing to stay with the microscopic aliens to make homes there and continue living their docile lives. The Vulcans who have come aboard to collect the obelisk do it with the traditionally expected stoicism, but there is spark of curiosity visible in the way they cluster around and speak in hushed tones.

They know scientific breakthroughs are literally in front of them, the Kaniwo waiting to reveal its knowledge. Jim thinks it will be interesting to see what this new partnership will bring to the universe, but before he can think over it too much another, much older Vulcan is coming towards him.

“Spock,” Jim greets him.

“Hello old friend.”

Jim smiles. “I'm not so old, but there is somebody here who fits that description.”

“So I am told.” The old-Spock is unreadable, but somehow Jim perceives an excited yet nervous energy coming off of him as they walk down the corridor together toward the quarters of Jim's counterpart.

“He's not going to recognize you, you know,” Jim says.

“That is not important. What is important is that he is here.” Old-Spock is absolutely fervent in that assertion.

Jim lets out a small hum.

As they approach, they see the women saying goodbye to old-Jim. He smiles warmly at them, letting them kiss his cheeks and pet at his hair.

As the women shuffle away, he becomes aware of Jim and the older Vulcan approaching.

“Captain,” he says in greeting.

“Hello, Mr. Kirk. There's someone I want you to meet.” He gestures to the being beside him. “This is Spock.”

“My Spock,” the old man corrects, his eyes locked to his former first officer. “You're the one from the same place as me, isn't that right?

“Yes Jim, that is correct. It is good to see you again.”

Old-him looks slightly put out at that. “I didn't really mind not having my memories until now. It seems unfair that you should know me so well, when I can't remember anything about you. About us, and what we did together.”

“I believe I can fix that in part. I carry with me many of your own memories, and I am able to give them back to you at this time.”

“Is that so? Handy.” The man smiles infectiously, and even Spock cannot but help return it.

“Indeed,” he says and the two old men gravitate together, Spock's hand falling to the other's face.

“My mind to your mind...”

It leaves Jim feeling a bit awkward and out of place, watching the intimate moment taking place in front of him. When they come out of the meld, Jim swears he sees tears on both their cheeks, and averts his eyes while they brush them away.

“Spock...” his counterpart mumbles. “My first, best destiny...is being beside you. Looks like there's a planet for us to colonize, huh?” There's a new twinkle in the old man's eye, and for the first time Jim really sees himself in the man, and can see just maybe one day becoming him as well.

After a minute he coughs discreetly before saying, “Well, gentlemen, I should get you on your way.”

“Indeed,” they say together, but take a few more seconds before pulling their gaze from each other and following him to the transporter room. The other Spock is waiting for them there.

“Jim, Jim, Ambassador,” he says while raising the Ta'al. Spock and Old-Jim return it with ease, Jim tries for a second and then lowers his hand behind his back in defeat, but old-him takes his hand and corrects his fingers. The Spocks share a glance while Jim is blushing like mad.

However, his counterpart bears such a fond look on his face that it melts away Jim's insecurities and he speaks. “Thanks,” he says. “For...everything.” Words become inefficient for what Jim wants to convey to this man that is and isn't him, not yet him.

The Cheshire grin has never been bigger. “It was...fun,” he says and lets go of Jim's hand to step up on the transporter platform. He looks from Jim to Spock, then to his own Spock. “Well, we were certainly good looking, weren't we?”

“Were, Jim?” Old-Spock says with a raised eyebrow.

The old man tips back his head and laughs. “My bad, Spock, you'll always be a sight for sore eyes.”

Jim has to take a good long moment to look at the floor, as the older men continue talking.

“So, tell me about this planet, plenty of unexplored land left?”

“Yes, Jim.” Spock appears to respond almost indulgently.

“I can see it now Spock, just us and our horses, charting the untamed...wilderness.”

“Horses Jim? Even disregarding the fact that the animal in question is purely Terran, it is an unfit creature for desert travel.”

“Unfit? Why in Northern Africa...”

“Surely you understand that all-terrain vehicles are a more logical alternative.”

“Oh sure, if you want to logically take all the fun out of it...”

Jim thanks all the stars in the sky when his Spock interrupts from the controls.

“Sirs, the co-ordinates are logged in, we are prepared to transport you presently.”

They give their farewells.

“All right then. Goodbye Spock. Take care of her Jim, for as long as you can.”

“Live long and prosper.”

And then the men are gone.

“So...” Jim says, catching Spock's eyes, “that's going to be us someday.”

Spock, staring blankly, returns, “There are too many factors in play to estimate the probability of that statement, Captain.”

But Jim has his own Cheshire grin on. “Add destiny to your equation, Mr. Spock.”

Then he is out the door, and feels like he couldn't possibly be more self-satisfied, but waiting for him, right at the entrance to his quarters, is Nebitta.

No longer dressed in flowing linen, her clothes are completely suited for her destination, Earth. She's in jeans and a tank top with a sweater over it and sneakers on her feet, her hair unbraided and loose on her shoulders.

She looks perfect.

“Hi Jim.” She greets, her accent very faint.

“Hi Nebitta,” he says; his smile might be a little dreamy, but all he wants to do is take her in his arms and keep her there. “You wanna come in?”

She nods, he nods, they go in.

She tugs on the bottom of her sweater.

“I have Earth clothes now,” she says, shyly.

“Yeah, they look uh nice.” Smooth, “I mean, you look great, really...great.”

She meets his eyes and smiles. “Did you like the other ones better?”

“Well,” he says, his old smirk finding his mouth again, “I think these will be easier for me to take off of you.”

“Oh you think so?” She is adorably coy.

“Yeah,” he says and grabs her by the hips, she goes so, so willingly and their lips are on each other and their arms are around each other. He pushes her to sit on the table, PADDs flying as he burrows his fingers in her long, silky hair.

Her sweater goes first, then both his shirts. He tosses her tank away while she goes for the zipper on his slacks. His pants hit the floor right before the door opens, the intruder getting a good look at Jim in only his briefs; fortunately it's someone familiar to the sight.

“Captain,” Rand says warily, taking in the scene, the girl in her bra with Jim's fingers on the button of her jeans, uprooted PADDs all over the floor.

“Rand?” Jim asks, as one asks why a picnic has been ruined by rain.

“Sir, you're supposed be meeting with Engineer Scott in preparation to leave orbit.”

“Oh,” says Jim, his hands drifting up to feel Nebitta's bare waist; he really doesn't want to stop touching her.

“And then you...” Rand drops off her speech as Nebitta sadly strokes Jim's face.

“Go captain Jim, I'll be here,” she says softly, her lush lips so close to his.

Jim rests his forehead against hers, taking deep breaths, desperately trying to center himself and pull away.

“I'll get Commander Spock to do it,” Rand says, interrupting his thoughts.

“Wha―” Jim whips his head around, his hands still not leaving Nebitta's skin.

“And I'll clear your schedule for the rest of the day.”

“You will?” Jim is dumbstruck.

“Everyone deserves a break sometime, sir, even you,” she says wryly.

“Rand...you are a goddess and a...”

“Stopping you right there, Captain.” Her smile is almost sincere as she says, “Have a good time, sir,” and walks away, the door sliding shut behind her.

Nebitta and Jim's eyes meet and they both laugh a little; he kisses her avidly before rising and kicking off his pants and boots, and goes to the door, slamming the privacy lock in place.

“Bedroom?” He asks.

Nebitta just holds out her hand to him. He picks her up and swings her around before carrying her into his sleeping alcove; she giggles some more as he sets her down with another kiss. She pulls her jeans and shoes off herself, using Jim's shoulder for balance, but before she sits down on the bed she stands up on her tiptoes, her hands on Jim's face, and looks him deeply in the eyes.

“I am glad for you, James Kirk.” She says it, and he can see the wild fire in her soul―it's a bit terrifying actually―but he feels assured that she'll be okay out there with only a few credits to her name and the clothes on her back. He knows they are the same somehow, wild spirits in a world with too many rules. He knows he'll be okay as well.

“Yeah, I'm pretty glad for me too,” he says, smiles, and then tackles her into the bed.

*

The deja vu is slightly terrifying; his dress uniform is different, no longer cadet red. But all the faces look the same from where he is standing, in the exact same place he stood when he took over the Enterprise as Pike's relief. Even Pike is here, still in the same wheelchair, still proud of his protege.

When Admiral Barnett shakes his hand after pinning another medal to his chest, and thanks him for his 'Outstanding service to the Federation' all Jim can say is, “It was...fun...sir.”

Then he laughs a little to himself, shaking his head; the admiralty begin to look at him strangely and he just smiles, a Cheshire cat grin perched on his lips.

It has been fun, being captain; that's the crazy thing about it. At times it feels, literally, like hell. But other times...other times he wouldn't trade it for anything. He can't see himself doing anything else anymore, being anything else, being anyone other than exactly who he is, James Tiberius Kirk, captain of the starship Enterprise.

Jim.

He looks over at Spock, who has received his own medal today. First and best destiny huh? He laughs again; looks like he doesn't need any stars to wish on after all, apparently the universe itself is on his side.

He feels like he is soaring.

That night he dreams of flying among the stars again, them leading and guiding him as he loops, and flips, and dives.

He's never slept so well in his life.

And in the morning―there is paperwork.

~End~