Kevin knew the first moment he saw him. The eyes were unmistakable.
No one could forget that color of blue. Like the sky, he'd thought at the time. The years had not changed the intensity of the color. If anything it was bolder now than it ever had been. No, he had never forgotten those eyes. He'd had reason to remember them.
He'd just never thought he'd ever see them again. None of them had.
His commanding officer. How ironic. How many times had the other saved his life?
How many lives had he saved? Even then, when the man couldn't have been more than what… fourteen?
Kirk made so much sense now.
And Kevin wondered whether he should mention it. The captain. Gods. Everything fit so perfectly. No wonder the man seemed born to command. Never before had a man ever had such intimate experience with command before they got it of a ship. No wonder he gotten a ship so early. Even at fourteen, he'd led. The ability was in him, not hammered home like some dull academy lessons. The boy had possessed a better ability to lead then than most adult ship captains did now.
He'd stayed alive. Kevin had never really doubted that he would. No person with that kind of will would have allowed himself to die or be killed. No, Kirk had kept them going on air and determination alone. Of course, none of them had known his name was Kirk at the time.
None of them had even known who he was. They got together sometimes, the survivors. And they always talked of him, their savior. They'd called him JT. It was the only name they knew him by. But their mysterious angel of protection had never come to any of their meetings. Not that they blamed him. None of the group had been sure he'd made it. But none of them could bear the thought that he hadn't.
Kirk had kept them all alive. At what price to himself, they'd never known. They'd all been younger than he, and he'd lead them. He'd not allowed them to give up. And they'd survived. They'd had him. But he'd had no one.
He'd done it all alone.
He'd saved as many as he could, stealing them in the night sometimes. He'd established a camp and organized patrols for safety and for foraging food. There hadn't been much, but there had been determination. And strength. He'd given them both.
He had always let them eat first. There were many nights that he hadn't eaten.
Kevin had been the youngest. Only six at the time of the massacre. But he still remembered the eyes. They all did.
You didn't forget the face of the man who'd carried you through the valley of the shadow of death.
In Kevin's case, the sentiment had been literal, not figurative. Kirk had carried him for miles. Kodo's patrols had starting getting close, and they all knew they were close to capture. JT had moved the whole lot of them to a different spot, further up the valley. Kevin, terrified of heights and too sick to walk, had wrapped around his protector and refused to let go. Afraid to look down, he had stared into JT's eyes the whole trip, noticing the impossible color. But the figurative sense applied as well. JT had been the only reason that any of them had survived. He'd gotten them through it.
Kevin wanted to approach the man. He had much to say. But how did you say you knew a person when you hadn't even know his name? How could he tell the man that he'd thought of him everyday.
Kevin only knew his name because he recognized the eyes.
Kevin didn't know how Kirk would take it. There was no record of Kirk's presence on Tarsus in the captain's file, or if there was it'd been classified far above his level to hack.
Kevin had been trying to find Kirk for twelve years. And now, just when Kevin had given up, here he was.
Kevin had only been on the Enterprise a week, but he was sure about his theory.
He only wanted to thank his rescuer, his savior. He wanted to explain that the memory of Kirk had been his everything. He'd gone into Starfleet because they did things like JT had done. They saved people. He wanted to honor the debt he could never repay. He owed this man his very existence. They all did.
And he didn't know if he should tell them, the rest of the group. Kirk didn't seem to want any credit for what he'd done.
And that was the crux of the matter. He didn't want to embarrass Kirk or bring up bad memories. He didn't want to put the other man in some sort of untenable position. He just wanted to thank him.
So here he was…stuck, outside the captain's quarters, trying to work up the courage to ring the buzzer. Kevin just didn't know if he should bring this up.
But no. He'd come this far.
Kirk deserved gratitude. As far as Kevin knew, no one had ever given Kirk any.
Not for this.
JT deserved to know how many of his kids had made it.
That thought stiffened his resolve. Before he allowed his brain to talk him out of it, he pressed the buzzer.
Kevin realized he was hoping the captain would not be in. Maybe he would be exercising or-
The voice was similar. If he'd had any doubts about his theories. He dismissed them now. Kevin knew he was right.
He stepped inside.
Captain James Tiberius Kirk was seated at his desk, clearly immersed in paperwork. James Tiberius. JT. Of course. And this man was famous. Amazing no one had figured it out before now. Looking at him now, knowing what Kevin did, there was no question. Kevin could see the boy he'd known in the man before him.
The man looked up, clearly surprised at the identity of his visitor. The captain probably didn't often get people just come aboard visiting his quarters without an invitation.
"Can I help you, Lieutenant?"
"Lt. Kevin Riley, and you already have, sir."
Kirk raised his eyebrows. "Lieutenant, you are going to have to enlighten me."
Kevin took a deep breath and walked closer to the captain. This would not be easy to say. "Sir, I—." He trailed off, not knowing where or how to begin. "I only wished…." Kevin trailed off again, as his courage failed him.
What was he supposed to say to this man?
Kirk put his stylus down and stared hard at Kevin. "I'm not going to bite, Lieutenant. Out with it. You say I've helped you?"
"Actually, yes, sir. You did. You carried me. Twelve years ago. On Tarsus. You carried all of us."
Kirk had gone very, very still.
Kevin shut his eyes against the intensity of the blue stare. "I haven't told anyone," he backpedaled. "I recognized your eyes. And then the sound of your voice. I wasn't sure until just now, outside your quarters."
Kirk still had not spoken.
Kevin rushed on, "I just…I wanted to thank you. For my life. My future. It's all thanks to you."
He still could not look the captain in the eyes.
Kirk moved around the desk. "Kevin...Riley." The captain's tone was thoughtful, hesitant, his mind searching memories long repressed. His blue glance caught Kevin's and held him. The sapphire gaze searched Kevin's face, seeking something. Familiarity or recognition. After a moment, the scrutiny paused, and Kirk spoke.
"Kevin. I've thought of you often. You were so young." The captain's voice was very quiet. "I'm glad you made it."
"And I'm glad you made it. We weren't any of us sure, sir. You were so sick, there at the end. We never knew what happened to you after the shuttles came, or if they came in time."
Kirk nodded. "Nearly died. Spent almost a year in the hospital, but...here I am."
Kevin nodded too. He reached out and put a hand on one of the captain's biceps. Right now their difference in rank didn't matter. He wanted, no, he needed to convey his gratitude and his relief. JT was alive. That it made it one of the best days of Kevin's life.
Kirk swallowed against a lump in his throat. "You're welcome."
They stood that way a long while.
Kirk finally cleared his throat. "How many…" He didn't finish the sentence. He didn't have to.
Kevin knew what he wanted to know.
"There are thirty of us, sir. All thanks to you. We all survived."
Kirk couldn't hold the tears anymore. They filled eyes and spilled over down his cheeks. The captain brought a hand up to cover his mouth. "I always wondered. I never knew...God, I never knew."
Kevin steadied him as the man's knees buckled, and settled him against the edge of the desk. This man, so strong in all things, the leader at fourteen, had folded, not in anguish, but in relief. Somehow Kevin was not surprised. The captain had been carrying a weighty burden all these years, wondering about the fate of his very first charges. Kirk was like a parent finding out his missing child had been found alive.
Kevin rocked the man gently. He could remember, once upon a time, JT doing this for him. Hell, he'd done if for all of them.
"All thirty." The captain sounded like he was in shock. He must have not conceived of so many of them making it. Maybe he'd thought that most of them had died. It occurred to Kevin then that it would have been just as hard for JT to find information about them as it had been for them to find information about him.
"Yes, sir," he responded.
"Wow." Kirk had stilled. He moved awkwardly out of Kevin's grasp and sat beside him on the floor.
Kevin smiled. "Wow, indeed. Thanks to you."
"As are we. Everyone always asks about you, if anyone's seen you, or heard of you. Most everybody thinks you died. But I didn't. I knew you were out there." Kevin said it softly. He hoped the captain understood the question he was trying to ask.
"You can tell them that I made it out, Lieutenant." The man had understood.
The smile that graced the captain's features was proud and paternal.
"Well, I'm glad you made it, Kevin Riley."
Kevin smiled. "And I, you, James Kirk."
Several Weeks Later...
Riley had no idea how he'd talked Captain Kirk into this. Hell, he wasn't sure if it was a good thing that he'd talked to Kirk into this. But some combination of pity and obligation had persuaded Kirk to agree.
And perhaps the Captain was a little bit curious...
Riley didn't know, but Kevin was willing to bet his career that if tonight didn't go well, he might have to find a job on another ship in a relative hurry. Because if this sucked, then it was going to be awkward enough to warrant a career change.
Gods, he was as nervous as a fifteen year old before his first date. Come to think of it, he hadn't been this nervous before his own first date. The thought made him laugh to himself.
It even felt like a date.
He was dressed in his best civilian clothes, standing outside a museum, waiting nervously for Kirk. Riley wasn't certain the captain would come.
But he had said he would.
And you took James Kirk at his word. He always kept it.
Tonight was the dedication of the Tarsus museum. There was going to be a special permanent exhibit on the orphans Kirk had saved, Riley included. Riley as a named survivor of the massacre, had been invited as a special guest, as had many of the others.
But Kirk's identity was known only to Riley.
No one had ever discovered the identity of the child named JT who saved so many. Everyone assumed that he had died. It was assumption made with good reason, Kirk had been very sick near the end. He had always refused to eat before his charges had had their fill. So the media, the historians, everyone thought the child dead, and Kirk's involvement had been classified far above any possible discovery.
Riley supposed it made sense. The son of the hero of the Kelvin himself a hero. It would have been a media circus. It was perhaps better for Kirk that no one had known. But now that Kodos was supposed to be dead, he wondered why Kirk didn't reveal himself. The captain was already famous throughout the Federation for stopping Nero and saving Earth. It wasn't like Kirk could get much more famous than he already was.
But as Riley thought about it, he wondered. The captain had never seemed overly enamored of his fame. Perhaps that was it. Maybe he didn't want more notoriety. Perhaps also, the captain didn't want to stir up the past. Kirk always felt guilty for the lives he could not save aboard his ship. Perhaps this was more of the same. Maybe the captain felt guilt for the lives of those he could not steal from Kodos back then. Maybe Tarsus was too personal a loss.
Riley didn't know.
He'd recognized Kirk as the man who'd saved him as soon as Riley had come aboard the Enterprise. The eyes were unmistakable. Riley had confronted the other man, to thank him, and had been surprised to learn that Kirk had as little idea about how his charges had fared as they had about how he'd fared.
Riley had asked for and received permission from the other man to tell the other survivors. But he hadn't been able to. How did you begin to tell someone that?
"Hey, guys, you remember that guy that saved us all? He's fine; he's the captain of my starship," sent over a comm just didn't feel right. It just seemed inappropriate. Coming here tonight had seemed so much easier. Of course, that was before he'd been standing outside freshly opened museum, waiting for his captain to show.
He'd never asked Kirk why he hadn't come forth. It had seemed too personal a question. So he hadn't asked.
Riley hoped that Kirk's identity as JT wouldn't be revealed tonight. But then, Riley was willing to do nearly anything to protect the other man.
He was starting to get really nervous. Kirk was late. Kirk was almost never late. In fact, the captain was renowned for his punctuality. It did not bode well for an enjoyable evening. Then again, Riley had to admit that he'd been kidding himself if he thought there was any possibility this evening was truly going to be enjoyable.
Riley hummed "I'll take you home again, Kathleen" under his breath as he fidgeted and paced and hoped that Kirk was truly coming. It was his favorite song.
Just as he was giving up hope, and thinking of going in alone, Kirk appeared. Like Riley, Kirk was also attired in civilian clothes. He was wearing a vivid blue shirt, which if anything intensified the color of his sapphire eyes. Riley wondered if Kirk had chosen that color intentionally; few if any of the survivors that remembered JT would fail to recognize those eyes tonight with the way they stood out now. Kirk nodded at him pleasantly.
Riley wasn't sure what he had been expecting the captain to look like, but this was not it. James Kirk wasn't pale, and there were no shadows under his eyes. He appeared every inch the tanned, unflappable commander that he always was upon his bridge. But Riley had seen Kirk bluff before, and he wondered whether the captain's poise was largely a facade.
"Well, shall we?" Kirk asked.
Startled from his reverie, Kevin snapped to and indicated the main doors. "Uh, yes Captain. This way, sir."
Kirk shook his head with a gentle smile. "Not tonight, Mr. Riley. Tonight, I'm just...Jim."
Riley understood. "Jim. Understood. Please call me Kevin, sir-...uh, Jim. Please call me Kevin, Jim."
The captain nodded. "Kevin."
Riley could understand Kirk's desire to not use his rank. They were both in civilian clothes, after all, and Kirk probably didn't want to draw attention to himself. He was here incognito.
"Lay on MacDuff," Kirk said. The saying brought a smile to Riley's face. Kirk had been fond of quoting Shakespeare back on Tarsus, especially when they were all in tight spot. Kirk would make them tell him what the quote meant. It has been unorthodox, but it had been occupying. Something to focus on besides the fear and the hunger and the death. Riley now found all of Shakespeare's works comforting and familiar. He wondered if that made him a weirdo.
They were stopped at the doors by a man checking their invitations. He passed the man his invitation and his identification card. Riley hoped this would not wind up being a big deal. His invitation did say "Kevin Riley and Guest." Riley was aware that most guests were likely to be spouses, but he didn't have one. And he owed Kirk this.
The guard looked Kirk up and down. "You're the guest of Mr. Riley?" He was clearly skeptical. The guard was a big, squat man, who looked to have been raised on a world with high gravity. Or maybe he was just big. And squat. Riley wasn't prepared to mess with him over getting in, and was wondering if this whole thing had been a hell of a mistake.
Kirk's tone was terse. "I'm escorting my friend." Riley noted that Kirk's jaw had taken the same set it usually did when he was facing off with Klingons.
The guard nodded, clearly unimpressed. "Identification."
The captain faltered, likely having not anticipated having to identify himself this early.
Riley's eyes sought Kirk's. He'd meant to protect his captain, not to reveal him. "We don't have to go in. I can come back some other time."
But Kirk was already pulling out his ident card. "It's all right, Mr. Riley. Let's just... do this."
The guard had observed the interaction closely, and now he pinned Kirk with a look that held considerably more interest than it'd had before. "Identification," he said again.
"I"m getting it," Kirk growled.
The guard took Kirk's ID and looked at the name. His eyes went wide. He looked at Kirk again. And then at the ID. And then again at Kirk.
"You're James Kirk?" The guard's expression was incredulous.
Kirk's eyes had gone hard and defiant. "I am." He said it like he wanted the guard to make something of it. In fact, the captain looked to be spoiling for a fight. Maybe he wanted to blow off his nervous energy.
But if a fight was what Kirk wanted, then he was going to be sorely disappointed, because the guard's eyes had assumed the look of fawning hero worship that a great many people got when looking at Kirk.
"Captain Kirk, sir, its truly an honor to meet you."
Kirk swept a hand through his hair and sighed. Riley fought a sigh as well. Everyone on the ship knew that Kirk hated this kind of attention. But the captain smiled and extended his hand. "And you as well, Mr..."
"Garp, sir. Garp. Just Garp." The man was practically babbling with joy.
"Well, it's nice to meet you also, Mr Garp," said the captain.
"What are you doing here at the museum tonight, captain?" asked the wide eyed, curious, hero worshiper.
Riley felt that it was time to jump in and rescue the other man. "I serve aboard the Enterprise. The captain was kind enough to offer to come with me when he found out I had to come," said Riley.
"Wow," replied the guard, "that's really nice of you, Captain."
Kirk nodded. "Just doing my job."
The guard bowed them both toward the door, "Well, go right in, sir. Go right in."
Kirk thanked the man, and turned to leave, but then thought better of it. "Mr. Garp?"
The guard positively glowed. "Yes, Captain Kirk?"
"Can I ask you a small favor?" Riley recognized the devious tilt of the captain's lips. The man was up to something.
"Anything," replied the awe-struck man.
"It would be better if no one knew that I was here tonight. I would not like to take attention away from the occasion."
Garp nodded. "Of course, captain. Of course. You are very modest. I won't tell a soul, sir."
And he probably wouldn't, Riley knew. Kirk had that affect on people. After about five minutes in his presence, you wanted to protect him, to make him happy. Riley wasn't sure if it was the captain's boundless, boyish energy, or the way he cared about everyone, or what, but no one wanted to let Kirk down.
He was not surprised to see that it was just as true off ship as it was on.
He followed Kirk through the museum's double doors, a half a step behind his captain.
"Thank you for that...Kevin," Kirk said slowly. "I'd appreciate not having to explain my presence here."
"I understand, sir. And you are welcome."
"Your initiative has been duly noted," Kirk replied. It made Riley smile. It was never a bad thing to impress a commanding officer.
Riley was vaguely glad that Kirk had elected to arrive late. It meant the two of them were removed from the majority of the crowd and could wander at leisure a bit behind the noisier, larger mass people. He was overwhelmed at the size of the place. It was enormous. He hadn't been expecting anything like this. He was prepared for something abut the size of the rec room on the ship, maybe with a few pictures and a plaque. But this...was considerably more than that. It was...huge. It was so big that Riley thought if he were to shout, it would echo.
There were exhibits everywhere. It was overwhelming. All these pictures...the memories pressed in on him. His eyes brown eyes sought Kirk's blues in a panicked attempt to reattach to something solid. Kirk was beside him instantly. "Easy, Lieutenant. Easy. Just breathe, Kevin, just breathe."
Kirk was using his command voice. It was a voice used to being obeyed, and Riley was used to obeying it. He nodded at Kirk and took a deep breath. And another. And another, and was surprised to find that he was calm.
"I'm alright, sir. Thank you, captain," he said, and he found he meant it.
"It's no problem. I'm a little overwhelmed as well. And it's Jim," the captain said.
Kevin nodded. "Sorry." It was weird though, calling Kirk by his first name. He didn't really know the captain as "Jim," he knew him as "Captain Kirk." At best, he could say he knew the captain as "JT." But Riley didn't think Kirk would want Riley to call him that. It would be easier just not to call the man anything. Maybe he could try and avoid referring to the man by name until they got back to the ship.
It would be easier.
Neither of them had expected the enormity of the museum or the massive throng of people at the opening. At the time it happened, the Tarsus massacre had gotten a large amount of press, but now it seemed to have been largely forgotten. Oh, people knew about it and sometimes people even talked about it, but it wasn't an everyday topic of conversation. It was good in a way to see that people hadn't forgotten. And that some people cared enough to remember.
The outpouring of compassion was overwhelming. For both of them.
Kirk was quieter than Riley had ever known him to be. Riley could tell he was profoundly affected. The other man's confidence and elegance of body language seemed as clear and as graceful as Riley had ever seen. But the man's uncharacteristic silence conveyed his inner emotions.
The two of them hung to the back and to the outskirts, never approaching nor entering the main group. They watched from a shadowed alcove several meters back as press photos were taken of some of the surviving orphans. Riley pointed out the survivors with whom he had stayed in touch. One of the woman was now running an orphanage for Starfleet dependents. Another woman was raising seven children, none of whom were hers biologically. There was an organic chemist, working at ways to increase food production. There were several teachers. All of them had done pretty significant things with their lives. And it was all thanks to Kirk that any of them had lives to do things with. And none of them even knew if he'd survived.
As the party began to wind down and the group fractured into smaller groups, with most of the press leaving. Riley could not help but feel relief at that. This was not a night for the press. It should have been just survivors here tonight.
"Is that...Tom?" Kirk's quiet voice interrupted Riley's monologue. "Tom Leighton?" The captain was pointing at a man standing some distance away from the main group. The man had black hair and about half of his face was covered by an eye patch. He was holding a cocktail glass and watching the crowd before him. He'd gotten that eye patch on Tarsus after a blaster shot to the side of his head. Leighton had survived it somehow until Kirk had found him. And then JT had nursed the other boy back to health. Leighton had been Kirk's first orphan.
"He's a doctor now. A genetic food researcher," Riley supplied.
Kirk nodded, and Riley noted that his captain's face had gone rather pale. Kirk moved toward the other man as if in a trace. Tom and JT had been very close. Tom Leighton had been Kirk's pseudo-second in command. Leighton had led the group briefly after Kirk had fallen too ill to be moved. They'd been rescued not too long after, and none of them had ever known what happened to Kirk until Riley had recognized him a few weeks ago.
Riley moved a few steps behind his captain, not wanting to interrupt or to impede this reunion in any way, but also not wanting to leave Kirk alone. He had promised himself that he would remain at Kirk's side.
Kirk moved toward Leighton robotically, his blue eyes darker and more hollow looking than Riley had seen since he'd been aboard the ship. In fact, he hadn't seen a look that vacant on anyone's face since he'd left Tarsus. Seeing his long ago friend must have brought some buried memories screaming to the surface of his captain's mind.
"Tom." Kirk spoke the name softly, and the doctor turned to look at him. Leighton dropped his cocktail glass; it hit the floor with a resounding shatter that turned most of the heads in the room. Neither Kirk, nor Leighton seemed to notice. The dark haired man's eyes went wide, and his mouth dropped open in shock.
"JT?" Leighton asked it so softly, it might have been a whisper, a sigh, or a prayer. The doctor had started to shake.
Kirk nodded slowly.
Leighton reached his trembling arms to Kirk's biceps and touched him gently. "JT, my God." This time the doctor spoke reverently, thankfully. The doctor covered his trembling mouth with his hands. "We never knew."
Kirk only nodded. He seemed too overwhelmed to speak.
For a moment, the two only looked at each other oblivious to everyone else in the room. Then Leighton grasped the captain's shoulders and pulled in for a tight embrace. "Thank God. Thank God." Leighton kept repeating the litany, while he hugged Kirk tight to him.
The captain awkwardly patted the other man's back. "It's ok. I'm here. I'm all right."
Watching the two of them together, Riley had a strange sense of deja-vu. It was like he was watching his own reunion with Kirk several weeks before. It had progressed in much the same way. It seemed to him that Kirk and Leighton stood like that for hours, but it was likely only several minutes. And so focused was he on the scene before him that he failed to notice the growing crowd around them.
But as he looked up now, he could see that the three of them were completely surrounded. Mostly by faces he knew. He kept in touch with most of the orphan survivors, so he recognized a great number of them. They were all staring at Kirk. Each of their faces bore the same look of shock and awe and gratitude that now graced Leighton's. But they were maintaining their distance. Giving him his space. Riley wondered at that. They didn't press in on him and bury him a gigantic hug. They didn't run to him or shout.
It was as if each found their gratitude too great for demonstration.
But over the course of the night, every single person came up to Kirk and thanked him. And Kirk, for his part seemed to remember them all. Most approached him quietly, offering no more contact than a hand on his arm, or a caress of his cheek. But each interaction left both parties overwhelmed and teary-eyed. Through it all, Kevin remained at his side. He greeted those who greeted him, but he never moved from his self appointed station.
Hours or perhaps years later, when the museum was nearly deserted, the two men wandered the vast hall. Kirk had retained his uncharacteristic terseness, and was largely silent, reading the displays with a minimum of emotion on his face.
Riley simply observed him. He could always come back later. He wasn't sure why, but he had a feeling that this was harder for Kirk than it was for him. But then Kirk had been older when it happened and probably remembered it better. Also, he'd had Kirk to support him. Kirk had had...well, no one really. Riley wondered if that was still true.
He hoped not.
Later, when the captain was finally ready to leave, the two of them walked out into the night air together. Kirk's eyes immediately sought the stars overhead, and he seemed to relax visibly as he beheld their familiar light. He walked a few steps and Riley saw some of the tension bleed out of the blond man's shoulders.
"Thank you for coming with me, tonight, sir," Riley said. "I know it meant a lot to everyone."
"It meant a lot to me, also, Mr. Riley. It meant a lot to me," the captain supplied.
Riley nodded. He knew it had. He sought his mind for the correct words for what he next wanted to say. "Captain...I hope you know...I just...I hope someday I can be half the man you are. "
Kirk looked stunned. "Kevin, you are a good man."
Oh. He was momentarily speechless.
"I am honored that you think so, sir." It sounded like a stupid platitude, but Riley meant every word of it. Kirk didn't lie. Not about things like this. The captain thought he was a good man.
"I am grateful for your support this evening, Lieutenant. It made the evening considerably...less difficult."
Riley understood. He had never thought the evening would be fun or easy. Just that it was necessary.
"Well, let's go home, Lieutenant," Kirk said, pulling out his communicator.
Riley nodded. "Excellent idea, sir. Let's get out of here."
Kirk smiled. "My sentiments exactly. But thank you for bringing me. It was...helpful."
Riley nodded again. "I'm glad, captain."
Kirk smiled. "Good," and then switching into his command voice, he said, "Enterprise, two to beam up."
A few days later...
All Hell had broken loose. Someone at the museum had recognized Kirk. As Kirk. Not as JT. But as James Tiberius Kirk. And that someone had added two plus two and gotten four.
And then they'd turned him in...to the media. Riley was really hoping someone would kill whoever the bastard was before he had time to spend his thirty pieces of silver. Or however much he'd been paid.
It was being called one of the biggest stories of the decade. Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Savior of Earth (and possibly the Federation), had been discovered to be the mysterious child called JT, who'd single-handedly saved thirty children on Tarsus IV.
It was a circus.
Kirk's kids, they were being called. As if any news station had the right to name them that. They were JT's. They always had been. Learning his last name or true identity didn't change what they always had been.
Someone had gotten a hold of the museum's security footage of Kirk shaking hands with some the other survivors. The shot of Kirk's reunion with Leighton was being replayed constantly. Everything from Kirk's soft exclamation to Leighton's dropped champagne and their awkward hug.
Even now, thinking of it, Riley felt...violated, both for himself, and for Kirk. He wondered how the other orphans felt. He couldn't imagine.
Riley had had beamed back shortly after the second time he was ambushed. He'd been strongly advised to remain aboard by Chief Medical Officer, and Riley found McCoy pretty intimidating. But McCoy did have his best interest in mind. McCoy had told him that kind of stress could kill a person. So he was going to stay aboard. Really, who wanted to beam down to Earth anyway?
The doctor's eyes had been strangely sympathetic though. And the lectures about unsafe practices didn't quite have the same zing as normal.
The only nice thing that had happened so far was that the security guard from the exhibit appeared to be keeping his mouth shut. Or maybe he hadn't been offered enough money to sell his story yet.
Riley was aware that his thoughts were not charitable. Then again, he wasn't sure his thoughts needed to be.
This was violation of the worst order.
Command staff were apparently considering recalling the entire Enterprise crew from shore leave. It wasn't like any of them could move without being mobbed by reporters. Riley had retreated to the ship after reporters had found him...twice. His own status as one of the orphan survivor's had been well known, but it had never really been a source of notoriety before. He'd been interviewed about his experiences before, mostly for textbooks, and always in an academic kind of setting... Never in this mad sort of frenzy.
They reminded him of sharks.
Anything to get a piece.
Riley had tried to relax in his quarters, but even there he was being visited by members of the crew. They were sympathetic, but curious. They loved their captain. They just wanted to understand him. But Tarsus wasn't something Kevin ever talked about. Not to anyone. Not even to Kirk.
There was just too much there. Too many people told him that he had to deal with his feelings. But that wasn't the case. He'd talked about a little in therapy, but that kind of grief couldn't be measured out. It just kind of a hardened over, like a scar.
It was a kind of wound that didn't heal. It just stopped bleeding.
It was the not the kind of thing survivors discussed. Sometimes, alone with each other, maybe. But not before anyone else. You relived that sort of thing in your dreams every night. You didn't need to discuss it waking.
And it was bad enough, when they just wanted to know about Riley. Kevin could sometimes deal with inquiries about himself. But he sure as hell couldn't deal with questions about Kirk.
Kirk had been his savior. His Hero. His Everything.
And Kirk had asked for nothing in return.
All he had sought to do was to save lives. And now the captain couldn't even preserve his privacy. It was making Riley irrationally angry. He'd already kicked a hole in his desk. And punched his wall. More than once. His knuckles were likely broken.
He didn't care.
Riley paced like a large cat he'd once seen in a zoo. He ought to go down to sickbay. He should talk more to McCoy. He should get a sedative.
He stalked from one side of his room the other. And he thanked God that he was an officer and didn't have a roommate.
He was diverted from his pacing by the beeping of his computer console. He had new messages. Yeah, he snorted, he knew that. He was inundated with them. All requests for exposes of Kirk. Interviews about Kirk. Kirk then and Kirk now.
Riley wanted to hit someone.
He opened his new message. And his stomach dropped so fast, he nearly vomited.
Pavel Chekov, a good friend, had sent him a head's up about the latest news broadcast, thinking that Riley should know before he got asked about it and had to view it in public.
There were pictures.
He wondered how they'd gotten these. God had someone looted the museum? Or paid it off? Some of them had to be classified. There was Kirk, in his official Starfleet photo. There were older grainier ones from all those years ago, probably taken of a survielence camera.
Some of them Riley had seen before. There were some of the group of orphans, pale and thin and tragic, waving cheerlessly at the camera.
There were a couple shots of the camps, and one of the palace court yard. Riley closed his eyes against the memory.
There was a new one Riley had never seen before of Kirk carrying Kevin. And there was no denying the eyes. As Riley had had cause to note before, the color was unmistakable.
There was another shot of Kirk in the hospital, not long after Starfleet had relieved Tarsus. Kirk had been desperately sick then, and no one had expected him to live. The scars on his body were clearly visible despite the various tubes and machines the boy was hooked up to.
And worst of all. There was a video of Kirk being whipped.
James Kirk, who hid all weaknesses. James Kirk, who never admitted needing help. James Kirk exposed to all the Federation to see his scars.
Riley turned the monitor off.
Kevin would remember that day for all his life. He didn't need to see it again.
Riley closed his eyes in shock. This was too much. He could not deal with this.
He wondered where the captain was. He wondered how many of the crew had seen it.
It was going to be a nightmare of a day.
Riley left his room in disgust. He wanted to work. He needed to DO something. He headed toward engineering. He'd recently been promoted to the communications area under Uhura, but just now he wanted to get his hands dirty. Plus, Scotty wasn't likely to ask him about his feelings.
Riley walked with a purposed intention and a glare on his face; people fought to get out of his way.
The chief engineer took one look at Riley's face and handed him a spanner and pointed at a panel. No questions. No fuss. Riley liked that about the Scotsman.
He'd been working for several hours when he felt a presence beside him. Expecting the engineer, Riley started to explain the progress he'd made on the unit.
"I am well aware of Mr. Scott's modifications, Lieutenant." It wasn't Scotty. It was First Officer Spock. Riley fought back a sigh. It wasn't that he disliked the Vulcan. It was just that they didn't really get on. Spock was difficult to talk to, for a junior officer. He wasn't the first person that Riley wanted to talk to on a bad day.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said, "I thought you were Mr. Scott."
"I surmised as much," said the Vulcan, lifting an eyebrow.
Riley waited. He wondered what the commander wanted. Spock wasn't the kind of person to seek Riley out for no reason. But Spock was a friend of Kirk's, right? Maybe the science officer was curious about his captain's past.
Well, he wasn't getting any information out of Riley.
"Can I help you, sir?" Damn, he was bordering on insubordinate. He turned his anger down a notch. This wasn't Spock's fault.
The Vulcan had raised an eyebrow, again. "Have you seen the captain?"
"No, I haven't, sir," Riley said. Why would Spock want to know that? Couldn't they just ask the computer. "Why? Isn't he still on shore leave?"
Something imperceptible changed about the Vulcan's features, making them softer. "The captain beamed back this morning shortly after the morning news broke." Ah. Of course. Kirk wouldn't have stayed on the planet in the face of that kind of scrutiny.
"Can't you ask the computer where he is?" Riley was certain that the Vulcan ought to have thought of that.
"The captain is unfortunately most proficient at computer reprogramming." Oh. That explained it. They couldn't find him. And the computer couldn't tell them where he was.
He had to admire the elegance of it. Jim Kirk didn't want to deal with this now. So Jim Kirk wasn't dealing with it now. It made a kind of sense. "Why are you looking for him, sir? Isn't he still on leave?"
Spock's face remained impassive. "I wished to ascertain his mental condition." Riley translated that into standard. Spock wanted to know how Kirk was doing. Wow. Riley had never heard of the Vulcan doing that for anyone else. Maybe they were friends.
But Riley thought he knew where Kirk was. He was surprised that Spock didn't.
"I don't know where he is, sir. I haven't seen him today." That at least was the truth.
Spock seemed to hesitate. "If you do see the captain..."
"I will tell him that you're looking for him, sir," Riley interjected. That way he didn't have to promise that he'd tell the Vulcan where Kirk was. If the captain didn't want to be found, then Riley wasn't giving him up.
Once the Vulcan left, Riley put down his spanner and made his way out of engineering. He remembered the other night, and the way the captain had relaxed upon seeing the stars. If Riley was a betting man, he'd wager the captain was on the observation deck.
He made his way up there slowly, unsure if he was correct or not about Kirk's location.
When he reached the observation deck, he noticed that the light was off and the room appeared unoccupied. If anyone else had thought to check here, they would have likely continued straight on, which is why Riley went in.
He'd been right. James Kirk had leaned his chest against the window, with his arms pillowing his head against the cool transparent aluminum. Riley could not see his face, but the tension in the man's body was visible even in this light and from this distance.
Riley made sure to step especially hard as he approached the captain, not wanting to surprise other man. To his surprise, the captain didn't change position to appear more relaxed or confident. It was highly unusual. Riley had never seen Kirk show weakness or tension before any of his crew. Riley had never seen the man look so much as tired. But Kirk didn't move as Riley sat next to him.
Riley didn't say anything. He just sat beside the other man.
Kirk for his part, said nothing either. Riley was reminded of Kirk's terseness a few nights before. It was unusual for the other man to be this quiet. It was also really usual for the man to be this still. It was kind of freaking Riley out.
Kirk was usually in constant motion, too energetic to be still. Even in the command chair, the captain fidgeted constantly. It was only during battle that he ever went this still.
Finally, Riley could stand it no longer. "Mr. Spock is looking for you, sir."
Kirk sighed. "I know." He spoke without looking up. "I'm not ready to talk to him. Or Bones."
Riley wished he could see the other man's face. "I can understand that, Captain. I've never told anyone that I was there. Not anyone who didn't know."
Kirk nodded. Or Riley thought he had. It was difficult to tell with the other man's arms in front of his face. "Yeah. Me neither."
"It was just too hard, you know," Riley knew Kirk would understand.
They were quiet a long time. The captain didn't move. So neither did Riley. He would stay here as long as the captain needed him.
Later that day...
Riley didn’t know how long he’d been sitting next to Kirk. Hours, probably. He’ d been expecting on of the captain’s friends to have found them by now. But no one had come yet. Maybe they were respecting the man’s privacy. Or maybe, they just hadn’t realized where the captain was hiding.
Kirk hadn’t moved. He was standing exactly where he had been when Kevin came in, just staring out the the viewport at the stars, with his forehead pressed tight to the glass. Riley didn’t think the captain was truly seeing the stars though. No. The captain was seeing things long past, things practically forgotten from a barren, famine-ridden planet many, many years ago.
Riley was surprised that he’d found the captain first. He’d thought it would be the doctor, or Commander Spock. They both knew the man better. But no. It had been Riley. And Riley wasn’t sure what to think about that. The other man was kind, certainly, and had lived through all manner of shit with him, but they weren't...close. Not really. Not in any way that counted.
But maybe, in the only way that counted.
Riley slid to the floor, unspeaking. He could guess that the captain didn’t really want to talk right now. Especially not about his feelings. Not to anyone. Least of all to someone who might expect him to talk about why he had not said anything about being the ONLY hero of the greatest clusterfuck the Federation had ever seen.
Riley knew this would be asked of Kirk. He knew it because he knew that Kirk wasn’t listed among the survivors. Nor among the dead.
Riley knew that the captain wasn’t ashamed of what he’d done on Tarsus. Not exactly...but just...he'd lost so many. The man had given up so much of himself, of his innocence. His childhood. Riley didn't think the captain should have to share his feelings about what he saw as his failures too.
Riley would worship the man forever. In his mind, Kirk had made no mistakes. But he understood the way his captain thought.
Riley shifted his back against the glass, trying to get comfortable. He heard the captain sigh. He could tell that Kirk was tired. Kirk pressed his hands against the glass beside his head and sighed again.
The captain’s head hit the glass with a small thud. Riley looked up at him sharply. Kirk did not appear to notice. The captain let his head hit the glass again. And again. And again.
Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.
Riley wrapped his head around his captain’s ankle. Kirk looked down at him. Riley shook his head, ever so slightly.
Kirk smiled faintly. “All right, Lieutenant, I'll stop."
Riley nodded. “Thank you, sir.” He was sure his relief must have shown on his face.
Kirk’s look softened into something incredibly fond. “You know, with that look on your face, Mister Riley, look just like that orphaned boy I found all those years ago.”
“Yes, Kev.” Kev. That had been what Kirk called him all those years ago. “You were only six or so. You remember?”
“There’s no way I could ever forget it, JT. You carried me,” Riley smiled at the memory.
“I had nothing to offer you. But, I couldn’t leave you there.” Kirk said wistfully.
“I am exceedingly glad you didn’t, sir.”
Kirk laughed a little. “Yeah, me too.” He looked down at Riley. “Alright. Time to face the music. Stay a bit, Kev?”
Riley knew immediately what Kirk was asking. “As long as you need, sir.”
“Okay, then.” Kirk nodded. He squared his shoulders, and pressed the comm button on the panel beside the viewer. “Commander Spock and Doctor McCoy to the Observation Deck.”
Kirk was silent for a while. Then he said, “Parts of this might be uncomfortable for you to listen to.”
The captain hadn’t phrased it as a question, but Riley knew it for what it was. “I’ll stay, Captain.”
“Okay,” Kirk nodded again.
Riley didn’t really know the captain all that well, but years ago he had known JT, and he could see the other man was bracing himself for something. Riley looked away to give the man some privacy. He stared at the carpet between his feet.
He heard the other two men enter, and he listened to the tread of their shoes on the soft carpet and determined that, yes, they were both here. Walking side by side, from the sound of it.
Kirk waited to speak until they had come to a stop behind him. Riley pictured them without looking up. Commander Spock would have assumed parade rest, hands behind his back. And McCoy would likely be leaning against the wall, his weight propped one hip as he fidgeted restlessly. Riley glanced up at Kirk, and found his guess confirmed by the positions of the other two officers.
"Gentlemen." Kirk spoke without turning, keeping his head against the cool glass. He looked like the point of contact between the glass and his head was the only thing keeping him from floating into space.
The other two officers spoke nearly at the same time. Both of their voices were soft, and neither seemed to hold any demands of Kirk. That was good. Kirk probably couldn’t handle many more demands.
The two of them had moved to stand on either side of Kirk. After a long period had passed, the doctor spoke up. "I still don't like space, but damn...this is beautiful."
Kirk cleared his throat. “Yeah, it is. I’ve always liked it.”
Riley knew that whatever conversation was about to happen, was not necessarily one in which he was supposed to speak.
“So, I guess I owe the two of you a story.” Kirk’s manner seemed resigned, but not defeated.
“Only if you want, Jim. We don’t want to push you into anything,” McCoy's draw was warm and comforting to Riley’s ears, and he thought that it must have been very comforting to Kirk, who knew him better.
“Doctor McCoy is correct, Captain. We do not wish to intrude, merely to offer you support,” interjected Commander Spock.
“I’m guessing that you’ve seen the news holos.” Kirk asked. He did not wait for them to answer before he spoke again. But Kevin supposed an answer was not necessary.
"Every night in my dreams, I'm fourteen and I'm holding this girl Emily that I don't even fucking know, and she's so hungry, she's begging me to kill her. Or I'm killing some guard I've never seen before with my bare hands, because he found the camp and I can't afford to have him get back to them. Or I'm eating shit and rubber, and grass and throwing it all up anyway. And at the end, I was so fucking sick, and I didn't even know who had survived until more than a year later when I got out of the hospital. I'm not a fucking hero, okay. I wasn't being brave, I was scared shitless the whole fucking time. And this, fucking this, is what I have to show for it." Kirk pulled up the back of his golden pull-over.
The whip scars had silvered over time, faded to white. But the captain’s back was covered with scars. There was barely an inch of the man’s back not covered in scar tissue. The scarring was so extensive that it could be seen easily, even in the dim light from the stars out the viewport. Riley didn’t really need to look. He’d seen it the day it happened.
“Jim.” McCoy moved towards the captain as if pulled to him a string.
“It’s alright, Bones.” The captain held up a hand to keep the doctor at a distance. Kirk might have needed the space to get through this. “It infected almost immediately and went untreated. There was some sort of venom in the whip. It was healed by the time the Federation ships came.”
Riley saw movement out of the corner of his eye and looked up to see Doctor McCoy’s gentle hands drawing the shirt back down. Covering the scars. And then, slowly, rubbing careful circles on the captain’s shoulder blades. “You could have the scar tissue fixed, Jim,” McCoy said quietly.
“No. I can’t.” The captain said. “It’s a reminder. I have to keep it.”
Riley risked a glance at the first officer, who had been very quiet during this exchange. Commander Spock was staring at Kirk, with a strange expression on his face.
Kirk was speaking again. “You know, no one has ever seen my back since it healed. It was...too private, you know. I’ve never exposed it to anyone. Before today.”
Kirk paused, and took several deep breaths as though he needed to prepare for himself for what he was about to say. “Now the whole fucking Federation has seen it. Saw it happen. Saw me screaming as my back was torn open.”
Kirk banged his head off the glass again. “Fuck my life.”
Riley noticed that McCoy was still rubbing circles into Kirk’s back, and murmuring softly.
“The other holo you probably saw was of me and Riley at the museum.” Kirk said after some time.
Riley started at the mention of his name. McCoy looked startled, as though he’d forgotten that Riley was there. Riley didn’t mind. The captain was the focus of this little meeting, after all.
“Mr. Riley’s name appears on the Federation manifests as a survivor of the Tarsus massacre. He is one of only eight survivors known to have seen the face of Kodos.” Commander Spock spoke up.
McCoy looked down at Riley wide-eyed.
“Nine.” Riley corrected.
The other two men looked down at Riley in surprise. He nodded towards his captain. “Nine,” he repeated.
The other two officers both started speaking at the same time, but both stopped immediately.
The first officer looked down at Riley. “Please continue, Lieutenant.”
Riley looked at Kirk. Kirk stared back, and then gave him a small nod.
“I was really young. I don’t remember it that well. I...I....” he trailed off. Riley didn’t know what to say. He had chosen to be part of the survivor’s network. But the captain had hidden his involvement. And Riley didn’t have the right to tell Kirk’s story.
Kirk rescued him, again. “Kevin about six or so. I found him. He was trying to wake his mother. She'd been dead for days. "So picked him up and brought him with me. He was my youngest."
Riley closed his eyes. It was never easy to think about. The doctor made an abortive move towards him, but stopped himself. “For which I have been forever grateful, sir.”
McCoy nodded, pulling Kirk from his position at the window and into an embrace. And Kirk appeared momentarily disoriented at the loss of his anchor against the cool surface of the viewer and stumbled a bit, tripping forward. McCoy wrapped both arms around him and held him tight.
Kirk protested. "Aw, Bones-"
"Shut up, Jim," growled McCoy. He squeezed the captain a little bit tighter, and said, "You are a good man, Jim Kirk. A good man." Kirk seemed momentarily speechless. That was quite an accomplishment. "Even if you are a pain in the ass," McCoy continued.
Kirk smiled for what had to be the only the second time all day. "Thanks."
"I, too, think you have many positive attributes, captain." Spock spoke for the first time in many minutes.
"Wow, Spock, um...thanks." Riley could tell that Kirk wasn't exactly sure how to respond to that statement, but he figured that Spock had meant it as a compliment.
There was a brief awkward silence when Riley offered, “Captain, you are the one man in my life by which all others are judged.”
Kirk looked down at him with shock in his eyes. Then his expression softened, and he said, “Well, it was a life worth saving.” And he smiled.
The four of them were quiet for a while longer, when McCoy finally asked, "Which list were you on, Jim?"
Kirk had been waiting for that. "I was blond, with blue eyes and Kodos picked according to eugenics. I was his favorite until I refused to sleep with him. After that he mostly left me alone until he caught me stealing food for the other kids. That's when he had me whipped and sentenced me to death. I remember praying that I wouldn't survive the whipping. Almost didn't actually. After that they just left me in a cell to die." Kirk shrugged. "I don't remember that much of it. My kids all thought I died."
“Yeah, we did.” Riley spoke up. “There are about thirty of us, that he saved. We never knew what happened to him. Most of the group thought he had died. But some had not given up searching for him. When I came aboard-”
“You recognized him."
“Yes, Doctor McCoy, I did. It was the eyes.”
"You are not on any of the Federation lists, Jim, for having survived or perished." Spock supplied.
Kirk smiled. "I know Spock. No one can even prove I was present. The coding on Kobyashi Maru was a joke compared to hacking the Federation Intelligence Database when I was fifteen. Took me the better part of year."
Spock nodded, raising one eyebrow, but evidently Kirk knew that expression. "Better you don't ask, Spock. Plausible deniability. God forbid the Federation finds out about all the things hacked into at that age. Let’s just say I was very angry young man. I thought most of my kids had died.
Spock's eyebrows rose even further at that comment.
The silence that followed seemed very natural. Comfortable even. Riley liked it. No one was fighting to find appropriate words.
Kirk slid down the wall to sit on the floor beside Riley. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you guys, it's just...it's something I don't talk about. Not ever. There just aren't words for what happened."
McCoy slid to the floor beside Kirk, and after a few moments of the doctor’s concerted glaring at the Vulcan, Commander Spock did as well. McCoy spoke first, "Jim, we know why you didn't tell us. We just wanted to make sure you were alright."
Good. That was good, Riley thought. These were good friends. Good people to support the best man he knew.
"The doctor is correct." Commander Spock's words were simple, but heart-warming.
Kirk nodded, his head in his hands. "I'm not you know. Not okay," he clarified, looking up.
The first officer nodded. "We know, Jim."
And the four of them returned to sitting in silence. McCoy placed his hand on Kirk's shoulder, and squeezed it gently. "It's okay, kid."
“No, it isn’t. But will be.” Kirk said.
This is a rewrite of an earlier version of this chapter.
This piece is complete for now, but if I feel like adding to it later, I will.