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*****

Andy was in love, and it was really starting to piss Jimmy off.

It wasn’t so much Zayarella herself—she was nice enough, Jimmy supposed, though she never seemed to be able to remember his name—it was more the kind of reverent admiration she apparently inspired in everyone but Jimmy.

Zayarella—who insisted they call her Z—was human, and had trained to be a pilot at the Academy. But somehow she had learned the four major dialects of Forshan, just like Andy, the complex polite forms of Vaskar, and even the baffling metaphoric language of Shantil III. More than once Jimmy had sat down to morning mess with Andy and Z only to be shut out of all conversation because they were communicating in eyeblinks or something. So she was supernumerary in Linguistics.

Just like Andy.

And it wasn’t just the linguistics—Z dabbled in all sorts of xenospirituality, and although she hadn’t actually converted Andy to anything yet, Jimmy suspected she was working pretty hard to win him over on the tantric front.

Well. It was Duvall who mostly suspected that last one, and brought up their sex life—or lack thereof, Jimmy thought, not entirely unkindly, at nearly every opportunity. Andy blushed a lot during those moments, while Z merely smiled and looked . . . optimistic.

Duvall liked Z.  As did Hester. And Kerensky, who still hung around with them because of what they’d all been through together. And the other senior officers who interacted with her.

It was really pissing Jimmy off, and he couldn’t put his finger on why.

“I don’t get it,” Jimmy said to Hester, one night on shore leave. He watched Duvall and Z tossing back a truly disturbing number of pink fizzy drinks in the station bar, while Andy smiled at the two women, his arm slung across Z’s shoulders. “Why does Maia get along with her so well?” And I can’t stand her?

Hester shrugged. “She’s overcompensating for her sometimes-more-than-friendly feelings towards Andy? She’s glad there’s finally another woman on the bridge? She can talk about sex with someone besides Kerensky?” He caught the expression on Jimmy’s face.  “What?”

“I didn’t know you were studying to be ship’s counselor,” Jimmy said, teasingly.

Hester shrugged again. “I thought I should learn how to understand people better,” he said. “Like you do.” He paused, and then leaned in conspiratorially. “Have you considered that you might be jealous of Z?”

Jimmy said, frowning, “What?”

“I mean, Andy’s been your best friend for years,” Hester went on, oblivious to Jimmy’s stiffening expression. “You’ve been through a lot together, and suddenly this new ensign shows up and starts taking up all of his time. New relationships are hard on any friendship, right? Just look at what happened when Maia started dating Anatoly.”

“We figured out that we were on a fictional show, lost Finn, went back in time to convince the writers of our show to stop killing us off, switched you out for you, and through that highly idiosyncratic set of experiences, became more closely bonded together as friends?” Jimmy said, ticking the points off on his fingers.

“Okay, bad example.” Hester leaned back in his chair and shot Jimmy an appraising glance. “But think about it.”

*****

Jimmy thought about it the next day, while he was doing some utterly routine sensor calibration on deck eight, which some ensign really should have been assigned to instead of him.

His mind drifted to the first time he had met Andy, at the coffee shop, because he had decided somewhere along the line that this sort of job was how he could really get to know people without his father’s money getting in the way.

It was his second week on the job. He was great at service with a smile, which was the only thing putting credits in his tip jar. Not that he needed it, of course, but still. Jimmy had messed up more drinks than he cared to count, but he was keeping track anyway. “Hansons always keep a balanced sheet”, Dad liked to say. He’d pay the manager back at the end of the month.

“Hi,” the handsome guy at the counter said. Nothing really special about his attractiveness; in the 25th century, good-looking guys were a dime a dozen. Less, maybe, if you factored in inflation. But there was something remarkably serene about him. In the middle of the morning rush, that was surprising. Most people came in impatient and twitchy—or worse.

“What can I get you?” Jimmy asked.

“Just a regular coffee,” the guy said. He smiled. “It’ll be my first real cup of coffee in a few years.”

Jimmy had been pretty sure he couldn’t screw that up. “Sounds like a long story,” he said, pouring the cup and handing it over the counter. And then, on a whim he would never be able to explain to himself—”How about we get some lunch later and you tell it to me?”

“Jimmy, right?” the guy asked, leaning in to peer at his nametag.

Jimmy gave him the smile that had won over his first investors at the age of four. “Yep. And you are?”

The guy switched his coffee cup around in his hands and extended the right to shake. “Andy. If I remember correctly, there’s a quiet little place around the corner?”

“Great,” Jimmy said, shaking Andy’s hand with his most charming grip. “1200 hours?”

Andy grinned. “It’s a date.”

“OH MY GOD, STOP FLIRTING AND SERVE THE NEXT CUSTOMER,” Jimmy’s manager bellowed. It would only be hours later that Jimmy remembered he now owed her for yet another coffee.

Jimmy grinned at the memory—and then frowned, puzzled. But that wasn’t how he had met Andy, because he also remembered seeing Andy’s face clear across the lecture hall at the Academy in their biology class, and again in the lab section later that week.

And—had he really been flirting with Andy in the coffee shop the first time they met?

That didn’t happen, he told himself firmly. But why had it popped into his head?

His phone chirped with new tasks then, and Jimmy forgot all about the strange pseudo-memory until later.

*****

“Chief West loves my redesign of the control panel,” Z was saying, as Jimmy sat down to evening mess with his friends that evening. “He thinks it’s much more intuitive and user-friendly.”

“What’s to intuit?” Hester wanted to know. “It’s one button.” Z gave him a brief smile, and shrugged.

“What are you talking about?” Jimmy asked.

“Z’s part of the team working on the prototype matter relocator,” Duvall explained.

“It’s not a big deal, really,” Z said. “We’re applying some of the same quantum principles as the matter synthesizer, and just adding spatiotemporal equations, the atomic visualizing scan, and a curvilinear limitation ray.”

Jimmy snuck a sideways puzzled glance at Hester, who returned a similarly baffled look. Then he looked across the table at Andy, whose eyes were firmly fixed on Z.

“Uh, sounds interesting,” Hester said.

“They’re installing the prototype on the Animas tomorrow,” Z said. Andy got to see some of the short range tests already.” She put her hand on top of his where it was resting on the table. Jimmy frowned.

*****

“When did Z get a transfer to engineering?” Jimmy asked Hester in a low voice as they left the mess hall together.

Hester shot him a curious look. “She didn’t. She’s just volunteering a shift or two since she knows so much about quantum physics.”

“Wait, seriously?” Jimmy said, stopping in his tracks. “Z’s the best pilot we’ve got, knows more languages than Andy, throws drinks back like Maia, and she’s an amateur quantum physicist on top? What’s next? Is Z an expert on 20th century TV too?”

Hester said, mostly teasingly, “Have you given any more thought to the theory that you might be jealous?”

Jimmy glared at him.

“Seriously, though, have you considered talking to Z? Get to know her without Andy around,” Hester said.

“That’s just it,” Jimmy said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without Andy.”

Hester grinned. “Jealous.”

“Shut up.”

*****

In his quarters that night, Jimmy remembered the weird memory from before, about the coffee shop. And then he thought about whether he could really have been flirting with Andy in a not-real memory, and that led to thinking about the time he had let himself into Andy’s quarters with champagne after Andy got out of sick bay the first time and they had made out.

Which led to thinking about the time he had paid, in full, for all the blowjobs everyone owed Andy for dealing with Kerensky’s drunk ass.

Wait, what? Sitting straight up in bed, feeling alternately confused and kind of aroused, Jimmy said to the empty room, “What the hell is happening?”

He got out of bed and went to his workstation. That didn’t happen, but it felt like it did. Just like the Narrative used to do to us. Jimmy dug up his old research on science-fiction television shows, and spent an hour reading up on old intrusive memory-related plots, and then mirror universe plots, where he quickly discovered that alternate universes were a fairly common concept across shows. But as he kept reading, alternate universes kept cropping up as a concept in something else:

Which led him down another rabbit hole of research, which led to . . .

*****

Jimmy knocked. The panel slid open, and the yeti appeared. “What do you want?”

“I think we have a Mary Sue on board,” Jimmy said.

*****

Inside, after Jimmy had explained his research, sticking strictly to the idea that Z was a Narrative-like creation and not divulging anything about the other stuff that kept happening, which was really only in his own mind, anyway, Jenkins asked, “Why would somebody give a supporting character a girlfriend?”

Jimmy was ready for this. “It kind of happened on Star Trek—one of the spinoffs. The genius kid came back to the ship and spent the whole episode solving the plot with a completely new character, who was pretty, smart, and good at things. And at the end of the show, they kissed.” He shrugged, and tried to look nonchalant. “So it’s been done before. Maybe there’s a new writer who’s a fan of Andy’s actor and wanted to see him paired off with somebody.”

Jenkins raised an eyebrow, or at least it sort of looked like he did. “I told Dahl when the series ended, remember? If we’d gotten a spinoff I’m pretty sure I would know about it.” He peered at Jimmy. “I think you’re not giving me complete information to work with here.”

“I’m telling you—”

“Everything you want me to know about, and not the stuff that you don’t.” Jenkins tapped his temple. “I might be a nutjob, but I can still figure people out. And I’ve spent enough time around you and the others that I can tell when you’re keeping things from each other.”

Jimmy sighed. “Fine. Mary Sues are a fanfic thing.”

Jenkins nodded. “They sure are,” he said.

“Talk about keeping things from people,” Jimmy said. “You knew about fanfic?”

“I’ve spent longer thinking about the Narrative and what that all means than anybody, except maybe the writers of the show,” Jenkins said. “I know a few things. But I have to ask, again, why would somebody, especially a fanfic writer, give a supporting character a girlfriend who is a Mary Sue?”

Jimmy stared at him.

“You think Andy’s the main character,” Jenkins said. It wasn’t a question. “Have you talked to him about that?”

Very reluctantly, Jimmy said, “Yes.”

“I bet that was an interesting conversation,” Jenkins said.

“It wasn’t great,” Jimmy said.

“Have you talked to him about whatever’s happening to make you think fanfic about him is a thing?” Jenkins asked.

“Hey, I just figured this out myself,” Jimmy said, defensively.

“You should probably talk to him about it,” Jenkins said.

*****

So Jimmy did, leaving out the bits where Andy kissed him or he gave Andy a blowjob, because that was . . . complicated.

“Weinstein promised,” Andy said. “And no one’s died in really stupid ways except for that one time with the holorec, and that was entirely Ensign Lake’s own fault for trying to put his dick in—” he made a complicated gesture with his hands—”that. It’s not the Narrative.” He smiled. “But I suppose you’d be the one to know.”

Jimmy wrapped a hand around his coffee mug and tried to match Andy’s calm demeanor. “It’s not that, exactly,” he said. “It’s just that I look at you and . . .” he trailed off.

Andy was staring at him. “You look at me and what?”

Jimmy paused. “I look at you and I have memories of things that didn’t happen,” he said, carefully. “Things that feel right in the moment, but when I think about them, they can’t be real.”

“Okay, that’s more convincing,” Andy said, looking concerned. He was going to continue when both their phones chirped with emergency calls to the bridge. Jimmy thought that was weirdly coincidental, but didn't think it was a good time to point that out. 

*****

On the bridge, the captain was taking suggestions for how to get through an area of dense, constantly shifting gravitational anomalies. Q’eeng shot down several illogical options, and then said, “A shuttle could traverse the region just ahead of the ship and send back navigational data as the situation changes.”

Z unstrapped from the pilot’s chair and stood up to face Captain Abernathy. “I’m the best pilot you’ve got, sir,” she said. “It has to be me.”

“You’ll need someone to calculate the trajectory,” Andy said, starting to unstrap from his station.

“Lieutenant Dahl, since when did you study astrogation?” Abernathy asked. “Kerensky, you’re with Z. Keep your phones on.” Kerensky nodded and gestured for Z to precede him off the bridge.

Jimmy looked at Andy. He knew what Andy had to be thinking—that if Kerensky was with Z, she would be all right. But that was the old Narrative, the thought crept into his mind, and he felt a chill go down his spine.

A tense half-hour passed as Z piloted and Kerensky transmitted a constant stream of heading changes over the phone. Then, Q’eeng said, “Captain, I’m detecting a very large anomaly forming dead ahead. The shuttle cannot avoid it in time. It will tear the shuttle, and the Intrepid, apart.”

“If I overload the shuttle’s engine core inside the anomaly, I can collapse it,” Z’s voice came over the phone.

“Ensign, use the prototype and get yourself and Kerensky out of there,” Abernathy said.

“I just need another minute—” Z protested.

“That’s an order!” Abernathy’s usual non-Narrative composure was faltering.

There was a sound like bees stuck in windchimes. Kerensky materialized on the floor of the bridge and fell over.

“Z shoved me in the prototype relocator,” Kerensky gasped as the bridge medic dropped to his knees beside him and began to scan for injuries. He looked up at Abernathy, and then at Andy, who had risen to his feet beside his station, his face pale. “There was nothing I could do.”

Jimmy curled his hands into equally useless fists at his side and stared at the lights of the shuttle as it disappeared into the invisible anomaly. A heartbeat passed, and then the view screen lit up with the explosion.

*****

“Look, I hate to say it, but we’re definitely back in some kind of Narrative,” Jimmy said, later, after all the reports had been filed and Kerensky had gotten out of sick bay. They were in Andy’s quarters; Jimmy was keeping an eye on him at the request of their other two friends, who had to be on duty. Well, an eye and a steady hand for pouring the wine, Jimmy thought. He tried not to think about the not-real memory of bringing champagne to Andy’s quarters.

“That is such bullshit. Weinstein promised,” Andy said again, slurring his words slightly. “And Jenkins said the series finale was that week five months ago when Abernathy and Q’eeng had to stop the universe from being destroyed by multiple time traveling versions of themselves.” He stared into the depths of his glass. “And it’s been so quiet since then.”

“I know, but think about it,” Jimmy said. “I told you about those intrusive memories I’ve been having. Like how the Narrative used to take over and you’d think all these things that you couldn’t possibly know.”

“It hasn’t happened to me in a long time, Jimmy,” Andy said. “I know I said I wanted to know the truth about reality, but this isn’t the time. Z died.”

Jimmy said, “Like Finn died? It’s not the Narrative, but it’s a kind of one.” He hesitated, and then said, “It’s fanfic.”

“What?”

“It’s a kind of Narrative, but not written by Weinstein or any of the people on the show. It’s stories about you, written by people who read about you.”

“Since I’m fictional and all,” Andy said, sounding more sober. “Jimmy, I haven’t had the Narrative get me for five months.”

“You only think that because you’re still in a Narrative,” Jimmy persisted. “It’s just made up by different people now.”

“Z was real to me,” Andy said, defensively. “I loved her.” Jimmy flinched at that, unexpectedly, and the sudden tight feeling in his chest pushed him to ask, “Why were you on the bridge when she died?”

“What?” Andy said, again.

“It wasn’t your rotation to be on the bridge. You were supposed to be supervising the xenobiology lab.”

“It’s not a fucking story anymore,” Andy said, pissed. “I’m telling you this is my life.” He stood up and turned away.

Jimmy couldn’t stop the words from spilling out. “And I’m telling you that you were put there to watch her die.

Andy wheeled back around, his eyes harder than Jimmy had ever seen them, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides like he was holding back from throwing a punch.  “Get. Out.”

Jimmy got out, feeling stupid and upset. He was headed back to his own quarters when a panel opened and the yeti unceremoniously pulled him into the cargo tunnels.

“You were right about Z being a Mary Sue,” Jenkins said. He tapped at his tablet, which glowed blue and turned his face into weird shadows. “Her death fits the pattern of virtuous self-sacrifice on behalf of the people she loved. It’s classic.”

“That’s not making me feel any better,” Jimmy said, turning away and slapping at the controls to escape. The panel slid open, and he stepped through into the corridor.

“I thought you’d like to know.” Jenkins stood in the gap but didn’t follow him. “Shouldn’t you be consoling Lieutenant Dahl? He’ll be needing a shoulder to cry on right about now.”

“Leave me alone,” Jimmy snapped.

Jenkins backed off. “I’m just saying, now is the time to reaffirm your friendship,” he said. Then the panel slid closed again.

*****

The days that followed were awkward, especially Z’s memorial service. Jimmy stood with Duvall and Hester in their uncomfortable dress uniforms while Abernathy gave a moving eulogy. Afterwards, Jimmy lingered as Andy placed a single flower on the empty casket, unsure of what he would say, but feeling like he should be there regardless.

Then Andy straightened up with an odd look on his face, and stepped back. He said nothing to Jimmy, but reached out briefly to touch his shoulder as he left.

Jimmy figured that was better than nothing.

*****

A day later, Jimmy stood at attention in front of Abernathy’s desk. “You wanted to see me, captain?”

“Yes, please have a seat.” Abernathy waved him to the chair. Jimmy dropped into it and looked across the desk at the captain expectantly.

“As you know, we are en route to Melllvar II to pick up the visiting Dub U ambassador. The Melllvarians are throwing a going-away reception for the ambassador, and I thought you might like to attend,” Abernathy said.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but why would you think that, sir?” Jimmy asked.

“To be honest, because of your father,” Abernathy admitted. “I know he has some interest in oceanic resource extraction, and the Melllvarians are experts on the subject.”

Jimmy leaned back in his chair and regarded the captain carefully. “I never figured you for the type that would be interested in currying my father’s favor,” he said, keeping his tone studiously neutral.

Abernathy shrugged and didn’t take offense. “When you were posted to the Intrepid, the Dub U had its doubts about the influence your father would have on your assignments, and on the fleet. He has thus far kept his distance, which has been deeply appreciated by the senior brass.”

“But now that Dad’s got controlling interest in several Dub U inhabited planets . . .?” Jimmy said, letting the question mark hang in the air.

“Well, now we’d like to offer you more opportunities to broaden your experiences in the service,” Abernathy said. He gave Jimmy a slightly abashed smile. “Sorry. Admiral Farnsworth said they workshopped the hell out of that line.”

“Nice to know where the Dub U stands on buying my friendship,” Jimmy said.

Abernathy sighed. “Don’t push it, Lieutenant. I’m being as straight with you as I can.”

“I know, sir,” Jimmy said, and ventured a sorry about all this, we’re in it together smile. “Guess the least I can do is make you look good by showing up to the ambassador’s reception?”

“That would be nice,” Abernathy said. “In your dress uniform, of course.”

Jimmy groaned, just barely audibly. Abernathy grinned. “Perks of the job, Hanson. Perks of the job.”

*****

“I didn’t know you were coming, too,” Andy said, sitting down in the seat across from Jimmy in the back of the shuttlecraft. Duvall was up front in the co-pilot’s seat next to Kerensky—they were on-again as of the invite to the reception. Abernathy and Q’eeng were already headed down to Melllvar II in the first shuttle.

“I didn’t know you were either,” Jimmy said, feeling awkward, and hating that he felt awkward around his best friend. “Xenobiology thing?”

Andy nodded. “What’s your excuse?”

Jimmy shrugged, trying to gauge how annoyed Andy was that he was there. “Abernathy asked me to scope it out for my dad,” he said. “He all but told me the Dub U’s trying to get in good with Dad through me.”

“Sounds like the Academy all over again,” Andy said dryly. “What took them so long?”

“Dad didn’t buy out whole planets’ worth of politicians until three months ago?”

Andy laughed. Not that annoyed, Jimmy thought, relieved. Maybe this won’t be that awkward after all.

*****

“Ow,” Andy and Jimmy said in unison.

“Xie is so sorry,” the ambassador’s aide translated frantically as the young Melllvarian carefully detached two of its luminous tentacles from Andy and Jimmy’s heads, gesticulating and glowing with its other six. “Xie is very young, and xie was just excited to meet you . . . two who are especially receptive to the realities of the universe . . .?” The aide trailed off and narrowed her eyes at them. “Xie says especially you.” She turned to Andy.

“Realities of the universe?” Jimmy said.

Beside him, Andy flinched and said, “Hey!” He put his hands up to his head, grimacing. “I can hear . . . everything," he said.

“Oh no,” the aide said, looking panicked. “Didn’t your briefing mention the possibility of psychic conferral?”

“That’s news to me,” Jimmy said. “Why isn’t it affecting—oh.” He unconsciously mimicked Andy’s hands-to-head gesture as the thoughts of everyone around him came flooding in.

Alien party drinks! That was Duvall.

I hope she’s not going to break up with me again after the party . . . That was Kerensky.

Shitshitshit, not again! That was Riva—the ambassador’s aide.

At least it’s not ice sharks. That was Andy, who was turning his head from side to side quickly, looking around as if trying to pinpoint a speaker.

Jimmy said, looking at the aide and the Melllvarian hovering nervously—if one could read nervousness in what was essentially an airborne jellyfish with no face—”Can xie make it stop? And what do you mean, not again?

Riva’s face fell, but she managed to pull herself together enough to explain. “One of the xenos that made first contact with Melllvar II was similarly affected. When the Melllvarians tried to reverse the process, it resulted in catastrophic failures in several parts of the brain. We’ve had a few other receptive humans now and again, but mostly the problem works itself out after a couple of hours.”

Psychic powers and catastrophic brain failure, Jimmy heard Andy think. Sounds like something Weinstein would write.

Riva made a serious of complicated hand gestures at the Melllvarian, and with a final burst of glowing, and a very strong feeling of contrition, xie drifted away.

“Modern Melllvarians don’t use their receptive abilities much,” Riva explained, leading them away from the party and through the kitchen, where most of the human staff was beginning to clean up. “Their long history of battles for psychic control over the different factions ended in the Lwaxana accords a thousand years ago that largely forbade the use of mind-reading for communication, and subsequently led to the re-development of the gestural and light pattern language you saw.”

Riva took them down another side passage, glancing back at Andy with a curious look. “After the first few incidents with receptive humans, we found that isolating them helped with adjusting to their new ability, and usually the effects dissipate after about an hour,” she said, stopping in front of a door and tapping on the controls to unlock it. “These are Ambassador Delaney’s quarters; you can stay here until your receptiveness wears off or the party’s over, whichever comes first.”

“Thank you,” Andy said, following Jimmy into the room.

“Just call my phone if you need anything,” Riva said, handing Andy a card and smiling. The door slid closed behind her.

You don’t have to be psychic to see she’s flirting, Jimmy thought, wryly.

“She was?” Andy said. Jimmy felt a flicker of surprise from him.

“You honestly couldn’t tell?” Jimmy went over to examine the control panel by the door.

“I guess I’m not as ‘receptive’ as you,” Andy said, dropping into a nearby chair. “What are you doing?”

“Checking to see if we’re locked in,” Jimmy said.

“Why?”

Jimmy poked around at the settings. “I just had a feeling,” he said.

“A feeling like we’re in another one of your ‘fanfics,’” Andy said, thoughtfully.

“Yeah.” Jimmy, feeling slightly foolish, tapped the door release. The door slid open with a soft hissing sound. “I guess not.”

“Is locked-in-a-room a fanfic thing?” Andy asked.

“Maybe,” Jimmy said, evasively, and crossed the room to sit on the ambassador’s expensive leather couch.

You remember I can read your mind right now, right? Andy thought, loud and clear.

Jimmy sighed. Right. He mentally flipped back to the memory of researching fanfic. See? Locked in a room. Lots of fandoms do it. Lots of TV shows, too. It’s a ‘bottle episode.’

Andy paused, tilting his head as if peering at something in the distance.  Then he thought, quietly, I thought I didn’t want to believe you, you know. About fanfic creating new Narratives.

I know, Jimmy thought back. And I’m sorry. About Z, about everything I said after she died.

I thought it was all over and I was in control of my own destiny again. That I’d get the happily ever after you promised. Andy’s thoughts were wistful and a little sad. I really cared about Z, and it turns out she was just as fictional as everything else. Maybe even more so.

That’s what I like best about you, Jimmy thought, fiercely. You care. Even when everything you know might not be real, you still care. You cared about me—the not-real memory of Andy smiling at him across the counter at the coffee shop surfaced abruptly, and Jimmy shook his head as if that would clear it—and you cared about every last one of those poor ensigns who signed up to die on the show. Even Jake and Fiona, and they tried to kill you.

I thought I loved Z, Andy thought. Until the moment I laid that flower on her casket.

Jimmy blinked.

Andy continued, Then I realized you were right; there was some kind of Narrative that had me the whole time Z was around.

Jimmy tried to keep the I told you so from slipping out but failed, because of the whole mind-reading thing.

It’s okay, Andy thought. I wanted to know, before, and I want to know, again. Real or fictional?

You’re still the main character, Jimmy thought ruefully. Z happened to you. This psychic thing is centered on you. And very quietly, almost to himself, And I’m still your friend.

Andy heard anyway, and thought back, I know.

Then Andy asked out loud, slowly, as if he was reading something particularly interesting off his phone instead of picking it up out of Jimmy's memory, “What is slash?”

Jimmy clamped down hard on the other memories of kissing and blowjobs. That didn’t happen, he told himself, firmly, for the hundredth time. “Um,” he said.

You were thinking about something awkward, was Andy’s next, amused, thought. What ‘didn’t happen’?

You are way too good at this whole psychic business, Jimmy thought back.

Andy shrugged, both physically and mentally. You don’t have to show me if you don’t want to. But there was no denying the curiosity lingering in Andy's emotions. 

Jimmy took a deep breath. Okay. He closed his eyes, and thought, very carefully, about the less explicit memory of Andy getting out of sick bay and finding Jimmy in his quarters with the champagne. About Andy straddling his lap and stroking his face. And . . . there was no avoiding it.

Andy leaning in and kissing him.

“I didn’t know you felt that way,” Andy said, softly.

Jimmy read his surprise—and even more surprisingly, an undercurrent of interest. “I don’t know if I do,” he said. “This kind of stuff just pops into my head—”

“Hold that thought,” Andy said, sitting up straighter in his chair. “Did you feel that?”

“What?” Jimmy listened to the now-distant murmur of minds.

“Like someone close by is going to do something very bad in about two minutes,” Andy said.

Jimmy felt it—”It’s not human,” he said, and jumped up to hit the door controls.

Andy was on Jimmy’s heels as he ran back through the kitchen towards the reception hall. Drawing his pulse gun, Jimmy scanned the room and saw a mid-size Melllvarian drifting towards the cluster of humans. It was glowing ominously and holding its tentacles uncharacteristically still.

“Xie’s going after Abernathy,” Jimmy realized aloud, as Andy sprinted past, mentally echoing his thought.

DOWN, sir!” Andy yelled, flinging himself at Abernathy as the Melllvarian, now glowing completely red, shot an electric surge from four of its tentacles at the captain. It missed—Jimmy caught a mental glimpse of a horrible memory from Andy about the last time he had saved Abernathy, and fired a stun pulse at the Melllvarian, who went down in a messy pile.

Then he leaped over the drinks table and landed in front of Andy and Abernathy, still in a pile of their own on the floor. He swung around, and pointed his pulse gun at the six other Melllvarians converging on their position. “Back off,” he ordered. The Melllvarians sent waves of placating emotion at him, and Jimmy saw they weren’t glowing red like the one that had attacked.

“What the hell is going on?” Ambassador Delaney shouted, storming over. “Did you just shoot the caterer?”

Jimmy mentally echoed the bemusement he felt from the humans nearby. Melllvarians have caterers?

“Xie was about to kill Captain Abernathy, Ambassador,” Andy said. Jimmy reached down to pull him and the captain to their feet. “Xie didn’t expect there to be any human receptives at the party who might pick up on xir plans.”

Jimmy felt a mental nudge from one of the Melllvarians clustered around. He looked around; it was the biggest and highest-floating of the six. “Uh, xie is trying to get someone to translate,” he said.

Riva poked her head up from where she had dived under the table and watched the complicated pattern of tentacle-waving and lights for a minute. “Xie apologizes and says the caterer is a member of the dissident faction who doesn’t want the Dub U on the planet,” she said finally.

“Trying to assassinate the captain of the flagship was a very stupid plan to keep the Dub U away,” Andy said.

“I have to agree,” Abernathy said, waving a concerned Q’eeng away and turning back to the Melllvarians.

“The caterer is very young,” Riva translated, and Jimmy sensed the Melllvarians’ disdain. Ambassador Delaney’s security team, a mix of humans and Melllvarians, scooped up the pile of would-be assassin and the party broke up.

*****

On their way back to the shuttles, alone, Andy said, “So . . . what the hell kind of fanfic was all that?”

Jimmy looked at him. He felt for Andy’s thoughts, expecting to feel his friend’s annoyance, but found none, just gentle bemusement.  “I hadn’t thought about it,” he admitted.

“So you do think we have some reality of our own left,” Andy said.

“Probably?” Jimmy paused. “But there is this one type of story that’s just a story about stuff that happens,” he said.

“Like life?”

“Like life,” Jimmy agreed.

“Then how are you supposed to know the difference?” Andy asked.

Jimmy had no answer to that.

They reached the shuttle landing site a few minutes later in companionable silence, and then Jimmy said, “Listen.”

“To what?” Andy said.

“Exactly,” Jimmy said, tapping the controls to open the shuttle doors.

“Thank God,” Andy said, suddenly understanding. Then he smiled. “Not that it was so terrible, being able to read your mind—”

“Away missions are fun now,” Duvall interrupted, slurring a bit, as she pushed past them into the shuttle. Kerensky trailed after her, carrying her shoes.

*****

“Is it me or are away missions actually kind of fun now?” Hester asked, from where he was sitting and idly poking a blade of blue grass into a hill of tiny blue insects. He, Jimmy, and Andy were on yet another newly discovered planet, one with an unusually diverse ecosystem of weird hybrids. Andy was some distance off at the edge of the blue-tinged forest, collecting specimens for the xenobiology lab. They had been kept busy nearly nonstop since returning from Melllvar II, and Jimmy hadn’t gotten any time to talk to Andy alone for days. He almost missed the mind-reading.

“You mean since our friends and colleagues stopped randomly getting killed by whatever bullshit Weinstein could come up with this week?” Jimmy said, keeping an eye on his phone, which was scanning for some of the more sizeable fanged, and also blue, animals that were supposed to be lurking nearby.

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.” Jimmy grinned over at Hester. 

“I mean, there’s only the three of us, down here, no senior staff to put us in a stupid situation, and probably nothing’s gonna—”

Jimmy spun around and glared at Hester. “Don’t say it.”

Hester laughed. “Nothing’s gonna happen.” Then he frowned, looking over Jimmy’s shoulder. “Hey, where did Andy go?”

“That’s not funny,” Jimmy said. He turned to look. Andy was nowhere to be seen.

“Dammit, Hester, why’d you have to say that?” he snapped, and began to run towards where Andy had been.

As he sprinted through the trees, frantically stabbing at his phone to display human life signs, Jimmy suddenly remembered the time he and Andy had been at magical boarding school and gotten lost in the Verboten Vale, with only their wands and Andy’s mastery of animal languages to rescue them—

Yeah, that definitely didn’t happen.

Jimmy ran faster, yelling Andy’s name, heedless of attracting the fanged blue animals. Then his phone chirped—Andy was close by, not moving, in a clear part of the forest.

Jimmy slammed to a halt at the edge of the clearing, and stared up at the massive, blue, and softly glowing tree at its center. Then he looked down and saw Andy sitting at the base of the tree with his eyes closed, his hair and shoulders dusted with blue flower petals. “Jesus, Andy, didn’t you hear me yelling for you?” Jimmy said, starting forward.

Andy opened his eyes. “No—don’t come any closer,” he said, and pushed himself back up against the tree.

“Hey, it’s just me,” Jimmy said, alarmed. He put his hands up and took a step. “Whatever’s happening—”

“I don’t want you to get infected, too,” Andy said, and then Jimmy saw that Andy’s eyes were wide, and dark, and that he was struggling to keep his whole body from trembling.

“Oh, God, Andy.” Jimmy felt his phone slip from his suddenly frozen fingers.  

Andy huffed a tiny, shaky laugh. “I’m not dying,” he said, sounding slightly less calm than usual, “but—stay back!” as Jimmy started towards him again.

Relief that this wasn’t it flooded Jimmy’s mind. “Okay, I don’t get it.”

“It’s the flowers,” Andy said, and paused. “They’re having an . . . effect . . . on me. Psychologically.” He hesitated again. “And, um, physiologically. To the point where I would really rather you stop walking towards me right now Jimmy I swear to God—

Jimmy stopped moving. “Why?”

Andy looked away, blushing. “Because if you get any closer I’m going to try my best to fuck your brains out.”

“I’m sorry, what?

“Look, it’s really hard to have a rational conversation with you right now,” Andy said. “I’m trying not to grab you and rip your pants off.”

Jimmy stared, disbelieving, at his best friend. Who was maybe propositioning him. “You’re acting very calm about this,” he said.

“Well, I’ve been meditating pretty hard for the last fifteen minutes to try to get this . . . under control,” Andy said. He lifted his eyes. “It’s kind of not working,” he breathed.

“Okay, okay, let me think,” Jimmy said, swallowing at the lust—oh my God, that’s definitely lust—in Andy’s gaze. “Um, have you tried taking care of it yourself?”

“Didn’t work.” The blush deepened. “I think it has to be a, um, mutual thing.”

“Then why didn’t you want me to come over there?” Jimmy asked.

“Because I thought you might not want to do this, and the flowers don’t seem to be very into the idea of consent,” Andy said.

Jimmy took a shaky breath. “If you weren’t under the influence, do you think you’d want to?” he asked.

Andy clenched his hands around the tufts blue grass around him. “I think so,” he said. “Again. Rational conversation. Hard.”

Jimmy’s glance involuntarily shifted down to Andy’s crotch.

“Yeah, that too,” Andy said, no longer blushing. “So either get over here and let’s fuck, or you’re going to have to stun me and carry me out of here. And if you get hit with this then all bets are off anyway.”

Jimmy got over there.

*****

“So what’s this I hear about you and Andy getting dosed with sex pollen?” Duvall asked, a few days later, when her shift rotation had changed and her mealtimes coincided with Jimmy’s and Hester’s again. Andy wasn’t there. He had almost immediately been sent off again on another away mission, this time to Forshan; the Dub U was helping with the rebuilding of his former seminary as a gesture of good faith.

Jimmy looked accusingly at Hester, who said, “What? I had to tell somebody.” Hester had found Jimmy and Andy twenty minutes after the flowers had taken full effect, and had immediately thrown their pants at them.

“I don’t think Andy would like it if everyone knew about what happened,” Jimmy said.

“Andy isn’t even here,” Duvall said. “And I can keep a secret.” She leaned forward, rested her chin on her hands, and gave him an expectant look.

“It was a pheromone thing,” Jimmy said, in lieu of giving her any prurient details. “Andy analyzed the flowers from the central tree and realized that it caused changes at the genetic level that enabled the kind of hybridization we were seeing.”

“Only Andy would get hit with sex pollen and sit there analyzing the situation instead of fucking,” Duvall said.

Jimmy couldn’t stop himself. “Oh, we didn’t just analyze the situation,” he said, feeling a goofy grin spread across his face.

Hester snorted. 

Duvall’s mouth fell open. “Details, Hanson,” she said, when she recovered from her shock, and slapped his arm. “A girl’s gotta have something to think about in her bunk.”

“Gross,” Hester said. Jimmy was about to say that a gentleman never kisses and tells, when his phone chirped. “It’s Abernathy,” he said, getting up. “I gotta go.”

“Aww, Jimmy,” Duvall said. “The best gossip I’ve heard in months and you’re just leaving us hanging?”

“Yep,” Jimmy said, grinning and walking away.

“So are you two dating now?” Duvall called after him.

*****

In the corridor, Jenkins ducked out of nowhere and caught up to him. “Sex pollen, huh?”

“Gossip spreads fast,” Jimmy said, very dryly. Then he took in Jenkins’ expression. “What? It was a pheromone thing. Andy ran a bunch of analyses on the flowers.” Jimmy tried to keep his face straight but couldn’t stop the goofy grin from forming again.

“Well, it’s a thing . . . in fanfic,” Jenkins said, whipping out his tablet, and pointing at a long—very long, it kept auto-scrolling for a solid minute—list of stories.

Jimmy stopped walking and stared at the screen. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Nope.” Jenkins smirked. “Guess you didn’t get around to reading everything after all.”

Jimmy cursed. “I will not have my sex life dictated by—” He cut off abruptly as a couple of ensigns passed them, giving him weird looks. “Dammit.” He thunked his head gently against the wall.

“At least it sounds like you had fun,” Jenkins said.

Jimmy turned to tell him off, but he had disappeared again. “I hate it when he does that,” he said to the empty air.

*****

In the briefing room, Abernathy, Q’eeng, and West were seated around the table, and a Dub U commander’s hologram was speaking from the center display. She broke off when she saw Jimmy come in.

“Lieutenant Hanson, thank you for joining us. This is Commander Hackett,” Abernathy said, waving a hand at the woman in the display and simultaneously pointing Jimmy to the empty seat. “She’s in charge of security for the duration of our prisoner transport.”

“Commander,” Jimmy acknowledged her, sitting down and swiveling to face the captain. “Prisoner transport?”

Abernathy said, “You might recall the self-proclaimed supreme leader of Nistrim V, Martin Sessen?” He tapped his tablet and a nonmoving holo of Sessen appeared in the air next to Hackett.

“Yeah,” Jimmy said. “He’s the guy who tried to assassinate my dad a few months ago when Hanson Industries bought out the contracts of all his slave workers and instigated a coup. Sessen’s wife was killed, I think. I haven’t been keeping up with the trial.”

“Well, that trial ended a few days ago, and given his high profile and serious security risk, the Intrepid’s been assigned to transport him and his accomplices to the Angosian penal colony,” Hackett said. “As the Dub U flagship, the Intrepid has the most innovative crew and best technology to safely confine Sessen for the duration of the trip.” She nodded at West, who immediately launched into a highly technical explanation of how he would reroute power to rig a dozen more Level 5 force fields in empty crew quarters.

Jimmy tuned him out and surreptitiously looked at his phone under the edge of the table. He had a new text from Andy: Having a great time on Forshan, wish you were here. The attached picture was of Andy smiling with a giant pair of scissors in hand at the rededication of his seminary.

The sound of Jimmy’s name interrupted his thoughts, and he looked up to see all of the senior officers staring at him.  Abernathy said, “You’ll be assigned your own security team, of course.”

“Permission to speak freely?” Jimmy said. Abernathy gestured for him to go on. “My father’s been threatened every single day of my life. I’ve gone about my own business since I joined the Academy, and I don’t see why that has to change just because we’re transporting a dictator who tried to kill him to prison. I take my usual personal precautions on top of your added security measures—” he nodded at the Intrepid schematic now projected on the display table alongside the other images— “and we can all go on about our duties like normal.”

“Are you certain?” Abernathy asked, looking skeptical. Commander Hackett echoed Abernathy’s concern; it was hard to read her expression in holographic form, but Jimmy guessed she was frowning.

Jimmy paused, considering the possibility that the situation was dictated by something other than conventional reality. Andy would be gone for another three days; the fanfic Narrative, whoever was writing it now, was probably well away from the ship.

“I’m certain, sir. I’ll be fine.”

*****

As he had said he would, Jimmy stuck to his duties like normal once the Intrepid had picked up the prisoners. He suspected that if Weinstein’s Narrative had had its way, somehow he would have found himself standing in front of Sessen’s door, planning for some sort of tense psychological confrontation in, say, Act Three.

Instead, he was reading over the new shuttle specs in his quarters and thinking about getting a beer, when his door chimed.

“Come in,” Jimmy called. The door slid open, and Hackett stepped inside. Jimmy swung his feet to the floor and stood up. “Commander?”

“At ease, Lieutenant,” Hackett said. “I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

Jimmy raised his eyebrows. “Like I told you, nothing to worry about. I talked to the ship’s counselor like Captain Abernathy recommended after the briefing, and I’m fine. No lingering ‘daddy issues,’ no secret desire to prove myself to my father by killing his would-be assassin.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Hackett said, smiling. Then she shot him with a stun pulse.

*****

Damn, was the first thought Jimmy had when he woke up in the cargo bay, dangling from the ceiling by an unbreakable polymer filament wrapped around his wrists, with a pulse gun pointed at his face. And, for some reason, his shirt had disappeared.

“About time you woke up,” said the man—Sessen, of course—behind the pulse gun. “Do you know how long I’ve been holding the gun up like this? It’s a good thing I work out. See? My arm’s not even shaking.”

Jimmy stared at him, and then turned his head to look at Hackett, who was leaning against a nearby cargo cart, watching them with an odd look in her eye.

“This is the part where you say ‘what the hell is going on,’” Sessen prompted him.

“Not really,” Jimmy said. “I think it’s pretty obvious.” He nodded at Hackett. “She’s your wife, the one who ‘died’ in the coup. The real Hackett is probably floating in space somewhere between here and Earth.”

Hackett smirked. “Very good, Lieutenant.” She pulled off one of her uniform jacket clasps and her image shimmered and transformed into that of Sessen’s wife.

“Okay, you figured that out pretty fast,” Sessen acknowledged.

“I’m good at reading people,” Jimmy said.

“When you’re the heir to the third largest fortune in the history of the universe, you learn to question people’s motivations,” Hackett said, smiling, and if Jimmy hadn’t already been cold without his shirt on, a shiver would have run down his spine.

I said that, he realized. She’s quoting me—but she doesn’t know it.

I’m in a goddamn fanfic. Narratives can still get to Andy through me. 

He would’ve smacked himself on the forehead if his hands were free.  “Listen,” Jimmy said anyway, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach, “You’re holding me hostage so my father will give you what you want. Which is what? You want Nistrim V back, right?”

Sessen said, “Yeah, for starters.” He shrugged. “An apology for turning my people against me would also be nice.”

“Well, I’m the best negotiator in the family,” Jimmy said. “I once talked my Aunt Lucy into giving me my Christmas presents on Halloween. If you let me down I’m sure we’d have plenty to talk about.”

Behind Sessen, Hackett rolled her eyes and said, “Can we get on with it? It won’t take me long to hack a hyperwave to Hanson Senior, and Junior here should probably look a bit more frightened than that. Unless he’s planning to go the ‘brave and stoic’ route.”

“You know someone will realize I’m missing,” Jimmy said, trying to sound calm.

Hackett shrugged. “Not really.” She held up a phone—Jimmy’s phone—and Jimmy saw the ship-wide security alert flashing on its screen. “I released the rest of the prisoners when I got Sessen out. I think your dear Captain Abernathy has his hands pretty full right about now.” She smiled at Jimmy.  “Nice stall, though.”

Sessen waggled the pulse gun in front of Jimmy’s face. “You know how these work on stun, right? EM pulse interrupts your nervous system for a millisecond and you go down. But I modified this one to do something else.” He lowered it to press against Jimmy’s chest and pulled the trigger.

For a heartbeat it seemed as if nothing had happened—there wasn’t even a mark on his skin—but then every nerve ending flared with electricity as the pulse raced up and down his body, and then he was screaming. And then he passed out.

*****

When he woke up again, Jimmy stayed limp even though it hurt his hands, kept his eyes closed, and tried to reason out his situation.

This is a fanfic.

Andy is always the main character.

Andy will save me.

“He’s awake,” Hackett said. “He’s faking it.”

Sessen shot him again. This time it was worse.

Between screaming, passing out again, being slapped awake, and screaming some more, Jimmy calculated: Time for Hester and Duvall to figure out he was missing amidst the chaos of the prisoner escape. Time to request—no, probably hack, Abernathy wouldn’t approve such a seemingly random request in the face of impending disaster—a hyperwave to Forshan to alert Andy. Time for Andy to get back at the fastest shuttle velocity . . .

This is going to suck.

*****

“I’m bored,” Sessen said, some time later, while Jimmy panted for breath between screams. “I thought you were going to call his dad?”

“I’m busy trying to talk your incompetent accomplices through taking control of the bridge,” Hackett snapped, covering her phone with a hand and rolling her eyes at him. “Cut him down and kick him around a little if you want something else to do.”

Sessen grumbled a little to himself but did something on the nearby workstation to release the filament from the ceiling hook.

Jimmy moaned as he fell to the deck, his wrists still bound. Sessen kicked him hard in the ribs, and Jimmy tried to roll away from the next kick, but another didn’t come. He looked up and saw Sessen glancing around as a loud metallic banging reverberated through the cargo bay.

Someone was firing at the cargo bay doors. Jimmy felt a wild surge of hope that it was Andy.

“The forcefields will hold even if they get through the door,” Hackett said, to her husband’s worried look.

“Did you lock down the cargo tunnels?” Sessen asked. “What about the airlock?”

“I locked down the cargo tunnels and I locked the carts to the track,” Hackett said. “No getting in that way. And Abernathy’s not stupid enough to blow the airlock with the Hanson heir trapped in here with us.”

The cargo tunnels. Curled up on the deck, Jimmy tried not to freak out at that. Jenkins hid in the cargo tunnels. Sessen and Hackett knew, or at least the fanfic writer knew, about what had happened outside of the show. Knew about what Andy and their friends had done to get the show changed. Knew about Jimmy knowing what he knew about Andy.

Everything Jimmy knew about the way the universe really worked, the fanfic writers knew too.

A small voice in the back of his mind suggested that he might be really starting to lose it, and that if he wanted to get out alive, he should probably pay more attention to what Sessen and Hackett were doing instead of theorizing about the nature of reality. But as Sessen started kicking him again, his mind wandered back to Andy.

Andy would get back to the ship, and he would throw everything he could think of at the problem, and then he would get Jenkins to help, and even then Jimmy was probably still going to die, just like Z had died, because Andy was the main character.

He could envision it now—Andy finally breaking into the cargo bay through some ingenious plan, too late to save him, but bringing down Sessen and Hackett nonetheless. Andy bravely holding it together while their friends took care of the loose ends, stoic in the debriefing with Abernathy, and finally breaking down on the hyperwave to Jimmy’s father explaining what had happened.

But then the story broke apart into a dozen timelines; then a hundred, a thousand of them. Andy quitting the Dub U and fleeing back to Forshan, scared to lose anyone else. Andy staying on Intrepid and being consoled by Duvall to the point where they started dating, after all this time. Andy seeking solace in Hester’s arms.

That one was weird.

Andy trying to find other temporal portals to go back in time and stop Jimmy from dying.

He liked that one best.

“We lost the bridge,” Hackett said to Sessen. She scowled at Jimmy where he still lay gasping for breath on the deck, and threw her phone at him. It hit him in the mouth and bounced off.

“So call Hanson Senior,” Sessen said impatiently. “Abernathy’s gonna try something to get him out, and I’d don’t want to be here for that.”

Not the captain, Jimmy thought, desperately. Andy. Please. He watched as Hackett crossed to the workstation and began typing. Sessen followed and made what looked like profoundly unhelpful comments, judging from Hackett’s annoyed expression.

Then Jimmy noticed her phone indicator blinking where it had fallen next to him.

It was blinking in a pattern. And suddenly he remembered taking a History of Communication class with Andy at the Academy, when they had learned semaphore and how to train carrier pigeons—

And Morse Code. Jimmy watched the pattern repeat again, and translated the sequence in his head.

A-I-R-L-O-C-K 2 M-I-N

Jimmy wanted to tell the fanfic writer that was a terrible idea; he’d get sucked out to space along with his kidnappers. If he had still been tied up he’d probably make it—

That was it. He’d have to get them to tie him back up.

So Jimmy slowly pushed himself upright, gritting his teeth against what that did to his ribs, rocked back on his heels, and launched himself across the bay at Hackett.

“What the fuck!” Sessen shouted as Jimmy tackled his wife into him and they all went down.

Sessen untangled himself from the pile, stood, and hauled Jimmy up by his bound arms. Jimmy, spent, could only glare at him. “What the hell kind of heroics was that?” Hackett demanded from the deck, rubbing her head.

Sessen dragged Jimmy across the deck and threw him against the nearest cargo cart. “I should just shoot you right now and be done with it,” Sessen growled, unholstering the pulse gun and fiddling with its settings.

There was another loud, metallic noise at the cargo bay door, and Sessen spun around to see the door starting to buckle. Jimmy pulled himself up on the cart and half-flipped, half-rolled into it, gasping in pain as he hit the bottom.

On the opposite side of the cargo bay door, the airlock exploded.  From his huddled position in the cart, Jimmy held his breath, listened to Sessen and Hackett scream as they were sucked into the vacuum of space, and calculated.

Time to get the force field up and repressurize the cargo bay. Time he could keep holding his breath before he passed out again . . .

*****

Jimmy woke up in sick bay, with Duvall and Hester sitting next to his stasis chair.

“Where’s Andy?” he croaked.

“Pay up,” Duvall said to Hester. Hester groaned.

“Andy wouldn’t leave your side,” Duvall said to Jimmy. “You’ve been in here for two days. Abernathy almost threatened him with a court-martial just to get him to show up for debriefing. I said I’d text him the second you woke up.”

“Debriefing?” Jimmy asked.

“Turns out when you blow a hole in the side of the flagship during a prison break slash hostage situation you have to answer a lot of questions afterwards,” Hester said, making a face. “Abernathy already talked to us yesterday. I think he’s pretty mad at Andy, though.”

“Has anyone told my dad?”

“Andy called him yesterday after Hartnell was sure you’d live,” Duvall said. She leaned in and spoke so that only Hester and Jimmy could hear her. “With the Narrative over, we really thought you might not make it. I’ve never seen Andy that upset before, not even after Finn died.”

It was both heartening and more than a little concerning. 

*****

A little while after his friends left, Jimmy made his way through the ship’s corridors towards the briefing room. Hartnell had protested that Abernathy would get to him in sick bay, but had eventually sighed, saying “I’m a doctor, not a babysitter” and let him go.

So Jimmy only pretended a little to stumble into the briefing as if still in pain, catching himself on the doorframe as he entered. Hartnell didn’t deserve to get yelled at for letting him out. And it was still worth it to see Abernathy’s face as he broke off from yelling at Andy. And even more worth it to see the look of sheer relief on Andy’s face when he got up and came over to grab his arm.

“Lieutenant Hanson,” Abernathy said stiffly. “I was going to get to you later.”

“I know, sir,” Jimmy said, as Andy helped him to the chair. “I thought I should be here, though, for when you disciplined the man who saved my life.” And saved your ass with my dad, followed the unspoken thought.

Abernathy stared hard at him. Eventually he said, “Very well. In light of the wholly unsanctioned, highly destructive, but ultimately successful actions taken in the rescue of Lieutenant Hanson, Lieutenant Dahl is only confined to his quarters for a week.” He looked at Jimmy’s set face and raised eyebrow. “And he may receive one visitor,” he conceded.

“That works for me,” Jimmy said. “Andy?” Andy nodded his acceptance.  Abernathy made a note in the ship’s log and left them alone together.

“Oh my God, Jimmy,” Andy said immediately, turned, and grabbed him in a tight hug.

“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Jimmy mumbled, pressing a kiss on the top of Andy’s head. After they broke apart, Jimmy said, “I know it was you, but I don’t totally know what you did.”

Andy smiled. “I wrote a fanfic,” he said.

“He wrote the most boring fanfic in the universe,” said Jenkins from behind them. They looked around to see him leaning up against the doorframe and smirking.

“I didn’t have a lot of time to make it more interesting,” Andy said. “I just needed you to know Morse Code so I could send you the message on Hackett’s phone before I had Duvall set off the explosives. I was going to put in a part where we practiced sending each other messages through our dorm room walls, but then Abernathy took back the bridge and I realized we didn’t have a lot more time.”

“Seriously?” Jenkins said, shaking his head. “That is so cheesy.”

Jimmy stared at Andy with his mouth open. Finally, he said, “Where did you post it?”

*****

Later, alone in Andy’s quarters and sharing a bottle of the best wine Forshan had to offer despite doctor’s orders, Andy said, “So I realized something about this whole fanfic business.”

“Yeah?” Jimmy was lying propped up on pillows on the bunk, at Andy’s insistence, and winced a little as he turned to the side to look at his friend. Andy saw it, and got up to sit cross-legged on the bunk so they could be face-to-face.

“You didn’t read up enough on slash,” Andy said, giving Jimmy a faint smile. “You thinking I was the main character blinded you to the very obvious-in-retrospect fact that this has all been about the two of us. Getting together.”

Jimmy blinked. “And you’re okay with that?”

“Well, no,” Andy said. Jimmy’s face fell, and Andy hastily amended, “I mean, yes, of course, you’re my best friend, and it’s amazing to be with you, in all senses of the phrase. But after what we’ve been through—what you say we’ll keep going through—I can’t help but wonder if there can really be a happily ever after. Like you said we would get to have, before.”

“Huh,” Jimmy said. “I mean, this worked out in the end, right? We’re alive, we got to have some pretty great sex, and—”

—and Jimmy suddenly saw into those hundred thousand futures again, expanding into infinite possible universes.

Andy leading dozens of away missions where no one died and they all got to meet really interesting aliens.

Andy walking Duvall down the aisle at her wedding to Kerensky.

Andy getting into a battle of the wits with an omnipotent godlike being.

Andy being mistaken by a particularly medieval alien species for a godlike being.

Andy passionately arguing the legal rights of cyborgs and holograms.

Andy receiving a promotion to captain and getting his own ship.

And among those limitless possibilities, Jimmy saw himself, always at Andy’s side. Sometimes just friends, sometimes more than friends, sometimes relegated to the background, but always there, observing.

“Jimmy?” Andy said, snapping him out of it. “You okay?”

Jimmy smiled. “Better than okay.” He sat up, carefully, and said, “Fanfic gives us infinite universes to get to that happily ever after.”

“Infinite, huh?” Andy said, scooting closer on the bunk. “Well. The me that’s in this universe is happy enough to be here with you.”

Jimmy leaned forward and kissed him. When they broke apart, Andy said, “By the way, you definitely owe me a blowjob for saving your life.”

“At least that,” Jimmy said, and was only too happy to oblige.

*****

(Nobody tell Jimmy about Death Fic.)

*****

The End