Jim Kirk has learned, over the course of the last few years exploring deep space, to not be too surprised by the unexpected. Most of the time, that works. He's seen strange, beautiful, terrifying things. And both in this life and his previous, he's woken up some very strange places.
This is, however, the first time he can remember waking up on a boat.
He's flat on his back on a rough wooden deck, with splinters poking into his skin. Which is uncomfortably and surprisingly unprotected from said splinters. And the sun. And everything else. His face is wet and his chest is itchy with salt. Some rough canvas is thrown over his legs, and other than that he's stark naked.
Okay, naked on a boat. Not an immediate disaster so far. Jim shifts his elbows under him pushes himself up. And nearly loses whatever his last meal was.
“Take it easy, Jim.” Bones. So far so good. And waking up naked, nauseated and with Bones growling at him isn't even that far beyond the pale.
“What happened?” he asks, because his chief medical officer can usually be counted on to keep track of that kind of thing.
The not-so-comforting feel of a hypospray presses against his neck. “Beats the hell out of me, Jim,” McCoy says, sounding more worried than Jim is entirely comfortable with. “I thought we were about to beam back down to Earth, and the next thing I know, ol' Pointy-Ears is waking me up and I'm out of even my skivvies on the ocean.”
“Spock!” Jim sits up straight, looking around wildly. His first officer is conspicuously absent, but the bodies of some of his other officers are laid out prone on the deck, mostly covered by bit of sail the way he is. “What--”
Bones rests a hand on his shoulder. “They're fine, Jim. Out cold, like you. Spock woke me up because it was logical, and went to figure out how to sail this thing. Which I gotta admit is also pretty logical, and not in a bad way. I figured I better wake you up next.”
“Thanks.” Jim rubs at his head. It's just starting to ache. He's starting to remember, now that the initial shock is wearing off - not that it gets him any closer to knowing what the hell happened. “Man, I feel like somebody hit me with a truck. Just like old times, huh?”
It's not a great joke, even if it's true, but it gets a wan grin out of Bones. “Quit wisecracking and go captain something,” he counters. “And if that something involves finding some clothes to put on, so much the better. I'm going to look over the others and I’d like Uhura not to hit me.”
Jim gets gingerly to his feet. “It's a good point. She's got a hell of a right cross. I should know.” And while it isn't that big a deal with Bones or Spock, he's pretty sure completing their final mission (or what's left of it) with everybody's junk swinging around isn't going to be great for morale.
“Right,” he says, trying to keep the tarp wrapped around his waist. “You rally the troops. I'll check out the lay of the land. Boat. Whatever.”
He leaves Bones to do his thing, and starts looking around the boat. It's an old style, like he's only ever seen in movies; wooden and antique-looking and powered by three billowing sails. He finds Spock manning the helm—a great spoked wooden wheel straight out of a pirate film. Spock, to both Jim's hope and disappointment, is not naked, but wearing a very period pair of breeches, boots, and a loose white shirt. If Jim weren't so confused about what the hell was going on, or quite so worried about his crew, he would ogle for a minute.
It doesn't come to that; Spock hears him or senses him or whatever it is Spock does, and turns to greet him. “Captain,” he says, though Jim is pretty sure he's not imagining the way his first officer's eyes slide down his body. Undressing with his eyes, he would say, except that undressing him in any way is pretty much unnecessary at the moment. “You will find a collection of clothing and equipment in the cabin. I have located what I assume to be the captain's quarters. I have not had adequate time to investigate the logs, as I have been sailing the ship, but I believe they may shed some light on our situation.”
Spock is a lifesaver sometimes. “Thanks, Spock. Hang in there. McCoy's waking up the rest of the crew as we speak.” Still dragging the tarp, he heads into the cabin. The room Spock had suspected was the Captain's isn't hard to find, and Jim ducks under a doorframe clearly made for people quite a bit shorter than either him or Spock. Or most of his crew, for that matter. The whole room is small, cramped with furniture—bed, wardrobe, desk, genuine honest-to-history oil lamp and a couple of chests stacked against the wall.
The first thing to take care of is clothes. There are two complete, starched, crisp uniforms hanging in the wardrobe, and the niggling feeling that's been bothering him since he first saw Spock starts getting stronger. From the look of things, it’s definitely not a pirate ship—but it might be a pirate hunting ship. He has a feeling there won't be a computer system, at any rate.
The clothes are a little small, but forgiving enough that it doesn't really matter, and they're definitely better than nothing. Is it strange, he wonders, that he feels more like himself after putting on someone else's clothes? Has he really become that attached to the idea of a uniform? These are nothing like Starfleet's, but the idea is the same, and donning the crisp blue jacket makes him stand up straighter. He feels like Horatio Hornblower, or Admiral Nelson, or somebody who at the very least knows what they're doing on a sailing ship.
In the desk he finds a compass and a sextant, things he really doesn't know how on earth to use—literally—but he figures Spock will be able to work it out. There's an inkwell, a map case, and a leatherbound book. He starts investigating. The maps are of places in the Atlantic, so they're probably on Earth. He opens the book, flipping through to the last written-on page, figuring that whoever had been writing in it might have made mention of their last known location.
The handwriting is strange, curled and small, and he has to squint to read it. Latitude 45° North, one part reads, and south off the coast of France, and then the thing that makes him sit down hard on the edge of this strange foreign bed in surprise; the signature, scrawled in that small loopy hand: Captain Tiberius Kirk.
Jim has always known, from the moment he stepped onto the bridge of the Enterprise in command gold, that his crew is remarkable. It isn't really a secret that he was of the opinion that his bridge officers are the best in Starfleet. But there were times when they really prove it, so much that Jim's heart swells with pride and in the middle of weird disasters he thinks he has the best life in the world. This is one of those times. The landing party—geared for a triumphant return to Earth, rather than an unexpected lesson in time travel—had consisted of himself, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, and two ensigns who'd earned field promotions and had early orders to grab their new stripes and report to other ships. Seven people is not nearly enough to run this ship, no matter how good they are, but he's damned if somehow, they aren't doing it. Sulu actually seems excited, and every now and again lets out a cackling whoop from the helm that makes Jim feel slightly nervous. Uhura has managed to find tricorder and a couple of phasers that, like Bones' medkit and unlike their uniforms, managed to land on the ship along with them, and is giving herself the world's fastest crash course in flag semaphore while Bones rants about the primitive nature of nineteenth-century medicine. (in this case, he's right, and if he weren't in the habit of taking his kit absolutely everywhere with him—and Jim doesn't even begin to understand why that made it through when their clothes didn't—they'd all be in a lot worse shape than they already are.)
Spock is doing calculations on the margins of the maps. Jim himself is getting a feel for the ship, trying to read through the other Captain Kirk's logs, and acting like everything is totally fine and that the Enterprise crew ends up on Napoleonic sailing vessels every day of the week. Ensign Woolf has taken over the galley, Ensign Kite is in the crows' nest waving a spyglass around like it's his childhood fantasy, and Jim really, really hopes that back in their own time on their own ship, Scotty and Chekov are trying like hell to figure out how to get them back. At least the Enterprise is in good hands, since Scotty is desperately in love with her (recent developments to flirting with Uhura aside) and anyway, she's in orbit around Earth. He hopes.
They all have theories about what happened, which run the whole gamut from the very scientific (something about tachyons and pulse waves, courtesy of Spock) to the less so ('goddamn voodoo', from an extremely disgruntled Bones), but at least the tricorders and Spock's calculations have provided them with some preliminary data to act on. This is Earth. It's early nineteenth-century Earth. Since real, controlled time travel is the kind of thing physicists have wet dreams about discovering, nobody's entirely sure how it happened, or—and this he finds kind of spooky—what happened to the original crew.
Oh, and this ship, captained by a long-ago Captain Kirk, is also called Enterprise. Jim only ever started giving the idea of destiny some serious thought after some of the stuff the old Spock had told him started coming uncomfortably true, but he's been starting to become a convert. Even Spock, sceptical of everything that couldn't be explained by mathematical formulae, is having, however unwillingly, to admit that there's something greater than themselves guiding them, not smoothly and often painfully, through the universe..
By nightfall, it’s too dark to read even by the pitiful faint light of the gas lamp, so Jim closes Tiberius Kirk's journal. The desk is smooth beneath his fingers, polished by use and old age. He rests his head on his arms and tries to figure out what to do. Keep sailing, clearly, but where? The ship had been on course for war in France, but that was while her own crew had been on her, and he isn't sure he can demand that his own officers go risking their lives in someone else's long-ago war--even if he wanted to, and he’s pretty sure he doesn't. The obvious solution is to just keep going until Scotty can fix things and get them back, but Jim doesn't really like plans that involve a lot of 'sit around and wait'. And he's pretty sure he's not the only one who'll feel better if they at least feel like they’re doing something proactive.
“Captain,” Spock's voice interrupts his thoughts. Damnit, Jim hadn't even heard him come in.
He turns in his chair. The shadows from the lamp and the even fainter starlight through the shutter cracks fall across Spock's face, hollowing his cheeks and leaving him half in darkness. “It's just us, Spock,” Jim says wearily, but he really doesn't have the energy to go into it. “What is it?”
“I have given what appears to be the first mate's quarters to Lieutenant Uhura and Ensign Woolf,” Spock answers crisply, as if this was all just regulation. “It seemed more logical and appropriate to give the female crew members some privacy than to occupy a room I am unlikely to spend much time in.”
“That's great.” Jim had figured that with only seven people, the sleeping arrangements would just work themselves out. Spock and Bones have each told him about three hundred times that he needs to be better at delegating. Faced with the challenge of getting seven Starfleet officers able to crew a wood-and-water sailing ship of a type that had been out of commission, from their point of view, for about four hundred years, beds seemed like a good place to start. “You want to share this one with me?”
“Affirmative, Captain, if it is not an inconvenience.” It's impossible to tell in the darkness, but Jim has the feeling Spock is being awkward. “As I do not require as much rest as humans, I do not expect to spend a significant amount of time below decks, and can easily time those intervals to periods when you are not using--”
“Spock,” Jim interrupts, and then he's on his feet and not sure where to go from there. He'd been going to wait until they got back to Earth to deal with this, even before they found themselves time-travelling. “Look, you should know by now that I really don't have any objections to sharing a bed with you. And despite what Bones tells people, because he is full of bullshit, I can keep my hands to myself. We probably will be up and down at different times, but we've got bigger things to worry about at the moment than me stealing the covers. So let's just cut to the part where we're sharing the room, okay?”
“Yes, C—Jim,” Spock says, and he almost sounded sheepish. Would wonders never cease? Jim gestures to the bed, just because it's the only other place in the room to sit.
“Good. Now have a seat and tell me what you've figured out?”
The shadow-creature that is Spock sits down on the edge of the bed, and Jim, suddenly feeling like he'd dramatically stood for no reason, joins him.
“...I do not know,” Spock says slowly, and Jim can feel just how much he hates having to say those words. “I am not familiar with any scientific phenomena—short of flying into a supernova—that would cause such an occurrence, and excepting an outburst of enthusiastic expletives from Commander Scott just before the transporter engaged, I have no data from the Enterprise itself. I believe I have pinpointed our location, but as important as that information is, it is not exceptionally useful on its own.”
“No,” Jim agrees, cracking a smile; he remembers that 'outburst of expletives' too. It had taken a little time for everything to come back, but once his brain had settled, the chaotic scene had resolved in his memory—sirens howling, the shocked look on the transporter engineer's face, the fury on Scotty's, and a sensation like hailstones hammering against his skin. It was never the best of signs when the transporter made any noise, really, but this one sounded like a shuttlecraft hull had been caught inside a trash compactor and was trying to claw its way free.
“...For what it's worth, we're lucky we're all here and alive, and not fused together or melted into space goo or something.”
“Affirmative,” Spock agrees, and God, he sounds tired. Jim wonders briefly just what it took to be the only one conscious when they landed.
“Hey,” he says, and it comes out more worn and sappy than he means it to. “Thanks. You were awesome back there.”
Spock is close enough for Jim to see his face, but even if he weren't, he'd be able to sense that eyebrow raising. “While the sentiment is appreciated, Captain, I do not require encouragement for doing my duty.”
He's so full of it, but Jim lets him get away with it. “Doesn't matter. You were still awesome.” And because Spock doesn't actively protest any more, Jim feels like he's probably won. Jim has decided that Spock is not really as cool and calm and unflappable as he pretends, and not all of that is because Jim knows how to push his buttons. When confronted, of course Spock just says that Jim projecting his own human qualities onto a Vulcan is illogical, and Jim graciously does not mention the part where Spock once tried to strangle him with his bare hands, partly because that was a really bad day and it seems kind of cruel to bring it up without a damn good reason.
“Look,” he says, “why don't you get some rest now? You've been at this for a bit, and I'm pretty wide awake.” It's both a truth and an untruth. 'Wide' awake might be a bit of an exaggeration, but he's really got to check on his crew, make sure everybody's holding up, and think some things out before he tries to get any sleep.
“It is not necessary,” Spock begins, but changes his mind before he's completely faded off. “...but it is logical to utilise whatever time is available while my assistance is not required,” he amends, which Jim figures is as close as he's going to get to admitting he's pretty near dead on his feet.
“Yeah, it is.” Jim stands, heading for the door. “Get some sleep, Spock.”
Jim finds Sulu and Uhura on the deck. He's at the helm; she's standing against the rail, staring into the spray, her knuckles rigid as she grips the side of the ship. The uniform really suits her, he thinks, like it does Spock.
“You holding up okay?” he asks, coming up beside her.
She looks over at him, eyes bright in the shadows falling across her face. He can't tell if the way her eyes glitter is because of the starlight or the salt water or tears. If it's the last, he knows, he'll never be the one to know. “Fine, Captain,” she assures him. Uhura doesn't call him Jim, but by now it's almost an inside joke. He asked her about it once, and she just rolled her eyes and said, as much of a fuss as you put up about being called Captain? There's really no pleasing you.
“Good,” he says, more jovially than he feels. “Then you can take care of me, because I'm kind of freaked out.”
It gets the laugh he was hoping for, anyway. “This freaks you out?” Uhura laughs, incredulous. “Captain James T. Kirk, who outruns singularities, wrestles aliens, bluffs with maniac dictators and blows up comets? One potential shipwreck and a better than even chance of being eaten by sharks and that freaks you out?”
Jim knows she's teasing him, but having some of their adventures laid out like that still feels a bit weird. “Okay, okay, point taken. I'll be brave. Sharks and all.”
“Good.” She turns back to the water, elbows on the railing, the wind whipping her hair in her face. “...Please tell me you have a plan?” she says, quieter, more serious. “A hunch. Something. I hate not having any idea what to do, but this time I really don't.”
From the deck of the ship, the stars look so far away. “I know,” Jim says. “I do, too. And we'll do what we can, but I think we're probably going to be stuck waiting on Scotty to fix whatever happened. On the plus side,” he adds, grinning, “it's Scotty. He's fucking crazy, but he's a genius and he won't give up.”
Uhura's answering smile has something in it he's not sure about, and he wonders just how effective that flirting with her Scotty's been doing with her has been. “I know.”
“Good.” Jim rests a hand on her shoulder. “Get some rest, I think we're going to get exhausted pretty fast trying to man this thing. I'll go check on everybody else.”
He leaves her there and goes to find Sulu. Where Uhura was pensive, Sulu just seems weirdly content. When Jim tells him he's taken to the sea pretty quickly, Sulu doesn't seem to think it's all that strange.
“It's not really that different from space,” he says. “Just more hands-on. I like that.” He has this sheepish smile when he's done something he's proud of, and as soon as Jim sees it, he waits to hear what crazy genius thing is going to impress him. “I rigged a few things up,” he explains, “to make it easier for a few people to run. I think we can sail the ship with four on deck, in a pinch.”
If Sulu weren't steering, Jim would hug him. It's tempting to do it anyway. “That's brilliant. Thanks. Let me go check on a couple more things, and you can show me how it all works and I'll take over for a bit, let you get some rest.” He's too wired to get any sleep anyway, and with Spock currently sharing his bed, that could go really well, or really badly.
“Aye, Captain.” Sulu tosses off a jaunty salute, and Jim continues his rounds.
Bones has actually made a lot of sense out of the parts of the ship below decks, and Jim can't help but be impressed. He's also found a large supply of alcohol, an uncorked bottle of which he offers Jim before he even says hello.
“Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum?” Jim asks, and takes a swig even though he probably doesn't need it. Then again, maybe he does. Since it's technically his doctor giving it to him, he figures he's in the clear.
Bones swipes the bottle back and takes a good long drink himself. “Don't overdo it, but I think it's medically advisable,” he says, like he's reading Jim's mind. “And knowing how much it takes for you to overdo it, I don't think a swallow will hurt. Did you find anything useful out in those journals of your great-great-great?”
Jim wishes like hell he did, but now's not a great time to start lying. “Old Captain Tiberius must not have had time to write down 'about to travel through time, here are some instructions,” he says ruefully. “Now Bones, you know we're not ever that lucky.”
“With you around? We have the devil's own luck,” McCoy counters. “The catch this time is that if anybody gets hurt, there's not a lot I can do for 'em. I've got a few basics in my kit, but Jim, it's ridiculous. This equipment's practically medieval. It may as well be leeches and voodoo dolls.”
He has a point, but then, a lot of the time he does. “We'll have to be careful, then,” Jim says. “If you've got any other great ideas, by all means, don't keep them to yourself.”
He's actually hoping, but Bones shakes his head. “Sorry, Jim. The rum was pretty much the only one I had.”
Jim sighs. “You know,” he says, “I was afraid of that.”
In the end he leaves Bones grumbling to himself and goes to find Sulu. The modifications he's made are actually pretty genius, if also pretty simple—a system of ropes and pulleys and angles and planes that make it so one person can do about five things at once, and two can do most of the stuff that makes the ship go, as long as they're in the right place and working together, so that they can trade off in shifts and not all be exhausted at once.
His crazy, brilliant helmsman is showing the signs of hitting the wall, though, so Jim takes over for him and sends him off to get some rest. He can work out an actual rota in the morning, after things have settled down. In the meantime it's him, Uhura, Kite's periodic 'all clear' signals from the crow's nest, and the sound of the wide black sea, kissing the hull of the ship.
* * *
“Captain.” Jim's been so lost in his own thoughts and getting used to the feel of his new ship, he actually kind of forgot Uhura was still on deck. She can be quiet when she wants to be. “You look like you could use some rest.”
He summons up a practised, carefree smile. “So do you.”
She shrugs, but doesn't try to deny it. Which is good, because he wouldn't believe her, and they'd have to go on about it before they got to the point. “I had a lot of new stuff to learn. My eyes hurt.”
“Tell you what,” Jim says. “You up to watching this for a couple minutes while I go get Spock and fill him in? I'll send him up to relieve us, You head below and get some sleep. Tell Woolf to come up and relieve Kite while you're at it. His eyes probably hurt by now too.” Jim does realizse there's a less complicated way to do all of that, which doesn't involve Jim being the one to get Spock out of bed, but he's kind of hoping Uhura won't notice.
If she does, she doesn't care enough to mention it. “Aye, Captain.” She does grin then, just a little, the moonlight glinting off her eyes and her teeth. “Suits me fine, actually. I've been wanting to play with the wheel.”
“Who doesn't?” Jim asks, resisting the urge to spin it all the way around, mostly because he's not convinced the ship wouldn't tip over. “You saw Sulu explain how it all works, right?”
She nods. “He did all the hard parts, it looks pretty simple now. You go on down and get Spock. I'll man the driver's seat until you get him up.”
He leaves her on deck, gripping the wheel with the wind blowing her hair around her face, and heads back below. His lips are chapped, and he can still feel the salt on his skin, but once he's left the sea wind behind he's tired again.
Spock is still asleep, and he looks so peaceful that Jim almost considers not waking him, just going back up and taking the wheel back from Uhura again. He's stretched out perfectly still along one edge of the narrow bed, as if trying to take up as little space as possible in the name of efficiency. A tiny crack of moonlight streaks through the closed shutter, drawing a shining strip across his cheek and the slightly-parted lips. A few months ago, Jim would have touched him, flirted, maybe even tried to sneak in a kiss. But that went SO well last time. He sighs, sinking down onto the foot of the bed.
Not so much as a stirring, just Spock's eyes opening, perfectly clear and awake, and Jim can feel his stomach twisting, tired or not. “Yes, Captain?”
“You up to taking over for a bit? Sulu's rigged things so we don't need the whole crew on deck at once, but Kite and Uhura and I could use a relief team.”
Spock sits up, and Jim pretends he's not looking quite as close as he is when the blanket falls away from his first officer's chest. “Of course. I have had adequate rest. Have there been developments of which I should be aware?”
Jim fills him in on how all Sulu's modifications work, what Bones has set up, what he's worked out about the location and his intention to just keep sailing east until he figures out what to do, because at least there's land east, and they won't end up in the middle of the Atlantic somewhere. Spock climbs out of bed and pulls his shirt on, and they both pretend Jim isn't watching—at least, Jim assumes that Spock's pretending too—and nods and says “Acknowledged” to everything.
He pauses, though, before he gets to the door. “Get some rest, Jim,” he says quietly.
Jim is halfway through a yawn, and barely manages to get out, “Thanks,” before Spock closes the door.
He strips his clothes off and folds them on top of the table, then crawls into the bed. It's not great, but he expects it's pretty nice for the time. Besides, most of the crew have hammocks, so he's not in a position to complain. It's narrow, even for one person, and he marvels a bit at how Spock managed to take up so little room in it. The edge where he'd been laying is still warm, and Jim burrows into it, pulling the rough blanket up to his chin.
Their...encounter...had been at the end of the Vellorene thing, which had been a total diplomatic disaster and one of the worst days of Jim's life. He always said he didn't believe in no-win situations, but part of him is still trying to figure out how he could have ended that one without quite so many casualties. Jim was beyond pissed off when they got back to the ship, and Spock, who never said this stuff unless he meant it, had tried to tell him that it wasn't his fault. Jim remembers slamming his phaser down and growling at Spock not to talk to him, then stomping off, figuring he'd beat the crap out of a sparring bag and then obliterate the whole memory, however temporarily, with really strong alcohol.
The sparring bag wasn't even begging for mercy yet when Spock found him and offered his services as an opponent more likely to present a challenge. Jim hadn't cared at the time that it was a bad idea, on many levels—the sex drive brought on by adrenaline level, for instance, or the Spock is fucking hot level, or the Spock can totally beat the shit out of him without even breathing hard level. He just started hitting. Then they were wrestling, which was admittedly probably less likely to get somebody seriously hurt, and then he was kissing Spock like it was a replacement for oxygen.
He's still pretty sure Spock was more shocked than anything, which is the rationalisation he uses for why Spock let it happen. The rationalisation is habit by now, and when he replays the night in his head, he usually just skips over it and gets right to the good part, after Jim had somehow got Spock into his room and was tearing his clothes off. He remembers, explicitly and deliberately, how strangely smooth the skin of Spock's throat was, the points and sharp angles of him, the uneven speckling of dark hair down the centre of his chest. He remembers very clearly the taste of him, the way he bit back sounds that he was probably ashamed of making, the way Jim's knees were sore afterward and the reassuring firmness of Spock's mouth against Jim's own. He remembers how strong Spock's hands are, and how he was either an incredibly quick study, or knew way more than Jim had given him credit for.
The remembering, when Jim does it, usually ends before the part where Spock leaves.
He does sometimes deal with the awkward aftermath, where Spock doesn't look at him the next day unless it's absolutely necessary, where he's so professional and polite to Jim that hearing him say 'Captain' starts feeling like being stabbed repeatedly with a fork. It took him about a week to make things feel vaguely normal again, and another two trying to work them slowly to where Spock started acting like he might eventually, someday, be ready to talk about it. Which Jim wanted to do, but then the end of the mission was coming up and he thought it would keep until they got back to Earth. It's not that surprising, in retrospect, that the universe has other plans.
Jim figures it's not going to hurt anything that much if he just puts it off a bit longer, and doesn't even feel all that guilty falling asleep to the memory of Spock's warm body, moving against his own.
* * *
He wakes up to Bones shaking him with what Jim considers unnecessary force; he's not that heavy a sleeper and calling his name will usually do the trick. “Jim, Woolf's sighted another ship, and it's getting a bit too close for comfort. You better come check it out.”
It's almost dawn; the sky is lightening but the sun hasn't yet broken the horizon. Jim has Bones wake up anybody who's still asleep, and gets a good look at the approaching ship. It's flying a French flag, but more to the point, it's heading right for them and not slowing down.
They go through standard Starfleet operations first, because it's what they know. Uhura tries to hail the other ship via semaphore, but gets no response, even when she double-checks the signal for 'slow down.' Jim knows they have a lot more cannons than crew, and while he doesn't actually want to go into this shooting, he knows all their options are going to be pretty much moot if their ship sinks while they're in the middle of the ocean.
Fortunately, his team is still brilliant, even sleep-deprived and centuries out of their time. People throw out ideas, Spock does calculations, Jim turns them into orders, and everybody runs to do their job. The other ship is bearing down on them, and Jim tries shouting a hello just before a cannonball splashes into the sea a negligible number of metres off the stern and sends the whole ship rocking.
From there, it's a quick descent into chaos. Cannons are firing, crashing like thunderbolts into the water; by the time they’re only echoes in Jim’s ears somebody's swinging across the deck; phasers are going off all over the place and a genuine pistol shot just went off somewhere to Jim's side. Sulu's got a sword that doesn't look like his own—more rusty, less collapsible, but still deadly—and is waving it dramatically at someone in an elaborate hat. Jim watches him for a second and thinks he's showing off, but then he's distracted by having his own battles to fight. His methods have always been what Spock once called 'inelegant,' but at least he's pretty effective at knocking people down. A tall, thin, scrappy fellow takes a swing at him and he punches back, instinct kicking in before he grabs for his phaser. Out of the corner of his eye he catches a glimpse of Spock neck-pinching a man in an even bigger hat than the rest. That's when he does get his phaser out, and stuns the tall one before he can get up off the ground.
It's not much of a fight, in the end. The Enterprise crew are better-trained, healthier, and have far superior firepower, It doesn't take long before they've subdued the boarding party with a minimum of injury. Uhura's waving a flag at the other ship in a pattern Jim hopes means 'we're winning, so stop sending people over to get hurt and surrender already.' Slowly, the echoes fade, the shouts quiet, the sea calms.
They've acquired a collection of prisoners, most of whom are unconscious. To be on the safe side, Jim and the crew march them all below and lock them up in one of the storerooms. There's one Jim takes to be the leader, just because the plume in his hat is a good four inches taller than anybody else's. He'd been stunned by a phaser, but he stirs awake while Jim's hauling him below.
He mutters something, groggy, as Jim is setting back down. It's all in French, which Jim hasn't had since high school. The man looks up and meets his eyes, piercing for all he still looks a bit woozy.
“Vous êtes le capitaine Kirk.” he says. “Et c'est l'Entreprise.”
That much isn't tough to figure out, and Jim nods. “I'm Captain Kirk,” he says, which isn't even a lie. He just isn't the same Captain Kirk this guy thinks he is.
The man's eyes close, and he mumbles something else that Jim can't make sense of. He looks at Uhura helplessly.
“He said his grandfather served on this ship, before the English stole it,” she explains with a matter-of-fact shrug. “He's been waiting to see it.”
“Well, here he is,” Jim says, because he's not really sure how to respond to that. “If he's lucky he won't be on it for too long.”
“Captain.” Spock is calm as ever, having just laid two unconscious Frenchmen almost gently out on the floor. “Perhaps it would be beneficial to enlist some of the captured crewmembers to assist in sailing the ship, with the promise to release them when we reach land.”
Jim grins at him. “Very logical, Spock. See, stuff like that is why I keep you around.”
“Non!” The French leader shakes his head, frantic, trying to struggle to his feet. He's still talking when Jim takes out his phaser and points it at him, though he sits back down.
“Relax, it's not that bad a deal. Get us to shore, we let you go,” Jim says, genuinely confused. It doesn't seem like that big a thing. “Uhura, what's he saying?”
Uhura's lips are tight, a thin-pressed line. “That the weapon on the Enterprise must never reach France,” she says, mystified. “Do you know what he's talking about, Captain? He says he'd rather die.”
Jim sighs. “He clearly understands us.” Well, they can fix that. He rubs at his forehead, glancing from Spock to Uhura. There's at least one language they all have in common, even if he's not as good at it as they are. “I have no idea what secret weapon he's talking about,” he says in Vulcan. “Spock?”
Spock's eyebrow has already disappeared into his hairline, probably in surprise that Jim can put a whole sentence together in Vulcan—which isn't really fair, and by now he should be used to the idea that Jim is smarter than he gets credit for. “Negative, Captain,” he answers in the same. “Perhaps we can find out more....?” He trails off, nodding toward the prone sailors.
Jim turns back to the Frenchman, doing his best to look stern instead of confused. Fortunately, it's something the last five years have given him a lot of practise in. “How do you know about the secret weapon?” he asks darkly. It's not the same as what the hell are you talking about, but it's a start.
Though the man answers in English, it's so broken and heavily accented that Jim still has a hard time understanding him. They get out of him that the French spies found out that the English have some huge, scary, dangerous, formerly secret weapon that's being smuggled to shore on the Enterprise, and they're determined to stop it ever getting there, but don't seem to have any clear idea about what it does.
“If this intelligence is correct, Captain,” Spock says seriously, switching back to Vulcan, “then there is potentially a very dangerous device on board this ship. I recommend we investigate.”
“Yeah,” Jim says. “So do I.”
They leave the prisoners under the watchful eye of Ensign Woolf and her phaser, and go off to search the ship. Now that they know there's something to look for, finding it isn't actually that hard, because there's a lower hold that's pretty much the only place that’s enough out of the way that somebody could put any kind of secret cargo. Spock uncovers the trap door, and he, Jim, Uhura and McCoy climb down to have a look around.
He doesn't have to look long. “Holy crap,” he says, and has a feeling that if Vulcans ever swore, Spock would have too.
Jim has never seen anything like this machine before in his life. He's not sure any other such machine has ever existed (though he realizes Spock would say that making generalisations like that requires a lot of calculations and probability and other things Jim does not think are quite necessary when trying to express wonder). It's built from polished brass, though one side has been discoloured by what's probably smoke. It's a maze of levers, pulleys, mirrors, and dials, all attached to a single boiler as if some mad scientist got bored and got ahold of some really strong glue. It takes up the entire hold.
Bones lets out a long, low whistle. “Well I'll be damned. Anybody know how they got this thing to work?”
“It seems,” Spock says, sounding secretly impressed, “that this culture is more advanced than previously thought.”
“Scotty would love this.” And Jim really wishes that his chief engineer were here. “Okay, any great ideas on what we do with it? Or what it, you know, does?”
Spock is already investigating, though Jim notices he's being pretty careful not to just start pulling on things. “While I have never encountered reports of a steam-powered transporter,” he says slowly, “that does appear to be the principle on which this device is based. The chemical makeup of the power source is remarkable.”
Jim rubs his eyes wearily. “Okay, here's the plan. Spock, you get on figuring this out. Uhura, you and I arrange to give the prisoners back to their ship, and then I'll get the rest of Tiberius' journals. There's got to be something in there about this thing.” He gives orders, delegates, makes sure everybody has something to do, and even he's surprised by how he sounds like he knows what he's doing. He's not sure how much anybody believes it, but it does the trick, and they all scatter to go get things done.
The prisoner return goes off pretty well, since it's obvious to the French ship by now that the Enterprise has them outclassed. A couple of throwaway lines about the secret English weapon, a steady glare or two, and the crew's really just glad to have their men back. They're even pretty graceful about it, and when they give their parole to not attack the Enterprise again, Jim thinks they’ll keep their word. Within an hour, they’re disappearing over the horizon, heading a swift clip eastward.
The journals are the next thing. Jim had just been skimming before, keeping an eye out for clues about where they were, where they were headed, and who was on board, but now he's reading everything with a much closer eye. It's still dark below, not to mention hiding away isn't really Jim's style, so he grabs a couple of the journals at a time and heads up to the deck to keep an eye on things while he reads.
It doesn't take long to figure out that old Captain Tiberius Kirk had a lot on his mind.
We set out from Plymouth with only a small crew, made up of those brave and true men who can be trusted with our most secret endeavour, of heroic disposition and sturdy stock. All Navy men risk their lives in service of England and His Majesty, but ours is a special and certain danger. The machine requires particular and precise care, and Mister Grayson has taken over its supervision, having received the necessary training from the Academy in Edinburgh. He assures me he understands its use better than I, and will be able to complete the process when we reach Bordeaux.
That's a start, but Tiberius is pretty cagey on what the 'machine' actually does. That part is what Spock is figuring out, but Jim would still like some details. He doesn't like to give up, but he's beginning to get discouraged, when he finds something promising.
Mister Grayson has suggested he give a demonstration of the machine, in order to prepare the crew for the mission's conclusion, and in case anything were to happen to him before we get there. He is, at present, the only one who understands the workings of the device and our success depends on him entirely. It is poor strategy to depend so completely on one person, however reliable he may be. My grandmother's saying about baskets of eggs would, I think, apply.
Jim can actually hear those words in a voice that sounds an awful lot like his own. His grandmother had probably the same saying, though after a point he didn't hear it much. He has the idea that his own grandmother was beginning to despair of Jim ever having any eggs or baskets at all. Apparently old Tiberius Kirk hadn't been quite so much of a juvenile delinquent as his descendant.
Jim keeps reading. There's some stuff about discipline problems amongst the crew and a bit of worrying about thunderstorms before he gets to the result of the demonstration.
Mister Grayson has at last explained to me thoroughly the workings of the machine, though I confess I do not entirely understand even after instruction. Its purpose, once we reach France, is to summon to us a number of His Majesty's soldiers from England in no more than a heartbeat of time, from where they wait in London. It is the ultimate element of surprise, for Bonaparte's forces will have no idea how many Englishmen are about to appear from thin air. It is an exceptional plan if it all goes as it should, but from the demonstration Grayson gave of its workings last evening I am not entirely confident. Midshipman Calvert was injured quite seriously, and Dr Gosford says he will be unable to perform any of his normal duties for a fortnight at least as his arm knits. It is fortunate that he has talents in navigation as well and can still be some use; I would not abandon a comrade but we are too few as it is and cannot afford to lose anyone completely. Grayson believes he has discovered the cause of the malfunction and remedied it. I have decided, however, to hold only one more experimental use before we reach our destination. I cannot in conscience risk my loyal crew more than that.
So that's what it is, Jim thinks. Spock was right, a nineteenth-century transporter. No wonder it didn't work right; the twenty-third century ones are unpredictable enough. He's about to go below see what Spock's figured out about it when Bones dashes up to the deck, breathing hard.
“Jim— you need to see this—and give me a hand with Spock--” He can't get more than a few words out a time, but Jim doesn't need to hear the whole story when it starts like that. He follows Bones back down into the hold, nearly losing his balance as the ship pitches beneath his feet. He's not used to running on water, yet.
Spock is sprawled on his back on the floor near the machine, glassy-eyed, dazed, and missing part of one eyebrow. Jim drops to one knee next to him, trying not to look quite as panicked as he feels. It takes a lot more than a rogue transporter to down Spock, and Jim knows it. He just kind of hates seeing him hurt.
“Hey, you okay?” he asks softly, as Spock's head turns weakly toward him.
“Jim,” he coughs. “I believe I understand the function and processes of the device.”
Jim frowns, slipping a hand behind Spock's head to pillow it. “Yeah, it's a transporter, I know. What happened?”
“I cannot say for certain,” Spock says with a grimace, struggling to sit up in Jim's arms, “but it feels as though it attempted to transport only part of me. Parts that are generally kept internal to my body. Jim, I do not think that machine is at all reliable.”
“There's that Vulcan genius for you,” Bones grumbles, kneeling too, his tricorder out and scanning Spock's body. “Tell us something else we don't know.” Jim shoots him a frantic look, and the doctor rocks back on his heels. “Looks like you're right about what happened, though. Your physiology's strong enough that it's not that hard to fix, just time-consuming. You're going to feel like crap for a while. And you need to stay still. Jim, can you carry him steady enough to get him into bed? That infernal things' still steaming and making noise, I don't trust it that close.”
“I assure you, Doctor, that is unnecessary,” Spock attempts, but nobody's buying it, and Bones is glaring, and this is one of those times Jim is just going to do what he's told. He gets an arm under Spock's knees and one around his back, and Bones balances him as he stands up. The three of them keep on like that all the way back to the captain's quarters, where Jim lies Spock on the bed as gently as he can, and Spock looks stoic and unemotional and if you know how to look, like he's actually in kind of a lot of pain.
Bones runs the tricorder over him again, hits a few buttons which, makes a few beeps. “Right. I'll be back in a few minutes. Don't move,” he directs, with a glare so withering that Jim is impressed that even Spock doesn't just sink into the bed and disappear.
Once he's gone, Jim settles gingerly on the edge of the bed. “How do you feel? No bullshit.”
“I will...accept the doctor's instruction,” Spock says, which is about as close as Jim figures he's ever going to get to 'I feel like shit and think I'd like to stay in bed for a while.' “All the same,” he adds, “I apologize, Jim, for being unable to contribute when we have so few crew already.”
“You contributed,” Jim says firmly. “Did you figure out how the transporter thing works?”
Spock nods, but then looks a bit more green than usual and stops moving at all. “It is a remarkable piece of machinery, far ahead of its time. But not reliable, which I believe can help explain our presence here.”
“Yeah,” Jim agrees. “It's supposed to transport some of the English army into France to surprise Napoleon, I'd just gotten to that part. They had one trial that didn't go well, and they were going to do one more before they got to France. I'm guessing that's when things went wrong and it got ahold of us instead.”
“It would seem so.” Spock closes his eyes as the ship rocks under them again. “As the captain of this vessel appears to be an ancestor of yours, there may be an irregularity in the DNA signature that allowed it to locate you....”
Jim wishes for the millionth time that he could do the eyebrow thing Spock does. “Through time?”
“It is,” Spock whispers, “fascinating.” Which Jim figures just means he has no idea.
Jim can't resist; he brushes a hand across Spock's forehead, tucking a few strands of dark hair behind one pointed ear. “Once Bones gives you the go-ahead for moving around again, do you think you can make it work? Because otherwise, the only plan that springs to mind is getting ourselves up to Edinburgh where they made the thing. I can tell you one thing; I'm not planning on sticking around in the nineteenth century forever.”
Spock's fingers brush against Jim's leg, and it feels like fireworks going off. “I think it may be possible to recreate the connection with our own Enterprise,” he confirms. “I have no wish to spend the rest of my life on nineteenth-century Earth either.”
“Hey, if it comes down to it, I'll take good care of you,” Jim says impulsively, and thinks it's a stupid thing to say as soon as it's out of his mouth. He has no more idea than Spock how to navigate this particular Earth and isn't all that confident in his ability to take good care of himself, let alone anyone else.
All the same, he means it. Does he ever.
Spock smiles, weak and wry. “Hopefully it will not come to that,” he says, and Jim's still busy feeling warm all over when Bones rejoins them and shoos him away.
* * *
That night Jim sleeps next to Spock for the second time ever. It's hours into the night, and he's so tired he thinks he's going to drop. Uhura is there already, sitting at the foot of the bed; she turns and actually smiles at Jim when he comes in.
“You look beat. You want me to relieve you?” she asks, and he feels like he should do more to respond than just nod and try not to collapse onto the free side of the bed.
He lies down carefully, instead, because he doesn't want to jostle Spock. “Yeah, if you're up to it. Bones is crashing too. Just give me a couple hours?”
She nods, the bed shifting as she stands. “Don't worry, Captain. I just had a rest, I'll come get you if we need you,” she promises, and this is one of those times Jim is so grateful that all his crew is basically awesome.
Jim is too tired to get undressed, just crawls underneath the blanket and tries to move the bed as little as possible. It's not really him that makes it move, though, so much as the ship itself. “How you feeling?” he mumbles in Spock's general direction. “Any better?”
“Still...uncomfortable,” Spock admits, edging away a little to make more room. “But I have been endeavouring to formulate theories in lieu of practical application, for the time being.”
Jim snorts, curling on his side and closing his eyes. “You mean you're thinking about stuff.”
He's too tired to tell if the amusement he hears in Spock's voice is real, or he's making it up. “Affirmative.”
“Good,” Jim says. “I actually feel more confident about this whole thing if you're getting undisturbed thinking time. Do you want me to grab some of Tiberius' journals for you or anything? I got most of the way through, but you might catch something I didn't.”
Spock is still for a moment, quiet. “Yes,” he says then, “I think that might be helpful.” And probably less boring, Jim thinks, crawling back out of the bed to get the journals off the desk.
“Here. Good luck.” Jim burrows back down into the blanket and closes his eyes.
He's almost asleep when Spock's voice, soft and almost hesitant, cuts through the fog of impending dreams. “Jim...your ancestor's first officer, the one in charge of the machine...is Grayson?”
“Mm,” Jim mumbles in affirmation. “'Swhat it says.”
Spock only says, “Fascinating,” and Jim lets himself start drifting off again, the sound of Spock's breathing and rhythmic waves lulling him.
“Jim.” It feels like it's been seconds, when Spock saying his name drags him back to consciousness. He's also moved in his sleep, curled against Spock's side with an arm draped over his chest.
He wonders how long he's been that way. “What? Sorry--” He rolls away, reluctantly, trying not to think about how warm Spock is, or any of the other half dozen potentially awkward thoughts that could spring up on waking up that way. “I didn't hurt you or anything, did I?”
Spock sighs, and the irritation is palpable even from the supposedly emotionless Vulcan. “Negative, Jim. I assure you, your position is not what I object to.”
Jim tries not to read more into that than there probably is, but can't quite resist a joke anyway. “In that case I can go back where I was. What's up, if you didn't want me to move?”
Spock doesn't rise to the bait, which isn't exactly unexpected. “You said you'd nearly finished reading the original Captain Kirk's logbook. Have you read the final entry?”
“No.” Jim's almost fully awake now. “I just got past the first trial run. What's it say?”
“Listen,” Spock says, as Jim tries to make himself comfortable again without being too obvious about wanting to be closer.
“Against my better judgement,” he reads, “we are about to attempt a trial of the machine, to assess the amount of damage the storm may have caused. Mister Grayson reports the presence of an unfamiliar signal but assures me he will be able to compensate for it. He has been my friend, companion and officer for far too long to doubt him, and I trust him with my life and that of my crew. Still, I would be remiss if I did not leave this record, should the worst occur. So I set down here for posterity, in the hopes that no one shall ever read it save my older, wiser self—I do not think this mission is worth the danger to my men, though it may bring victory, and I fear it will take more lives than it saves. I give my word as a gentleman, as an officer, and as an Englishman that I will carry out my duty to the end, but I would not grieve to see that thing at the bottom of the sea. May God save us all from what we ourselves have wrought.”
Jim pushes himself up onto his elbows. “And that's the last one?” he clarifies. Spock only nods. “Well. I guess we can piece together what happened.”
“Affirmative,” Spock agrees. “The electrical surge caused by a powerful lightning storm could have interfered with what is already a very delicate composition, causing the device to malfunction. I confess I remain at a loss as to what could cause a spatial transporter to also breach time. I am certain that with enough time I could discover it, but I do not believe we have that luxury.” There's something in his voice there, and Jim thinks it must be killing him a bit to have to leave this mystery alone. Jim can't really blame him; he's curious too, and besides, how awesome would it be to get back to Earth at the end of their mission and be able to say, 'hey, by the way, we solved time travel, no supernova needed.' But the first priority is the part about getting back to Earth—that is, their Earth, in all its ultramodern fucked-up-ness, complete with indoor plumbing, instant coffee, and starships.
“I feel for the guy,” Jim muses, rolling onto his back to stare up at the uneven wood of the ceiling. “It's a tough call to have to make. He and Grayson sound a bit like us, don't you think?”
Spock's sudden, “Excuse me?” makes Jim suspect he doesn't think that at all, or at least, hasn't yet.
“Best friends, trusted officers; Kirk's the captain and Grayson's the science-y one with the gadgets and theories,” Jim explains. “And let's face it, if I were in Kirk's shoes, and we had this dangerous thing I wasn't sure about and you said you could handle it, I'd agree to it, too.”
“I...suppose,” Spock says, and Jim can feel his eyes on him.
Oh, what the hell. “Spock?”
“Yes, C—Jim?” Yeah, that's not awkward at all.
Jim rolls to one side to look at him, because as long as he's going to open his mouth, he's going to try and do it right. “Look, I know this isn't great timing, but old Tiberius has a point—if things all go to shit, you want to have at least said your piece.”
Spock stares straight up at the ceiling. “That you think things are about to 'go to shit', as you put it, is not the vote of confidence I might have hoped for,” he says, carefully, each syllable delivered with perfect precision. “But go on.”
Already, Jim is feeling this could go better. “It's not a no-confidence vote,” he protests. “Call it an acknowledgement that we could be in trouble, even if everybody here is amazing. I was going to wait until we got back and checked in and debriefed, but I was always going to say it.”
Having gotten that far, he's starting to have second thoughts that this is a good idea, mostly because he's not sure what he does want to say. Part of the appeal of waiting until they got back to Starfleet HQ had been the ability to drop it casually into conversation, to disguise it as something less than it was, like a dinner invitation. Now that he's started, he's not entirely sure how to carry on.
It shows, apparently. “Very well,” Spock says cautiously. “What is it you were always going to say?”
“That I—that you're really important to me,” Jim answers, and at least to himself, he sounds like an idiot.
“You are important to me as well, Jim,” Spock says, sounding utterly mystified. “But by this point in our professional and personal relationship, it seems somewhat redundant to say so.”
“Shut up,” Jim says, exasperated. “If I'm going to make a fool of myself, at least let me finish it. You're important to me. I also have a pretty hopeless thing for you, and I think about the time after Vellorene with you a lot. Probably more than is healthy. I was going to ask you on a date, when we got back, and try to ease into it, but the truth is, I'd probably just marry you tomorrow if I thought you were up for it, because I'm pretty much a lost cause now and it's your fault. And whatever you think about all that, I need you around as my first officer, no matter what, so don't get any ideas about signing up for another ship or anything.”
There's a long, confused silence where Jim can almost hear Spock trying to work through all that in a proper, logical, Vulcan fashion, but Jim Kirk has always kind of defied logic and Spock should know that by now.
“Jim,” he says quietly, tensely, just before the silence has reached a breaking point, “I am uncertain which aspect of your declaration I should respond to first.”
Jim laughs nervously. “Yeah,” he agrees. “Me, too. Just start somewhere and go until you stop, I guess? It's what I do.”
“Very well.” Spock is still staring straight up at the ceiling, not moving, though that might just be because of his injuries. “First, I assure you that I have no intention of leaving the Enterprise.” Which is something, of course, and not a little something, but Jim finds he can't relax yet. “As marriage proposals go, I do not believe that that one rates exceptionally high in style or originality, but as I expect it was not meant seriously, that seems easy enough to explain. If you were attempting to ask me on a date, when we return to our own coast and century, then I accept, conditionally and with reference to Starfleet regulations regarding romantic relationships between officers in a direct line of command.”
“Really?” Jim's still reeling from the words marriage proposal, since all right, he'd said it, and was even telling the truth, but that's really not the same thing as proposing. “That's—you just have to not feel like your job's in danger or that I'm coercing you into anything. You've got to know you don't have to worry about me making you do anything you're not comfortable with. I'm not even sure I could.”
“With regard to the Vellorene...incident,” Spock continues, ignoring Jim as thoroughly as if he hadn't even opened his mouth, “I had understood it to be a matter of some emotional delicacy, and was therefore prepared to proceed as if it had never taken place. I admit I am not entirely disappointed to be wrong in this case.”
“Spock,” Jim asks, “is that your long-winded Vulcan way of saying you've been thinking about it too?”
“Affirmative,” Spock says, hesitant, and damn if he doesn't sound sheepish.
Jim scoots closer, leaning over Spock to kiss his lips, gentle and sweet. “That,” he declares, “is awesome.”
It's too dark to tell if Spock is actually a little green in the cheeks, or if Jim's imagining it, but he decides to go with it either way. “It remains dependent on us returning home,” Spock reminds him, and now Jim definitely thinks he sounds kind of awkward and shy and kind of adorable.
“I know,” Jim says. “You're going to have to get us back there.”
If Spock were not Vulcan, the expression on his face could almost be considered a smile. “I will do my best,” he agrees.
* * *
By early morning, Spock is okay to move again, and gets to work—carefully—on the machine. Bones joins Jim on the deck and has a bottle of fairly weak beer with him, which they pass back and forth for a while, watching the sun rise in a violent crimson ball over the horizon. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning, Bones says ominously, and Jim tells him to shut up. It's not like there's a lot they can do about the weather anyway.) Jim's starting to get the hang of this sailing thing, and he's finding the salt spray can be just as inspiring as the vast dark emptiness of space. A little after dawn Woolf comes to relieve Kite in the crow's nest, bringing breakfast with her—it's just flatbread and dried meat, but they're all hungry, and it's what they've been living on for days. At least there's plenty of it to go around, although Jim doesn't want to be too free with the ship's stores when her old crew might end up back here. Will end up back here, if everything goes the way Jim wants it to.
“Jim.” Bones is sprawled against the bulwark, his knees up, a hat pulled down low over his eyes. He looks more at home in it than he has any right to. “What happens to the transporter after we're gone? You sure we want to let them have it back? And even if they don't, both England and France now know about it. If the Enterprise is floating around empty, somebody's going to want to come get it.”
It's a fair question, and it's usually great and all that Jim has Bones around to be his Jiminy Cricket and bring up this kind of thing, but this time Jim's not sure it's all that helpful. “I don't think there's much we can do after we're gone,” he points out. “We can't exactly set it to self-destruct. It's unpredictable enough without taking chances.”
Bones doesn't look happy about it, but what's he supposed to say? “I guess you've got a point,” he grumbles, and passes Jim the bottle. “Too bad we can't just leave a note, or something.”
“I think that qualifies as interfering with pre-warp civilisations,” Jim says, and passes it back.
The weather's getting worse, just like the sunrise promised, dark billows of grey clouds gathering ominously in the sky. The rain starts in the early afternoon as a constant uncomfortable drizzle, but not enough to actually drive them below. It's only a couple of days in, but the crew are already getting the hang of sailing and Jim can feel the difference in the movement of the ship and the atmosphere on deck. It's not easy, but they're all rising to the occasion as valiantly as ever.
The rain's getting harder when Sulu comes to find him, pounding rhythmic as a drumbeat against the deck. “I'll take over, Captain,” he says. “Spock sent me up to tell you he wants to talk to you below.”
Jim leaves him at the helm, glancing back to see him just before he heads down. Sulu's taken to the sea more than any of them, he thinks—he looks natural, at home, leaning into the wind with a mad grin and the spray in his face. It's all a big adventure for them, this time travel lark, and he thinks there'd be a lot more panicking if they didn't all believe that it's going to be over before it gets to be too much to deal with. They're explorers at heart, all of them, even when they thought they were on their way home.
Jim can hear the rattling before he gets all the way into the hold. Spock's legs are sticking out from behind the machine, and there are doors open and gears poking out of the round bronze body. “Sulu said you needed me?”
“Yes,” Spock says. “I believe I have enough understanding of this device to recreate the circumstances that brought us here. It is a remarkable, if primitive, machine,” he adds, almost sounding admiring. “If you would pass me the coupler lying next to your foot—unfortunately, while I believe we will be able to contact the Enterprise and return home, I have been unable to determine what has happened, or might yet happen, to the ship's original crew.”
Jim kneels to hand Spock the part. “Is that bad?”
Spock slides across the floor to take the coupler, raising an eyebrow at him, sideways from the floor. “It is...regrettable.”
“Obviously.” Jim pulls his knees up to his chest, watching Spock poke around the inside of the machine. “But especially considering who the captain is—am I going to end up not being born, or something?”
“Jim.” Spock sits up, crawling out from under the transporter. “While I admit it is a small possibility, I do not find cause for concern. I believe this to be yet another alternate universe to our own, as steam technology was not in widespread use until several decades after our current date, and molecular transportation several centuries later.”
“Wait--” It's a lot to take in, sometimes, the things Jim runs into in this job. “So we're now crossing time, space, and universes?”
Spock shrugs. “We are aware all of these are possible. We traverse through space every day in the normal course of our work. We know that Nero and my future counterpart travelled through time, though not voluntarily, and that an alternate reality occurred as a result. Furthermore,” he adds, and Jim could swear he's smiling, just inside in a secret Vulcan kind of way, “we are aware that in any universe, events seem to conspire to put James T. Kirk back on the bridge of the Enterprise. I do not think you have cause to worry, Jim, and I hope you know I would not risk your life on anything but the most certain logic.”
“That sounds a lot more like an educated guess than certain logic,” Jim grumbles, but he's gratified at the last part anyway. “I'm going to hope there's more to it than you just explained to me. Equations and formulae and stuff.”
Spock's eyebrow rises again, just before his head disappears behind the bowl of the machine. “Of course.”
“Good.” Jim doesn't think Vulcans humour people, or at least that's what he tells himself. “Need my help with anything else?”
“Affirmative,” Spock answers. “I am aware you have some expertise with primitive Earth engines. It may be beneficial for you to examine this one.”
Jim can't hide his grin. “Expertise, huh? It's probably a pretty different kind of engine, but yeah, I understand the basic principles. I'll have a look.”
He's glad, after he pokes around the thing for a few minutes, that it's just the part that makes it go he has to worry about. The boiler and gears are pretty straightforward, but even with a pretty fair understanding of multidimensional physics, he has no idea how a machine that looks like a clock powered by a teapot is supposed to break through time, space, and reality. He leaves that to Spock and just makes sure all the pinions and gears will do what it looks like they're supposed to do. He's getting better at this delegating thing already.
While they're at it, he runs by Spock the problem McCoy brought up, about leaving the transporter where it is, potentially to fall into the wrong hands. (Or even the right hands, because there is really no good place for it to be.) Unfortunately, Spock has no more brilliant ideas than Jim did.
“It would not be logical,” he summarises, quite neatly Jim thinks, “to risk rendering the machine completely inoperable before we are certain of our success in returning. And after that point, it will simply no longer be possible to do so.”
“That's what I thought,” Jim says, “but I thought I'd see if you had any great ideas anyway.”
Spock shakes his head. “I am afraid not, Jim. And in this instance, if there is a solution, I think your noted ability for unorthodox solutions is more likely to be of use than any other approach.”
“Wow.” Jim reaches under the machine to poke him lightly in the leg. “I'm better than logic? That's the sweetest thing you've ever said to me.”
“Only in very rare, specific instances,” Spock says stiffly, and pulls his leg away.
* * *
The rain's been getting worse all day, and the ship is pitching roughly through the waves as the wind's picked up as well. They've seen a few flashes of lightning, but counting the seconds before the muffled roll of thunder tells them it's still far away. Which is normally what you'd want, but Spock says they need it closer, so they're sailing toward it. Jim thinks it's pretty clear that Spock's understanding of electrocution is all purely theoretical, or he'd be more nervous, but he generally knows what he's talking about, so toward the storm they go.
Jim stacks all of Captain Tiberius' logbooks up neatly on the table, not that they're likely to stay there. He's halfway to the door again before he stops and turns back, taking the topmost, the latest, of the pile. Maybe there is a way to leave a message, if he's cagey about it, if he doesn't actually say who he is or where he's come from.
If it's Tiberius himself who manages to come back and read it, that's great. If it isn't, maybe Jim can still put them off trying anything—though really, finding the Enterprise empty and abandoned ought to go some way toward doing that.
The ink in the pot is mostly dry and he's just not used to writing with a quill, so his writing is barely legible, let alone a match for what's already in the book. It means choosing his wording even more carefully—just the right meaning in as few letters as possible.
Trust first officers, not the machine. Let it go. The world isn't ready. Good luck.
And below it—because sometimes old family names are useful, and only the person it's meant for will understand—
James Tiberius Kirk.
“Captain, Commander Spock says it's nearly time.” Woolf, come to get him, her shirt sticking to her and her curly brown hair plastered to her head by the rain. She looks determined, but not worried, and Jim is proud all over again.
“Thank you, I'm coming.” He rises to follow her, and realises there's the smallest chance he won't get to say this if he doesn't now, so he does. “It's been an honour having you on the Enterprise,” he says. “You and Kite both. I'm proud of you, and increasingly sorry to lose you.”
Woolf smiles, awkward but clearly pleased. “Don't get all sentimental, Captain. It makes it sound like you don't think we'll make it back. And—thank you, sir. It's been an honor.” She turns smartly and heads back up the stairs.
Thunder sounds off the port bow, and Jim follows, leaving the book open on the table when he goes.
Spock has everyone assemble on deck near the helm—logically, Jim figures, so that they can keep sailing the ship through a thunderstorm while he does whatever it is he's doing. He nods in greeting when Jim gets there, followed by Bones; everyone else is already assembled.
“Captain,” Spock says quietly, the hissing rain muffling his words. “Perhaps you should address the crew while I make the final adjustments.”
Jim nods, even though he doesn't know what he's going to say. Inspiring, win-one-for-the-Gipper speeches have never been his strongest skill as a commanding officer; he's always been more straightforward and focused on getting everyone home alive. But right now, none of them actually know what's going to happen—not even Spock, who says he's got the machine more or less figured out. If there's a time for a bravery speech, Jim figures this is probably it.
He looks around the deck at his crew—all of them sopping wet, in borrowed clothes, bright-faced with excitement, anticipation, trust, and not a single one looking like they're actually afraid of this moment. Years ago, Spock had tried to teach Jim that fear was necessary for command, and Jim tried to teach Spock, in return, that real fear, control in the face of certain destruction, wasn't the kind of thing you could learn in a test. Neither, he thinks, is real bravery, or the kind of faith that means you'll follow someone even if you don't understand what they're doing, trusting that you'll end up all right on the other side.
Like his crew follows Jim, and like Jim follows Spock.
He takes a breath. “First, I want to say thank you. I was going to open with that back on our own Enterprise, once we situated, but didn't get the chance. I've known for the past five years that I have the best crew in Starfleet, and watching you all deal with this incredibly unlikely, unexpected situation has just confirmed that.
“Kite, Woolf, once we get back to Earth you'll be off to other assignments, so I want to make sure you know how incredibly valuable you've been as part of this crew. I'm very proud of both of you, and sorry to see you go.” Woolf was stoic and still; Kite tossed off an impulsive salute.
“Bones—Spock--Sulu--Uhura--you're not going anywhere, so we have work to do.” Jim grins. “We've all seen something amazing here, and even if we haven't had the opportunity to make sense out of it as much as we'd like, our being here is proof of what human ingenuity, determination and creativity can accomplish. Now we're going to take it one step further—to the stars.” He grins, madly, and words come to him that he can't even explicitly remember learning. “Come, my friends! Tis not too late to seek a newer world! Push off, and sitting well in order smite the sounding furrows!”
He can see Uhura shaking her head, exasperated but beaming, and all his crew, his friends, looking brave and excited and brilliant. The sky goes white with lightning, and it's barely seconds before the thunder follows it. Sulu holds tight to the helm and keeps the ship upright, and Spock says loudly, but calmly, “It's time.”
They stand very still. They've transported before. Sulu stands like a frozen statue, one arm stretched out with his hand firmly on the wheel. Bones looks stiff and uncomfortable, but he's never been crazy about transporting. Uhura is calm, and Jim thinks it's because she trusts Spock every bit as much as he does.
A whirring, bubbling, sometimes hissing noise comes from below the deck, rising until it becomes a shrill screech that cuts through even the wind. The sky goes white again—it's different from the fork lightning Jim used to see in Iowa, less graceful and more brutal, everything going blank as a dead screen for a split second before it resolves again. The thunder, this time, is almost on top of it—not quite instantaneous, but in so small a gap the mind closes it before the ear, and the boat pitches as the wheel tears itself from Sulu's hand and goes spinning.
Spock's voice sounds above the din, urgent but not afraid, reminding them, “Don't move!”
They all try not to, as the sea tosses the ship like a toy. The hissing, squealing sound of the machine below them gets louder, piercing their ears. Jim is having a hard time not being sick, and out of the corners of his eyes, it looks like everyone else is having similar problems. Even Spock looks more pale than usual, and Bones is positively green.
“I might throw up on you,” Jim mutters to him, gratified when it gets a weak laugh.
“I can't tell if it's the seasickness or the transporting,” Bones grumbles back.
Then the scene around them begins to fade, as if the colors are washing out of it, the stark outlines of the ship and the crew in harsh relief against the faded background. The next flash of lightning is sick and pale, but the moment it vanishes is enough to sting Jim's eyes.
He blinks rapidly, his eyelids burning with an afterimage that becomes, for a moment, the transparent figures of seven other people. For a moment, he can see their faces, registering surprise and joy and fear; meets a set of eyes that are frighteningly like his own. Hey, Tiberius, he has barely time to think, and almost gets a look at the wide-eyed joy of the man next to him--Grayson?—--before the whole scene vanishes, and the waves and wind and the wild shriek of the machine with it. Jim can see the bodies of his comrades shimmering and shifting in front of him like staring through a cascading series of funhouse mirrors. His stomach lurches; he feels his knees give; his balance fails as everything around him stops moving.
Spock catches him before he gets far, and Jim leans against him. The burning in his eyes gives way to the transporter bay of his own Enterprise, complete with a frantic Scotty swearing at a machine while rushing to catch Uhura before she falls over. Kite and Sulu are whooping and spinning around with arms linked, which ends in a heap on the floor, and Jim isn't sure whether Bones is holding Woolf up or the other way around.
“You are amazing,” Jim murmurs to Spock. “You actually did it.”
“Of course, Captain,” Spock says, and Jim figures this time if he's looking smug, he's earned it.
* * *
From the window of his hotel room outside Starfleet headquarters, Jim likes to think he can see the Enterprise. Amidst the glittering satellites is one, just a bit bigger and a bit higher, that he knows is the spacedock where his ship is anchored, so it's not much of a stretch to look up and think, she's there.
Sprawled on the bed, in front of the window, he finishes what will be his last mission log. For now.
“Unfortunately, we never did find out what happened to Tiberius' crew. When we saw them, I thought they might have been on my Enterprise, but there were no reports of them having appeared there. Maybe they just got bumped to the next universe down the line, and there's a whole series of realities, one right after the other, with an Enterprise in each one. I've read Commander Spock's report, and even with as much as he was able to determine, there's a lot more about that world and that machine that we'll just never know.
“Kite and Woolf—lieutenants now, both—have been transferred to duty on other ships. My ship is resting, and so is my crew. In a few days, after we've submitted all the reports, had all the meetings, and said all the hellos, we'll get our new orders. It's been an amazing five years, and I think we're all ready to get back to doing what we do best: exploring.”
He clicks off the button on his recorder, selects 'close', and watches it shut down. His last log as a rookie captain.
“Only you, Jim, would postulate an endless number of universes in which you are the captain of the Enterprise.” He rolls over to see Spock standing in the doorway, doing that eyebrow thing that Jim loves and hates and has yet to be able to imitate.
“Actually, I got the idea from you, so that's clearly not the case. How long were you listening?”
Spock glances at his timepiece. “Three point eight minutes. I hope you do not object to me letting myself in. Assuming you did not wish to alter or cancel the evening's plans?”
Jim laughs and sits up, reaching out to catch Spock's hand and pull him closer. “Not at all,” he says. “We are definitely going on a date. Let me just get my jacket.”
Spock nods, stepping back to let Jim through the door. “Where are we going?”
Jim grabs his jacket, his keys, and Spock's hand. “It's a surprise.” Spock's eyebrows go up and squish together in what Jim assumes is a Vulcan 'oh fuck' look. “It'll be an adventure, Spock. Trust me.”
“I do,” Spock assures him. Jim flashes him a wide wicked grin and drags him toward the car. After all, some adventures, some destinies are much grander than others, but all are exciting in their own way. And Jim thinks that if this one works out, it might be the most exciting of all.