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Inside the River

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He successfully puts it off for a year before Starfleet catches up with him. Ambassadors start pushing through the forms for him to fill out, admirals start denying him the better missions until he does his duty, and finally, he’s told that if he doesn’t intend to follow tradition, he’ll either be demoted back to commander or be sent a partner sight unseen.

After a good deal of knowing grins from his crew—especially Uhura, who’s had to pass along his excuses one too many times—Jim accepts his fate. He orders up a hot chocolate from the mess hall and takes it back to his quarters, resisting Scotty and Bones’ push for alcohol—it wouldn’t be wise to do this inebriated. He takes a seat at his desk coldly sober and calls up the files Uhura’s been steadily sending him for a week, and he finally combs through them.

The first section is easy enough. Starfleet has his basic information. Some knowing admiral has already filled out several spaces—his height, weight, species: all the things already on his file. What’s left are the more subjective things—what he considers his best traits, what he considers his worst, his past dating history and, most dauntingly, why he accepted a command knowing what Starfleet does to captains. It’s tempting to write that he simply couldn’t do anything else—he belongs in the captain’s chair. Finally, he writes a generic acceptance of Starfleet conditions: he understands their logic, though it’s a stretch, and he’ll take his fate on that merit.

The second section is a different matter entirely. It’s all preferences of partner. He’ll be given, of course, what’s available from the current pool of commanders being promoted to senior officers. Considering the Enterprise’s current staffing, it’s likely he’ll be sent someone deserving of a first officer position. Under normal circumstances, if no one meeting his specifications were available, he’d likely be able to wait. As he’s already waited a year, Jim imagines he’ll be immediately assigned the first name on the roster.

He reads all the sections anyway, though he answers very sparsely. He doesn’t have a particular preference for gender. He’d prefer someone sexual but isn’t picky about the extent of it—he figures he’ll still have his hand. He doesn’t want to specify temperament—it seems too much like designing a mate on the computer. He’d prefer someone humanoid, but beyond that, he doesn’t care where their eyes are on their head or how many limbs they have—in a way, he realizes, he wants to be surprised.

But he’s also anxious about being assigned something so vital as a spouse by the brass, when he’s always enjoyed naturally falling into love.

If there were another Starfleet representative in his quarters, that officer would likely repeat what he knows: Starfleet captaincy comes with three options. Prior marriage, testimony of sexual and romantic disinterest in partnership, or an arranged marriage per long-standing tradition. In theory, it’ll keep the captain grounded, provide oft-needed emotional release, and, most importantly, prevent awkward diplomatic incidents with non-approved, non-Federation aliens.

Jim’s been tempted once or twice. He’s never wanted to marry one, but he’s considered ill-matched affairs. As he finishes the forms, he wonders just how well-matched this could possibly be. Starfleet would be the first to pragmatically state that not all marriages need be based on love, but it’s still difficult for Jim to hit the ‘send’ key.

But he loves the Enterprise. He can feel the subtle hum of the deck plates beneath the legs of his chair. And if he needs a stranger in his bed to keep this glorious creature under his command, so be it.

For one fleeting moment, his mind runs again over his own senior staff—could he marry Sulu? Scotty? Bones? He snorts to himself and transmits the file. At least if it turns out that bad, he’ll have friends with common ground to drink with.


It takes Starfleet precisely one week to send confirmation of a match. Uhura can’t keep the smile off her face as she discreetly lets Jim know. He wrinkles his nose and considers calling Bones to the bridge to gripe with but finally just nods. Coordinates for a rendezvous with the Intrepid in nine days are sent to the helm. Sulu stifles a grin as he keys them in, then announces, “They’re sending us to Mrennenimus Prime, Captain.”

Jim leans back in his chair, sighs, and wonders if he dares to drum up a quick affair with any crewmembers that’ll have him before it’s too late. He wishes he’d stated polyamorous intent on his forms, just in case.

As if to help, Uhura chimes in, “It’s supposed to be a very peaceful planet with lovely weather.”

It’s also on the list of brand-new planets explorer vessels have just discovered, per more tradition: ship the couple off for shore leave on a neutral planet away from Federation stresses. In theory, it lends to ‘bonding time.’

In practice, it forces Jim off his bridge onto new territory without his regular crew’s support, and, likely thanks to his year of stalling, he won’t even have the trip to the planet most do to get to know their spouse. It sounds like they’ll rendezvous, shake hands, then immediately beam down for the wedding. In some ways, he’s glad tradition will spare him the embarrassment of having his crew for witnesses—they’ll be gone for a week while he has his ‘honeymoon.’

After a few minutes of contemplating the doom of his love life, and thankfully no more words of comfort from the bridge crew, Jim forces himself to move. He rises from his chair as casually as he can and strolls to Uhura’s station to quietly ask, “Did they send any more information?”

“The relevant party will have their bags ready,” Uhura recites, still unable to hide her mirth.

Jim repeats blandly, “The relevant party?”

“The Intrepid is a Vulcan ship, sir,” she reminds him. When he just shakes his head, she takes pity on him and asks, “Shall I request any more specifics on their passenger?”

Jim opens his mouth to say yes but ultimately closes it. He’s not sure he wants to know. She tells him instead, “I’m sure ‘the relevant party’ will be satisfactory, sir.”

He gives her a warning look and wanders back to his seat.


Bones comes with him to the transporter room, even though Bones hates few things more than dress uniforms. As they’re already in orbit around their destination, greeting the new arrival aboard the Enterprise is merely a formality. Though his future partner can hardly protest anyway, Jim does his best to look presentable. He’s combed his hair and smoothed everything into place. He’s spent more time in the past week in the gym with Sulu than he’d like to admit. Yet for all he knows, his partner will prefer soft flesh to hard muscle. Or perhaps have no interest in body image at all. Perhaps he’ll wind up with a fuzzy Tellarite attracted primarily to vicious arguments. He already regrets not simply writing ‘human woman’ on his request form. The luggage bag at his side feels inordinately heavy.

At attention by the controls—manned by Kyle, since Jim couldn’t face Scotty right now—Jim mutters under his breath, “What a stupid tradition.”

“You knew it when you signed up,” Bones answers, doing nothing to conceal his amusement. Jim shoots him a look, but Bones simply tells him, “You were stupid. I told you you should’ve been more specific.”

Jim knows it and shakes his head, admitting, “I should’ve at least had them send me a file on my new life partner.”

Bones snorts. “Might not’ve helped anyway. I chose my wife the regular way, and look where I ended up.”

“Remind me when I get back to recommend we instate arranged marriages for CMOs.”

Though they both knows Jim was teasing, Bones hisses, “Don’t you dare.” Jim has time for one deliberate I dare look before the transporter hums, and the familiar coloured dots coalesce over the platform. All jokes slide right out of Jim; he stands straighter than he ever has in his life.

A figure forms, the shape humanoid, about as tall as Jim, and it solidify into what Jim, at first, thinks is a human.

Then it’s done, and he spots the ears, and he realizes Starfleet’s sent him a Vulcan.

They sent their most unconventional, roguish captain a walking computer. The irony isn’t lost on him. The Vulcan bears a typical passive expression and posture even tighter than Jim’s. He glances first at Bones, then Jim, and his eyes stop there.

For that first second, Jim’s whole impression changes. He takes in, in one wild rush, everything about the man he’ll spend the rest of his life with: the long, taut build, the pale, almost yellowish skin, the black bowl cut and dark eyes, the pointed eyebrows and the delicate bluish tint beneath them, the high cheekbones and strong cut of his jaw, the bow curve to his pink lips. He’s a Vulcan male in a regular blue tunic, and all Jim can think for several bizarre milliseconds is that he’s distinctly handsome.

He looks at Jim as though there’s no one else in the room. He doesn’t look up and down Jim: just holds Jim’s gaze. The two of them stare at one another, Jim’s mind conversely frozen and reeling, until Bones coughs.

Then Jim shakes himself out of his reverie and blurts, uncharacteristically inelegantly, “I’m Captain James T. Kirk. Welcome aboard.”

The Vulcan nods his head lightly and returns, “I am Commander Spock.” In true Vulcan fashion, he doesn’t offer the typical gratitude for the welcome. He doesn’t move from the platform. A regulation duffle bag, exactly like Jim’s, is strung over one shoulder. There’s a brief, awkward moment where Jim wonders how exactly one greets a Vulcan spouse they’ve never met before and comes up with nothing.

Bones, without announcing himself, abruptly says, “Well, this is fun.”

Jim almost wishes he could drag Bones along, half for comfort and half to torture his best friend. He might’ve wholly wished it before. Now, Spock’s at least attractive enough that Jim’s not sure he wants a third wheel around. As Spock seems intent on hiding all traces of personality, looks are all Jim has to go on.

Finally, he decides if he’s going to spend the rest of his life married to a beautiful stranger, he can at least start it right. He walks forward, at first stiffly, then gaining pace, as though drawn to Spock by magnetic force. He steps up onto the transporter platform, doesn’t stop, and instead leans in—the way he might greet a first date: a kiss on the cheek.

Spock jerks back, leaning at an odd angle to avoid contact with Jim’s lips, and Jim instantly stiffens back up, trying desperately not to turn beet red in front of Bones and Kyle. He hadn’t expected such a sudden movement from Spock’s prior rigidity, and he’s never been spurned so blatantly. He has the distinct urge to apologize, but Spock straightens before he can.

Then Spock offers two tentative fingers, held together. Jim curiously mirrors the gesture, and Spock brings his hand forward, touching their skin as briefly and feather-light as possible.

It’s enough to send a sudden spark of unbridled want up Jim’s spine. For that single millisecond, Jim feels whole in a way he never has before. Things are right, and perfect, and then the warm hold slips from his mind, and he’s simply Jim again, staring blankly at his future husband.

There’s a tiny glint of confusion in Spock’s expression, but he says nothing about the contact. Instead, he turns to look at the far wall, and Jim struggles to regain himself, announcing, “Energize.”