Truth be told, Jim’d had a weird feeling about this guy from the get-go.
They’d been tracking him ever since he hit the edge of Federation space, ever since he became a potential threat to them and theirs. Jim scoured every record he could find, had tracked him through a tenuous association with the rebels responsible for the recent incursion on Khitomer, a solid sighting on Neural after more than half its population had been wiped out, minor crimes on Ajilon Prime, but the timeline seemed spotty, too much missing. Either way, from what Jim could see, while he was rarely the one getting his hands dirty, this high-collared man of mystery seemed to be brains behind the bloodshed: significant collateral damage, survivors reporting questioning techniques bordering, but never quite crossing the line into torture, and then, nothing.
There’d been speculation of blood feuds, political vendettas, prejudicial hate crimes, but no solid evidence. The attacks were calculated, and vicious, but quick—coded, each planned and significant. And the bastard himself, he was like a shadow he was utterly unknown: his origin, his lineage, nothing.
He was no one, and that was telling: he was smart, shrewd; showed a pattern, had a plan. He was looking for something. That much was clear.
And whatever it was, it was here. He thought it was here.
Hence the scale of the attack he’d planned, the warbirds—stolen, from what they could tell, giving away little of the man's sympathies, his affiliations; not many of them, true, but heavily armed, and each of them waiting to strike until the Enterprise intervened; they'd disappeared now, without their leader—mercenary pilots, then, no doubt—but the havoc they could have wreaked: it wasn’t an invasion he’d been planning.
This was about destruction. This was grasping, this was lashing out blind in hopes of hitting home in the process.
This had scorched earth written all over it.
But Jim, well, Jim had a hunch. Jim had spent hours studying the stills, the image caps from the feeds, and there was something he recognized in the face, in the narrowing of the eyes and the fire caught inside them when the man showed his face, when their prey was caught on screen: he saw panic, violence, loss—the prismatic shards from a glass heart, a fragile heart, when it shudders and shakes free, when it’s caught and held and made warm beyond reason; when after all that it get dropped, that heart, and it cuts, and fuck all, it’s not for a lack of wanting, it’s for a lack of strength, a lack of life in the palms, in the wrists that were trusted, that kindled the warmth, that made the world work right.
Jim saw it in Spock, when Vulcan was lost. Again when Nyota nearly died.
He saw it in the mirror when the diagnosis came down, when the prognosis came back: when there was only a year, maybe less, left for them, left for him.
He saw it every morning before they came through with the cure.
So there’s more to this, Jim knows. There’s more to this villain than violence and rage.
It’s just...you just can’t hate this hard without some heart backing you. It just—you can’t.
So when the doors to the brig slide open, Jim’s looking for what’s out of place, searching for the human side of a monster. He’s looking for the source of all the hate inside the empty space, the hole that gets left in the losing.
Beyond the forcefield, the man’s hair hangs limp from where his head is bowed, propped between his knees where he rests his elbows. Jim knows the position well, himself, and schools his face of latent sympathy when the prisoner looks up, makes eye contact—the eyes are different, now, and yet the same: soft, but still broken, and Jim can’t make this man an enemy in his mind, can’t place him in the opposition without reservations, just can’t. He’s not sure why.
It should scare him, but it doesn’t. Jim’s always been able to read people, and he’s not about to start second-guessing it now.
“I would defend my actions,” the man speaks out, tone subdued yet still steady, self-assured; “but I was blinded. I did not see, let alone observe.” He blinks at Jim, eyes scanning him with impossible speed, flickering briefly to Bones, sizing up the two of them individually, as a whole: taking in more than Jim wants to dwell upon.
“You are not the man I thought you were,” the prisoner declares, blinks, sucks in a sharp breath. “Though that man is here,” he adds, murmurs almost to himself; “he must be here.”
“You realize that your actions could have killed thousands,” Jim states, voice hard.
“Yet they did not,” the prisoner counters, unconcerned. “You saw to that.”
“Had Earth been engaged—”
“It wasn’t,” the man cuts in, “despite my efforts.”
Jim tries to swallow his misgivings, steels against a vile taste from his gut but he can’t, because they’re absent, not even there for all the signs that they should be. “You’re remorseless.”
“I,” the man licks his lips, tosses his hair from his eyes and sighs, the fear and the longing in him naked for an instant before they disappear, and it’s those that stick with Jim, that lodge in his chest and hold.
“I miscalculated,” and when he says that, when he admits that, Jim is fairly damned certain that it sounds like the end of the world.
“You’ll stand trial for violation of the Federation Judicial Code,” Jim edges, looks to provoke a response.
“I violated no code,” the prisoner throws back, almost bored. “The destruction that took place outside of your jurisdiction is for the Imperial Empire to prosecute, as they will.” Something flashes in those dusk-grey eyes, and Jim, for all that he shouldn’t, finds it exciting. “I am not a member of your Federation. I will not be intimidated by your petty rules.”
Jim shakes his head, fights a smirk—the fight in this guy, he has to hand it to him. “Your intentions were—”
“Clear? Perhaps, in your opinion.” The derision in that tone bites, but Jim’s not deterred, because he knows it. He’s used it. It’s a mechanism rooted in truth, and it works, and for all that Jim’s immune, he sure as hell appreciates a good show of it. “I gave no indication of my plans, and my actions, whatever they may have been, were thwarted.” The prisoner shoots him a grin, almost pitying, lamenting his assumed stupidity. “I think you’ll find little evidence to hold against me, Mister Kirk.”
“Captain.” The correction is sharp. Jim doesn’t take well to being thought a fool. He knows they’ve got little to nothing in the way of evidence against this guy, knows that crossing into Federation Space without formal charges brought against him meant that the Klingons would likely target this man’s accomplices, and let the ringleader himself traipse off to cause mayhem in other Quadrants—typical—but so it stood. Had they any real dirt on this asshole, they’d be en route to rendezvous with Starfleet Command so that he’d serve time for his actions.
“Captain? Now that’s interesting.” Their prisoner perks at whatever connections he’s drawing with that revelation, but it doesn’t last. “Regardless, Captain, you’ll have very little evidence to support your accusations, I fear. Aside from assault,” he grins, this time less condescending and more genuinely entertained, and Jim flashes for an instant back to that bar in Iowa, and swallows the phantom taste of beer and blood on the back of his tongue; “which I will gladly plead to, should the occasion arise.”
Jim says nothing for a long stretch of second; he knows the man’s watching him, and knows Bones is behind him, ready to interject, and it’s just moments before he knows Bones will spit something caustic at the bastard when the man speaks, and Jim’s pretty fucking sure he does it because he read the tells, the indications that things would go south if Bones opened his mouth.
“You find me intriguing,” the man states, and Jim’s thrown for a moment; he wasn’t expecting that. “Why?”
“I—” Jim blinks, isn’t sure how to answer, isn’t sure of the truth, even, whether it should or shouldn’t be shared.
“Don’t deny it,” the man shakes his head, flips his hands dismissively. “I can read it in your posture, in the coloration of your eyes.” And Jim, for all that it makes very little sense, believes it.
Isn’t sure why. He’s just sure that he does.
“You’re a monster,” Bones cuts in, snarls just a bit below the honey of his accent.
“Am I?” their prisoner asks, half-hateful, half-giddy. “Some of worlds we brought to waste were enemies of yours,” and it’s true, they were. “I’ve read your history, and of my own will, I’ve done nothing your own people haven’t also done when duly prompted,” his eyes dart between Jim and Bones, collectively implicating them both, their kind; “when cleared to act as they wished.”
“I’d heard stories about you,” he continues now, eyes fixed only on Jim, addressing him alone. “That’s why I thought you were the man whom I seek. Dangerous, reckless, proud,” his smile turns icy, cruel; “cunning, even. Left a race to rot in a black hole in the name of vengeance,” and Jim swallows, because, yes. Yes.
Not unprovoked. Not without cause. Not with any other option.
“I cannot say that I approve of what I have become, Captain,” their prisoner continues, and his eyes are haunted, breathing shallow, heavy, labored as he looks away, studies his hands. “I can’t say that I relish the blood on my hands,” and Jim can see that he’s hurting, more the physical, more than anyone can help; “but I will not apologize for it.” His eyes raise up, snap back to Jim’s where they tell a new story, open at new fissures and bleed truths that Jim can’t judge so quickly, that a man who’s seen loathing like James Tiberius Kirk has seen it can’t condemn, not yet, not without the facts, and the feeling.
“I will take none of it back,” the man declares, a confession; a promise. “If it brings me one step closer to my prey, one breath, the inhale alone,” his voice breaks again, like it did when he’d choked Jim within an inch of oblivion, “then it will have been well worth the lives.”
“You’re inhuman,” Bones hisses, taken aback. Jim just stares, studies the face of the man as he takes in the words.
“A machine,” and he laughs, bitter, but looks sad. “If only,” and his voice is almost gone, and Jim, he can read people, and this man is not a threat. Not anymore.
“Jim, leave this parasite to rot,” Bones nudges his shoulder and moves to turn, leave, and maybe Jim moves to follow, maybe not: he can’t tell either way, really, before the question is asked.
“Have you ever loved, Captain Kirk?”
Jim turns his full body to face the prisoner, meets his eyes full-on. “Excuse me?”
“Are you, or have you ever been, in love?”
“And what would you know of it, you devil?” Bones shoots back, on his way to livid. Choking always puts him on edge, Jim’s learned. “You’ve taken the lives of innocents, you’ve—”
“I have,” Jim answers, silencing Bones with a raised palm behind him. “I am,” he swallows, doesn’t break gaze with the man he should hate and can’t, the man he shouldn’t answer, but does. “I do love.”
“And what would you not do for that love?” the prisoner asks, something strung and trilling shrilly in the question. “Is there anything you would not do,” the man continues, and Jim marvels for the way he falls apart in seconds, the slow-motion-too-fast shattering of a being, of a heart and a head and a whole; “for your family?”
Jim says nothing.
Jim understands the man in front of him more than he’s comfortable admitting, more than he thinks he can stand.
“The man I seek vengeance upon is a demon, a criminal, a fiend,” his low voice starts to climb in pitch, starts to speed, his composure begins to slip as his eyes spark fire, mayhem, chaos. “And he has placed my captain, my doctor, my friend, my, my world,” he swallows hard, and Jim feels himself want to follow suit, feels his throat closing because he knows this, he knows this, and it can’t be just a coincidence, it can’t be.
There’s no such thing as coincidence.
“He has placed the only thing that matters just a whisper, a gasp from death,” the man continues, and Jim remembers, Jim remembers Bones before the treatment, Jim remembers his chest feeling too small and too fragile, and it’s all written in this man’s eyes, it’s in his face, his skin.
“No one knows what ails him,” the man forces out, frantic now, his breathing rapid, his eyes too wide. “But the condition, it’s,” he bites his lip, steels himself, gathers his wits and meets Jim’s eyes with resolve, with purpose, with certainty.
“It’s unknown, but not unfamiliar, it’s too similar to polycythaemia for there to be no connection, but the treatments have failed, all of them, but the mutations are advanced, they could only be—”
“Xenopolycythemia,” Bones interjects, his expression stoic, but Jim can read the set of his spine, the tension there, the unease.
“You think,” Jim starts, feeling cold at just the memory.
“Mmm,” Bones hums, and Jim tries to let himself feel secure in the way Bones breathes next to him, healthy, living; tries to take heart at the way the man imprisoned in front of him brightens at the mention, the possibility of hope.
“You know it?” Fuck he even sounds hopeful, like a kid in a goddamned candy shop.
“It’s the red blood cells?” Bones asks, reluctant, but a healer at his core.
“Yes, they multiply without relent,” and there’s something strained in his tone, helpless, and Jim remembers that feeling, deep in his veins.
“I know it. Had it, in fact,” Bones nods, folds his arms across his chest. “Contracted it not too long ago,” and when Bones shrugs, like it’s nothing, Jim wants to fucking deck him, he really does.
“It’s easily cured, with the right treatment,” Bones carries on, steps forward, something loosening in his stance, his demeanor. “How long has he...”
“Three months,” the prisoner answers, immediate, then pauses, calculates in his head, “and I’ve been here...” he trails off, his eyes going blank.
“Our intelligence picked up your entrance into Federation space seventy-two hours ago,” Jim supplies, his eyebrow quirked in askance.
“I’ve been,” the man marvels; “is it strange, I don’t know where I’ve been?”
And Jim can see in the emptiness, the way his eyes focus on something unreal, unseen, that it’s nothing but fact. So Jim just asks the obvious question.
“Who are you?”
“The coloring of your uniforms,” the man’s eyes narrow; "it corresponds to speciality, does it not?”
“You’d know,” Bones scoffs, on guard again, nods at the telltale arrowhead on their prisoner’s shirt. “You—”
“I stole these clothes,” he confesses, stoic, factual. “I didn’t know what the insignia meant, only that it was common, and that the place where my target was said to be displayed it in abundance.”
“You said the mutations were too advanced,” Jim jumps in, changes tactics, because things are starting to come together, answers are beginning to coalesce and he’s not sure he likes the conclusions he’s coming to, and fuck, but he’s pretty sure he’s right, too; he’s usually right, goddamnit. “Too advanced for what?”
The man blinks, sits stock-still.
“What is the,” he coughs, awkward, grimacing and swallowing something hard, something distasteful; “what is the stardate?”
He says it like it doesn’t fit in his mouth, like it sticks to his tongue. He says it with assurance, but it’s uncomfortable. He doesn’t own it.
“2262,” Jim answers, and asks one more time: “Who are you?”
The man takes a deep breath, and there’s something about him that changes, a mask that falls, and he’s mortal, he’s hurting, he’s a man.
“My name is Sherlock Holmes,” comes the answer. “And I’m from the year two thousand fifteen.”
Silence reigns, for a few long moments, and fuck all, but Jim just had to be right.
“Computer,” Bones’ voice breaks through; “get me sickbay.”
“Doctor McCoy,” the answer rings through the room, the long corridors.
“Get a tricorder to the brig, Christine. Stat.”
“You believe me,” this man, this Sherlock Holmes says, doesn’t ask.
“I don’t believe you,” Bones shoots back, “but we can run enough scans on you to make it so we’ve got something more solid than my belief,” Bones’ lips press tight together, a thin white line; “or lack thereof.”
“You’re a doctor,” Sherlock muses, then looks back to Jim. “A captain and a doctor.” He seems to mull it over a moment, the gears whirring visibly behind his irises. “How intriguing,” he proclaims, eventually. “How like my,” and his voice breaks just before the rest of him, comes out soft and scared: “John.”
They let that name, that heartache echo for a long minute, and that’s all Jim needs to commit to the decision he already made.
“Secure comm to Commander Spock,” Jim dictates, the hard line of his voice louder than it should be, than it needs to be. “Hold communications with Starfleet Command regarding mission status until further notice.” With a nod to himself, forgoing a second glance at his captive, Jim turns on his heel and makes to leave.
“What are you doing, Jim?” Bones asks, tone low, right on Jim’s heels, too close, close enough to lean forward and touch when Jim spins around just inside the lift, smirk wild, wicked.
“What I’m always doing, Bones,” he answers, eyes glinting with mischief, with a fierceness and resolve; “going with my gut.”